Pure Land Buddhism (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Japanese: ? J?do bukky?;Korean: Hangul: ; RR: Jeongto-jong; Vietnamese: T?nh Tông), also referred to as Amidism in English, is a broad branch of Mahayana Buddhism and one of the most widely practiced traditions of Buddhism in East Asia. Pure Land is a tradition of Buddhist teachings that are focused on the Buddha Amit?bha. The three primary texts of the tradition, known as the "Three Pure Land Sutras", are the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra (Infinite Life Sutra), the Shorter Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra (Amitabha Sutra) and the Amitayurdhyana Sutra (Contemplation Sutra).
Pure Land oriented practices and concepts are found within basic Mah?y?na Buddhist cosmology, and form an important component of the Mah?y?na Buddhist traditions of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Tibet. The term "Pure Land Buddhism" is used to describe both the Pure Land soteriology of Mah?y?na Buddhism, which may be better understood as "Pure Land traditions" or "Pure Land teachings," and the separate Pure Land sects that developed in Japan from the work of H?nen. Pure Land Buddhism is built on the belief that we will never have a world which is not corrupt, so we must strive for re-birth in another plane, referred to as the "Pure Land".
The Pure Land teachings were first developed in India, and were very popular in Kashmir and Central Asia, where they may have originated.Pure Land sutras were brought from the Gandh?ra region to China as early as 147 CE, when the Kushan monk Lokak?ema began translating the first Buddhist s?tras into Chinese. The earliest of these translations show evidence of having been translated from the G?ndh?r? language, a Prakrit. There are also images of Amit?bha with the bodhisattvas Avalokite?vara and Mah?sth?mapr?pta which were made in Gandh?ra during the Kushan era.
In the Buddhist traditions of India, Pure Land doctrines and practices were disseminated by well-known exponents of the Mah?y?na teachings, including N?g?rjuna and Vasubandhu. Pure Land schools arose because of the belief that humans were becoming incapable of Dharma, emphasizing that humans needed help from another power; that power being Amit?bha Buddha. Although Amit?bha is honored and venerated in Pure Land traditions, this was clearly distinguished from worship of the Hindu gods, as Pure Land practice has its roots in the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva.
The three principal Pure Land s?tras are the Shorter Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra, the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra, and the Amitayurdhyana Sutra. These sutras describe Amit?bha and his Pure Land of Bliss, called Sukhavati. Also related to the Pure Land tradition is the Pratyutpanna Sam?dhi S?tra, which gives an early description of the practice of reciting the name of Amit?bha as a meditation method, although it does not enumerate any vows of Amit?bha or the qualities of Sukh?vat?.
Bodhisattvas hear about the Buddha Amit?bha and call him to mind again and again in this land. Because of this calling to mind, they see the Buddha Amit?bha. Having seen him they ask him what dharmas it takes to be born in the realm of the Buddha Amit?bha. Then the Buddha Amit?bha says to these bodhisattvas: "If you wish to come and be born in my realm, you must always call me to mind again and again, you must always keep this thought in mind without letting up, and thus you will succeed in coming to be born in my realm."
Andrew Skilton writes that the descriptions of Sukh?vat? given in the Sukh?vat?vy?ha s?tras suggests that these descriptions were originally used for meditation: "This land, called Sukh?vat? or "blissful," is described in great detail, in a way that suggests that the s?tras were to be used as guides to visualization meditation, and also gives an impression of a magical world of intense visual and sonorous delight.
In the Infinite Life Sutra, Gautama Buddha begins by describing to his attendant ?nanda a past life of the buddha Amit?bha. He states that in a past life, Amit?bha was once king who renounced his kingdom, and became a monastic bodhisattva named Dharm?kara ("Dharma Storehouse"). Under the guidance of the buddha Loke?varar?ja ("World Sovereign King"), innumerable buddha-lands throughout the ten directions were revealed to him. After meditating for five eons as a bodhisattva, he then made a great series of vows to save all sentient beings, and through his great merit, created the realm of Sukh?vat? ("Ultimate Bliss"). This land of Sukh?vat? would later come to be known as the Pure Land (Chinese: ) in Chinese translation.
The Pure Land teachings first became prominent in China with the founding of Donglin Temple at Mount Lu (Chinese: ) by Huiyuan (Chinese: ) in 402. As a young man, Huiyuan practiced Daoism, but felt the theories of immortality to be vague and unreliable, and unrepresentative of the ultimate truth. Instead, he turned to Buddhism and became a monk learning under Dao'an (Chinese: ). Later he founded a monastery at the top of Mount Lu and invited well-known literati to study and practice Buddhism there, where they formed the White Lotus Society (Chinese: ). They accepted the Shorter Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra and the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra as their standards among the Buddhist s?tras, and they advocated the practice of reciting the name of Amit?bha Buddha in order to attain rebirth in the western pure land of Sukh?vat?. The Mount Lu is regarded as the among the most sacred religious sites of the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, and the site of the first Pure Land gathering.
The Pure Land teachings and meditation methods quickly spread throughout China and were systematized by a series of elite monastic thinkers, namely Tanluan, Daochuo, Shandao, and others. The main teaching of the Chinese Pure Land tradition is based on focusing the mind with Mindfulness of the Buddha (Skt. buddh?nusm?ti) through recitation of the name of Amit?bha Buddha, so as to attain rebirth in his pure land of Sukh?vat?. Early Pure Land as practiced in China by Tanluan is described as follows:
[Tanluan] describes the visualization of Amit?bha and Sukh?vat? in minute detail, he regards the invocation of the Buddha's name as a spell working in the inconceivable realm (acintya-dh?tu), and he describes how the realized Pure Land devotee manifests human (nirmita) bodies in all times and places. His knowledge of Buddhism is deep. He uses over twenty s?tras and more than a dozen stras to argue his case. There are eighty-one references to the Mah?prajñ?p?ramit?-stra alone, and twenty-one references to the Chinese M?dhyamaka Master Sengchao, none of them trivial or out of place.
At a later date, the Pure Land teachings spread to Japan and slowly grew in prominence. Genshin (942-1017) caused Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028) to accept the Pure Land teachings. H?nen (1133-1212) established Pure Land Buddhism as an independent sect in Japan known as J?do-sh?. Today Pure Land is an important form of Buddhism in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Pure Land schools make up almost 40 percent of Japanese Buddhism practitioners with the most temples, second to Chan schools. These schools were influenced by the thought that humans could no longer understand the dharma by themselves.
Contemporary Pure Land traditions see Amit?bha expounding the Dharma in his buddha-field (Skt. buddhak?etra), or "pure land", a region offering respite from karmic transmigration. Amit?bha's pure land of Sukh?vat? is described in the Longer Sukh?vat?vy?ha S?tra as a land of beauty that surpasses all other realms. It is said to be inhabited by many gods, men, flowers, fruits, and adorned with wish-granting trees where rare birds come to rest. In Pure Land traditions, entering the Pure Land is popularly perceived as equivalent to the attainment of enlightenment. Upon entry into the Pure Land, the practitioner is then instructed by Amit?bha Buddha and numerous bodhisattvas until full and complete enlightenment is reached. This person then has the choice of returning at any time as a bodhisattva to any of the six realms of existence in order to help all sentient beings in sa?s?ra, or to stay the whole duration, reach buddhahood, and subsequently deliver beings to the shore of liberation.
In Mah?y?na Buddhism, there are many buddhas, and each buddha has a pure land. Amit?bha's pure land of Sukh?vat? is understood to be in the western direction, whereas Ak?obhya's pure land of Abhirati is to the east. Though there are other traditions devoted to various Pure Lands, each of Pure Lands except Amit?bha's is called by the different name without calling it pure land, and Amitabha's is by far the most popular. Few Pure Land buddhists have practiced the harder Pratyutpanna samadhi.
Sutras of Pure Land Buddhism preaches that Dharma brings effects equally without distinction of saints or the imperial family. This is one of the reasons that became most popular among the populace. In addition, it references that benevolences expecting the reward do not have good deeds, and suggests that good and evil may be interchanged in the difference of one's situation. Hence, it was thought that menial persons could be released from the underworld like Hell and arrive at Pure Land easily depending on their good deeds in one's lifetime. However, because this teaching includes extremely difficult subject matter, various denominations or sects appeared over the interpretation.
Repeating for the name of Amit?bha is traditionally a form of mindfulness of the Buddha (Skt. buddh?nusm?ti). This term was translated into Chinese as nianfo (Japanese nembutsu), by which it is popularly known in English. The practice is described as calling the buddha to mind by repeating his name, to enable the practitioner to bring all his or her attention upon that buddha (See: sam?dhi). This may be done vocally or mentally, and with or without the use of Buddhist prayer beads. Those who practice this method often commit to a fixed set of repetitions per day. According to tradition, the second patriarch of the Pure Land school, Shandao, is said to have practiced this day and night without interruption, each time emitting light from his mouth. Therefore, he was bestowed with the title "Great Master of Light" (Chinese: ?) by Emperor Gaozong of Tang.
In Chinese Buddhism, there is a related practice called the "dual path of Chan and Pure Land cultivation", which is also called the "dual path of emptiness and existence." As taught by Nan Huai-Chin, the name of Amit?bha is recited slowly, and the mind is emptied out after each repetition. When idle thoughts arise, the name is repeated again to clear them. With constant practice, the mind is able to remain peacefully in emptiness, culminating in the attainment of sam?dhi.
Repeating the Pure Land Rebirth dh?ra is another method in Pure Land Buddhism. Similar to the mindfulness practice of repeating the name of Amit?bha, this dh?ra is another method of meditation and recitation in Pure Land Buddhism. The repetition of this dh?ra is said to be very popular among traditional Chinese Buddhists. It is traditionally preserved in Sanskrit, and it is said that when a devotee succeeds in realizing singleness of mind by repeating a mantra, its true and profound meaning will be clearly revealed.
The Chinese use a version of this dh?ra that was transliterated from Sanskrit into Chinese characters, called the "Mantra for Birth in the Pure Land" (Chinese: ?; pinyin: ) also known as the Pure Land Rebirth Dh?ra ( Wangsheng Jingtu Shenzhou). The translation exists in various forms and this is one commonly used.
Another practice found in Pure Land Buddhism is meditative contemplation and visualization of Amit?bha, his attendant bodhisattvas, and the Pure Land. The basis of this is found in the Amitayurdhyana Sutra, in which the Gautama Buddha describes to Queen Vaidehi the practices of thirteen progressive visualization methods, corresponding to the attainment of various levels of rebirth in the Pure Land. The first of these steps is contemplation of a setting sun, until the visualization is clear whether the eyes are open or closed. Each progressive step adds complexity to the visualization of Sukh?vat?, with the final contemplation being an expansive visual which includes Amit?bha and his attendant bodhisattvas. According to Inagaki Hisao, this progressive visualization method was widely followed in the past for the purpose of developing sam?dhi. Visualization practises for Amit?bha are also popular in Shingon Buddhism as well as other schools of Vajrayana.
Practitioners claim there is evidence of dying people going to the pure land, such as:
The last part of the body to become cold is the top of the head (posterior fontanelle). In Buddhist teaching, souls who enter the Pure Land leave the body through the fontanelle at the top of the skull. Hence, this part of the body stays warmer longer than the rest of the body. The Verses on the Structure of the Eight Consciousnesses (Chinese: ), reads: "to birth in saints the last body temperature in top of head, to deva in eyes, to human in heart, to hungry ghosts in belly, to animals in knee cap, to the hells-realm in sole of feet." See also: phowa.
The dying person may demonstrate some, but not necessarily all, of these evidences. For example, his facial expression may be happy, but he may not demonstrate other signs, such as sharira and dreams.
When a person dies, at first "good luck at the underworld" is prayed for the dead person. The next, the family is in mourning during 49 days till the dead person's reincarnation (Pure Land sects may say "till achieving Pure Land"). It is thought that the great sinner transmigrates to a beast or a hungry ogre without being able to go to the Pure Land.
In Tibet, which has a tantric culture, the original Indic general orientation of seeking rebirth in the Pure Land of any deity was retained. Tibetan practitioners may also visualize themselves as a Buddha. By contrast, the Chinese traditions are oriented towards seeking assistance from an "other-Amitabha Buddha" which is outside the self, and may consider the Western Pure Land to exist only in the mind.
Regarding Pure Land practice in Indian Buddhism, Hajime Nakamura writes that as described in the Pure Land s?tras from India, Mindfulness of the Buddha (Skt. buddh?nusm?ti) is the essential practice. These forms of mindfulness are essentially methods of meditating upon Amit?bha Buddha. Andrew Skilton looks to an intermingling of Mah?y?na teachings with Buddhist meditation schools in Kashmir for the rise of Mah?y?na practices related to buddh?nusm?ti, mindfulness of the Buddha:
Great innovations undoubtedly arose from the intermingling of early Buddhism and the Mah?y?na in Kashmir. Under the guidance of Sarv?stiv?din teachers in the region, a number of influential meditation schools evolved which took as their inspiration the Bodhisattva Maitreya. [...] The Kashmiri meditation schools were undoubtably highly influential in the arising of the buddh?nusm?ti practices, concerned with the 'recollection of the Buddha(s)', which were later to become characteristic of Mah?y?na Buddhism and the Tantra.
Pure Land Buddhism was one of the two main schools of monastic Buddhism that persisted, the other being Chan. Pure Land Buddhism is considered to be both monastic and lay. Pure Land practice never became a sect of Buddhism separate from general Mah?y?na practice. In particular, Pure Land and Zen practice are often seen as being mutually compatible, and no strong distinctions are made. Chinese Buddhists have traditionally viewed the practice of meditation and the practice of reciting Amit?bha Buddha's name, as complementary and even analogous methods for achieving enlightenment. This is because they view recitation as a meditation method used to concentrate the mind and purify thoughts. Chinese Buddhists widely consider this form of recitation as a very effective form of meditation practice.
Historically, many Buddhist teachers in China have also taught both Chan and Pure Land together. For example, in the Ming dynasty, Hanshan Deqing and many of his contemporaries advocated the dual practice of the Chan and Pure Land methods, advocating mindfulness of Amit?bha to purify the mind for the attainment of self-realization.
Tibetan Pure Land Buddhism has a long and innovative history dating from the 8th-9th centuries, the era of the Tibetan Empire, with the translation and canonization of the Sanskrit Sukh?vat?vy?ha s?tras in Tibetan. Tibetan compositions of pure-land prayers and artistic renditions of Sukh?vat? in Central Asia date to that time. Tibetan pure-land literature forms a distinct genre and encompasses a wide range of scriptures, "aspiration prayers to be born in Sukh?vat?" (Tib. bde-smon), commentaries on the prayers and the s?tras, and meditations and rituals belonging to the Vajray?na tradition. The incorporation of phowa (mind transference techniques) in pure-land meditations is textually attested in the 14th century, in The Standing Blade of Grass (Tib. Pho-ba Jag-tshug ma), a terma text allegedly dating to the time of the Tibetan Empire. A good number of Buddhist treasure texts are dedicated to Amit?bha and to rituals associated with his pure-land, while the wide acceptance of phowa in Tibetan death rituals may owe its popularity to Pure Land Buddhism promoted by all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
There are many treasure texts associated with Tibetan Pure Land Buddhism  and tertön Longsal Nyingpo (1625-1682/92 or 1685-1752) of Katok Monastery revealed a terma on the pure land. This terma entailed phowa during the bardo of dying, sending the Mind Stream to a pure land.
It is important to apply our knowledge internally. The Buddha attained enlightenment in this way. The pure lands are internal; the mental afflictions are internal. The crucial factor is to recognize the mental afflictions. Only by recognizing their nature can we attain Buddhahood.
In Japanese Buddhism, Pure Land teachings developed into independent institutional sects, as can be seen in the J?do-sh?, J?do Shinsh?, Y?z?-nembutsu-sh?, and Ji-sh?. The term used in the Japanese culture differentiates from the common Chinese and India theologies, as the term was used before Buddhism had arrived in Japan as an alternate expression for "heaven".
Strong institutional boundaries exist between sects which serve to clearly separate the Japanese Pure Land schools from the Japanese Zen schools. One notable exception to this is found in the ?baku Zen school, which was founded in Japan during the 17th century by the Chinese Buddhist monk Ingen (Chinese Yinyuan Longqi). The ?baku school of Zen retains many Chinese features such as mindfulness of Amit?bha through recitation and recitation of the Pure Land s?tras.
Upon encountering Japanese Pure Land traditions which emphasize faith, many westerners saw outward parallels between these traditions and Protestant Christianity. This has led many western authors to speculate about possible connections between these traditions. However, the cosmology, internal assumptions, and underlying doctrines and practices are now known to have many differences.