Reading the Avataṃsaka and other Mahāyāna sūtras

Last class of my “Introduction to Buddhism” course. It was a great opportunity for me personally to refresh my reading and understanding of the Great Buddhist texts in Chinese: Prajñāpāramitā 般若, Diamond Sutra 金剛, Lotus Sutra 法華, Vimalakīrtinirdeśa Sutra 維摩詰, and above all, Avataṃsaka Sutra 華嚴. The cosmography and cosmology of the last Mahāyāna text are absolutely fantastic. No wonder so many Chinese intellectuals were fascinated by this work throughout the past 1500 years. But what is truly beautiful about the text is not just the fantastic description of the different worlds or galaxies, numerous like sands of Ganges, with different lifeforms and sentient beings, but the teaching of unconditional empathy, altruism, and an equanimous form of wisdom – to understand that everyone is at their own stage of development and by helping and nurturing others in a skilful way, one grows also in true Buddhist wisdom.

Most people, even Buddhist scholars I know, have never read through these important sutras. They are laborious to go through. I think those who are fluent in classical Chinese have a distinct advantage. Most of the early Mahāyāna Buddhist texts survive in their entirety only in Chinese. Moreover. once this linguistic skill is developed, the students can absorb an exceptional large body of knowledge in relatively short time. Perhaps it’s useful to read also the Tibetan version. But the next thing I hope to do with the students is to read these sutras in Sanskrit with them.佛學入門10.001 佛學入門10.002 佛學入門10.003 佛學入門10.004


劍橋河畔,風景甚美,周邊長著不少柳樹,白臉牛喜歡蔭下乘涼,有時單獨歇息,有時三兩成群,是當地頗有特色的景觀。疫情高峰過後,城市解封,每逢陽光普照的日子,不管週末還是平日,草坪上都擠滿年輕人,熱鬧喧嘩。河裡小舟穿梭,游客濺起水花,讓我想起李約瑟年輕時酷愛劍河裸泳的描述,聽友人說當地的裸泳協會尚在,就在Granchester果園附近,與當時李氏加入的Cambridge Gymnosophia Society是否同一組織則不得知曉。月前疫情嚴峻,季春乍暖還寒,遊人稀疏,跟現在的景象形成強烈的對比。昨天跟英國友人散步,聊的都是無聊雜事,但既有趣,亦長知識。

為什麼牛可以隨便放在公眾地方裡?原來英國城鄉各有不同規例,自古以來養牛人可以在公地放牧,而公地的定義則各處不同。偏遠的地方到處都是公地,牛隻走到公路邊吃草,不造成滋擾也就無人理會。李所藏書中有一部介紹劍橋郡風俗的著作,裡面提到不少有關牛的趣事。至於劍橋的牛,看似很隨便,其實規條眾多。像Lammas Land過去就是容許放牧的公地,現在不少分割開來的地都屬於私有,但法例規定擁有者不可以把地完全封起來,如1965年的Commons Registration Act,基本上在過去公用土地的傳統原則上發展。有些容許放牧,有些不容許。所以從一塊地往另一塊地走,不少欄閘,有金屬的,也有木製的,沒有規範。有些地主喜歡讓牛進來吃草,省了除草的活。牛不怕人,人也不怕牛。不過還是遠看為妙,近看會發現白臉牛滿臉唾液和蒼蠅。偶爾看見一男子彎著柳枝,讓牛吃柳葉。




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Confucian learning a qin piece 孔子學琴

This story about Confucius insisting on practicing the same piece of qin music instead of moving on to something new as told by his teacher is both inspiring and thought-provoking, thanks to Mei 楊嵋 for pointing this out.

So many of us, students or researchers, rush to the next thing before truly mastering one thing. Confucius in this story did not stop after he “learned” 習 something, but he continued to master the techniques 數, to understand its spirit and intention 志, and to ultimately know its creator in the most profound sense 得其為人. Such empathy and humility lead to a kind of insight that is little appreciated today. This contrasts sharply to our utilitarian approach to knowledge and learning.

In this sense, the study of art and music is particularly important to scholars. Learning with insight makes us human. The arts have a way to force us to look inward and one cannot fake one’s way through. I realize that it is a humanist bias from my side — I always feel that scholars who have no musical or artistic talent and training have a high chance of being fakes. And this is becoming more so since “hard knowledge” is becoming all available digitally.