Pure land in the Buddhadharma is an English rendering of the celestial realm or pure abode of a buddha or bodhisattva. Various Buddhadharma traditions have arisen that focus on Pure Lands in various capacities, especially what has been given the nomenclature Pure Land Buddhism. Pure lands are also evident in the literatures and traditions of Taoism and Bon .

Forms of Pure Land Buddhism were evident in early Indian Buddhism much earlier than the medieval period which was held by early Western scholarship.[1][2] From a historical perspective the notion of 'pure lands' was an embedded meme inherited from other Dharmic Traditions already evident in the Dharma, the notion of a pure land may have evolved from the Uttarakuru a divine continent in ancient Dharmic cosmology.[3] In the Buddhadharma, the pure realms are all accessible through ever-refining experiential meditation and trance sadhana.

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

Pure land: Painted 19th century Tibetan mandala of the Naropa tradition, Vajrayogini stands in the center of two crossed red triangles, Rubin Museum of Art. Moreover, the two crossed triangles are known as the 'Dharmodaya' (Sanskrit).

Dudjom (1904-1987), et al. (1991: p.474) of the principally Nyingma view, prefer the English rendering "pure abode" (Wylie: gtsang-ma'i gnas/ris dag; Sanskrit: śuddhanivāsa).[4] Technically speaking, even though we may adopt the use of the term “pure-land” outside an East-Asian context, as is commonly the case in English scholarship, in the Sanskrit texts and Tibetan translations Sukhāvatī is clearly referred to as either the buddha-field (Tib. sangs-rgyas-kyi-zhing), or a world-system (Tib. ’jig-rten-gyi khams).

Pure land

'Pure land' (Tibetan: sangs-rgyas-kyi zhing-khams; Sanskrit: buddhakṣetra)[5]

Pure abode

'Pure abode' (Tibetan: gtsang-ris gnas; Sanskrit: śuddhadhivāsa)[6]


'Buddha-field' (Tibetan: sangs-rgyas-kyi zhing-khams; Sanskrit: buddhakṣetra)[7]


In Mahayana sutras, there are many pure lands.[8][9][10][11] Boddhistivas, such as Avalokitesvara and Manjusri would have their pure lands after they attain buddhahood.[12][13] In the Lotus sutra, Buddha followers such as Sariputta, Mahākāśyapa, Subhuti, Moggallana and Rahula would also have their pure lands. The relative time of pure lands may be different.[14] A day in a pure land may be the same duration as years in another.

'Pure land' systems of devotion may be reconciled within the larger system of Buddhism as 'compassionate' (Sanskrit: karuna) upaya, often advocated for the less philosophically inclined, intellectual and learned, though this is most definitely not universal as 'devotion, faith and conviction' (Sanskrit: śraddhā) are essential to the path as evidenced by Buddhavacana and many scholars, philosophers and learned people feel considerable devotion and faith in their sadhana and commitments.

Pure lands have been documented as arising due to the intention and aspiration of a Bodhisattva such as the case of Amitabha, but other discourse has codified that they are entwined with 'emanation' (Sanskrit: nirmana) and Sambhogakaya theory and are understood to manifest effortlessly and spontaneously due to other 'activities' (Wylie: phrin las) of a buddha, in suite with the buddha's pure 'qualities' (Wylie: yon tan) and mysteries of body, speech and mind. In the latter effortless and spontaneous methodology, the 'Five Certainties/Five Excellences' (Tibetan: nges-pa lnga), attributes of the 'body of perfect rapture' (Sanskrit: sambhogakāya) play a role, namely, those of the perfected: 'teacher' (Wylie: ston-pa), 'teaching' (Wylie: bstan-pa), 'retinue' (Wylie: 'khor), 'place' (Wylie: gnas) and 'time' (Wylie: dus).[15]

Nakamura (1980, 1987: p.207) establishes the Dharmic grounding 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.[16]

For an example of a Vaishanava Darshana 'sacred dimension' (Sanskrit: loka) refer the esoteric Brahma Samhita, which was re-discovered in a manner comparable to the terma tradition of physically concealed texts. In the Brahma Samhita, the ishtadevata Govinda, resides in Goloka, an abode established and founded on a whorl of a lotus.

Vishnu holding the lotus, also seated on it and wearing a lotus-bud crown

Berzin (2008: p.7) conveys a possible developmental relationship between Buddhadharma and Zoroastrianism and Persian spiritual culture:

Sometimes, Buddhism borrowed certain ideas from the native religions in the areas to which it was spreading, or emphasized points in Indian Buddhism that resonated with facets of those religions. For example, the bodhisattva ideal, pure lands, and Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, have parallels in Zoroastrianism, as found in the Iranian cultural areas.[17]

Five Pure Abodes

Five Pure Abodes (of the form realms) (Wylie: gtsang-ma'i gnas lnga; Sanskrit: pañcaśuddhanivāsa)

  • Avṛha (Sanskrit; Tibetan: མི་ཆེ་བWylie: mi che ba)
  • Atapa (Sanskrit; Tibetan: མི་གདུང་བWylie: mi gdung ba)
  • Sudṛśa (Sanskrit; Tibetan: གྱ་ནོམ་སྣང་བWylie: gya nom snang ba)
  • Sudarśana (Sanskrit; Tibetan: ཤིན་ཏུ་མཐོངWylie: shin tu mthong)
  • Akaniṣṭa (Sanskrit; Tibetan: འོག་མིནWylie: 'og min)

The Source

Very important to all pure abodes is the 'Source' (Tibetan: ཆོས་འབྱུངWylie: chos 'byung; Sanskrit: dharmodaya) from which they well and which supports them, the 'Wellspring' as they as myriad fonts are emergent. It may be understood as an interface, portal or epiphany between the Dharmakaya and the Sambhogakaya. It is seminal in the establishment of mandala whether outer, inner or secret. 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.[18]

"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"..[19]

Śuddhāvāsa worlds

The Śuddhāvāsa (Pāli: Suddhāvāsa; Tib: gnas gtsang.ma) worlds, or "Pure Abodes", are distinct from the other worlds of the Rūpadhātu in that they do not house beings who have been born there through ordinary merit or meditative attainments, but only those Anāgāmins ("Non-returners") who are already on the path to Arhat-hood and who will attain enlightenment directly from the Śuddhāvāsa worlds without being reborn in a lower plane (Anāgāmins can also be born on lower planes). Every Śuddhāvāsa deva is therefore a protector of Buddhism. (Brahma Sahampati, who appealed to the newly enlightened Buddha to teach, was an Anagami from a previous Buddha[20]). Because a Śuddhāvāsa deva will never be reborn outside the Śuddhāvāsa worlds, no Bodhisattva is ever born in these worlds, as a Bodhisattva must ultimately be reborn as a human being through their 'compassion' (Sanskrit: Karuṇā) and bodhisattva vows.

Sukhavati (Sanskrit; Tibetan: Dewachen; English: Great Bliss)

Chagdud (1998, 2003: pp.11-12), in discussing the mindstream of Lokeṣvararāja (Japanese: Seijizaio Nyorai) 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.[21]

Sukhāvatī is by far the most popular among pure land buddhists. There are many old and recent buddhist texts reported the condition of its dying believers. Some buddhists and other religion followers claimed they went there and came back, and they were viewed as cults.[22][23][24][25]

Some controversial teachings said the successors of Amitabha in Sukhāvatī would be Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta.[26][27][28]

Other well known pure lands

Mount Grdhrakuta (靈鷲山釋迦淨土) While Zhiyi was chanting the Lotus sutra, he saw the meeting of Buddha Gautama and Boddhisattvas there. Weishi (慧思大師) said, 'Only you can know that, only I can proof you'.[29]

Inner court of Tushita (兜率內院) [30][31] It is said Maitreya is currently teaching there, Some buddhists, such as Xuanzang wished to go there.[32] Some buddhist monks dreamt going there.[33][34] Some folk religion followers claimed traveled there.[35][36] It was popular in old times.[37][38][39] But many buddhists studied the sutras and said the Sukhavati is better and easier to go.[40][41][42]

Abhirati of Akshobhya in the east is suggested by some scholars to be the earliest pure land appeared in Mahayana sutras.[43]

Vaidūryanirbhāsa (東方淨琉璃世界) of Bhaisajyaguru in the east is compared by some pure land buddhists to Amitabha's pure land in the west. [44]

Kusumatala-garbha-vyūhālaṃkāra-lokadhātu-samudra (World of the Lotus Sanctuary) (蓮華藏世界) or the Ghana-vyūha-ksetra (密嚴世界) of Buddha Vairocana, in Chapter 8 of Avatamsaka Sutra, Brahmajala-sutra (the Sutra of Brahma's Net) and Ghana-vyūha-sūtra, is in a higher layer than the west pure land.[45][46][47]

Zangdok Palri (the Copper-coloured Mountain) of Padmasambhava is in the earth.Dudjom Rinpoche said it was prophesied that all who had taken refuge in Padmasambhava or anyone who had any sort of connection with him would be reborn in Zangdok Palri.[48][49][50]

Shambhala in the Buddhist Kalachakra teachings.

Dhagpa Khadro of Vajrayogini.[51]

Dongji Miaoyan Palace (東極妙嚴宮) of Qinghuadadi Taiyi Jiuku Tianzun (青華大帝太乙救苦天尊)[52][53][54][55][56] is a Taoist pure land. Taiyi Jiuku Tianzun also have avatars in the taoist pure lands in ten directions (eight directions, up, down) [57]

There are some pure land worlds in controversial sutras and folk religion texts.[58][59][60][61]

Refuge field, merit field

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 dharmapāla are represented.

In discussing the visualisation of the Merit Field, Namkha'i (2001: p.103) 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. [62]


Mandala in Buddhist iconography, especially sand mandala are 'pure lands' and may be understood as nirmanakaya, as are all murti, thanka and sacred tools that have consecrated, dedicated and the 'deity' (Sanskrit: ishtadevata) invoked and requested to reside. Some namkha are pure lands. According to Nirmanakaya (as tulku) theory, nirmanakaya spontaneously arise due to the intention, aspiration, faith and devotion of the sangha.


  1. 淨土新論
  2. 淨土的淵源及其演變
  3. 西方淨土的宗教學詮釋
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  6. Dorje, Jikdrel Yeshe (Dudjom Rinpoche, author), & translated and edited: Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (1991). The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Boston, USA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-199-9, p.371.
  7. Dorje, Jikdrel Yeshe (Dudjom Rinpoche, author), & translated and edited: Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (1991). The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: Its Fundamentals and History. Boston, USA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-199-9, p.339.
  8. 大寶積經
  9. 淨土思想之考察 釋聖嚴
  10. 從凡聖同居土到常寂光淨土 陳清香
  11. 极乐世界四种国土详情及生因详情揭秘
  12. 觀世音菩薩授記經
  13. 文殊師利佛土嚴淨經
  14. 诸佛净土的时间长短
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  18. Though in modern parlance Vajrasana, Mahamudra and Padmasana may denote different asana, and indeed other esoteric positions and doctrines, know that they are also synonymous for the meditative 'seal' or 'lock' (Sanskrit: mudra; bandha) of crossed-legs-with-ankles-on-highs-asana which encourse the airs and flame kundalini to rise and unfold.
  19. Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé (author, compiler); Elio Guarisco (translator); Ingrid McLeon (translator, editor) (2005). The treasury of knowledge: book six, part four: Systems of Buddhist Tantra. Ithaca, New York, USA: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-559939-210-x, p.399
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  22. 关于《西方极乐世界游记》的争议析疑
  23. 古今中外附佛外道教派、人物、伪經名单
  24. 一个青年女居士的净土亲历记
  25. 《極樂世界遊記》
  26. 《悲華經》卷3
  27. 悲華經,破! (1)
  28. 『觀音淨土』
  29. 灵山一会
  30. 兜率內院疑點之探討
  31. 兜率內院疑點之回應
  32. 歷代高僧法師往兜率
  33. 發現新世界——小兜率天——法王晉美彭措夢境經歷
  34. 虛雲和尚年譜
  35. 天佛院遊記
  36. 彌勒淨土遊記
  37. 極樂淨土與兜率淨土說略
  38. 人生理想境界的追求─中國佛教淨土思潮的演變與歸趣
  39. 兜率净土与十方净土之比较
  40. 極樂淨土與兜率淨土說略
  41. 云何為『兜率與西方淨土之同異』
  42. 標題:云何西方淨土最殊勝
  43. 阿閦佛國經
  44. 藥師如來本願經
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  46. 華嚴淨土思想初探—以《八十華嚴經‧華藏世界品》為中心
  47. 論「有無」並非適任的形上學概念:以《密嚴經》和《入楞伽經》為主要依據
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  49. “邬金刹土”及“铜色吉祥山”简介
  50. 莲师刹土云游记
  51. 《生死自在》--彌陀极樂淨土日修、遷識及睡修法門導修
  52. 太乙救苦天尊
  53. 太乙救苦天尊
  54. 太乙救苦天尊详介与化身
  55. 道家太乙净土法门
  56. 道教東方長樂世界(淨土)
  57. 太上洞玄靈寶淨土生神經
  58. 蓮生活佛講解真佛經(要義參考)之五
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