From The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen translated by Michael H. Kohn; © 1991 by Shambhala Publications, Inc. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., www.shambhala.com
(Chin., ching-t’u; Jap., jōdō); in Mahāyāna the “pure lands” (also buddha-realms or buddha-paradises), each ruled over by a buddha. Since according to the Mahāyāna there are countless buddhas, countless pure lands also exist. The most important is Sukhāvatī, the pure land of the west or the western paradise, ruled by Buddha Amitābha. An eastern paradise is the pure land of Bhaishajya-guru Buddha (“Medicine Guru Buddha”). The Abhirati paradise of Buddha Akshobhya is also in the east. In the south is the paradise of Buddha Ratnaketu, in the north that of Buddha Dundubhīshvara. A further pure land will be brought forth by the future buddha Maitreya, who presently still dwells in the Tushita Heaven.
These pure lands are transcendent in nature. They are the hope of believers who wish to be reborn in them. The decisive factor here is not their good karma but rather the aid of a given buddha, who has taken the vow to help all those to rebirth in his pure land who turn to him in faith. In folk belief these paradises are geographically localizable places of bliss; however, fundamentally they stand for aspects of the awakened state of mind, and the directions (east, south, etc.) have iconographical meanings. The pure lands are not, however, the final stage on the way, but are the stage before nirvāna, which is to be realized in the ensuing rebirth. Nevertheless, in a pure land, retrogression is no longer possible.