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Does the Contemplation Sutra Teach Us to Attain Rebirth through Contemplation of Meditative Virtues?


The Buddha has an expedient means to enable all people to “see” the Pure Land

The Contemplation Sutra, also known as the Sutra of the Sixteen Contemplations, is one of the three scriptures of the Pure Land canon. Many practitioners think that this is a text in which Shakyamuni Buddha teaches his sagely disciples and followers to attain rebirth by contemplating meditative virtues through a step-by-step process. Actually, it is not, and in this article I will explain why.

The causal condition of speaking the Contemplation Sutra had to do with Queen Vaidehi, who was betrayed by her wicked son and wished to be reborn in a world without evil people and conditions. She was an ordinary being in the mundane world who lacked “heavenly eyes” and could not practice meditative virtues for rebirth. However, Shakyamuni Buddha told Queen Vaidehi that she could attain rebirth in the Pure Land with the expedience of the Buddha’s Power.

Actually, attaining rebirth in the Pure Land is not limited to those who practice the meditative virtues, but also includes those Buddhists who practice the non-meditative virtues, such as the Three Meritorious Deeds, which is the main cause of attaining pure karma by all buddhas in the three periods of time (the Three Meritorious Deeds, however, are not the main cause of rebirth!).

Shakyamuni Buddha spends much of the sutra teaching how to cultivate a vision of Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, but he also has an expedient means to enable all people to “see” the Pure Land, instead of visualizing it via meditative practice. By “seeing” the Pure Land through the Buddha’s Power, a person can attain the eradication of all karmic demerits accumulated in past eons, as well as rebirth in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss.

To attain rebirth through the “self-powered” meditative practices

Shakyamuni Buddha says in the Third Ground Contemplation, for those who practice the meditative virtues for rebirth:

When the visualization of the water has been accomplished, it is called the “general perception” of the ground of the Land of Bliss. If you attain a state of samadhi, you will see this ground so clearly and distinctly that it will be impossible to describe it in detail.

The Buddha said to Ananda, “Keep these words of the Buddha in mind, and expound this method of visualizing the ground for the benefit of the multitude of future beings who will seek emancipation from suffering. If one has attained a vision of the ground of that land, the evil karma which one has committed during 80 kotis of kalpas of samsara will be extinguished, and so one will certainly be born in the Pure Land in the next life. Do not doubt this.”

Such a practice is visualization of the Pure Land through “self-power” and entails dedicating the merit and virtues attained through meditative practices for rebirth. As a result, the practitioner attaining “a state of samadhi” can be reborn in the Pure Land as their evil karma committed during 80 kotis of kalpas of samsara are extinguished in the final state of Arhatship.

To attain rebirth through the “other-powered” practice of Amitabha-Recitation

However, in the Thirteen Contemplation of the High Level in the Low Tier, Shakyamuni Buddha says that for those aspirants who fail to practice the Three Meritorious Deeds:

“By hearing these sutra-titles, he is released from the burden of evil karma which he has accumulated during a thousand kalpas.”

The Buddha further says:

“Furthermore, this wise teacher advises him to join his palms and call, ‘Homage to Amitayus Buddha’ [Namo Amituofo]. Calling the name of the Buddha extinguishes the evil karma that the dying person has committed during 50 kotis of kalpas of samsara.”

The Buddha continues to say:

“The Buddha then sends his transformed body and those of Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta to the aspirant; they praise him, saying, ‘Well done, man of good deeds! By calling the Name of the Buddha your evil karma has been extinguished, and so we have come to welcome you.’”

The Buddha tells us:

“When these words are uttered, the aspirant sees a flood of light from that transformed Buddha fill his room. Having seen this, he rejoices and dies. Seated on a jewelled lotus-flower, he follows the transformed Buddha and is born on a jewelled pond.”

The Buddha reiterates the same in the Thirteen Contemplation of the Low Level in the Low Tier. Rebirth is even possible for a non-Buddhist who “commits such evils as the Five Gravest Offenses, the 10 evil acts and all kinds of immorality. Owing to such evil karma, a fool like this will fall into evil realms and suffer endless agony for many kalpas.”

Such a person has no virtuous roots at all, nevertheless, there is a route out:

“When he is about to die, he may meet a good teacher, who consoles him in various ways, teaching him the wonderful Dharma and urging him to be mindful of the Buddha; but he is too tormented by pain to do so. The good teacher then advises him, ‘If you cannot concentrate on the Buddha, then you should say ‘Namo Amituofo’.’”

In this way, he sincerely and continuously says, “Namo Amituofo,” and thus he says the Buddha’s Name “ten times,” as stated in Amitabha’s 18th Vow. The Buddha further says:

“As he calls the Buddha’s Name, with each repetition, the evil karma which he has committed during 80 kotis of kalpas of samsara is extinguished. When he comes to die, he sees before him a golden lotus-flower like the disk of the Sun, and in an instant he is born within a lotus-bud in the Land of Bliss.”

For a practitioner of faith, reciting Amitabha’s Name is the same as those practitioners mentioned in the Third Contemplation who can “see” the Pure Land and are assured of rebirth there in their next life.

What is the important Dharma expounded in the Contemplation Sutra?

To conclude, there are two ways to attain rebirth, as taught in the Contemplation Sutra. One is by self-powered practices of meditative and/or non-meditative virtues, and the other is by the other-powered practice of Amitabha-Recitation. Of course, it is obvious that the latter method to attain rebirth is much easier than the former.

But what happens if the former practitioner changes his mind and selects the latter method to attain rebirth, will he be reborn in the Pure Land by reciting “Namo Amituofo” with recourse to the Buddha’s Power? The answer is of course! Even evil persons can be reborn, not to mention good ones!

I think that 99 per cent of people are “better” than those in the low level of the low tier. In other words, 100 per cent of people can be reborn in the Pure Land if they believe and accept Amitabha’s deliverance and exclusively recite “Namo Amituofo” for rebirth through the rest of their life.

That is the reason why, at the end of the Contemplation Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha urges all aspirants to hold fast to Amitabha’s Name for rebirth in the Land of Bliss, instead of practicing meditative and non-meditative virtues and dedicating the merit and aspiring to rebirth.

Related features from BDG

Those with Faith in the Name Should Aspire to Rebirth in the Land of Bliss
Shakyamuni Buddha’s Benefits of Being Reborn in the Land of Bliss
Shakyamuni Buddha’s Counsel to be Reborn in the Land of Bliss

More from Teachings of Amitabha by Alan Kwan

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13 days ago

Namo Amituofo.