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Monday, 29 January 2018 20:18

Lankavatara Sutra

The Lankavatara Sutra

Hui-Neng tearing up the sutraThe Lankavatara Sutra is the holy grail of Zen. Zen's First Patriarch - Bodhidharma - gave a copy of this text to his successor, Hui-Neng, and told him everything he needed to know was in this book. Passed down from teacher to student ever since, this is the only Zen sutra ever spoken by the Buddha.

This Lankavatara is for those who are sincere and brave of heart. This is a sutra to be experienced in our imagined state of being. There have been countless people who have reached the core experience of the Mahayana practices from this Lankavatara sutra. It occupies a paradoxical role in the Ch'an/Zen schools because - according to tradition, it was transmitted to China alongside the 'wordless doctrine' - that direct transmission of mind-to-mind, which 'does not rely upon words and letters.' Bodhidharma is said to have advocated this sutra as a means to 'seal' the minds of those who took up the Ch'an/Zen path. The Lankavatara should become one of the top priority readings for those sincere bodhisattvas practicing in these illusory times where ignorance is swift to point us away from fulfilling our path's vows. Remember the path is neither easy nor difficult. Read the word and let go of them for the experience they point to.

Although it covers all the major teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, it contains but two teachings: that everything we perceive as being real is nothing but the perceptions of our own mind and that the knowledge of this is something that must be realized and experienced for oneself and cannot be expressed in words.

The title Lankavatara might main entering Lanka (perhaps referring to the temporary Mahayana period of Ceylon), suggesting that the doctrines of this scripture are possibly consistent with earlier Buddhism preserved in the Pali language. It is a remarkable coverage of Mahayana Buddhist topics, especially of the type often associated with the Yogacara school of Buddhism, yet it is of interest to everyone who desires an introduction to Mahayana Buddhism. Here, the world is like a mirage. The mind has poured out its impression of externals. To get liberated one must stop this outpouring. An advanced individual understands and comes to realize the self-nature of the world which is really so.

translation by Red Pine

Lankavatara Sutra (translation by Red Pine) - coverThe Lankavatara Sutra
— translated by Red Pine 

Having translated The Diamond Sutra and The Heart Sutra, and following with The Platform Sutra , Red Pine now turns his attention to perhaps the greatest Sutra of all.

This is the first translation into English of the original text used by Bodhidharma, which was the Chinese translation made by Gunabhadra in 443 and upon which all Chinese Zen masters have relied ever since.

In addition to presenting one of the most difficult of all Buddhist texts in clear English, Red Pine has also added summaries, explanations and notes, including relevant Sanskrit terms on the basis of which the Chinese translation was made.

This promises to become an essential text for anyone seeking to deepen their understanding or knowledge of Zen.

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