What Is the Difference Between Pure Land Sects & Other Buddhists?

Pure Land Buddhists practice devotion to Amitabha Buddha.
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Buddhism teaches that the nature of existence is fraught with the suffering of enduring the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The only way to liberate oneself from this cycle -- liberation being the ultimate aim of human existence -- is by cultivating wisdom and a deep awareness of truth. The Pure Land Buddhist sect emerged as an alternative path for Buddhists who felt that the austere self-discipline and meditation practices required to relinquish ignorance, greed and attachment were too immense for this life.

1 In The Pure Land

For Buddhists, the path of wisdom is a challenge that not everyone is able to assume. Pure Land Buddhism is a sect for those who struggle with practicing the teachings of the Buddha with the severity required to attain liberation. They believe that there is a "pure land," or paradise, where the suffering and defilement that block a person’s efforts to attain enlightenment do not thrive. The pure land is a state that Pure Land Buddhists are reborn into where they can learn and practice the Buddha’s teachings without distraction. Belief in the pure land is unique to the Pure Land sect and is not propagated by other Buddhists.

2 Amitabha Buddha

Amitabha, known as the savior Buddha, was a monk by the name of Dharmakara. The Pure Land tradition upholds that upon attaining buddhahood, Dharmakara vowed that all who placed their faith in him would be reborn in an idyllic paradise. From this, a devotional sect of Buddhism emerged within the Mahayana branch of the tradition that mainly flourished in Japan and China. Although Amitabha Buddha is recognized as an attained Buddha by other Buddhists, singularly focused devotion to this Buddha is only practiced in the Pure Land sect. The name "Amitabha" means "immeasurable light."

3 Pure Land Practices

The primary practice of Pure Land Buddhists is the recitation of Amitaba Buddha’s name. There are not strict rules regarding the nature of the recitation, as it can be done alone, in silence or aloud in a group. The focus of the recitation is on doing so with full awareness while expressing a genuine desire to be reborn in the pure land. Although the chanting of texts or mantas is a common practice across Buddhist sects, chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha is unique to the Pure Land sect.

4 Similarities Despite Sectarianism

Despite the differences, Pure Land Buddhists still fall within the traditional Buddhist spectrum. They observe the basic Buddhist moral code that calls for them to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual exploits, lying and using intoxicants. They adhere to the belief in karma, the notion that every action has a fitting consequence, and that good deeds are essential to accumulating merit. Furthermore, like other Buddhists, Pure Land Buddhists give allegiance to "the three jewels": the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha refers to Gautama the Buddha, the original founder of the Buddhist religion. The Dharma is the way, or the path of Buddhist practice that leads to enlightenment. Finally, the Sangha is the spiritual community of fellow Buddhist practitioners.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.