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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
fall 2006| 26 |buddhadharma huayan school features intricate, didac- tic philosophical speculations, illustrated with fascinating metaphors inspired by the sutra. yet the Flower ornament Sutra itself is a very different type of literature. it consists of highly sumptuous visions that offer a systematic presentation of the stages of development and unfolding of the practice activities of bodhisattvas. This sutra is sometimes described as shakya- muni Buddha’s very first awareness upon his great enlightenment, which was too lofty for anyone else at that time to hear. Over 1,600 pages in Thomas Cleary’s translation, the Flower ornament Sutra is a samadhi text, designed to inspire lumi- nous visions and exalted experiences of mind and reality through its use of lush, psychedelic, evocative imagery. Because of the book’s length, but also because of its unique quality as a text, most practitioners need some guidance on how to read the Flower ornament Sutra, as it may seem impenetrable at first glance. This is not a book to read to gain intellectual comprehension. Rather, the cumulative impact of its profuse imagery inspires heightened states of samadhi, or concentrated meditative awareness. This effect can best be appreciated by bathing in the imagery, as if listening to a sym- phony, rather than trying to decipher a textbook. Reciting it aloud, by oneself or together with a small circle of practice friends, is a traditional approach. also, this extensive sutra doesn’t need to be read in its entirety to experience its impact. Of the thirty-nine chapters, two stand out as inspiring, independent sutras in their own right. One is the chapter on the ten stages, or grounds (the Dasabhu- mika Sutra in sanskrit), one of the earliest mahayana sutras, which details the ten stages of development of bodhisattvas before buddhahood, even the first of which is quite lofty. The other sutra is the final chapter, the “entry into the Realm of Reality” (Gandhavyuha Sutra in sanskrit), which relates the journey of the pilgrim sudhana to a sequence of fifty-three different bodhi- sattva teachers. These great bodhisattvas present a democratic vision of dharma, as they include women and men, laypeople and priests, beggars and kings and queens. The chapter culminates with sudhana’s entry into the inconceivably vast tower of maitreya Bodhisattva, the next future bud- dha – a lofty, mind-boggling episode that even the special-effects wizardry of George Lucas and his colleagues could not begin to capture. maitreya’s tower, as extensive as all of space, contains a vast number of equally spacious towers overflowing with amazing sights, each without interfering with the space of any of the others. although these two sutras within a sutra stand out, any chapter of the larger Flower ornament Sutra can serve as an entryway to its awareness because of the holographic quality of the text, in which each part fully exemplifies the whole. This interfusion of the particular with the totality is the heart of the huayan phi- losophy and practice. The larger sutra is replete with myriad buddhas and bodhi- sattvas, described as filling every grass tip or atom. But the primary buddha of the Flower ornament Sutra is Vairocana, the Reality Body Buddha (dharmakaya in sanskrit) whose body is the equivalent of the entire phenomenal universe, which is known in Buddhism as the dharmadhatu. Vairocana is also the primary buddha in many mandalas in Vajrayana, or tantric Buddhism. The heroic bodhisattva most promi- nently featured in the sutra is samantabha- dra (Puxian in Chinese; Fugen in Japanese), whose name means “univer- sal virtue.” Often depicted riding an elephant, samantabhadra, with his calm dignity, specializes in performing devo- tional observances and in artistic, aes- thetic expressions of the sacred. he also resolutely practices the bodhisattva vow through accomplishing many varieties of helpful projects, each aimed at benefiting all beings and engaging the societal sys- tems of the world. as a result, samantab- hadra can serve as a great encouragement and resource both for artists and for mod- ern “engaged” Buddhism and its renewal of Buddhist societal ethics. The FOuRFOLd dhaRmadhaTu inspired by this Flower ornament Sutra, the Chinese huayan teachers were able to articulate a profound dialectical vision The Flower Ornament Sutra may seem impenetrable at first glance, but the book is not read to gain intellectual comprehension. Rather, the cumulative impact of its profuse imagery inspires heightened states of samadhi.