Western Pure Land
The Western Pure Land is a sect of Mahayana Buddhism which developed in northwest India and Central Asia. After establishing itself in Tibet and China, it moved to Japan in the 10th c. Today, it is one of the most prominent sects of Buddhism in Japan. Amitabha was a king who became a bodhisattva and took a series of vows to save all sentient beings from suffering and ignorance. Through his great merit, he created a realm named Sukhāvatī (“Ultimate Bliss”). In Chinese translation, Sukhāvatī came later to be known as the Pure Land. This is a universe presided over by Amitabha (Amida) with two other bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara (Kannon), who is seated to his right, and Mahāsthāmaprāpta (Seishi), who is seated to the left. In Mahāyāna Buddhism, there are many buddhas, and each buddha has his own pure land. Amitābha’s pure land of Sukhāvatī is understood to be in the western direction and is the most popular. This is a perfect Buddha world, in which all residents are enlightened. The goal of Western Pure Land Buddhism is to dwell in this world or be reborn in it after death. Souls born into this world are taught by Amitabha and numerous bodhisattvas until full and complete enlightenment is reached. They then have the choice of returning as a bodhisattva to any of the six realms of existence in order to help all sentient beings in saṃsāra, or to reach Buddhahood, and subsequently deliver beings to the shore of liberation.
Followers of Western Pure Land Buddhism hope to be reborn in Amida’s heaven after death. In Japan, this hope is facilitated by images showing the active intervention of Amida along with bodhisattvas and other denizens of his world, missioning the departing soul into his world. This genre of paintings are known as raigo-zu.