Pure Land Devotionalism


The article, Lay and Monastic Forms of Pure Land Devotionalism: Typology and History by Allan A. Andrewstries published in 1993 seeks to give an insight of the understanding of the Chinese and the Japanese Pure Land Traditions by comprehensively looking into the two perceptions of pure land devotionalism. The two are lay orientation which is basically the whole of Pure Land Devotionalism and Monastic orientation which in most instances is excluded from the Pure Land Devotionalism. The review is a mixed evaluation of the article.


Lay and Monastic devotionalism have some common features. They both are inclined to the pure land piety advocated by Buddha in his efforts to see rebirth of pure land or enlightenment. the two orientations both acknowledge posthumous, universalist and bestowed. They were both formulated in during the common era in from the fifth to the sixth century.

The two however exhibit various forms of differences. The lay orientation was led by the clergy and available for the clergy but appealed to the common people who felt burdened by karma. In addition, lay orientation was more grounded on bodhisattva vow of Buddha. The monastic orientation on the other hand appealed to monks who focused on reality based on the Buddhahood as a means of seeking enlightenment.

The lay orientation teachers believed that at the final stages of dharma, the human condition was basically hopeless without the intervention of the Buddha. At this stage, human being are totally and exclusively dependent on Buddha. The monastic orientation teachers on the other hand posited that even in the final stages of tharma, a person could still on their own make effort in the final stages of dharma.

The understanding and practice of the Buddha-reflection can be a ground to distinguish the two orientations. Teachers of lay orientation emphasized on the Buddha reflection and recommended its simplest form which was invoking Buddha’s name. The monastic teachers on the other hand recommended Buddha- contemplation as a form of the reflection as they considered the practice an auxiliary and served the purpose of settling the mind or calling upon Buddha.

The historical sketch analysis of the two Pure Land Devotionalism orientations further creates the differences and defines their relationships. The monastic orientation was formulated in the fifth century while the lay orientation was formulated in the sixth century. The two orientations were clearly differentiated in the sixth and seventh centuries based on their practices; great contemplation for monastic and contemplation sutra for the lay orientation.

Critical Evaluation

Other than basically associating the two orientations regarding Pure Land Devotionalism, the article does not provide a tangible link between the two. Just the similarity in practice and Buddha being the key element of the analogy is exhibited. The practices such as contemplation are of different intensities and rather than trying to create a link between the two orientations further creates distinctions and one could possibly argue that they do not have a common origin.

The article is plausible in creating the distinctions between the two orientations in regards to the Pure Land Devotionalism that derives its origin from Buddha. It first outlines the classes of the society that found either of the two orientations addressing their spiritual needs and psychological needs. The lay was popular amongst the common people while the monastic orientation was found to be relevant by those who had a high societal status, basically the wealthy and powerful individuals. It further creates the distinction using how practice and understanding of the two orientations was installed in the people by the respective proponents and teachers. The level of mediation in regards to Buddha is clearly outlined and convincingly creates the distinction. In creating the distinctions, the article is clear regarding the history by highlighting the four stages that affected the two orientations and giving a sketch of the timelines. The basic four stages of the Pure Land Devotionalism are the initial formulation, differentiation integration and thorough re-differentiation stage. The four stages are experienced from the fifth to the twelfth century.

Though the two are considered different, they appear not to sufficiently exhibit the distinction as per the content of the article. The lay and monastic orientations have no comprehensive differences with each other and when this distinction is indicated by an element such as practice or history the two seem like one and the same thing except for their teachers.


The article plausibly creates a distinction between the lay and monastic orientations in regards to the Pure Land Devotionalism that saw the re-birth or enlightenment in Buddhism in East Asia mainly in China and Japan. Applying various aspects such as audience, history, practice and understanding it has shed light on how to create a line of difference between the two orientations. In its attempt to create a link between the two orientations so as to diverge and show the differences, the author has not managed to convincingly achieve this act. Another weakness of the article is that in looking into the distinctions, it has not created a proper point of diversion especially in regards to the practice. The gaps indicated by this article should be addressed by future articles to ensure in one way or the other, the author’s mission is completed.


Andrews, Allan A. “Lay and monastic forms of pure land devotionalism: typology and history.” Numen 40.1 (1993): 16-37.

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