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Hua-yan Buddhism derived its name from the Hua-yan Sutra, translated as “The Flower Ornament Scripture” or as “The Flowery Splendor Scripture.” This extensive Buddhist text gives a very “flowery” description of the various stages of enlightenment; it also expounds the correct worldview, the correct ethical conduct, among other things. It probably was not composed by a single author, but was a compilation of various works circulating in India and its neighboring regions around the first and the second centuries AD. As far as we know no Indian Buddhist school was ever founded on the basis of this scripture.
The Hua-yan School, like its contemporary Tian-tai School, is indisputably a Chinese Buddhist school. Wing-tsit Chan says that it “represents the highest development of Chinese Buddhist thought.” The founder of the Hua-yan School was a Chinese monk named Du-shun (557-640). Though Hua-yan’s major sutra came from abroad, Du-shun established Hua-yan Buddhism by introducing new terminology to replace some key Indian notions. He introduced the term “li” (principle) to stand for the ultimate realm of reality [i.e. sunyata or “emptiness”]. This notion would prove to be one of the most important in Chinese philosophy. Du-shun used “shi” (things or events [or phenomena)) to replace the term “form” in traditional Buddhist texts. This substitution manifests a more intense interest in the affairs of the phenomenal world. With this substitution, Hua-yan’s first patriarch took a subtle step away from the strong negation of the phenomenal world manifested in the Hua-yan Sutra. Du-shun also introduced the theory of the non-interference (or non-obstruction) of principle and things. Future patriarchs of the Hua-yan School would further develop his ingenious idea. An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 248]
The Heart Sutra
Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. [cttbusa.org...]
Does the shift in terminology from “emptiness” and “form” to “principle” and “phenomena” change the relationship in question?
The Huayan Sutra
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]
In her discussion of the Huayan Sutra (quoted above), JeeLoo Liu notes that the text manifests a “strong negation of the phenomenal world,” since all phenemona are ultimately a manifestation of the Mind only (as understood by the Consciousness-Only school in An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 220-47). Do you think that the parable of Indra’s Net represents a negation or an affirmation of the phenomenal world?
How might Du Shun’s new terminology of li (“principle,” referring to the ultimate realm of reality, namely emptiness with its implication of interdependent origination) and shi (“thing” or “event,” referring to the realm of forms or “phenomena”) be used to interpret the parable?
Where’s the “center” of the net?
The Hua-yan Sutra denies that the phenomenal world really exists. The phenomenal world means the world we, as human beings, presently experience. In the Hua-yan Sutra, this world is likened to dream, illusion, phantom, echo, the magician’s conjuring, and the reflection in the mirror. Everything we perceive around us is also like a reflection or an illusion. As reflections, objects “have no location” and “no substantial nature.” As illusions, objects do not have a real beginning or end, nor do they have a definite origin or a final exit. In one synopsis, the Sutra says that all things “have no true reality.” [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 250]
For example, the second patriarch Zhi-yan says:
Since there is no separate objective realm outside of mind, we say “only mind.” If it operates harmoniously, it is called nirvana; therefore the (Sutra) says, “Mind makes the Buddhas.” If it operates perversely, it is birth-and-death [i.e. samsara); therefore the (Sutra) says, “The triple world is illusory—it is only made by one mind.”
The third patriarch Fa-zang also says:
[W]hatever there is in the world is only the creation of one mind; outside of mind there is not a single thing that can be apprehended....It means that all discriminations come only from one’s own mind. There has never been any environment outside the mind which could be an object of mind.
[An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 252]
Hence, we could perhaps say that Hua-yan Buddhism is based on an anti-realistic attitude toward this mundane world. This feature of subjective idealism and anti-realism seems to have been overlooked by many Hua-yan commentators....
.[On the other hand,] Cook argues that for the Hua-yan School, “the emptiness doctrine should not be understood as a naive rejection of the material world as pure illusion; it indeed recognizes the existence of the natural world but denies that it has any duration or independent being. In fact, being is rejected in favor of a constant, never-fully-completed becoming.” Under this interpretation, the world we live in is an organic whole constantly evolving and transforming. What is denied is simply the self-subsistence of individual entities, not the whole system. Did Fa-zang revolutionize Hua-yan Buddhism so much as to turn its spirit of idealism into realism? Let us turn to Fa-zang’s view in particular. [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 253]
Fa-zang builds up from the interpenetration of multiple worlds to expound his view of the interconnectedness of multiple things within each world. He uses the gold lion example to illustrate that the whole phenomenal world, the Realm of Things, is like one single object, each part of which is inseparable from the other parts. Without any of the multiple parts of the lion, the whole lion cannot exist; without the whole lion, no part of the lion could possibly exist. By the same token, with any single thing lacking in the phenomenal world, the whole world would not exist; without the whole world, no single thing can exist. There is thus mutual entailment between the whole and its parts. This kind of view is now considered a form of holism, the thesis that any single item within a particular system is part of the whole system and cannot be considered independently of the whole. [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 258]
Even though Hua-yan Buddhism views all objects and events in the whole universe as mutually causally dependent and as ontologically interconnected, it does not posit a real causal network among them. To assume that there are any real causal connections among things is to assume that causality itself is real and that causal agents are real. Both claims are denied by Hua-yan philosophers. The only real causal agent should be the Mind only, which produces multiple minds, which in turn through their delusions create multiple things. Even though from our perception there are primary and subsidiary causes that can be discerned in each effect, ultimately both causes and effects are only “epiphenomena” superimposed by the real cause—the Mind. [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 261]
Treatise on the Golden Lion
When we view the lion as a whole, we see its totality; when we view each part of the lion, we see their individuality; when we see that ll parts are parts of the same lion, we see their similarity; when we see that each part is nonetheless different from one another, we see their differences; when we see the various parts coming together to form the lion, we see the integration; when we see the lion eventually breaks down to individual parts, we see the disintegration. In all objects qas well as in the whole phenomenal world, these six aspects (totality, individuality, similarity, difference, integration, and disintegration) are present. Manifesting one aspect does not prevent the thing from manifesting all other aspects. In this respect, the six aspects are harmoniously contemplated. The point of this theory is again to emphasize that things do not have inherent self-nature. the way things are — their characteristics, their natures — are nothing but the way they are contemplated by the mind. Different perspectives generate different characteristics; the real perspective is the one that encompasses all perspectives and sees them as harmoniously compatible with one another. [An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, 260-1]
2. Distinguishing Form & Emptiness
To distinguish form and Emptiness. This means that the form of the lion is unreal; what is real is the gold. Because the lion is not existent, and the body of the gold is not non-existent, they are called form/Emptiness. Furthermore, Emptiness does not have any mark of its own; it is through forms that (Emptiness) is revealed. This fact that Emptiness does not impede the illusory existence of forms is called form/Emptiness (sê-k’ung).
What is the relationship between Emptiness and matter/form/phenomena?
How is this relationship connected to Du Shun’s discussion of li (principle) and shi (phenomena)?
How is this related to Nagarjuna’s discussion of Emptiness (Sunyata)?
How is this “cosmology” similar to the one that is presented in the Daodejing? How does it differ?
So in the end, is Huayan a “world-affirming” or a “world-denying” tradition?