Close this search box.


The Deep and Broad Meaning of Rebirth in the Pure Land


Rebirth is a special term in the Pure Land teaching which has a specific meaning. Rebirth is different from reincarnation, though both terms are related to the afterlife. A “pure land” refers to any buddha-land where all living beings with buddha-qualities live. In common usage, the “Pure Land” specifically refers to Amitabha’s Pure Land.

Amitabha’s Pure Land differs from the afterlife paradises of eternal rest mentioned in other religions. Even the term “reward” is understood differently. It is not a realm of sensual enjoyment, but a training ground for buddhas, who will then “leave” the Pure Land to “go out” into the various worlds of the trichiliocosm to deliver sentient beings, like all other buddhas.

Queen Vaidehi asked Shakyamuni Buddha in the Contemplation Sutra, “Please reveal to me a land of no sorrow and no affliction where I can be reborn. I do not wish to live in this defiled and evil world of Jambudvipa where there are hells, realms of hungry spirits, animals, and many vile beings.”

She further said, “I wish that in the future I shall not hear evil words or see wicked people.” She wished to leave the evil Jambudvipa (Earth), to not see evil people, and to not hear evil words. To the extent of her limited human understanding, a land of no sorrow and no affliction would be a kind of heaven.

Vaidehi had no idea what better place she could be reborn in her next life, though, as a Buddhist disciple, she knew that heaven was one of the Six Realms that is still subject to reincarnation in the cycle of birth-and-death in the Three Domains of the Saha World. So, she further asked the Buddha, “Please teach me how to visualize a land of pure karmic perfection.”

Through rebirth in the Pure Land, an ordinary being is no longer subject to samsara

“A land of pure karmic perfection” refers to a pure place where the buddhas dwell when they attain perfect Enlightenment through the pure karmic practices of meditative virtues (visualization) and non-meditative virtues (the Three Meritorious Deeds). As an ordinary being, Queen Vaidehi didn’t know that “a land of pure karmic perfection” was called a pure land.

A pure land is an unconditioned realm of Nirvana (no-birth and no-death), which is totally different from our world—a realm of conditioned realm of samsara (reincarnation in the cycle of birth and death within the Six Realms—the realms of hell, hungry spirits, Asuras, Humans, and the Heavens). Because pure lands exist outside the realm of karmic cause and effect, they are known as places of “ultimate settlement” of all karmic debts. Heavens, which still exist within the karmic realm, are not, and cannot be, places of ultimate settlement.

Moreover, through rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha, an ordinary being is no longer subject to reincarnation in the cycle of birth-and-death. This is because it is a realm of unconditioned Nirvana. Ordinary beings, who wish to avoid a painful rebirth in the realms of “hell, hungry spirits, and animals”, and who likewise have difficulty “leaving the evil world of Jambudvipa,” can aspire to be reborn in the Pure Land.

The buddhas can enable us to see the Pure Land

Nevertheless, the question is how we afflicted and sinful ordinary beings, possessed of greed and hatred, can be reborn in the Pure Land. Do we need to “visualize a land of pure karmic perfection,” as said by Vaidehi in the Contemplation Sutra? If so, the Buddha’s reply is a bit discouraging, as follows:

“You are an unenlightened being, and so your spiritual powers are weak and obscured. Since you have not yet attained the divine eye, you cannot see that which is distant.” We have fleshly eyes with limited vision, and we cannot see any of the 28 heavens, which are far from us.

However, the Buddha then says, “But the buddhas, tathagatas, have special ways to enable you to see afar”; This is an encouraging statement. Through Shakyamuni Buddha’s power to clear away Vaidehi’s karmic obscurations, she, too, can see Amitabha’s Pure Land at that moment.

Moreover, Vaidehi is very smart and considerate; she further asks the Buddha, “After the Buddha passed away, sentient beings will become defiled and evil, and be oppressed by the five kinds of suffering. How then will those beings be able to see the Land of Utmost Bliss of Amitayus?

Three Ways to attain rebirth in Pure Land and see the Pure Land

Shakyamuni Buddha takes this rare causal condition to tell Vaidehi and sentient beings in the future the ways to see Amitabha’s Pure Land, namely the self-powered pure meditative practices (from first to 13th Contemplation) and the self-powered pure non-meditative practices (from 14th to 15th Contemplation).

For those who fail to cultivate any merit and virtues for dedication and aspire to be reborn in Amitabha’s Land of Bliss, and wish to see the Pure Land like Vaidehi, Shakyamuni Buddha advises them to recite “Namo Amituofo” and attain assured rebirth with recourse to Amitabha’s power of his Fundamental Vow (the 18th Vow).

The Buddha attempts to convey a message, through the opportunity provided by Vaidehi’s question, to all sentient beings of the future era: if they wish, they can easily attain rebirth in the Pure Land. This is accomplished through the exclusive recitation of “Namo Amituofo,” rather than by practicing the meditative and non-meditative virtues and dedicating them for rebirth.

Pure Land aspirants may not be aware of the benefits of becoming a buddha

By attaining assured rebirth in the Land of Bliss through exclusive recitation of “Namo Amituofo,” sinful ordinary beings can cease suffering in the Saha world with recourse to Amitabha’s 18th Vow. Similarly, sravakas (hearers) can naturally attain the Bodhi Mind, and deliver sentient beings in the ten directions with recourse to Amitabha’s 22nd Vow.

By rebirth in the Land of Bliss, all sacred bodhisattvas can naturally dwell in the state of non-retrogression and reach the state of extinction with recourse to Amitabha’s 11th Vow. All sentient beings of different aptitudes, capacities, and purposes can aspire to be reborn in the Pure Land.

All sentient beings can equally attain assured rebirth through exclusive recitation of “Namo Amituofo” and they dwell in the state of ultimate joy like Amitabha Buddha, who are capable of going to the various worlds of the trichiliocosm (the Dharma Realm) to deliver sentient beings. It is the ultimate enlightenment and ultimate emancipation in Buddhism.

The Contemplation Sutra says, “The Buddhas’ mind is Great Compassion. It embraces sentient beings with unconditional kindness and benevolence.” Because of these profound benefits of enlightenment, joy and emancipation, rebirth in the Pure Land contains a deep and broad meaning.

Related features from BDG

How Many Kinds of Living Beings Are There in the Land of Bliss?
Three Milestones on the Easy Path to Becoming a Buddha
Expressing the Form of Amitabha Buddha as “Light”

More from Teachings of Amitabha by Alan Kwan

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Related news from Buddhistdoor Global

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments