The Assembly, through a miraculous array of questioning mode, inquires upon the gnosis behind the Buddha’s past attainments and vastly transcendent spiritual powers of the Tathāgata. It needs to be highlighted at this junction that Buddha Sākyamuni in this sutra—as well as the whole of the Avatamsaka corpus—appears in his supernal aspect as Buddha Vairocana. Discerning the request from the assembly he enters into the sublime Samādhi known as the “Lion’s Yawn” (siṃhavijṛmbhita). Within this miraculous display of undivided-bodhipower his peaked dwelling is transformed into a vast space adorned with myriad jewels and banners and flags of all designs. Yet, what follows is equally an unfolding marvel:
Although this is an oft-quoted passage from the text, what most commentators fail to discuss is the gathering of bodhisattvas around Vairocana after this miraculous transformation takes place. Having seen the Buddha’s miracle, bodhisattvas from distant buddha lands approach, pay their respects, and set up various types of jeweled kūṭāgāras (pinnacled buildings).The narration of this event is deliberate and highly structured. First, a bodhisattva from the east named Vairocanapraṇidhānābhiraśmiprabha from the buddha land of the Tathāgata named Vairocanaśrītejorāja, gains permission from that Buddha to leave, approaches with a large retinue of bodhisattvas, pays his respects, and sets up kutagaras to the east (V 6.16–28).
Then, a bodhisattva named Duryodhanavīryavegarāja comes from the south with his retinue of bodhisattvas, pays his respects, and sets up peaked dwellings to the south (V 6.29–7.12). This pattern continues with bodhisattvas arriving in the following order: west, north, northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest, from below and then above (V 7.13–12.5). The specific pattern and order of arrangement thematise space by representing this gathering as a type of array (vyūha) in the form of a three-dimensional mandala constructed with Vairocana at the centre. (Proto-Tantric Elements in the Gandavyūha-sūtra, Osto.)
These majestic Bodhisattvas (from the ten-directions) “had the body of knowledge of all buddhas; they had attained unconfused knowledge of all regions; they could pervade the ocean of all locations in a single moment of thought by mystic metamorphosis.” Yet, it is up to Samantabhadra to further elucidate upon Vairocana’s Lion’s Yawn Samādhi that has inspired it all:
Then the great enlightening being Universally Good, having looked over
the host of enlightening beings everywhere, to further analyze, discuss in
detail, explain, reveal, elucidate, bring to light, illumine, and point out, by
means of the cosmos of truths, equal to the realm of space, equal to past,
present, and future, equal to the realm of realities, equal to the realm of
beings, equal to the realm of all worlds, equal to all sets of actions, equal to
the dispositions of beings, equal to the interests of beings, equal to the specific illustrations of truth, equal to the appropriate times for the maturation of beings, and equal to the faculties of all beings, elucidated this “lion emergence” concentration of Buddha by means of ten indications: indication of the succession of all buddhas and the succession of lands in the atoms of the Buddha-lands throughout all universes; indication of the seeking and following of virtues of the buddhas in all buddha-lands in space throughout the future; indication of buddhas emerging in all buddha-lands and showing the ocean of infinitely various doors of enlightenment; indication of the hosts of enlightening beings in the circles of the buddhas in the buddha-lands throughout space facing the terrace of enlightenment; indication of pervading the cosmos in a moment of thought with emanations in the forms of the buddhas of past, present, and future, emitted from every pore; indication of the light of magical pervasion of all multitudes of lands in all the oceans in all directions equally with one body; indication of revelation of the power of concentration of all pasts, presents, and futures of the transfigurations of the state of buddhahood in the surfaces of all objects; indication of manifestation of the oceans of eons of various successive transfigurations of Buddha in the lands of past, present, and future, equal to the atoms in all lands; indication of the birth of enlightening beings from the endless power emanating from every pore by the ocean of vows of all buddhas of past, present, and future; indication of endless manifestation of varied expositions of truth amid equal adornments of sites of enlightenment with circles of enlightening beings around lion thrones equal in extent to the cosmos: “These ten, 0 offspring of the Victor,” said Samantabhadra, the Universally Good enlightening being, “are the first ten of as many expressions of the ‘lion emergence’ concentration as atoms in untold buddha-lands, which I follow. However, these arc the sphere of knowledge of those who arrive at Thusness.”
Then the enlightening being Universally Good, illuminating the expression
of the meaning of the “lion emergence” concentration of Buddha, by
the empowerment of Buddha, while gazing on the face of Buddha, observing
the ocean of assemblies everywhere, observing the infinitely various
transfigurations of the concentration of Buddha in the inconceivable sphere
of the enlightened, observing the magical nature of inconceivable knowledge,
and observing all teachings expressed in an inconceivably infinite
variety of manners of speaking, then uttered these verses:
Like the atoms of all lands are the oceanic buddha-lands on a single hairtip:
Surrounded by a circle of enlightening beings, there Buddha rests on the throne of the enlightened.
In the ocean of buddha-lands on a single hair, on a lotus throne at the site of enlightenment
Extended throughout the cosmos, the Guide is seen at the trees of enlightenment.
Like the atoms in all lands are the buddhas assembled on a single hair:
Surrounded by a host of enlightening beings, they expound all good actions.
Buddha sits in one land pervading all lands;
Endless hosts of enlightening beings go there from everywhere.
Like atoms in countless lands, enlightening beings, radiant seas of virtue,
Should appear in the audiences of the Teachers, throughout the cosmos.
Appearing like reflections in all lands, oceans of knowledge of buddhas,
Established in good practices, they arrive in the assemblies of all buddhas.
Assembled everywhere in all lands, in the realm of the joy of enlightening practice,
Delighted in hearing the myriad teachings, they pass millions of eons in each land.
Enlightening beings carry out their practices coursing in the ocean of truth, emanating light;
They enter the oceans of vows, established in the sphere of buddhahood.
Born of the teachings of the buddhas, acting with universal good in mind,
They enter the oceans of qualities of buddhas, in vast transfigurations.
Pervading the refuge of the reality realm, they constantly emanate a cloud of bodies,
Many as atoms in all lands, with the rain of truth, for enlightenment.
Immediately after Samantabhadra’s powerful elucidation, the urna (the all-seeing third eye point that appears on all enlightened beings) of Vairocana emits an astounding beaming-light that illuminates the Ten Directions. From the illuminating-Urna, the Bodhisattvas gathered in Jetvana espy Vairocana sitting beneath the Bodhi-Tree surrounded by worshippers whilst simultaneously producing a miraculous image of this precious epiphany: