Article

Visualization/Contemplation Sutras

David Quinter

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online February 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0137
Visualization/Contemplation Sutras

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Visualization/contemplation sutras refer to a group of six sutras in the Chinese Buddhist canon. The twofold rendering of Visualization/Contemplation is based on the Chinese character guan 觀 (kuan; Jpn. kan; Kor. gwan) in the sutra titles. In the standard modern edition of the Sino-Japanese Buddhist canon (Takakusu and Watanabe 1962, cited under Text Collections), the sutras are (a) Sutra on the Sea of Samādhi Attained through Contemplation of the Buddha (Guan Fo Sanmei Hai Jing), commonly known as Samādhi Sea Sutra; (b) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life (Guan Wuliangshoufo Jing), commonly known as Amitāyus Contemplation Sutra; (c) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Two Bodhisattvas Bhaiṣajyarāja and Bhaiṣajyasamudgata (Guan Yaowang Yaoshang Erpusa Jing), commonly known as Bhaiṣajyarāja Contemplation Sutra; (d) Sutra on the Contemplation of Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Ascent to Rebirth in Tuṣita Heaven (Guan Mile Pusa Shangsheng Doushuaitian Jing), commonly known as Maitreya Contemplation Sutra; (e) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Cultivation Methods of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Guan Puxian Pusa Xingfa Jing), commonly known as Samantabhadra Contemplation Sutra; and (f) Sutra on the Contemplation of the Bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha (Guan Xukongzang Pusa Jing), commonly known as Ākāśagarbha Contemplation Sutra. Complications surrounding these sutras as a group begin with the term guan. All feature fantastic visual imagery, but only some include a series of contemplations that could be characterized as visualizations, and no consensus exists on a Sanskrit basis for the term. Closely related are issues of the sutras’ provenance. Although the sutras are consistently treated as “translations” in the Traditional Chinese Buddhist Catalogues, no known Indic-language or Tibetan versions exist that are not based on the Chinese. All are believed to have been compiled around the first half of the 5th century ce, a period of increased production of Native (or Apocryphal) Chinese Buddhist Scriptures. Certain terminology shared among the sutras and with such texts as the Chinese Meditation Manuals compiled near the same time suggest a similar nexus for their composition and include frequent reference to other Chinese Buddhist texts. However, the traditional translator attributions and other aspects also suggest connections with Central Asia. Thus scholars variously posit Indian, Central Asian, or Chinese origins for the sutras. These very ambiguities help make the visualization or contemplation sutras a rich field for continued research.

Article.  10000 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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