65.   Hua Yen Sect (I)

65.   Hua Yen Sect (I)

65.1   Name

Hua-yen [華嚴] is the pronunciation of Flower Adornment, which is translated from the Sanskrit word Avatamsaka, the name of one of the most famous sutra in Buddhism. This sect takes its name from the Avatamsaka Sutra, which is the principal text of the sect. Literally, Avatamsaka means Flower Adornment, or Flower Garland, or Flower Ornament.

The sect is also known as Hsien-shou [賢首] sect. Hsien-shou was another name of the third patriarch, Master Fa-tsang [法藏], who was so remarkable and respectful that people called this sect after his name.

65.2   Development

Hua-yen is generally classified as a scholastic sect for its philosophical approach in its teaching. It was originated in China and was established by Master Tu-shun [杜順] (557-640 AD), and its started to flourish at the time of the third patriarch Master Fa-tsang [法藏] (643-712 AD).

Shortly after the death of the fifth patriarch Tsung-mi [宗密], Buddhism was suppressed in the Period of Five Dynasties. Under such circumstances, no more Hua-yen master appeared and the school declined in 9th century after flourishing for over 200 years in China.

65.3   The Patriarchs

The following five masters are important to the formation and development of Hua-yen sect:

  1. Fa-shun [法順] 558-640 AD

    Fa-shun was his Dharma name. As Tu was his last name, he was also called Tu-shun [杜順]. He was ordained by the Ch'an master Tao-chen, and devoted himself to the Dhyana meditation practice. With his great healing power and profound knowledge in Buddhism, he was bestowed the honorary title 'the Holy one of the Imperial Heart' by the Emperor. Because of his miraculous power, people called him 'the Bodhisattva of Tun-huang' [敦煌菩薩].

    Tu-shun did not follow a particular teacher in the hierarchy of this school. He concentrated his study on Hua-yen and lived on Mount Zhong-nan [終南山] for many years. He wrote the essay On the Meditation of Dharmashatu. He established the concept of 'Contemplating the Dharmadhatu' [一觀法界], which set the pattern for the subsequent commentaries. He also established the concept of 'Round Doctrine' [圓教], which reflects the totalistic view in the Hua-yen sect. He was considered to be the first patriarch in Hua-yen sect.

  2. Chih-yen [智儼] 602-668 AD

    Chih-yen, the successor of Tu-shun, is the second patriarch of Hua-yen sect. He was also called Yun-hua [雲華] because he often preached the Avatamsaka Sutra in Yun-hua temple. His important writings include The Ten Mysteries in One Vehicle of Hua Yen, The Fifty Questions and Answers of the Hua Yen Doctrine, Notes and Commentaries on the Various Chapters of Hua Yen Sutra, and A Search for the Profound Mysteries of Hua Yen Sutra. Chih-yen was the one who proposed the Ten Mysteries, which was perhaps his most important contribution in the development of Hua-yen doctrines.

  3. Fa-tsang [法藏] 643-712 AD

    Among the disciples of Chih-yen, Fa-tsang was definitely the most outstanding one. He was also called 'Hsien-shou' [賢首], which meant 'the head of the wise', a respectful name given by his followers. He was given by the Emperor an honorary title 'Kuo-i' [國一], which meant 'One in the State'.

    He was also regarded as the most productive writer among all Hua-yen masters, because he wrote one hundred volumes of books and essays. He systematized and organized the Hua-yen doctrines. Because of his tremendous effort in preaching and writing on the Hua-yen doctrines, Hua-yen sect was also called Hsien-shou sect [賢首宗].

    In his youth, he assisted Hsuan-tsang [玄奘] and I-tsing [義淨] in the translation work. However, he was greatly impressed by the preaching of Chih-yen and became his disciple in the Yun-hua Monastery. He was formally ordained at twenty-eight when he was appointed the abbot of the newly built Tai-yuan Monastery by the Empress Wu [武則天].

    As he was so familiar with Buddhabhadra's translation of Avatamsaka Sutra, he was invited to assist Sikshanamda in the translation of the 80-fascicle Avatamsaka Sutra. It was said that he preached the entire Avatamsaka Sutra more than thirty times during his lifetime. His enlightening illustration of Hua-yen doctrines with a golden lion in the writing On the Golden Lion [金獅子章] will be elaborated in the following chapters.

    When he died at the age of seventy, a state funeral was held in his honor since he had served as the National Preceptor for four emperors in Tang Dynasty.

  4. Cheng-kuan [澄觀] 738-838 AD

    He was called Master Ching-liang [清涼], which was the name of the temple where he studied the Three Shastras of San-lun sect under Master Hsuan-pi when he was young. He also studied under many famous scholars and outstanding Zen masters. His comprehensive knowledge covers almost all the doctrines of different sects of his time, as reflected in his writing "A Prologue to Hua Yen". Physically he was said to be a giant over nine feet tall. He was ordained when he was fourteen. He traveled to the central, western and northern China, and at last settled in Hua Yen Monastery on Mount Wutai and preached there for many years. Later generation of his followers respected him as the incarnation of Bodhisattva Manjusri, and called him the Hua Yen Bodhisattva [華嚴菩薩].

    In 796 AD, he was invited by the Emperor to assist Prajna to translate the 40-fascicle Avatamsaka Sutra. He was then granted titles : 'Master in the Purple Robe', National Preceptor, Professor Monk and the Chief of Monks. He lived to 102 years old and was known to be the Imperial Master for six consecutive Emperors in the Tang Dynasty.

    He wrote over 400 essays and commentaries on Avatamsaka Sutra. He was also the master of many distinguished disciples, who respectfully called him 'the Master of Law'.

    Cheng-kuan was born 27 years after Fa-tsang's death and could never have studied under Fa-tsan. But interestingly he was considered the fourth patriarch of the Hua-yen sect by the 'orthodox' Hua-yen disciples.

  5. Tsung-mi [宗密] 780-841 AD

    He was also called Master Kuei-feng [圭峰]. He first studied Confucian classics when he met Ch'an master Tao-yuan, and became a monk and practiced meditation. He was deeply impressed by the commentaries on Avatamsaka Sutra written by Cheng-kuan. Later, he submitted himself to Cheng-kuan as his disciple. Though he was the fifth patriarch of Hua-yen sect and was highly respected by the Emperors and his disciples, his contribution to Hua-yen was not on a par with those of the other four patriarchs.

65.4  The Principal Texts

The most important of the principal texts for this sect is the Avatamsaka Sutra.

This sutra was expounded by Shakyamuni Buddha 21days after his Enlightenment. The sutra was compiled by Bodhisattva Mansjuri and his disciple Ananda, and was said to be kept in the dragon palace in the heaven.

It was said that later on, the Sutra was found and read by Nagarjuna. It was said that there were three volumes, including billions of verses in many, many chapters in the first volume, 498,800 verses in 1,200 chapters in the second, 100,000 verses in 38 chapters of the last. Since the first two volumes were so huge and difficult for ordinary people to study and understand, Nagarjuna brought the last volume and circulated it in this world.

When this sutra was propagated to China in three versions, each being translated by one of the three following great masters :

  1. Buddhabhadra in 420 AD - It has 36,000 verses in 60 chapters (fascicles). As it is the first one translated in the Jin Dynasty, it is called 'the old Sutra', or 'the Jin Sutra' [晉經].
  2. Siksananda - It has 45,000 verses in 80 chapters. It is also known as 'the new sutra', or 'the Tang Sutra' [唐經] since it was translated in the Tang Dynasty.
  3. Prajna - It has only 40 chapters and was also translated in the Tang Dynasty later on and is thus called 'the later Sutra'.

Though all three versions are only part of the Sutra, the first one is predominantly that for studying, and the other two are just for reference.

There are other principal texts in the Hua-yen sect as well, such as:

  1. Shastra on the Dasabhumi Sutra [十地經論] written by Vasubandhu
  2. The Sandhinirmocana Sutra [解密深經]