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Denominations of Buddhism: Pure Land

Pure Land

Before we get into the belief of Pure Land Buddhism, we need to introduce a new character. Amida Buddha (also called Amitabha) was a monk who attained enlightenment. This is probably a good time to point out that every time you see the word Buddha, we are NOT necessarily talking about the original Buddha. There have been many people who have attained enlightenment, and many of them are called Buddhas. We will be encountering many Buddhas as we move forward. Anyway, Amida Buddha reached enlightenment, and shortly thereafter set up a “Pure Land” somewhere in the west, far beyond our own world. The Pure Land was a perfect place, and impossible to reach here on Earth.

Practitioners who call upon the name of Amida Buddha as few as ten times can be reborn in the Pure Land after they die. Upon being reborn in the Pure Land, they receive further instruction and may return to our world as a bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is a person who has attained enlightenment, but rather than end the cycle of rebirth, has chosen to stay here in this world in order to help others learn the truth.

It is also believed that attaining enlightenment on one’s own is extremely difficult, and that it is easier to reach with the help of Amida Buddha. Instead of meditation, adherents to Pure Land believe that Amida Buddha will lead them to the Pure Land where they will automatically gain Enlightenment.

Another practice of Pure Land people is to repeat or chant the nembutsu, ‚Äúnamo Amida Butsu‚Äù or ‚ÄúI trust in the Buddha of immeasurable light.‚Äù This is repeated over and over, sometimes hundreds of times, and is intended to bestow Amida Buddha’s ‚Äúblessing‚Äù on the chanter.

Does some of this sound familiar? A messiah has come and if you call upon his name, you will be reborn in ‚Äúheaven.‚Äù You might not be able to be saved without his help. Yes, Pure Land is often derogatorily called ‚ÄúChristian Buddhism‚Äù due to the similarities between this form of Buddhism and Christianity. This form of Buddhism is growing very quickly around the world, probably due to the simplicity of their doctrine. Do the chants and have faith in Amida Buddha, and you’re all set.

Most of what we discuss here on the Daily Buddhism does NOT apply to this group. I am once again oversimplifying, but if it doesn’t seem like this stuff fits in with the rest of Buddhism, then I think we’re on the same page.

4 comments to Denominations of Buddhism: Pure Land

  • Michael Layne

    Question: I’m one of these people who has spent a lifetime in philosophy and zero in actual practice. I’m now seeking out a place and other people who share my Buddhist views. I ran into a Japanese Buddhist group that I liked on the surface, but they seem to be of a Pure Land nature. Can anyone comment on how well or not well someone very influenced by the Dali Lama would do in such a place? They people that I have met seem to clearly accept that nature of their Amida Buddha as a fable. However, the notion of “salvation” is very much part of what I have seen so far. Should I just bail on this before I end up wasting my time going down a path that isn’t compatible with a Mahayana path? This is so close to my home, and I like the people. However… any thoughts?

  • I can’t comment on your group, because every group is different. I think what it really boils down to difference-wise is that Pure Land focuses on salvation from outside, and most of the other groups believe salvation is your own responsibility. How your specific group treats that, I cannot say.

    The best advice I can give is to give this group a try for a couple of weeks and see what you think. You should be able to decide fairly quickly if this group is for you or not. Just remember that if you find that they aren’t for you, there are other options within Buddhism.

    I’d love to hear other’s opinions on this, and please keep us updated on what you eventually decide!

  • Michael Layne

    I’m currently of the opinion that the meditation group is meaningful to me. There is no chance that this is my brand, but I don’t know that it really matters to me. I’ve found a Tibetan group that may be more what I am looking for.

    I guess, though, the question really is: As someone is reasonably familiar with the philosophical elements of the very basic teachings but who has never been able to bring the practice to his life, does one need to find a group? I’ve reached the point that I believe that I really need to touch base with those more experienced in practice. Does that seem reasonable?

  • You say:

    “does one need to find a group? I‚Äôve reached the point that I believe that I really need to touch base with those more experienced in practice”

    It sounds like you have answered your own question. You feel the need to join a group, so that’s what you should do. Learning the philosophy and history of Buddhism is great, you need that in order to make start down the path; you have to know how to find the path before you can take it. But it’s the daily practice and actually living the life that will do you the most good. You can read this stuff every day of your life and never get anywhere; you have to actually APPLY the teachings.

    It’s good if you can find a group that fits you perfectly. Here in America, or most places in the West, our choices in Buddhist Sanghas (temples, churches or just groups) are very limited. Sometimes you have to “make do” with what’s available. Just always remember there are other ways of looking at things than just what your group teaches. If something your group says doesn’t hit home with you, then that’s up to you; it’s all about YOUR enlightenment.