Taima Mandala, the Buddha Amida’s Paradise

The Pure Land School

Pure Land ideas originated in China and took root in Japan after the 10th century. 

From the 12th century, Pure Land in Japan evolved into a tradition in its own right, and today has over 20 million followers. While Pure Land thought and its associated rituals survive in China and Korea, there it does not form a separate school.

Pure Land thought emerged in part from the belief that the era of Buddhism’s spread around the world was drawing to a close. It seemed to Buddhist scholars that an awakening to supreme knowledge through observance of Buddhist teachings was now possible only for the most gifted of monks and nuns. Scholars felt it had become impossible for those leading day-to-day secular lives to achieve Buddhism’s goal.

The teachings associated with the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha (Amida in Japanese) were consolidated by Buddhist men and women hoping for rebirth there. His Pure Land promised ideal conditions for believers to practise the Buddha’s teachings (the dharma) without interruption from the challenges of everyday life.

Relief of the Five Transcendent Buddhas

Transcendent Buddha Amitabha

The Pure Land is described as a paradise presided over by Amitabha, the “Buddha of Infinite Light”.

Amitabha is one of five so-called Transcendent Buddhas in the Mahayana tradition.

They each embody aspects of the highest wisdom expressed in Buddhism. All are assigned a direction, a colour, a symbolic gesture, and a particular quality.

Amida Nyorai, Buddha of the Western Paradise

Buddha Amitabha

Amitabha is associated with the colour red; his cardinal direction is the west; his hands rest folded in his lap in the gesture of meditation, and his specific quality is expressed in his name, which means “Infinite Light”.

The name “Pure Land” derives from the idea that as a purified, ideal being, a Buddha must automatically reside in a “pure field”.

Standing Buddha Amida

Buddhist followers of the Pure Land School aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Western Paradise – the Pure Land – where they can devote themselves to the study of the Buddhist teachings in ideal conditions.

The practices believed to lead them there include devotion, extolment, pledging, meditation, and merit transfer.

The Descent of Buddha Amida

Meditation and Devotion

In Pure Land Buddhism, specific forms of meditation and devotion are practised.

Invoking Amitabha through meditation makes it possible for believers to receive direct instruction in the Buddha's teachings (the dharma).

This is achieved, for instance, by invoking his name in a sacred formula in a practice known as “nenbutsu”. Devotees repeatedly recite the Japanese phrase “Namu Amida Butsu”, which means “Homage to Amida Buddha”.

The Descent of Buddha Amida

Believers who think of Amitabha with sincerity ten times are also said to be led to his Western Paradise. This practice is especially important in end-of-life care, when death and rebirth are imminent.

Rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land represents an intermediate stage on the path to achieving awakening to supreme knowledge.

Abbot Ding asked Master Linji: What is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings?

Master Linji climbed down from his meditation seat, grabbed him by the collar, and boxed his ears before pushing him away.

The abbot stood there bewildered when a monk beside him whispered: Why do you not bow before the Master, Abbot Ding?

The Pure Land School