Pure Land Buddhism (浄土仏教 Jōdo bukkyō) is a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism and seeks rebirth into Amitābha Buddha's Western Paradise (the "Pure Land"), traditionally after death. Pure Land Buddhism achieved enormous popularity in China from around 800 CE, though it had existed there earlier. It never achieved the status of a separate school or sect in China, remaining a monastic cult and folk religion.


Pure Land Buddhism was introduced to Japan along with other forms of Buddhism in the 6th century CE but stayed dormant until it was picked up by the aristocracy during the middle of the Heian Period (794-1185). Under the leadership of Hōnen (法然, 1133-1212) and his disciples, Pure Land faith gained immense popularity and finally achieved independent status.

Contemporary Pure Land denominations are the
  • Jodo sect (浄土宗 Jōdoshū, "The Pure Land School")
  • Jodoshin sect (浄土真宗 Jōdo Shinshū, "The True Essence of the Pure Land Teaching")
  • Ji sect (時宗 Jishū, "The People of the Time")
  • Yuzu Nembutsu (融通念仏宗 Yūzū-nenbutsu-shū, "Those who recite Nenbutsu")

Pure Land Buddhism was based on a new concept of Buddhahood which developed in early Mahāyāna Buddhism. Early in the development of Mahāyāna, the number of Buddhas increased rapidly; they were regarded as great saviours who reigned over separate "Buddha-worlds" or "Buddha-lands" generated by their good karma and scattered throughout the universe. It was believed that through their wisdom, compassion, and skill, these Buddhas could bring persons who called upon them to rebirth in their lands and there guide them to enlightenment and Buddhahood. Some of these Buddha-lands were thought to be purified, that is, to be more splendid, pleasurable, and propitious to attaining Buddhahood than others.

Amitābha (Amida) became the most popular of the Buddhas possessing a purified Buddha-land (浄土 Jōdo). The Infinite Life Sūtra (Sanskrit: सुखावतीव्यूहः Sukhāvatīvyūhaḥ sūtra; Japanese: 無量寿経 Dai muryōjukyō) relates the career of this Buddha. While still a bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be), he vowed to establish a purified Buddha-land superior to all others and to bring there all beings who would rely upon him with sincere devotion. He then perfected his Buddhahood and fulfilled his vows by establishing a pure land called Sukhāvatī (極楽 Gokuraku,"The Ultimate Blissful"), into which he saves all those who call upon him.

This text and other Pure Land scriptures emphasise that the practice called nembutsu is the way to express one's reliance upon Amida and achieve rebirth in his land. Nembutsu originally meant meditation upon the Buddha, but later came to mean invocation of his name. In other words, according to Pure Land Buddhist teachings, those who call upon Amida in great sincerity and devotion with the formula namu amida butsu (南無阿弥陀仏) are welcomed into the Pure Land.

Pure Land Buddhism also teaches that those whom Amida especially wishes to save in this way are sinful and destitute who have no other means of salvation. Thus, Pure Land Buddhism claims to be a genuine Mahāyāna way of universal salvation.


  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric, Japan Encyclopedia, Harvard University Press 2005
  • Deal, William E. / Ruppert, Brian, A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism, Wiley Blackwell 2015