Avatamsaka Sutra

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Sudhana learning from one of the fifty-two teachers along his journey toward enlightenment. Sanskrit manuscript, 11-12th century.

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Sanskrit: महावैपुल्यबुद्धावतंसकसूत्र Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra) is one of the most influential Mahāyāna sūtras of East Asian Buddhism. The title is rendered in English as Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flower Ornament Scripture.

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another. The vision expressed in this work was the foundation for the creation of the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhism, which was characterized by a philosophy of interpenetration. The Huayan school is known as Hwaeom in Korea and Kegon in Japan.

Title[edit]

This work has been used in a variety of countries. Some major traditional titles include the following:

  • Sanskrit: Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra (महावैपुल्यबुद्धावतंसकसूत्र). "The Great Vaipulya Sutra of the Buddha's Flower Garland." Vaipulya ("extensive") refers to key sizable, inclusive sūtras.[1] "Flower garland/wreath/adornment" refers to a manifestation of the beauty of Buddha's virtues[2] or his inspiring glory.[N.B. 1]
  • Chinese: Dàfāngguǎng Fóhuáyán Jīng Chinese: 大方廣佛華嚴經, commonly known as the Huáyán Jīng (Chinese: 華嚴經), meaning "Flower-adorned (Splendid & Solemn) Sūtra." Vaipulya here is translated as "corrective and expansive", fāngguǎng (方廣).[5] Huá (華) means at once "flower" (archaic) and "magnificence." Yán (嚴), short for zhuàngyán (莊嚴), means "to decorate (so that it is solemn, dignified)."
  • Japanese: Daihōkō Butsu-kegon Kyō (大方広仏華厳経), usually known as the Kegon Kyō (華厳経). This title is identical to Chinese above, just in Shinjitai characters.
  • Korean: 대방광불화엄경 Daebanggwang Bulhwaeom Gyeong or Hwaeom Gyeong (화엄경), the Sino-Korean pronunciation of the Chinese name.
  • Vietnamese: Đại phương quảng Phật hoa nghiêm kinh, shortened to the Hoa nghiêm kinh, the Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation of the Chinese name.
  • Tibetan: མདོཕལཔོཆེ་Wylie: mdo phal po che, Standard Tibetan Dopel Poché

According to a Dunhuang manuscript, this text was also known as the Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra.[4]

History[edit]

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was written in stages, beginning from at least 500 years after the death of the Buddha. One source claims that it is "a very long text composed of a number of originally independent scriptures of diverse provenance, all of which were combined, probably in Central Asia, in the late third or the fourth century CE."[6] Two full Chinese translations of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra were made. Fragmentary translation probably began in the 2nd century CE, and the famous Ten Stages Sutra, often treated as an individual scripture, was first translated in the 3rd century. The first complete Chinese version was completed by Buddhabhadra (Bodhibhadra) around 420 in 60 scrolls with 34 chapters,[7] and the second by Śikṣānanda around 699 in 80 scrolls with 40 chapters.[8][9] There is also a translation of the Gaṇḍavyūha section by Prajñā around 798. The second translation includes more sutras than the first, and the Tibetan translation, which is still later, includes many differences with the 80 scrolls version. Scholars conclude that sutras were being added to the collection.

According to Paramārtha, a 6th-century monk from Ujjain in central India, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra is also called the "Bodhisattva Piṭaka."[4] In his translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgrahabhāṣya, there is a reference to the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, which Paramārtha notes is the same as the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in 100,000 lines.[4] Identification of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra as a "Bodhisattva Piṭaka" was also recorded in the colophon of a Chinese manuscript at the Mogao Caves: "Explication of the Ten Stages, entitled Creator of the Wisdom of an Omniscient Being by Degrees, a chapter of the Mahāyāna sūtra Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka, has ended."[4]

Format[edit]

The sutra, among the longest in the Buddhist canon, contains 40 chapters on disparate topics, although there are overarching themes:[citation needed]

  • The interdependency of all phenomena (dharmas)
  • The progression of the Buddhist path to full Enlightenment, or Buddhahood

Two of the chapters serve as sutras in their own right, and have been cited in the writings of many Buddhists in East Asia.

Ten Stages[edit]

Main article: Ten Stages Sutra

The sutra is also well known for its detailed description of the course of the bodhisattva's practice through ten stages where the Ten Stages Sutra, or Daśabhūmika Sūtra (十地經, Wylie: phags pa sa bcu pa'i mdo), is the name given to this chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. This sutra gives details on the ten stages (bhūmis) of development a bodhisattva must undergo to attain supreme enlightenment. The ten stages are also depicted in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. The sutra also touches on the subject of the development of the "aspiration for Enlightenment" (bodhicitta) to attain supreme buddhahood.

Gaṇḍavyūha[edit]

The last chapter of the Avatamsaka circulates as a separate and important text known as the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra (lit. 'flower-array' or 'bouquet';[10] 入法界品 ‘Entering the Dharma Realm’[11]). Considered the "climax" of the larger text,[12] this section details the pilgrimage of the youth Sudhana to various lands at the behest of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī.

In his quest for enlightenment, Sudhana would converse with a diverse array of 52 kalyāṇa-mittatā (wise advisors), 20 of whom are female,[10] including an enlightened prostitute named Vasumitrā,[12] Gautama Buddha's wife and his mother, a queen, a princess and several goddesses. Male sages include a slave, a child, a physician, a ship's captain.[13] The antepenultimate master of Sudhana's pilgrimage is Maitreya. It is here that Sudhana encounters the Tower of Maitreya, which — along with Indra's net – is a most startling metaphor for the infinite:

In the middle of the great tower... he saw the billion-world universe... and everywhere there was Sudhana at his feet... Thus Sudhana saw Maitreya's practices of... transcendence over countless eons (kalpa), from each of the squares of the check board wall... In the same way Sudhana... saw the whole supernal manifestation, was perfectly aware of it, understood it, contemplated it, used it as a means, beheld it, and saw himself there.[14]

The penultimate master that Sudhana visits is the Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, the bodhisattva of great wisdom. Thus, one of the grandest of pilgrimages approaches its conclusion by revisiting where it began. The Gaṇḍavyūha suggests that with a subtle shift of perspective we may come to see that the enlightenment that the pilgrim so fervently sought was not only with him at every stage of his journey, but before it began as well—that enlightenment is not something to be gained, but "something" the pilgrim never departed from.

The final master that Sudhana visits is the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, who teaches him that wisdom only exists for the sake of putting it into practice; that it is only good insofar as it benefits all living beings. Samantabhadra concludes with a prayer of aspiration to buddhahood, which is recited by those who practice according to Atiśa's Bodhipathapradīpa, the foundation of the lamrim textual traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.[15][16][17]

Despite its being at the end of the Avataṃsaka, the Gaṇḍavyūha — and the Ten Stages — is generally believed to be the oldest component written.[13]

English translations[edit]

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was translated in its entirety from the Śikṣānanda edition by Thomas Cleary, and was divided originally into three volumes. The latest edition, from 1993, is contained in a large single volume spanning 1656 pages.

In addition to Thomas Cleary's translation, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is translating the Avataṃsaka Sūtra[19] along with a lengthy commentary by Venerable Hsuan Hua. Currently over twenty volumes are available, and it is estimated that there may be 75-100 volumes in the complete edition.

Bhikshu Dharmamitra has a forthcoming 2014 translation: The Greatly Expansive Buddha’s Floral Adornment Sutra - Mahāvaipulya Buddha Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Śikṣānanda’s 699 ce. edition). T279 - 大方廣佛華嚴經 - 實叉難陀譯 (39 chapters in 80 fascicles – 3000 pages).[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Divyavadana also calls a Śrāvastī miracle Buddhāvataṃsaka, namely, he created countless emanations of himself seated on lotus blossoms.[3][4]
  1. ^ Keown, Damien (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-860560-7. 
  2. ^ Akira Hirakawa; Paul Groner (1990). A history of Indian Buddhism: from Śākyamuni to early Mahāyāna. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1203-4. Retrieved 12 June 2011. The term "avatamsaka" means "a garland of flowers," indicating that all the virtues that the Buddha has accumulated by the time he attains enlightenment are like a beautiful garland of flowers that adorns him. 
  3. ^ Akira Sadakata (15 April 1997). Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. Kōsei Pub. Co. p. 144. ISBN 978-4-333-01682-2. Retrieved 12 June 2011. ...adornment, or glorious manifestation, of the Buddha[...]It means that countless buddhas manifest themselves in this realm, thereby adorning it. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Ōtake Susumu (2007), "On the Origin and Early Development of the Buddhāvataṃsaka-Sūtra", in Hamar, Imre, Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 89–93, ISBN 978-3-447-05509-3, retrieved 12 June 2011 
  5. ^ Soothill, W.E.; Hodous, Lewis (1937). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. London: Trübner. 
  6. ^ Huayan, Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed., pg 41-45[full citation needed]
  7. ^ Taisho Tripitaka No. 278
  8. ^ Taisho Tripitaka No. 279
  9. ^ Hamar, Imre (2007), The History of the Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra. In: Hamar, Imre (editor), Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism (Asiatische Forschungen Vol. 151), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, ISBN 344705509X, pp.159-161
  10. ^ a b Warder, A. K. Warder (2000). Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 402. ISBN 978-81-208-1741-8. The title Gaṇḍavyūha is obscure, being generally interpreted as 'array of flowers', 'bouquet'. it is just possible that the rhetorical called gaṇḍa, a speech having a double meaning (understood differently by two hearers), should be thought of here. 
  11. ^ Hsüan-hua; International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts (Dharma Realm Buddhist University) (1 January 1980). Flower Adornment Sutra: Chapter 39, Entering the Dharma Realm. Dharma Realm Buddhist Association. p. xxi. ISBN 978-0-917512-68-1. 
  12. ^ a b Doniger, Wendy (January 1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. p. 365. ISBN 978-0-87779-044-0. 
  13. ^ a b Fontein, Jan (1967). The pilgrimage of Sudhana: a study of Gandavyuha illustrations. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-156269-8. 
  14. ^ Cleary, Thomas. The Flower Ornament Scripture 3, Entry into the Realm of Reality / Transl. by Thomas Cleary. Boulder: Shambhala, 1987, p. 369.
  15. ^ "samantabhadracaryāpraṇidhānam". Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  16. ^ "bhadracarīpraṇidhānastotram". Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon. 
  17. ^ Lung, Jang. "King of Prayers". Kalachakranet. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Cleary, Thomas (1993). The flower ornament scripture : a translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston u.a.: Shambhala. ISBN 9780877739401. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  19. ^ "The Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra". THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS. Buddhist Text Translation Society. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  20. ^ Rivers, Leo. "The First Ever Complete & Genuine Translation of the Avatam". Dharma Wheel. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 

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