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Lankavatara Sutra Abridged


Lankavatara Sutra: Preface and Introduction

Lin Tinggui. Luohan Laundering. 1178 CE.
Lin Tinggui. Luohan Laundering 1178 CE. Section. From the Song Dynasty; ink and colour on a silk hanging scroll, 111.8 cm high and 53.1 cm wide. In the complete painting, five Chinese Buddhist luohan (arhats) and one attendant are washing clothes in a stream and hanging them up to dry.

Saddharma-lankavatara-sutra in Sanskrit means "Sutra of the Appearance of the Good Doctrine in Lanka", in short Lankavatara Sutra. This influential philosophical discourse in Mahayana Buddhist tradition is said to have been preached by the Buddha in the mythical city Lanka. Parts of it may be earlier than the 300s AD. The text exposes the so-called "Doctrine of Consciousness", namely, that the hidden Essence is Deep Mind that may be realized in well focused meditation.

The thought of this text is also found in the Yogacara school of Buddhism, and provides some of the philosophical background of Zen. There are two more main thrusts in Mahayana (1) the "Perfection of Wisdom" emphasis, and (2) worship of the Buddha of Infinite Light, Amitabha. [Ebu, "Lankvatara Sutra"]

The following is condensed from Goddard's A Buddhist Bible:


The English translation is very difficult reading. Professor D. T. Suzuki felt, if the Sutra was ever to be read by many general readers, that an editing of it in the interest of easier reading was almost a necessity. For that reason he encouraged Dwight Goddard to undertake the task.

Goddard left out the long introductory chapter, the "meat-eating" chapter, and the chapter on Dharani, as being later accretions and not related to the theme of the Sutra. The long chapter of verses was also omitted as being obscure and repetitious. The essence of the verses is given in prose sections too, for the sake of easier reading. In addition, certain small sections are omitted because of their obscurity, or because they do not appear to add anything to the elucidation of the main thesis.

Also, the Sutra was cut up into more or less small sections and rearranged into something like an orderly sequence. These small sections were interwoven and condensed by omitting repetitions, matter that was obscure or tiresomely argumentative.

Only a minimum of interpretation was introduced. Goddard writes he was scrupulously careful not to do any more than was necessary to bring out the full meaning of the text.


No other sutras have been more influential in fixing the general doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism and in bringing about the general adoption of Buddhism in China, Korea and Japan than the Lankavatara Sutra. Yet, nothing is known of the writer of the discourse, when it was composed, and how its original form might have been. It is thought it was originally a collection of verses covering all the main teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. The present text has every appearance of being something in the way of a disciple's notebook.

It is generally felt that the present text must have been compiled early in the first century, and greatly resembles the work The Awakening of Faith by Ashvagosha. The earliest date connected with it is the date of the first Chinese translation from about 420 CE and which was lost before 700. Three other Chinese translations have been made: one by Gunabhadra in 443; one by Bodhiruci in 513; and one by Shikshananda about 700. There is also one Tibetan version.

The Sutra has always been a favourite with the Ch'an Sect (Zen, in Japan) and may account for much of that sect's origin and development. In the early days of the Ch'an Sect the Sutra was very much studied. Since then it has been widely neglected for the past thousand years. But commentaries have been written on it.

The Lankavatara Sutra was written to elucidate the profoundest experience that comes to the human spirit. Its words and doctrines deprecates dependence on words and doctrines . . . and urges upon all how wise and proper it is to make a determined effort to attain this highest experience. Again and again it repeats with variations the refrain: "Mahamati, you and all the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas should avoid the erroneous reasonings of the philosophers and seek this self-realisation of Noble Wisdom."

In China it combined easily with the accepted belief of the Chinese in Laotsu's ideas of Tao and its ethical idealism to make the Buddhism of China and Japan practical rather than abstruse.

Lankavatara Sutra chapter extracts, Mahayana, END MATTER

Lankavatara Sutra chapter extracts, Mahayana, LITERATURE  

Goddard, Dwight, ed. A Buddhist Bible. Thetford, VT.: Dwight Goddard, 1932.

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