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Mahāyāna Sūtras

Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras
Lotus Sūtra
Nirvāṇa Sūtra
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Avataṃsaka Sūtra
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The Avataṃsaka Sutra (Chinese: 華嚴經; ||pinyin]]: huá yán jīng; Vietnamese: Kinh Hoa Nghiêm; Japanese: Kegon Kyō; Tibetan: མདོཕལཔོཆེ་Wylie: mdo-phal-po-che) is one of the most influential Mahayana Sutras of East Asian Buddhism. The title is rendered in English as Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flowers Ornament Scripture.

This text describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing each other. The vision expressed in this work was the foundation for the creation of the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhism, which was characterized by a philosophy of interpenetration. Huayan is known as Kegon in Japan.

The sutra is also well known for its detailed description of the course of the bodhisattva's practice through ten stages where the 'Sutra of the Ten Bhumis' (Skt. Daśabhūmika-sūtra, Wyl. phags pa sa bcu pa'i mdo), is the nomenclature given to the thirty-first chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra.[1]


The sutra was written in stages, beginning from at least 500 years after the death of the Buddha. Two full Chinese translations of the Avatamsaka Sutra were made. Fragmentary translation probably began in the 2nd century CE, and the famous Ten Stages Sutra (十地經), often treated as an individual scripture, was first translated in the 3rd century. The first complete Chinese version was completed by Buddhabhadra around 420, and the second by Śikṣānanda around 699. There is also a translation of the Gandavyuha by Prajñā around 798. The second translation includes more sutras than the first, and the Tibetan translation, which is still later, includes even more. Scholars conclude that sutras were being added to the collection. The sutra has not survived in Sanskrit.


The sutra, among the largest in the Buddhist canon, contains 40 chapters of somewhat disparate topics, though with some overarching themes:

  • The interdependency of all phenomena (dharmas).
  • The progression of the Buddhist path to full Enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

Two of the chapters serve as sutras in their own right, and have been cited in the writings of many Buddhists in East Asia.

The Twenty-Sixth Chapter: Ten Stages Sutra

Chapter 26, the Dasabhumika Sutra or Sutra of the Ten Stages details the ten stages, or bhūmi, of development a bodhisattva must undergo to attain supreme enlightenment. The ten stages are also depicted in the Lankavatara Sutra and the Shurangama Sutra. The sutra also touches on the subject of the development of the "aspiration for Enlightenment" (Bodhichitta or Bodhi resolve) of full Buddhahood or anuttarasamyaksambodhi.

The Final Chapter: The Gandavyuha Sutra

The last chapter of the Avatamsaka also circulates as a separate text known as the Gandavyuha Sutra. The Gandavyuha Sutra details the journey of the youth Sudhana, who undertakes a pilgrimage at the behest of the bodhisattva Manjushri. Sudhana will converse with 52 masters in his quest for enlightenment. The antepenultimate master of Sudhana's pilgrimage is Maitreya. It is here that Sudhana encounters The Tower of Maitreya, which along with Indra's net is one of the most startling metaphors for the infinite to emerge in the history of literature across cultures.

In the middle of the great tower... he saw the billion-world universe... and everywhere there was Sudhana at his feet... Thus Sudhana saw Maitreya's practices of... transcendence over countless eons (kalpa), from each of the squares of the check board wall... In the same way Sudhana... saw the whole supernal manifestation, was perfectly aware it, understood it, contemplated it, used it as a means, beheld it, and saw himself there.[2]

The penultimate master that Sudhana visits is the Bodhisattva Manjushri (Great Wisdom Bodhisattva). Thus, one of the grandest of pilgrimages approaches its conclusion by revisiting where it began. The Gandavyhua suggests that with a subtle shift of perspective we may come to see that the enlightenment that the pilgrim so fervently sought was not only with him at every stage of his journey, but before it began as well—that enlightenment is not something to be gained, but "something" the pilgrim never departed from.

The final master that Sudhana visits is the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Universal Worthy), who teaches him that wisdom only exists for the sake of putting it into practice; that it is only good insofar as it benefits all living beings.

When this done, the world of the Gandavyuha (ceases) to be a mystery, a realm devoid of form and corporeality, for now it overlaps this earthly world; no, it becomes that "Thou art it" and there is a perfect fusion of the two... Samantabhadra's arms raised to save sentient beings become our own, which are now engaged in passing salt to a friend at the table and Maitreya's opening the Vairocana Tower for Sudhana is our ushering a caller into the parlor for a friendly chat.[3]

See also

Further reading


  1. Rigpa Shedra (January 2009). 'Sutra of the Ten Bhumis'. Source: [1] (accessed: April 10, 2009)
  2. Thomas Cleary's translation of the Gandavyuha Sutra, Entry Into the Realm of Realty
  3. D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, Series 3

External links

cs:Avatansaka sútrako:화엄경

ja:華厳経 no:Avatamsaka sutraenru:Аватамсака-сутра vi:Đại Phương Quảng Phật Hoa Nghiêm kinh zh:華嚴經

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