Buddhism Avataṃsaka Sutra
by
Imre Hamar
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0253

Introduction

The Avataṃsaka-sūtra is a short name for the voluminous Mahayana sutra titled Buddhāvataṃsaka-sūtra, which has survived in Chinese and Tibetan translations, but its two important chapters, the Daśabhūmika-sūtra and the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra, are extant in Sanskrit. Indian works do not cite the title Buddhāvataṃsaka-sūtra, so it was probably compiled outside India, most possibly in Central Asia. The first Chinese translation, titled Da fangguang fo huayan jing, was made by Buddhabhadra in 420 and consists of 60 fascicles, the second translation with the same title was made by Śikṣānanda in 699 and consists of 80 fascicles. There is one more scripture with the same Chinese title, translated by Prajñā in 798 and consisting of 40 fascicles, but it is only the translation of the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra, the last chapter of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra. The Tibetan version was translated in the first quarter of the 9th century by Jinamitra, Surendrabodhi, and Ye shes sde. Several chapters of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra were translated and circulated as independent scriptures before and after the compilation of the larger Avataṃsaka-sūtra. This scripture is regarded as the direct revelation of the truth Buddha realized under the Bodhi Tree, which he did not leave yet was able to manifest himself in six other locations. According to the 80-fascicle Huayan jing, the teachings of the sutra were delivered in these seven locations during nine assemblies. However, the Buddha often empowered bodhisattvas by emitting light to them so that they could preach to the multitudes of bodhisattvas who gathered around them. Samantabhadra and Mañjuśrī often take this role in the scripture; thus, they and Vairocana Buddha are often depicted as the Huayan trinity in East Asian art. The Avataṃsaka-sūtra has made a considerable impact on East Asian Buddhism. A special school called Huayan/Kegon/Hwaŏm, referring to the title of the scripture, was established in China, Japan, and Korea, respectively. The followers of this school wrote voluminous commentaries on this scripture and elaborated several unique tenets to capture the meaning of the sutra.

General Overviews

The only overviews in a Western language are Hamar 2007 and Hamar 2015, which introduce the various versions of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan, and compare the extant recensions. The Avataṃsaka-sūtra and the Huayan school have been long studied in Japan, producing a great amount of scholarship that is not easy to cover. However, a good summary of the textual history of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra is provided by Kimura 1992, which describes the structure of the sutra, its various versions, its commentaries and citations in India, and its translation and spread in China. Wei 2008 is a comprehensive history of Huayan school in China that begins with the introduction an early partial translation of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra in Chinese. It provides a good summary of the teachings of these early sutras.

  • Hamar, Imre. “The History of the Buddhāvataṃsaka-sūtra: Shorter and Larger Texts.” In Reflecting Mirrors: Perspectives on Huayan Buddhism. Edited by Imre Hamar, 139–167. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    Surveys the various versions of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan. Provides a comparative table of the chapters of the recensions, including partial translations.

  • Hamar, Imre. “Buddhāvataṃsaka.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Vol. 1. Edited by Jonathan A. Silk, 87–100. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a recent survey on the Buddhāvataṃsaka-sūtra, including a bibliography and views on its history.

  • Kimura Kiyotaka. Chūgoku kegon shisō shi. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    A good Japanese summary of the history of Chinese Huayan thinking that starts with the treatment of textual history of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra.

  • Wei Daoru. Zhongguo Huayanzong tongshi. Nanjing, China: Fenghuan Chubanshe, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published in 1998. A Chinese survey on the development of the Huayan school in China that includes a detailed treatment of the early Huayan scriptures in China, along with the Chinese translations of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra.

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