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Pure Land


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The term ‘Pure Land’ is a Chinese invention, but it refers to a concept long known in Buddhism under other names such as Buddha-land or Buddha-field (Skt., Buddha-kṣetra). The idea arose in India with the development of Mahāyāna Buddhism, among whose innovations was the teaching that beings do not simply go into extinction upon the attainment of Buddhahood, but remain in the world to help others. Since they continue to exist, they must exist in a place, and since they are completely purified, their dwelling must also be completely pure. In some scriptures, such as the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa Sūtra, this did not imply the existence of a separate realm distinct from that in which unenlightened beings dwelt, but was this very world of suffering. Its purity derived from the fact that the Buddhas saw its true nature, which was pure, whereas other beings saw it through the lens of their delusion, which rendered it impure. However, another strain of thought did assign different realms to different Buddhas.and in time several of the more prominent Buddhas received Pure Lands with names and definite locations: to the west, the Buddha Amitābha dwelt in the land of Sukhāvatī.while to the east, the Buddha Akṣobhya presided over Abhirati. Within the esoteric tradition (see Esoteric Buddhism), these lands and their directions became part of maps of the cosmos known as maṇḍalas. Despite the specificity of their locations and features, however, these lands were seen as outside of saṃsāra.and were thus not to be confused with the ‘heavens’, the realms of the popular gods (deva) derived from Hindu mythology.

In India, the composition of the classic ‘Pure Land Scriptures’ (such as the Longer and Shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras) helped to popularize the idea that the Buddhas who dwelt in these Pure Lands could bring unenlightened beings into them for teaching without compromising the purity of the environs. In China.the rise of the Pure Land school popularized this idea, and spurred many centuries of theoretical accounts of the nature of the Pure Lands, and the genesis of typologies that sought to classify the various types of Pure Lands. For example, the thinker Ching-ying Hui-yüan (523–92) identified three different types of Pure Land, depending upon the beings that dwell in them or attain their vision: (1) the phenomenal Pure Land where unenlightened beings go which, while purified by the Buddha's presence, still presents itself to their minds according to their desires; (2) the Pure Land with characteristics, which accommodates those who achieved enlightenment (bodhi) following the Hīnayāna path and Mahāyāna followers in the early stages of practice; and (3) the true Pure Land, achieved by accomplished Bodhisattvas on the Mahāyāna path. This latter type had further subdivisions into lands of Bodhisattvas and lands of Buddhas, with the latter further categorized into two aspects: the land as it appears to the Buddha residing in it, and the way he manifests it to other beings.

(1) the phenomenal Pure Land where unenlightened beings go which, while purified by the Buddha's presence, still presents itself to their minds according to their desires; (2) the Pure Land with characteristics, which accommodates those who achieved enlightenment (bodhi) following the Hīnayāna path and Mahāyāna followers in the early stages of practice; and (3) the true Pure Land, achieved by accomplished Bodhisattvas on the Mahāyāna path.

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Subjects: Buddhism.


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