Gandavyuha (Skt. Gaṇḍavyūha; T. Sdong po bkod pa; C. Dafangguang fo huayan jing 大方廣佛華嚴經), or "The Stem Array," is a Mahayana sutra that follows the spiritual journey of a young layman named Sudhana, who recieves advice from a series of spiritual friends (kalyāṇa-mittatā).
Peter Alan Roberts states:
- In this lengthy final chapter of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, while the Buddha Śākyamuni is in meditation in Śrāvastī, Mañjuśrī leaves for South India, where he meets the young layman Sudhana and instructs him to go to a certain kalyāṇamitra or “good friend,” who then directs Sudhana to another such friend. In this way, Sudhana successively meets and receives teachings from fifty male and female, child and adult, human and divine, and monastic and lay kalyāṇamitras, including night goddesses surrounding the Buddha and the Buddha’s wife and mother. The final three in the succession of kalyāṇamitras are the three bodhisattvas Maitreya, Mañjuśrī, and Samantabhadra. Samantabhadra’s recitation of the Samantabhadracaryāpraṇidhāna (“The Prayer for Completely Good Conduct”) concludes the sūtra.
Scholars believe that the text was composed in India roughly c. 200 to 300 CE, and was later added as the final chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Within the Avatamsaka Sutra, this chapter is known as "Entrance into the Dharma Realm" or "Entering the Dharmadhatu".
Peter Alan Roberts states:
- The Stem Array (Gaṇḍavyūha) is a unique sūtra in that most of its narrative takes place in South India, far from the presence of the Buddha. It follows the journey of the young Sudhana from teacher to teacher, or kalyāṇamitra (literally “good friend”), beginning with his meeting Mañjuśrī when that bodhisattva came to South India. Another unique characteristic is that Sudhana’s teachers include children, non-Buddhists, a courtesan, merchants, and so on, among them a number of women. His teachers are both humans and deities, including eight night goddesses around the Bodhi tree and the forest goddess of Lumbinī, the birthplace of the Buddha. These teachers are often described as having received teachings from numerous other buddhas. For example, the bhikṣu Sāgaramegha describes how he received, from a buddha who appeared out of the ocean, teachings that would take more than a kalpa to write out. The kalyāṇamitras are described as having realizations and miraculous powers that test the limits of the imagination.
- The Gaṇḍavyūha forms the forty-fifth and final chapter of the Buddhāvataṃsaka (A Multitude of Buddhas) Sūtra, where it is called a “chapter” rather than a “sūtra.” According to the Degé colophon, the previous forty-four chapters form six sections, or sūtras, of the Avataṃsaka, with the Gaṇḍavyūha as the seventh sūtra. In his sixteenth-century survey of the major sūtras, Pekar Zangpo (pad dkar bzang po) divides the first group of chapters into two, so that the Gaṇḍavyūha is the eighth section of the Buddhāvataṃsaka. The Gaṇḍavyūha is one of the four sections that consist of a single sūtra, but it is by far the longest sūtra or chapter, comprising about a third of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra.
- In the Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra, the Buddha Śākyamuni never speaks: all the teachings in the forty-five chapters of the Avataṃsaka are given by others. In the first forty-four chapters or sūtras this is done in the Buddha’s presence. The Gaṇḍavyūha is unique in that most of this lengthy chapter takes place far from his presence, with other buddhas being presented as the sources of teachings received by the kalyāṇamitras whom Sudhana meets. However, the previous chapters of the Avataṃsaka have already presented the view that various buddhas are manifestations of the Buddha Vairocana, and it is by the name Vairocana that Śākyamuni is referred to in this sūtra.
- The previous forty-four chapters of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra take place during the two weeks after the Buddha’s enlightenment, at which time he sits in silence under the Bodhi tree yet is simultaneously present, still in silent meditation, in other locations throughout our universe: the Trāyastriṃśa paradise of Indra on the summit of Sumeru, the Yāma and Tuṣita paradises high above Sumeru, and the highest paradise in the realm of desire—the Paranirmitavaśavartin paradise. Bodhisattvas congregate around him, inspired by his presence to give such teachings as the Daśabhūmika Sūtra (Ten Bhūmi Sūtra), which is taught by the bodhisattva Vajragarbha in the Paranirmitavaśavartin paradise. The Daśabhūmika Sūtra had a great influence on the development of Buddhism, eclipsing the previous seven bhūmis of the Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) sūtras.
- The Gaṇḍavyūha, on the other hand, begins with the Buddha in silent meditation in his Jetavana Monastery in Śrāvastī, where he spent most of his summer retreats. Human pupils are gathered around him along with a multitude of bodhisattvas that his human pupils are not advanced enough to perceive. While the Buddha sits silently in meditation, the bodhisattva Samantabhadra gives a teaching to the assembled bodhisattvas. The bodhisattva Mañjuśrī leaves the assembly for South India, and, rather than continuing to describe events and teachings in the presence of the Buddha, the sūtra follows Mañjuśrī to South India, where he meets Sudhana, and the narrative then follows Sudhana for the rest of the long sūtra. Although the beginning of the sūtra is set at a time later than that of the Buddha’s enlightenment, further on, in the night-goddess chapters, the Buddha is depicted as being present under the Bodhi tree. There are other temporal anomalies: the bodhisattva Maitreya, in the chapter where Sudhana meets him, is portrayed as being on earth and not yet passed away to be reborn in Tuṣita, even though he is said in the Māyādevī chapter, as is generally said in other Buddhist sources, to be already present in Tuṣita. Māyādevī, the Buddha’s mother, appears to Sudhana in Kapilavastu, the Buddha’s hometown, even though she is traditionally said to have passed away shortly after the Buddha’s birth and been reborn as a male deity in the Trāyastriṃśa paradise.
- The sūtra primarily describes (in successive long compounds in Sanskrit) both the inner qualities and the external displays of miraculous powers that have been attained by the various kalyāṇamitras whom Sudhana meets. It concludes with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra composing the Samantabhadracaryāpraṇidhāna (“The Prayer for Completely Good Conduct”), which is regularly recited by contemporary Tibetan Buddhists.
The Gandavyuha is also known as Gandavyuha Sutra.
The title has been translated into English as:
- The Stem Array (Peter Alan Roberts)
- The Excellent Manifestation Sūtra
- Multivalent Array Sutra (Princeton Dictionary)
- From the Chinese language:
- Thomas Cleary (1987), Entry into the Realm of Reality: The Gaṇḍavyūha (Boston: Shambhala)
- From the Sanskrit language:
- There have been partial unpublished translations from the Sanskrit by Mark Allen Ehman in 1977 and Yuko Ijiri in 2005.
- Douglas Osto has translated the first part of chapter 1 and chapters 3, 54, and 55 from the Sanskrit of the Gaṇḍavyūha, with its title given as The Supreme Array. They are available to read on his website. He has also included excerpts from other chapters of the sūtra in his book Power, Wealth and Women in Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra.
- Soûtra de l’Entrée dans la dimension absolue – Gandavyuhasutra avec le commentaire de Li Tongxuan, traduit par Patrick Carre (Padmakara, 2019), translation from Chinese of the Śikṣānanda version
- The Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra was translated into German from Buddhabhadra’s Chinese version by Dōi Torakazu as Das Kegon Sutra, Das Buch vom Eintreten in den Kosmos der Wahrheit in 1978.
- Peter Alan Roberts (2023), The Stem Array , 84000 Reading Room
- Osto, Douglas. The Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra: a study of wealth, gender and power in an Indian Buddhist Narrative, 2004, pg 60
- Osto, pg 29 (regarding Buddhabhadra's Chinese translation)
- Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. Gaṇḍavyūha
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