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Avataṃsaka Sūtra


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A Mahāyāna sūtra purportedly preached by the Buddha immediately after his enlightenment (bodhi) that directly conveys the content of his vision. No complete Sanskrit text of this sūtra remains extant, although portions of it do exist and Chih-yen of the Hua-yen school left an outline of the Sanskrit text from which the translation by Śikṣānanda was produced. There are four translations extant, three in Chinese and one in Tibetan. These are: (1) the translation by Buddhabhadra in 60 fascicles, completed in 420 ce (Taishō 278); (2) the translation by Śikṣānanda in 80 fascicles, completed in 699 ce. (Taishō 279); (3) the 40-fascicle translation of the last chapter, called the Gaṇḍavyūha, produced by Prajñā in 798 ce (Taishō 293); and (4) the Tibetan translation in 45 chapters produced by Jinamitra in the 8th century (Peking edition, vols. 25, 26). In addition to the three complete translations (nos. 1, 2, and 4 above), many portions of this sūtra have been translated and disseminated as self-standing works. This fact, plus the existence of autonomous sections in Sanskrit, has led scholars to conclude that this is an encyclopedic work which was augmented over the centuries as other works were added to it.

(1) the translation by Buddhabhadra in 60 fascicles, completed in 420 ce (Taishō 278); (2) the translation by Śikṣānanda in 80 fascicles, completed in 699 ce. (Taishō 279); (3) the 40-fascicle translation of the last chapter, called the Gaṇḍavyūha, produced by Prajñā in 798 ce (Taishō 293); and (4) the Tibetan translation in 45 chapters produced by Jinamitra in the 8th century (Peking edition, vols. 25, 26).

According to Hua-yen exegesis the sūtra's primary goal is to show the reader how the world appears to a completely enlightened Buddha or advanced Bodhisattva. It presents a universe conceived as empty of inherent existence and as arising and fading away each moment in response to the activities of mind. The Buddha, realizing that all reality arises in dependence on mind, and having perfect control of his mind through his meditation, is able to produce effects at any distance which may appear to unenlightened beings as magic, but which to him simply manifest reality as it is—mind-made. His transformations are not different in quality from those worked by ordinary beings as they pass from life to life; the crucial difference is that the Buddha is aware of the process and can control it. This places the Buddha in a universe lacking disparate objects with solid boundaries between them. Instead, he sees a constant flow and flux in the basic transformations of mind.

As a result of this fluidity and lack of hard boundaries, all of reality is seen as perfectly interpenetrating. This interpenetration occurs at two levels. First, the ultimate nature of reality, the noumenon, is perfectly expressed in all individual phenomena. More concretely, the single Buddha Vairocana (of whom the historical Buddha Śākyamuni is said to be an emanation) is the ground of all reality. Since all individual phenomena emerge from him, he perfectly pervades all things. Second, because of this complete pervasion of noumenon (Vairocana) into all phenomena, all phenomena perfectly interpenetrate each other. Each individual thing arises out of this basic matrix of transformations, and so each implies and influences all of the others. Everything is within everything else, and yet there is no confusion of one phenomenon with another.

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Subjects: Buddhism.


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