Pure Land Buddhism
| Siddhartha Gautama's|
Pure Land Buddhism is the Mahayana Buddhist equivalent of born-again Christianity. One of the most popular Buddhist philosophies in east Asia, Pure Land Buddhism boils down to "I believe in the right thing therefore I get to go to paradise when I die." First appearing in China either around 402 CE and founded by Hui-yuan after building Donglin Temple at Mount Lu or later introduced by Tan-luan. Pure Land Buddhism is also found in Korea, Vietnam and Tibet but is especially popular in Japan.
Pure Land Buddhism was an important part of Mahayana philosophy. In Japan, Pure Land schools have largely become distinct from Mahayana Buddhism and bear little resemblance to traditional Buddhist thought. The central tenet of Pure Land thought is that obtaining enlightenment the traditional way has become too difficult, and therefore Buddhists need supernatural assistance to achieve Nirvana.
Pure Land Buddhism in general is focused on the adoration of the Buddha Amitabha.[note 1] Pure Land Buddhism mythology states that Amitabha was a Bodhisattva who vowed to put off enlightenment until they could create a realm outside of time that would guarantee eventual Buddhahood to any entity born there. The existence of the Pure Land sect is seen as proof that Amitabha was successful at creating such a realm.The basic belief that unites the different Pure Land schools is that by practicing the "Mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha" one can be reborn into the Pure Land. This mindfulness most commonly takes the form of chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha a set number of times per day.[note 2]
Critics of Pure Land Buddhism[note 3] generally claim that it is not Buddhism at all, as many of its practices and beliefs are unrelated, or even contradictory to the core teachings of the religion. Among Pure Land circles, there isn't much talk about the historical Buddha himself, or even Buddhist concepts such as enlightenment, nirvana, and rebirth. Pure Land Buddhism promotes its own forms of monotheistic worship,[note 4] an afterlife, and salvation. It's the closest to Christianity out of all schools of Buddhism.
In Japan and the west
In Japan, Pure Land Buddhism has changed to the extent that Japanese Pure Land sects are commonly considered outside of Mahayana orthodoxy. Most particularly, the philosophically similar but historically unrelated Soka Gakkai, a spin-off of Nichiren Buddhism, has become somewhat notorious for its aggressive proselytization and overall creepy cult vibe. Religious syncretism is quite common in Japan, and one common syncretic belief among some Japanese Buddhists is the combination of Pure Land teachings and Zen.
Pure Land Buddhism in the west primarily exists amongst immigrant communities. Soka Gakkai has grown in popularity in the west since the 90s, partially due to its emphasis on their own Buddhist-influenced version of the prosperity gospel.
- Also known as Amitofo in Mandarin Chinese or Amida Butsu in Japanese
- This practice is sometimes called nianfo, after the Chinese term for the practice which literally means "Thinking of the Buddha"
- Mostly Theravada Buddhists and other Mahayana Buddhists
- Amitabha is viewed as a deity and is worshiped by followers.