Garland Sutra

Hua Yan Jing or Garland Sutra

Many examples of language before Bodhidharma's arrival in China can be found in Sifu's wonderful book, “The Complete Book of Zen”:

“Ananda, the Buddha's favorite attending-disciple, asked Mahakasyapa what the Buddha had transmitted to him. Mahakasyapa asked him to go out of the temple into the bamboo grove and find the answer there. Ananda went but returned without finding the answer. Mahakasyapa then told him, “Take down the banner!” Ananda instantly understood and was enlightened. Ananda became the Second Patriarch.”

From “The Complete Book of Zen,” p70:

The Garland Sutra is poetic and descriptive, but not symbolic or arcane like Taoist writings. Here is an example from the Garland Sutra:

“When the Buddha first attained enlightenment, the whole earth became purified, adorned with all types of jewels and flowers, and sweet—smelling perfume filled its every corner. Flowering vines entwined themselves around the Buddha, and on them were strewn strange jewels: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, agate, cornelian, coral and amber. From the leaves and the branches of the trees there was emitted a bright shining light. The change was brought about by the mysterious superpower of the Buddha.”

Chiko Komatsu, The Way of Peace: the Life and Teaching of the Buddha, Hozokan Publishing Co, Kyoto, 1984, translated by Sekimori, 1989, p63, also quoted in “The Complete Book of Zen” on p60.

While the language is “flowery”, it is not symbolic. Sweet-smelling perfume and strange jewels mean sweet-smelling perfume and strange jewels. They are not symbols for something else.

The description above — though exotic to ordinary people — was not imaginary. It describes the Buddha's actual experience during his enlightenment. (Note: if ordinary people do not even believe in Qi, it should come as no surprise that they don't believe in experiences like this.) When the modern Zen master, Tai Xu, attained enlightenment at the Xi Fang Temple in China in 1909, he found, to his surprise, that his experience was similar to the one described in the Lotus Sutra above.

This is an excellent example of the importance of direct experience.


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