Tan-luan was originally a Buddhist scholar but after becoming ill he studied Taoism in order to seek the Elixir of Life. However after an encounter with Bodhiruci a Buddhist monk from India, Tan-luan became a devotee of the Pure Land teachings and, according to the Jodo Shinshu hymn Shoshinge, burnt his Taoist texts.
Tan-luan later wrote his commentaries on the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life. The commentaries taught that the all beings could be reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha through sincere recitation of the nembutsu. Tan-luan is also credited for having developed the nembutsu into the six-character phrase (from Sanskrit to Chinese) used throughout Pure Land Buddhism today.
Tan-luan also had a strong impact on the Fourth Patriarch, Tao-cho who once visited his temple.