Our next series (beginning in November) will be focusing on a sutra which is the final chapter of the much larger-one, none-other than the majestic Avataṃsaka Sūtra, commonly known as the Flower Ornament Sutra. The Gandavyūha-sūtra is the climax of this marvelous Hua-yen text and highlights the following:
The Gandavyūha-sūtra is one of the great sacred scriptures of Mahāyāna Buddhism, widely known and deeply revered throughout the Buddhist world. Sometimes regarded as the Buddhist counterpart of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, it tells an allegorical tale of a pilgrimage undertaken by a “son of good family” named Sudhana. The Great Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī singles him out from among a large crowd of worshipers as a person who is spiritually prepared to embark on the final stretch of the path leading towards Enlightenment. The Great Bodhisattva sends him on a pilgrimage to visit more than fifty Good Friends, spiritual mentors, known as kalyānamitras, in order to seek their instruction in the Conduct of the Bodhisattva. These wise teachers come from all walks of life and include a surprisingly large number of women and non-Buddhists. Among them are five monks, a nun, four Buddhist lay women, an itinerant hermit, a ship’s captain, several householders and bankers, two kings, eight Night Goddesses, five Bodhisattvas, and even the Hindu God Śiva Mahādeva, as well as Gopā and Māyā, the Historical Buddha’s spouse and mother. None of these wise mentors is in possession of perfect knowledge, but each one of them has achieved a different state of spiritual detachment, variously called vimoksa or dharmaparyāya, which they describe for Sudhana’s benefit before they refer him to his next teacher. The accumulative effect of their teachings is that Sudhana advances to a state of mind in which only the Great Bodhisattvas are able to provide him with additional instruction. After a lengthy visit to Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, in his palace of miracles, and a brief, second encounter with Mañjuśrī, Sudhana arrives at the residence of his last teacher, the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. The scripture concludes with the Bhadracarī, a Buddhist hymn in praise of Samantabhadra, verses of which are still regularly recited by Buddhists in countries as far apart as Tibet and Japan. The meaning and etymology of the name Gandavyūha remain unknown. Its Chinese title, Rufajiepin, or The Chapter on Entering the Dharmadhātu (the Realm of Ultimate Reality)…( Entering the Dharmadhātu A Study of the Gandavyūha Reliefs of Borobudur By Jan Fontein, 2012).
The following extraction from the above reminds me of an episode of the original Outer Limits series entitled, Demon with A Glass Hand:
None of these wise mentors is in possession of perfect knowledge, but each one of them has achieved a different state of spiritual detachment, variously called vimoksa or dharmaparyāya, which they describe for Sudhana’s benefit before they refer him to his next teacher.
In Demon With A Glass Hand the major protagonist, named Trent, possesses a mysterious Glass Hand that is missing three fingers. The fingers are eventually retrieved and reunited with the hand which reveals to Trent that he is “a robot” who harbors within him a copper-alloy that contains the digitally-encoded human survivors of a major cataclysmic attack by aliens (the Kybens) in the future. Trent only gradually learns his true identity after each-finger reveals certain information, but the main information is not available until the hand is made whole-again. In a similar fashion, Sudhana in the sutra receives individual revelations from these 52 mentors before his training in Samadhi is complete:
In the culminating last chapter of the work (i.e., chapter 39) entitled the Gandavyūha Sūtra, the youth Sudhana pilgrimages to fifty-two kalyanamitra or “good knowing advisors” who roughly correspond to the fifty-two stages of a bodhisattva’s career (i.e., ten faiths, ten dwellings, ten conducts, ten transferences, ten stages or bhūmis, equal enlightenment and wonderful enlightenment) as outlined within the sūtra itself. All of the fifty-two Buddhas and bodhisattvas met by Sudhana on his journey reveal to him another level of samadhi and enlightenment. Each Buddha or bodhisattva is described as abiding in its own heavenly paradise, and each one emanates a luminous halo with its characteristic quality of light and tone of color, conveyed in terms of inexhaustible lamp-clouds of light, waves, beams and rays of light, suns, moons and stars of light, oceans, seas and rivers of light, jewels, crystals, and treasures of light, or palaces, skies and fields (ksetras) of light, all spreading out into infinity so as to pervade the ten realms of the dharmadhatu without obstruction (i.e., the ten interfusing realms of hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, men, gods, asuras, arhats, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas and Buddhas). Indeed, the vision of incalculable Buddhas and bodhisattvas the number of dustmotes radiating auras of precious colored lights which all interpenetrate each other without obstruction may be regarded as the essence of the samadhi experience described by Hua-yen Buddhism. (Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism, Odin, 1982, pg.44)
In other words his spiritual training as a Bodhisattva is not complete without all the information provided by these individual spiritual mentors. Likewise, the reader of this blog will hopefully be edified and their spiritual vision enhanced via Sudhana’s own transformation as well as an in-depth treatment of Hua-yen Buddhism in general. See you soon.