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EMPTINESS, IDENTITY AND INTERCAUSALITY IN THE AVATAMSAKA SUTRA CONTENTS I. II. III. IV. Introduction....................................................................................................3 History Avatamsaka Sutra..............................................................................3 Emptiness........................................................................................................7 Identity..........................................................................................................10 A. Shi/Li B. Three Natures C. 10 Coins Analogy Interdependent Origination...........................................................................13 A. Six Characteristics B. Rafter and Building The Bodhisattva Path....................................................................................16 A. Training B. Spiritual Friend C. Sudhanas Pilgrimage Dharma-Dhatu...............................................................................................20 Vairocana: The Cosmic Buddha....................................................................22 A. Enlightenment 1. Intrinsic 2. Acquired B. Shakyamuni Buddha and the Unborn Conclusion.....................................................................................................25 Bibliography..................................................................................................27

V. VI.


IX. X.


EMPTINESS, IDENTITY AND INTERCAUSALITY IN THE AVATAMSAKA SUTRA Ozmo Hyonjin Piedmont Introduction The Avatamsaka Sutra is the Foundation of the Hua-Yen school of Buddhism, a syncretic philosophy that incorporates all the major traditions of practice and metaphysical understandings of all the major schools of Buddhism. It is a rich integration of Theravada, Mahayana, Zen, and Pure Land that places emphasis on the interconnectivity of all things in a fundamental essence of emptiness and change. The following essay will present some of the fundamental concepts contained in this extraordinary sutra and show how the Universe, as seen through the eyes of a Buddha, can be our orientation to living a life based on mutual respect, caring for others, and freedom from suffering. History of the Avatamsaka Sutra The Avatamsaka-sutra, the short title for the Buddhavatamsaka-sutra, means in sanskrit Flower Ornament or The Sutra of the Garland of Buddhas. It is the basis for the Mahayana teachings of the Chinese Hua-yen school, emphasizing the mutually unobstructed interpenetration of all things. It teaches that the human mind is the universe itself and is identical with the buddhas. This means that the Buddha, mind, and all sentient beings and things are one and the same thing. The teachings that are presented are not uttered by Shakyamuni Buddha himself, who is present but remains silent, but rather through the mouth of other bodhisattvas, which are thus the expression of the dharmakaya aspect of all the buddhas. The silence of the Buddha corresponds to emptiness, shunyata, and the pronouncements of the teachings comes out of this silence

as a manifestation of the true reality that is graspable by human consciousness. The syncretistic nature of this sutra draws from two aspects of Chinese philosophical tendencies: 1. A totalistic view of reality based on intercausality, interdependence, a kind of living body organism much like the metaphor of the human body to all its parts; 2. A respect and proclivity for the natural, whereby nature is seen as the source to which one returns, which is synonymous with enlightenment, a non-dual understanding of reality that transcends the idividual as well as opposites of reasoning and calculating, entering into what the Chinese call wu-wei, or nonaction in action. By returning to the source, the individual completely resolves all contrarities (Cook, 1977, 2:20-33). The Avatamsaka Sutra is based on the Sanskrit Indian writings of India from about the 2nd C c.e., including the Dasabhumika describing the 10 stages of becoming a Bodhisattva and the Gandavyuha describing the Bodhisattvas journey to Enlightenment through the character of Sudhana and his quest for the truth, a kind of Pilgrims Progress of Buddhist philosophy. In addition there is brief reference to the Siksasamuccaya. It is assumed that somewhere in Central Asia, one or many compilers, inspired by the Dasabhumika an Gandavyuha, assembled a number of independent sutras into a work that described in great detail the Bodhisattvas progress from beginning practice right up to Enlightenment. Probably new sutras were added to fill in gaps in this preconceived structure. The finished work was then put into Chinese by Buddhabhadra in 420 c.e. It was also later translated by Siksananda in eighty volumes around 699 c.e. and later the Gandavyuha section translated into Chinese by Praja in the late eighth century (Cook, 1977, 2:20-33).

The Hua-Yen school of Buddhism is based on the early 5th C c.e. Chinese traslation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. From that time up to the Tang dynasty (610-907 c.e.) many Ti-lun and She-lun Chinese scholars, along with other schools and scholars including Hua-yen and Tu-shum schools, developed and expanded the fundamental ideas of the Avatamsaka Sutra. The emergence of an identifiable school of thought began with the first patriarch Tu-Shun (557-640 c.e.) and the second patriarch Chih-yen (602-668 c.e.) who began to piece together, systematize, and expand the prior scholarship into a a coherent whole, though incomplete in its objective. The third patriarch Fa-tsang (643712 c.e.) is attributed to assembling the somewhat still disparate pieces of the prior two patriarchs into a complete and coherent whole. Fa-tsang refined and developed the work of his predecessors, sycretizing the prior scholarship into a coherent whole, like taking pieces of a puzzle and making a complete and recognizable picture out of them. He was able to organize and syncretize a large body of fragments, seeing their interrelationships and refining their intellectual supports. The last two patriarchs, Cheng-kuan (737-820 c.e.), under whose leadership the school gained great support, and Tsung-mi (780-841 c.e.), who was considered an outstanding master of the school, both served to refine, define, and filled in details of Fa-tsangs work. The school flourished up to 845 c.e., when persecution from Emporer Wu, who destroyed temples, defrocke monks, and appropriated their wealth, along with a lack of mass appeal required to provide the material and financial resources and moral support to sustain the tradition, ended the Hua-Yens existence as a thriving institution of thought. However, it contributed to future developments of Buddhism through its syncretism of many Buddhist schools and

as a philosophical basis for other schools of practice, including Pure Land and Chan (Cook, 1977, 2:20-33). The Hya-Yen school of Buddhism is primarily concerned with causation mainly in the form of interdependent origination of the universe. Though it arose and was developed in China, its antecendents have their origin in the earliest days of Indian Buddhism. The Chinese needed to incorporate all aspects of the Indian scriptures into their system, since the words and teachings of the Buddha were considered sacred and indispensible, though certain aspects of those original teachings were not as developed in the Chinese system as others. But the challenge for the Chinese was to gather together all the important Indian doctrines that had been previously maintained in separate traditions, and now recombine them into an intrinsic whole. For this reason, the Hua-Yen tradition referred to itself as the One Vehicle (Skt. eka-yana). They maintain the position that there is only one path leading to the goal of Buddhahood, and all other traditions are only partial imcomplete aspects of that. Therefore, they create a one vehicle universalism or catholicism, seeing all the different traditions as embodying different stages of development, but which are ultimately all mutually complementary. In this sense, all Dharmas are valid, all are included in the one Dharma, and all will eventually lead to the final goal of Buddhahood. As a consequence, Hua-Yen incorporates Dharma theory of Sarvastivadins, anatman doctrine, the ten stages of becoming a Bodhisattva, doctrines of emptiness and mind-only schools, the Madhyamika dialectic, doctrines of Buddha-nature, and the womb of Buddhahood or tathagatagarbha. The uniquely Chinese contribution to this one-vehicle interdependent origination teaching is that depending on ones point of view, all objects are both the primary object that gives rise to all other objects while at the

same time that same object is secondary, arising as consequece resulting from other objects. Everything is both a primary and a secondary object depending on ones point of view (Cook, 1977, 3:34-55). Emptiness Sarvam shunyam means that everything is empty, the most fundamental concept in Mahayana Buddhism, which was first appeared in the Indian group of scriptures written about 350 years after the Buddhas death, known as the prajaparamita. The teachings prabably existed in oral form well before that. At a later period of development, a synopsized version of the prajaparamita was composed, and became known as the Heart Sutra, which challenged older belief in certain irreducible independent entities, showing that they are all empty, including the holy truths of Buddhas, such as skandhas, ayatanas, dhatus, The Four Noble Truths, ignorance, the elimination of ignorance, and the attainment of the goal, nirvana. It stated that nothing is to be obtained, which allows the Bodhisattva to attain the nothing-to-be-attained or the final nirvana (Cook, 1977, 3:3455). However, what appears to be a straightforward and clear teaching of emptiness, in fact became highly misinterpreted over time as nihilism (nothing whatsover exists) or some kind of distinct metaphysical entity or inner essence, leading to eternalism. The Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna refuted both of these claims, since emptiness does not mean non-existence nor nihilism, but is rather a device to criticize all views. As soon as one attaches to any view, it become a reification or a deification. The correct position is that even emptiness itself must be empty, therefore, the correct view is that there is no view whatsoever. Nagarjuna shows that it is precisely because all things are empty which

allows for the Bodhisattva to overcome ignorance, lead a holy life, and attain final nirvana, because if there were any real, independent, permanent existence to anything, then there is the possibility that one could not ultimately change, and therefore would be locked into a state of ignorance and suffering. Any thing or concept one adheres to becomes an obstacle to ones transformation and liberation. So even the concept all is empty must be emptied of any dogmatic adherence to an idea. It is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism that all is continually changing while at the same time there is nothing that is ultimately changing. This is because there is no permanent locus for that change, so there is only ceaseless becoming, or pure flux. Everything conditions everything else, but at no point is anything fixed or permanent or separate from the continual flow of change. There can be no real entity undergoing any modification. Likewise, there is no real object to possess, since all is in constant flow, like trying to grasp the water of a moving stream with our hands, it all just slips by (Cook, 1977, 3:3455). In this emptiness, there is no real permanent separate me that exists, but rather this me is also a part of the changing interdependence. Likewise, there is nothing to possess, no one to possess, and no action of possessing. There is nothing that is intrinsically me, like passing states of anger. These are all just momentary states that will change to be replaced by new ones. Any concept of an existing thing is just an abstraction from the process. For Nagarjuna, emptiness and interdependent being are synonymous. This is primarily a teaching as a way of knowing of how things are as the highest truth, a way of aprehending the world, which challenges our ignorant perception of appearances. Though one may not be able to see this operating in phenomena directly,

knowing that this is so, gives one the freedom to act as a Bodhisattva, saving other beings, free to grow, help, and change, with the intention to help save all beings, because, in essence, there is no one to be saved, but one also transcends the concept of emptiness itself, and just is present in each moment doing what apparently presents itself to do for apparently helping others. This means that there is a fundamental change that takes place in the perceiver with a new nondual perception that frees one from samsara. One does not adhere to appearances, but functions with the highest Truth of emptiness and interdependent being (Cook, 1977, 3:34-55). One cannot speak of form without emptiness, they both co-exist. Dharmas exist and are real in an illusory way to the senses as something permanent. But we cannot deny that they exist. Likewise, emptiness is real in the sense that it is always operating through the dharmas of phenomenal existence. Real emptiness does not negate form, since emptiness is not some nonbeing apart from form. Form does not negate emptiness because forms do not exist as an ultimate, permanent, separate reality. Things only exist because they are empty. Form and emptiness are mutually creative. If things were not empty of substance, they couldnt exist, because they would be locked into some dead static thing that could not be impacted upon nor impact other things. Likewise, without things, there could be no emptiness, because things that arise and change and are caused by other things that in turn cause other things, is what emptiness is. Therefore, form arises from condition and perishes, which is emptiness itself. Emptiness does not cause form; it is form in its mode of arising, causation, and perishing. Neither does emptiness extinguish form, since form is that which arises and perishes, which is what emptiness is itself. Emptiness is not some separate entity that either causes or extinguishes form.

Emptiness is form, depending upon whether we are talking about its underlying reality of immutable essence or its apparent existence of phenomenal appearance (Cook, 1977, 6:90-108). Identity Shih is the term Fa-tsang uses to describe phonemena, or dharmas, and li is the term he uses to describe the absolute. What Fa-tsang sets out to do is show how the phenomenal world, which appears to be real, permanent, and enduring, is in fact, impermanent, conditioned, empty and dependent on prior causes. Nevertheless, the appearance of an illusory world depends upon an immutable absolute that manifests itself through the conditioned aspect of emptiness. The absolute is both immutable, being the true essence at all times, while able to manifest as conditioned in the phenomenal world of appearances. What appears to be real with regard to phenomena is actually a misperception in the mind based on the experience of the senses. But this same illusory world, when viewed from the perspective of a Buddha, or without delusion, is seen to be a vast Universe of interconnected, intercausal conditions, much like a great organism that manifests itself through the intricate dynamic relationship of all its parts to the whole and the whole to its parts. He also shows how each part derives its significance as a primary causal agent of the whole, while at the same time, the whole is the causal agent of each aspect, much like a wooden beam to a barn. The beam has the power to create the barn, in terms of allowing the barn to come into existence, while at the same time the barn is the condition for the manifesting of a beam. Finally, each dharma derives its existence from all other dharmas, that it embraces giving it the power to cause other dharmas to manifest, while all these other dharmas are in turn causal agents resulting in the


appearance of that first dharma in question. Each phenomenon is real and different from other phenomena due to its function and form, while all phenomena are ultimately empty, meaning they do not have a separate self and are dependent upon other causal factors, and are impermanent in nature. But phenomena are ultimately real in their essence of shared emptiness which is immutable and manifests itself in infinite forms and functions. Therefore, samsara and nirvana are the same world, just different perspectives when viewed by ingnorance or when viewed through the eyes of a Buddha (Cook, 1977, 4:5666). Fa-tsang discusses the identity of phenomena and the absolute using a description of three natures: 1. Dependent nature (paratantra-svabhava); 2. Discrimitive nature (parikalpita-svabhava); and 3. Perfected nature (parinispanna-svabhava). Dependent nature consists of existence totally dependent on exterior conditions. Discrimitive nature is the erroneous appearance of things to the mind as being distinct from the subject and having a real self-existence. The Perfected nature is the real essence of the obect without the distorting projections on it of the thoughts and words of the little conditioned mind; in other words, its suchness. However, these same three natures are shown to actually be two, since the dependent nature is actually the perfected nature, the only difference is how it is mistakenly perceived through our projections, as opposed to how it really is. Fa-tsang discusses these two aspects of the three natures in terms of emptiness and existence. He says that the dependent nature seems real, but has no separate essence of its own. The Discrimitive nature exists to the senses but does not exist in reality (is empty). The Perfected nature is immutable and absolute in its emptiness yet it obeys the law of causation and appears in differing forms and functions. What is unique to Fa-


tsang from prior Buddhist doctrines is how he shows that the absolite is both immutable, true emptiness, that can manifest as false appearances of phenomenal existence, that there is both a pure and impure aspect of the absolute, which are themselves empty because they are only differing perceptions of the underlying essence of emptiness. In reality, there is no impure, it being only a misperception of the little mind of the all pervading pure of the absolute. This gives rise to the vision of the Dharma-Dhatu Kaya, that the whole universe is actually the body of Buddha, all is Buddha essence (Cook, 1977, 4:5666). Fa-tsang uses the analogy of the 10 coins as a way of describing the inter-causal relationship between the parts and the whole, each defining the others and being defined by the others of the group. If you have ten coins, each coin is exactly like the other coins in that they are all coins. This is the underlying essence that is emptiness itself of the absolute. Now, coin one has a causal relationship to coin two. Coin two has its identity as coin two in its relationship to coin one, in that coin two only exists in relationship to the other coin, because if you removed coin one, then coin two would not continue to be coin two, but rather coin one. At the same time, coin one has a dependent relationship to coin two, as well as to all the other 10 coins, since it could not be coin one of ten coins if there were any other coin missing. That universe of 10 coins only exists if all 10 are present and all define each other. Each coin has this same causal and dependent relationship to all other coins. The key factor is the qualifying agent naming each coin in its relation to the others, coin 1,2,3, etc. Take away any coin, it no longer is that same universe. Each coin, in having the power to cause any other coin, produces a causal agent in the other coin which then causes the existence of coin one. Now we have mutual


intercausality where every element is both the cause of the other elements and is dependent on the other elements for its own existence. In this way, the analogy shows both emptiness of the absolute in the sameness of all coins being coins in and of themselves, yet all being unique in serving distinct forms and functions in relation to each other, while all mutually define and are defined by each other, or phenomenal existence (Cook, 1977, 4:56-66). Interdependent Origination There are six characteristics of interdependent origination: universality, particularity, identity, difference, integration, and disintegration. These are varying descriptions of the interrelationship of the fundamental oneness of the universe to the infinite diversity or manyness of the particulars that make up that universe, or in other words, the relationship of the parts to the whole. These are paired into three aspects of the absolute, called the three greats (Cook, 1977, 6:75-89). Universality is paired with particularity, showing that from the perspective of the whole, the essence of everything is the same, while at the same time, individual particulars make up the whole. The particulars make up the whole, while the whole defines the reality of the particulars. Neither the whole nor the particulars have any separate identity apart from the causes and conditions created by the interrelationship between the whole and the particular. The particular is the cause of the whole being a reality, while at the same time the whole is the condition giving reality to the particulars that make it up. Each co-exist in relation to the other. Without one, the other does not exist as components of that particular universe in that particular perfect way that it is (Cook, 1977, 6:75-89).


The second pair is that of identity to difference, seen from the perspective of the particular characteristics of the parts to each other. In identity, all particular parts have the same identical function overall of contributing to the make up of the whole. Nevertheless, each particular part is unique in what it contributes to the make up of the whole. So all parts are both different in themselves, but the same in their make up of the whole (Cook, 1977, 6:75-89). Finally, there is the pair of integration to disintegration. All parts come together in cooperation to form the whole, they all integrate their qualities and characteristics to form the whole. At the same time, each part has its own characteristic that it maintains, being always in itself what it is, and not changing its individual characteristics in its interraltionship with other parts nor as an aspect of the whole. The part does not literally become the whole, it maintains its reality as a part, and the whole does not in some way literally become the part, it is what it is, too. But in their intercausal relationship, they arise together giving meaning and reality to both the part and the whole as both necessary causal agents of the totality and its parts. That universe is made up of those parts in relation to each other and to the whole, in exactly the fashion they are, and any removal of any one part changes the whole from what it is to a different whole, a different universe (Cook, 1977, 6:75-89). One can use the analogy of a rafter to a building to illustrate mutual Interdependent Origination of the whole to the particulars. Here, one sees that the universality of the building, the whole, only can arise due to the power and conditions inherent in the rafter. The rafter, likewise, only can exist in its relation to the whole building, which is the causal capacity of the building to give reality to the rafter that


makes it up. Each rafter is equal to any other part of the building, such as the tiles or nails, in that they all equally contribute to the causing of the building to arise. And without any one of them, a perfect building could not exist, it would then be an imperfect building. This building is also a necessary condition for the rafter to exist, for without the building the rafter would not be a rafter, it would just be a two-by-four piece of wood. The moment that two-by-four is put in place, and the whole building now exists, then that two-by-four is now a real rafter and not just a piece of wood. The building defines the rafter, and the rafter defines the building. They both arise simaltaneously. Though the rafter is different from the tiles and the nails, it is in their difference that they have the power to cause the building, so in that way they are all the same. Also, the rafter takes on the inherent power of all the other parts, the nails and the tiles, taking those causal capacities to now make the building. And with the making of the building, the rafter is dependent on each of the other parts and the whole to make up its reality as a rafter. Each part absorbs the power of the other parts to make up the whole, and is in turn dependent upon the causal power of the other parts to exist itself. Now the rafter has to be able to integrate with all other parts to function altogether to make up the whole, i.e. the whole building, and the whole building is in turn the condition which integrates with all other conditions to become the causal agent of the rafter. However, the rafter is always still a rafter, and the rafter does not literally become the barn, because if it were literally the barn building, then it would lose its rafterness, and therefore there would be no causal agents for a building. Likewise, the building is always still a building, and does not somehow become the rafter, which would make it that the rafter has no final relationship to the whole, and therefore would not be a rafter now, but only a piece of wood. So the


qualities of rafterness and buildingness, the parts to the whole, are always maintained, even though neither has a separate identity apart from its relationship to the other parts of the building, the other rafters, tiles, nails, and the whole, the building itself (Cook, 1977, 6:75-89). There is ultimately a loss and a gain in order to understand and perceive this teaching: one must first lose oneself, transcending the erroneaous belief that one has a separate permanent identity apart from the whole, but this is compensated by a gain in that one now has the ability to see the Universe as it is, enhancing ones experience of the world, and seeing everything as wonderful and good, that everything is just as it is, from the blade of grass to the infinity of the universe, because all of it is a meaningful, integral, and necessary condition to all being just as it is. This universe, this life, this experience in all its complexity and variety and joy and pain, is necessary to be able to both know this passing impermanent moment of time and place, which gives one the gift of knowing the unconditioned Absolute of eternity, the dew drop in the ocean of existence, and the ocean in the dew drop of particularities (Cook, 1977, 6:75-89). The Bodhisattva Path The Bodhisattva path is one of action working for the freeing of all beings, both sentient and insentient in all the universe, from suffering. This is initiated by the sincere vow to not enter Nirvana until all beings, right down to the blade of grass, enter together. The Bodhisattva renounces personal emancipation out of compassion for all other beings, knowing that all of us are parts of one great Cosmic Being, the spiritual essence of Dharma-Dhatu. In making this sincere vow, one is expressing the innate essence of Enlightenment already present in everything. Ones Buddha-Nature is that which


provides the initial impulse to work toward the salvation of all the beings in the universe, and in so doing, one is already expressing the ultimate acquired Enlightenment of a fully manifest Buddha. With this vow, one is both a beginning bodhisattva that although may not be fully emancipated him or herself, nevertheless, is displaying the qualities of a fully realized Buddha. We are both then the Buddha in seed form, being watered by our spiritual practice to help others, that is bringing to fruition the full flowering of acquired Enlightenment and Full Buddhahood. The Bodhisattva perceives this knowing that all is empty, all is consequent of prior causal agents, all is also causal agent to all other things, that there is an interdepedence throughout the universe, that as phenomena, nothing has a separate identity of its own, is impermanent, and totally impacts all other things. Therefore all is one big organism of Being, in both form and emptiness, unique dharmas of phenomena and eternal essence (Cook, 1977, 8:109-122). The bodhisattva then sets about the task of perfecting his or her expression of Buddha-Nature leading toward acquired full enlightenment, which involves 52 stages. This is the bodhisattva marga, the long spiritual development of the individual in becoming a fully realized Buddha. However, since the individual is from the beginning a Buddha, there is also the acceptance that one is on a path to deepen that understanding and expression of Buddhaness, therefore, one trains and practices, because every step one takes in coming to full acquired enlightenment, brings more and more capacity to help others, and the more one helps others, the more one can progress toward full enlightenment and Buddhahood. And yet, while there are still beings in the world that are suffering, the bodhisattva may continue to consciously maintain certain kleshas, or impurities, in order to continue in samsara to help others, since he or she has detached


from any sense of personal salvation, and is more and more focused on how to help others be free from suffering. Nevertheless, this renunciation of final enlightenment is actually true enlightenment, for there is no longer any clinging to an idea of a self that needs to attain anything. Therefore, one is neither attached to samsara nor nirvana, one is free from all duality (Cook, 1977, 8:109-122). The Bodhisattva practices meditation, not to attain anything, but rather to draw out that which is already present, the Buddha-Nature, and to comfort him or her in their journey of perfection on the 53 stages of the bodhisattva career, which begins with faith, and this faith is the first step as a causal agent to full Buddhahood. And being a causal agent, it also contains within it full Buddhahood itself, like the interdependence of a rafter and a barn. The meditation, in its aspect of shamatha, is tranquilizing the kleshas that cause suffering. At the same time, meditation in the aspect of vipasyana: one sees reality for what it is, marked by impermanence, dukkha, no permanent separate self, the impurities of the kleshas, and the possibility of Nirvana. As a consequence of meditation, compassion is manifest, which is the active aspect of enlightenment in the world acting to alleviate the suffering of all beings. Therefore, Buddhas, in the form of bodhisattvas, meditate, which give them comfort, tranquility, calming the kleshas, and insight into the true nature of reality, and which is the expression of enlightenment, which then flows into compassionate acts toward all (Cook, 1977, 8:109-122). Such selfless dedication to alleviate all suffering in the world requires certain guidance and support, as found within the last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, called a spiritual friend, a kalyanmitra. What is such a good friend like? It is more than just a good acquaintance who helps you out when you need him or her. The kalyanmitra is a


spiritual friend who motivates, teaches, and makes the Dharma accessible to you, for the benefit of others. A kalyanmitra is a spiritual friend that understands your needs and adjusts himself accordingly, giving comfort when necessary, and support to connect with the Dharma (Atul Bhosekar, 2013). The kalyanmitra is someone who uplifts others, makes others feel a little clearer, a little more noble, a little closer to his or her real Buddha-Nature. Two people working together in this way, as food friends, can generate a great deal of energy toward Enlightenment. They recognize the higher in themselves and the higher within others. A good friend is one who sees the good in others, sees the possibilities for the good, without judgments of their limitations. A good friend is the Bodhisattva ideal on the human plane, someone who works together with us as a brotherhood aiming for the welfare of all beings and the alleviation of their suffering (Santideva, 2013) In the last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, there is the appearance of a character that enters a spiritual pilgrimage and is guided by such a spiritual friend. His name is Sudhana, which means Good Wealth, who is the son of a merchant-banker. He is the archetype of all of us as we enter upon our quest for wisdom, liberation, and Enlightenment. The bodhisattva encourages Sudhana to seek out spiritual guides, good friends, in order to be guided and supported on the spiritual journey and learn how to be a bodhisattva himself. Sudhana then sets out on his travels visiting fifty-two guides all throughout India, which finally leads him to a supreme vision of reality and his merging with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, whose name means Universal Good, and 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 (Atul Bhosekar, 2013).


Sudhanas pilgrimage ends in the Vairocana Tower, where the Buddha Maitreya waits in Tusita heaven for future rebirth in order to lead all beings into Enlightenment. In the snap of a finger, Maitreya reveals the tower to be as wide as the sky itself, containing hundreds of towers, all interconnected. In one, which rises above the rest, Sudhana meets, and comes to identify himself, with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, who represents the embodiment of giving oneself for the salvation of others. This tower is the result of all that Sudhana has learned on his pilgrimage, seeing it as a place of no-place, where all places co-exist in the Eternal Now. It is this world as it appears to a Buddha. It is where all can live if we remove the obstructions to our sight. This is the Tower of the entire cosmos, the world of the Dharma-Dhatu, where all things coexist without obstructing one another. Through our practice, we learn to see this world, when the discrimination between attainment and not attainment is eliminated, found in the rich emptiness of Vairocana (Heisig, 2013). Dharma-Dhatu The cosmos is a self-creating, self-maintaining, self-defining organism, a universe where each individual is at once the cause for the whole and is caused by the whole, a vast infinity of individuals sustaining and defining each other. Such a universe in Hua-Yen practice is called the Dharma-Dhatu, and is represented iconographically as the Cosmic Buddha, Vairocana (Cook, 1977, 1:3). The Avatamsaka Sutra outlines four stages of the Dharma-Dhatu. The first stage is the Dharma-Dhatu of the Phenomenal World, which is our physical and material world. It is the world of extremes where beings experience anger, envy, greed, sorrow, despair, and pain, as well as feelings of joy, happiness, love and compassion. It is the


world of interdependent origination, since they are all contingent upon other beings and objects in order to manifest and exist. It is the world of impermanence where nothing lasts forever, but in which nothing really goes away for good either. The second stage is the Dharma-Dhatu of the Ruling Principle, which also arises and disappears, but is more associated with the world of consciousness, the world of thoughts and ideas. The

Dharma and the middle path belong to this stage, and in which can be found the wisdom of emptiness. The challenge in this stage is to avoid judgment and experience reality without prejudice. It is the stage of awareness. The third stage is the Dharma-Dhatu of Unhindered Phenomenal World. It is the stage that is free from the effects of dependent origination, which results from complete understanding of the first and second stages. Here, though one still experiences the realms of Consciousness and Phenomena, they are nevertheless divorced from the experience of dependent origination. One can see the big picture of things, and it is the stage of the bliss of Enlightenment. The fourth stage is the Dharma-Dhatu of Unhindered Ruling Principle, where the universe has neither form, nor boundary, nor individual consciousness. It permeates all and every form. It is the

unhindered body of the universe, where everything contains the entire universe and the universe contains every single thing. Here all is one and unified. All dualities and boundaries are erased. All is ultimately the same in essence. Though in the first three stages there are perceived differences in the world, such as in countries, ethnicities, ranks, religion, wealth, power, intelligence, and property, but now in the fourth stage one tears down these boundaries of the mind, where one discovers true oneness, the world of Vairocana (Park, 2010).


Vairocana: The Cosmic Buddha Vairocana is the cosmic Buddha in esoteric Buddhism of China, Korea, and Japan. He is most often associated with the Chinese School of Buddhism known as Hua-Yen, and is considered the embodiment of emptiness and transcendental wisdom. He represents the truth body, a non-physical, abstract body which is wisdom itself, the Dharmakaya. His name means luminous or embodiment of light. He is sometimes referred to as the life force that illuminates the universe. All other Buddhas are emanations of him. He is the supreme, all pervasive Buddha that embraces all worlds. He is often represented seated on a lotus thrown atop Mount Meru, at the spiritual center of the universe (Swanson, 2013). Vairocana is the whole universe itself, which includes both immutable emptiness and conditioned phenomena, whereby everything is the result of changing conditions, the transcendent law of mutually interdependent origination, while at the same time, everything is empty of an independent separate existence, the immanent aspect of the law of change in the world of the apparent reality of forms and phenomena. All things change, all things are mutable and subject to the law of conditions, including both the Absolute and the phenomenal, depending upon ones point of view. The Absolute in immutable in that it is the true essence or existence of all, no matter how things may appear to come and go, there is this inviolate, pure, constant, fullness of creative potential within a plenum void of emptiness. This always just is and is not affected by the arising and disappearing of phenomenal existence. At the same time, the Absolute as the eternal law of change, is itself subject to the law of causality, conforming to the ever changing conditions that give rise to forms. In this sense, the Absolute is empty, because it is


subject to the conditions of causality. Anything that is subject to causality is empty. From the perspective of phenomena, things appear to exist; therefore they have quasiexistence, which is existence that is conditioned. Because it is conditioned, it has no separate, permanent essence of its own; therefore it is empty, or nonexistent. In fact, the emptiness (conditioned-ness) of the absolute is the apparent existence of phenomena, while the emptiness of phenomenal things is none other than the existence of the immutable absolute. The real existence of conditioned things is the immutable absolute, and the emptiness of the absolute is the apparent existence of conditioned things. They are one and the same, just seen from different perspectives. The absolute cannot exist without the phenomenal, and the phenomenal cannot exist without the absolute, because without things, there is no emptiness operating in the sense of the law of interdependent causation, all changing all the time, and if things were not empty (subject to conditions with no separate identity of their own) then nothing could exist. They both always coexist. Entities always exist in relation to other entities, a mode of being, and emptiness cannot exist apart from these entities, they are in fact one and the same thing, emptiness is form, form is emptiness (Cook, 1977, 6:90-108). The implications of this are that Vairocana is not a god, nor has the function of a god, nor is it the absence of something, a prior existing, separate entity or thing, from which all other things emanate into phenomenal existence. Vairocana is not some immutable absolute emptiness apart from phenomena. Vairocana is emptiness that appears as form and the mode of being of change, as nothing having a separate permanent essence of its own, and nothing staying the same. It is a dynamic fullness, a creative over brimming of creativity, not a static existing thing, but rather nonexistence as the source


and essence of all that comes into being, changes, and passes away to form other things. Emptiness is not an entity in itself, it is identical to form. One should not try to reify emptiness making it into a separate thing. Emptiness is the law of interdependent origination, which is always in operation and never ceases to be. It is not affected by merit or demerit. It is not soiled in its form of samsara, or ignorance. Nor is it purified when the kleshas are eliminated. It is not something that can be prayed to, asking favors from. Vairocana is the emptiness of phenomenal reality; all things are the body of Vairocana. It is the law of interdependent origination, which denies the existence of an independent entity, including emptiness itself. It is the immutability of mutability, which has become anthropomorphized into the image of Vairocana. Illumination is therefore our withdrawal of our projections on the world of phenomena, which imposes our ideas and beliefs on reality, instead of seeing the way things really are. In seeing that all is empty, we are seeing Vairocana, which is to realize Vairocana in oneself. Therefore, to see emptiness is to see Vairocana, and to see Vairocana is to become Vairocana, or emptiness in itself (Cook, 1977, 6:90-108). As human beings, the symbol of Shakyamuni Buddha is our example of one who has searched his heart and found the Truth of salvation, a way to transcend suffering through connection to the omnipresent Enlightenment of Vairocana. message is one of hope for all of us, as when he stated: There is something that is unborn, not become, not created, uncompounded; for if there were not, it would not be possible to find a way of escape from what is born, become, created and compounded. But since there is that which is unborn, not become, not created, uncompounded, we know that a way of escape from what is born, become, created and compounded is possible. [Udana, VIII.3] The Buddhas


This unborn, uncreated, and uncompounded is the essence of the entire Universe, as represented by Vairocana. By looking into his heart, Shakyamuni discovered the

illuminating wisdom of Vairocana, and in so doing, could set about the noble task of helping all other beings to free themselves from suffering likewise. He was now to become the good friend, the kalyanmitra to all, the bodhisattva that works tirelessly toward the emancipation of all beings throughout the universe, and yet remains whole and complete, still and calm, the embodiment of the Mystery of Life itself, the Cosmic essence of endless joy. Though Enlightenment may seem impossible at times to achieve, Hua-yen practice assures us that it is constantly present and accessible, both within our minds and in the world all around us. We only need to open our eyes to it, and we will discover our true nature of Vairocana (Prince, 2013). Conclusion The wisdom contained in the Avatamsaka Sutra inspires us to leave behind our petty habits that cause ourselves and others suffering, and instead enter the universe of compassion and service to others, the world of the Bodhisattva, the spiritual friend, and the Buddha in action. This type of compassion is simultaneously altruistic, ecological, and ethical. It can be likened to the Hindu story of the man at the gates of heaven with his loyal and beloved dog. The gatekeeper says that only humans can enter, so the man informs his that he could never enter without his dog, and refuses to go any further. Surprisingly, this is the last test of spiritual preparedness for heaven, for now both the dog and the man can enter together. This is our plight as well: either we all enter Nirvana together, are all freed together, or none of us are free, since others are literally aspects of this one great Self that is the universe. This compassion ecological, since all things, even


the rocks and trees and blades of grass, are part of this Cosmic interdependence and identity. All completely depend on each other, and how we treat the paper cup in our hand, whether we throw it aside carelessly or with gratitude recycle it, also reflects how we honor or disrepect the trees in Canada, the fish in the nearby lake, and the polar icecaps. This demands of us an ethical attitude, since we depend on all these things for our survival: we must actually destroy and consume others to live. While we eat our food, our attitude toward the carrot on our plate is important. This carrot gives us life. We must honor and respect it, giving thanks for its life that gives us life. In fact, all is alive: the rocks and trees and blades of grass and this carrot. They are used by me and sacrifice their lives for our welfare. So we give thanks, and know that likewise, we may be called upon to sacrifice this life for others. It is a great circle of interconnectedness and interdependence. In serving others through compassionate action, we no longer seek anything for ourselves, because we already have everything; we are already in the bliss of Nirvana, without having to attain Nirvana, because Nirvana is right here in samsara, and we are free to move through both, without attachment to either, choosing the light of Buddha to illumine the darkness of ignorance and suffering. And for that, Buddha appeared in this world, and for that, we are here, and we and Buddha are One. In our imperfect groping in the dark to walk the path of the Buddhas, we are already perfect in our vow to love and help everyone and everything. Now we know we not integrally linked to the moon, the stars, and the galaxies. The Infinite is literally manifesting right here, right now, through each of us. Knowing this brings joy, and inspires us to continue on this great journey of discovery while we move toward universal salvation.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Bhosekar, Atul. (2013). Ideal Friend as Defined in the Gandavyuha Sutra. Cleary, Thomas. (1984-87). The Flower Ornament Scripture: A translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boulder: Shambhala. Cook, Francis H. (1977). Hua-yen Buddhism: The jewel net of Indra. The Pennsylvania State University Press: Pennsylvania, USA. [First Indian Edition Delhi: India, 1994]. Heisig, James W. (2013). Way of Enlightenment, Way of Salvation: The Pilgrimages of Sudhana and Ramon Llull Park, Ven. Dr. Jongmae. (2010) Fa Tsangs Four Stages of the Dharma Dhatu and its Modern analytic view. An article extracted from the Huanyen Forum of Globalization Huayen Summit Talk. Prince, Dr. Tony. (2013) Huayen Studies: Becoming Samantabhadra: Part I Vairocana. ana.html Santideva. (2013). The Bodhisattva Ideal. The Theosophical Society. Swanson, Elisa. (2013). Vairocana: The Spreader of Light in All Directions."

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Udana Sutta: Exclamation (SN 22.55), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 19 May 2012. Retrieved on 26 May 2013.