Zibo, Shandong, China
Died681 (aged 67–68)
SchoolPure Land Buddhism
Lineage2nd generation
Notable work(s)Commentaries on the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra
Dharma namesShandao
TempleWuzhen Temple
Xuanzhong Temple
Wenguo Temple
Fengxian Temple
Senior posting
TeacherMingsheng (明勝)

Shandao (simplified Chinese: 善导大师; traditional Chinese: 善導大師; pinyin: shàndǎo dàshī; Japanese: Zendō; 613–681) was an influential writer on Pure Land Buddhism, prominent in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. His writings had a strong influence on later Pure Land masters, including Hōnen and Shinran in Japan. In Jōdo Shinshū, he is considered the Fifth Patriarch, while in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism, he is considered the second patriarch after Lushan Huiyuan.


Shandao was born in what is now Zhucheng, in Shandong Province, China. When he was young, he entered the priesthood and devoted himself to the study of the Infinite Life and Vimalakirti Sutras. One day, in the year 641, he visited the temple of the famous Pure Land master Daochuo, who happened to be giving a lecture on the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra. This lecture ultimately inspired him to follow and then spread Pure Land Buddhism.[1]

Shandao dwelt at Xiangji Temple (Chinese: 香积寺; pinyin: xiāngjī sì) in Shaanxi, which continues to honor his memory and contributions. In his lifetime, Shandao wrote five major works on Pure Land Buddhism, with his commentaries on the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra being among the most influential.


Shandao synthesized much of the teachings of earlier Chinese Pure Land Buddhists, such as Tanluan and Daochuo, however, he introduced additional ideas that became staple concepts to both Chinese and Japanese Pure Land traditions:[2]

  1. All beings could equally perceive the Pure Land in its true form, it did not depend on the meditative qualities of the practitioner.
  2. The "ten recitations" cited in both the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra and the Amitayurdhyana Sutra are verbal recitations. Previous interpretations were more ambiguous in interpreting the meaning of buddhānusmṛti.
  3. All nine levels of attainment the Amitayurdhyana Sutra were accomplished by ordinary people not advanced sages.
  4. Rebirth in the Pure Land comes primarily through Amitabha Buddha's vow rather than one's own efforts.

Shandao was recorded as having taught various Pure Land practices, including nianfo, as well as written several commentaries on extant Mahayana scriptures. For instance, Shandao was noted to be a practitioner who engaged in the austere practices of never lying down to sleep and constantly practicing samādhi and ritual activity, and he is said to have advised other people to do the same.[3]

The Three Minds and Four Modes of Practice

Among Shandao's teachings are the Three Minds and Four Modes of Practice (三心四修) for Pure Land Buddhism. In the Commentaries, sincere devotion to Amitābha over the long-term leads to three minds, or states of mind:

  1. The Utterly Sincere Mind
  2. The Profound, or Deeply Believing, Mind
  3. The Mind which dedicates one's merit (or good works) toward rebirth in the Pure Land.

In Hymns in Praise of Birth (Wang-sheng-li-tsan), Shandao taught the Four Modes of Practice that develop through devotion to Amitābha:

  1. Reverence shown to Amitābha and bodhisattvas in Sukhavati: Avalokiteśvara and Mahasthamaprapta.
  2. Wholehearted and exclusive practice of reciting Amitābha's name.
  3. Uninterrupted, as in routine, practice.
  4. Long-term practice.

Parable of the White Path

A 13th century depiction of the Parable of the White Path to the Pure Land of Amida (Amitābha) between Two Rivers of Worldly Vice, Kosetsu Museum of Art

In Shandao's Commentary on the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra, Shandao described the Pure Land Buddhist path using parable known as the Parable of the Two Rivers and White Path (二河白道) which describes a man harried by bandits and wild beasts who comes to a river bank. Spanning a river is a narrow, white path, while on one side the river is made of churning water, and the other fire. Then, the man hears a voice calling from the other side of the river, assuring him that if he crosses the path, he will be safe.

The voice on the other side of the river is said to be Amitabha Buddha leading the follower across toward the Pure Land.

Meditative and Ritual Practices

Shandao emphasised meditative and ritual practices in addition to nianfo/nembutsu. Shandao's tract, "The Meritorious Dharma Gate of the Samādhi Involving Contemplation of the Ocean-like Marks of the Buddha Amitābha" (Chinese: 阿彌陀佛相海三昧功德法門; Pinyin: Ēmítuófó xiāng hǎi sānmèi gōngdé fǎmén) emphasizes samādhi and ritual practice. Also, Shandao's direct disciples, such as Huaigan, were recorded as having emphasized meditation practices.[4] In addition, Shandao's expositions on the Pure Land are also rooted in Madhyamika and Yogacara principles.[4]

The Difficulty of Attaining Rebirth

Shandao's tract, the "Correct Mindfulness for Rebirth at the Moment of Death" (Chinese: 臨終往生正念文; Pinyin: Línzhōng wǎngshēng zhèngniàn wén), presents a nuanced understanding of the rebirth process and details many dangers that he believed could hinder the dying aspirant’s rebirth in the Pure Land.[4] In another tract, "The Meritorious Dharma Gate of the Samādhi Involving Contemplation of the Ocean-like Marks of the Buddha Amitābha" (Chinese: 阿彌陀佛相海三昧功德法門; Pinyin: Ēmítuófó xiāng hǎi sānmèi gōngdé fǎmén) Shandao describes a specific set of ritual protocols and practices for helping dying Buddhist devotees achieve successful deliverance from “evil destinies” and procure successful rebirth in the Pure Land.[4] Other similar hagiographical records from Shandao reflect concerns regarding more complicated requirements for rebirth in the Pure Land, including but not limited to recitation of Amitābha's name on one's deathbed specifically.[3][4] Charles Jones also shows how Shandao conceived of it to be possible for one to fail to be born "at the final moment ... if impure persons defiled the irtual space and allowed demonic beings to invade."[5]

At the same time, Shandao and his disciple Huaigan emphasised that all ordinary beings, no matter their level of attainment, are capable of birth by the power of the Buddha's vows, and that "even the worst evil-doer could say the name of the Buddha and gain immediate access to a glittering Pure Land immediately after death."[5] In particular that utterance is interpreted by Shandao as calling "Amitābha Buddha for seven days or even for one day for as little as ten oral invocations or even one oral calling or one contemplation," and that birth in the Pure Land was not for superior practitioners, but for the lowest kinds of people who have performed "unwholesome acts: the Five Heinous Deeds, the ten evils, and everything that is not good."[5]

Role in Japanese Traditions

In Japanese Pure Land traditions, such as Jōdo-shū and Jōdo Shinshū, Shandao is traditionally seen as having advocated for the exclusivity of the nianfo/nembutsu as a practice in order to seek salvation through Amitābha, meaning that reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha was all that was needed. Writers such as Julian Pas have suggested that these traditional narratives surrounding Shandao were misleading, and that rather he wrote extensive commentaries to scriptures regarding complex samādhi practices such as visualization and meditation, showing that he promoted different practices and methods.[6][7][3] On the other hand, defenders of the Japanese approach, such as Jérôme Ducor, have suggested that writers such as Pas have misrepresented the relevant Japanese sources, and that Shandao's scheme clearly delineates between "meditation sūtras" such as the Pratyutpanna Sūtra from sūtras that teach "birth in the Pure Land," among which are included the Infinite Life Sūtra, the Amitābha Sūtra, and the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra. Ducor also notes how Shandao's Commentary on the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra makes clear the distinction between birth in the Pure Land by faith and nianfo/nembutsu, which he regards as definitive and a "non-requested" teaching, from the meditative practices such as visualisation, which he regards as a skilful means and a teaching given only on request by Queen Vaidehī.[8]


Shandao's extant works include:

See also


  1. ^ "About Pure Land Buddhism". Archived from the original on August 2, 2013. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  2. ^ Jones, Charles B. (2021). Pure Land: History, Tradition, and Practice (Buddhist Foundations). Shambhala. pp. 56–68. ISBN 978-1611808902.
  3. ^ a b c The Wiley Blackwell companion to East and inner Asian Buddhism. Mario Poceski. Chichester, West Sussex, UK. 2014. ISBN 978-1-118-61035-0. OCLC 881387072.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e Sharf, Robert H. (2002). "On Pure Land Buddhism and Ch'an/Pure Land Syncretism in Medieval China". T'oung Pao. 88 (4/5): 282–331. doi:10.1163/156853202100368398. ISSN 0082-5433. JSTOR 4528903.
  5. ^ a b c Jones, Charles B. (2019). Chinese Pure Land Buddhism: Understanding a Tradition of Practice. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 22–3. ISBN 9780824881016.
  6. ^ Pas, Julian F. (1995). Visions of Sukhāvatī : Shan-tao's commentary on the Kuan Wu-liang shou-fo ching. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-585-04595-X. OCLC 42854968.
  7. ^ The Pure Land tradition : history and development. James Harlan Foard, Michael Solomon, Richard Karl Payne. Berkeley, Calif.: Regents of the University of California. 1996. ISBN 0-89581-092-1. OCLC 35319329.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ Ducor, Jérôme (1999). "Shandao and Hōnen. Apropos of Julian F. Pas' book Visions of Sukhāvatī". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 22 (1): 251–252.
  9. ^ Johnson, Peter Lunde (2020). The Land of Pure Bliss, On the Nature of Faith & Practice in Greater Vehicle (Mahāyāna) Buddhism, Including a Full Translation of Shàndǎo's Commentary Explaining The Scripture About Meditation on the Buddha 'Of Infinite Life' (Amitāyur Buddha Dhyāna Sūtra, 觀無量壽佛經). An Lac Publications. ISBN 978-1-7923-4208-0.
  10. ^ Inagaki, Zuio Hisao (2009). Shan-tao's liturgy for birth Ōjōraisan. Tan Peng Yau. ISBN 9789810822392.