Thoughts On The Avatamsaka (Flower Ornament) Sutra
by Yao Xiang Shakya, Alaska
The Avatamsaka or Flower Ornament Sutra took Chinese monks a few hundred years of hard work to complete a translation from the original Sanskrit. To us modern readers who view the Sutra for the first time, it will seem that the thousand-plus pages will surely require at least that much time and discipline to read.
We prepare ourselves for the hard work, but soon after we begin to turn the pages, we discover that the work that's being done is the sutra's work upon our mind; and as part of the work, time dissolves in the eternal moment.
When read while relaxed and at ease, the words take the mind on a journey into a universe of psychedelic images: crystalline trees, clouds, jewels, spirits of vast and varied kinds, and the company of great enlightened beings. The magnificent realms are described in verses that allow us to feel as though we're being bathed by cool mountain streams; and we find ourselves reading and re-reading paragraphs with that delight which is the special province of this extraordinary literature.
The lines' have a mantra-like attraction that easily lures us into active-imagination, the meditation method developed by Carl Jung for interaction with the collective unconscious. We wander through strange lands and are intrigued to have seen that "The tree of Enlightenment was tall and outstanding. Its trunk was diamond, its main boughs were lapis lazuli, its branches and twigs were of various precious elements." In a curious way, passages like this linger when we return to everyday thoughts; and they are able to diminish all those psychological, physical, social and cultural conditions that irritate us. We act efficiently to settle the problems and return to our sojourn in the sutra's landscapes.
There are words of great veneration and wisdom. "Just as a true panacea can eliminate all toxins, Buddha's teachings too are like this: It annihilates all afflictions".
There are accounts of generosity (Dana) and other Perfections to behold and apprehend. One word, in particular, arises frequently: "inconceivable"; and the Sutra, when read with a transcendental inclination, takes us to its very edge, that place where things become ineffable. The act of reading it, in that moment, becomes blissful.
Those already receptive to the graduated structure of Buddhism's teachings will not be let down reading Book Twelve's, 'Chief in Goodness'. The memory feat of the incumbents here that prioritized the structure of the lengthy, graduated teachings' can cause one to pause for breath, lay aside reading for a minute to recover from the appreciation of its steps into such depths: from 'good associates' to 'causal power' to 'certain understanding' to the 'will for enlightenment' all the way through 'diligent cultivation'.
Book thirty nine is "Entry into the Realm of Reality' and we learn how our trusted beliefs are not so trustworthy and that reality consists in our perception of it. In its classic opener "Thus Have I heard", follows another extraordinary list of fantastically named enlightening beings, all the more impressive read in English.
This generously illumining sutra is not a 'magic mushroom' but a literal provision of a wholesome set of working tools for the means - not for escape - but for the necessary refuge we need when we undertake our self-development.
In the minutes that pass by after closing the book, we can see the tide of "every-day" thoughts that preoccupy our mind slowly recede like a tide that is ebbing. The whole experience at this point makes us wonder at the spectrum of Nirvana and Samsara, of which there is no "real" separation.
Yao Xiang Shakya, Alaska