Huayan (simplified Chinese: 华严; traditional Chinese: 華嚴; pinyin: huáyán; lit. "strict quintessence"; translated into Japanese as Kegon, Korean as Hwaŏmor, and Vietnamese as Hoa Nghiêm) or its full name Huayanzong (華嚴宗, 华严宗, huáyán zōng, this term coming from Sanskrit:
Avatamsaka, is a school of Chinese Mahâyâna Buddhism whose speculative teaching, the Huayanlun (Huayan Discourse), is based on the exegesis of the eponymous sutra (Avatamsaka Sutra or Huayanjing). Avatamsaka means the ornament of flowers (metaphor of the supreme understanding).
The school began to develop in the second half of the Northern and Southern dynasties, with the Avatamsaka Sutra sometimes becoming a craze: recitation and study groups were created by such personalities as Prince Wenxuan of the Southern Qi; a prince of the Northern Qi is said to have burned himself in sacrifice to the bodhisattva Manjushri.
It reached its peak in the middle of the Tang, and seems to have passed its maturity when it was hit by the anti-Buddhist persecution of the years 841-845, from which it did not recover. Its influence nevertheless continued to be exerted, visible in particular in the Chan school, the only one with the Pure Land to survive the persecutions.
As is customary, the school claims the most ancient masters, the Indian philosophers Ashvaghosha and Nāgārjuna, of whom it makes its founders, but those who really contributed to its development are the five Chinese masters Dushun (杜順 557-640), Zhiyan (智儼 602-668), Fazang (法藏 643-712), Chengguan (澄觀 737-838), and Zongmi (宗密 780-841), to whom we must add the scholar Li Tongxuan (李通玄 635-730).
It is to the most famous of them, Fazang, that the tradition of the school lends its main ideas, but the whole is not by him alone, despite the importance of his contribution (about a hundred scrolls).
Huayan is one of the schools born in the life of the century from the efforts to assimilate and synthesize Buddhist writings and concepts, aiming in particular to draw from the diverse and sometimes contradictory texts a coherence in harmony with the Chinese metaphysical, philosophical and moral notions.
Numerous sutras of various origins and periods had already been collected and translated by teams of Chinese and foreign monks, and the work continued.
Huayan shares some of the same positions as many Chinese schools: Buddha nature is in everyone, and enlightenment does not necessarily require many lives of asceticism; the disparities between texts and practices can be explained by the fact that the Buddha dispensed his teaching in different ways according to the spiritual level of the time:
the Hinayana corresponds to a less developed level than Mahayana Buddhism Like the Lotus Sutra and the Tiantai thinkers, Fazang places great importance on the concept of upaya (fangbian 方便 "expedient means"), according to which one has great latitude in choosing the form in which to present the doctrine; one must adapt to the characteristics of the audience, the main thing being to draw them into the path.
Based on certain passages in the sutras, many people at the time considered the Avatamsaka to be the first of the sacred texts, the Lotus Sutra being the last.
The Tiantai school took the latter as their reference, seeing it as the completed expression of the Buddha's teaching, but the Huayan thinkers chose to rely on the former, which was closer to the truth because it was written while the Buddha was still in the trance of enlightenment;
it had not yet been able to be exploited, they thought, because spiritual development had not yet reached a sufficient level.
The Avatamsaka Sutra is indeed very difficult to approach, abundant in images and paradoxical figures, and moreover very long, 60 to 80 scrolls depending on the version. Some portions are even considered as individual sutras. It was translated three times, in the 5th century and at the beginning of the 8th and 9th centuries.
Fazang participated with the Khotanese Siksananda (652-710) in the second translation, under the patronage of Empress Wu Zetian. The entire original sutra is available in Chinese and Tibetan, most of the original Sanskrit text having disappeared.
Undoubtedly influenced by Chinese notions of the harmony of the universe and the fundamental goodness of the world and the human being, the Huayan school added an ontological dimension to Buddhist philosophy, which would be taken up by Chan, but may be seen by some as a virtual break with Indian Buddhism, for which the search for the nature and fundamental truth of the universe is an illusory pursuit.
The universe, which extends in all dimensions of space and time, is constantly and simultaneously produced by the interaction of all elements; this can be observed in four aspects known as "the 4 worlds" (Sanskrit: dharmadhatu, Chinese fajie 法界).
Simple and direct apprehension of the phenomenon.
View of all phenomena as lacking their own nature.
Realization that everything is involved in a causal relationship, everything is both result and cause of other phenomena.
The realization that phenomena are partially interwoven and interlocking with each other, a notion that is transcribed in the metaphor of "Indra's net", where each node is a multifaceted jewel that reflects the other nodes.
Fazang elaborated on Huayan's vision in "The Ten Mysteries" (shixuanmen 十玄門), a list of topics for reflection and meditation designed to facilitate the path to enlightenment.
Unhindered coexistence of the general and the specific.
Everything is small and large at the same time (relative to other phenomena).
Everything is both individuality and part of a whole.
Everything acts as a self and as a whole at the same time.
Unhindered coexistence of the hidden and the manifest.
Everything is part of a great whole but retains complete individuality.
The net of Indra.
Each phenomenon is a manifestation of the fundamental principle; as each phenomenon is devoid of its own nature (emptiness), one can obtain from any individual phenomenon the revelation of the supreme principle.
Unobstructed interpenetration of causalities.
The four worlds.
The "obstacle" mentioned is ignorance, the spiritual imperfection that prevents one from seeing things as they are.
Putting the concept of upaya into practice, Fazang used pedagogy to propagate the school's ideas. Thus, to explain the notion of interpenetration, he had a system of mirrors set up at the court of Wu Zetian which reflected the images of a candle to infinity.
He wrote The Golden Lion (Jinshizizhang 金獅子章) to better explain the paradoxes: for example, the lion is composed of a single material, but several elements (head, mane etc.) are distinguished.
Vairocana Buddha holds in the Huayanjing the central place of dharmakâyâ, the original body of the Buddha, eternal and indestructible. The bodhisattvas Manjushri and Samantabhadra also play a privileged role. Together with Vairocana, they form "The Three Saints of Huayan" (huayansansheng 華嚴三聖).