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] (Śākyamuni Buddha):
At that time, [Śākyamuni] Buddha told [the] Elder Śāriputra, ‘From here, [the Sahā World, in the] western direction, passing [a] hundred thousand koṭis [of] Buddha lands, is a world named “Ultimate Bliss”. [In] that land, is [a] Buddha named “Amitā[bha]”, now presently 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, [is with beings of the] three roots [higher, average and lower] universally gathered, transcending [all the] relative [with] complete interpenetration, [it is thus] inconceivable. Completely encompassing [and] completely transcending all Dharma Doors, [it is] extremely profound [and] difficult [to have] faith [in]. Thus [was it] specially taught [to] those [with] great wisdom, [with those] not foremost [in] wisdom, not able [to] directly [be] without doubt.
[On] that ‘western direction’, horizontally extending straight [to the] West, indicating [its] present place. Those ‘ten [of] ten thousand [of] koṭis’, [is with] one thousand [of] ten thousand called [one] ‘koṭi’, now accumulating koṭis until ten thousand. That ‘Buddha Land’, [is one] three-thousandfold great-thousandfold world [i.e. galaxy], understood as that [by] one Buddha transformed… Passing in this way, [of] this Buddha Land, [of] ‘ten [of] ten thousand [of] koṭis’ [i.e. one trillion: 1012: 1,000,000,000,000] [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 [will] again ask why [is it] in [the] East. Would it not [be] frivolous discussion? Moreover, from eleven of ten thousand [of] koṭis [of] Buddha Lands [to the West] looking, [it is] also in [the] East, what worthy cause [is there for] doubt?
Excerpt : Significance Of Amituofo’s Pure Land
Furthermore, [of the] ‘world’ and ‘Buddha’ all spoken [as] ‘is’, [this is] complete [with] four meanings:
 Really indicating [a] true realm, [to] enable joyful Aspiration thus;
 [With] truthful words pointing [and] guiding, [to] enable focus [that is] wholehearted thus;
 Simply [said, it is] not [like a] gandharva’s [illusory] city [for tricking travellers, or the] sun’s ‘flames’ [forming a mirage], not [an] expedient [means] manifesting [as a] winding instruction, not [a] conditioned image [seen in meditation or hallucination that is] false [and] illusory, not guarding [emptiness as] true [Nirvāṇa, or] partial [to the Middle Path] only, destroying [the] demonic, evil, expedient [and] Small [Vehicle’s partial views] thus;
 Perfectly manifesting [Buddha-]nature completely, [to] enable profound realisation [of Buddhahood] thus.
On ‘now speaking [the] Dharma’, [the] above simply [are the] circumstantial reward [of Āmítuófó’s Pure Land (依报) and the] direct [reward of Āmítuófó’s physical body (正报), with these] two ‘is’, [which are] not [in the] past already extinguished, [or in the] future yet [to be] accomplished. Rightly, [we] should give rise [to] Aspiration [to be] reborn [in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, to] personally [have] audience [with Āmítuófó to] hear [the] Dharma, [to] swiftly accomplish [the] right awakening [of Buddhahood].
Furthermore, [the] two ‘is’ [and] ‘now’, [is the] preface [for] urging Faith; ‘world named’ [as] ‘Ultimate Bliss’, [is the] preface [for] urging Aspiration; ‘Buddha named Āmítuó[fó’, is the] preface [for] urging [the] wonderful Practice [of] upholding [his name]. [Faith, Aspiration and Practice are the Three Provisions for reaching Āmítuófó’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
Where Is Amituofo’s Pure Land?
Is Pure Land Here & Now?
Is Pure Land Here Or There, Now Or Later?
Some ‘Shaolin’ Showdown (Where Is Pure Land?)
Master Zhuhong: Is Pure Land Practice Inferior to Zen Practice?
Master Hanshan: A Zen Master’s Perspective of the Pure Land Teachings
‘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.
“Sinners in the East aspire to be born in the West. Where can sinners in the West go”
Sixth Patriach Hui Neng
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.
“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”.
‘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: https://thedailyenlightenment.com/2014/11/why-we-should-vow-to-reach-pure-land – because it leads to non-retrogressible progress to Buddhahood. Namo Amituofo