Featured Articles

Ask a Dharma Librarian: Pure Land Buddhism


While I am not formally a librarian of any sort, over the last few years I've compiled a fairly substantial cache of information (general interest and academic literature both) about every aspect of the many various Buddhist traditions, and a decent amount of information about related topics such as other South and East Asian philosophical and religious traditions and histories. 

I'd like to take whatever questions you, the reader, may have about these topics. They can be broad questions (How does karma work? or According to tradition, what is it like being a Buddha?) or more specific ones (Who is Shinran?).

What I can offer is an attempt to connect you with useful resources to explore your question (and in some cases I may actually be able to provide those resources). I may also attempt to summarize answers I find therein - we'll see.

If you're interested, please send questions to dharmalibrarian [at] gmail [dot] com. I'll see what I'm able to respond to based on the volume. Look for my response in two weeks.

Last week's question, from Anonymous: 

.  . . maybe you can help me out. As you know, by far the dominant tradition of East Asia is Pure Land Buddhism. Can you recommend some good books on the subject? Perhaps especially in Japan, since that's always been of most interest to me (China and Korea are cool too, of course). I'm also interested in American Pure Land Buddhism, since it's really common here but I feel like we never hear about it. Thanks!

Very much enjoyed looking into this, thank you!

First off, I had a look at the Encyclopedia of Buddhism edited by Robert Buswell. This is an incredible resource, but unfortunately it was prohibitively expensive even before it went out of print, and now is even more so. You may be able to access it through a library, however, or by searching for an illicit pdf copy online, if you're comfortable doing that (they are floating around). It has two articles in particular, “Pure Land Buddhism” by Daniel A. Getz and “Pure Land Schools” by A. W. Barber, which both provide very helpful, thorough summaries.

I also had a look at the Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd edition, which had less extensive but still useful articles on two Japanese pure land schools, Jodoshu and Jodoshinsu.

Next, on to books. I think your best bet here might be River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism by Taitetsu Unno. I don't have access to it so I can't give you a thorough review, but I did page through it on amazon.com's preview and it looks worthwhile and accessible. I did the same with The Origins and Development of Pure Land Buddhism: A Study and Translation of Gyonen’s ‘Jodo Homon Genrusho.’  by Mark Blum. That one is considerably more expensive and more scholarly, but it also looks worthwhile.

I would not recommend:The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West by Caroline Brazier. There is an extensive review on amazon explaining the deficiencies here, and in perusing the book I came to the same conclusions as the reviewer.

I think that's it for the general recommendations. In terms of deep cuts, you could try:

Amstutz, Galen Dean. Interpreting Amida: History and Orientalism in the Study of Pure Land Buddhism. Honolulu, 2002.

  • More narrowly focused as the title suggests but with a good introductory overview.

Bloom, Alfred. “Shin Buddhism in America: A Social Perspective.” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, edited by Charles S. Prebish and Kenneth K. Tanaka. Berkeley, 1998.

  • Didn't get to review this one but it sounds like it speaks to the second part of your request.

Machida, Soho. Renegade Monk: Honen and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. Berkeley, 1999.

  • Again, more narrowly focused, but definitely a worthwhile look at a major figure.

“The Realm of Aksobhya: A Missing Piece in the History of Pure Land Buddhism.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 23, no. 1 (2000): 71–102.

  • This is a really interesting academic look at Amitabha's early rival in the pure land game.

Dobbins, James C. Jodo Shinshu: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan. Honolulu, 2002

  • Didn't get a chance to look at this one but it looks promising, if quite expensive.

Payne, Richard K., and Kenneth K. Tanaka. Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitabha. Honolulu, 2004.

  • Collection of scholarly articles mostly but not entirely about East Asian Buddhism. They tended to be narrowly focused.

Foard, James; Solomon, Michael; and Payne, Richard M., eds. The Pure Land Tradition: History and Development. Berkeley: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California at Berkeley, 1996.

  • Again, I don’t have access to this but it looks promising.

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

Stevenson, Daniel. “Pure Land Buddhist Worship and Meditation in China.” In Buddhism in Practice, ed. Donald Lopez. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Williams, Paul. Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.London: Routledge, 1989.

  • This has some nice if brief things about pure land in the larger context of Mahayana Buddhism.

Hope this was helpful! More requests please!

Vote for this article to appear in the Recommended list.


pure land

Unfortunately, I've always "heard" that pure land was a movement formulated to bring in members with 'religious' background. A non-valid type of Buddhism. It's been many years since I've put in any time with any of the intellectual teachings of the dharma. After a time I found it to unnecessary. I think at some point you either 'take' or you don't. But, what the hell do I know that I know.

You're welcome. Glad it was

You're welcome. Glad it was helpful!


Wow, that is a great bibliography. It's going to take me years to read all that stuff, I bet. I think this will be really helpful for all sorts of people, I hope a lot of people are led to this link. Thanks so much for all your hard work! I think I will add one more possibility since it occurred to me while I was reading this list. Since it can be hard to understand all those scholarly books, and sometimes reading about a tradition doesn't at all capture its spirit or everyday practice, it would probably also be good to actually visit some Pure Land temples in order to learn more about how people really understand it and why they are practicing in that lineage. That is how it was with me and Buddhism in the beginning: I read books on meditation but it wasn't until I visited meditation groups that I started to "get it." But if I visit a Pure Land temple I won't go in uninformed since I've got a pile of reading to do now!

I hope other people have questions too, they should take advantage of the chance to talk to a Dharma Librarian.

here's another one

Site developed by the IDP and Genalo Designs.