Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hua yen

I can't think of a more beautiful, harmonious, and sophisticated vision of reality than Hua-Yen Buddhism's. Indra's Net, now synonymous with Buddhism's teaching of interdependence, exemplifies the Hua-Yen vision of a universe where everything is connected and literally contains everything else. Originally found in the voluminous Avatamsaka Sutra from which Hua-Yen borrows its name (meaning "Flower Ornament"), Indra's Net imagines the universe as a vast web. At the intersection of each of the lattices sits a sparkling jewel; and inside each jewel we can see every other jewel in the entire universe. It's a beautiful expression of non-duality.

Though I won't pursue it here, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Indra's Net anticipates David Bohm's holographic universe theory by almost two thousand years.

Hua-Yen represents the philosophical basis for Zen, for as D.T. Suzuki famously said, "Hua-Yen for philosophy, Zen for practice."

Hua-Yen is a Chinese synthesis of Mahayana Buddhism. Where Indian Mahayana is concerned most deeply with emptiness, Hua-Yen, in a very Chinese way, emphasizes fullness. For if sunyata means that nothing has an independent, inherent or self-existing nature, then the inverse implies dependence and connection. Fazang, the most popular Hua-Yen systematizer, captures this best in his metaphor of a house.

Just as each jewel in Indra's Net "contains" every other one, the central beam supporting the house is not only a part of the house, it is the the house. For just as we cannot speak of the house without its parts, we cannot speak of parts without the whole. A beam is not a beam until it is part of the house; prior to its functioning as a beam, it is only a piece of wood. As the house represents Totality (dharmadhatu)--Hua-Yen's true interest--it's inane to speak of the beam existing outside of the house, for that would mean the beam was somehow outside of Totality, an obvious impossibility.

The first time I read Fazang's Golden Lion essay, I felt an immediate spiritual resonance with him, the same way I have with Thich Nhat Hanh's writing. This isn't surprising since Thich Nhat Hanh's emphasis is always on the positive aspect of emptiness in the form of interdependence and interpenetration.

Two excellent titles on this subject are Francis Cook's Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra and G.C.C. Chang's The Buddhist Teaching of Totality: The Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism.

I'm desperately in search of any new titles on Hua-Yen, or Fazang's writing translated into English. I found a translation of his commentary on the Awakening of Faith sutra, but it's very expensive--over $100--and Philosopher, Practitioner, Politician: the Many Lives of Fazang
--even pricier, over $200. If you know of any more affordable titles, please share them.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr use: dorena-wm.

1 comment:

  1. Hua-yen has been on my mind lately as well - indeed among the most beautiful teachigns!
    Cleary has a book on Hua-yen - "Entry into the Inconceivable".
    Also a couple of books out by Peter Gregory on Tsung-mi, a Huayan & also Chan ancestor: "Inquiry into the Origin of Humanity" & "Tsung-mi & the Sinification of Buddhism".
    Kuroda institute has a "Studies in Ch'an & Hua-yen" book with a couple of Huayen articles.
    I'm planning to teach a class series here at Green Gulch Farm on Huayan in a few weeks, and I can let you know what other resources I find as I go if you'd like.
    in Dharma,