Chanting the Amitabha Sutra

One of the most popular and widely chanted sutras in the Pure Land Buddhist tradition is the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀経, amida-kyō in Japanese) which is known by scholars as the Smaller Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra. This sutra is a brief overview of Amitabha Buddha, his Pure Land, and why one would want to be reborn there (spoiler: the Dharma permeates everything, so one naturally progresses along the Buddhist path).

A reprint of the Taima Mandala with the Jodo Shinshu-sect crest at the top and bottom, Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the past, I’ve tried to chant the Amitabha Sutra using certain sutra books I brought back from Japan, but the font is hard to read as a foreigner, and so I frequently get stuck. Because the font is so small, sometimes I can’t tell if something says ぼ or ぽ for example, and in some books, the phrase 一切 (issai) looks like いつさい (itsusai) instead of いっさい (issai). I don’t know if native speakers have this issue, but it’s frustrating. Further, there not many chanting guides online for the Amitabha Sutra except English and chanting in English is kind of ugly.1

So, to make my own life easier, I made a rōmaji (romanized Japanese) version of the Amitabha Sutra: click here to download.

It’s not really very pretty, but it’s meant to be easy to read and functional. Note that depending on the Buddhist sect, some Chinese characters may be pronounced slightly different.2 Also, the bell ringing style may vary slightly, too. The version I transliterated here was from a sutra book published by the Nishi Honganji (home temple of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism), which I visited about 10 years ago on a guided tour. It was the most readable copy I had.

I have proofread the entire text at least once, so it should be accurate, however if anyone uses this and finds a mistake, please post a comment here.

Update: As of June 3rd, 2022, I have linked a new version of the chanting guide above. This guide includes format differences, and further edits and corrections, and should be an improvement over the old version.

Enjoy and namu amida butsu! 🖖

Edit: fixed broken link to PDF file.

P.S. I colored a small, small part of the text to reflect the different colors of lotuses said to be in the Pure Land.

1 It’s a surprisingly tricky issue with sutra chanting in English: it lacks the steady rhythm that Sino-Japanese texts have, and when people try to force a rhythm onto it, it sounds forced and artificial. I have been to a number of Zen meditation sessions where I see people try to chant the Heart Sutra in English, and it just never sounds very good. I can’t blame people for trying to make the text more accessible (which is pretty important), but I think this reflects the same reason why Japanese Buddhists don’t chant Buddhist texts in their native language (using liturgical Sino-Japanese instead): something just gets lost. Alternatively, I do sometimes read aloud sutras in English the same way that one reads aloud a poem. I find this works better for English, and still has a dignified tone to it, but the traditionalist in me still prefers using the older liturgical when possible because of its ties to the past and the unbroken tradition we now inherit.

2 In the first line of the Heart Sutra, kan ji zai bo sa(tsu) gyo jin, some sutra books pronounce the “tsu” in “satsu” and some don’t. Also, in the next line, is the phrase sho ken go un where in some sutra books I’ve seen “on” instead of “un”. Small divergences in pronunciation tend to reflect sectarian history in Japanese Buddhism, and aren’t really too much of a concern. If unsure, check with your temple and just chant what they chant.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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