The Sinification of Buddhism


Then Sudhana respectfully circumbulated the enlightening being Maitreya and said, “Please open the door of the tower, and I will enter.” Then Maitreya went up to the door of the tower containing the adornments of Vairocana, and with his right hand snapped his fingers; the door of the tower opened, and Maitreya bade Sudhana to enter. Then Sudhana, in greatest wonder, went into the tower. As soon as he had entered, the door shut. He saw the tower immensely vast and wide, hundreds of thousands of leagues wide, as measureless as the sky, as vast as all of space, adorned with countless attributes; countless canopies, banners, pennants, jewels, garlands of pearls and gems, moons and half moons, multicolored streamers, jewel nets, gold nets, strings of jewels, jewels on golden threads, sweetly ringing bells and nets of chimes, flowers showering, celestial garlands and streamers, censers giving off fragrant fumes, showers of gold dust, networks of upper chambers, round windows, arches, turrets, mirrors, jewel figurines of women, jewel chips, pillars, clouds of precious cloths, jewel trees, jewel railings, jeweled pathways, jeweled awnings, various arrays of the floor, chambers of jewels, jeweled promenades, rows of golden banana trees, statues made of all kinds of jewels, images of enlightening beings, singing birds, jewel lotuses, lotus ponds, jewel stairways, ground of masses of various jewels, radiant gems, arrays of all kinds of jewels. Also, inside the great tower he saw hundreds of thousands of other towers similarly arrayed; he saw those towers as infinitely vast as space, evenly arrayed in all directions, yet these towers were not mixed up with one another, being each mutually distinct, while appearing reflected in each and every object of all the other towers. Then Sudhana, seeing this miraculous manifestation of the inconceivable realm of the great tower containing the adornments of Vairocana, was flooded with joy and bliss; his mind was cleared of all conceptions and freed from all obstructions. Stripped of all delusion, he became clairvoyant without distortion, and could hear all sounds with unimpeded mindfulness. He was freed from all scattering of attention, and his intellect followed the unobstructed eye of liberation. With physical tranquility, seeing all objects without hindrance, by the power of production everywhere he bowed in all directions with his whole body.

The moment he bowed, by the power of Maitreya, Sudhana perceived himself in all of those towers; and in all those towers he saw various diverse inconceivable miraculous scenes. In one tower he saw where the enlightening being Maitreya first aspired to supreme perfect enlightenment, what his family was, what his basic goodness was, how he was inspired, how he was encouraged by spiritual friends, how long he lived, what age he lived in, what buddha he met, what land he adorned, what assembly he was in, and what kind of special vows he undertook. He also perceived the length of life of the beings and the buddha of that time, and saw himself in the presence of that buddha, and saw all of his works … [Maitreya and Vairocana’s Tower]
The next great school that helped define the Chinese Buddhist experience is the Huayan (“Flower Garland”) School, founded by Dushun (557-640). Dushun was a practitioner of meditation and a student of the Avatamsaka (Huayan) Sutra. Although Dushun was the First Patriarch of Huayan Buddhism, it was really the Third Patriarch, Fazang (643-712), who was the real architect of the school. Fazang served as preceptor to four emperors and wrote the systematic philosophy of Huayan Buddhism. This philosophy is considered to be one of the most complex and difficult to understand in the Buddhist world. However, it gives us a glimpse into one of the profound dimensions of the Chinese Buddhist experience. [BIBE, 237]
Specifically, Huayan was interested in the interrelatedness of what is called the Dharmadhatu, the “realm of all dharmas,” or the totality of the cosmos. In its devotional writings based on the Avatamsaka Sutra, Huayan taught that the great Dharmadhatu is itself the very body of Vairocana Buddha. Therefore, to realize the true nature or suchness of the cosmos is to discover the Buddha-nature of all existence. In its philosophical writings, again based on the Avatamsaka Sutra, Huayan taught that the totality of the Dharmadhatu arises in an interdependence that is wondrous and harmonious. When one sees this marvelous harmony, one generates a deeper commitment to living the Bodhisattva Path in a way that embodies that harmony in daily life. Huayan sought to explain its experience of this wondrous vision of the cosmos to help Buddhists attain a liberating insight into the harmonious nature of the Dharmadhatu. [BIBE, 238-9]

The First Approach
First is the ordinary experience of existence that reveals the “realm of phenomena” (Chinese: shi), or the myriad dharmas. According to Huayan, this is the vision of the cosmos with which the early Buddhist tradition, such as Theravada, works in order to gain Nirvana by the purification of the negative phenomena in one’s consciousness. [BIBE, 239]
The Second Approach
Second is the experience of existence that reveals the emptiness of all phenomena, the true suchness of all things. This is the “realm of principle” (Chinese: li), with which Mahayana works in order to attain Buddhahood. Through this second vision, one realizes that the real and inherent “principle,” or nature of things, is always pure. Although phenomena may be either pure or impure, in essence they are empty of the independent nature one conceives them to have. Realizing this emptiness, the dependent arising of existence, reveals the inherent purity as the Buddha-nature of all phenomena. This inherent purity as the principle of existence is likened to a clear mirror. While the mirror may reflect pure and impure images, its essential clarity is never lost. [BIBE, 239]
The Third Approach
Now we come to the third experience of the cosmos, namely, seeing “the realm of the non-obstruction between principle (li) and phenomena (shi).” This non-obstruction refers to the fundamental Mahayana identity of emptiness with phenomena, or Nirvana with samsara. For Huayan, these two aspects of reality “interpenetrate” such that the essential purity of suchness is not lost, and the diversity of dependently arisen phenomena is maintained. [BIBE, 239]
Treatise on the Golden Lion
Once, Fa-tsang presented this notion of mutual penetration in a lecture to Empress Wu. In her palace, he used a golden statue of a lion to illustrate his ideas. Later, he used this lecture to compose his famous Treatise on the Golden Lion. ... In the first gate, it is said that the gold (emptiness) and the lion (the totality of phenomena or forms) come into being simultaneously. In the second gate, it is said that the oneness of this dependent arising in which all things condition each other does not obstruct the unique identities of each thing in the cosmos. [BIBE, 241]
Form and Emptiness
2. This means that the form of the lion [i.e. the realm of phenomena] is unreal ; what is real is the gold [i.e. emptiness — the realm of principle]. Because the lion is not existent [since it represents the principle of “emptiness”], and the body of the gold is not non-existent [since it has “quasi existence” within the infinitely malleable matrix of reality], they are called form/Emptiness. Furthermore, Emptiness does not have any mark of its own; it is through forms that [Emptiness] is revealed [i.e. principle is “unconditioned” since it is the thusness of reality itself, but it finds expression in “conditioned” things]. This fact that Emptiness does not impede the illusory existence of forms is called form/Emptiness. [; cf. BIBE, 240-2]
  • In other words, gold represents the principle of interconnectedness (i.e. emptiness, in the sense that all things are empty of inherent self-existence), but interconnectedness does not exist apart from the things that are interconnected. In the same way, each thing would not be what it is without the connections that provide the context for its existence. In other words, form and emptiness are themselves interdependent, which is why the text speaks of them as a single concept: form/emptiness.
The Fourth Approach
Finally we arrive at the fourth experience of the cosmos in which one sees “the realm of the nonobstruction between phenomena (shi and shi).” Here, we are not looking at the relationship between emptiness and phenomena, but at the relationship between the phenomena themselves. For Huayan, the vision of this nonobstruction reveals that the dependent arising of all phenomena exists as a totality of dynamic interrelatedness. It also reveals that the phenomena making up this totality are related to one another by what Huayan calls “mutual identification” and “mutual penetration.” [BIBE, 239]
The jeweled net of Sakra is also called Indra’s Net, and is made up of jewels. The jewels are shiny and reflect each other successively, their images permeating each other over and over. In a single jewel they all appear at the same time, and this can be seen in each and every jewel. There is really no coming or going. Now if we turn to the southwest direction and pick up one of the jewels to examine it, we will see that this one jewel can immediately reflect the images of all of the other jewels. Each of the other jewels will do the same. Each jewel will simultaneously reflect the images of all the jewels in this manner, as will all of the other jewels. The images are repeated and multiplied in each other in a manner that is unbounded. Within the boundaries of a single jewel are contained the unbounded repetition and profusion of the images of all the jewels. The reflections are exceedingly clear and are completely unhindered.

If you sit in one jewel, you will at that instant be sitting repeatedly in all of the other jewels in all directions. Why is this? It is because one jewel contains all the other jewels. Since all the jewels are contained in this one jewel, you are sitting at that moment in all the jewels. The converse that all are in one follows the same line of reasoning. Through one jewel you enter all jewels without having to leave that one jewel, and in all jewels you enter one jewel without having to rise from your seat in the one jewel. [Sources of Chinese Tradition, 473]
Mutual Identification
The mutual identification of all things does not imply a kind of static identification by which one might say, for example, that fire is the same as ice. Rather, in the Huayan vision, all phenomena in the cosmos are dependently arising together simultaneously. Each phenomenon provides a condition for the arising of the whole cosmos, and the particular totality of the cosmos is dependent on the conditions provided by all of its parts. If one part, one thing, was different or not present, the totality would itself be different. In dependent arising, each phenomenon plays an identical role in the mutual forming of the universe. ... In realizing this mutual identification, a person discovers that he or she owes his or her existence to countless beings throughout the universe. This discovery gives one a deeper sense of gratitude and respect for other beings. One also feels a deeper sense of responsibility for how one uses his or her existence, given its effect on the universe. This discovery will also give one a greater aspiration to benefit all living beings (bodhicitta). [BIBE, 239-40]
Treatise on the Golden Lion
Mastering the Ten Mysteries/Gates
[7] In each eye, ear, limb, joint and hair of the lion is [reflected] a golden lion. All these golden lions in all the hairs simultaneously enter into a single hair. Thus in each hair, there are an infinite number of lions. In addition, all single hairs, together with their infinite number of lions, enter into a single hair. In a similar way, there is an endless progression [of realms interpenetrating realms] just like the jewels of Indra’s net. [BIBE, 242]

Mutual Penetration
The idea of mutual penetration takes this notion of mutual identification a step further. In the Huayan teaching about the mutual penetration of phenomena, we find the high point of Huayan experience that has been so important to defining East Asian Buddhism. ... Fa-tsang says that even though the forms of life are distinct, they also interpenetrate so that they “contain” each other. By this he means that in dependent arising, the very presence of each phenomenon influences or conditions the other phenomena of the cosmos. The conditioning influence of one phenomenon “enters” into all other phenomena, Fa-tsang says, like reflections of objects enter a mirror. Note here that Fa-tsang does not say that the phenomena physically enter each other.
Once, in order to demonstrate this interpenetration to Empress Wu, Fa-tsang placed a statue of the Buddha with a lamp in the middle of a room with mirrors all around it. He then showed the empress how the image of the Buddha-statue (representing emptiness), while physically remaining at the center of the room, was reflected in each mirror (representing phenomena). He also showed her that each mirror, while physically remaining where it is, was reflected in all other mirrors, and that their mutual reflection (representing mutual penetration) was repeated infinitely. In a similar way, each phenomenon in the cosmos contains the presence of all other phenomena in the cosmos, while at the same time retaining its uniqueness. [BIBE, 240-1]
Treatise on the Golden Lion
Mastering the Ten Mysteries/Gates
[3] If the eye of the lion takes in the whole lion, then the whole lion is purely the eye. ... [4] Since the various organs, and even each hair of the lion, takes in completely the whole lion in so far as they are all gold, then each [element of the lion] penetrates the whole [of the lion]. The eye of the lion is its ear, its ear is its nose, its nose is its tongue, and its tongue is its body. Yet, they all exist freely and easily, not hindering or obstructing each other. [BIBE, 241]
Huayan in Practice
In Huayan practice, tranquility meditation is used to enable a person to find emptiness as the quiescent nature of all things. This leads to detachment and inner calm in the midst of the world. Then through insight meditation one sees this emptiness functioning as the forms of the world. This functioning is experienced as an interpenetrating, fascinating, and wonderful matrix of dependent arising. This insight, in turn, leads to a rejection of world renunciation and a compassion for all living beings who fail to see this hidden harmony and are caught in afflictive mental formations. Thereby, one dwells spiritually neither in samsara nor Nirvana but courses freely as a bodhisattva in the matrix of the cosmos seeking the benefit of others. Hua-yen’s vision of this matrix of mutual identification and penetration, where all things are interwoven in perfect balance and harmony, was very appealing to the Chinese world, which had always appreciated both harmony and nature. [BIBE, 242-3]