Where is the Pure Land: an amateur Astronomer’s guess

A map of the universe depicting clusters of galaxies. Not stars, galaxies!

A while back, I bought a small bilingual book in Japan called Talking about Buddhism, 英語で話す「仏教」 which was a nice, easy read on Japanese Buddhism. I like it because it’s written by Japanese authors and not “filtered” by Westerners for other Westerners. Plus it had both Japanese and English in there for language students. :)

Anyhow, toward the end is a Q&A section, and one of the questions was “What kind of place is the Pure Land?“.

The “Pure Land” here of course if the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. The author’s answer said in part:

The Paradise of the Pure Land is said to be 10,000,000,000,000 buddha-worlds to the west. If one buddha-world can be considered to be the size of our solar system, then it would be ten trillion times that distance to the west.

Which, as a Buddhist and amateur astronomer, got me thinking: how far away would that be?

So, first I had to determine how big the solar system is. This is still up for debate because the presence of the Oort Cloud is still disputed, so instead, I went for the safer approach and assumed the solar system to be a radius of 50 Astronomical Units (50AU) or the outer-limit of the known Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt includes the former planet, Pluto among many other objects. Now, 1AU is equal to 149,597,870.7 kilometers. To determine the distance to the Pure Land, I needed to figure out how many kilometers were in 10-trilliion solar systems of 50 AU each, then divide this by the number of kilometers in a light-year.

At this point, I realized I would be dealing with very, very large numbers, so a regular calculator wouldn’t be enough. Instead, I used the classic UNIX command bc on my Mac Mini like so:

dougs-mac-mini:~ debu$ bc -q

10000000000000 * 149597870.7 * 50 (10 trillion x kilometers in 1 AU x 50)
74798935350000000000000.0 / 9460730472580.8
(e.g. total kilometers / kilometers in a light-year)

So, based on this logic, the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha is 7,906,253,704 light-years, or almost 8 billion light-years away. Based on this excellent website, Atlas of the Universe, this puts the Pure Land well beyond the local range of galactic super-clusters and a little over halfway to the edge of the known, observable Universe!!!!

Good science-fiction material here, I think. ;)

4 Comments on “Where is the Pure Land: an amateur Astronomer’s guess”

  1. Mark says:

    After reading this I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, Buddha knows Yoda. ;)

  2. Doug 陀愚 says:

    You know, I was thinking about making a wise-crack about Amitabha the Galactic Conqueror or something like that in this post but thought better of it. :-p

  3. Dan says:

    I’ll mention this to my group, maybe we’ll use some Keck telescope time in the search for the Pure Land.

  4. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Dan, that’s some time you can bank on! :)

    Great to hear from you by the way.

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