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- Pure Land Buddhism is a branch of mainstream Mahayana Buddhism and one of the most popular schools in the Far East.
It is centered around the Buddha Amitabha ("Infinite-Light"), also known as the Buddha Amitayus ("Infinite-Life"), whose double name is shortened to "Amituo" in Chinese, "Amida" in Japanese and "Adida" in Korean and Vietnamese. He is preaching the Dharma in his buddha-field (buddhakshetra), or "pure land" (c. jingtu, j. jodo), named "the Happy One" (Sukhavati).
Pure Land Buddhism is sometimes designated by the term "Amidism".
- The main practice is the commemoration of Amida ( j. nembutsu), either through contemplation, seeking a vision of him in this life, or through the chanting of his name in order to be reborn in his pure land at the time of death.
Both the "Larger Sukhavati-vyuha-sutra" and the "Shorter Sukhavati-vyuha-sutra" exist in Sanskrit, in Tibetan and in Chinese. A pedestal of an Amitabha statue was discovered near Mathura in 1977 : dated 104 C.E., it is the oldest dated document of Indian Mahayana Buddhism.
Indian masters such as Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu wrote treatises on the Pure Land but their works have been preserved in Chinese only.
- Pure Land scriptures, such as the "Pratyutpanna-samadhi-sûtra", were among the first Buddhist sutras to be translated into Chinese.
In 402, the monk Huiyuan, basing himself on the "Pratyutpanna-samadhi-sutra", founded a Pure Land Community on Mont Lushan, which was at the origin of the Lushan tradition of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism. The same sutra was used by Zhiyi (538-597), founder of Tiantai school, to develop his own interpretation of Pure Land.
- The Shandao Tradition follows mostly the "Threefold Pure Land Sutra". This began with Tanluan (476-542) but owes its name to Shandao (613-681) who empasized the pratice of chanting the Buddha's name as the sufficient condition to be born in the Pure Land. This tradition includes also masters such as Daochuo (562-645), Huaigan (?-?) and Shaokang (?-805). Although it did not survive the anti-Buddhism persecution of 845 in China, it is this tradition that was to develop later in Japan.
<! -- the Buddha's name as a condition which suffices in itself to ensure birth in the Pure Land -->
- The Cimin Tradition goes back to Cimin (Huiri, 680-748), who visited Gandhara. His teachings combine meditation (chan) and discipline (vinaya) within a Pure Land framework. This syncretism caracterizes later Pure Land Buddhism in China (as well as in Indochina and Korea), trough the works of masters such as Yongming (Yanshan, 904-976), Yuanzhao (Lingzhi, 1048-1116) and Yunqi (Zhuhong, 1535-1615).
- Commentaries on Pure Land were also written by masters of almost every school of Chinese Buddhism, including Jicang (549-623) of the Mâdhyamika (Sanlun) school, Kuiji (532-682) of the Vijñânavâda (Faxiang) school, and the Korean Wonhyo (617-686) of the Avatamsaka (Huayen) school.
- Most of the Pure Land scriptures were already known and studied during the Nara period (8th Century).
From the establishment of the Tendai school at the begining of the Heian period (794-1185), "Pure Land teaching" (Jodo-kyo) spread to the aristocracy under the influence of the master Genshin (942-1017). In the esoteric Shingon school, the role of Amida was also stressed by Kakuban (1094-1143).
- The "Pure Land School" (Jodo-shu) was in due course founded by the Tendai monk Honen (1133-1212): while rediscovering the Chinese Shandao Tradition, Honen asserted that chanting the Buddha's name was the only necessary practice. Among Honen's disciples, Shinran (1173-1263) established his own interpretation : the "True Pure Land School" (Jodo-Shinshu) which insists on the faith aspect of the nembutsu. Those two schools were to become the largest ones in Japan.
- Two more schools were established during the Edo period : the Yuzu-nembutsu-shu looks to the Tendai monk Ryonin (1072-1152) as its founder, while the Ji-shu traces its teachings back to Ippen (1239-1289).
In adition, the Obaku school, founded in Japan by the Chinese Chan master Yinyuan (j. Ingen, 1592-1673), offers a combination of Zen and Pure Land teachings.
Amitabha / Amitayus occupies a important place in the Tibetan buddhist tradition. Infinite-Life Buddha (tib. Tsepame) is the central figure of longevity rites (tsegrub), while the practice of consciousness transference (phowa) aims at rebirth within the buddha-field of Sukhavati (Dewachen). Some tulku, like the Panchen-Lama, are also considered as emanations of Infinite-Light Buddha (Oepame).