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On this retreat, recorded during the recent Rainy Season Retreat at Bristol Buddhist Centre in the UK, Ratnaguna guides us on a journey into Amitābha’s Pure Land, Sukhāvati – a mythical realm where the ground is golden, trees are made of jewels, heavenly musical instruments play ravishing music, and magical birds sing the Dharma. It is a vast ‘illumined image’ – a symbol of the beauty and joy of the spiritual life. The three Pure Land sutras invite us to imagine this radiant realm, and so imagine the Awakened Mind.
These are the complete, edited and remastered recordings of the retreat from Free Buddhist Audio.
Ratnaguna has been ordained for forty years. He is the author of three books – The Art of Reflection, Great Faith, Great Wisdom: Practice and Awakening in the Pure Land Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism, and, under his civil name, The Little Mindfulness Workbook. He lives in Manchester, where he teaches and trains others to teach.
See all the resources and blogs from this year’s Rainy Season Retreat
Talk 1: Why hear the Pure Land Sutras?
An introduction to the three Pure Land sutras and to understanding the practice of Mahayana sutras in general. Other themes covered are: informative and performative speech; imagination, faith, insight, illumination; engaging with something unfamiliar.
Talk 2: On Buddhafields and magical birds
Some comments on the shorter Sukhavativyuha sutra. Talk two from the Great Faith, Great Wisdom retreat at Bristol Buddhist Centre, Sept 2017.
Guided meditation: Visualisation of Sukhavati with Amitabha Mantra
A beautiful meditation on Amitābha’s Pure Land, Sukhāvati - a mythical realm where the ground is golden, trees are made of jewels, and magical birds sing the Dharma. It is a vast ‘illumined image’ - a symbol of the beauty and joy of the spiritual life. OM AMIDEVA HRI
Talk 3: The Deathless Buddha - Possible Roots of Sukhavati in the Pali Canon
In this fascinating talk, Ratnaguna shows us remarkable resonances between the Sukhavativuyha sutras and two late Pali suttas - the Mahaparinibbana sutta and Mahasuddassana sutta, and suggests the Sukhavativuyha sutras may have arisen from the distress of the Buddha’s followers after his Parinirvana.
We also explored meanings of ‘amita’: as ‘measureless’ it can connote ‘boundless’, but also ‘ungraspable’. Like the Dharma, like life, each of us is “profound, subtle, hard to understand.”
Talk 4: Bodhisattvas of Radical Humility - A Short Introduction to the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra
A short introduction to the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra and its non-heroic presentation of participation in the Bodhisattva Ideal.
Talk 5: The Mystery of the Pure Land
This talk corrects some common misunderstandings about the Pure Land texts. The sutras are not to be read as philosophy but appreciated as works of art. They are imaginative evocations, and books of the dead. We can find in them a sense of the great mystery at the heart of the deep Dharma, unfathomable, subtle, hard to see, only to be understood by the wise.
Guided Meditation: Visualisation of Sukhavati 2 - From the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra
A very beautiful guided visualisation of the jewelled land of Sukhavati and its enchanting river, drawn from the longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, and including reflection on the Dharma.
Talk 6: The Sutra as a Practice of Annussati - Recollection of the Three Jewels
Ratnaguna introduces the practice of reading the longer Sukhavativuyha Sutra as a recollection of the Buddha, Dharma and arya-Sangha.
Reading from the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra - The Living Beings of the Buddhafield
Ratnaguna briefly recaps on how to listen to the sutras before Karunavapi’s beautiful reading of the sections of the longer Sukhavativuyha sutra describing the Pure Land Sangha.
Another beautiful collective rendition of the Amitabha Mantra as part of the retreat. OM AMIDEVA HRI
Ratnaguna In Seminar on the Pure Land Sutras
Ratnaguna in conversation with the Bristol sangha, including talking about samatha and vipassanaTalk 7: in sutra-reading; how to meet high aspirations; ‘volitional types’ and ‘self-surrender types’; and faith and true entrusting.
Talk 7: Sanghanussati - Sanghas in Pure Lands and Impure Lands
Ratnaguna reflects on the duality between the ideal Sangha of the Pure Land and our sangha which is inevitably imperfect as we are in an impure Buddhafield; and how the myth of pure and impure lands can address the problem of perfectionism if we use the beauty of the ideal as a star to navigate by. We also get some further comment on the sutra’s use of ‘human world images’ to communicate the beautiful qualities of the arya-Sangha.
The Guan Jing or Sutra on the Visualisation of the Buddha Amitayus - Introduction and Reading, Queen Vaidehi’s Predicament Followed by a Visualisation of the Setting Sun
Ratnaguna starts the fifth day of the retreat with a brief introduction to the Guan Jing, or Sutra on the Visualisation of the Buddha Amitayus.
Next we get a reading from the sutra featuring the story of Queen Vaidehi’s predicament. And this is then followed by visualisation number 1 from the sutra - visualisation of the setting sun.
Ratnaguna In Seminar on the Pure Land Sutras - Discussion 2
In today’s discussion, Ratnaguna and friends from the Bristol sangha talk about the unhelpfulness of speculating on past karma, practising with severe dukkha (suffering), escapism, and working with difficulties and problems.
Readings of Visualisations from the Guan Jing as Meditations - the Setting Sun and a Lake of Lapis Lazuli
Ratnaguna reads visualisation practices from the Guan Jing as meditations. The first is a simple visualisation of the setting sun. This is followed by a visualisation in which the area beneath the sun is flooded with water, which becomes ice and then the lapis lazuli ground of Sukhavati…
Visualisation Meditation from the Guan Jing - the Lotus Bud
Ratnaguna leads us through visualisation number 12 from the Guan Jing: a lovely little practice, imagining oneself born in a lotus bud in the Pure Land of Sukhavati…
Talk 8: The Dukkha of Confinement by Doubt
After pointing out some possible influences on the Guan Jing (Sutra on the Visualisation of the Buddha Amitayus) in the Longer Sukhavativuyha Sutra Ratnaguna explores the theme of confinement.
In the Guan Jing beings who have doubted the Pure Land are born trapped in a lotus bud, unable to experience the benefits of Sukhavati, and someone deprived of the three jewels is compared to a Prince locked in a very luxurious prison.
A great companion talk to the visualisation above, based on this detail of the sutra.
A Reading of the Sutra on the Visualisation of the Buddha Amitayus
We finish off the day with Ratnaguna reading the text of the Guan Jing…
Talk 9: The Buddha Beyond the Buddha
Ratnaguna Introduces the Buddha Amitabha/Amitayus in the Guan Jing, the eternal Buddha principle.
Guided Meditation: Visualisation of Amitayus from the Guan Jing
Ratnaguna leads us on another guided meditation, visualisaing Amitayus from the Guan Jing and evoking the inconceivable Buddha principle…
Talk 10: Parallels with Sangharakshita’s Presentation of the Dharma and the Pure Land Sutras
As a Triratna Buddhist, Ratnaguna’s understanding of the Pure Land Sutras is firmly placed within the Triratna tradition and system of practice. As the retreat draws to a close, he lists some parallels, exploring points of connection.
Great Faith, Great Wisdom - The Sevenfold Puja
To close out this week-long retreat we hear the beautiful sevenfold puja the retreatants performed together at the end. With readings from the Guan Jing and from the Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava.