March 21, 2013

ཕལ་ཆེན། སངས་རྒྱས་ཕལ་པོ་ཆེ།

§1. A few random (naive) thoughts on the (Tibetan) Avataṃsaka (Phal po che or Phal chen) will be dedicated to our friend Boram Park, who is investigating the topic. As usual, Dan’s Tibskrit, which Boram knows, should be the point of departure. He is also aware of Martin 1987 (i.e. his article on the *Guhyagarbhatantra).

§2. Boram may have to critically translate that long and informative colophon of the Avataṃsaka in the sDe dge bka’ ’gyur. How about other colophons such as of the Daśabhūmikasūtra (transmitted both as a part of the and Avataṃsaka and separately)?

§3. Are the sDong po bkod pa’i snying po (in rGyud-section) and sDong po rgyan gyi mchog ces bya ba’i gzungs, and Phal po che bzung bar ’gyur ba’i gzungs (two such in the bKa’ ’gyur) somehow related to the Avataṃsaka?

§4. For most Tibetan scholars, the Avataṃsaka belongs to the “Final Promulgation” (bka’ tha ma). Is it a Cittamātric or Madhyamic/Tathāgatagarbhic scripture? The issue would be disputed. Hope to discuss this elsewhere.

§5. The Avataṃsaka might have partly shaped the way Tibetan Buddhists think of the Buddhist cosmology and cosmology. It will be a venue for exploration.

§6. Dan might have already discussed it somewhere—there seems to be hardly anything that this extremely knowledgeable guy has not touched upon—but I am wondering whether and to what extent the Avataṃsaka served as a source for story of King Nor-bzang/s (Sudhana) and the related performing art in Tibet. Directly from the Jātaka?

§7. The Avataṃsaka seems to have partly served as a scriptural justification for the Tibetan idealization of a bla ma (in “Lamaism”) or dge ba’i bshes gnyen. Check!

§8. Did the Avataṃsaka play any role in the origination of the idea of Kun-tu-bzang-po (Samantabhadra), not as a bodhisattva, but as a buddha (in most cases as the Ur-Buddha)?

§9. The bSam-yas Temple is reported to have multiple complexes called gling. One such gling is mKhyen-rab-’jam-dpal-gling and the Zhabs btags ma (p. 72) states: ’og khang na phal po che’i rgyud ris. The walls of the lower storey of mKhyen-rab-’jam-dpal-gling is said to contain depictions of the stories from the Avataṃsaka? See bsTan-pa-rab-brtan’s Bris bur gnyis kyi ’byung ba mdo tsam brjod pa (p. 32): ’jam dpal sangs rgyas pa’i zhing bkod dang mdo phal po che’i rgyd ris gshin rje me’i ’khor lo can na gtad. Also in the bDud-’dul-sngags-pa-gling from the Daśabhūmikasūtra? Unclear! 

§10. A brief (vague) reference to the incomplete translation of the Avataṃsaka in the Zhabs btags ma (p. 135).

§11. Tāranātha in his rNam thar yid kyi mun sel (pp. 60–61) states that Vairocana translated the Avataṃsaka in eight bam pos.

§12. Interestingly the Gocarapariśuddhisūtra (sPyod yul yongs su dag pa’i mdo) has been transmitted in the Tibetan canon (i.e. bKa’ ’gyur) as the sixteenth chapter of the Buddhāvataṃsakasūtra, whereas in the Śikṣāsamuccaya, it has apparently been cited as an independent sūtra. Temporally, see Bendall & Rouse 1922: 310. Such instances might provide some clues about the composition and transmission of the Avataṃsaka.

§13. Thanks to Jonathan Silk, who draws (via email) our attention to: Ernst Steinkellner, Sudhana’s miraculous journey in the temple of the Ta pho: The inscriptional text of the Tibetan Gaṇḍavyūhasūtra edited with introductory remarks. Rome: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1995. Jonathan also points out that “There is now evidence for the Avatamsaka as a collection in India, in an internal colophon to one of the sūtras recently published,” that is, Bhikṣuṇī Vinītā (Vinītā Tseng), A unique collection of twenty Sūtras in a Sanskrit manuscript from the Potala: Editions and translation. Volume 1,2. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House / Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2010. He continues: “The relation of the sūtras which make up the collection to the unity as a whole is yet (to my knowledge) to be well addressed.”

§14. Nyang ral chos ’byung (p. 3): sangs rgyas phal po che las gsungs pas …; p. 7: mdo sde phal po che; p. 9: sangs rygas phal po che’i mdo las…; p. 10: mdo sde sangs rgyas phal po che las …; pp. 14 (Sudhana approaches 82 masters), ibid. (p. 27): yang mdo phal po che las | lung bstan gyi dbye ba bcur gsungs te | bla ma dge ba’i bshes gnyen lung bstan pa dang gcig |. But obviously meaning: yang lung bstan gyi dbye ba bcur gsungs te | mdo phal po che las | bla ma dge ba’i bshes gnyen lung bstan pa dang gcig |; pp. 394, 421, 429.

§15. Note also that the lDan dkar ma (Yoshimura 1950: 121 (nos. 17–23); Lalou 1953: 319 (nos. 17–24)) has listed the Buddhāvataṃsaka (Sangs rgyas phal po che). Note the numbers of chapters, bam pos, and ślokas mentioned there.

§16. The Li shi’i gur khang by sKyogs-ston-lo-tsā-ba Rin-chen-bkra-shis lists the (Tibetan translation of the) Buddhāvataṃsaka as as one of the translation that were not revised according to the new reforms. 

§17. Notes two useful comments by the anonymous reader below. See also


  1. Look at Imre Hamar's work on Buddhāvataṃsaka.

  2. About Steinkellner's study on rTa pho, please go to Visualizing a Buddhist Sutra: Text And Figure in Himalayan Art,
    by Laxman S. Thakur