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Buddhism Amitābha
by
Galen Amstutz

Introduction

The three topics Amitābha (in Japanese, Amida; in Chinese, Amituo), Pure Land Buddhism, and nenbutsu are always linked together, for Amitābha was the deity at the center of any kind of Pure Land nenbutsu practice. Amitābha was the Buddha of one of the chief Pure Lands: linguistically, the name Amitābha means “infinite light”; an associated deity name was Amitāyus, meaning “infinite life.” The Amitābha traditions grew out of the fact that the actual presence of the founding teacher Śākyamuni was an essential element of Buddhism in its origins, and the desire of followers to somehow reexperience such a presence continued. The Sanskrit term for this orientation was buddhānusmṛti (literally, “recollection of the Buddha, thinking on the Buddha, keeping the Buddha in mind”; later pronounced nenbutsu in Japanese), and the concept became particularly associated with Pure Land teachings since it was by means of “recollection of the Buddha” that karmic birth in the Pure Land realm—a future realm of existence alternate to our present world in which the Buddha Amitābha would be present to assist the practitioner toward enlightenment—could be achieved. However, despite its common core body of mythic materials, Amitābha Buddhism, strictly speaking, has not been a single tradition, but rather a flexible, polysemic network of texts, terms, ideas, and images, in which nenbutsu practice meant a variety of engagements—contemplation, visualization or recitation—with symbolic information (especially visual or auditory) that came from the Pure Land sutras. A broad historical shift took place toward popularization and especially the simplification of practice as a vocal recitation of the Buddha Amitābha’s name. Amitābha traditions eventually formed one of the most important parts of Mahayana Buddhism, especially in East Asia.

General Overviews

As emphasized in Blum 1994, Amitābha Buddhism was a form of path (mārga) that overlapped with other kinds of Buddhist practice and was rarely sharply distinguishable. Many scholars see Amitābha traditions as to some extent unified by existential themes of piety and trust (Corless 1993), light (Ingram 1974) or taking refuge (Carter 1993). Gómez 2000 focused on the general theme of hope. Lai 1981 found a narrative logic in the emergence of the Amitābha mythos from early Buddhism. Zwalf 1985 shows the prevalence of Amitābha in the sweep of the corpus of Buddhist art.

  • Blum, Mark L. “Pure Land Buddhism as an Alternative Mārga.” Eastern Buddhist 27.1 (1994): 30–77.

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    In detail relates Pure Land traditions to the Chinese debates about practice in terms of subitist (sudden) versus gradual enlightenment theories and to Japanese polemics about self-power and other-power. The argument illustrates how completely Amitābha overlapped with East Asian Buddhism in general, although there was to some extent a distinguishable Amitābha path.

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  • Carter, John Ross. “‘Relying Upon’ or ‘Taking Refuge’ as a Genuinely Human Activity.” Annual Memoirs of the Ōtani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute (Shinshū Sōgō Kenkyūjo Kiyo) 11 (1993): 17–42.

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    Comparative discussion of the spiritual issue of trust in the transcendent from the standpoint of a scholar of South Asian religions.

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  • Corless, Roger. “Pure Land Piety.” In Buddhist Spirituality. Vol. 1. Edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, 242–271. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

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    Describes how at imaginative, existential, and aesthetic levels the various Amitābha traditions were linked by their themes of light and trust, motifs that provide bridges to other world religions.

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  • Gómez, Luis O. “Buddhism as a Religion of Hope: Observations on the ‘Logic’ of a Doctrine and Its Foundational Myth.” Eastern Buddhist 32.1 (2000): 1–21.

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    Any analysis of the Amitābha narrative inevitably brings in issues such as grace, assurance of salvation, and “outside” powers, but the handling of these depends on underlying “theological,” doctrinal, and mythic assumptions. Author finds that Amitābha orientation is tied together by ideas of transferable merit (bodhisattva vows), which lead to practices of faith and hope, all thoroughly Buddhist.

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  • Ingram, Paul O. “The Symbolism of Light and Pure Land Buddhist Soteriology.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1.4 (December 1974): 331–345.

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    Explores the theme of light as a common form of religious imagery.

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  • Lai, Whalen. “From Sakyamuni to Amitabha: The Logic Behind the Pure Land Devotion.”Ching Feng 24.3 (1981): 156–174.

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    Using Kenneth Burke’s concept of logology, the author argues that the original Buddhist narrative contained within itself a karmic theodicy impelling Buddhist teaching in the Amitābha direction.

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  • Zwalf, Wladimir, ed. Buddhism: Art and Faith. London: British Museum Publications, 1985.

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    Images of Amitābha are scattered throughout this comprehensive survey of Buddhist art.

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Collections

Amitābha traditions have not so far been the subject of any single standard comprehensive academic overview, perhaps reflecting the diversity of the subject. Collections of essays illustrating such diversity include Foard 1996, Payne 2004, and Payne 2007; each of these touches respectively on the Indo-Tibetan sphere, China, and Japan.

  • Foard, James, Michael Solomon, and Richard K. Payne, eds. The Pure Land Tradition: History and Development. Berkeley: Regents of the University of California, 1996.

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    An essential set of twelve essays touching on Tibet, China, and Japan. Diverse themes, by major scholars who have pioneered the field in English.

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  • Payne, Richard K., ed. Shin Buddhism: Historical, Textual and Interpretive Studies. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007.

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    Despite the title, this is a collection of essays on Amitābha themes ranging widely over India, China, modern and premodern Japan, and the United States.

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  • Payne, Richard K., and Kenneth K. Tanaka, eds. Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitābha. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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    An invaluable set of nine essays touching on Tibet, China, and Japan. The introduction by Payne raises methodological questions about certain biases toward essentialism and against praxis in Buddhist studies and emphasizes the geographical and contextual diversity in Amitābha practices.

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Bibliographies

Bibliographies of non-Japanese-language works on Amitābha Buddhism have occasionally been published in the journal Annual Memoirs of the Ōtani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute (Shinshū Sōgō Kenkyūjo Kiyo) in 1983, 1988 and 1990. Material from the first half of the 20th century is listed in Bandō 1958 and Hanayama 1961.

Encyclopedias

Certain encyclopedia articles remain among the best introductory sources. Getz 2004 takes up the broad picture; Gómez 2004a and Gómez 2004b provide a sophisticated religious studies overview of the Amitābha idea. Tsukinowa, et al. 1964 offers an extensive look in English at earlier 20th-century Japanese scholarship, and Zürcher 1987 the perspective of a prominent 20th-century Chinese studies scholar. Tanabe 2004 points to the important relationships between Amitābha and Buddhist chant.

  • Getz, Daniel. “Pure Land Buddhism.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr., 698–703. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

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    Handy overview emphasizing the variety of Pure Land traditions and practices including those for Amitābha and their integration with monasticism, Tiantai school teachings in China, and deathbed ritual.

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  • Gómez, Luis O. “Amitābha.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. 14–15. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004a.

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    Succinct summary by leading contemporary Buddhologist.

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  • Gómez, Luis. “Pure Lands.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr., 703–706. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004b.

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    Excellent summary of the major role that Pure Land ideas—spaces purified by the presence of Buddhas such as Amitābha—played through Buddhist history in many variations.

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  • Tanabe, George J., Jr. “Chanting and Liturgy.” In Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr., 137–139. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

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    Introduces the understudied realm of Buddhist ritual and sacred music, which has a connection to recitation of the name of Amitābha. Discusses relationships among chanting, liturgy, memorization, nenbutsu, music, and ritual.

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  • Tsukinowa, Kenryū, Jūshin Ikemoto, and Ryōgaku Tsumoto. “Amita.” In Encyclopaedia of Buddhism. Vol. 3. Edited by G. P. Malalasekera, 434–463. Colombo: Government of Sri Lanka, 1964.

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    Long, densely detailed survey article, touching multiple aspects of the whole Amitābha tradition, although mostly from the perspective of earlier 20th century Japanese scholarship, which is influenced in some points by Shin Buddhism.

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  • Zürcher, Eric. “Amitābha.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 1. Edited by Mircea Eliade, 235–237. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

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    A compact classic overview, though some of its judgments have been modified.

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Journals

Journal publishing in English is dominated by the distinctive Jōdoshinshū school of Amitābha Buddhism and consists of three periodicals, Eastern Buddhist, The Pure Land: Journal of Pure Buddhism, and Pacific World. Eastern Buddhist and The Pure Land are available online through the ATLA database, a subscription service.

Primary Sources

The Pure Land of Amitābha (Amida) was associated with three distinct sutras, but diverse conceptions of Buddha-lands and celestial Buddhas occurred in all kinds of Mahayana Buddhism. For Amitābha, the two Sukhāvatīvyūha sūtras (Gómez 1996, Müller and Najio 1972, Ducor 1998) originated in India; an additional sutra, the Contemplation (or Visualization) Sutra (Guān Wúliàngshòu Fó Jīng) (Ryūkoku University Translation Center 1984), probably originated in China. Understanding of the texts requires close analysis—for the Contemplation/Visualization Sutra, see Fujita 1990 and Pas 1977; for the three together, see Huntington 1996 and Fujita 2007.

  • Ducor, Jérôme. Le Sûtra d’Amida prêché par le Buddha. New York: P. Lang, 1998.

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    A very careful French translation of the Larger Amitābha Sutra, with an extended introduction. Also contains the text in Chinese, Sanskrit (romanized), and Tibetan, as well as a bibliography noting the original sources and earlier translations.

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  • Fujita, Kōtatsu. “The Textual Origins of the Kuan Wu-liang-shou ching: A Canonical Scripture of Pure Land Buddhism.” In Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

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    A meticulous study of origin theories for the Contemplation/Visualization Sutra, concluding that it began with Central Asian meditation practices that were eventually turned into a Chinese sutra text.

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  • Fujita, Kōtatsu (藤田宏達). Jōdo sanbukyō no kenkyū (浄土三部経の研究). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2007.

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    Study of the three Pure Land sutras by one of the main modern Japanese scholars.

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  • Gómez, Luis O., trans. Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light: Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtras. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.

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    Contemporary English version of the primary Amitābha scripture Sukhāvatīvyūha, which was known in East Asia in both long and short versions. Detailed reference matter and extensive bibliography, and including an introduction informed by a sophisticated academic religious studies perspective on myth.

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  • Huntington, John C. “Rebirth in Amitābha’s Sukhāvatī.” In The Pure Land Tradition: History and Development. Edited by James Foard, Michael Solomon, and Richard K. Payne, 43–105. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

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    The author offers a breakdown of details in the three main Pure Land texts in order to compare them closely and make suggestions about the development of the texts.

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  • Pas, Julien F. “The Kuan-wu-liang-shou Fo-ching: Its Origin and Literary Criticism.” In Buddhist Thought and Asian Civilization: Essays in Honor of Herbert V. Guenther on His Sixtieth Birthday. Edited by Leslie S. Kawamura and Keith Scott. Emeryville, CA: Dharma Publishing, 1977.

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    Study of the Visualization/Contemplation Sutra from the premise of an evolving development of meditative visualization during the period of its composition.

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  • Ryūkoku University Translation Center, trans. The Sūtra of Contemplation on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life as Expounded by Śākyamuni Buddha. Kyoto: Ryukoku University, 1984.

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    The two Sukhāvatīvyūha sutras were joined with this Sutra of Contemplation (also rendered as Sutra of Visualization), which was composed in China but which formed a trio of texts known in Japan as the Jōdo sanbukyō. The group of three has been repeatedly translated. This academically annotated English translation of Contemplation was composed under Shin Buddhist auspices. (Japanese Kan Muryōjubutsu kyō, Chinese Kuan wu liang shou fo ching)

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  • Müller, F. Max, and Bunyiu Nanjio. Sukhāvatī-vyûha: Description of Sukhāvatī, the Land of Bliss. Amsterdam: Oriental Press, 1972.

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    Reprint of the first English translation and modern edition of the Sanskrit text of the Larger and Smaller Amitābha sutras (originally 1883).

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Indian Cosmology

Amitābha is inseparable from the larger background of ancient Indian cosmology. Sadakata 1997 is a contemporary Japanese treatment, while Kloetzli 1983 offers a broadly abstracted developmental typology.

  • Kloetzli, Randy. Buddhist Cosmology: From Single World System to Pure Land: Science and Theology in the Images of Motion and Light. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.

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    An analysis that sees Pure Land cosmologies as one (probably the latest) among the four types into which ancient Indian Buddhist cosmologies overall can be categorized, as a shift took place from time/motion metaphors to space/light metaphors. Author stresses the enormous historical importance of the dramatic, miraculous, powerful, and spectacular in these cosmologies, and their proto-scientific analytical style, but also emphasizes the difficulties modern scholars have had in appreciating them.

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  • Sadakata, Akira. Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. Tokyo: Kōsei, 1997.

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    Monograph by a modern Japanese specialist on Indian philosophy, who usefully puts Amitābha ideas in the context of ancient Indian Mahayana Buddhist cosmology as a whole; many schematic illustrations.

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Indian Roots

Contemporary scholarship understands Amitābha to be a natural evolution of the imaginative world of Indian Mahayana Buddhism. Barber 2002 suggests the relationship with the general idea of darshana, while Payne 2005 proposes that the rise of visualization was linked to cognitive history. But this was not unproblematic: Harrison 1978 points to tensions inherent in the idea of remembrance of the Buddha, and Barber 1999 to evidence for ancient polemics about the idea of the Pure Land. Further, as noted by Payne 2007, the very categories of analysis are not fully clear, and as elucidated by Ducor 2004, there are subtle disputable points involved in readings of the texts. The historical classic of modern Japanese scholarship is Fujita 1970; Fujita 1980 explains the scholar’s analysis of how the Pure Land and Lotus streams of literature were separate.

  • Barber, A. W. “The Anti Sukhāvatīvyūha Stance of the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra.” Pure Land 16 (1999): 190–202.

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    Certain details of the Tathāgatagarbha Sutra suggest an ancient polemical relationship between Pure Land ideas and other parts of Indian Mahayana.

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  • Barber, A. W. “Darshanic Buddhism: The Origins of Pure Land Practice.” Pure Land 18–19 (2002): 29–47.

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    Author argues that Buddhism should be directly linked to the pan-Indian phenomenon of darshana, i.e., inspiration via direct visual contact with a deity.

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  • Ducor, Jérôme. “Les sources de la Sukhāvati, autour d’une étude récente de Gérard Fussman.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27.2 (2004) 357–409.

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    A critical response to a work by an earlier scholar, Fussman, discussing among other matters the shortage of archaeological evidence for Pure Land in India. Illustrates the dense textuality involved in Pure Land interpretive history.

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  • Fujita, Kōtatsu (藤田宏達). Genshi Jōdo shisō no kenkyū (原始浄土思想の研究). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1970.

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    Classic study of origins of Pure Land teaching by a famous modern Japanese scholar.

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  • Fujita, Kōtatsu. “Pure Land Buddhism and the Lotus Sūtra.” In Indianisme et Bouddhisme: Mélanges offerts à Étienne Lamotte. Edited by Étienne Lamotte. Louvain, Belgium: Université Catholique de Louvain Institut Orientaliste, 1980.

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    Though originating in much the same region and time period in India, and despite points of contact in certain doctrinal issues (vows, faith), the Pure Land sutras and the Lotus sutra comprised two independently composed streams of Buddhist literature.

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  • Harrison, Paul M. “Buddhānusmrti in the Pratyutpanna-buddha-sammukhāvasthita-samādhi-sūtra.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 6 (1978): 35–57.

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    The idea of remembrance of the Buddha (buddhānusmrti) grew out of longings for the absent teacher and the proliferation of Buddhas in the Mahayana movement, but the same historical period saw the development of the doctrine of emptiness. This article concerns an ancient sutra (surviving in Tibetan and Chinese) that apparently points to the apparent tension between these orientations.

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  • Payne, Richard K. “Seeing Buddhas, Hearing Buddhas: Cognitive Significance of Nenbutsu as Visualization and as Recitation.” Pacific World 3.7 (Fall 2005): 119–141.

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    A wide-ranging, speculative essay that attempts to correlate historical changes in forms of Buddhist communication (especially the rise of graphic or visualized “external memory”) with stages of adaptation in human cognitive history.

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  • Payne, Richard. “Aparamitāyus: ‘Tantra’ and ‘Pure Land’ in Medieval Indian Buddhism?” Pacific World 9 (Fall 2007): 273–308.

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    A study of a text called the Aparamitāyuh Sūtra, known mainly from Tibet and concerned with rebirth in a positive karmic realm called Sukhāvatī. The text raises questions about certain conventional categories used to describe Indian Buddhism, including “tantra” and “Pure Land.”

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India and Amitābha in Archaeology

Text research has shown that the concept of a blissful future karmic realm (Sukhāvatī) was widespread in India, but archaeology would serve as the best confirmation for the Indian origins of a specific Amitābha Buddhism. Unfortunately, surviving monuments are few. Huntington 1980, Schopen 1987, and Brough 1982 examined the limited art evidence for Amitābha in India, and Ducor 2004 provides the most recent review.

  • Brough, John. “Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara in an Inscribed Gandhāran Sculpture.” Indologica Taurinensia 10 (1982): 65–70.

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    Short study of one of the few pieces of archaeological evidence for Pure Land in India.

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  • Ducor, Jérôme. “Les sources de la Sukhāvatī, autour d’une étude récente de Gérard Fussman.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 27.2 (2004): 357–409.

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    Summarizes among other matters the shortage of archaeological evidence for Pure Land in India.

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  • Huntington, John C. “A Gandhāran Image of Amitayus’ Sukhavati.” Annali 40 (1980): 651–672.

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    Concrete evidence (epigraphic or sculptural) for the existence of Amitābha in India is quite limited. The author, an art historian, argues via detailed technical analysis that not only is a certain ancient stele a representation of the Sukhāvatī but that it must indicate a considerable cultural development of Amitābha in India.

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  • Schopen, Gregory. “The Inscription on the Kusān Image of Amitābha and the Character of the Early Mahāyāna in India.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 10.2 (1987): 99–137.

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    Epigraphic study of an inscription on stone from 104 CE in northern India that clearly refers to Amitābha. Serves as earliest known evidence for Mahayana in India, but at the same time shows that any special Amitābha devotion was a tiny minority movement.

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Tibetan Developments

More than early perceptions of Tibetan Buddhism once suggested, Amitābha has been a prominent part of the mix of practices in Tibetan religious life. In general style it was close to Indian Mahayana, with Amitābha’s realm available among others in an efflorescent deity culture described by Kapstein 2004, a pioneering introduction (outside of a certain body of Japanese scholarship) to the Amitābha teaching in Tibet. Yet as clarified by Chen 2007, it was also a distinctly tantric reorientation. Corless 1989 explores similarities between Tibetan and Japanese practices despite the cultural and geographical distance. Halkias 2006 explains an Amitābha sādhana and how the mythic fields of lamaist lineages and Amitābha concepts overlapped. Historically, Amitābha prayers and yogas were composed by leading figures, such as the Seventh and Fifth Dalai Lamas (in Mullin 1983), Je Tshong Khapa 1982, or Gyalwa Gendun Gyatso 1986. Recently this aspect of Tibetan teaching has even been emphasized for English-speaking audiences (Tulku Thondup 2006).

  • Chen, Shu-chen. “Cultural Change of Indian Pure Land Buddhist Teaching in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.” PhD diss., University of Virginia, 2007.

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    Indian Pure Land teaching originated from the concept of buddhānusmrti, in which practitioners yearned to re-encounter the Buddha. When the teaching was transmitted to Tibet, the Indic orientation of seeking rebirth in the Pure Land of a deity was retained, but the teaching was incorporated into Tibetan Buddhist tantric framework.

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  • Corless, Roger. “Pure Land and Pure Perspective: A Tantric Hermeneutic of Sukhāvatī.” Pure Land n.s. 6 (1989): 205–217.

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    Proposes certain similarities between Pure Land (especially Shin) and Vajrayāna in terms of practice, mandala conceptualization, and ideas of “sudden” enlightenment.

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  • Gyalwa Gendun Gyatso. “The Longevity Yogas of the Bodhisattva of Life.” In Death and Dying: The Tibetan Tradition. Edited by Glenn H. Mullin, 149–172. Boston: Arkana, 1986.

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    In Tibet the Amitāyus deity was often incorporated into practices somewhat distinct from Pure Land birth per se, such as tantric longevity or life-extension yogas, of which this is an example.

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  • Halkias, T. Georgios. “Pure-Lands and Other Visions in Seventeenth-Century Tibet: A Gnam-chos sādhana for the Pure-land Sukhāvatī Revealed in 1658 by Gnam-chos Mi-’gyur-rdo-rje (1645–1667).” Paper presented at the Tenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 2003. In Power, Politics, and the Reinvention of Tradition: Tibet in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Edited by Bryan J. Cuevasand Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 121–151. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

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    The Panchen Lama, representing the second most important of the Tibetan monastic lineages, was regarded as an incarnation of Amitābha, indicating the political importance of Buddhist narratives in Tibet. This article mainly concerns a “sky-dharma” Pure Land sādhana revealed to an important 17th-century scholar-monk. Tibetan Sukhāvatī orientation was a Vajrayāna fusion of sutra, tantra, and terma, which also incorporated strands of life-extension and funeral ritual.

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  • Je Tsong Khapa. “Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhavati.” In The Life and Teachings of Tsong-khapa. Edited by Robert A. F. Thurman, 207–212. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1982.

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    Example of Tibetan prayer for rebirth in Pure Land, by one of the eminent medieval teachers.

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  • Kapstein, Matthew T. “Pure Land Buddhism in Tibet? From Sukhāvati to the Field of Great Bliss.” In Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitābha. Edited by Richard K. Payne and K. Kenneth Tanaka, 16–51. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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    As in China, in Tibet Amitābha was a religious orientation both pervasive and not sharply distinguished from other options. Pure Land practices were fully set within the Tibetan tantric framework of contemplation and yoga; for example, the technique of transference, which involved projecting consciousness to another realm at the moment of death. Over time, Amitābha orientation was increasingly popularized by certain monastic orders, teachers, and texts, but a certain emphasis on discipline was never given up, and the situation remained synthetic and nonexclusive.

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  • Mullin, Glenn H., ed. Meditation on the Lower Tantras: From the Collected Works of the Previous Dalai Lamas. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1983.

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    Includes Seventh Dalai Lama (1708–1757): An Amitayus Longevity Yoga; and Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682): A Practice of Consciousness Transference Involving Amitābha. See especially pp. 33–44.

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  • Tulku Thondup. Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth: A Tibetan Buddhist Guidebook. Edited by Harold Talbott. Boston and London: Shambhala, 2006.

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    This is a contemporary book for English readers that directs attention to traditional Tibetan conceptions of rebirth in Amitābha’s Pure Land. Includes personal accounts by believers and guidance for death and death ritual.

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Tibet and Amitābha in Arts

Because of its proliferation of tantric deities and meditations, Tibetan Buddhism is highly iconographic, and Amitābha has had an important presence in this imagery. Mullin 2007 (based on a museum exhibition) and Rhie 1998 cover aspects of Amitābha in Tibetan painting.

  • Mullin, Glenn H. Buddha in Paradise: a Celebration in Himalayan Art. New York: Rubin Museum of Art, 2007.

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    Amitābha was and is widely present in the iconography of Tibetan Buddhism. This richly illustrated work based on an exhibition features eleven color plates that are depictions of Amitābha.

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  • Rhie, Marylin M. “An Early Tibetan Thangka of Amitayus.” Orientations 29.9 (October 1998) 74–83.

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    Study of an early Tibetan devotional thangka scroll painting of Amitayus, the Buddha of Boundless Life (who often served as a variant of Amitābha). Such pictures record evidence for interrelationships between some early Tibetan painting and artistic movements in China.

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Chinese Developments

Historically, Amitābha worship in China can be divided roughly into the premodern era (the first millennium), when it arrived as part of the active phase of Indian influence, and the period of blending of Amitābha worship and Chan (the second millennium), when it was part of a typical polyvocal program of matured Chinese Buddhism. Along with the traditions in monasteries, various popular practices evolved, and Amitābha exerted great influence on visual arts. Subsequently in the contemporary era substantial efforts in reform and reconfiguration have been undertaken in Chinese Buddhism, including its interpretations of Amitābha.

Premodern Era

The most concrete developments of Amitābha occurred in China more than elsewhere in Asia. The history can be roughly divided into the first stage of implantation and ferment and the later stage of syncretism and settlement ,which corresponds approximately to the evolution of imperial government in China. As discussed by Chen 2007, the Chinese made an active adaptation of the Indian tradition, including simplification. Nattier 2005 suggests that an aspect of this adaptation was a focus on the Amitāyus (“Unlimited Life”) deity. Meanwhile Mai 2009 makes an important argument that evidence for Amitābha popularization extends to types of evidence beyond texts alone. According to Velasco 1995 and Chappell 1976, popularization in the teacher Daochuo may have been associated with a more concretized idea of Amitābha’s Pure Land. In the priest Tanluan, Taoist elements were also admixed. Weinstein 1987 provides a short summary of Tang-period expansion. In the end, in any case, interpretations of the core Amitābha practice of reciting the Buddha’s name became multiple (Jones 2001).

  • Chappell, David Wellington. “Tao-ch’o (562–645): A Pioneer of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.” PhD diss., Yale University, 1976.

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    Daochuo became associated with a form of exclusivistic Amitābha orientation that understood Amitābha practices, which could be very simple, as the only way to undertake Buddhism in the contemporary age. However, this was not the later mainstream Chinese attitude.

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  • Chen, Shu-chen. “Cultural Change of Indian Pure Land Buddhist Teaching in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.” PhD diss., University of Virginia, 2007.

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    Indian Pure Land teaching originated from the concept of buddhānusmrti, in which practitioners yearned to re-encounter the Buddha. When the teaching was transmitted to China, however, the teaching was simplified because buddhānusmrti practice was predominantly interpreted as the recitation of Buddha Amitābha’s name (although other Chinese Buddhists have considered Pure Land as a mental construct only).

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  • Corless, Roger J. “T’an-luan: Taoist Sage and Buddhist Bodhisattva.” In Buddhist and Taoist Practice in Medieval Chinese Society. Edited by David W. Chappell, 36–45. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1987.

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    Tanluan was selected as a Pure Land master by the later Japanese innovator Shinran, but in his own time Tanluan’s thought mixed Buddhist with Taoist elements, as analyzed in this short study.

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  • Jones, Charles B. “Toward a Typology of Nien-fo: A Study in Methods of Buddha-Invocation in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.” Pacific World, 3d ser., 3 (Fall 2001): 219–239.

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    Research continues to complicate the historical variability of nenbutsu understanding: in China it was one practice among many, or healing practice, or graded path, or nondual realization, or complete path, or subordinate of Chan meditation.

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  • Mai, Cuong T. “Visualization Apocrypha and the Making of Buddhist Deity Cults in Early Medieval China: With Special Reference to the Cults of Amitābha, Maitreya, and Samantabhadra.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 2009.

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    Argues that between the 4th century and the 6th century, the worship of Amitābha in China became widespread and extremely varied without organization by elite scholar-monks. Thus, instead of looking to textual transmission, research should look to prayers for the dead inscribed on stone images, miracle tales, hagiographies, and apocrypha—all producing an alternative view of Pure Land prehistory, which was further related to the early medieval cults of the Buddhist deities Maitreya and Samantabhadra and their visualization traditions.

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  • Nattier, Jan. “The Names of Amitābha/Amitāyus in Early Chinese Buddhist Translations (I).” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University for the Academic Year 2005 9 (2006): 183–199.

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    The name of the Amitābha Buddha appears in very many Buddhist texts other than the three main Pure Land sutras. Technical philological study of such appearances in early Chinese translations confirms that Amitābha was understood in India as “Buddha of Limitless Light” and preceded any interpretation in terms of the name Amitāyus (“Limitless Life”), which was a later product of Chinese cultural interests. Part 2 appears in the Annual Report 2006, pp. 359–394.

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  • Velasco, Katherine K. “The Transformation of the Pure Land in the Development of Lay Buddhist Practice in China.” Pacific World n.s. 11 (1995): 226–279.

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    Broad historical survey, based on English-language sources, evaluating how the pressure to popularize Buddhism in China tended to push the Pure Land toward being interpreted as an objective, ontologically existing goal, especially in the teacher Daochuo.

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  • Weinstein, Stanley. “The Growth of Pure Land Buddhism.” In Buddhism under the T’ang. By Stanley Weinstein, 66–74. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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    Brief summary of Tang-period expansion of Pure Land teaching.

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Shandao

The Pure Land–associated priest Shandao (b. 613–d. 681) commenting on the Pure Land Contemplation /Visualization Sutra stands out because he produced texts with ideas of practice that left openings for popular simplifications of Pure Land devotion, thus creating a basis for later developments in Japan in particular. The differing perspectives on Shandao that eventuated are illustrated by Pas 1995, which emphasizes the multivocal quality of Shandao’s ideas of practice, versus Ducor 1999, which defends the Japanese Jōdoshinshū reading involving oral recitation of the name of Amitābha. Against that background Haneda 1979 traces the core concept of “the inferior person” in Shandao. The translation work of Inagaki 1999 exemplifies Shandao’s text on contemplation of Amitābha. At the center of Shandao’s world remained the Contemplation/Visualization Sutra, with its distinctive composition (Silk 1997) and potential meanings (Orzech 2009).

  • Ducor, Jérôme. “Shandao et Hōnen, à propos du livre de Julian F. Pas: Visions of Sukhāvatī.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 22.1 (1999): 93–163.

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    Critically responding to the scholarship of Pas, the author defends a traditional (especially Jōdoshinshū) interpretation of the claims for simple vocal nenbutsu supposed to be made by the Chinese teacher Shandao. Excellent example of textual argumentation and polemics in a Pure Land context.

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  • Haneda, Nobuo. “The Development of the Concept of ‘Prthagjana,’ Culminating in Shan-tao’s Pure Land Thought: The Pure Land Theory of Salvation of the Inferior.” PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1979.

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    Traces the use of this Sanskrit term for the karmically inferior, from India up through the medieval Chinese teacher Shandao.

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  • Inagaki, Hisao. “Shan-tao’s Exposition of the Method of Contemplation on Amida Buddha, Part 1.” Translated by Hisao Inagaki. Pacific World, 3d ser., 1 (1999): 77–89.

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    First of three units of translation of Shandao’s textual material describing contemplative or visualization practice on the Amitābha Buddha; additional units of the translation were published in the same journal in 2000 and 2001.

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  • Orzech, Charles D. “A Tang Esoteric Manual for Rebirth in the Pure Land: Rites for Contemplation of and Offerings to Amitāyus Tathāgata.” In Path of No Path: Contemporary Studies in Pure Land Buddhism Honoring Roger Corless. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 31–55. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2009.

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    The author examines a commentary on the Contemplation /Visualization Sutra as an example of a process in China in which nonesoteric texts were brought under the influence of esoteric Buddhism and adapted to esoteric ritual.

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  • Pas, Julian F. Visions of Sukhāvatī: Shan-tao’s Commentary on the Kuan Wu-Liang-Shou-Fo Ching. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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    This is an extended study that emphasizes the complex Mahayana vision quest aspect of Shandao’s experience and engages in a polemic against the narrower interpretations guided by the Japanese Jōdoshinshū school that focus on recitation of the oral nenbutsu formula common in Japan.

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  • Silk, Jonathan A. “The Composition of the Guan Wuliangshoufo-Jing: Some Buddhist and Jaina Parallels to Its Narrative Frame.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 25.2 (1997): 181–256.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1004291223455Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of the structure of the Contemplation/Visualization Sutra in terms of its narrative composition.

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Syncretism of Amitābha Buddhism and Chan

Chinese Buddhist thinkers have been historically fascinated and dominated by quasi-monistic (mind-only, tathāgata-garbha) theories of knowledge and strongly brought that perspective to their philosophical interpretations of Amitābha thought, but the tension between the “monistic” and “dualistic” ways of handling the Amitābha mythos remained the source of one of the main kinds of polemics in Amitābha history. As described by Chappell 1986, such frictions broke into the open only when a degree of Chinese sectarian consciousness appeared during the Tang period. In much conventional scholarship, the later relations promoted by prominent Chinese monastics between Amitābha and Chan have been described as syncretism (Shih 1992, Hsu 1979, Yü 1981). A contrary view, taken up aggressively by Sharf 2002, is that Pure Land and Chan were so completely congruent or co-practiced in Chinese monasteries that no distinction—and thus no syncretism—can be intelligible. At the theoretical level, however, the question of how to handle the idea of the Amitābha in a fundamentally monistic philosophical system continued (Hurvitz 1970), sometimes achieving a subtle resolution (Jones 2000), sometimes retaining residual tensions (Jones 2001).

  • Chappell, David W. “From Dispute to Dual Cultivation: Pure Land Responses to Ch’an Critics.” In Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism. Edited by Peter N. Gregory, 163–198. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

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    Surveys polemical conflicts between Amitābha and Chan exponents that occurred at the beginning of the 8th century before they tended to be dissolved in the characteristic later Chinese mind-only discourse.

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  • Hsu, Sung-peng. A Buddhist Leader in Ming China: The Life and Thought of Han-Shan Te-Ch’ing. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979.

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    Hanshan was another prominent leader who is understood to have continued the tradition of combining Chan and Amitābha both in practice and in theory of knowledge.

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  • Hurvitz, Leon. “Chu-hung’s One Mind of Pure Land and Ch’an Buddhism.” In Self and Society in Ming Thought. Edited by William Theodore de Bary, 451–479. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.

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    A presentation of the synthesis of Pure Land and Chan made by the major Ming-period Chinese monk Chu-hung on the basis of Chan of Chan theories of knowledge.

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  • Jones, Charles B. “Mentally Constructing What Already Exists: The Pure Land Thought of Chan Master Jixing Chewu (際醒 徹悟), 1741–1810.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 23.1 (2000): 43–69.

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    Study of an early modern Chinese monastic writer exemplifying the convoluted ways in which a mind-only theory of knowledge and Amitābha conceptualizations could be combined.

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  • Jones, Charles B. “Apologetic Strategies in Late Imperial Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.” Journal of Chinese Religions 29 (2001): 69–90.

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    Argues that despite the strong conventional emphasis on harmony, an element of conflict between Chan and Amitābha teachings has persisted from the Ming period down to the present, which has stimulated a line of apologetics from Amitābha exponents. Sophisticated debates occurred between “literalist” and “mind-only” interpretations, with the discussions located within the frame of Tiantai and Huayan thought.

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  • Sharf, Robert H. “On Pure Land Buddhism and Ch’an/Pure Land Syncretism in Medieval China.” T’oung Pao, 2d ser., 88, fasc. 4–5 (2002): 282–331.

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    Argues that although there were Pure Land–identified teachers and an idea of a patriarchate in China, there is little evidence of anything like an independent or self-conscious Amitābha tradition as Japanese scholars have often claimed. Amitābha cosmology, soteriology, and ritual were always seamlessly interwoven in Chinese Buddhism in general and Chan monasticism in particular, so there can be no meaning to a concept of “synthesis” of Amitābha and Chan.

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  • Shih, Heng-ching. The Syncretism of Ch’an and Pure Land Buddhism. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

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    A treatment of Yongming with a conventional emphasis on him as a blender of Chan and Amitābha orientations, approached via the idea of a syncretism enabled by mind-only monism.

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  • Yü, Chung-fang. The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-Hung and the Late Ming Synthesis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

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    Syncretization of Chan and Pure Land was allegedly intrinsic to the program of this famous late-Ming teacher and organizer.

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Aspects of Popular Practice

For most participants in Chinese Pure Land the issues were mainly practical and liturgical. Nianfo (often treated as vocal recitation) and deathbed ritual associated with Amitābha are presented in passages from Stevenson 1995a and Stevenson 1995b. Amstutz 1998 stressed that the relative openness of Amitābha practice, which allowed the formation of independent associations of nonmonastic believers, sometimes gave it a significant political quality. This was so much so, in fact, that Chinese monastic institutions sought to bring lay followers back closer to monasteries by offering them precept-taking opportunities (Getz 2005) or the image of a Amitābha patriarchate (Getz 1999), even though this idea of lineage may have been largely fictive (Getz 2004).

  • Amstutz, Galen. “The Politics of Independent Pure Land in China.” Journal of Chinese Religions 26 (1998): 21–50.

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    Highlights the role of independent nonmonastic Amitābha groups, which sometimes created a field of interests different from the interests (magic, centralized power, or social hierarchy) rooted in the classical renunciant model. Some of these groups claimed to transcend monk and lay categories.

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  • Getz, Daniel A., Jr. “T’ien-t’ai Pure Land Societies and the Creation of the Pure Land Patriarchate.” In Buddhism in the Sung. Edited by Peter N. Gregory and Daniel A. Getz Jr., 477–523. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

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    The idea of an Amitābha patriarchate was not entirely a Japanese conception, but was also created by the Chinese Tiantai school during the Southern Sung period as a way of recognizing and claiming authority and guidance over the lay Amitābha societies that began to flourish in the period.

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  • Getz, Daniel. “Shengchang’s Pure Conduct Society and the Chinese Pure Land Patriarchate.” In Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitābha. Edited by Richard K. Payne and Kenneth K. Tanaka, 52–76. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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    Although there were claims and lists regarding the existence of a patriarchate of leading teachers who formed some kind of Amitābha lineage over time, this study of one of these medieval figures casts doubt on the existence of any truly autonomous Amitābha institution in China.

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  • Getz, Daniel A. “Popular Religion and Pure Land in Song-Dynasty Tiantai Bodhisattva Precept Ordination Ceremonies.” In Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya: Essays Presented in Honor of Professor Stanley Weinstein. Edited by William M. Bodiford, 161–184. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

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    Study of how, under the influence of Amitābha, monastic Buddhist institutions found ways to connect with lay people by including them in precept-taking ceremonies, thus expanding popular consciousness of the bodhisattva vocation.

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  • Stevenson, Daniel B. “Pure Land Buddhist Worship and Meditation in China.” In Buddhism in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez, 359–379. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995a.

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    Translations of three short passages about Amitābha practice together with an excellent prefatory overview about rituals of nianfo (mindful recollection of the Buddha, often understood as vocal recitation).

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  • Stevenson, Daniel B. “Death-Bed Testimonials of the Pure Land Faithful.” In Buddhism in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez, 592–602. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995b.

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    Translations of three short documents from Amitābha hagiographical collections that illustrate its relationships with death attitudes, rituals, and visions.

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China and Amitābha in Arts

Because Amitābha Buddhism included a conspicuous visual element via its concrete descriptions of Amitābha’s Pure Land, it had a pervasive impact on Buddhist art, beginning in the stele era studied by Wong 1995. The Western desert sites, including Dunhuang, have preserved important examples, including the paintings studied by McIntire 2000 and Lee 1997 or the images recovered by explorer Stein (Jera-Bezard 1976). Yamabe 2002 argues that such paintings directly reflected meditation practices. Illustrations of the nine grades of birth in the Contemplation/Visualization Sutra became a special genre (Bryant 1995). Much later in the Ming period, a handscroll demonstrates the acceptance of Amitābha Buddhism among literati (Tsai 1997). Another side of Buddhist arts is music, which can be observed in modern Taiwan (Lee 2002).

  • Bryant, Gail Chin. “Kuhon ōjōzu: Paintings of the Nine Grades of Birth: Context and Interpretation.” PhD diss., University of California–Los Angeles, 1995.

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    The nine levels of potential birth in the Pure Land that were described in the Visualization/Contemplation Sutra served as an important topic for illustration in Buddhist temples. This dissertation discusses the initial Chinese developments of the genre.

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  • Jera-Bezard, Robert, and Monique Maillard. “Un paradis d’Amitābha de la collection Aurel Stein conservé au Musée National de New Delhi.” Arts Asiatiques 32 (1976): 269–285.

    DOI: 10.3406/arasi.1976.1104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Descriptive discussion, with illustrations, of Pure Land and Amitābha images recovered from the famous Dunhuang site in China.

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  • Lee, Feng-hsiu. “Chanting the Amitabha Sutra in Taiwan: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of Chinese Buddhism Services in Monastic Communities.” PhD diss., Kent State University, 2002.

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    An unusual study of liturgy based on cultural theory and ethnomusicological approaches, including fieldwork.

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  • Lee, Yu-Min. “Amitabha Paintings from Khara Khoto.” National Palace Museum Bulletin 31.6 (January–February 1997): 1–16.

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    Study of Amitābha art recovered from the site of the medieval Tangut city of Khara Khoto. Continues in National Palace Museum Bulletin 32.1 (March–April 1997): 17–32.

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  • McIntire, Jennifer Noering. “Visions of Paradise: Sui and Tang Buddhist Pure Land Representations at Dunhuang.” PhD diss., Princeton University, 2000.

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    The growth of Pure Land teachings and the associated practices of visualization that were thought to lead to karmic rebirth also stimulated illusionistic representations of Pure Lands in Chinese pictorial art. This is a detailed study of the art at the Buddhist Mogao (Dunhuang) complex (5th through 13th centuries) in northwest China.

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  • Tsai, Hsing-li. “Ch’en Hung-Shou’s ‘Elegant Gathering’: A Late-Ming Pictorial Manifesto of Pure Land Buddhism.” PhD diss., University of Kansas, 1997.

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    A detailed study of a Ming handscroll that provides evidence for the widespread acceptance of Pure Land Buddhism among intellectuals in that period.

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  • Wong, Dorothy C. “The Beginnings of the Buddhist Stele Tradition in China.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 1995.

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    Steles were a native tradition of stone slabs whose surfaces were used for carvings. Buddhist images began to appear on steles in the 5th and 6th centuries, recording, among other themes, the popular spread of Pure Land ideas.

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  • Yamabe, Nobuyoshi. “Practice of Visualization and the Visualization Sūtra: An Examination of Mural Paintings at Toyok, Turfan.” Pacific World, 3d ser., 4 (Fall 2002): 123–152.

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    Argues that an understanding of the Visualization/Contemplation Sutra must take into account a wide range of evidence, including both additional texts on meditation and cave mural paintings apparently used for visualization.

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Contemporary Era of Chinese Amitābha Buddhism

In the early 20th century, Amitābha practice initially continued as it had in the 19th, as recorded by Welch 1967. Later, however, innovators produced more modern, socially-active variations on the mythos, as described by Pittman 2001 and Jones 2003. The most important of these variations has been the Foguang movement in Taiwan (Chandler 2004). Other reformers have included Yinguang (Zhang 2008) and Yinshun (Tien 1995). Modern Taiwanese Buddhism’s own voice has been represented increasingly in English (Hsing-yün-ta-shih 1991). New reporting is beginning to delineate the post-Maoist revival of Buddhism in the People’s Republic of China (Qin 2007)

  • Chandler, Stuart. Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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    Detailed study of the dynamic, innovative, modernization-friendly Taiwanese Foguang monastic Buddhist movement, from the perspective of religious globalization. As in earlier Chinese Buddhism, claims of lineage authority derived from Chan coexist complexly with Amitābha orientations, but in the Foguang version also with a distinctive slogan of “building a Pure Land in the human realm.”

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  • Hsing-yün-ta-shih. The Lion’s Roar: Actualizing Buddhism in Daily Life and Building the Pure Land in our Midst. New York: P. Lang, 1991.

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    The teachings of one of the great modern Taiwanese reformers as rendered into an English version.

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  • Jones, Charles B. “Transitions in the Practice and Defense of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.” In Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition. Edited by Steven Heine and Charles S. Prebish, 125–142. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    An analysis of how modernity has affected the attitudes of major thinkers in contemporary Chinese Amitābha Buddhism by encouraging their reorientation to the present world, to humanistic rationalism, and to political progressivism.

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  • Pittman, Don A. Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu’s Reforms. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001.

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    An extensive study of the pioneering modernist reformer Taixu (b.1890–d.1947), who reworked the Amitābha/Chan tradition he inherited in a manner emphasizing active ethical engagement with the world, a “Buddhism for human life,” and even the construction of a utopian “Pure Land on earth.”

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  • Qin, Wen-jie, dir. To the Land of Bliss. DVD. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources, 2007.

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    Fascinating video depicts the current revival of Buddhism in mainland China (PRC) at the ancient Buddhist site of Emei-shan, based on the event of a Chinese Pure Land Buddhist master’s death and funeral.

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  • Tien, Po-yao. “A Modern Buddhist Monk-Reformer in China: The Life and Thought of Yin-Shun.” PhD diss., California Institute of Integral Studies, 1995.

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    Not strictly objective, but supplies a useful introduction to the innovations of another 20th-century reformer.

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  • Welch, Holmes. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 1900–1950. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

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    Welch interviewed Chinese monks who had been dispersed by the Communist revolution and produced a virtually anthropological description of what early 20th-century Chinese monastic life was like, including the coexistence of Chan and Amitābha orientations, the latter sometimes serving as a complementary or “backup” religious plan.

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  • Zhang, Xuesong. “A Critical Study on Yinguang and His Reconstruction of Chinese Pure Land Buddhism.” PhD diss., Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2008.

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    Treating Chinese Pure Land as an open, “imagined community” rather than as a clear lineage, as in the case of Chan, for example, this study deals with the innovations of the modern reformer Yinguang. In Chinese, with English abstract.

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Korean Developments

The traditions of Amitābha in Korea were inherited from China but several Korean Buddhist thinkers made original contributions as well.

Premodern Period

In Korea, Amitābha stood out separately only in the early Silla period (Minamoto 1991 and McBride 2001) and was thereafter part of a general field of practice. Tanaka 2004 described the 7th-century teachings of Wŏnhyo. Pure Land was commented on by the major thinker Chinul (Buswell 1983). Philosophically, Korean thought about Amitābha followed Chinese mind-only patterns (Park 1983). The genre of biographical stories about persons reborn in Amitābha’s Pure Land manifested itself in Korea (Jang 1994). At least one Korean Buddhist priest attained distinct international importance because of his effect on the Japanese thinker Shinran (Keel 2005).

  • Buswell, Robert E., trans. The Korean Approach to Zen: The Collected Works of Chinul. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983.

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    Two texts by the great medieval Sŏn master Chinul situated Amitābha in relation to the Korean monastic tradition. “Encouragement to Practice” (pp. 96–134) criticized the low spiritual ambitions of Chinul’s contemporaries who were Pure Land Buddhists and thus expected that enlightenment must be deferred. “The Essentials of Pure Land Practice” (pp. 191–197) offered Chinul’s idea for Amitābha practice consisting of ten kinds of recollections of the Buddha, disciplinary in orientation, in conjunction with recitations of the name of Amitābha.

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  • Jang, Hwee-ok. “Wŏnhyo and Rebirth Tales of Kwangdŏk and Ŏmjang from Silla.” Acta Asiatica 66 (1994): 57–68.

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    Against the background of the rise and popularity of Pure Land Buddhism in the Silla period, examines the life of the monk Wŏnhyo and the relationship of his teachings to a story about two followers’ birth in Amitābha’s Pure Land.

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  • Keel, Hee-Sung. “Kyŏnghŭng in Shinran’s Pure Land Thought.” In Currents and Countercurrents: Korean Influences on the East Asian Buddhist Traditions. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

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    A study of the influence of the Silla scholar Kyŏnghŭng on the Japanese thinker Shinran, which constituted one of the important effects exerted by Korean Amitābha worship.

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  • McBride, Richard Dewayne. Buddhist Cults in Silla Korea in their Northeast Asian Context. PhD diss., University of California–Los Angeles, 2001.

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    The eighth chapter deals with the generative period for a distinct Amitābha Buddhism in Korea, which occurred during the ancient Silla dynasty.

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  • Minamoto, Hiroyuki. “Characteristics of Pure Land Buddhism of Silla.” In Assimilation of Buddhism in Korea: Religious Maturity and Innovation in the Silla Dynasty. Edited by Lewis R. Lancaster and C. S. Yu. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.

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    Pure Land was most prominent in Korea during the Silla period. Focusing on doctrine, the author argues that the Korean situation was distinguished by equally balanced emphases on Amitābha and Maitreya.

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  • Park, Sung-bae. Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

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    A discussion of interrelated issues of faith, practice, and enlightenment against a background of Korean Sŏn Buddhism, in which the mind-only philosophical treatment basically followed that in China.

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  • Tanaka, Kenneth K. “Faith in Wŏnhyo’s Commentary on the Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life: The Elevated Role of Faith over Contemplation and Its Implication for the Contribution of Korean Buddhism to the Development of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism.” Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, 3d ser., 6 (Fall 2004): 45–56.

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    A study of ideas of Amitābha faith found in this 7th-century teacher.

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Korea and Amitābha in Arts

As in China, Amitābha was a major feature of Pure Land genre painting. As seen in Shin 2005 and Shin 2001, major visual themes included the so-called Amitābha triad (Amitābha plus two flanking deities, following sutra descriptions) and raigō scenes (Amitābha descending to meet the follower at the deathbed).

  • Shin, Junhyoung Michael. “The Face-to-face Advent of the Amitābha Triad: A Fifteenth-Century Welcoming Descent” Cleveland Studies in the History of Art 6 (2001): 28–47.

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    Study of a Korean version of a raigō painting; this motif became highly important in Japan. This early Choson period Buddhist painting (hanging scroll) is in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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  • Shin, Juhnyoung Michael. “Iconographic Surrogates: Contemplating Amitābha Images in the Late Koryŏ Dynasty (Fourteenth Century).” Archives of Asian Art 55 (2005): 1–15.

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    Study of multipurpose paintings of Amitābha Buddha from the Koryŏ dynasty (918–1392) that served various devotional needs of Amitābha followers.

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Japanese Developments

Amitābha belief in Japan had its origins as part of the mixed repertoire of practices that characterized the Chinese and Korean monasteries from which Japanese Buddhism was imported, but afterward the late Heian and Kamakura periods were marked in part by innovations that eventually made Amitābha Buddhism in Japan into a comparatively sectarian, free-standing independent variant of Mahayana Buddhism. In this environment Japan saw an elaboration of several sub-features of Pure Land Buddhism: death consciousness and ritual, Latter Dharma theory, Amitābha arts, and teachers and teaching lineages that were Amitābha-oriented, including the figures Genshin and Ippen and the Jōdoshū and Jōdoshinshū schools (both from Hōnen). In the Tokugawa period, Ming-style Chinese Buddhism (which prominently incorporated Amitābha) was introduced in the form of the Obaku school.

Origins

Early Amitābha in Japan was like Amitābha in China in that it was congruent with the other kinds of Buddhism practiced in monastic settings, while at the same time being to some extent promoted to common people by popular proselytizers. Rhodes 2006 and Dobbins 1998 are two excellent surveys of the historical facts with two somewhat different foci.

  • Dobbins, James C. “A Brief History of Pure Land Buddhism in Early Japan.” In Engaged Pure Land Buddhism: The Challenges of Jodō Shinshū in the Contemporary World. Edited by Kenneth K. Tanaka and Eisho Nasu, 113–165. Berkeley, CA: Wisdom Ocean, 1998.

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    A straightforward survey of the history of Amitābha worship before the transformative Kamakura period, covering a series of major themes: texts, arts, monastic figures, institutional settings, aristocratic sponsors, mappō (Latter Dharma) consciousness, and early popularizers.

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  • Rhodes, Robert F. “The Beginning of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan: From Its Introduction through the Nara Period.” Japanese Religions 31.1 (January 2006): 1–22.

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    A summary of historical information about the period of introduction from Korea, the role of Prince Shōtoku, the growth of the Amida cult, the development of textual study, and the interest in a blissful afterlife as the primary motive for interest in Amitābha.

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Late Heian and Kamakura Periods

Japanese Buddhist history was marked by several reform thinkers and movements that, beginning in the late Heian and Kamakura period, popularized Amitābha ideas and practices in a way that separated them from the previous monastic milieu and gradually created new specially Amitābha-focused monastic lineages (Jōdoshū) as well as the radically nonmonastic Jōdoshinshū. Conventional Japanese apologetics tended to overemphasize the reformism during the Kamakura period itself; that older approach has been more recently corrected by one emphasizing the long persistence of the earlier monastic forms. Dobbins 1998 discusses the historiographical problem this has posed. Morrell 1987 presents four representatives of the earlier monastic lineages. A classic historical study of the early phase of Amitābha in Japan is Inoue 1975. Steineck 1997 offers German-language versions of some key texts; Nakamura, et al. 1990 is an example of a modern Japanese edition of the three key Pure Land sutras. Rhodes 1999 discusses the monk Senkan, who proposed a version of Pure Land inside the Tendai monastic tradition. Wetzler 1977 indicates how a member of the Heian aristocracy was engaged with Amitābha Buddhism. Always, in the background, Amitābha was commonly mixed up with all kinds of popular religious imagination as well, as indicated by articles in Blum and Amstutz 2006.

  • Blum, Mark L., and Galen Amstutz, eds. Special Issue: Varieties of Pure Land Experience. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 33.2 (2006).

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    Seven articles in this journal volume deal with popular manifestations of Amitābha imagination, especially as expressed in mandalas, tantric practices, and kami-religion.

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  • Dobbins, James C. “Envisioning Kamakura Buddhism.” In Re-visioning “Kamakura” Buddhism. Edited by Richard K. Payne, 24–42. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

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    Indispensable survey concerning the historiographical positions and shifts, ranging from emphases on reformism to emphases on economics, demonstrated in interpretations of the new kinds of Buddhism that emerged during the Kamakura period in Japan. Dobbins proposes his own model based on cultic centers and founders.

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  • Nakamura Hajime, Hayashima Kyōshō, and Kino Kazuyoshi (中村元, 早島鏡正, 紀野一義訳註), trans. Jōdo sanbukyō (浄土三部経). Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1990.

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    Contains texts of Pure Land sutras in Japanese and Chinese, in part translated from Sanskrit original. Example of a modern Japanese version and commentary, in this case including among its authors Nakamura Hajime, one of the most famous modern Japanese Buddhologists.

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  • Inoue, Mitsusada (井上光貞). Nihon Jōdokyō seiritsushi no kenkyū (日本淨土敎成立史の研究). Tokyo: Yamakawa, 1975.

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    Classic study by a modern Japanese scholar of the early course of Pure Land teaching in Japan.

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  • Morrell, Robert E. Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1987.

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    In response to the distorting pressure on the image of Japanese Buddhism exerted by an excessive emphasis on alleged Kamakura Buddhist reform, the author studied the work of priests from four of the conservative, earlier schools that continued during the same time period, including Jōkei of the Hossō school, who was involved in a famous dispute about Hōnen’s teaching, and Kakukai of the Shingon school, whose “mind-only” understanding of Amitābha was rooted in his tantric philosophy.

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  • Rhodes, Robert F. “Bodhisattva Practice and Pure Land Practice: Senkan and the Construction of Pure Land Discourse in Heian Japan.” Japanese Religions 24.1 (1999): 1–28.

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    Senkan was an early Tendai monk who attempted to legitimate Pure Land practice in Tendai Buddhism by presenting it as a merely deferred approach to the normative Tendai rhetoric of bodhisattva practice and universal buddhahood.

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  • Steineck, Christian. Quellentexte des japanischen Amida-Buddhismus. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1997.

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    German translations, with introductory material, of passages from the most important Japanese Pure Land figures: Hōnen, Shinran, and Ippen.

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  • Wetzler, Peter Michael. “‘Yoshishige no Yasutane’: Lineage, Learning, Office, and Amida’s Pure Land.” PhD diss., University of California–Berkeley, 1977.

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    Study of a minor Heian aristocrat and writer whose life and compositions illuminate the Pure Land Buddhist beliefs of his time.

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Genshin

The monk Genshin played a pivotal bridging role in opening up the resources of monastic Amitābha Buddhism to a larger range of people, beginning with Kyoto aristocrats. Andrews 1973 surveys the contents of his key book. Andrews 1989 evaluates how Genshin’s contribution fit into the flow of historical change, while Rhodes 2007 provides a methodologically sophisticated study showing how different modes of communication about Amitābha ideas were operant in the period. Horton 2001 and Horton 2004 research the social patterns that enabled Genshin’s ideas to reach a large audience.

  • Andrews, Allan A. The Teachings Essential for Rebirth: a Study of Genshin’s Ōjōyōshū. Tokyo: Sophia University, 1973.

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    Genshin’s Heian-period book was highly influential in spreading Amitābha consciousness in Japan. The author addresses the antecedents in China and pre-Heian Japan and analyzes how Genshin promoted and systematized nenbutsu theory and practice.

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  • Andrews, Allan A. “Genshin’s Essentials of Pure Land Rebirth and the Transmission of Pure Land Buddhism to Japan. Part I: The First and Second Phases of Transmission of Pure Land Buddhism to Japan: The Nara Period and Early Heian Period.” Pacific World n.s. 5 (Fall 1989): 20–32.

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    First of a trio of articles that place Genshin’s thought in the complex Buddhist context of his time, in which multiple influences were at play, especially the interactions of the older monastic traditions and native Japanese populism. The second and third parts were published in the same journal in 1990 and 1991.

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  • Horton, Sarah Johanna. “The Role of Genshin and Religious Associations in the Mid-Heian Spread of Pure Land Buddhism.” PhD diss., Yale University, 2001.

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    The Heian teacher Genshin undoubtedly had great influence in popularizing Pure Land teachings, but the author argues that, more than by Genshin’s famous Ōjōyōshū text per se, the influence was exerted by religious associations of monks who cultivated new rituals.

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  • Horton, Sarah. “The Influence of the Ojoyoshu in Late Tenth- and Early-Eleventh-century Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 31.1 (2004): 29–54.

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    Presents conclusions from the author’s dissertation. The Ōjōyōshū was not mentioned often in writings of Heian aristocrats. Instead, Genshin taught more through his participation in and leadership of a number of religious fellowships.

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  • Rhodes, Robert F. “Ōjōyōshū, Nihon Ōjō Gokuraku-ki, and the Construction of Pure Land Discourse in Heian Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 34.2 (2007): 249–270.

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    Methodologically sophisticated, the author starts with that idea that there are two distinct, equally valuable modes of thought, the paradigmatic (or logico-scientific) and the narrative, and argues that texts written in both of these modes were crucial in the establishment of Amitābha Buddhism in Japan during the Heian Period. The Ōjōyōshū is an example of a text in the paradigmatic mode, and the Nihon Ōjō Gokuraku-ki, a collection of Pure Land rebirth biographies of individuals, an example of the narrative mode.

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Death Consciousness and Ritual

In traditional Japanese Amitābha Buddhism the role of the karmic transition at the deathbed was especially important. Blum 2007, Kotas 1987, and Bathgate 2006 describe the tradition of hagiographies concerning individuals thought to have achieved birth with Amitābha, a genre that built on a long earlier record. Bowring 1998 examined how a group of Heian aristocrats undertook such end-of-life-oriented practices. Andrews 1977 discussed Amitābha from the category of world-rejection. How Genshin provided a concrete plan for deathbed ritual has been delineated by Dobbins 1999. Horton 2008 draws attention to the performance genre of theatrical pageants presenting deathbed raigō scenes.

  • Andrews, Allan A. “World Rejection and Pure Land Buddhism in Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 4.4 (December 1977): 251–266.

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    Discusses the reception of Amitābha from the standpoint of the Weberian category of world-rejection, especially in its original appeal to aristocrats.

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  • Bathgate, Michael. “The Time of Ōjōden: Narrative and Salvation in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism.” In Buddhist Studies from India to America: Essays in Honor of Charles S. Prebish. Edited by Damien Keown, 73–88. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Reflecting increasing scholarly attention to lay dimensions of Buddhism, this is a methodologically sophisticated treatment of the genre of rebirth stories emphasizing their function as exemplary narratives serving to create a community of belief.

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  • Blum, Mark L. “Biography as Scripture: Ōjōden in India, China, and Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 34.2 (2007): 329–350.

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    Records of individuals who achieved rebirth in the Land of Amitābha Buddha started as a genre of hagiography in 8th-century China, began appearing in Japan in the late 10th century, and continued to appear afterward in substantial numbers, showing influences from monastic life and miracle texts.

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  • Bowring, Richard. “Preparing for the Pure Land in Late Tenth-Century Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 25.3–4 (1998): 221–257.

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    A study of the group of Heian aristocrats who borrowed from monastic practices and pioneered a communal use of Amitābha devotion as a way to prepare for death, in close relationship with the monk Genshin.

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  • Dobbins, James C. “Genshin’s Deathbed Nembutsu Ritual in Pure Land Buddhism.” In Religions of Japan in Practice. Edited by George J. Tanabe Jr., 166–175. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

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    Translation of passages by the priest Genshin who provided a specific description of an ideal deathbed ritual that would lead to birth in the Pure Land with Amitābha.

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  • Horton, Sarah Johanna. “Mukaekō: Practice for the Deathbed.” In Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism. Edited by Jacqueline I. Stone and Mariko Namba Walter, 27–60. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

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    A historical survey of raigō and the theatrical performances called mukaekō, which are enactments of raigō scenes and thus forms of rehearsal for the actual deathbed moments of persons.

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  • Kotas, Frederic J. “Ōjōden: Accounts of Rebirth in the Pure Land.” PhD diss., University of Washington, 1987.

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    A pioneering study of the genre (in the 11th and 12th centuries) of Japanese biographies of persons thought to have achieved karmic birth in a Buddhist Pure Land, especially that of Amitābha. Includes selected translations.

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Hōnen

The most important figure in the sharper separation of Amitābha worship from the synthetic sphere of earlier Japanese Buddhism was Hōnen, who radically taught that only a simplified form of Amitābha practice could be valid under contemporary conditions. Shunjō 1925 (translated by Coates and Ishizuka) is a translation of the most important Hōnen biography. Senchakushū English Translation Project 1998 is a translation of a Hōnen work that explains Hōnen’s key doctrines on nenbutsu; Andrews 2004 summarizes these doctrines. However, Hōnen’s own personal Buddhist practice seems to have remained in the realm of samādhi nevertheless (Blum 2000 and King 1987). Hōnen’s actual position in the context of medieval Japanese Buddhism is illuminated by comparison with the more conservative views of his fellow monastics, such as Jōkei (Ford 2001). German scholarship has been drawn to Hōnen: Kleine 1996 and Repp 2005 deal in different ways with the complex contexts of society and religion that existed around the priest’s ideas.

  • Andrews, Allen A. “Hōnen on Attaining Pure Land Rebirth: The Selected Nenbutsu of the Original Vow” Pacific World, 3d ser., 6 (Fall 2004): 89–107.

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    A survey of Hōnen’s views on nenbutsu, quality of proper nenbutsu, self-power vs. other-power, and the Buddhist precepts, concluding with a reflection on the varieties of Pure Land Buddhism.

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  • Blum, Mark. “Samādhi in Hōnen’s Hermeneutic of Practice and Faith: Assessing the Sammai hottokki.” In Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding: The Buddhist Studies Legacy of Gadjin M. Nagao. Edited by Jonathan A. Silk, 61–94. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

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    The author argues, against the theories of the minimal vocal nenbutsu used in the Jōdoshū and Jōdoshinshū schools and attributed to Hōnen, that for Hōnen himself samādhic experiences were essential to his Buddhist praxis.

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  • Ford, James L. “Jōkei and Hōnen: Debating Buddhist Liberation in Medieval Japan—Then and Now.” Pacific World, 3d ser., 3 (Fall 2001): 199–217.

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    Detailed analysis of the differing doctrinal orientations of the two Kamakura period Buddhist figures; the author defends Jōkei’s position as both more correctly rooted in Buddhist precedent and more embracingly pluralistic.

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  • King, Winston L. “Hōnen’s Visualizations of the Pure Land.” Pure Land 4 (1987): 126–141.

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    A lucid look at the ambiguities or paradoxes in Hōnen, in whose writings conspicuous elements of the traditional visualization practices for Pure Land practice remain. Suggests the teacher had a de facto two-track model, the older visualization traditions for monks, the simple vocal nenbutsu for ordinary people.

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  • Kleine, Christoph. Hōnens Buddhismus des Reinen Landes: Reform, Reformation oder Häresie? New York: P. Lang, 1996.

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    Study by the leading German scholar of Hōnen, trying to overcome the Hōnen hagiographical tradition and instead fully situate his thought in the context of his time as a partial innovator but not institutional revolutionary.

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  • Repp, Martin. Hōnens religiöses Denken: Eine Untersuchung zu Strukturen religiöser Erneuerung. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2005.

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    A lengthy, wide-ranging study of Hōnen, placing balanced emphases on sociopolitical context, background intellectual context, and Pure Land doctrine, concluding with a consideration of certain structural similarities between Hōnen and Luther.

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  • Senchakushū English Translation Project, trans. and ed. Hōnen’s Senchakushū: Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow (Senchaku hongan nembutsu shū). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

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    Together with the translation, this volume contains extensive prefatory matter detailing a modern (somewhat sectarian) interpretation of the contents of this key doctrinal statement by Hōnen.

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  • Shunjō. Honen, the Buddhist Saint: His Life and Teaching. Compiled by Imperial Order and translated by Harper Havelock Coates and Rev. Ryugaku Ishizuka. Kyoto: Chionin, 1925.

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    This is a long English translation of a famous biography of Hōnen created in the early 12th century in Japan. It is hagiographic but contains abundant information about doctrine as well as the essential life story. Reprinted as Coates and Ishizuka, Honen the Buddhist Saint (New York: Garland, 1981). Also, an abbreviated version of the original with new introductory material has been published as Honen the Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography from the 14th Century Manuscript Compiled by Imperial Order (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2006).

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Hōnen’s Legacy in the Form of Jōdoshū Schools

It was under the influence of Hōnen that the idea of an independent Pure Land school or lineage (Jōdoshū) emerges in Japan. Blum 2002 is an essential work about the scholar-priest Gyōnen, whose writings in the wake of Hōnen marked the emergence of a sense of a more distinct Amitābha tradition. It is clear, however, as also evidenced by Blum 2004, that intellectually Hōnen’s bequest was several differing kinds of understanding of the nenbutsu among his followers. Research in English on later Jōdoshū traditions is sparse; Dobbins 2005 surveyed how the practice of precept-taking was sustained in one of them. For a Jōdoshū-oriented overview of Hōnen’s legacy, see Tamaru 1999.

  • Blum, Mark Laurence. The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism: A Study and Translation of Gyōnen’s Jōdo Hōmon Genrushō. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Gyōnen (b. 1240–d. 1321) was a famed scholar-monk who might be regarded as the first Buddhist historian. This is a highly detailed scholarly translation of a work composed soon after Hōnen’s time, which attempted to systematize a conception of Amitābha history as a whole as well as identify the differing Pure Land doctrinal interpretations of Hōnen’s various disciples.

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  • Blum, Mark. “Kōsai and the Paradox of Ichinengi: Be Careful of What You Preach.” Pacific World, 3d ser., 6 (Fall 2004): 57–87.

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    The psychological shift that produced changes in Pure Land Buddhism in the Kamakura period remains enigmatic. This article is a detailed analysis of one interpretation of nenbutsu practice—associated with Hōnen’s disciple Kōsai—called ichinengi: a single calling of the name of Amitābha is enough.

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  • Dobbins, James C. “Precepts in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism: The Jōdoshū.” In Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya: Essays Presented in Honor of Professor Stanley Weinstein. Edited by William M. Bodiford. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

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    One of the few academic pieces on the history of Chinzei, one of the major Jōdoshū schools or lineages (all of which are quite distinct from the Jōdoshinshū school). Following Hōnen and his idea of persisting symbolic significance in the precepts, Jōdoshū maintained up to the present time its traditions of taking them.

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  • Tamaru, Noriyoshi. “Early Pure Land Leaders” In Buddhist Spirituality: Later China, Korea, Japan, and the Modern World. Edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, 201–221. New York: Crossroad, 1999.

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    Surveys of Hōnen and his predecessors, and then Hōnen’s doctrinal and practice legacy, from the general standpoint of the later Jōdoshū schools (i.e., not Jōdoshinshū). See also Fujimoto Kiyohiko’s “Hōnen’s Spiritual Legacy” in the same volume.

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Japan and Amitābha in Arts

As in China, because Amitābha worship included a large visual element via its concrete descriptions of Amitābha’s Pure Land, it had a pervasive impact on Buddhist art while manifesting a diversity of interpretations throughout the premodern and modern eras.

Premodern Period (Focusing on Amitābha)

In the ancient period, Amitābha art was used for pacification of the spirits of the dead (Gunji 2007). By the Heian period, it had percolated out of the monastery and was embedded in Heian aristocratic life, as surveyed by Bryant 1988. Representations of the nine levels of the Pure Land were a key element of the pictorial genre (Bryant 1995a). Simultaneously, as explained in Kanda 2002 and Linossier 1932, the raigō image became thoroughly elaborated in Japan. The imagery could be theatrically enacted (Bryant 1995b). Also a part of this overall aesthetic development, different styles of Amida sculptural representation were cultivated, as covered by Kainuma 1994.

  • Bryant, Gail Chin. “The Means of Salvation: Art and Pure Land Buddhist Practices in Fujiwara Japan.” Journal of Asian Culture 12 (1988): 69–103.

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    Overview of how Heian aristocratic culture linked artistic expression and Pure Land Buddhism.

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  • Bryant, Gail Chin. “Kuhon ōjōzu: Paintings of the Nine Grades of Birth: Context and Interpretation.” PhD diss., University of California–Los Angeles, 1995a.

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    The nine levels of potential birth in the Pure Land that were described in the Visualization/Contemplation Sutra served as an important topic for illustration in Buddhist temples. After presenting the Chinese antecedents, this art historical study examines such illustrations at the famous Byōdōin (Phoenix) temple and other sites and in Japanese raigō paintings.

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  • Bryant, Gail Chin. “The Mukaekō of Taimadera: A Case of Salvation Re-enacted.” Cahiers d’Extrême Asie 8 (1995b): 325–334.

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    Describes a Buddhist theatrical pageant that is a reenactment of the Pure Land salvation of the Chujōhime figure, held at the Taimadera in Japan.

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  • Gunji, Naoko. “Amidaji: Mortuary Art, Architecture, and Rites of Emperor Antoku’s Temple.” PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 2007.

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    Analyzes the art, architecture, and rites related to mortuary ceremonies at the Buddhist temple Amidaji for Emperor Antoku and the Taira, historical characters who, defeated in the final battle of the Genpei War, jumped to their deaths in the ocean in 1185. Their spirits were believed to have become malicious ghosts needing appeasement and assistance in attaining rebirth in the Western Paradise of Amida Buddha.

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  • Kainuma, Yoshiko. “Kaikei and Early Kamakura Buddhism: A Study of the An’amiyo Amida Form.” PhD diss., University of California–Los Angeles, 1994.

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    Analyzes a medieval iconographic form—an innovative type of standing Amida statue—associated with the great Kamakura sculptor Kaikei.

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  • Kanda, Fusae Candice. “The Development of Amida Raigō Painting: Style, Concept, and Landscape.” PhD diss., Yale University, 2002.

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    Treats a set of art historical themes expressed in Japanese raigōzu (paintings of the welcoming descent of Amida from the Western Pure Land) of the 11th to 14th centuries that involved the leading Pure Land figures of Genshin, Hōnen, and Shōkū.

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  • Linossier, Raymonde, trans. “L’Iconographie de la ‘Descente d’Amida.’” In Études d’Orientalisme: Publiées par Le Musée Guimet a la mémoire de Raymonde Linossier. By Musée Guimet, 99–129. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1932.

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    Translated from a detailed article in Japanese, this is early Western language material about the artistic representations in Japan of raigō (descent of Amida).

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Premodern Period (Related Pure Land Themes)

Along with visual or sculptural art focusing directly on Amitābha per se, other kinds of arts were part of the larger Pure Land orbit. Darling 1983 studied how Pure Land influences were expressed in modes including Shinto shrine paintings. The Chūjōhime legend carried a connection of women and Pure Land into narrative literature (Dix 2006). Picture biographies and picture scrolls were used for both popular preaching and for direct religious practices, as discussed by Kaminishi 1996 and Nakano 2009. Lineages of Buddhist teachings such as Yūzū nenbutsu could give rise to pictorial-scroll records (Stern 1984).

  • Darling, Leonard Bruce. “The Transformation of Pure Land Thought and the Development of Shinto Shrine Mandala Paintings: Kasuga and Kumano.” 2 vols. PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1983.

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    Covers how Pure Land ideas in Japan manifested themselves in terms of sutra mounds, Heian aristocratic arts, and shrine-oriented mandala paintings associated with religious itinerants (hijiri).

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  • Dix, Monika. “Writing Women into Religious Histories: Re-Reading Representations of Chūjōhime in Medieval Japanese Buddhist Narratives.” PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2006.

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    Literary study dealing with socioeconomic and gender aspects of a legendary 8th-century noblewoman whose figure appears in medieval and Muromachi period Japanese narratives involving Pure Land.

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  • Kaminishi, Ikumi. “Etoki: The Art and Rhetoric of Pictorial Exegesis.” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1996.

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    Study of picture biographies concerning Prince Shōtoku and the Taima Mandala, both of which genres are related to the dissemination of Pure Land teachings.

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  • Nakano, Chieko. “‘Kechien’ as Religious Praxis in Medieval Japan: Picture Scrolls as the Means and Sites of Salvation.” PhD diss., University of Arizona, 2009.

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    The praxis of kechien (結縁, forming karmic connection) was evidenced in the use of religious picture scrolls (emaki) and sutra copies produced especially during the late 13th through the early 14th century in Japan; such items were not used solely as mere didactic and proselytizing tools. For example, kechien created by relation to the pictorial and deity subjects of such scrolls or copies could help followers be reborn into a Pure Land.

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  • Stern, Robin Scribnick. “The Yūzū Nembutsu Engi and the Pictorialization of Popular Buddhism in Japanese Narrative Scrolls.” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1984.

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    A study of the picture scrolls that provide the history and dissemination for one of the smaller nenbutsu lineages, the Yūzū nenbutsu tradition, founded by the medieval teacher Ryōnin (b. 1072–d. 1132).

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Modern Period

Because Amitābha Buddhism remains a primary element of Buddhism in contemporary Japan, it is still central in Buddhist art. Szostak 2007 and Ten Grotenhuis 1995 present the treatment of a classical Buddhist metaphor by a visual artist and a garden designer, respectively.

  • Szostak, John D. “Two Paths to the Pure Land: The Niga-byakudo Theme and the Modernist Buddhist Art of Hada Teruo.” Archives of Asian Art 57 (2007): 121–150.

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    Examines how a modern Japanese artist used the traditional Buddhist imagery, in this case the “white path” Pure Land metaphor, in his work. A rare study in English of the important genre of contemporary Japanese Buddhist painting.

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  • Ten Grotenhuis, Elizabeth. “The White Path Crossing Two Rivers: A Contemporary Japanese Garden Represents the Past.” Journal of Garden History 15 (January/March 1995): 1–18.

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    Describes a recently-built, but traditionally styled, Buddhist temple garden that depicts the Chinese Pure Land metaphor in which a pilgrim must cross a white path that is surrounded by fire and water.

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Ippen

Ippen was a wandering teacher who offered yet another, alternative version of Amitābha thought, blending ideas from Hōnen, Shingon tantrism, and kami-religion. Useful introductions to the man and his organization are provided by Foard 1996 and Fujii 1994. Thornton 1999 focused on how Ippen’s ideas turned into the institutionalized Jishū school. Ippen left verses and sayings that have been translated by Hirota 1998. In visual arts, Ippen is associated with a famous illustrated handscroll biography that has been repeatedly studied (Foard 1992, Kaufman 1992, and Hirota 1995).

  • Foard, James H. “Prefiguration and Narrative in Medieval Hagiography: The Ippen Hijiri-e.” In Flowing Traces: Buddhism in the Literary and Visual Arts of Japan. Edited by James H. Sanford, William R. LaFleur, and Masatoshi Nagatomi, 76–92. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    The Ippen scroll is part of the broad tradition of Buddhist hagiography; this article provides a literary and mythic analysis of some of its meanings.

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  • Foard, James H. “Ippen and Pure Land Wayfarers in Medieval Japan.” In The Pure Land Tradition: History and Development. Edited by Foard, James H., Michael Solomon, and Richard K. Payne, 357–397. Berkeley: Regents of the University of California, 1996.

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    A scholarly study focusing on Ippen as part of the broad tradition of hijiri traveling (religious itinerancy).

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  • Fujii, Manabu. “Ippen (1239–1289).” In Shapers of Japanese Buddhism. Edited by Yūsen Kashiwahara and Kōyū Sonoda. Translated by Gaynor Sekimori, 135–146. Tokyo: Kosei, 1994.

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    A basic presentation of the biography.

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  • Hirota, Dennis. “The Illustrated Biography of Ippen.” In Buddhism in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 563–577. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    Translation of passages of medieval Japanese text from the Ippen handscroll that record a contemporary account of Ippen’s life and teaching.

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  • Hirota, Dennis, trans. No Abode: The Record of Ippen. Rev. ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

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    A translation of the extant texts attributable to Ippen. The introduction emphasizes the Mahayana nondual thought in Ippen’s teaching and its relationship to other thinkers such as Shinran.

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  • Kaufman, Laura S. “Nature, Courtly Imagery, and Sacred Meaning in the Ippen Hijiri-e.” In Flowing Traces: Buddhism in the Literary and Visual Arts of Japan. Edited by James H. Sanford, William R. LaFleur, and Matatoshi Nagatomi, 47–75. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    The scroll is full of interest and meaning for the history of Japanese arts generally, owing to its rich communal, landscape, and architectural scenes and literary content.

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  • Thornton, Sybil Anne. Charisma and Community Formation in Medieval Japan: The Case of the Yugyō-ha (1300–1700). Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1999.

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    As suggested in the title, treats the hijiri successors of Ippen in terms of Weberian sociology as a community and eventually institution that was formed by the routinization of charisma.

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Obaku Zen

One of the intriguing details of Tokugawa Buddhism was the direct introduction of a contemporary, 17th-century Chinese Buddhist practice, which in Chinese style embraced both Zen and Amitābha. Baroni 2000 summarizes the doctrine, and Baroni 2006 touches on how one of its leaders engaged in disagreements with sectarian Jōdoshinshū.

Jōdoshinshū School

Jōdoshinshū was by far the most prominent form of independent Amitābha in Asia, and in addition by the 19th century had become the largest single school of Japanese Buddhism. Because of Shin’s extensive development, the topic can be divided into the texts and doctrines of its scholastic tradition, its long premodern history (which passed through multiple phases in response to varying contexts in Japanese history, including free-market proselytization in the medieval period, feudal militarization in the 16th century, and subjection to the status system of the Tokugawa period), and finally its experience with 20th-century Japanese modernism and nationalism and the aftermath of World War II.

Basic Texts and Doctrines

Shin Buddhism was the later product of Amitābha in Japan, which maintained a singular idea of “deeply entrusting to the Buddha” as the goal in Buddhism. Its foundational ideas were generated by Shinran (b. 1173–d. 1262). These ideas were so strong that the modern interpretive problem overall has been the tendency for the Shin Buddhist reading of “the Pure Land tradition” (a reading that is the product of a powerful, teleological intellectualism that has a substantial representation in the English language) to dominate other versions and promote historical misunderstanding of the diversity of Amitābha experience as a whole across Asia. (As a unitary concept, Buddhism was a 19th-century European intellectual invention, and an overemphasized unitary idea of Amitābha is a Japanese invention.) Shinran’s own textual corpus has been rendered into English several times; the two major projects have been the Ryukoku Translation Series, published 1962–1980, and the work leading to Hirota 1997. Unno 1996 is one of the many translations of the short oral classic Tannishō, which has persisted as one of the most popular Buddhist books in modern Japan. Inagaki 1995 provides insight into Shin’s sectarian scholarly apparatus. A most useful, although sectarian, contextualization of Shin within general Mahayana Buddhism is Ueda 1989. Bloom 1965 has introduced Shin doctrine to generations of English readers. Shigefuji 1973 represents an analysis of nenbutsu practice from a traditional Jōdoshinshū position, and Ingram 1968 an appreciation from another well-informed Western standpoint. Grumbach 2005 offers a skeptical view of conventional categorizations of practice while re-emphasizing Shinran’s radicalism.

  • Bloom, Alfred. Shinran’s Gospel of Pure Grace. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1965.

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    Long-used, pioneering summary of Shinran’s teaching by one of the main American scholar-popularizers.

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  • Fujiwara, Ryosetsu, trans. The Tanni shō: Notes Lamenting Differences. Kyoto: Ryukoku Translation Center, Ryukoku University, 1962.

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    This is the first of a series of publications from the Ryukoku Translation Series project, which completed a number of English volumes between 1962 and 1980 (including Shōshin ge, Jōdo wasan, Kyō gyō shin shō, Kōsō wasan, and Shōzōmatsu wasan). The versions are bilingual, with Japanese and English on facing pages, and include notes and glossaries that are also highly useful for language study.

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  • Grumbach, Lisa. “Nenbutsu and Meditation: Problems with the Categories of Contemplation, Devotion, Meditation, and Faith.” Pacific World, 3d ser., 7 (Fall 2005): 91–105.

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    Via a catalog of the several types of nenbutsu available in Kamakura-period Japan, the author argues that many attempts to make sharp distinctions among ideas and practices such as “contemplation,” “meditation,” “devotion,” “ritual,” and so on are historically misleading and harm the contemporary reception of Pure Land Buddhism. Shinran’s own radical teaching should be understood as a rejection of the normal nenbutsu of his time.

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  • Hirota, Dennis, et. al, trans. The Collected Works of Shinran. 2 vols. Kyoto: Jodo shinshu Hongwanji-ha, 1997.

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    The most up-to-date translation, massively informative, comprehensive, with extensive reference matter, but also conveying a heavy sectarian perspective.

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  • Inagaki, Hisao (稻垣久雄), ed. Shinshū yōgo Eiyaku gurossarī: A Glossary of Shin Buddhist Terms (真宗用語英訳グロッサリー). Kyoto: Ryūkoku Daigaku Bukkyō Bunka Kenkyūjo, 1995.

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    The modern Shin educational establishment possesses a robust and sophisticated (if often conceptually narrow) academic establishment that has produced numerous in-depth textual and philological studies and reference books. The above is an English-language window into such material.

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  • Ingram, Paul Owens. “Pure Land Buddhism in Japan: A Study of the Doctrine of Faith in the Teachings of Hōnen and Shinran.” PhD diss., Claremont Graduate University, 1968.

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    A judicious overview from a roughly Lutheran perspective.

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  • Shigefuji, Shinei Nobuhide. “Nembutsu in Shinran and his Teachers: A Comparison.” PhD diss., Northwestern University, 1973.

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    An example in English of traditional nenbutsu analysis from the perspective of the Jōdoshinshū tradition.

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  • Ueda, Yoshifumi, and Dennis Hirota. Shinran: An Introduction to His Thought. Kyoto: Hongwanji International Center, 1989.

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    An introductory work that has been effective in English, especially in establishing the broad Mahayana philosophical basis for Shinran’s thought.

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  • Unno, Taitetsu, trans. Tannisho: A Shin Buddhist Classic. Rev. ed. Honolulu, Hawaii: Buddhist Study Center Press, 1996.

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    An example of a translation of the classic, this by a leading scholar-popularizer in the United States.

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Premodern Era

Shin Buddhism stood out greatly because of its strong institutional profile, as surveyed in Dobbins 1986. Dobbins 1989 remains the standard work on early Shin history. The institution was held together not only by doctrine per se, but by the mythos of its founder Shinran (Dobbins 2001). Rogers 1991 treats Rennyo’s period of rapid proselytization in the 15th century, and Tsang 2007 covers the era of partial militarization and organized political resistance in the 16th century. Blum and Yasutomi 2006 is a wide-ranging collection of articles on the middle period of the institution.

  • Blum, Mark L., and Shinya Yasutomi, eds. Rennyo and the Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    A collection of seventeen articles by leading scholars refocusing attention on the life of Rennyo and his contribution to Shin tradition and the religious life of Japan. More than half are translations representing the latest Japanese scholarship.

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  • Dobbins, James C. “From Inspiration to Institution: The Rise of Sectarian Identity in Jodo Shinshu.” Monumenta Nipponica 41.3 (Autumn 1986): 331–343.

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    Describes the development of the Honganji institution from its start in Shinran’s ideas.

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  • Dobbins, James C. Jōdo Shinshū: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

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    The standard work on early Shin history, covering the early background, Shinran and his teachings, the early organization and the establishment of its center at Honganji, and early Shin factions and their rivals in other schools of Buddhism.

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  • Dobbins, James C. “Portraits of Shinran in Medieval Pure Land Buddhism.” In Living Images: Japanese Buddhist Icons in Context. Edited by Robert H. Sharf and Elizabeth Horton Sharf, 19–48. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

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    Founders’ portraits reveal the importance of personal images of founders in structuring imagination in the Japanese Buddhist sects; Shin Buddhism was no exception.

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  • Rogers, Minor L., and Anne T. Rodgers. Rennyo: The Second Founder of Shin Buddhism. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.

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    The standard work on the “middle founder” of Shin, who rode a wave of late-15th-century sociopolitical change that helped to spread and consolidate the Shin tradition. The contents mainly include a detailed study of the biography as well as a translation of Rennyo’s famous proselytizing letters to his followers.

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  • Tsang, Carol Richmond. War and Faith: Ikkō Ikki in Late Muromachi Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007.

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    The latest study of Shin Buddhism and Honganji in the 16th century, when some its membership resisted control by daimyo.

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Modern Era

Twentieth-century Shin has given rise to a fairly rich field of English-language literature, both academic and apologetic. Porcu 2008 is an overview of the many cultural influences Shin has exerted in contemporary Japan. Bloom 2004 provides an introduction to a swath of modern Shin writers and scholars, including D. T. Suzuki. Shin has been somewhat more socially progressive than other types of traditional Japanese Buddhism, an ethical tradition studied by Dessì 2007 and Dessì 2008 along with essays in Tanaka and Nasu 1998. Itsuki 2001 is an example of contemporary Japanese popular literature about Shin; Unno 1998 is an example of popularizing literature directed at a general American audience. Amstutz 1997 tries, among other things, to analyze why Shin had been somewhat marginalized in awareness of Buddhism outside of Japan. Contemporary Shin was presented effectively in the first half of the film production Buddhism: The Land of the Disappearing Buddha in the BBC Long Search series (Montagnon 1987).

  • Amstutz, Galen Dean. Interpreting Amida: History and Orientalism in the Study of Pure Land Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

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    Investigates why Shin Buddhism has been relatively marginalized in the non-Japanese appreciation of Buddhism.

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  • Bloom, Alfred, ed. Living in Amida’s Universal Vow: Essays in Shin Buddhism. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2004.

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    This is an exemplary collection of articles representing a gamut of modern Shin writings: doctrine by Japanese thinkers Kiyozawa, Soga, Kaneko, Suzuki, and others and by leading English-language interpreters of Shin; discussions of modern political and ethical issues in Shin; and historical and comparative perspectives. An excellent starting place for a representation of the tradition.

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  • Dessì, Ugo. Ethics and Society in Contemporary Shin Buddhism. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2007.

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    This study takes up how social ethical thought has evolved in 20th-century Shin, starting with the doctrinal history, the challenge of issuing explicit ethical recommendations in terms of Shin’s doctrinal system, the success of Shin thinkers in being able nevertheless to undertake social action against war and social discrimination, and Shin’s uncertain relationship with globalization.

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  • Dessì, Ugo. “The Pure Land as a Principle of Social Criticism.” Japanese Religions 33.1–2 (2008): 75–90.

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    Study of how Pure Land doctrine has worked in 20th-century Shin Buddhism to generate a tradition of social criticism.

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  • Itsuki, Hiroyuki. Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace. Translated by Joseph Robert. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2001.

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    The discourse of Shin Buddhism retains significant energy in modern Japan despite the tendencies to dormancy in the established Buddhist institutions. This is an example of a popular work on Shin teaching by a celebrity author.

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  • Montagnon, Peter, prod. Buddhism: The Land of the Disappearing Buddha. Vol. 9 of the Long Search Series. DVD. New York: Ambrose Video, 1987.

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    Approximately the first half of this production provided a solid look at contemporary Shin Buddhism, featuring interviews with ordinary members as well as institutional leaders, some exposure to the typical doctrine, and a depiction of the contrast with Zen.

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  • Porcu, Elisabetta. Pure Land Buddhism in Modern Japanese Culture. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2008.

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    Survey of the contemporary impact of Shin tradition, examining how unbalanced existing images of Japanese Buddhism have been created by orientalism, and exploring expressions of Shin in creative literature, visual arts, and the tea ceremony.

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  • Tanaka, Kenneth K., and Eisho Nasu, eds. Engaged Pure Land Buddhism: The Challenges of Jodo Shinshu in the Contemporary World: Studies in Honor of Professor Alfred Bloom. Berkeley, CA: Wisdom Ocean, 1998.

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    A set of fifteen essays, all but two relating specifically to Shin Buddhism. Four of the essays deal with social engagement but the remainder are on miscellaneous facets. Also a good approach to contemporary writing on Shin.

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  • Unno, Taitetsu. River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

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    A popularizing work combining anecdotes, Buddhist philosophy, and Shin doctrinal language for a general audience in America.

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Amitābha as Topic of Modern Religious Thought

Because Amitābha occupies a position as “central deity” in Pure Land Buddhism, Amitābha can serve as a focal point for some kinds of discussions of religious thought. Tokunaga 1992 calls into question the analogies between Amitābha and the Christian God proposed by an innovative theologian. Corless 1998 wants to conflate both myth and fact as perceptions of Amitābha. Inada 1998 describes links between Pure Land Buddhism and process theology, while Tanaka 1992 deals with intellectual tensions over modern interpretations of the Amida figure. Carus 1906 gave an early English presentation of Amitābha as ultimate Buddhist principle. Langer 1986 is a German entry in the well-established field of comparisons between Christianity and Amitābha Buddhism. The sympathetic Buddhologist Eckel 2003 suggests that modern Shin thought return to ancient India for inspiration.

  • Carus, Paul. Amitabha: A Story of Buddhist Theology. Chicago: Open Court, 1906.

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    This early work of Buddhist fiction in English introduced the term Amitābha as standing for the most general conception of Buddhist truth.

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  • Corless, Roger. “Amida as Fact: A Shin Dharmology of Space-Time.” Pure Land 15 (December 1998): 70–92.

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    Taking up the radical epistemological position that all knowledge is in effect “myth,” argues that Amida can be construed as far more than a pious sci-fi psychological fiction in a Cartesian-Newtonian universe, but rather as a type of fact.

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  • Eckel, Malcolm David. “Defining a Usable Past: Indian Sources for Shin Buddhist Theology.” Pacific World, 3d ser., 5 (Fall 2003) 55–83.

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    A scholar of India suggests that resources for a modern Shin Buddhist theology might be found by returning to the intellectual resources of ancient Indian Mahayana.

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  • Inada, Kenneth K. “Amida Buddha, Whitehead’s God, and the Temporal Fact.” Pure Land 15 (December 1998): 146–162.

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    Amida has been the starting place, especially among Japanese scholars, for a line of thought that links Amitābha Buddhism and the tradition of process theology originating with Alfred Whitehead.

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  • Langer-Kaneko, Christiane. Das Reine Land: zur Begegnung von Amida-Buddhismus und Christentum. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1986.

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    A German study located in the genre of comparisons between Pure Land (especially Jōdoshinshū) and Christianity.

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  • Tanaka, Kenneth K. “Symbolism of Amida and Pure Land in the American Context.” Pure Land 8–9 (December 1992): 64–87.

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    Discussion of multiple interpretations of Amida, especially in the American context, where tensions between literal, mythic, rational and symbolic views are often felt.

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  • Tokunaga, Michio. “Amida as an ‘Ultimate Point of Reference.’” Pure Land 8–9 (December 1992): 88–106.

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    Concerns theologian Gordon Kaufman’s Christological reworking of Christian theology and its relationship with Shin Buddhist theory; author questions whether Kaufman’s thought is non-dual or “empty” in the way that Buddhism is.

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LAST MODIFIED: 09/13/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0004

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