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The Hua-Yen (Sanskrit: Avatamsaka) tradition of Mahayana Buddhism is based upon the Sanskrit text of the same name, and a legnthy Chinese interpretation thereof (the Hua-Yen-Lun). This school flourished in China during the Tang period.

The name of the school means “flower garland”, suggesting the crowning glory of profound understanding.

Historical Background

The Flower Garland school, one of the major schools of Chinese Buddhism, the doctrines of which ended up having profound impact on the philosophical attitudes of all of East Asian Buddhism. Established during the period of the end of the Sui and beginning of Tang dynasties, this school centered on the philosophy of interpenetration and mutual containment which its founders perceived in the Huayan jing (華嚴經). Yet despite basic reliance on this sutra, much of the technical terminology that the school becomes famous for is not found in the sutra itself, but in the commentarial works of its early founders.

The founding of the school is traditionally attributed to a series of five “patriarchs” who were instrumental in developing the schools doctrines. These five are: Dushun (杜順), Zhiyan (智儼), Fazang (法藏), Chengguan (澄觀) and Zongmi. Another important figure in the development and popularization of Huayan thought was the lay scholar Li Tongxuan (李通玄). Some accounts of the school also like to extend its patriarchship earlier to Aśvaghoṣa (馬鳴) and Nāgārjuna (龍樹).

Although there are certain aspects of this patriarchal scheme which are clearly contrived, it is fairly well accepted that these men each played a significant and distinct role in the development of the school: for example, Dushun is known to have been responsible for the establishment of Huayan studies as a distinct field; Zhiyan is considered to have established the basic doctrines of the sect; Fazang is considered to have rationalized the doctrine for greater acceptance by society; Chengguan and Zongmi are understood to have further developed and transformed the teachings.

After the time of Zongmi and Li Tongxuan the Chinese school of Huayan generally stagnated in terms of new development, and then eventually began to decline. The school, which had been dependent upon the support it received from the government, suffered severely during the purge of 841-845, never to recover its former strength. Nonetheless, its profound metaphysics, such as that of the four dharmadhātu (四法界) of interpenetration, had a deep impact on surviving East Asian schools, especially the Chan school.

Philosophy of the Hua Yen School

Distinctive features of this approach to Buddhist philosophy include:

 – Truth (or: reality) is understood as encompassing and interpenetrating falsehood (or: illusion), and vice-versa
 – Good is understood as encompassing and interpenetrating evil
 – Similarly, all mind-made distinctions are understood as “collapsing” in the enlightened understanding of emptiness (a tradition traced back to the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna)

Hua-Yen makes extensive use of paradox in argument and literary imagery. The following quote from Dale S. Wright [Philosophy East and West, vol. 32, no.3(July, 1982), P325-338] summarizes the range of such devices a reader is likely to encounter in a first foray into Hua-Yen literature:

         The  first  type  of  paradox   is  modeled  after
       paradoxical  assertions found in many early Mahayana
       texts   that   emphasize   the   concept   emptiness
       (k’ung(f)/’suunyataa).  Beginning with the assertion
       that  a  phenomenon,  X, is  empty  (k’ung/’suunyaa)
       (that  is, since  X  originates  dependently, it  is
       empty  of  own-being),  one  moves  to  the  further
       paradoxical implication that X is not X.  An example
       from  Fa-tsang  is  the  assertion  that  “when  one
       understands that origination is without self-nature,
       then there is no origination.”(5)

A second type of paradox is derived from two doctrinal sources: the Hua-yen concept of “true emptiness” (chen-k’ung(g) ) and the Hua-yen interpretation of the dialectic of the One Mind (i-hsin(h)) in the Awakening of Faith. Whereas the first type of paradox worked with the negative assertion that phenomenal form is empty and nonexistent (wu so yu(i)), the second type reverses that claim by asserting that any empty phenomenon is an expression of, and the medium for, the ultimate truth of emptiness. The union of opposites effected here is the identity between conditioned, relative reality and the ultimate truth of suchness (chen-ju(j)/tathataa) . Fa-tsang’s paradoxical assertion illustrates this second type. “When the great wisdom of perfect clarity gazes upon a minute hair, the universal sea of nature, the true source, is clearly manifest.”(6)

The third variation of paradox is grounded in the Hua-yen doctrine of the “nonobstruction of all phenomena” (shih shih wu-ai(k)). According to this doctrine, when the ultimate truth of emptiness becomes manifest to the viewer, each phenomenon is paradoxically perceived as interpenetrating with and containing all others. This paradoxical violation of the conventional order of time and space is best exemplified by Fa-tsang’s famous Essay on the Golden Lion.

In each and every hair [of the lion] there is the golden lion. All of the lions contained in each and every hair simultaneously and suddenly penetrate into one hair. [Therefore], within each and every hair there are unlimited lions.(7)

The common element in all three types of paradox is that they originate in the tension between the two truths, between conventional truth (su-ti(l) / and ultimate truth (chen-ti(m) /paramaarthasatya). Our task of interpreting the significance of paradoxical language in Hua-yen texts, therefore, will begin by working out an initial interpretation of the two truths and the relation between them.

See also the Hwaeom school of Korea, and Kegon school of Japan.

External Link

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