Abstract：The Volume P. 2185 collected in the French National Library is the only existing copy of The Sutra of Pure Land Ullambana in the world, which was compiled by ancient anonymous Chinese monks probably over the first half of the 7th Century. This paper, through researching on the origin of the stories in the sutra, aims at figuring out how this sutra was compiled. It turns out that from the Qi and Liang to the early Tang Dynasties, the excessive expenditure on the Ullambana Puja was far beyond the provisions stated in the lost translated version of The Ullambana Sutra in the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316), which led to some criticism from the public. However, the compilation of The Sutra of Pure Land Ullambana provided new direct support for that. In order to highlight its difference from The Ullambana Sutra, the author of this sutra titled The Ullambana Sutra with “Pure Land”, and quoted the Kumarajiva’s (in the Later Qin Dynasty) translation of The Vimalakīrti Sutra, the chapter of “Buddhist Products” and Ji Zang’s (in the Sui Dynasty) The Interpretation of the Infinite Life Sutra to further explain it. The purpose of compiling this Buddhist scripture was to better promote the development of the Ullambana fasting puja in ancient China. Therefore, its basis is still The Ullambana Sutra, and the story of Maudgalyayana making a Ullambana pot to save his mother in the sutra also refers to it. The author of this sutra added a plot that the King of the 16 Mahajanapadas in India ordered the courtiers to make the Ullambana offerings and have it sent to the temple. This practice then provided a paradigm for the activities that the Emperors of the Tang Dynasty gave order to make offerings to the temples in Chang’an and hold ceremonies of offering Ullambana outside the city gate.
The Ullambana Sutra did not explain the reason why Maudgalyayana’s mother fell into the lower realms of the hungry ghost, while the author of this sutra adapted this story based on the first, second, fourth and sixth stories from Volume 5, the chapter of “Hungry Ghost”, Collections of a Hundred Karma Sutra translated by Wu Zhiqian in the Three Kingdoms. Apart from that, the author of this sutra also supplemented the story of the karma between Maudgalyayana and his mother in the preexistent life, and explained the reason why Maudgalyayana’s mother went into the lower realms of the hungry ghost after her death, thus making the story of saving her mother in the sutra more complete.
The Sutra of Pure Land Ullambana played an important role in the development of the Chinese Ullambana festival, a Buddhist thought of filial piety and culture. It was not only the source of material for eminent monks of Buddhist dogmatism to write notes and give lectures, but also a paradigm of writing Buddhist scriptures for Ullambana festivals. More importantly, before the 19th year of Xuanzong Kaiyuan (731 A.D.), this Buddhist scripture had been spread far and wide in Japan. It was not only a classic that the Emperor of Nara often consulted, but also a key Buddhist scripture that was lectured in temples of that time such as Todai-ji Temple when holding the Obon Fasting Puja.
The compilation of The Sutra of Pure Land Ullambana embodies one of the paths that the thought of Buddhist filial piety is sinicized and secularized, which promotes the development of Chinese popular literature. It is like a bridge that connects the Chinese Buddhist parable stories with the story that Maudgalyayana saved his mother. In particular, the karma story of Maudgalyayana’s mother falling into the lower realms of the hungry ghosts contains the Buddhist thoughts of alms giving, the six great divisions in the wheel of karma and others, which fully exemplifies its missionary characteristics. Also, it also provided a new motif and prototype for Maudgalyayana Bianwen in the late Tang and Five Dynasties so that the plot of them was of more twists and turns and the stage acting was more vivid and moving. Apart from that, it provided plenty of sources for composing popular literary works such as story-telling script novel of Maudgalyayana saving his mother, zaju play, local operas and baojuan (a kind of script of a Buddhist missionary story) since the Song and Yuan Dynasties.