The Avatamsaka Sutra

Nov 2016
I would like to discuss the Buddhist Avatamsaka (= flower ornament) Sutra, which in its wealth of images and lavish splendour is probably unique in world literature. The work is a product of the Mahayana current which was developed in the 1st century CE by forest ascetics in southeast India, from where it spread to the Indian northwest and to Tibet and China and from there to Japan. The Mahayana´s basic components are (1) the Bodhisattva ideal, (2) a glorification of the Buddha in the context of a visionary cosmology, which can be regarded as the most impressive of all religious and philosophical cosmologies, especially in the ´Avatamsaka Sutra´ (1500 pages), and (3) the teaching of ´emptiness´ (shunyata) of all dharmas, which were still regarded as real in the older schools.


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Avatamsaka Sutra - Wikipedia

From the introduction:

The FLOWER ORNAMENT SCRIPTURE, called Avatamsaka in Sanskrit and
Huayan in Chinese, is one of the major texts of Buddhism. Also referred
to as the major Scripture of Inconceivable Liberation, it is perhaps the
richest and most grandiose of all Buddhist scriptures, held in high esteem
by all schools of Buddhism that are concerned with universal liberation.
Its incredible wealth of sensual imagery staggers the imagination and
exercises an almost mesmeric effect on the mind as it conveys a wide
range of teachings through its complex structure, its colorful symbolism,
and its mnemonic concentration formulae.

The beginning of the Sutra:

THUS HAVE I HEARD. At one time the Buddha was in the land of
Magadha, in a state of purity, at the site of enlightenment, having just
realized true awareness. The ground was solid and firm, made of
diamond, adorned with exquisite jewel discs and myriad precious
flowers, with pure clear crystals. The ocean of characteristics of the
various colors appeared over an infinite extent. There were banners of
precious stones, constantly emitting shining light and producing beauti-
ful sounds. Nets of myriad gems and garlands of exquisitely scented
flowers hung all around. The finest jewels appeared spontaneously,
raining inexhaustible quantities of gems and beautiful flowers all over
the earth. There were rows of jewel trees, their branches and foliage
lustrous and luxuriant. By the Buddha’s spiritual power, he caused all
the adornments of this enlightenment site to be reflected therein.

The tree of enlightenment was tall and outstanding. Its trunk was
diamond, its main boughs were lapis lazuli, its branches and twigs were
of various precious elements. The leaves, spreading in all directions,
provided shade, like clouds. The precious blossoms were of various
colors, the branching twigs spread out their shadows. Also the fruits
were jewels containing a blazing radiance. They were together with the
flowers in great arrays. The entire circumference of the tree emanated
light; within the light there rained precious stones, and within each gem
were enlightening beings, in great hosts like clouds, simultaneously

Also, by virtue of the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, the
tree of enlightenment constantly gave forth sublime sounds speaking
various truths without end.

The palace chamber in which the Buddha was situated was spacious
and beautifully adorned. It extended throughout the ten directions. It
was made of jewels of various colors and was decorated with all kinds
of precious flowers. The various adornments emanated lights like clouds;
the masses of their reflections from within the palace formed banners.

A boundless host of enlightening beings, the congregation at the site
of enlightenment, were all gathered there: by means of the ability to
manifest the lights and inconceivable sounds of the Buddhas, they
fashioned nets of the finest jewels, from which came forth all the realms
of action of the spiritual powers of the Buddhas, and in which were
reflected images of the abodes of all beings.

Also, by virtue of the aid of the spiritual power of the Buddha, they
embraced the entire cosmos in a single thought.

Their lion seats were high, wide, and beautiful. The bases were made
of jewels, their nets of lotus blossoms, their tableaus of pure, exquisite
gemstones. They were adorned with various flowers of all colors. Their
roofs, chambers, steps, and doors were adorned by the images of all
things. The branches and fruits of jewel trees surrounded them, arrayed
at intervals.

Clouds of radiance of jewels reflected each other: the Buddhas of the
ten directions conjured regal pearls, and the exquisite jewels in the
topknots of all the enlightening beings all emanated light, which came
and illuminated them.

Furthermore, sustained by the spiritual power of all Buddhas, they
expounded the vast perspective of the Enlightened Ones, their subtle
tones extending afar, there being no place they did not reach.

At that time, the Buddha, the World Honored One, in this setting,
attained to supreme, correct awareness of all things. His knowledge
entered into all times with complete equanimity; his body filled all
worlds; his voice universally accorded with all lands in the ten directions.
Like space, which contains all forms, he made no discrimination among
all objects. And, as space extends everywhere, he entered all lands with
equanimity. His body forever sat omnipresent in all sites of enlightenment.
Among the host of enlightening beings, his awesome light shone
clearly, like the sun emerging, illumining the world. The ocean of myriad
virtues which he practiced in all times was thoroughly pure, and he
constantly demonstrated the production of all the buddha-lands, their
boundless forms and spheres of light extending throughout the entire
cosmos, equally and impartially.
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