Pure Land Sūtras

Jeff Wilson

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Pure Land Sūtras


Pure Land Buddhism is today one of the largest and most widespread traditions. With roots in India and Central Asia, it has flourished especially in East Asia and has also had a major impact on Tibet and the Himalayan region. Pure Land Buddhism focuses on the buddha known as Amitābha (Infinite Light) or Amitāyus (Infinite Life), who resides in a wonderful place called Sukhāvatī (Realm of Bliss). This type of blissful place is labeled a “pure land” in the East Asian tradition, and so popular is Amitābha’s realm that it is frequently named the Pure Land. As a somewhat distinct, self-sufficient form of Buddhism, the Pure Land tradition owes its existence above all to the popular influence of three particular sutras. These are the two Sukhāvatīvyūha sutras (“Adornments of the blissful realm,” hereafter called the Larger and Smaller sutras) that are extant in Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and several Central Asian languages, and the Guān Wúliàngshòu Fó Jīng (Visualization of Amitāyus Buddha Sutra, hereafter called the Visualization Sutra), apparently of Chinese composition. These sutras all describe the wonderful nature of the Pure Land and recommend rebirth therein through various practices, especially contemplation on Amitābha and Sukhāvatī and calling on Amitābha’s help through devotional acts. The Larger Sutra contains a narrative that has been particularly influential, describing how an ancient bodhisattva came to be the buddha Amitābha through the fulfillment of forty-eight (in some versions, forty-seven) vows designed to create a realm of peace where buddhahood is easy for all to attain. This bibliography focuses especially on this group of texts, which due to their importance are often simply called “the three Pure Land sutras.” However, more than a fifth of the sutras in the Taishō Tripitaka contain reference to Amitābha and his Pure Land, and furthermore there are many other celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas that have their own pure lands. Some attention, therefore, is given to these figures and the texts that relate to them as well.

Article.  4855 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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