Pure Land Buddhism (净土宗), is a broad branch of Mahāyāna 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 Amitābha Buddha.
The three principal Pure Land sūtras are the Amitabha Sutra, the Infinite Life Sutra, and the Amitayurdhyana Sutra. These sutras describe Amitābha and his Pure Land of Bliss, called Sukhavati. Also related to the Pure Land tradition is the Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra, which gives an early description of the practice of reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha as a meditation method, although it does not enumerate any vows of Amitābha or the qualities of Sukhāvatī.
Bodhisattvas hear about the Buddha Amitābha and call him to mind again and again in this land. Because of this calling to mind, they see the Buddha Amitābha. Having seen him they ask him what dharmas it takes to be born in the realm of the Buddha Amitābha. Then the Buddha Amitābha 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.”
The Pure Land teachings first became prominent in China with the founding of Donglin Temple at Mount Lu by Huiyuan (慧遠) in 402 CE. 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 (道安). 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. They accepted the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra and the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra as their standards among the Buddhist sūtras, and they advocated the practice of reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha in order to attain rebirth in the western pure land of Sukhāvatī. 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.
Practitioners claim there is evidence of dying people going to the pure land, such as:
- Knowing the time of death (預知時至): some prepare by bathing and reciting the name of the Buddha Amitabha.
- The “Three Saints of the West” (西方三聖): Amitābha Buddha and the two bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara on his right and Mahāsthāmaprāpta on his left, appear and welcome the dying person. Visions of other buddhas or bodhisattvas are disregarded as they may be bad spirits disguising themselves, attempting to stop the person from entering the Pure Land.
- Records of practicing Pure Land Buddhists who have died have been known to leave śarīrā, or relics, after cremation.
Amitabha in context
The Pure Land sect emphasises the important role played in liberation by Amitabha (which means Immeasurable Light) who is also called Amitayus (which means Immeasurable Life).
People who sincerely call on Amitabha for help will be reborn in Sukhavati – The Pure Land or The Western Paradise – where there are no distractions and where they can continue to work towards liberation under the most favourable conditions.
The nature of Amitabha is not entirely clear. Encyclopedia Britannica describes him as “the great saviour deity worshiped principally by members of the Pure Land sect in Japan.” Another writer says “Amitabha is neither a God who punishes and rewards, gives mercy or imposes tests, nor a divinity that we can petition or beg for special favours”.
The mystical view of Amitabha regards him as an eternal Buddha, and believes that he manifested himself in human history as Gautama, or “The Buddha”.
Amitabha translates as “Amito-fo” in Chinese and “Amida” in Japanese.
The story of Amitabha
Once there was a king who was so deeply moved by the suffering of beings in the world that he gave up his throne and became a monk named Dharmakara.
Dharmakara was heavily influenced by the 81st Buddha and vowed to become a Buddha himself, with the aim of creating a Buddha-land that would be free of all limitations.
He meditated at length on other Buddha-lands and set down what he learned in 48 vows. Eventually he achieved enlightenment and became Amitabha Buddha and established his Buddha-land of Sukhavati.
His most important vow was the 18th, which said:
If I were to become a Buddha, and people, hearing my Name, have faith and joy and recite it for even ten times, but are not born into my Pure Land, may I not gain enlightenment.
Since he did gain enlightenment, it follows that those who do have faith and joy and who recite his name will be born into the Pure Land.
Three Conditions to be reborn in the realm of Amitabha Budhha(the Pure Land):
In the Visualization Sutra, we learn how of how Queen Vaidehi, suffering from overwhelming family misfortune, bitterly said to the Buddha, “Life is filled with suffering. Is there not a place without suffering? I wish to live in such a world.” Through his extraordinary abilities, Shakyamuni Buddha displayed for the queen all the worlds of all the Buddhas in the universe.
She vowed to be born into Amitabha Buddha’s Western Pure Land, the world of Ultimate Bliss and requested that Shakyamuni Buddha teach her how to accomplish this.
He taught her to practice the Three Conditions explaining that they were “the true causes of pure activities of all Buddhas of the three time periods.” Therefore, they are a crucial part and foundation of our practice. This important statement tells us that all Buddhas of the three time periods of the past, the present, and the future, rely on the Three Conditions as the foundation for their cultivation and attainment of Buddhahood.
The First Condition is:
1. Be filial to and provide and care for parents
2. Be respectful to and serve teachers
3. Be compassionate and not kill any living beings
4. Cultivate the Ten Virtuous Conducts. Physically, we are to refrain from killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. Verbally, we are to refrain from false speech, harsh speech, divisive speech, andenticing speech. Mentally, we are to refrain from giving rise to greed, anger, and ignorance.
The Second Condition is:
5. Take the Three Refuges
6. Abide by the precepts
7. Behave in a dignified, appropriate manner
The Third Condition is:
8. Generate the Bodhi mind
9. Believe deeply in causality
10. Study and chant the Mahayana sutras
11. Encourage others to advance on the path to enlightenment
From PureLand College