Great Faith Great Wisdom

GreatFaithGreatWisdomWhile I was living and working at a study retreat centre in North Wales, I encountered the life and teaching of the great Pure Land teacher Shinran. I was fascinated by Shinran’s approach – extreme reliance on Other Power – which seemed to turn everything that I’d learned about the Dharma upside down. At that time I was having something of a spiritual crisis and Shinran’s life and teachings were a great help to me.

In common with all Pure Land Buddhists, Shinran’s teachings are based on three Mahayana Buddhist texts, known collectively as the three Pure Land sutras: The Shorter and Longer Sukhavativyuha sutras, and the Guan Jing. In the last few years I’ve been exploring these sutras, and in 2014-2015 I wrote a commentary on them. This has now been published as Great Faith, Great Wisdom, and includes new English translations of the sutras by Dharmachari Shraddhapa.

Here’s a link to the Publishers website:
And you can watch me talk about the book in an interview here:;recent
Here are some commendations of the book:
„The three Pure Land Sutras are a body of Mahayana scriptures, two of them comparatively early, which for centuries have played an important part in the spiritual life of Far Eastern Buddhism. They describe the Pure Land of Amitabha or Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Eternal Life and being products of the Mahayana imagination, it is to the imagination rather than to the understanding that they appeal. Ratnaguna therefore has much to say about the imagination, and about the way in which it can be developed. He beautifully explores these ancient texts bringing out their significance for us today. For him the development of the imagination forms an integral part of the spiritual life, as is the development of both faith and wisdom.
„As the name of two of the sutras suggest the Pure Land is a realm of supreme happiness. It is also a realm of transcendent beauty. By repeating with faith the name of Amitabha or Amitayus one can achieve nirvana in the Pure Land and hear the dharma from his lips.

„Ratnaguna draws some fascinating parallels between the Pure Land sutras and passages in certain earlier Buddhist scriptures. Great Faith, Great Wisdom is a ground breaking work and it will appeal not only to Buddhists, particularly Mahayana Buddhists, but also to artists, poets, archetypal psychologists and historians of art.“
Urgyen Sangharakshita. Founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order and Community.

„The three Pure Land Sutras are among the most significant texts of Mahayana Buddhism, having inspired the traditions of China, Japan, Tibet and other East Asian countries in devotion to Amitabha Buddha.

Magnificent in their literary style, these texts are foundational to Pure Land schools of Jodo Shin-shu and Jodo-shu, the largest Buddhist schools of modern Japan, as well as to their antecedents in China. This book offers a fresh exploration of the texts, drawing directly on new translations by Sraddhapa, which, unlike many commonly used, are based on Sanskrit rather than Chinese versions of the sutra. These, together with Ratnaguna’s commentary, bring new perspectives on the traditional material, interpreting them in ways that make them particularly accessible and applicable to Western practitioners.
„In locating these sutras as an aid to developing the imaginative faculty, Ratnaguna shows how the rich imagery of the sutras evokes expansive mind-states which take us beyond the personal story into the greater realms of spiritual truth. As a departure from traditional Japanese interpretations, this book, with its detailed textual referencing, offers important new insights into the scriptures. It will appeal both to those seeking to understand the heart of Mahayana devotion and to scholars of Pure Land Buddhism keen to embrace new perspectives.“
Caroline Brazier, director of the Tariki Trust, and author of The Other Buddhism.

„Unshackled by the binding orthodoxy often found in East Asian Buddhism, the European authors of Great Faith, Great Wisdom offer perspectives that are refreshingly insightful and novel. By stressing the value of „imagination“ over „understanding,“ the book shows why Pure Land Buddhism has been a dominant stream of Mahayana Buddhism for two millennia. Readers will be fascinated by dimensions and sensibilities beyond the usual doctrine and meditation that the West has come to associate with Buddhism.“
Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka
Professor, Musashino University, Tokyo
President, International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies
Author of The Dawn of Chinese Pure Land Doctrine

„Several experiments in neuroscience have found that what we experience as „reality“ or „imagination“ are not two entirely separate entities but parts of a continuum, a gradient where our brains blend present sensations, memories and expectations in order to generate meaningful experiences. Therefore everybody’s quotidian life exists in a kind of fuzzy perceptual world, partly real and partly imaginary. In this fuzzy world „reality“ gives us the feeling of grounding and connectedness with the „here and now“, while „imagination“ provides us with the goals and values that give meaning to reality. In the book „Great Faith, Great Wisdom“ Ratnaguna and Sraddhãpa guide us in a fascinating journey around the paradox of the imaginative worlds found in the Mahayana Cosmogony. Imagination played a crucial role in this tradition since it is not just an imaginary universe like many other cosmogenic world-views, but also a kind of meta-imaginative world where imagination is also a meditative tool to attain different levels of experience. This blend of imaginary worlds and imaginative meditative practice make this book very interesting reading, not only to Buddhists but to anyone interested in the role of imagination in different cultures.“
Prof. Dr. Luiz Carlos Serramo Lopez
Lab. Ecologia Comportamental e Psicobiologia
Universidade Federal da Paraiba- João Pessoa

Recorded Talks:

I’ve given a number of talks on various themes from the three sutras. In February 2015 I gave a series of four talks under the title Adventures in the Pure Land.





I also gave three talks – one for each of the sutras – at Padmaloka Retreat Centre, in May 2015:
The Shorter Sukhavativyuha Sutra

The Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra

The Pure Land and the Imagination

The Sangha in the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra

In 2014 I led a retreat at the Stockholm Buddhist Centre’s retreat centre, Dharmagiri, on the theme Entry into Amitabha’s Pure Realm of Happiness. Here you can listen to me giving three talks and a question and answer session: