Triple Gem
Chapter Nine

Pure Land - Mahayana

Guan Si yin

Da shi zhi


Home | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve | Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen | Chapter Fifteen | Questions and Answers (1) | Questions and Answers (2) | Articles | Conclusion | Miscellaneous

Shakyamuni Buddha and Amitabha

Pure Land Study traces its existence back to Shakyamuni Buddha (left) -- the historical Buddha who founded what is now known as Buddhism in India more than 2,500 years ago.

In many of his Sutras, or teachings, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of another Buddha, named Amitabha Buddha (right), who lived on earth countless aeons ago.

Before Amitabha Buddha attained Buddhahood, he promised to create a delightful and wonderful realm called the Pure Land, or "Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss," where inhabitants are freed from the cycle of birth and death so they can focus singlemindedly on attaining enlightenment. Amitabha pledged that once he became a Buddha, he would guarantee that anyone who one-pointedly recited his name with a sincere desire to be reborn in the Pure Land would indeed be reborn there. When Amitabha Buddha attained Buddhahood, he fulfilled this vow.

What Is the Pure Land?

Amitabha Buddha's Western Pure Land is a realm full of wonders and adornments where inhabitants enjoy not only their beautiful surroundings, but also the company of countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as they advance toward their inevitable enlightenment. In the Pure Land, the journey toward enlightenment is smooth and easy because there is none of the suffering, defilement, or delusion that so often blocks spiritual progress.

There is no illness, old age, or death in the Pure Land, and there is no danger of being reborn on earth or in any other realm where death occurs unless one vows to go there voluntarily to help other beings. The Pure Land is not an eternal abode. Rather, it is a way-place where inhabitants dwell in unimaginably wonderful surroundings as they progress toward complete enlightenment.


Bodhisattvas are Beings who have attained enlightenment (or almost complete enlightenment) but have vowed not to accept full Buddhahood until all other sentient beings have been enlightened.

Two great Bodhisattvas are especially important in Pure Land Study. They are Great Strength Bodhisattva, or Da Shi Zhi (shown in the picture on the left) and Guan Yin Bodhisattva, who is referred to as Great Compassion Bodhisattva (shown on the right).

Main Characteristics of Pure Land

i) Its teachings are based on compassion, on faith in the compassionate Vows of Amitabha Buddha to welcome and guide all sentient beings to His Pure Land;

ii) It is an easy method, in terms of both goal (rebirth in the Western Pure Land as a stepping-stone toward Buddhahood) and form of cultivation (can be practiced anywhere, any time with no special liturgy, accoutrements or guidance);

iii) It is a panacea for the diseases of the mind, unlike other methods or meditations which are directed to specific illnesses (e.g., meditation on the corpse is designed to sever lust, counting the breath is meant to rein in the wandering mind);

iv) It is a democratic method that empowers its adherents, freeing them from arcane metaphysics as well as dependence on teachers and other mediating authority figures.

For these reasons, Pure Land has, for centuries, been the dominant tradition in East Asia, playing a crucial role in the democratization of Buddhism and the rise of the lay movement. Honen Shonin(1133-1212), the Patriarch of the Jodo (Pure Land) school in Japan, expressed the very essence of Pure Land teaching when he wrote:

There shall be no distinction, no regard to male or female, good or bad, exalted or lowly; none shall fail to be in his Land of Purity after having called, with complete faith, on Amida.

Buddha Recitation

Many Sutras and commentaries are used in Buddhism, but only five Sutras and one Commentary are considered of paramount importance in the Pure Land School. The most common Pure Land practice is Buddha recitation, or the recitation of the name of Amitabha.

Amitabha's name can be recited in many different ways: silently or aloud, alone or in a group, with or without chanting beads, and with or without musical accompaniment. But one should always chant the name of Buddha singlemindedly, sincerely wishing to be reborn to the Pure Land.

Other Pure Land practices include contemplating the qualities of Amitabha, visualizing Amitabha, and reciting Sutras.

The Three Sutras Originally Used in Pure Land Study

The three Sutras originally used in Pure Land Study are The Infinite Life Sutra , The Contemplation Sutra, and The Amitabha Sutra .

The Infinite Life Sutra presented in the form of a summary on this Web site, is the basic text in Pure Land Study. It contains a detailed introduction to the Western Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss. The Infinite Life Sutra explains how Amitabha Buddha created the Pure Land, and how he took 48 Great Vows to ensure that sincere pratitioners of Buddha recitation could be reborn there. It also spells out a set of principles that can be used to build a foundation for our daily lives; it offers many valuable lessons which help us attain happiness, a good family life, a successful career, a harmonious society, and a peaceful world.

The Amitabha Sutra which is translated in its entirety on this site, describes the wonders and adornments of the Western Pure Land and explains how inhabitants of our world can be reborn there. It also describes the hosts of Buddhas who dwell in the Pure Land and in other Buddha-lands in all the ten directions.

The Sutra on Observing Amitabha Buddha and His Pure Land
which is summarized on the page titled "The Contemplation Sutra,"lists and describes sixteen different visualizations that Shakyamuni Buddha suggested as techniques for achieving rebirth in the Pure Land. This Sutra explains the theory of Pure Land teachings, the Pure Land method of cultivation, and the nine ways that people can be reborn in the Pure Land.

The One Commentary Used in Pure Land Study

The one Commentary used in Pure Land Study is Vasubandhu Bodhisattva's Commentary on the Way to Reaching Pure Land. In this commentary -- just twenty-four stanzas long -- Vasubandhu Bodhisattva sums up the meaning of the Infinite Life Sutra, praises the wonders and adornments of the Pure Land, and explains how to attain rebirth there.

The Two Sutras Most Recently Added to the Pure Land Canon

In the Ching Dynasty, the three Sutras considered most important in Pure Land study were increased to four when the Venerable Wei Yuan added the Chapter on Universal Worthy Bodhisattva's Conduct and Vows. Actually, this text is just one chapter in a much longer Sutra, the Flower Adornment Sutra.

In the early 1900s, the Great Master Yin Guang added part of another Sutra to the Pure Land canon: the Chapter on the Foremost Attainment of Great Strength Bodhisattva through Buddha Recitation. This text is just one chapter -- specifically, Chapter 40 -- of a much larger Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra.

Although it contains only 244 Chinese characters, the Chapter on the Foremost Attainment of Great Strength Bodhisattva through Buddha Recitation contains some of the most important principles of Pure Land Study. For example, it teaches us a very simple and concise method of Buddha recitation: Focus the six senses (the five senses plus the mind) within and perform continuous Buddha Recitation with a Pure Mind. It also summarizes the benefits of Buddha recitation, and explains how the cultivator, without the help of any other methods, can naturally attain the Pure Mind.

The Goal of Pure Land Study

One important feature of Pure Land Study is its acknowledgement that attaining rebirth in the Pure Land is the major step forward on the ultimate journey toward eventual enlightenment. The Buddha-name recitation technique used in Pure Land Study is so simple and straightforward that any Pure Land student -- "ten thousand in ten thousand" -- can use it to attain rebirth in the Pure Land, freedom from the cycle of birth and death, and eventual enlightenment (provided, of course, that the student also cultivates his or her Pure Mind) .