A Mystical Odyssey through the Sagathakam

As mentioned back in August, our winter series will be based on the concluding segment of The Lankavatara Sutra entitled Sagathakam. The title succinctly translates as Verse Anthology. Red Pine writes of the significance of this final section of the sutra:

Before passing the results on to the reader, I should note that I have decided not to include the collection of verses that were appended to the Lankavatara sometime between Gunabhadra’s translation (443), in which it is absent, and Bodhiruchi’s (513), in which it is present. It was given the title of Sagathakam (Collection of Verses) by Nanjio and includes 884 four-line poems, among which 205 also appear in the main body of the Lanka. Whether one of them borrowed from the other or whether they shared a common source is impossible to say. In any case, the Sagathakam reads as if it was a selection meant to accompany oral instruction. And in the absence of such instruction or an understanding of the context of the poems, I have decided to forego the challenge a translation would have entailed. Still, it does include some worthwhile poems, and fortunately it has already been translated in its entirety as part of Suzuki’s translation of this sutra. (Red Pine, The Lankavatara Sutra: A Zen Text)

We will be using the Suzuki translation of the verses, which are truly poetic in scope and can serve as a form of instruction manual for the aspiring Lankavatarian (Unborn Mind Zen adept) as it highlights the essence of the Lanka’s chapters. Thomas Cleary’s translation of the Lanka also includes the Sagathakam, and from time to time his verse may be included, when so indicated. Although I must say that Suzuki’s translation is usually far more erudite for the adept as it utilizes terminology that is philosophically and mystically oriented to the true spirit of the Lanka. For instance:

Cleary: At that time Mahamati, the great bodhisattva, said this to the Blessed One: The world has no origin or dissolution, like a flower in the sky; being and nonbeing are not found here, by your insight and compassion.

Suzuki: At that time Mahamati the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva said this to the Blessed one: As you review the world with your transcendental knowledge and compassion, it is like an ethereal flower, of which one cannot say whether it is born or destroyed, as the category of being and non-being is inapplicable to it.

*transcendental knowledge [Buddha-gnosis] speaks more volumes than [ordinary insight.]

After the indicated verse, a short reflection will be offered, reflections stemming from many years of familiarity with the Lanka bracketed with spending countless hours in disciplined dhyana; giving birth to transcendent penetrations as inspired through the noble verses of the text, thus opening and sharing in the veritable treasure-house of the Tathagatas.

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