The Basics

What exactly is a "Pure Land?"  It's actually two things at once:

These two aspects of the Pure Land come about as the result of what is known as the Interpenetration of Phenomenon and Principle.  This teaching points out the interdependent nature of the relative world and the true, underlying nature of that world, based on the teaching of One Mind.  The Tang Dynasty master Yun-Ming Yen-Shou, who was a key figure in the synthesis of the Ch'an and Pure Land schools said, All things of Principle and Phenomenon are based on the Mind.  From the perspective of Principle, a Sutra says, "Contemplating that all dharmas are made from the Mind, one accopmlishes a body of wisdom and becomes enlightened without the help of others."  This is an insight into the True Mind as the fundamental through the contemplation of True Suchness.  From the perspective of Phenomenon, a Sutra says, "The Mind is just like a skillful painter who is able to draw everything in the world.  The five aggregates arise from the Mind.  There is nothing that is not created from it."  This perspective takes the rational cogitating mind as fundamental through the conscious mind.

The object of Pure Land Buddhism is the direct realization of the Purified Mind and our subsequent rebirth into the Realm of Bliss.  Our Purified mind is the Pure Land, and our True Nature is Amitabha Buddha.

The Tripod

Pure Land Buddhism rests on what is known as the Tripod:

The Buddha Amitabha

Amitabha BuddhaIn Buddhist  cosmology, the Buddha known as Amitabha ("Boundless Light/Boundless Compassion"), also known as Amitayus ("Boundless Life/Boundless Wisdom"), presides over a Buddha-realm known as Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Bliss. The existence of this purified realm is the result of the accumulated merit of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara who became the Buddha Amitabha after aeons of cultivation. Dharmakara vowed that when Buddhahood was attained, the resulting realm of existence would include the finest features of all the other Buddha-realms, making it easy for those reborn there to purify their past karma.

The Vows

According to the Sutras, Bodhisattva Dharmakara made 48 vows regarding the nature of the Buddha-realm which would come into existence. Among these are four very crucial vows, the 18th, 19th, 20th and 22nd. These vows are enumerated in the Larger Sukhavati Sutra, one of the three main Pure Land scriptures.

Other Key Concepts

One fact is undeniably clear: Pure Land practice can accommodate people of any and all capacities.  It utilizes practices which include meditation, visualization, recitation, devotion and Sutra study, so one may choose a practice which is consistent with one's capacity and inclination. This is why Pure Land Buddhism is such a marvelous path for those who are seeking liberation in this modern age when there are so very many distractions and impediments to Enlightenment.