The Avatamsaka Saga


The Gandavyūha-sūtra is the final segment in the larger Avatamsaka portrait. The Avatamsaka is the most prominent scripture in the Hua-yen. Colossal in scope, bold in execution, and incomparable in terms of evocative, even psychedelic imagery, the Avatamsaka is like going on an acid-trip without the acid. The actual full-Sanskrit title is Buddhāvatamsaka-mahāvaipulya-sūtra. According to the Hua-yen tradition the Sutra was actually taught by the Buddha himself, believing it to be the only authentic expression of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. While still sitting beneath the Bodhi-Tree it is said that the Buddha partook in the Sagaramudrasamadhi (Ocean-Seal-Samadhiand afterwards spoke the Truth of the Avatamsaka, or the direct-expression of the Dharmadhātu to Bodhisattvas and Devas, Nagas, and others who were in attendance from the ten-directions of the Cosmos. According to legend the actual sūtra was obtained from the Ancient Naga Palace by Nāgārjuna. Its authorship has been widely contested, yet it is obvious that this superb and voluminous text could not have been written solely by one person alone. Yea, its unsurpassed wisdom indicates that its source could only have come from the inspirations of the Primordials themselves. The following is an inspired snapshot of a Primordial holding the blessed Bodhi-seed:


Suzuki states in his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra:

As to the Avatamsaka-sutra, it is really the consummation of Buddhist thought, Buddhist sentiment, and Buddhist experience. To my mind, no religious literature in the world can ever approach the grandeur of conception, the depths of feeling, and the gigantic scale of composition, as attained by this sutra. It is the eternal fountain of life from which no religious mind will turn back athirst or only partially satisfied. (Suzuki, pg.95)

Throughout the millennium there has been widespread belief in the supernal and magical power of the Avatamsaka. By simply chanting from its sacred verses numerous miraculous events have unfolded, among them:

In the time of the Emperor Kao-cho of the Northern Wei, a eunuch, with the permission of the emperor, went to a mountain to join the monastic life and “chanted the Avatamsaka-sūtra day and night.” And then, “even before one summer was over, at the end of the sixth month of the year, beard started to grow on him and he was restored a, manly feature.

The emperor was so surprised to hear of this he ordered the country to respect the Avatamsaka-sūtra!.” (From a Study of Hua-yen Buddhism With Special Reference to the Dharmadhātu Doctrine, Fa-Chieh, pg. 58)

Indeed, the sutra itself is aligned with instances of acquiring profound spiritual powers. Ch’an Masters, too, were well attuned with the Avatamsaka:

The Avatamsaka Sutra was quoted by Zen masters even prior to Tu-shun, for according to the Masters and Disciples of the Lanka, Hui-k’e [the second patriarch of the Ch’an school] extensively refers to the sutra in support of his view, while Tao-hsin [580-651] , the fourth patriarch and a contemporary of Tu-shun, also quotes a passage from the sutra saying that a particle of dust contains innumerable worlds within itself….in the case of the Avatamsaka, the reference is more than local and specific, it is concerned with entire thought pervading the sūtra. (Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism)

All in all, it needs to be noted that “any portion” of this Singular Wonder can signify the heightening of bodhipower, due to the holographic-integrity of the text; yea, any one segment attests to the entirety of the whole syncretic-composition. For instance, the following is from the Chapter entitled Eulogies in the Palace of the Suyama Heaven:

The Buddha’s immense body
Reaches the extremities of the cosmos;
Without leaving this seat
It pervades all places.

Whoever, hearing this teaching,
Respects and has faith in it,
Shall forever escape all the miseries
Of the states of woe.

Can you, dear reader, see how the entire sutra, and Buddhism itself for that matter, is summed-up in this potent extraction from the Whole?


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