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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:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laṅkāvatāra_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.

Bunks

Comments

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    I found this one difficult to get ahold of, conceptually.

    It can be hard to get a good idea of the contents of a scripture, especially a large one like this, from a wikipedia summary. If u want to read the whole or sections of, here is the whole sūtra in English:

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.buddhistische-gesellschaft-berlin.de/downloads/lankavatarasutrasuzuki.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiB9oKF85TlAhV1HjQIHfMlDIgQFjAAegQIBBAB&usg=AOvVaw1j6kKNOXAy5zw5k5sjOYOv

    BunksKeromeyagr
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:
    It can be hard to get a good idea of the contents of a scripture, especially a large one like this, from a wikipedia summary.

    One can even argue that, with some sutras, that’s basically impossible!

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited October 12

    I have had a look online for commentaries on websites but it seems these kinds of things are few. There is an interesting site called “encyclopaedia of buddhism” which contains some things.

    https://encyclopediaofbuddhism.org/wiki/Category:Mahayana_sutras

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited October 12

    There is one here:

    https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Lankavatara_Sutra.html?id=7AmoLab7tzQC&source=kp_book_description&redir_esc=y

    I have to post briefly and sparingly though, because it's Thanksgiving here in Canada and I need to head 2 hours north into the country to visit my parents.

    I still haven't started the post I said I would post on your Lotus Sūtra discussion either.

    These commentaries are massive, and the only reason this one is short is because it is a modern commentary, albeit based on older ones. Usually these massive texts would be studied and explored in the setting of a Buddhist monastic university.

    You are right to go searching for Mahāyānika commentaries if you want to find out how bodhisattvayāna practitioners have traditionally read their sūtras, though.

    A good scripture/commentary match to study, if you are so interested, would be Mahāprajnāpāramitopadeśa:

    http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/nagarjuna_mahaprajnaparamitasastra_vol-1.pdf
    http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/nagarjuna_mahaprajnaparamitasastra_vol-2.pdf
    http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/nagarjuna_mahaprajnaparamitasastra_vol-3.pdf
    http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/nagarjuna_mahaprajnaparamitasastra_vol-4.pdf
    http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/nagarjuna_mahaprajnaparamitasastra_vol-5.pdf

    This corresponds to the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, which can be found in a famous translation by Conze here:

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://lirs.ru/lib/conze/The_Large_Sutra_On_Perfect_Wisdom,Conze,1975.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwi_8u__hZflAhVXip4KHRkqCZoQFjALegQIARAB&usg=AOvVaw2_O_k_tQIod2j7ilLYdmjr

    The text is extra long because Conze interweaves yet another commentary, the Abhisamayālaṁkāra, into the text.

    Kerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I think the Lankavatara Sutra’s editing history is quite interesting. As I understand it early accounts say that it is a master’s notes on a variety of teachings all jumbled together, while later accounts speak of this added shell around the body casting it as a conversation between the Buddha and a disciple.

  • VastmindVastmind Veteran Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited October 19

    You’re right that it’s someone’s collection of notes about earlier Dharma writings. Zen/Chan is about experience/mind only.....learning to drop words and thoughts. Zen can be counter productive without a teacher that knows the students learning style. Reading and trying to dissect writings about it, can be confusing without the contradictions presenting themselves IRL. ....Just my 2 cents.

    For example: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

    AFA the Buddha Nature thing...you usually have to read a couple teachings by different teachers to get the concept...Westerners seem to automatically think of it as a soul. But it’s not.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I do find the history of these texts interesting, because you can see the kind of things that get added and embellished. That gives you a bit more of an impression what the original may have been like... for me with the words of the Buddha there is a strong tendency to look for the men behind the myths, however difficult that may be.

    I feel that life in ancient times was at its core not so very different from life in recent times. I find it hard to believe in the miracles, the earth shaking, gods acclaiming the Buddha and so on. Instead I believe in bread being baked, the hustle and bustle of merchandise, markets and beggars.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited October 19

    @Vastmind said:

    For example: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

    AFA the Buddha Nature thing...you usually have to read a couple teachings by different teachers to get the concept...Westerners seem to automatically think of it as a soul. But it’s not.

    To be fair, these misconceptions are aided by some Mahāyāna sūtras that are particularly grandiose in their contrarian "question all conceptions" approach to Buddhism:

    迦葉菩薩白佛言:「世尊!我從今日始得正見。世尊!自是之前,我等悉名邪見之人。
    Mahākāśyapa Bodhisattva asked the Buddha to speak: "Bhagavān! I from today start in obtaining right view. Bhagavān! Until now, we all entirely abided in wrong view.

    世尊!二十五有,有我不耶?」
    Bhagavān! In the twenty five existences, is there not the ātma?

    佛言:「善男子!我者即是如來藏義。一切眾生悉有佛性,即是我義。
    The Buddha said: "Kulaputra! The ātma, truly and exactly, is Tathāgatagarbha in meaning. All sentient beings in entirety have the Buddha’s nature and, truly and exactly, the ātma is it’s meaning.

    如是我義,從本已來,常為無量煩惱所覆,是故眾生不能得見。
    Thus so, the ātma’s meaning is, from root proceeding onwards, constantly without limit under kleśāḥ covered, therefore sentient beings cannot obtain sight of it.

    (T375.648a27, Mahāparinirvāṇanāmamahāyānasūtra)

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    TL;DR.
    I am sorry @Vimalajāti but the post is long, complex and frankly writing in a language that is foreign to most members, is not helpful. It might be better if you posted "short and succinct " comments. It's sadly a well-known fact that people simply often skip posts such as yours, no matter how informative and educational it might be.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited October 19

    [post redacted]

  • VastmindVastmind Veteran Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited October 19

    I agree the sutras aid in the misconceptions...I guess that’s what I’m saying. From my current understanding..the whole concept/later school of Zen is about not understanding it intellectually, bec it cannot be understood that way. Only through experiencing the contradictions can one drop your/the view and develop the Right view/no view.

    The exact topic of Buddha nature itself can be debated all day...seen that, have the mug. I personally go through times where I can apply it to the impermanence teaching...but sometimes not. shrugs.

    ShoshinVimalajāti
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited October 19

    ........And as the old Zen saying goes...

    When the intellect ventures into where it does not belong, it becomes lost in its own confusion

    Perhaps the aim of these kind of posts are to exhaust the intellect ....beat (pun intended) it into submission/defeat...so to speak...

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Veteran Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited October 19

    @federica said:
    TL;DR.
    I am sorry @Vimalajāti but the post is long, complex and frankly writing in a language that is foreign to most members, is not helpful. It might be better if you posted "short and succinct " comments. It's sadly a well-known fact that people simply often skip posts such as yours, no matter how informative and educational it might be.

    Oh dear. I see what happened. I had translated this before on SuttaCentral and my copy/paste function copied more than intended.

    I fixed it now. It's wasn't supposed to have the jibber-jabber from SuttaCentral.

    federica
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited October 20

    Ah. Gotcha. Much better now! Thank you!

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Vastmind said:
    I agree the sutras aid in the misconceptions...I guess that’s what I’m saying. From my current understanding..the whole concept/later school of Zen is about not understanding it intellectually

    Yes, and living teachers are important for that whole process. The view on things changes a bit with each generation, but often the scriptures are not updated. I remember when I first started listening to video lectures of Thich Nhat Hanh, it was like I was drinking in the entire ambience of Plum Village, a wonderful stillness in that place.

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