What do Pure Land Buddhists believe happens when you die?

Some Mahayana Buddhists believe that a pure light of bliss appears at the point of death. Generally, it is said that advanced practitioners enter this light, whereas lesser practitioners get drawn away into lesser lights and into a kind of dream world with many alluring or nightmarish appearances before being reborn. (For example, in Tibet, this intermediate state between death and rebirth is called the bardo.) How the disembodied consciousness responds to these appearances will determine the form of its next birth. Some traditions devote extensive resources, such as art and teaching, to familiarizing practitioners with the images and experiences they will encounter in the bardo, and how to navigate them.

In Pure Land belief, however, the pure light is understood to be the appearance of Amida Buddha, and to be received into it one needn’t be an advanced practitioner, someone who is perfectly virtuous and master of all the samadhis (states of concentration). All that is necessary is to have a heart that turns toward and longs for Amida Buddha. Then one will be immediately transposed into the Pure Land, no other bardo state intervening.

Thus, it is said that those who have faith in the Pure Land way have been “seized by Amida never to be forsaken.” Even while still in this life, they have crossed a threshold such that they will inevitably proceed to nirvana without falling back, even while remaining, as yet, deluded mortals with all the faults and failings that flesh is heir to.


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