Pure Land Buddhism

Definition: Pure Land Buddhism
School of Buddhism supposedly founded by the Chinese monk Hui Yuan (334-417) which became one of the most popular forms of Mahayana. Pure Land Buddhism spread to Japan where it broke away from the main school and goes by the name J?do..

Pure Land (also known as Shin Buddhism and Amidism) is a sect of Buddhism that is based upon the Pure Land sutras that were first brought to China around 150 CE by the monks An Shih Kao and Lokaksema. The Pure Land sutras center on the figure of Amitabha (Amida in Japanese), one of the Five Wisdom Buddhas, and his Pure Land paradise, called Sukhavati.

History of Pure Land Buddhism

The Pure Land school first came to prominence with the founding of a monastery on Mount Lushan by Hui-yuan in 402 CE. It quickly spread throughout China and was later systematized by Shantao (613-681).

Pure Land Buddhism spread to Japan, where it grew in prominence until Honen Shonin (1133-1212) established Pure Land Buddhism as an independent sect in Japan, known as Jodo Shu. Today Pure Land is the dominant form of Buddhism in Japan.

Beliefs of Pure Land Buddhism

The central teaching of Pure Land Buddhism is that nirvana is no longer practical nor possible to attain in our present day. Instead, one should focus on devotion to Amida, which will gain one enough karmic merit to go to the Pure Land (a Heaven or Paradise). The Pure Land is not an eternal destination, but a pleasant place in which all karma disappears and nirvana is simple to attain.

Practices of Pure Land Buddhism

Most Pure Land Buddhists focus on chanting or repeating a mantra of devotion to Amida, "Namu Amida Butsu," as often as possible to reinforce a proper and sincere state of mind and gain admission to the Pure Land at death. This simple form of religious practice has contributed greatly to its popularity, especially in Japan.

Schools of Pure Land Buddhism

Jodo Buddhism

Jodo is the oldest school of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. It was founded by Honen (1133-1212), a Tendai monk who converted to Pure Land teachings at the age of 43. Honen taught that anyone can be reborn in Amida's Pure Land simply by reciting the nembutsu and insisted that Pure Land be considered a separate sect of Japanese Buddhism. Honen's followers included Shinran, who founded the Jodo Shinshu school, and Ippen (1239-89), who founded the Ji school.

Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism

Jōdo Shinshū ("True Pure Land School"), also known as Shin or Shin-shu Buddhism, is a branch of Pure Land Buddhism which was founded in Japan by the monk Shinran (1173-1262) and organized by Rennyo (1414-99). It is a lay movement with no monks or monasteries and is based on simple but absolute devotion to Amida. In Shin-shu, the nembutsu is an act of gratitude, not one of supplication or trust.

Shinran's thought was influenced by an understanding of mappō, or the decline of the Dharma. Shinran saw the age he was living in as being in a degenerate age where beings cannot hope to be able to extricate themselves from the cycle of birth and death through their own power, or jiriki. For Shinran, all conscious efforts towards achieving enlightenment and realizing the Bodhisattva ideal were contrived and rooted in selfish ignorance; inauthentic in nature, for humans of this age and beyond are so deeply rooted in karmic evil as to be incapable not only of attainment but also of the truly altruistic compassion that is requisite in becoming a Bodhisattva.

Thus, Shinran advocates tariki, or reliance on Other Power - the power of Amida Buddha's limitless and infinite compassion made manifest in the Primal Vow - in order to attain liberation. Shin Buddhism can be understood as a "practiceless practice," for there are no specific acts to be performed.

Jōdo Shinshū divided into two factions in the 17th century: Otani and Honganji. Both have their main temples in Kyoto, Japan and both remain powerful in Japan. In the United States, the Nishi-Hongwanji subsect operates as the Buddhist Churches of America.


  • "Pure Land schools," "Honen," "Jodo Shinshu." John Bowker, ed., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford UP, 2000).
  • "Pure Land Buddhism." Wikipedia. 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pure_Land_Buddhism>

Further Reading

  • Jodo Shu
  • Jodo Shu Headquarters, Japan
  • Buddhist Churches of America - Includes basic information, shopping for Shin Buddhist ritual implements, and links to various Shin churches in America.
  • Ekoji Buddhist Temple - Jodo Shinshu Buddhism of the Nishi Hongwanji tradition in Northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
  • nembutsu.info - Journal of Shin Buddhism