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Avatamsaka Sutra

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Title: Avatamsaka Sutra  
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Subject: Buddhism in Japan, Manjushri, Mahayana sutras, Tiantai, Korean Buddhism
Collection: Mahayana Sutras, Vaipulya Sutras, Yogacara
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Avatamsaka Sutra

Sudhana learning from one of the fifty-two teachers along his journey toward enlightenment. Sanskrit manuscript, 11-12th century.

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Sanskrit; alternatively, the Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra) 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 Flower Ornament Scripture.

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another. 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. The Huayan school is known as Hwaeom in Korea and Kegon in Japan.


  • Title 1
  • History 2
  • Format 3
  • Ten Stages 4
  • Gaṇḍavyūha 5
  • English translations 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


This work has been used in a variety of countries. Some major traditional titles include the following:

  • Sanskrit: Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra, "The Great Vaipulya Sutra of the Buddha's Flower Garland." Vaipulya ("extensive") refers to key sizable, inclusive sūtras.[1] "Flower garland/wreath/adornment" refers to a manifestation of the beauty of Buddha's virtues[2] or his inspiring glory.[N.B. 1]
  • Chinese: Dàfāngguǎng Fóhuáyán Jīng Chinese: 大方廣佛華嚴經, commonly known as the Huáyán Jīng (Chinese: 華嚴經), meaning "Flower-adorned (Splendid & Solemn) Sūtra." Vaipulya here is translated as "corrective and expansive", fāngguǎng (方廣).[5] Huá (華) means at once "flower" (archaic) and "magnificence." Yán (嚴), short for zhuàngyán (莊嚴), means "to decorate (so that it is solemn, dignified)."
  • Japanese: Daihōkō Butsu-kegon Kyō (大方広仏華厳経), usually known as the Kegon Kyō (華厳経). This title is identical to Chinese above, just in Shinjitai characters.
  • Korean: 대방광불화엄경 Daebanggwang Bulhwaeom Gyeong or Hwaeom Gyeong (화엄경), the Sino-Korean pronunciation of the Chinese name.
  • Vietnamese: Đại phương quảng Phật hoa nghiêm kinh, shortened to the Hoa nghiêm kinh, the Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation of the Chinese name.
  • Tibetan: མདོཕལཔོཆེ་Wylie: mdo phal po che, Standard Tibetan Dopel Poché

According to a Dunhuang manuscript, this text was also known as the Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra.[4]


The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was written in stages, beginning from at least 500 years after the death of the Buddha. One source claims that it is "a very long text composed of a number of originally independent scriptures of diverse provenance, all of which were combined, probably in Central Asia, in the late third or the fourth century CE."[6] Two full Chinese translations of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra were made. Fragmentary translation probably began in the 2nd century CE, and the famous Ten Stages Sutra, often treated as an individual scripture, was first translated in the 3rd century. The first complete Chinese version was completed by Buddhabhadra around 420 in 60 scrolls with 34 chapters,[7] and the second by Śikṣānanda around 699 in 80 scrolls with 40 chapters.[8][9] There is also a translation of the sectionGaṇḍavyūha by Prajñā around 798. The second translation includes more sutras than the first, and the Tibetan translation, which is still later, includes many differences with the 80 scrolls version. Scholars conclude that sutras were being added to the collection.

According to Paramārtha, a 6th-century monk from Ujjain in central India, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra is also called the "Bodhisattva Piṭaka."[4] In his translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgrahabhāṣya, there is a reference to the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, which Paramārtha notes is the same as the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in 100,000 lines.[4] Identification of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra as a "Bodhisattva Piṭaka" was also recorded in the colophon of a Chinese manuscript at the Mogao Caves: "Explication of the Ten Stages, entitled Creator of the Wisdom of an Omniscient Being by Degrees, a chapter of the Mahāyāna sūtra Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka, has ended."[4]


The sutra, among the longest in the Buddhist canon, contains 40 chapters on disparate topics, although there are 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.

Ten Stages

The sutra is also well known for its detailed description of the course of the bodhisattva's practice through ten stages where the Ten Stages Sutra, or Daśabhūmika Sūtra (十地經, Wylie: phags pa sa bcu pa'i mdo), is the name given to this chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. This sutra gives details on the ten stages (bhūmis) of development a bodhisattva must undergo to attain supreme enlightenment. The ten stages are also depicted in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. The sutra also touches on the subject of the development of the "aspiration for Enlightenment" (bodhicitta) to attain supreme buddhahood.


The last chapter of the Avatamsaka circulates as a separate and important text known as the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra (lit. 'flower-array' or 'bouquet';[10] 入法界品 ‘Entering the Dharma Realm’[11]). Considered the "climax" of the larger text,[12] this section details the pilgrimage of the youth Sudhana to various lands at the behest of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī.

Despite its being at the end of the Avataṃsaka, the Gaṇḍavyūha — and the Ten Stages — is generally believed to be the oldest component written.[13]

English translations

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was translated in its entirety from the Śikṣānanda edition by Thomas Cleary, and was divided originally into three volumes. The latest edition, from 1993, is contained in a large single volume spanning 1656 pages.

  • The Flower Ornament Scripture : A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sūtra (1993) by Thomas Cleary,[14] ISBN 0-87773-940-4

In addition to Thomas Cleary's translation, the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas is translating the Avataṃsaka Sūtra[15] along with a lengthy commentary by Venerable Hsuan Hua. Currently over twenty volumes are available, and it is estimated that there may be 75-100 volumes in the complete edition.

Bhikshu Dharmamitra has a forthcoming translation: The Greatly Expansive Buddha’s Floral Adornment Sutra - Mahāvaipulya Buddha Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Śikṣānanda’s 699 ce. edition). T279 - 大方廣佛華嚴經 - 實叉難陀譯 (39 chapters in 80 fascicles – 3000 pages).[16]

See also


  1. ^ The Divyavadana also calls a Śrāvastī miracle Buddhāvataṃsaka, namely, he created countless emanations of himself seated on lotus blossoms.[3][4]
  1. ^  
  2. ^ Akira Hirakawa; Paul Groner (1990). A history of Indian Buddhism: from Śākyamuni to early Mahāyāna. University of Hawaii Press.  
  3. ^ Akira Sadakata (15 April 1997). Buddhist Cosmology: Philosophy and Origins. Kōsei Pub. Co. p. 144.  
  4. ^ a b c d e Ōtake Susumu (2007), "On the Origin and Early Development of the Buddhāvataṃsaka-Sūtra", in Hamar, Imre, Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 89–93,  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Huayan, Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed., pg 41-45
  7. ^ Taisho Tripitaka No. 278
  8. ^ Taisho Tripitaka No. 279
  9. ^ Hamar, Imre (2007), The History of the Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra. In: Hamar, Imre (editor), Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism (Asiatische Forschungen Vol. 151), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, ISBN 344705509X, pp.159-161
  10. ^  
  11. ^  
  12. ^ Doniger, Wendy (January 1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. p. 365.  
  13. ^ Fontein, Jan (1967). The pilgrimage of Sudhana: a study of Gandavyuha illustrations.  
  14. ^ Cleary, Thomas (1993). The flower ornament scripture : a translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston u.a.: Shambhala.  
  15. ^ "The Great Means Expansive Buddha Flower Adornment Sutra". THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS. Buddhist Text Translation Society. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Rivers, Leo. "The First Ever Complete & Genuine Translation of the Avatam". Dharma Wheel. Retrieved 28 September 2014. 

External links

  • The Avatamsaka Sutra (the Flower Adornment Sutra) with explanation
  • Introducing the Avatamsaka Sutra - an outline of the sutra by a disciple of Master Hsuan Hua
  • Articles by Imre Hamar
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