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 : Location Of Amituofo’s Pure Land
The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Amitā Buddha [Amitābha Sūtra]
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.
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.
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 : Direction Of Amituofo’s Pure Land
Question: Why is the Land of Ultimate Bliss in the western direction?
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 : Significance Of Amituofo’s Pure Land
Once again, of the ‘world’ [Land of Ultimate Bliss] and [Amitābha] ‘Buddha’ all spoken as existing, is complete with four meanings:
 To truly make it clear that it is a real environment [place], thus to enable joyful aspiration;
 To truthfully speak and instruct, thus to enable wholehearted [single-minded] focus [concentration];
 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];
 To perfectly manifest [our Buddha-]nature completely, thus to enable profound realisation [of Buddhahood].
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].
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 : 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 : 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 : 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 : 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 : 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 : 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 : 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
Master Yinguang: Mind-Only Pure Land & Self-Nature Amitabha = Western Pure Land & Amitabha Buddha?
Beyond the ‘Pure Land’ Here and Now (Is Pure Land Formless or Mind-Only?)
Is Pure Land Here & Now?
Is Pure Land Here Or There, Now Or Later?
Some ‘Shaolin’ Showdown (Where Is Pure Land?)
Experience of This World as ‘Pure Land’
Must We Face West To Nianfo?
Master Zhuhong: Is Pure Land Practice Inferior to Zen Practice?
Master Hanshan: A Zen Master’s Perspective of the Pure Land Teachings
Master Yongming: Chan With/out Pure Land Practice
Master Shengyan: A Zen Master’s Nianfo Advice