Flower Adornment Sutra Preface

With Commentary By The Venerable Master Hua

A.D. 700 | 42,486 words

The Flower Adornment Sutra (Avataṃsaka Sūtra) is one of the most influential Mahayana sutras of East Asian Buddhism. The Avataṃsaka Sūtra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another. The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was written in stages, beginning from at least 500 years after the death of the Buddha....

V. The Expression’s Inclusion of the Roots and the Branch-tips


Although emptiness is emptied and the traces are cut off, still the sky of meanings’ stars glitter and blaze.
Although stillness is deepened so that words are lost, yet the sea of teachings’ waves are oceanic in extent.
As for the thousand doors which in secret flow, of multitudes of texts it forms the copious source.
The ten thousand virtues commingle and return, while companies of Sutras comprise its retinue.


Although emptiness is emptied and the traces are cut off. That is to be the midst of appearances yet free of appearances. Right within appearances to be apart from appearances. How? If you are not attached to appearances, you are free from appearances, and there are appearances and yet no appearances. “Although” means even though; and “emptied” means that apperances are emptied. Even though “emptiness is emptied and the traces are cut off...” “Emptiness is emptied” means that appearancelessness is emptied as well, and the traces are also cut off and severed; although the traces are severed, and there are no appearances, so that one is free from appearances while in the midst of appearances. Yet the sky of meanings’ stars glitter and blzae. “The sky of meanings” indicates that the meanings are so many that they resemble the sky. “Sky” “heaven” has the meaning of spontaneity. The meanings are as vast as the sky. The sky also has such heavenly bodies as the stars and moon, which glow with a luminous appearance. This is analogous to the...within the Buddha’s Teaching being as vast and great as the sky. The teaching’s meanings comprise all different kinds of principles, which are compared to starts which glitter and blaze. Therefore it says, still the sky of meanings’ stars glitter and blaze.

Although stillness is deepened so that words are lost. Stillness means profound stillness, and it also means pure clarity. The profound, clear stillness is deepened, so that words are lost. Nothing can be said. That is to be within words yet beyond words. How is it possible to be beyond words? If you have nothing to say, you will also be unable to explain the principle of there being nothing to say. To make understood what it is to be within language yet separate from language, you must employ language to express the principle of no language. That is why this section of the Preface is called The Expression’s Inclusion of the Roots and the Branch-tips. Basically, what is spoken of is the root, yet it includes the branch-tips. And basically speaking of the branch-tips also includes the root. The root and the branch-tips are non-dual. This is a quote from The Ten Aspects of According With Intent. Even though the deep is deepened so that words are lost, Yet the sea of teachings’ waves are oceanic in extent. The Teachings are the Buddha’s Teachings, which are placed in Five Periods and Eight Teachings:

The Five Periods are:

  1. The Flower Adornment Period.
  2. The Agama Period.
  3. The Expansive Period.
  4. The Prajna Period.
  5. The Dharma Flower-Nirvana Period.

The Eight Teachings are:

  1. The Store Teaching.
  2. The Connective Teaching.
  3. The Separate Teaching.
  4. The Perfect Teaching.
  5. The Sudden Teaching.
  6. The Gradual Teaching.
  7. The Secret Teaching.
  8. The Unfixed Teaching

In the first of the Five Periods, the Flower Adornment Period, the Flower Adornment Sutra was spoken for twenty-one days. One may wonder how it can be so long if it was spoken in twenty-one days, whereas the Dharma Flower and the Nirvana Sutras, which are not nearly so long as the Flower Adornment Sutra, together took eight years to speak. The reason is that the Flower Adornment Sutra was spoken by the Buddha as Nishyanada Buddha, and so it was spoken fast.

The second was the Agama Period in which the Teachings for the Two Vehicles were presented the dharmas of the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Conditioned Co-production. Concerning the Four Truths, a few years ago in this country, I met someone who had investigated Buddhism for a good many years who still inquired, “Are there four truths?” Now wouldn’t you say that it is truly pathetic for someone to have investigated Buddhism for over ten years still not recognize the Four Truths, but have to ask if the Four Truths are true? It would not have mattered so much if he had been an ordinary person, but he had a Ph.D.; yet still he didn’t even understand the Four Truths! And he said he’d studied Buddhism for over ten years.

The Expansive Period, an initial door leading from the Theravada through to the Great Vehicle.

The Prajna Period is called the Separate Teaching because it is not the same as the previous Connective Teaching, and also not the same as the subsequent Perfect Teaching. The Agama Period is called the Tripitaka Teaching, and the Expansive Period is called the Connective Teaching. The Connective Teaching connects with what came before it and with what comes afterwards. That is, it connects with the previous Tripitaka Teaching and with the following Prajna Period. The Prajna Period is different from what came before it, and different from what comes after it, inasmuch as it differes in certain respects from the previous Connective Teaching and is also not the same as the subsequent Perfect Teaching, which is why it is called the Separate Teaching. 

The Dharma Flower and Nirvana Period is called the Perfect Teaching. It was spoken particularly to cross over those whose root nature was that of the Great Vehicle.

The Five Periods and Eight Teachings relate in the following way:



Three Stores
Expansive Connective
Prajna Separate
Dharma Flower-Nirvana Sutra Perfect

The Sudden Teaching refers to the sudden and immediate opening of Enlightenment in an instant. The Gradual Teaching refers to gradually, little by little, opening Enlightenment. The Secret Teaching means that something is spoken for the other person without the first person knowing it, and something is spoken for the first person without the other person knowing it, both remaining unaware of what the other person knows. The Unfixed Teaching is the dharma of there being no fixed dharma. Altogether that makes Eight Teachings, which is what is meant by the sea of Teachings, indicating that all the Three Stores and Twelve Divisions of the Canon, the treasury of Sutras,  spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha are so numerous they are like a great sea. That is why it says “the sea of Teachings’ waves.” The waves in question are huge breakers, great waves among the waves, and so they are described as oceanic in extent and boundless.

As for the thousand doors which in secret flow. “As for” indicates a connection between what preceeded and what follows. The thousand doors is a way of saying that the doors are many. There may not be exactly one thousand, but perhaps nine-hundred and ninety-nine, or one thousand and one. It’s not fixed. Generalizing, it says a thousand doors, which in secret flow. In secret means that they flow to that place without people seeing them. It is similar to the great sea. The waters of all streams, rivers and lakes return to the ocean. Some may be seen as they flow to the sea, whereas there are slo those whose flow to the sea is invisible. Some flow on the surface of the earth as they return to the sea, and others flow beneath the earth to the sea, and cannot be seen. They are what is meant by “which in secret flow.” One can also speak in terms of the water of the great sea universally penetrating the great earth. No matter where you stand upon the surface of the earth, if you break the earth’s surface, there will always be water that flows from within. Flow, then, refers to those hidden currents of water which are everywhere within the earth, so that one may dig anywhere and discover water.

It is the same as the blood system within people’s bodies. No blood flows forth unless you puncture a person’s skin; once you do break the skin, however, the person bleeds. Those are secret flows to within the human body. Administering an injection is also similar. A hypodermic needle has a glass chamber which contains medicine. Once the medicine is injected into a person’s bloodstream, it constitutes a secret flow. So in Chinese a hypodermic needle is called a flow-projecting medicine-needle, using the same word as in “secret flow” here. “Projecting” is like shooting an arrow. The thousand doors which in secret flow refers to all of the various teaching principles in Buddhism, be they the Five Periods, the Eight Teachings, the Theravada, the Mahayana, or whatever all of which merge with the principle of Enlightenment the way all waters return to the sea. That is why it goes on to say:

Of multitudes of texts it forms the copious source. The multitudes of texts means all the Sutras: the Three Stores and the Twelve Divisions of the Canon:

I have already explained the Twelve Divisions of the Canon many times, and so now I’ll just list them.

Prose, Resumptive Verses and Predictions;
Interjections, Spontaneous Speakings Unrequested;
Causes and Conditions, Analogies as well as Past Lives’ Deeds:
Deeds of This Life, Expansions, the Hitherto Unknown;
Explanations, together make twelve terms,
As in the Great Shastra, roll thirty-three.

If you want to know more about them, you can ask the people here. If they remember, they can tell you. If they don’t remember, they can look them up. That way you and they can both benefit, for if they have forgotten them, they can refresh their memories, and those of you who don’t know can find out. So this is a Dharma door of benefitting self while benefitting others.

That is why it says:

Of multitudes of texts it forms the copious source. To call it the copious source is the compare it to the great sea. The ten thousand virtues commingle and return. The Buddha is endowed with ten thousand virtues:

No virtues not perfected;
No heights not reached.

To say the ten thousand virtues is, again, to generalize. The virtues commingle and return. They all come back together and return... where? They return to the Flower Adornment Sutra. The ten thousand virtues comming and return, While companies of sutras comprise its retinue. That is, while the Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra is able to include the other Sutras in its retinue, the Flower Adornment Sutra has companies of Sutras comprise its retinue, and so the Dharma Lotus Flower Sutra forms part of its retinue, its entourage, even though the Dharma Flower Sutra is a king in its own right.

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