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Thoughts on the Lankavatara Sutra

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I thought that in my tour of important sutra’s on wikipedia, I’d touch on this one next. It is probably most famous for its connection with Bodhidharma who once said to his successor:

I have here the Laṅkāvatāra in four fascicles which I now pass to you. It contains the essential teaching concerning the mind-ground of the Tathagata, by means of which you lead all sentient beings to the truth of Buddhism.

Bodhidharma is supposed to have studied the Lankavatara Sutra intensely, and as such it is of interest to the formation of ch’an (Zen). Here is the Wikipedia page, which is a lazy man’s guide to the contents:ṅkāvatāra_Sūtra

Sutra doctrine

The most important doctrine in the sutra is the “primacy of consciousness”, and the teaching of consciousness as the only reality. Basically it says that in the sūtra, the Buddha asserts that all the objects of the world, and the names and forms of experience, are merely manifestations of the mind. It’s an idea that’s not new to me but you have to take along no-self in the teaching for it to make any sense.

The sutra then goes on to list a number of things the student must “convince himself of” in order to become a bodhisattva. This seems to say that one’s beliefs determine if one becomes enlightened, which to me seems a bit off. If that were true you could just list the beliefs and teach them to young children and voila.

The sutra points to a lot of core concepts of Buddhism such as sunyata and annatta. I found even the summary difficult to read and comprehend, as if it ‘wouldn’t go in’.

My conclusions

I found this one difficult to get ahold of, conceptually. The section on Buddha nature was interesting, but as tricky to read as the rest. It seemed quite dense, and maybe it’s worthwhile getting a book version with a full English translation and commentary. Certainly it’s intrigueing but the summary on the Wikipedia page doesn’t seem ‘sensible’ enough to really gel with my approach, it’s rather far ‘out there’ in its concept of the world, and hard to verify. Lots of things to take on trust and convince yourself of to become a bodhisattva.



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