Home » Letters » Is Amituofo’s Pure Land Physically Far To The West?

Question: Some say Amituofo’s (Amitābha Buddha) Pure Land is only figuratively said to be far to the West. Is this true?

Answer: The brief answer is that Amituofo’s Pure Land is indeed literally, as in physically, a long distance to the West of our world. This is clearly taught so in the Pure Land sūtras by the Buddha and in the commentaries by Patriarchs of the Pure Land tradition, some of which are as featured in the three excerpts below, especially the parts in green below, followed by seven explanatory notes.

Excerpt [1]: Location Of Amituofo’s Pure Land

佛说阿弥陀经
(释迦牟尼佛):

尔时,佛告长老舍利弗。
从是西方,过十万亿佛土,有世界名曰极乐。
其土有佛号阿弥陀,今现在说法。

The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitā Buddha [Amitābha Sūtra]
(Śākyamuni Buddha):

At that time, the Buddha [Śākyamuni] told the Elder Śāriputra, ‘From here, in the western direction, passing ten of ten thousand of koṭis of Buddha Lands, there is a world [land] named “Ultimate Bliss”. In that land, is a Buddha named “Amitā[bha]”, [who is] now speaking the Dharma.

佛说阿弥陀经要解
(净土宗九祖蕅益大师) :

净土法门,三根普摄,绝待圆融,不可思议。
圆收圆超一切法门,甚深难信。
故特告大智慧者,非第一智慧,不能直下无疑也。

Essential Explanation Of The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitā Buddha
(Pure Land Tradition’s Ninth Patriarch Great Master Ouyi):

The Pure Land Dharma door, of the three roots [higher, average and lower] universally gathers, transcending all the relative with perfect fusion, and is inconceivable. Perfectly encompassing and perfectly transcending all Dharma doors, it is extremely profound and difficult to have faith in. Thus was it specially taught to those of great wisdom; those not the foremost in wisdom, are not able to directly be without doubts.

西方者,横亘直西,标示现处也。
十万亿者,千万曰亿,今积亿至十万也。
佛土者,三千大千世界,通为一佛所化。 ….
过如此佛土十万亿之西,是极乐世界也。

Of the ‘western direction’, it is as extended away, straight to the West, indicating where it is presently. Of ‘ten of ten thousand of koṭis’, one thousand of ten thousand is called one koṭi, now accumulating koṭis until ten thousand. Of ‘Buddha Lands’, a three thousand great thousand world [equivalent to one galaxy], is understood as that transformed by one Buddha [by his teaching]… Passing such ‘ten of ten thousand of koṭis’ [one trillion: 1012: 1,000,000,000,000] of Buddha Lands to the West, is the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Excerpt [2]: Direction Of Amituofo’s Pure Land

问:何故极乐在西方?

Question: Why is the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the western direction?

答:此非善问。假使极乐在东,汝又问何故在东,岂非戏论。
况自十一万亿佛土视之,又在东矣,何足致疑?…

Answer: This is not a good question. If the Land of Ultimate Bliss is in the East, you might again ask why it is in the East. Would it not be playing with words? Furthermore, as from eleven of ten thousand of koṭis of Buddha Lands’ perspective, it is again in the East, where is there cause for doubt?

Excerpt [3]: Significance Of Amituofo’s Pure Land

复次世界及佛皆言有者,具四义:

Once again, of the ‘world’ [Land of Ultimate Bliss] and [Amitābha] ‘Buddha’ all spoken as existing, is complete with four meanings:

[1] 的标实境,令欣求故;
[2] 诚语指示,令专一故;
[3] 简非干城阳焰,非权现曲示,非缘影虚妄,非保真偏但,破魔邪权小故;
[4] 圆彰性具,令深证故。

[1] To truly make it clear that it is a real environment [place], thus to enable joyful aspiration;
[2] To truthfully speak and instruct, thus to enable wholehearted [single-minded] focus [concentration];
[3] Simply said, it is not like a gandharva’s [illusory] city [for tricking travellers] or the sun’s ‘flames’ [mirage], not an expedient [means] manifesting as a winding instruction, not a conditioned image [seen in meditation or hallucination] that is false and delusional, not of attachment [to the transformed city reached by self-liberation being] real as the only inclination, thus destroying the demonic, evil, expedient and small [vehicle’s notion of liberation];
[4] To perfectly manifest [our Buddha-]nature completely, thus to enable profound realisation [of Buddhahood].

今现在说法者,简上依正二有,非过去已灭,未来未成,正应发愿往生,亲觐听法,速成正觉也。

Of ‘now speaking the Dharma’ [‘今现在说法’], the above simply means the circumstantial reward [of Amituofo’s physical Pure Land; 依报] and the direct reward [of Amituofo’s physical body; 正报] both exist [now], not in the past, already extinguished, or in the future, yet to be accomplished. Rightly, we should give rise to the aspiration to be reborn [in Amituofo’s Pure Land], to personally seek audience [with Amituofo] to hear the Dharma, to swiftly accomplish right awakening [Buddhahood].

复次二有现在,劝信序也;
世界名极乐,劝愿序也;
佛号阿弥陀,劝持名妙行序也。

Once again, the two ‘is’ [‘有’ in ‘有世界名曰极乐。其土有佛’; ‘is’ in ‘is a world (land) named “Ultimate Bliss”. In that land, is a Buddha named “Amitā(bha)] and ‘now’ [‘今现’ in ‘今现在说法’], form the preface [of the sūtra] for urging Faith. ‘World [land] named “Ultimate Bliss”’ [‘世界名极乐’], forms the preface for urging Aspiration. ‘Buddha named “Amitā[bha]’ [‘佛号阿弥陀’] forms the preface for urging the wonderful Practice of upholding his name [Amituofo – to be born in his Pure Land]. [Faith, Aspiration and Practice are the Three Provisions for reaching Amituofo’s Pure Land.]

Note [1]: Pure Land Is Tangible

As we can see from above, as taught by both Śākyamuni Buddha and Great Master Ouyi, Amituofo’s Pure Land is a tangible place, as stated straightforwardly and unequivocally. To prevent confusion, all should study the genuine Pure Land teachings only from teachers who personally study, practise and teach according to the Pure Land sūtras and commentaries of the Pure Land Patriarchs. Great Master Ouyi’s commentary, from where the excerpts are from, is widely regarded widely as the best on the Amitābha Sūtra, also given the highest endorsement by the Pure Land Tradition’s Thirteenth Patriarch Great Master Yinguang (净土宗十三祖印光大师).

Note [2]: Pure Land Is Not An Analogy

When the Buddha teaches using analogies, he will always clearly say so, and explain what they really mean. He would never lie, confuse us, or let us doubtfully speculate on which parts of his teachings are analogies, and what they each stand for. This is an important point to note, for if we pick, choose and interpret the Buddha’s words randomly, we are likely to end up misunderstanding, slandering his teachings, and misleading others with our misinterpretations. With endless, needless and baseless speculations, the true Dharma will surely be lost.

Note [3]: Pure Land Is In The West

The presence of the wisest Arhat (Śāriputra) and the wisest Bodhisattva (Mañjuśrī) in the audience of the Amitābha Sūtra ought to remind us to not be hasty in thinking we are wise enough to speculate about Amituofo’s Pure Land beyond what is stated. Some say that since the Earth is rotating, the western direction, where Amituofo’s Pure Land is supposed to be, cannot be fixed. However, on the larger cosmic scale, galaxies’ relative directions from one another remain constant, even as they spin away with their stars (suns) and planets within.

Note [4]: Pure Land Is Not Always In The West

There is also the proposal that the western direction is used to psychologically represent the sense of ‘going to our spiritual home’, as it is where the sun sets, which reminds us that is time to return home. While there is no great harm in this idea per se, it does not mean that Amituofo’s Pure Land is not indeed in the West now. Furthermore, the West cannot represent ‘home’ to everyone and all the time because as Great Master Ouyi explained, that West of here is so only before it is reached. Anywhere beyond would render it to the East instead.

Note [5]: Pure Land Has ‘Varying’ Proximity

Then there is the theory that Amituofo’s Pure Land being 1 trillion Buddha Lands away is not an actual physical distance, but to represent ordinary beings’ state of being far away from spiritual purity, due to having the equivalent large ‘number’ of defilements. Of course, ordinary beings are heavily defiled. However, it is exactly so, that Amituofo’s Pure Land is karmically physically far away. Yet, despite the great distance, Śākyamuni Buddha never said that it is far. In the Contemplation Sūtra (观无量寿佛经), he said this instead – ‘Amituofo, from here, is not far.’ (‘阿弥陀佛去此不远。’) Pivoting upon our practice, Amituofo and his Pure Land are physically far only when we are spiritually far.

Note [6]: Pure Land Has Pure Forms

Next is the speculation that Amituofo’s Pure Land is not a material world. This cannot be true as the sūtras never mention that it is a formless plane; while describing it to be with many pure forms instead, which are necessary as teaching aids using sight, sound and other sensory inputs. This does not counter the truth that forms are mind-manifested, as Amituofo’s Pure Land is manifested from his pure mind. We should note too, that Śākyamuni Buddha could not reach to teach his two previous meditation teachers as they were stuck in formless heavens.

Note [7]: Pure Land As Indestructible Form

In the Immeasurable Life Sūtra (无量寿经), it is recorded that Ānanda faced the West to express reverence to Amituofo, before requesting sight of his Pure Land. Seeing its magnificent physical forms, Śākyamuni Buddha asked if Ānanda could see them, to which he affirmed. Thus is there scriptural proof that Amituofo’s Pure Land is physical, albeit immeasurably refined, not of the gross materials of our world. Contrary to the mistaken belief that all physical worlds are subject to destruction, the Buddha taught that the fine material Pure Abodes, where Anāgāmis bound for Arhathood reside in are indestructible by the elements. What more to say of a Buddha’s even finer Pure Land, where Arhats and Bodhisattvas stay too. Amituofo’s Pure Land thus exists as the most refined material frequency (or dimension) of a distant world system, while its entry point can be anywhere anyone is able to muster the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice adequately to be born there.

Namo Amituofo :
Translation & Notes By Shen Shi’an

Related Articles:

Master Yinguang: Mind-Only Pure Land & Self-Nature Amitabha = Western Pure Land & Amitabha Buddha?
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/topics/233
Beyond the ‘Pure Land’ Here and Now (Is Pure Land Formless or Mind-Only?)
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/topics/265
Is Pure Land Here & Now?
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/05/is-pure-land-here-now
Is Pure Land Here Or There, Now Or Later?
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2010/09/is-pureland-here-or-there-now-or-later
Some ‘Shaolin’ Showdown (Where Is Pure Land?)
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/01/some-shaolin-showdown
Experience of This World as ‘Pure Land’
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/topics/6
Must We Face West To Nianfo?
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/messages/520

Master Zhuhong: Is Pure Land Practice Inferior to Zen Practice?
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/topics/217
Master Hanshan: A Zen Master’s Perspective of the Pure Land Teachings
http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2011/03/zen-masters-perspective-of-the-pure-land-teachings
Master Yongming: Chan With/out Pure Land Practice
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/topics/131
Master Shengyan: A Zen Master’s Nianfo Advice
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Amituofo/conversations/topics/118

5 Responses to “Is Amituofo’s Pure Land Physically Far To The West?”

  1. ‘Why is the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the western direction?’ sounds like a valid and natural question. Probably Master Ouyi didn’t consider or understand the question from a layman’s point of view.

    If I were to ask this question, the underlying objective would be wanting to know if there is any special objective to be achieved by each Buddha when they establish their Pure lands in the various cardinal directions.

    It sounds a little presumptuous to judge a question like that to be a play on words unless one takes steps to understand the real intention of the questioner.

  2. “Sinners in the East aspire to be born in the West. Where can sinners in the West go”

    Sixth Patriach Hui Neng

  3. The simple reason why Buddhas establish Pure Lands in all directions is to reach out to beings who exist in all directions.

    No matter where one is, even in Samsara, if one’s mind is purified, it is Pure Land there – even if in the opposite direction – in the East or anywhere else. However, only Buddhas have fully purified their minds, while it is the easiest to purify oneself in a Pure Land – which is why ALL Buddhas of ALL directions, as stated in the Amitabha Sutra recommends all beings to reach Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land.

    Vice versa, being in the West does not mean one will be pure by default – unless one reached a Pure Land and is training there. This is not saying beings in the Western Pure Land have impure minds, as it is impossible – but the West is mentioned in general to break attachments to differences of here versus there, to emphasise that purification should start taking place wherever we are – now, whether in Samsara or Pure Land.

    As mentioned by Master Ouyi, those in the West can go East to reach Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land.

  4. “The simple reason why Buddhas establish Pure Lands in all directions is to reach out to beings who exist in all directions”.

    That makes sense. To add on, because Buddhas have perfect compassion for all beings, the fact that a Buddha establishes a Pure Land in one particular direction, does not mean he reaches out only to the beings in that particular direction.

    Quote from this article: Amituofo’s Pure Land is indeed literally, as in physically, a long distance to the West of our world.

    In the sutras, the Buddha was using earth as a reference point. So if Master Ouyi’s answer had simply followed the Buddha’s example,it is somewhat not necessary to point out those in the West can go East from the perspective of various Buddha Pure lands.

    Most people would know that when one is living in the western part of their country, going east (using compass or the sun for example, as helpful reference points)would lead you to or nearer to the eastern region.So that particular question is not actually or entirely a play on words nor testing basic geographical common sense.

    “..the West is mentioned in general to break attachments to differences of here versus there, to emphasise that purification should start taking place wherever we are – now, whether in Samsara or Pure Land”.

    If the emphasis is about purification wherever we are, then it really begs the question of why the cardinal point West is used as a general example and not others. To cut off questions like these, the part about directions should be excluded and go with “purification should start taking place wherever we are – now, whether in Samsara or Pure Land”.

  5. ‘Purification should start taking place wherever we are – now, whether in Samsara or Pure Land.’ Yet, it is in a Pure Land that totaly purity can most swiftly be accomplished – after starting ‘whererver we are’ now.

    In this article, Great Master Ouyi explains why we should seek birth in Amituofo’s Pure Land: http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/11/why-we-should-vow-to-reach-pure-land – because it leads to non-retrogressible progress to Buddhahood. Namo Amituofo

Leave a Reply

Name (required please)

Email (required, will not be published)

Website (optional)