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Lankavatara Sutra

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The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Sanskrit: लंकावतारसूत्र Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra ; traditional Chinese: 楞伽經; pinyin: léngqié jīng) is a sutra of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The sūtra recounts a teaching primarily between the Buddha and a bodhisattva named Mahāmati ("Great Wisdom"). The sūtra is set in Laṅkā, the island fortress capital of Rāvaṇa, the king of rākṣasas. The title of this text roughly translates as, "Scripture of the Descent into Laṅkā."

Rāvaṇa as depicted in Yakshagana, popular folk art of Karnataka.

The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra figured prominently in the development of Chinese, Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism. It is notably an important sūtra in Chinese Chán and its Japanese version, Zen.

Sūtra doctrine

The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra draws upon the concepts and doctrines of Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha. The most important doctrine issuing from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra is that of the primacy of consciousness (Skt. vijñāna) and the teaching of consciousness as the only reality. The sūtra asserts that all the objects of the world, and the names and forms of experience, are merely manifestations of the mind. The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra describes the various tiers of consciousness in the individual, culminating in the "storehouse consciousness" (Skt. Ālayavijñāna), which is the base of the individual's deepest awareness and his tie to the cosmic.

History and editions

According to one scholar, "it is generally believed that the sutra was compiled during 350-400 CE," although "many who have studied the sutra are of opinion that the introductory chapter and the last two chapters were added to the book at a later period." A number of ancient translations of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra were made from Sanskrit into the Chinese language, as early as the 3rd century CE with a translation by the Indian monk Dharmarakṣa. Of these, only three are now extant.

The first extant Chinese translation is Taisho Tripitaka 670 (楞伽阿跋多羅寶經). This is the earliest edition which was translated by Guṇabhadra in 443 CE, and divided into four fascicles. This edition by Guṇabhadra is said to be the one handed down from the founder of Chinese Zen, Bodhidharma, to the Second Patriarch, Huike, saying:

I have here the Laṅkāvatāra in four fascicles which I now pass to you. It contains the essential teaching concerning the mind-ground of the Tathagata, by means of which you lead all sentient beings to the truth of Buddhism.

The second extant Chinese translation is Taisho Tripitaka 671 (入楞伽經). This second edition was translated by Bodhiruci in 513 CE, and divided into ten fascicles. This edition is criticized in the imperial preface to the later translation, which says that it contains extra words and sentences mixed in that detract from the original meaning.

The third extant Chinese translation is Taisho Tripitaka 672 (大乘入楞伽經). This third edition was translated by Śikṣānanda in 700-704 CE, and divided into seven fascicles. This final translation was made at the behest of Empress Wu Zetian, after Śikṣānanda had completed his 80-fascicle translation of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. This translation is said to have employed five separate Sanskrit editions for accuracy. Before the final edits to this version had been made, Śikṣānanda returned to India, and another Indian monk came to China who had studied the Buddhist sutras for 25 years in India, and who knew the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. He was then given the task of revising the translation made by Śikṣānanda.

In addition to these Chinese translations, an extant Sanskrit edition of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra is available, as well as a Tibetan edition.

English translations

The late Sanskrit edition of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra was translated into Japanese and English by D.T. Suzuki. This was published in 1932 as The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text.

Red Pine has translated the earliest extant edition of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, the Guṇabhadra edition in four fascicles. This translation was published in 2012 as The Lankavatara Sutra: Translation and Commentary.

Lankavatara Sutra
楞伽経 (Skt; Chin Leng-ch’ieh-ching; Jpn Ryoga-kyo )

    A Mahayana sutra that discusses the Consciousness-Only doctrine, especially the alaya-consciousness, and the inherent potential for Buddhahood. The Sanskrit text of the Lankavatara Sutra is thought to have been composed around C.E. 400. It represents the integration of two doctrines—that of the matrix of the Thus Come One and the Consciousness-Only doctrine—and asserts that all people possess the matrix of the Thus Come One, or the potential for Buddhahood. It equates the matrix of the Thus Come One with the alaya-consciousness. The sutra takes the form of a discourse by Shakyamuni Buddha on Mount Lanka, the actual location of which is unknown. Some scholars identify Lanka with Sri Lanka, while others place it in southern or central India. In addition to the Sanskrit manuscript and two Tibetan translations, there are three extant Chinese versions:

(1) one translated in 443 by Gunabhadra, a monk from central India;
(2) another, in 513 by Bodhiruchi, a monk from northern India; and
(3) a third produced between 700 and 704 by Shikshananda, a monk of Khotan in Central Asia. A fourth, actually the earliest version, translated in the early fifth century by Dharmaraksha, a monk from central India, is lost. An important text for the early Zen (Ch'an) school in China, the Lankavatara Sutra was related to the development of the Zen school during the T'ang dynasty (618-907). Many commentaries on the sutra were produced during the T'ang, Sung (960-1279), and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties.


Wikipedia:Lankavatara Sutra