Japanese copy of the Pure Land Taima Mandala, which depicts Sukhavati, the most popular Pure Land destination in East Asian Buddhism, hanging scroll from 1750.

Pure Land is the concept of a celestial realm of a buddha or bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism where many Buddhists aspire to be reborn.

The term "Pure Land" is particular to East Asian Buddhism (Chinese: 淨土; pinyin: Jìngtǔ) and related traditions. In Sanskrit Buddhist sources, the equivalent concept is called a buddha-field (Sanskrit: buddhakṣetra) or more technically a pure buddha-field (viśuddhabuddhakṣetra).

The various traditions that focus on attaining rebirth in a Pure Land have been termed Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Lands are also evident in the literature and traditions of Taoism and Bon.

In Indian sources

Tibetan painting of Amitabha in Sukhavati, c. 1700[1]

The Mahavastu defines a buddha-field as a realm where "a tathagata, a holy one, fully and perfectly enlightened, is to be found, lives, exists and teaches the Dharma, for the benefit and happiness of the great body of beings, men and gods."[2]

The Indian Mahayana sutras describe many buddha-fields.[3][4][5][6] Mahayana sources hold that there are an infinite number of buddhas, each with their own buddha-field where they teach the Dharma and where sentient beings can be reborn into (due to their good karmic acts).[7][8] A buddha-field is a place where bodhisattvas can more easily progress spiritually on the bodhisattva path.[7] Jan Nattier has argued that this idea became popular because the traditional understanding of the extreme length of the bodhisattva path seemed very difficult and training under a buddha in a buddha-field (especially prepared to train bodhisattvas) was seen as a faster way to buddhahood,[8] known as stream winning.

Sentient beings who are reborn in these pure buddha-fields due to their good karma also contribute to the development of a Buddha-field, as can bodhisattvas who are able to travel there. These buddha-fields are therefore powerful places which are very advantageous to spiritual progress.[7]

According to Indian sources, the bodhisattva path, by ending all defilements, culminates in the arising of a purified buddha-field, which is the manifestation and reflection of a Buddha's activity.[2] Mahayana sources state that bodhisattvas like Avalokiteśvara and Manjushri will obtain their own buddha-fields after they attain full buddhahood.[9] In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha's close followers, such as Śāriputra, Mahākāśyapa, Subhuti, Maudgalyāyana and Buddha's son Rāhula are also predicted to attain their own Pure Lands. The relative time-flow in the Pure Lands may be different,[10] with a day in one Pure Land being equivalent to years in another.

Purity of buddha-fields

Mahayana sources speak of three kinds of buddha-fields: pure, impure, and mixed.[2] An example of an "impure" field is often this world (called Sahā – “the world to be endured"), Sakyamuni's field. Purified fields include Amitabha's buddha-field of Sukhavati.[11] Some sutras say that Sakyamuni chose to come to an impure world due to his vast compassion.[12]

However, not all Mahayana texts agree that Sakyamuni's world is impure. Numerous Mahayana sutras, such as the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā prajñāpāramitā, Lankavatara, Vimalakirti, and Lotus Sutras, also state that this dualism between purity and impurity is illusory and instead state that even this world is a pure buddha-field.[2]

Thus, according to the Vimalakirti, this seemingly impure world is actually pure. It only appears impure because the deluded and impure minds of sentient beings perceive it like that. As Paul Williams explains: "The impurity that we see is the result of impure awareness, and also the Buddha's compassion in creating a world within which impure beings can grow. Thus the real way to attain a Pure Land is to purify one's own mind. Put another way, we are already in the Pure Land if we but knew it. Whatever the realm, if it is inhabited by people with enlightened pure minds then it is a Pure Land."[12]

Numerous Mahayana sources also connect the concept of a purified buddhafield (pariśuddha-buddhakṣetra) with the purity of one's own mind. Hence, the Vimalakirti sutra states: "the bodhisattva who wishes to purify his buddhakṣetra should, first of all, skillfully adorn his own mind. And why? Because to the extent that the mind of a bodhisattva is pure is his buddhakṣetra purified."[2]


Nakamura (1980, 1987: p. 207) establishes the Indian background of the padma imagery of the field which is evident iconographically, as well as in motif and metaphor:

The descriptions of Pure Land in Pure Land sutras were greatly influenced by Brahmin and Hindu ideas and the topological situation in India. There was a process of the development of lotus (padma)-symbolism in Pure Land Buddhism. The final outcome of the thought was as follows: the aspirants of faith and assiduity are born transformed (anupapāduka) in the lotus flowers. But those with doubts are born into the lotus-buds. They stay in the calyx of a lotus (garbhāvāsa) for five hundred years without seeing or hearing the Three Treasures. Within the closed lotus-flowers they enjoy pleasures as though they were playing in a garden or palace.

— Nakamura Hajime (Nakamura 1980, p. 207)

Pure Lands

Frontispiece of the 1718 Rules for Repenting and Rebirth in the Pure Land (Wangsheng Jingtu Chanyuan Yikuei) with Amitabha (Omituo) Flanked by Two Bodhisattvas (Pusa) and Reborn Souls on Lotus Blossoms.
Vietnamese depiction of Ksitigarbha in Pure Land.
Amida welcomes Chûjô-hime to the Western Paradise, Taima Temple in Japan, from a Muromachi period scroll.

Pure Lands of the Five Tathagatas

Further information: Five Tathāgatas

The five Pure Lands of the five Tathagatas are:[13][14]


Main article: Abhirati

Abhirati of Akshobhya in the east is suggested by some scholars to be the earliest Pure Land mentioned in Mahayana sutras.[15]


Main article: Sukhavati

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, in discussing the Mind Stream of Lokeśvararāja that in fulfillment has come to be known as Amitābha:

According to the sutra known as the Rolling of Drums, countless eons ago there was a joyous kingdom whose sovereign had great devotion for the buddha of that time, Lokesvararaja. The king renounced his kingdom, became a monk, and vowed to reach enlightenment. He expressed his bodhicitta intention through forty-eight vows, and promised to refuse buddhahood if any of these vows were not fulfilled. With these words, the earth trembled and flowers rained down from the skies. Praises resounded and with them the prophecy that this monk would surely become a buddha. And so he did, as the Buddha Amitabha.

In his lifetime as this bodhisattva monk, Amitabha saw that countless pure realms existed for realized ones who had been victorious over the mind's delusions, but no such realm was accessible to those still struggling on the path. Among his forty-eight vows was the aspiration to create a pure realm for all those who heard his name, wished to attain that realm, established the roots of virtue, and dedicated their merit in order to be reborn there. So powerful was his intention that he swore to refuse buddhahood if it did not enable him to manifest such a realm.[16]

Sukhāvatī is by far the most popular among Pure Land Buddhists. There are many old and recent Buddhist texts reporting the condition of its dying believers. Some Buddhists and followers of other religions claimed they went there and came back, and they were viewed as cults.[17][18][19]

Some controversial teachings said the successors of Amitabha in Sukhāvatī would be Avalokiteśvara and Mahāsthāmaprāpta.[20][21][22]

Śākyamuni's Pure Land

The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra states that Śākyamuni Buddha has his own Pure Land which is far away and is called "Unsurpassable" (Chinese: Wúshèng 無勝). The Buddha manifests from his Pure Land into our world in order to teach the Dharma.[23]

Under the influence of the Lotus Sutra, Japanese Buddhist schools like the Tendai and Nichiren schools saw Śākyamuni's pure land as being continuous with this supposedly impure world. This pure land was called "Jakkōdo" (寂光土, Land of Tranquil Light).[24][25]

Vairocana's universal Pure Land

Ming era statue of Vairocana Buddha on a thousand petaled lotus.

According to the Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra, the whole universe is a vast pure buddha-field which has been purified by Vairocana Buddha. This is the view of Pure Land which is found in the Chinese Huayan tradition.[26] According to this view, our world is just one small part of this universal Pure Land which is named: "Ocean of worlds, whose surface and inside are decorated with an arrangement of flowers" (Sanskrit: Kusumatalagarbha-vyūhālamkāra-lokadhātusamudra).[27] It is also called the "Lotus Treasury World" (Chinese: 華蔵世界, Skt. Padmagarbha-lokadhātu), since it is an array of billions of worlds in a lotus shape.[28]

Other identified Pure Lands

Maitreya in Tushita Heaven, over the entrance of Maya Cave, Kizil, Xinjiang, China.

There are some Pure Land worlds in controversial sutras and folk religion texts.[56][57][58][59][60]

In East Asian Buddhism

Amitayus Pure Land, from Mogao Cave, Dunhuang, Tang Dynasty (707-710)

In Chinese Buddhism, the Pure Land was commonly seen as a transcendent realm beyond the three realms (the desire realm, form realm and formless realm) into which one can be reborn after death.[61] This view of the Pure Land as a place was defended by masters of Pure Land Buddhism like Shandao. However, another interpretation of a Pure Land is that it is non-dual with our world. The Vimalakīrti Sutra was widely cited by exponents of this non-dual view of the Pure Land, often called "mind-only" Pure Land (wéixīn jìngtǔ 唯心淨土). This was most commonly defended by masters of the Chan / Zen school.[62] In the Platform Sutra for example, Huineng states that only the deluded hope to be born in a faraway land in the west, while the wise who know their nature is empty seek the Pure Land by purifying their minds.[63] These two views of the Pure Land led to many debates in Chinese Buddhism.[64]

In a similar fashion, according to the Huayan school patriarch Fazang, the ultimate view of the Buddha's Pure Land (derived from the Avatamsaka sutra) is that it is interfused with all worlds in the multiverse and indeed with all phenomena (dharmas).[65] This view of the Buddha's Pure Land is inconceivable and all pervasive. Since for Fazang, the entire Dharma realm is visible within each particle in the universe, the Pure Land is therefore contained in every phenomena and is non-dual with our world.[65]

"Qing dynasty painting by Ding Guanpeng titled 'Illustration of the Splendid Pure Land,' currently housed in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Later Chinese thinkers similarly attempted to synthesize the two ideas. Yúnqī Zhūhóng (1535–1615) saw the Pure Land as an actual place which is a useful upaya (skill means) created by the Buddha. Once beings reach this realm, they realize that it is just mind. Real sages can see that both ideas are interconnected and thus can affirm both without any conflict.[66]

Similarly, Hānshān Déqīng (c. 1546–1623) taught a synthesis of these various ideas ideas.[67] According to Hanshan, there are three kinds of Pure Lands (associated with the trikaya, the three bodies of the buddha):[67]

In Tibetan Buddhism

Buddha Amitabha in His Pure Land of Suvakti with the eight great bodhisattvas. Central Tibet, 18th century.

Pure Lands have been documented as arising due to the intention and aspiration of a bodhisattva such as the case of Amitābha, but other discourse has codified that they are entwined with the theory of the saṃbhogakāya and are understood to manifest effortlessly and spontaneously due to other activities of a Buddha and the pure qualities and the mysteries of the trikaya. The five features of Buddhahood – the attributes of the Sambhogakāya – play a role: perfect teacher, teaching, retinue, place and time. (Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje 2012, p. 1991)


Very important to all pure abodes is the 'Source' (Tibetan: ཆོས་འབྱུང, Wylie: chos 'byung; Sanskrit: dharmodaya) from which they dwell and which supports them, the 'Wellspring' of myriad fonts as emergent. It may be understood as an interface, portal or epiphany between the Dharmakaya and the Sambhogakaya. It is seminal in the establishment of mandalas governing the outer, inner or secret dimensions. It is the opening and consecration of the sacred space which enfolds and supports the expanse of the pure abode. In iconography it is represented by the six-pointed star, the two interlocking offset equilateral triangles that form a symmetry. This is the 'sanctum sanctorum' (Sanskrit: garbha gṛha). It later developed into the primordial purity of the lotus which supports the mandala, thangka or the murti of the deity. In temple siting it is the power place or 'spirit of place' that was augured or divined in the sacred geometry of 'geodesy' (Sanskrit: vāstu śāstra). In yoga asana, the 'source' is Vajrasana, the 'seat of enlightenment' the ancient name of Bodh Gaya and an alternate name for mahamudra or padmasana.[68]

"Source of phenomena or qualities (chos 'byung, dharmodaya). Pundarika defines dharmodaya as that from which phenomena devoid of intrinsic nature originate. "Phenomena devoid of intrinsic nature" refers to the ten powers, the four fearlessnesses, and the other 84,000 aspects of the teachings. Their source, dharmodaya, is the pure realm, the abode of all buddhas and bodhisattvas, the place of bliss, the place of birth; it is not the place that discharges blood, urine, and regenerative fluids, i.e., the vagina. Source: Stainless Light, Toh. 1347, vol. Da, f237a3-5".[69]

Field of Merit

The Field of Merit (Wylie: tshogs zhing) is a pictorial representation in tree form of the triratna and the guru, employed in Tibetan Buddhism as an object of veneration when taking refuge. It is visualized internally as a part of the commencement phase of each sadhana.

The Field of Merit is a Pure Land. Each school or sect has its own distinctive form of the tree in which the numerous lineage-holders or vidyadhara and dharma protectors or dharmapala are represented.

In discussing the visualisation of the Merit Field, Namkha'i links the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha with the Three Roots of Guru, Deva and Dakini:

The merit field (tshogs zhing), that is the source of all the accumulation of merit, designates the manifestation of the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) and of the Three Roots (Guru, Deva, Dakini) visualised by the practitioner.[70]


Mandalas, especially sand mandalas, are 'Pure Lands' and may be understood as Nirmāṇakāya, as are all murti, thangka and sacred tools that have consecrated, dedicated and the 'deity' (yidam) invoked and requested to reside.[clarification needed] Some namkha are Pure Lands. According to Nirmāṇakāya (as tulku) theory, nirmanakaya spontaneously arise due to the intention, aspiration, faith and devotion of the sangha.

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