Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

Gandavyuha Sutra (The Stem Array)

Public teaching given online in Hong Kong
October 30, 2021
1H 57M

Transcript / Q & A / Video
Sutra Text at 84000 / Chapter 15

Note 1: This is an edited transcript of a live teaching, and should not be taken as Rinpoche’s final word. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of Please see note.

Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.

(1) Introduction

(a) The Buddha’s teachings


First I have to say this. I’m not teaching the sutra. Not this sutra, not any sutras. This is because the words of the Buddha cannot be taught or explained by a deluded being like me. Only those who have reached the first bhumi can really understand what Buddha taught in the sutras. Anyway, this is what Chandrakirti said.1In Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara, 6:3:

One who grasped profound and ultimate reality,
Through force of reasoning and by the light of scripture,
Was the Noble Nagarjuna; and following his tradition,
As this still exists, I will proceed to speak.

In Mipham Rinpoche’s commentary on this verse, he writes:

How does a Bodhisattva on the sixth ground realize the nature of dependent arising? In his autocommentary, Chandrakirti declares that it is not within his power to answer such a question, since his eyes are covered by the cataracts of ignorance. Rather than asking him, he says, we should put the matter to someone who is actually abiding on the sixth ground [bhumi] or above.

Translation by Padmakara Translation Group.

I’m only attempting to create some sort of curiosity. Mainly for myself and hopefully for others also. So that people can have some sort of interest, curiosity, or appetite for the Buddhadharma in general, and especially the sutras. And even this attempt, I do this of course entirely relying on the teachings I have received from my masters, and the commentaries written on the Buddhist sutras [by great commentators such as] Nagarjuna, Asanga and so many [others] in India, and also a great many later commentators in Tibet.

The Buddha taught in infinite ways

Buddha taught in so many ways. Infinite ways, actually. [When we say that he gave] 84,000 [teachings], it’s just for the sake of deluded being like us. We need to have some sort of a reference, so the idea of 84,000 is there. But in fact, Buddha taught much, much more than 84,000 [teachings].

But for people like us to understand Buddha’s teachings, I think it is important first of all to know that when we [refer to] the teachings of the Buddha, we are not only talking about teachings in the context of verbal teachings, i.e. things that you can hear, listen to, and read. Buddha taught in so many ways. In fact, for instance, many times he did not answer questions. He did not respond to inquiries. Even that is considered a teaching.

A very famous example, for instance, [is what Buddha said] right after his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. The first thing Buddha said was, I have found a truth that is profound, brilliant, uncompounded, luminous, and so on. But nobody is going to hear this. Nobody has the ability to hear this. Therefore, I’m going to remain in the forest without uttering any words2From the Ariyapariyesana Sutta (The Noble Search), MN 26:

This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise […] What is abstruse, subtle, deep, hard to see, going against the flow — those delighting in passion, cloaked in the mass of darkness, won’t see. As I reflected thus, my mind inclined to dwelling at ease, not to teaching the Dhamma.

Translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available at Access to Insight.
. In fact, that is already a teaching. In fact, that is one of the most important teachings, because there he’s saying [that] the truth cannot be verbalized. [The] truth cannot be conceptualized.

But then, [he was] requested [to teach] by many of his disciples such as Indra, Brahma, Shiva and Kali, and also subsequently by the great bhikshus and bhikshunis such as Shariputra and Kashyapa. And then of course, the great bodhisattvas and mahasattvas like Avalokiteshvara and Mañjushri. They requested [the Buddha to teach] for the benefit of sentient beings. So, out of compassion, according to the different capacities of different beings, he taught [in] many, many ways. [He taught] according to [their] different capacities, different faculties, different backgrounds and so forth.

The Buddha taught according to different needs and degrees of urgency

And sometimes, I would say, [he] even [taught according to different degrees of] urgency, let’s say. For instance, he taught many teachings in order to rescue sentient beings from committing nonvirtuous actions and thoughts. In order to divert sentient beings from nonvirtuous thoughts and actions. And these are almost like temporary teachings3Ed.: DJKR said “temporal”. This has been changed., because the first thing that you have to do is rescue people from the really unsafe zone [and bring them] to a safer zone.

Then, there’s a big group of teachings where Buddha really concentrated on diverting [sentient beings away from] the cause, the root cause, that causes the experience of samsara. There are so many teachings on that.

And then, finally, he taught myriad teachings that concentrate on diverting [sentient beings away from] all kinds of view. All views. Any kind of view. Samsara, nirvana, good view, bad [view], all kinds of view. To divert [sentient beings away from] all views, he taught so many teachings.

For very untrained and very light-hearted people like us, sometimes when we read or when we listen to many of the Buddha’s teachings, they may even appear contradictory. But actually they are not a contradiction. All of them — directly or indirectly, one way or another — are to lead ignorant beings to see the final truth.

(b) The Mahayana view is infinite

Expressing the infinite

Now, to celebrate Lhabab Düchen, a very special day, and also to really celebrate 84000’s ongoing endeavour to translate the words of the Buddha, and especially to celebrate the translation of this particular sutra. Maybe the best I can do is to sort of very vaguely introduce this sutra for those who are unfamiliar with [it].

The Avatamsaka Sutra is a really, really big sutra. Depending on what edition we are talking [about], I think it sometimes comes in four volumes4Ed. there are two extant Chinese versions and a Tibetan version of the sutra, all of which have different numbers of chapters and many differences in content. The sutra version with 39 chapters can be divided into eight sections corresponding to the eight different audiences or assemblies to whom the teachings were given. The English translation of the complete sutra by Thomas Cleary was originally divided into three volumes. The most recent 1993 edition comprises a single volume of 1656 pages – see wikipedia.. It’s really big. And this Gandavyuha Sutra is actually the climax, sort of the last chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra.

How should I even articulate this?

You know, in our mundane world, sometimes we use words [and] terms like “infinite”. What do we mean by that? We just sort of casually say these things. We say “It’s infinite” or “[I’m] speechless”. Sometimes we even very crudely say [that things are] “mind-boggling”, “unfathomable”, “inexpressible”, or “beyond concept”. I think probably for newcomers, the term “infinite” is maybe good to think about.

Think about this. What do we mean by infinite? Have you ever thought about that? I mean, it’s kind of important, isn’t it? The the idea of infinite is equally important [as] the idea of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 [DJKR counts the numbers sequentially with his right hand]. If [the idea of] infinite is abstract and arbitrary, then [the idea of] 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 is also abstract and arbitrary. It’s useless5Ed.: DJKR is contrasting the sequential nature of ordinal numbers with the non-sequentiality or beyond-sequentiality of the infinite. Likewise, in previous teachings, DJKR has contrasted order and chaos, e.g. the teaching on Mandala given in February 2021:

There is something called chaos, and then juxtaposing that is something called order. [For example] table, chair, all these are orderly. Now balancing these two – actually, going beyond chaos and order – is what we want. That’s what we need to aim [for].

In this teaching on the Gandavyuha Sutra, DJKR likewise contrasts zero/infinite, big/infinite, ordered/infinite, and sequential/non-sequential. Like order/chaos, these dualities all correspond to the conventional duality of the two truths, i.e. relative/ultimate.

So, infinite has to be important, but usually we don’t think about [it]. We just say “infinite”. Now, do you want to know about infinite? This is it. The Avatamsaka sutra really teaches [about the infinite]. Maybe “teach” is not the right word. It really describes [it]. Because to articulate, to express the inexpressible, to express the infinite is difficult. You need the whole setting. And the setting is just beyond our comprehension.

I’ll try to sort of jump here and there [in the sutra], just to give you an idea. If you are reading the Avatamsaka Sutra right from the beginning, probably [the first] 100 pages or so is a list of names of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and the listeners during that teaching. And if you pay some attention to these people who are there [it’s mind-boggling].

Zero and the infinite

Before that, I should tell you this. You know that, historically speaking, the Buddhadharma came from India. So, you can say this sutra came from India. And remember, India is the country that gave us zero, the idea of zero. What an idea! I mean, what is zero, shunya? They even call it “shunya”6Ed. the Sanskrit word shunya (शुन्य, IAST: śunya) means “empty” or “void”, however the contemporary Hindi word shunya (same spelling: शून्य) means “zero” – see wiktionary. Pingala, the ancient Indian poet and mathematician who lived in 3rd/2nd centuries BCE, used the Sanskrit word shunya explicitly to refer to zero – see wikipedia.. What is it? And yet we need zero so much, so much. Without zero, how are businesspeople going to [do] business? Without zero, there is no basis for mathematics. Without zero, all algorithms, computer science – it’s never going to work.

India gave us zero and India gave us the Avatamsaka Sutra and India is giving us the Gandavyuha Sutra. If you guys can appreciate zero, you should appreciate [the] infinite. You can’t just choose, “Oh yes, I’d like to have zero but the infinite bit is too abstract”. You can’t do that7Ed.: as noted previously, DJKR is pointing out the correspondence between [zero : infinite] and [relative : ultimate]. In the same way that the two truths are nondual and cannot be separated, zero and the infinite likewise cannot be separated.. But that’s what human beings do. But anyway, somehow this came in my head, so I just wanted to tell you this.

The Mahayana and the infinite

Going back to the Avatamsaka Sutra, it is obviously a Mahayana sutra. This word “maha” is very deceiving, because I think “maha” always gets interpreted as “big”. In India, there’s even a MahaCola, There’s a small Coca-Cola, and they call the big Coca-Cola “MahaCola”8The Indian cola brand Thums Up was created in 1977, after the American company Coca-Cola withdrew from India due to regulations requiring it to disclose its formula and sell 60% of its equity to an Indian company. In 1991, Thums Up introduced a larger 300 ml (10 US fl oz) bottle branded “MahaCola”, meaning ‘great [in size] cola’; the original size was 250 ml (8.5 US fl oz). This nickname gained popularity in smaller towns where people would ask for “MahaCola” instead of Thums Up – see wikipedia.. But in the context of the Mahayana, this “maha” is actually talking about the infinite. We are not talking about big. Big is not infinite. Big is finite.

The reason why I am stressing the infinite is because the view of the Mahayana is infinite. Some of you probably have endured [and] struggled reading my book “What Makes You Not a Buddhist”, which I [wrote] a few years ago, ten or fifteen years ago I think. In it, I sort of really strongly said that:

• All compounded things are impermanent;
• All emotions are pain;
• Nothing has any truly existing nature;
• Nirvana is beyond concept. 

And I really said, if one of them is missing then you are not a Buddhist. You have to have [all] four of them.

Now, wait a minute, hear this out. 

Buddha asked a monk, if you are looking at a pile of garbage and then pointing at this garbage and [you] say, “Oh, that’s a pile of jewels”. Is this right or wrong? Then of course, the monk says, Of course it’s wrong. Buddha said, Yes, just like that, if you are pointing at these Four Seals — all compounded things are impermanent, and so forth — if you’re looking at this pile of these four seals and [you] say, “This is Mahayana”, it’s exactly the same as looking at a pile of garbage and saying that this is a jewel.

This is how [we should understand] “maha”. When you say the Four Seals are Mahayana, that’s finite. It’s not infinite. [The finite is] like this [DJKR indicates a closed circle with this hands]. Zone. Box. Actually, you go beyond that box also. So, if you guys really want to explore Mahayana sutras such as the Avatamsaka Sutra, you really have to appreciate the infinite quality, and you really should try to have some sort of open-mindedness. I’m really asking for open-mindedness here.

We need to be open-minded as we approach the Avatamsaka Sutra

When the organizers asked me to do this, I [thought] about it the past few days. Actually, I read the whole sutra. Not the Avatamsaka Sutra, that’s so long. The Gandavyuha Sutra, that’s like 800 pages. That’s a large one also. And I was telling the organizers that I will only do [this] as someone who sort of thinks devotedly [towards] the Buddha and his teachings. It’s impossible for me to decipher this path in a very academic and scientific way, because the moment you do that, then you will lose it. You really have to appreciate that.

For many of you, it [might] almost [sound like] I’m demanding you to have some sort of a blind faith. I’m actually not. I’m not asking you to have blind devotion. Actually, if you believe things are only 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 — that’s blind devotion. If you are stuck with that — that is blind. If you think that shapes are always square, triangle, circle, semicircle — that is stuck. It’s called stuck, blind, fixated. You have to really think big. If you’re reading the Avatamsaka Sutra you will notice [that you have to think big], even [right at the beginning when you read about the members of] the audience [of the teaching].

Professor Steven Goodman was a really good friend of mine. A long time ago, we talked about this Avatamsaka Sutra. And at that time, we [had] just watched Star Wars. I don’t know, it was the fourth episode or something. And after the movie, we went out for coffee and Steven Goodman said, You know, the Avatamsaka Sutra is like a billion times more than Star Wars. I didn’t know what he was talking [about], but in our small minds, I can really appreciate why he said this [after] reading [about] some of the [members of the] audience [that were present] during the Avatamsaka teaching.

You [might] think, Oh, Buddha is teaching, so all the disciples are the usual bunch of human beings. No. There were ghosts, gods, demigods, asuras, gandharvas — and I bet many of them had two heads. I bet many of them had a mouth on their stomach. I bet some of them looked like a dewdrop. I bet many of them looked like mist.

But as I told you earlier, if you think, “Oh, okay, so this is a Buddhist fairytale”, then I’m sorry, this sutra is not for you. [You can think] it’s Alice in Wonderland and stuff like that and be happy with this. But if you can go beyond this small mind, even reading the list of the disciples is just incredible. There were some incredible people. Just so incredible. And then of course, the contents of the teaching are even more mind-boggling. But we are not doing the whole Avatamsaka Sutra. Of course not. I am just giving you some sort of [taste], trying to make you have some sort of appetite or curiosity towards the Gandavyuha Sutra.

How the Buddha experiences things

[There] is another thing I should express, [namely] how we see and experience things. Right now, I’m looking at this screen. And I’m not seeing any of you. I have my experience of this room. I have my experience of a few people sitting in front of me right now [in this room]. And I imagine [that] many of you are looking at this screen right now. And I can only imagine [that] you are looking at a screen and you are seeing me. And that’s about all I have. 

I can just imagine, you must be looking at me and see [me in] this and that way. Within the human context, I can fairly [safely] say that you all see a bald man yelling at the screen. [As] human beings we can have some sort of agreement, I guess. But let’s say there’s a cat here or a dog here. We don’t know how they see [things], how they look at us. I’m just giving you this as an example. 

Now, imagine Buddha. [Imagine how] enlightened beings see the world. 

Our eyes, these eyes that we have, [they] only have the capacity to see. Even that with a lot of farsightedness, shortsightedness, cataracts and all those kinds of problems. Our eyes can see just this much. [However] Buddha’s eyes can not only see, Buddha’s eyes can [also] hear. Buddha’s eyes can taste. Buddha’s eyes can feel. Buddha’s eyes can comprehend. So now, try to imagine [what] the Buddha’s view and the bodhisattva’s view [is like]. There were lots of buddhas and bodhisattvas [receiving these teachings]. [Try to imagine] their view of how the world is functioning.

Borobodur Panel II-126 – Sudhana prostrates himself before Maitreya’s kūtāgāra, Theodoor van Erp, Leiden University Library.
From Fontein, Jan (2012) Entering the Dharmadhātu – A Study of the Gandavyūha Reliefs of Borobudur.

(2) The Gandavyuha Sutra

(a) Sudhana and Indriyeshvara

Introduction to Sudhana, our hero

Now, our hero in this sutra is Sudhana. In Tibetan, we call him Norbu Zangpo9Norbu Zangpo (Tibetan: ནོར་བུ་བཟང་པོ་) – see Sudhana.. Sudhana is quite interesting. Many times we refer to him as the merchant10He is introduced in section 3.28 of the Ghandavyuha Sutra as “the head merchant’s son” – see 84000.. But interestingly, in Chinese paintings, [he’s] also sometimes [depicted as a] chubby boy.11Note 290 in the 84000 translation explains:

Note 290
From the Sanskrit śreṣṭhidāraka. The Tibetan translates as tshong dpon gyi bu, “son of a head merchant.” The Chinese translates as 童子 (tong zi, “youth,” “youthful”), translating only dāraka and not śreṣṭhin.

See 84000.

But this is something that you need to know: the Gandavyuha Sutra really has descriptions of wealth. Because here we are basically talking about a businessman called Sudhana. He’s very, very rich12The Sanskrit word Sudhana literally means “very rich”, and the Tibetan translation Norbu Zangpo is also the epithet of Jambhala, the god of wealth – see Sudhana. Paragraph i.49 in the Introduction to the 84000 translation of the Gandavyuha Sutra gives additional background:

The Borobudur panels portray Sudhana as a prince-like young man with a retinue, whereas there are Chinese and Japanese depictions of him as a chubby child. Many years pass in the course of his wanderings. In chapter 8 it is stated that he spent twelve years searching for the head merchant Muktaka, so even if he were a child at the beginning, he would be an adult by the end. However, the conventional passage of time is not a feature of this sūtra. Sudhana is introduced as being part of one of four groups that come to see Mañjuśrī when he goes to South India. There are laypeople‍—the male upāsakas and female upāsikās‍—and dārakas and dārikas (“sons and daughters” or “boys and girls”), which, like the compound strī­puruṣa­dāraka­dārikāḥ much later in the sūtra, appears to imply parents and their children, and this is specifically indicated when Mahāprajña, the first of the eleven named upāsakas, is identified as the father of the first of the daughters. However, the definition of the terms dāraka and dārika includes unmarried males and females up to the age of twenty, and each of these sons and daughters who come to meet Mañjuśrī is accompanied by a retinue. Therefore, the implication is that Sudhana is not a child but presumably around eighteen or nineteen years old. As Sudhana is the first of the eleven named sons listed, the implication appears to be that, as the most prominent of the sons, he is also the son of Mahāprajña. The only description of his family is the vast, miraculous wealth they obtained upon his birth.

See 84000.
. I’m sure when we talk about rich, many of you think in terms of Elon Musk or Bill Gates. But if you read the description of the [wealth] of Sudhana and many other merchants here [in the sutra], today’s rich people are a joke [by comparison]. It’s a joke. [Sudhana and the other merchants] are incredibly wealthy people. And if you have time to flip through [the sutra], the descriptions are there.

But anyway, the Gandavyuha Sutra is sort of an account of this young bodhisattva, [who is] a pilgrim. Basically it’s [about] Sudhana’s travels as a pilgrim. And it is [and account of] his journey [in which he] encounters more than 50 gurus [or] masters, [who are all] bodhisattvas. And each one of them is just … I don’t know. For lack of words, I would just say [they are] mind-boggling.

And just as a small note here, his journey was triggered by Mañjushri. Mañjushri basically made him have this curiosity. I don’t know what it is about the South13Ed.: In most cases, Shudana heads South in order to find his next teacher. but anyway, he says, Go to the South and find this master. If you want to know the incredible infinite bodhisattva path, go to the South. Find this master.14This is in verse 3.94 of the 84000 translation, where Mañjuśrī Kumāra­bhūta says:

“Noble one, in this southern region there is a land named Rāmāvarānta, in which there is a mountain called Sugrīva, where there lives a bhikṣu by the name of Meghaśrī. Go to him and ask him, ‘How do bodhisattvas train in bodhisattva conduct? How do bodhisattvas practice it? How do bodhisattvas commence with bodhisattva conduct? How do bodhisattvas practice bodhisattva conduct? How do bodhisattvas perfect bodhisattva conduct? How do they purify it? How do they enter it? How do they attain it? How do they follow it? How do they maintain it? How do they increase it? How do bodhisattvas perfect the domain of completely good conduct?’ Then that kalyāṇamitra will teach you the domain of completely good conduct.”

Translation by 84000.

And then [Sudhana] goes to this place and he finds this master. And this master in turn gives him a lot of teachings, and then this master again encourages [him], Okay, go further15Ed.: DJKR said “furthermore”. This has been changed., and then there’s this master, [and] you have to learn from him or her.

Chapter 15: Indriyeshvara

It’s just not possible to go through each and every one of them, [so] I was thinking that I’ll just choose maybe one of the teachers. Many of them are women, [and] one of them is even a prostitute with whom he even has an intimate relationship16The story of Sudhana’s encounter with the courtesan Vasumitrā is told in Chapter 28 – see 84000.. This is his guru.

And I just want to say this. Especially if there are Chinese Mahayana people listening to this, this is not a tantric text. This is not a Vajrayana text. This is a purely Mahayana text. In fact, I would say the Avatamsaka Sutra is probably one of the [most] favoured and venerated and popular Mahayana texts within Chinese society. So if people can pay some attention [to the fact] that our great hero had teachers [who were] not just monks and men, but many of them were women. And one of them even happened to be a courtesan, a prostitute basically. These things are really part of the infinite that I was talking about.

But let me choose this one first. I think this is the 13th guru17Ed.: In the teaching, DJKR said this is the 15th guru. Sundhana’s encounter with Indriyeshvara is described in the Chapter 15 of the Gandavyuha Sutra, which means he is the 13th guru. There are 56 chapters, of which the first two are introductory. The next 54 chapters describe Sudhana’s encounters with 53 different gurus – he meets Mañjushri twice, in Chapter 3 and Chapter 55. However, Sudhana evidently met other gurus on his journey, and not all of these encounters are described in the sutra. In Chapter 54 Maitreya recounts that Sudhana has already met 110 gurus on his travels:

[. . .] Sent by Mañjuśrī Kumāra­bhūta, starting from the city of Dhanyākara, he has roamed throughout the southern region, asked questions of a hundred and ten kalyāṇamitras, and finally come before me, throughout that time proceeding with a superior motivation free of any kind of weariness.

See 84000.
. I’m not so good with these [things]. I didn’t do a proper academic arrangement. Anyway, his previous guru is a monk who is known as Tana Dukpa18Tana Dukpa (Tibetan: ལྟ་ན་སྡུག་པ།, Wylie: lta na sdug pa, literally “lovely to behold”) = Sudarśana, a bhikshu, the kalyāṇamitra of Chapter 14 – see g.1232 in 84000., a monk whose name is “beautiful one”. With this monk, he learned a lot. He received so many teachings. And then the monk finally said, You now need to go to this place and learn from this master. The master’s name is Indriyeshvara19Indriyeshvara (Sanskrit: इन्द्रियेश्वर, IAST: Indriyeśvara ; Tibetan: དབང་པོའི་དབང་ཕྱུག, Wangpö Wangchuk; Wylie: dbang po’i dbang phyug) – see Indriyeshvara., [which means something like] “Lord of Lords”20Ed.: The name Indriyeshvara is a compound of Indriya “power, force, the quality which belongs especially to the mighty Lord Indra” and Ishvara “mighty, ruler, lord, god” (sometimes syn. Shiva).. He is a boy21From Gandavyuha Sutra, verse 14.26:

Depart, noble one. In this southern region there is a city called Sumukha in the land called Śramaṇa­maṇḍala. There dwells a boy by the name of Indriyeśvara. Go to him and ask him, ‘How does a bodhisattva train in bodhisattva conduct? How does a bodhisattva practice it?’

See 84000.

Ask him again and again, how a bodhisattva should behave, how a bodhisattva should be diligent, how a bodhisattva should increase their courage, how a bodhisattva should be unbeatable, courageous, I guess. And how a bodhisattva should have a strong aspiration. And so on and so forth. He said, You should go and find this bodhisattva.

And then with tears in his eyes, Sudhana the disciple bids farewell to his 12th guru Sudarshana22Ed.: DJKR said this is the 14th guru. Sudhana’s encounter with Sudarshana is described in Chapter 14 of the Gandavyuha Sutra, which means he is the 12th guru. The numbering of gurus is explained in footnote 17 in the previous paragraph., [with whom he has] studied for many years. And by the way, [Sudhana] also has his entourage [with him], because he’s a very rich man23Sudhana’s entourage includes five hundred sons of other merchants:

The head merchant’s son Sudhana, with other sons of head merchants such as Suvrata, Suśīla, Svācāra, Suvikrāmin, Sucinti, Sumati, Subuddhi, Sunetra, Subāhu, Suprabha, and so on, each with an entourage of five hundred sons of head merchants, came to where Mañjuśrī Kumāra­bhūta was, bowed their heads to his feet, circumambulated Mañjuśrī Kumāra­bhūta three times, and sat to one side.

See 84000.
. And again, even this, you should really listen [to] in the context of the infinite, because [Sudhana’s] trip [would] probably take us [something like] 100 years [or] 200 years, if [we] think in our ordinary, limited way of thinking.

Sudhana meets Indriyeshvara

[Ed.: The text from Chapter 15 of the 84000 translation of the Gandavyuha Sutra is included in dark red.]

Sudhana, the head merchant’s son, recited, promulgated, presented, investigated, elucidated, reflected on, described, taught, contemplated, bestowed, understood, was immersed in, repeated again and again, realized, propounded, illuminated, and surveyed the teaching of the bhikṣu Sudarśana.

He eventually, with an entourage of devas, nāgas, yakṣas, and gandharvas, arrived at the city of Sumukha in the land called Śramaṇa­maṇḍala.

He searched for the boy Indriyeśvara until the devas, nāgas, yakṣas, and gandharvas in the sky above called down, “Noble one, the boy Indriyeśvara, accompanied by ten thousand other children, is playing in the sand at the conflux of the rivers.”

So anyway, Sudhana bids farewell to the 12th guru and he goes in search for this 13th guru.

Then Sudhana, the head merchant’s son, went into the city of Sumukha toward the confluence of the rivers. When he arrived there, he saw the boy Indriyeśvara accompanied by ten thousand children, playing in the sand.

And finally, at the confluence of the river, he sees a little boy with 10,000 playmates playing in the sand on the beach. What an image. They’re playing. They are having fun there. And from a distance, the great Sudhana sees the boy bodhisattva playing with 10,000 other boys.

When he saw the boy Indriyeśvara, he approached him, bowed his head to the boy Indriyeśvara’s feet, circumambulated the boy Indriyeśvara many hundreds of thousands of times, keeping him to his right, and then sat down before the boy Indriyeśvara.

[He’s] very much moved by the boy, and he goes to the boy [and] touches the boy’s feet. [He] offers his veneration, homage and prostrations. [He] circumambulates the little boy hundreds of thousands times. Again, don’t think in terms of our [limited ideas of] time and measurement.

By the way, I’m making it very short, just just to give you some idea.

15.5 (contd.)
He placed the palms of his hands together and said, “Ārya, I have developed the aspiration for the highest, complete enlightenment. How does a bodhisattva train in bodhisattva conduct? In what way does a bodhisattva practice it?”

“Ārya, I have heard that you teach and give instructions to bodhisattvas. Therefore, Ārya, teach me how bodhisattvas train in bodhisattva conduct and in what way they practice it!”

After lots and lots of circumambulation, he sits in front of the boy and begs for teaching. He says, I have taken the bodhisattva vow. How should I now apply the bodhisattva path? How should I really make myself diligent? I have heard your incredible enlightened fame from far and wide, and I came here in search for you, for your advice. I ask this wholeheartedly, with utmost seriousness. please show me the way. Show me the path.

Indriyeshvara’s teaching

Indriyeśvara said, “Noble one, Mañjuśrī Kumāra­bhūta has taught me writing, numbers, symbols, and counting so that I entered through the gateway called the wisdom that possesses clairvoyance in all crafts.

“Thus, noble one, I know all writing and terminology in this world; all numbers, calculations, symbols, the knowledge of dice throwing, and the knowledge of the various crafts; physiology; methods to cure poisoning; exorcising śoṣas, apasmāras, bhūtas, pretas, and demons; the knowledge of where to establish villages, towns, marketplaces, cities, parks, and forest groves for ascetics; the knowledge of the measurements of walls, houses, windows, and kūṭāgāras; the knowledge of how to make various machines and chariots; the knowledge of good and bad omens, omens of danger and safety; the knowledge of the practices of farming and business; the knowledge of the analysis of the signs of the movement and characteristics of the limbs and the minor extensions of the body; the knowledge of the ways of purifying the path of karma that leads to the higher realms or the lower existences; the knowledge of good and bad groups and offerings; the knowledge of the accumulations that lead to the higher existences or to the lower existences; the knowledge of the accumulations that lead to the Śrāvakayāna and Pratyeka­buddhayāna; the knowledge of the accumulations that lead to the level of the tathāgatas; and the knowledge of the processes of application to causes and actions.

And then the boy said in reply, You know, I studied under Mañjushri. Mañjushri taught me how to write, how to count, grammar, language and numerology. Yes, this [chapter] is about numerology, by the way. And also I have learned the art of creating crafts. And Mañjushri is the one who made me have the quality of omniscience. And because of Mañjushri, I actually know [all] the letters that exist in the whole wide universe. I know all the names that exist in the universe, not just the earth. And the numerology, mathematics, symbolism, and how to articulate [them], when you need to articulate these things, I know everything, how to articulate things.

This is a little boy, probably about eight years old, talking to the great merchant who has already graduated [after] learning from some of the great monks and scholars, about [a dozen] of them already. Now, he’s with this boy.

And I have learned art. And I have learned about the elements, the constitution of beings. I have learned how to heal people from ailments that are caused by poisons of all kinds, I know how to quench the thirst of all different kinds of thirst. And I also know how to cure forgetfulness and possession of demons and dark forces. I know the size and the width and the quantities and the qualities of all kinds of cities, villages, markets, restaurants. I know different kinds of forests, parks, gardens. I know the shapes of the houses, I know the size [and] the design of the houses. I know where the windows are, and how the windows are built. This is the little boy talking. And [I know] the elevation of the houses. And I also know the sort of the engineering or how the actual system operates. And I also know how to also assemble or how to run chariots. Anyway, [there is a] very long list of these.

“I make all beings enter into those knowledges, settle them in those knowledges, establish them in those knowledges, make them study those knowledges, make them practice those knowledges, make them stable in those knowledges, make them dedicated to those knowledges, make them complete those knowledges, make them accomplished in those knowledges, make them use those knowledges, make them elevate those knowledges, make them increase those knowledges, make those knowledges effective, bring those knowledges to their conclusion, make them purify those knowledges, make those knowledges stainless, make those knowledges shine, make those knowledges bright and clear, and make those knowledges vast.

I also know the science and the truth of virtue and the non-virtuous. I know what makes sentient beings suffer. I also know what makes a shravaka or a pratyekabuddha, what makes them achieve their arhat state. And not only [do] I know them, I actually make many people go and enter into the arhat state and the bodhisattva state. All the time, I’m helping them. I make people go beyond references. I purify people’s defilements. I clean their stains, I really clean them completely. I make them luminous. I make them very open.

(b) Bodhisattva numerology

The way of calculations of the bodhisattvas

“Thus, noble one, I know the way of calculations of the bodhisattvas. What is it?”

[And then the boy says] But especially, I know the bodhisattva’s way of counting. Numerology24Ed.: Merriam-Webster defines numerology as “the study of the occult significance of numbers”, where occult is defined as “not revealed ; not easily apprehended or understood ; hidden from view”..

And this is the part that I [have] chosen to talk about a little bit more here. Because there are so many [parts we could talk about]. As human beings, you and I, what do we have [in the way of numbers]? We have [numbers starting] from 0, 1, 2, 3, [then] hundred, thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, one million, and then what? Then billions, trillions, and then what do we have? After a while, we run out. But the boy’s numerology doesn’t run out. His terms just keep going on and on25Ed.: DJKR said “He has just ongoing terms for this”.

This is something that I cannot translate. I will just read it as auspiciousness for those who are listening. This is [a series of] numbers26Paragraphs 56 and 57 in the introduction to 84000 translation of the Gandavyuha Sutra offer additional perspective on these numbers:

Chapters 10 and 15 of the Gaṇḍa­vyūha have two long lists of numbers that demonstrate the innumerable beings for whom bodhisattvas seek enlightenment. Any number, no matter how large, does not encapsulate the scope of their salvific agenda. These two lists of numbers should have been identical. As this is a unique list of numbers, they have proved to be very susceptible to corruption or omission. There are differences between the two lists in the surviving Sanskrit and also for the same lists in different Sanskrit editions. Moreover, the same numbers were translated differently into Tibetan in the two chapters [. . .] It may never be possible to ascertain the original condition of the lists, but their purpose was not to create a reliable mathematical tool but to overwhelm the mind with an inconceivable vastness of numbers. Therefore, a disproportionate amount of time has been spent on these pages of numbers, even though a reader may very well skip over them.

The system of enumeration reaches numbers of such enormous value that they exceed even the extensive system of names for large numbers that have been developed in English in modern times, the highest being the googolplex (a 1 followed by a hundred zeros, and the source for the name and verb Google). Even such a number is dwarfed by the vastness of the universe of the Gaṇḍa­vyūha, where even within each atom there are as many buddhas as there are atoms in total. Therefore, an attempt to provide equivalent English names foundered, and the inconsistency in the Tibetan has resulted in choosing the Sanskrit names for this translation, though the various Tibetan, Chinese, and Sanskrit equivalents or variants are supplied in the endnotes.

From 84000.
. Like trillion. After trillion is what? Zillion? Zillions and zillions. That’s all we can say. As human beings, that’s all we can manage. But not this boy! It begins with one hundred, then:[Ed.: you may wish to listen to the recording of DJKR’s reading transmission of verse 15.10 while reading the verse below]

[DJKR gives reading transmission from Chapter 15 of Gandavyuha Sutra]  [t = 6M 47S]

15.10 (contd.)
“A hundred thousand times a hundred is ten million. Ten million times ten million is an ayuta. An ayuta times an ayuta is a niyuta. A niyuta times a niyuta is a bimbara. A bimbara times a bimbara is a kiṃkara. A kiṃkara times a kiṃkara is an agara. An agara times an agara is a pravara. A pravara times a pravara is a mapara. A mapara times a mapara is an avara. An avara times an avara is a tapara. A tapara times a tapara is a sīma. A sīma times a sīma is a yāma. A yāma times a yāma is a nena. A nena times a nena is an avaga. An avaga times an avaga is one mṛgava. One mṛgava times one mṛgava is one vināha. A vināha times a vināha is one viraga. A viraga times a viraga is one avagama. An avagama times an avagama is a vigava. A vigava times a vigava is a saṃkrama. A saṃkrama times a saṃkrama is a visara. A visara times a visara is a vibhaja. A vibhaja times a vibhaja is a vijaṅgha. A vijaṅgha times a vijaṅgha is a visota. A visota times a visota is a vivāha. A vivāha times a vivāha is a vibhakta. A vibhakta times a vibhakta is a vikhata. A vikhata times a vikhata is a tulana. A tulana times a tulana is an atula. An atula times an atula is a varaṇa. A varaṇa times a varaṇa is a vivaraṇa. A vivaraṇa times a vivaraṇa is an avana. An avana times an avana is a thavana. A thavana times a thavana is a viparya. A viparya times a viparya is a samarya. A samarya times a samarya is a viturṇa. A viturṇa times a viturṇa is an hetura. A hetura times a hetura is a vicāra. A vicāra times a vicāra is a visāra. A visāra times a visāra is a vyatyasta. A vyatyasta times a vyatyasta is an abhyudgata. An abhyudgata times an abhyudgata is a viśiṣṭa. A viśiṣṭa times a viśiṣṭa is a nivala. A nivala times a nivala is a haribha. A haribha times a haribha is a vikṣobha. A vikṣobha times a vikṣobha is a halibha. A halibha times a halibha is a harisa. A harisa times a harisa is an aloka. An aloka times an aloka is a dṛṣṭānta. A dṛṣṭānta times a dṛṣṭānta is a hetuna. A hetuna times a hetuna is a durbuda. A durbuda times a durbuda is a haruṇa. A haruṇa times a haruṇa is an ela. An ela times an ela is a dumela. A dumela times a dumela is a kṣemu. A kṣemu times a kṣemu is an akṣayamukta. An akṣayamukta times an akṣayamukta is an elada. An elada times an elada is a māluda. A māluda times a māluda is a maṇḍumā. A maṇḍumā times a maṇḍumā is a viṣamatā. A viṣamatā times a viṣamatā is a samatā. A samatā times a samatā is a visada. A visada times a visada is a pramantā. A pramantā times a pramantā is a pramātra. A pramātra times a pramātra is an amātra. An amātra times an amātra is a bhramātra. A bhramātra times a bhramātra is a gamātra. A gamātra times a gamātra is a namātra. A namātra times a namātra is a hemātra. A hemātra times a hemātra is a vimātra. A vimātra times a vimātra is a paramātra. A paramātra times a paramātra is a śivamātra. A śivamātra times a śivamātra is an ela. An ela times an ela is a vela. A vela times a vela is a tela. A tela times a tela is a śaila. A śaila times a śaila is a gela. A gela times a gela is a śila. A śila times a śila is a śvela. A śvela times a śvela is a nela. A nela times a nela is a bhela. A bhela times a bhela is a kela. A kela times a kela is a sela. A sela times a sela is a pela. A pela times a pela is a hela. A hela times a hela is a mela. A mela times a mela is a saraḍa. A saraḍa times a saraḍa is a māruta. A māruta times a māruta is a meruda. A meruda times a meruda is a kheluda. A kheluda times a kheluda is a māluda. A māluda times a māluda is a samula. A samula times a samula is an ayava. An ayava times an ayava is a kamala. A kamala times a kamala is a magava. A magava times a magava is an atara. An atara times an atara is a heluya. A heluya times a heluya is a veluva. A veluva times a veluva is a kajāva. A kajāva times a kajāva is a havava. A havava times a havava is a havala. A havala times a havala is a vivara. A vivara times a vivara is a bimba. A bimba times a bimba is a caraṇa. A caraṇa times a caraṇa is a carama. A carama times a carama is a parava. A parava times a parava is a dhavara. A dhavara times a dhavara is a dhamana. A dhamana times a dhamana is a pramada. A pramada times a pramada is a nigama. A nigama times a nigama is an upavarta. An upavarta times an upavarta is a nirdeśa. A nirdeśa times a nirdeśa is an akṣaya. An akṣaya times an akṣaya is a saṃbhūta. A saṃbhūta times a saṃbhūta is an amama. An amama times an amama is an avada. An avada times an avada is an utpala. An utpala times an utpala is a padma. A padma times a padma is a saṃkhya. A saṃkhya times a saṃkhya is a gati. A gati times a gati is an upagama. An upagama times an upagama is an aupamya. An aupamya times an aupamya is an asaṃkhyeya. An asaṃkhyeya times an asaṃkhyeya is an asaṃkhyeya­parivarta. An asaṃkhyeya­parivarta times an asaṃkhyeya­parivarta is an aparimāṇa. An aparimāṇa times an aparimāṇa is an aparimāṇa­parivarta. An aparimāṇa­parivarta times an aparimāṇa­parivarta is an aparyanta. An aparyanta times an aparyanta is an aparyanta­parivarta. An aparyanta­parivarta times an aparyanta­parivarta is an asamanta. An asamanta times an asamanta is an asamanta­parivarta. An asamanta­parivarta times an asamanta­parivarta is an agaṇeya. An agaṇeya times an agaṇeya is an agaṇeya­parivarta. An agaṇeya­parivarta times an agaṇeya­parivarta is an atulya. An atulya times an atulya is an atulya­parivarta. An atulya­parivarta times an atulya­parivarta is an acintya. An acintya times an acintya is an acintya­parivarta. An acintya­parivarta times an acintya­parivarta is an aparyanta. An aparyanta times an aparyanta is an aparyanta­parivarta. An aparyanta­parivarta times an aparyanta­parivarta is an amāpya. An amāpya times an amāpya is an amāpya­parivarta. An amāpya­parivarta times an amāpya­parivarta is an anabhilāpya. An anabhilāpya times an anabhilāpya is an anabhilāpya­parivarta. An anabhilāpya­parivarta times an anabhilāpya­parivarta is an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya. An anabhilāpyānabhilāpya times an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya is an anabhilāpyānabhilāpya­parivarta.”

So [I wonder what] you guys think [about] this strange sounding [text] that I have been just reciting. Each of these words is basically a term for a number, like “zillion” or “trillion”. If you think it’s just a word, just [an] arbitrary label, from the bodhisattva’s point of view, [the term for the number] “one” is equally arbitrary, label, relative.

The way that the bodhisattvas relate to numbers is infinite

“With this method of counting of the bodhisattvas, the entirety of however many successions of names that can be taught and that are in the ten directions is counted in full.

“However, noble one, in that way I know only this light of bodhisattva wisdom that is the possession of the clairvoyance of crafts that is the knowledge of all phenomena. How could I know the conduct of the bodhisattvas who engage with the number of all beings, who engage with the number of all the accumulations of Dharmas, who engage with the number of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, and who have power over the wheel of the names of all the Dharmas? How could I describe their qualities? How could I reveal the range of their activity? How could I elucidate the scope of their knowledge? How could I praise their strengths? How could I proclaim their resolute intentions? How could I cast light on their accumulations? How could I explain their prayers? How could I teach their conduct? How could I speak of their pure perfections? How could I make clear their pure attainments? How could I describe the range of their samādhis? How could I comprehend the light of their wisdom?

But here, the boy [Indriyeshvara] is saying, See, I know all these numbers, and as a bodhisattva, you should know these numbers. Only if you know these numbers, only then you will know how many numbers of different beings, how many different numbers of teachings, and how many different numbers and quantities of skillful means one could apply.

The way I’m understanding [this] is that the way the bodhisattvas relate to numbers is infinite. People like us are so limited in thinking [with just a] few numbers. We are getting by. But these bodhisattvas, they’re thinking in a totally in a different realm of numbers.

Borobodur Panel IV-28 – Homage to Samantabhadra, Theodoor van Erp, Leiden University Library.
From Fontein, Jan (2012) Entering the Dharmadhātu – A Study of the Gandavyūha Reliefs of Borobudur.

So this was one of the accounts of [Shudana’s] pilgrimage that I chose to speak [about] today. It’s already [been] about one hour now. And each and every [one of the] 53 bodhisattva gurus, they [are] all totally different. They each seem to have different manifestations. For instance, one of them is a cook, basically a chef, [who tells Shudana] how she cooks all kinds of unthinkable food27This is the story of Shudana’s meeting with Prabhūtā in Chapter 16. And then there’s another one who is actually a perfume maker28Shundana meets two perfume merchants during his travels: Samanta­netra in Chapter 19, and Utpalabhūti in Chapter 24..

I wanted to actually discuss this [perfume maker], but then I thought maybe I should choose the [story of Shudana’s meeting with the] little boy. The other one that I really like is [one who is] a sort of vagabond. One who’s going everywhere. He’s travelling, he’s going around all the time29Ed.: It is unclear which chapter DJKR is referring to here, but it could be the story of Supratiṣṭhita in Chapter 6. He is described as “walking back and forth in the sky” when Sudhana first sees him. He’s a traveller, a globetrotter. And Sudhana encounters him, because an earlier bodhisattva recommended [him].

But anyway, [his journey] comes completely round, and [Shudana] comes back to Mañjushri. Of course, Manjushri. [He’s] one of the later gurus30Shudana meets Mañjushri again in Chapter 55, the penultimate chapter.. And then the last one is Samantabhadra. [His place of enlightenment is] in China, [at] a place called Omei Shan31Mount Emei (Chinese: 峨眉山; pinyin: Éméi shān), alternately Mount Omei, is a 3,099-metre-tall (10,167 ft) mountain in Sichuan Province, China. It is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China. It is traditionally regarded as the bodhimaṇḍa, or place of enlightenment, of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra – see wikipedia.. [Samantabhadra is usually depicted] riding an elephant32Unlike his more popular counterpart Mañjushri, Samantabhadra is rarely depicted alone and is usually found in a trinity on the right side of Shakyamuni Buddha, mounted on a white elephant with six tusks. Some believe that the white elephant mount of Samantabhadra was the same elephant that appeared to Queen Maya, the mother of the Buddha, to herald his birth – see wikipedia.. And the final part of the last [chapter] of this sutra is Samantabhadra’s Prayer that we recite.

The Gandavyuha Sutra deconstructs our ordinary way of thinking

Well, that [brief introduction to the Gandavyuha Sutra is] like me holding a hair and dipping it in the ocean and sprinkling this towards ourselves and saying, ”This is ocean”. I mean, I can claim that, but it’s not the whole ocean. So just to make you really understand and appreciate. And this is not just a fairy tale. It’s really working with and deconstructing our ideas of size, our ideas of numbers, our ideas of shapes, and [our ideas of] time.

And of course, as usual, there are also some other classic bodhisattva courageous actions. When Sudhana went to one of the masters, the master said, Jump into this fire33This is the story of Shudana’s meeting with Jayoṣmāyatana in Chapter 12.. And then Sudhana said, Okay, wait a minute, maybe this man is a charlatan? Maybe he’s not really a master. I have a precious human body. How can I damage myself? How can I benefit sentient beings if I jump into the fire and die? Then that will be the end. And at that very moment, the gods and all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, one after another told Sudhana, No, this bodhisattva is the supreme teacher that practices patience. Anyway, there is that encounter.

So, I hope that this has at least aroused some sort of interest. I mean, forget about covering the sutra. Of course [I could not cover the whole] Avatamsaka Sutra. Not even the Gandavyuha Sutra. But actually, I did not even manage to finish my notes beyond [the first] two pages [DJKR holds up his teaching notes], I actually wanted to share a few things, but it’s just infinite. But I hope at least it made some sort of sense for some of you.


Q & A

Do we need to practice Buddhadharma once we reach the other shore?

[Q]: Should people still practice Buddhadharma when they reach the offshore [Ed.: other shore]? And is the offshore still under the Dharma’s cover?

[DJKR]: Offshore? I don’t know. I wonder what he means by offshore. You mean like in Panama?

[Q]: I think it means free of greed, delusion and hatred.

[DJKR]: I see. No. Then Dharma is useless. You have done your job. So no need.

What should I do in order to meet my own personal guru?

[Q]: I would like to [meet] my own personal guru. Other than working hard on my practice, what else should I be doing?

[DJKR]: Since we are talking [about] this sutra, the Gandavyuha Sutra, I think if you’re looking for a guru, you really should at least read a few pages of how Sudhana went in search for the guru. And how the age, gender, and profession of the so-called guru really is not that important. Because, I mean, seriously, how many of us here today would go to a beach [where] you see some kids playing there, and then completely bow down to a kid and beg for teachings to guide yourself?

For me, we are talking about openness. We are talking about going beyond fixations. That’s how I myself am interpreting [the sutra]. Many of these [stories], and I’m sure the translators have found it very difficult also, are almost beyond articulation. It’s difficult.

I was talking to some of my friends here, that if there are people who are listening today in this audience, if there are people who are actually experienced editors or creators of children’s books, it would be really nice if some of you can come up with ideas to create something like 53 illustrated [stages of] Shudana’s journey in search for a spiritual friend.

Do we need to study before practicing the Vajrayana?

[Q, Alex in Russia]: Is the knowledge of the sutras and lamrim a mandatory and necessary step before practicing the Vajrayana?

[DJKR]: I think hearing is always important. It’s your insurance. Hearing the sutras. And as I said at the beginning of tonight’s conversation, because the sutras are sometimes really beyond our ordinary concepts, reading the commentaries, and really developing some sort of analytical and critical way of establishing a firm understanding of the view is really crucial. A little bit at least. And then, since our life is short, I guess one must begin to practice. But even when you are practicing, I would suggest never to give up reading and studying these texts, at least initially.

If everything is primordially pure, how did ignorance start?

[Q, Carla in Portugal]: If primordial wisdom and Buddhanature are the essential nature of all beings, how did primordial wisdom create samsara? Where did the delusion start?

[DJKR]: That question is an oxymoron. If you’re talking about primordial wisdom, ignorance never started. It never happened.

[Q]: [I’m] trying to find a starting point in the timeline to see how did all this start?

[DJKR]: Yes. The moment you talk about how all this started, then we are talking in the context of time. Therefore, we are talking about manufacturing date and so forth. Then to answer this question, I would say it started now, right this very moment.

How can we experience the kind of infinity that is described in the sutra?

[Q]: What should we do to experience that kind of infinity that was explained in the sutra?

[DJKR]: This is an important question. Because this is related to the sutra that we are trying to read. I think it’s really important to exercise our mind. I mean, just imagine. Okay, here is Sudhana in search for the guru. And he finds these kids, supposedly 10,000 of them [playing] in the sand. By the way, the kid bodhisattva, his name in Sanskrit is Indriyeshvara. I think it has something to do with “Lord of Lords” or something like that.

[Q]: “Lord of the Faculties”?

[DJKR]: Oh, yes, that’s right. Lord of the Faculties. [That] sounds right, wangpo means senses34Indriyeshvara (Sanskrit: इन्द्रियेश्वर, IAST: Indriyeśvara ; Tibetan: དབང་པོའི་དབང་ཕྱུག, Wangpö Wangchuk; Wylie: dbang po’i dbang phyug) is a compound of Indriya and Ishvara “lord”. Indriya means “power, force, the quality which belongs especially to the mighty Lord Indra” but also “sense, sense organ, sense faculty”, so the name may be translated as “Lord of Lords” and also as “Lord of the Faculties” – see Indriyeshvara.. Even the name, None of us are lord of our senses. In fact, our senses are our lord. We follow wherever our senses dictate. [Whereas] the boy is the Lord of the Senses, right?

Just imagine a kid approaching Indriyeshvara and asking, Hello Indriyeśvara, how many sentient beings would you like to enlighten this very moment? And maybe Indriyeshvara says, Oh, I want to benefit maybe ten vijangha35vijangha (Sanskrit: विजङ्घ, IAST: vijaṅgha) = A very large number that appears in Chapter 15 of the Gandavyuha Sutra. Its value is 1 followed by 29,360,128 zeros – see vijangha.. That’s billions, billions and billions. He might say something like Oh, I only have enough time for ten vijangha [sentient beings]. [Whereas people like us] might say, I only have enough time to meet two people right this very moment.

But you know, this is how we ignorant [beings are]. The moment we cannot chew it or comprehend it, it’s in the department of myth and legend and fantasy. That’s how scientists usually think. They just can’t digest [the] infinite. What to do? It’s like Chandrakirti said36Ed.: DJKR gave this example in his teachings on Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara given in 1996, except there the example is that the tiny insect eats away and creates a space inside a mustard seed. From p. 35 of the transcript:

Generally, the view that needs to be realised by the shravakas, pratyekabuddhas and bodhisattvas is identical. But their realisation is not the same, as is illustrated by an image. Sometimes a tiny insect eats away the inside of a mustard seed, and creates a space inside the seed. The realisation of emptiness of the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas is as big as that space inside the mustard seed. Notice that I did not say ‘as small as’ – it is a big place! By contrast, the bodhisattva’s understanding of emptiness is as big as the sky, or perhaps I should say as small as the sky.
, some of these termite bugs eat wood, and then create a small hole. And inside this hole, there is a sky [i.e. space]. And this termite, this small insect goes inside this hole and [thinks], “This is the infinite sky”. Yes, why not? They can think like that. But it’s fairly small, isn’t it?

How can we learn to see $100 and $1000 as the same?

[Q, Angie]: You mentioned that for bodhisattvas, numbers are just labels and they [are the] same. So how [can] I see earning $100 or earning $1,000 as the same in my relative world right now?

[DJKR]: It depends on how many vibhajas of emotions you have37vibhaja (Sanskrit: विबझ) = A very large number that appears in Chapter 15 of the Gandavyuha Sutra. Its value is 1 followed by 29,360,128 zeros – see vibhaja.. It’s likely that you have many vibhajas of emotions. So what I’m saying is, if you have lots and lots of fixations, yes, it’s going to be difficult to have the same attitude towards a $100 bill and a $10 bill.

But if you reduce some of these fixations, yes, [you can develop an attitude like this]. I have seen this with my own eyes. There are a lot of practitioners who [can do this]. In India, there’s a yogi whose retreat hut has a lot of cracks and he covered those cracks with [bank] notes, [with] money. This can happen.

Why is Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka so hard to understand?

[Q, from Japan]: I have read the Madhyamaka shastras, but it was very difficult for me to understand them. Since Nagarjuna has compassion and wisdom. I feel he could have explained it in a way that is more easily comprehensible.

[DJKR]: Yes, so what’s the question?

[Q]: Why is it so difficult to understand this text? Why did Nagarjuna with his compassion and wisdom not make it more easily comprehensible?

[DJKR]: I can suggest several things. Nagarjuna is also tough, I know. I myself have cried several times reading Nagarjuna and people like Dharmakirti. They’re tough. To begin with, we are reading texts that were written during the 7th century38Ed.: Dharmakirti and Chandrakirti were influential Mahayana Buddhist philosophers that lived in the 7th century CE. Nagarjuna lived in the 2nd/3rd centuries CE.. And I am a half-Bhutanese half-Tibetan [person] reading a text written by a 7th century Indian scholar which later got translated into classic Tibetan. Now, I can totally understand [how it must feel for] you as a Japanese reading Nagarjuna’s texts.

So, I would suggest a few things. There are a lot of commentaries [on the] commentaries also. For instance, in the Tibetan philosophical tradition, there are so many commentaries [on] the commentaries like Nagarjuna’s works39Ed.: for example, Nagarjuna’s famous Madhyamaka text Mulamadhyamakakarika was written in 2nd/3rd centuries CE, and it is a commentary on the Buddha’s own words in the sutras. Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara was written in the 7th century CE, and it is a commentary on Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika.. And those are meant to make [the earlier commentaries] easy to understand. [Likewise] I’m sure lots of the great Japanese scholars and Zen masters have made a lot of [commentaries on Madhyamaka]. For instance, the Sixth Patriarch, Master Huineng40Huineng (Chinese: 大鑒惠能; pinyin: Dàjiàn Huìnéng) (638 – 713 CE) = the Sixth Chan Patriarch, a semi-legendary but central figure in the early history of Chinese Chan Buddhism. According to tradition he was an uneducated layman who suddenly attained awakening upon hearing the Diamond Sutra – see wikipedia. wrote a really incredible commentary on the Prajñaparamita teachings41The Platform Sutra (Chinese: 六祖壇經; pinyin: Liùzǔ Tánjīng or simply: 壇經 Tánjīng) = a Chan Buddhist scripture that was composed in China during the 8th to 13th centuries CE. The text centres on teachings and stories ascribed to the Sixth Chan Patriarch, Huineng – see wikipedia.. So I would suggest [that] you read this.

But actually, my better suggestion for you is to light an incense and light a butterlamp or some sort of a candle and pray to Nagarjuna or Avalokiteshvara or Mañjushri. Or if you are Japanese, maybe [pray] to Fudō Myōō42Fudō Myōō (Japanese: 不動明王) = the Japanese name for Achala (Sanskrit: अचल, “The Immovable”), a wrathful deity and dharmapala (protector of the Dharma) prominent in Vajrayana Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism – see wikipedia.. I bet you that [after this] you will read and you will understand. And this [method] is tested. This is proven. Take my word [for it].

Is meeting Samantabhadra the end of the journey?

[Q, Marianna]: Could you please speak a little more about the context at the end [of the Gandavyuha Sutra] where the Samantabhadra prayer is spoken? And in this sutra [is] encountering or recognizing Samantabhadra the end of the journey? Does it signify the end of the journey?

[DJKR]: Yes, and I will tell you just my own personal interpretation. At the end of the day, [all that] sentient beings like us can do is [that] we should long for these infinite, mind-boggling, un-longable things43Ed.: DJKR uses the term “un-longable” to mean “cannot be longed for”.. We should long for the un-longable things. In Tibetan we call it drébu mönpa mépa44drébu mönpa mépa (Tibetan: འབྲས་བུ་སྨོན་པ་མེད་པ་) = the result is beyond aspiration – see drébu mönpa mépa., “the result is beyond aspiration”, yet we aspire to actualize this result [that is] beyond aspiration. And that is what must be demonstrated by the Avatamsaka sutra generally, and then especially towards the end [in] the Gandavyuha Sutra. You know, I think it really helps when you are talking about [the] Gandavyuha Sutra if you are thinking in terms of the big Avatamsaka Sutra.

And it sounds like I’m bringing some sort of [excuse]. Yes, actually, it is an excuse. I’m giving you an excuse. I have no time to explain, but actually I have nothing to explain. It ran out. I’m just repeating the [same] thing again and again. But let’s say even if we had the time, it’s difficult [to explain].

For instance, I noticed [something] just a few days ago when I was reading the sutra. [In] the description of the time and the setting, [there is a] description of how many buddhas are sitting on the eastern plateau. There’s an atom and this eastern atom has some other atoms, and on the top of each of these atoms [there are] hundreds and millions [of buddhas]. I should use the right word. Hundreds and hundreds of vibhaja amounts of buddhas dancing and sitting. And each of them has hundreds and hundreds of vibhajas of disciples. And some of them are taking the bodhisattva vow for the first time. [They] go through all the bodhisattva training and finish their training and actualize enlightenment. Yet all this is happening within the blink of an eye. I’m telling you. You want to learn physics? You learn this. This is it. This is really physics in the complete sense. Yes, Einstein would have loved this.

[Q]: [You’re talking] about the large expanse of the space?

[DJKR]: And the absurd joke of size and quantity. It’s a joke basically. And duration. Yes. And yet we cling [to these things]. We cling. It’s a bit like we could [have a] dream [during] a three-minute power nap. And during that nap, we could meet somebody, get married with this somebody, bear children and [see] the children grow up. You send them to kindergarten, to high school, and then college. And then they all graduate and they get a job. And then they also get married, and then they have their children and you are now taking care of their children [and so on]. Your great-great-grandchildren.

All of that happen can happen within a three-minute nap.

And yes, this is the attitude you have to have [in order] to read Mahayana sutras. Otherwise, yes, it’s a fairy tale. And if you are reading [it as] a fairytale, you’ll get a fairy tale.

How can be become more openminded?

[Q, from Portugal]: How can we deconstruct ourselves from our conditioning in order to [begin to have] a more openminded reading of the sutra?

[DJKR]: As I said earlier, longing is fundamental. If you read the last last bit, you will know. It’s [about] longing. Towards the end, rushing and urgency to go to the Bodhi tree. Now, of course, the Bodhi tree in Bihar, that one also. But it’s also [about] entering under the Bodhi tree, meaning getting enlightened45Verse 53 of Samantabhadra’s Aspiration Prayer at the end of Chapter 56 of the Gandavyuha Sutra says that “Whoever recites this prayer for good conduct” will attain enlightenment under the Bodhi tree:

They will soon go to the Bodhi tree, the lord of trees,
And having reached there be seated for the benefit of beings,
Become enlightened in buddhahood, turn the wheel of the Dharma,
And overpower Māra and his entire army. {53}

From 84000.
. [We need to cultivate] that longing.

Is the infinite equivalent to emptiness?

[Q]: In this description, is infinite equivalent to emptiness?

[DJKR]: Very good. Very good. I like that. You know, this is something I want to tell you. All the Buddha’s teachings such as “everything is impermanent” and “everything is dukkha” are actually like a scam. It’s like a plot. When we say scam or a plot, there’s always a hidden agenda. What is the hidden agenda? The hidden agenda is always to understand shunyata. Otherwise, if there was no shunyata, why would Buddha teach impermanence? To make people suffer? To make people brood about how I’m going to die and how everything is going to decay? That’s not at all the purpose.

These [teachings] are all to divert [and] lure people into shunyata.

Yes, this is a very good question. Yes, the infinite. All these numbers that the boy was reciting? Yes, he’s making a joke about numbers. Yet he has infinite [numbers], about five pages [of them]. [Whereas in our ability to articulate numbers we can only go] up to zillions, [then] we have finished. But we get by [with our limited numbers], of course.

[The way] the little boy is looking at us is a bit like this. I’ll give you an example. You know, we look at a cat. Cats have maybe two or three vowels, right? Miaow, I don’t know, a few vowels. Maybe one or two vowels, but they talk and it’s okay. By the way, [for] the animal rights groups, I’m really not condemning animals here. So if there are any [animal rights supporters here], don’t make quick decisions here. I’m just saying they have a few vowels and a few consonants and they get by. And we tolerate [it].

This is how that little boy in the sand is looking at us. We have [numbers like] one, two, trillion and zillion. And that’s it. Yet we get by. But he has many [numbers]. This is why he’s saying I know many numbers. I know many, many. [I know] numerology that is beyond [what is] in your head.

Why does Sudhana always ask his teachers the same question about how to train in bodhisattva conduct?

[Q, Richard Dixey]: The question Sudhana asked all his teachers is, How should a bodhisattva train in bodhisattva conduct? Why is this question always chosen? And why does it never change from one teacher to the next?

[DJKR]: Very good, I’m surprised that a British [person] can actually ask a good question. Because usually they always have a fixed question that’s manufactured in Cambridge or Oxford. But this is a good question.

[Why is this question always chosen?] Because actually there is no other question that is more [important]. All other questions are irrelevant. [He is seeking to understand] zangpo chöpa46zangpo chöpa (Tibetan: བཟང་པོ་སྤྱོད་པ་) = excellent conduct – see zangpo chöpa., this excellent conduct, the bodhisattva conduct. These two. Basically, bodhisattva conduct. And when we are talking about conduct, of course we are talking about the view, meditation, action, everything. All the other [questions] are irrelevant.

I’m feeling bored and lonely at work. Should I leave my job?

[Q, from China]: I am getting less and less passionate about the career path I am on right now, I’m feeling I am more and more different from my company’s colleagues, and I’m feeling very lonely. Should I leave the company and my colleagues as well?

[DJKR]: I don’t know. Maybe not, especially after hearing the sutra and [the story of Sudhana’s meeting with] Indriyeshvara, the boy. Especially after [hearing] this, maybe [you] should be in the company even more. Because all [your] colleagues and the subsequent people with whom [you create] links, they may be part of [your] many, many vibhajas of sentient beings [you will enlighten]. Vibhajas. Zillions.

And consider yourself as a goldsmith and look at your company and the colleagues as a dented nose ring or bangle. Develop some sort of appetite and get famished in trying to fix it. And not necessarily [by] doing anything, but just through aspiration. These guys are very lucky that they are breathing in the same building as you, where you are breathing in and out.

Is the idea of the infinite attached to the idea of emptiness?

[Q]: The idea of infinite is necessarily attached to the idea of emptiness and the lack of inherent existence, as well as to the idea that everything is the same and different at the same time. Can you talk a bit about that?

[DJKR]: You already talked [about it]. Yes, that’s a good one. This is it actually. In Tibetan we say “Not falling into any kind of extreme or confirmation”. Not confirming. This is a very Indian [way of] thinking in general, and especially in Buddhism. Buddhists don’t see the world in black and white.

[Q]: [Do] we see it as grey and [with] many different spectrums of colour?

[DJKR]: I don’t know, actually. Maybe not even grey. But it can be everything also.

As ordinary humans, can we go beyond the limits of our own human body and mind?

[Q]: The sutra talks about the infinite, but as ordinary human beings, do we still have to live within the limits of our own human body and mind? Or can we move past that limit?

[DJKR]: Yes, we should have aspiration to go beyond this limit. And while we are ill-equipped to go beyond that [limit] right away, of course, we need to sort of eat our breakfast, eat our lunch, or sometimes also skip dinner. We need to apply all those humanly necessary things. We have no choice. At the same time, we have a choice to aspire to go beyond all that.

Is zero the same as infinite?

[Q, Angie]: Can we interpret zero to be the same as infinite?

[DJKR]: I don’t know [about] that one. We need to ask. I’m sure Richard Dixey is going to refute this. But anyway, I think there are a few names. You guys should really maybe explore somebody called Brahmagupta47Brahmagupta wrote the Brahmasputha Siddhanta, a text of mathematical astronomy, in c. 628 CE. The text includes several rules related to the number zero. For example, it states the sum of zero with itself is zero, although it incorrectly states that zero divided by zero is zero – see wikipedia.. I think he’s the one who created the idea of zero48Pingala was an Indian poet and mathematician who lived in the 3rd/2nd century BCE. He developed binary numbers in the form of short and long syllables, a notation similar to Morse code. Pingala used the Sanskrit word shunya explicitly to refer to zero. The concept of zero as a written digit in the decimal place value notation was also developed in India as early as during the Gupta period in the 5th century CE, with the oldest unambiguous evidence dating to the 7th century CE – see wikipedia.. There’s also someone called Aryabhata49Aryabhata (476–550 CE) was the first of the major mathematician-astronomers from the classical age of Indian mathematics and astronomy. While he did not use a symbol for zero, the French mathematician Georges Ifrah argues that knowledge of zero was implicit in Aryabhata’s place-value system as a place holder for the powers of ten with null coefficients – see wikipedia.. These guys lived in the [5th century CE]. So it’s really ancient. What really moves me is that even [at] that time, these guys came up with ideas like zero. That’s something.

[Q]: Maybe it was for commercial purposes. If [there is no zero then] business cannot work.

[DJKR]: Yes, exactly. Yes, you are right. Without zero, no commerce. But no school of economics can really teach us how to use vijangha for commercial purposes. And that’s why our economy is so small. Our economy is like the [tiny amount of] sky that’s scraped [inside the mustard seed] by that termite. And [yet] we think our economy is good.

Concluding remarks

[Q]: Rinpoche, would you like to say a little bit more to conclude the teaching?

[DJKR]: Well, I can only repeat that I agreed to do this just to create some sort of curiosity for people to explore the Avatamsaka Sutra. If not all [of the Avatamsaka Sutra], then [at least the] Gandavyuha Sutra. I wanted to do that, because I want people to really have a bigger picture and bigger appreciation [for the Mahayana]. If you have that, [and] then you read the sutras, I think you will have a different taste.

And once you have that, then all the Mahayana prayers and aspirations you make [will have a different taste]. Because what’s happening right now for many of us [is that we think], “Oh, I took a bodhisattva vow. Am I supposed to enlighten all beings? I can’t even enlighten New York”. New York has how many millions [of people]? “I can’t even enlighten my own husband or wife, who never agrees with me”. So all these numbers and quantities, they bog us down. They discourage us. But when we hear these kinds of sutras, then we begin to appreciate the importance [and] at the same time the hollowness of quantity.

Time, duration, quantity — as you understand them more, I think your attitude, your courage, your willingness will also become bigger. So hopefully, I did not dampen your spirit in reading these big sutras. Thank you.

[Q]: Thank you Rinpoche. Can I request you to teach some more on another occasion? Because you said there are many more pages in your notes. And there are other stories that you wanted to share. So may I request, please continue to teach this sutra and other sutras.

[DJKR]: Okay, I will try to read [the story of Sudhana’s meeting with] the chef. And [let’s] see what happens.


Note: to read footnotes please click on superscript numbers

Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio