Faith in a promised salvation. Devotion to a salvific figure. A paradise awaiting devotees after death. These are the characteristics of the Sutras which describe the Pure Land of Amitabha, which is called Sukhavati. The Pure Land sutras represent a movement toward appeals to an external authority, in contrast to other Mahayana literature which emphasizes personal wisdom and conduct.
Both of the key Sutras which focus on the Pure Land of Sukhavati include the Sanskrit term “vyuha” in the title. This term relates specifically the array of troops in a battle formation. The concept was famously employed in other Brahmanical writings, including in the Mahabharata. Vyuhas, in these writings and at various points, involved portraying the array of troops to the enemy to achieve a particular purpose or perception, often informed by the circumstances of the terrain, the nature of the enemy, and the desired outcome of the particular skirmish. All Vyuhas were designed to maximize the survival of the group. A person could feel at ease in the comfort of the Vyuha.
The Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra and Shorter Sukhavativyuha Sutra describe the arrangement of Sukhavati, the Pure Land in which its devotees can feel safe and well-positioned. The full titles translate to Vision of the Realm of Happiness.1 A third sutra, the Meditation on the Sutra of Buddha of Boundless Life2, completes the trio of sutras which ground the Pure Land school.
According to the Pure Land sutras, Nirvana is more easily attainable by beings in a Pure Land than by beings living anywhere else. In a Pure Land, the Dharma is everywhere. The most important Pure Land is the western Sukhavati of Amitabha, while there are also Pure Lands in the East: the Pure Land of Bhaishajya-guru Buddha (Medicine Buddha) and the Abhirati Pure Land of Akshobhya.
Infinite Life Sutra (Longer Sukhavati), Amitabha Sutra (Shorter Sukhavati), and Amitabha Contemplation Sutra
Sanskrit: Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra [Longer/Shorter], Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra
1Rupert Gethin, 1998, 263.