The Flower Ornament Scripture
A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra
by Thomas Cleary ©1993 Shambhala
Thomas Cleary writes in his introduction (p.43) of sutra book 30
The Flower Ornament method of calculation includes the dimension of time as well as space, and follows the principles expounded in the scripture. For example, since everything is a series of moments, continually passing away and being renewed, each moment therefore is a new universe. Also, the content of each passing moment of awareness is a universe. Furthermore, all existents are what they are in relation to all other existents. Thus in terms of theIndra's Netview of the Flower Ornament, the facets of existence are incalculable, interreflecting ad infinitum. This is illustrated by the progression of squares by which the incalculable numbers are developed in this book. The book concludes with a verse declaring that the cosmos is unutterably infinite, and hence so is the total scope and detail of knowledge and activity of enlightenment.
Enlightening being –
bodhisattva, enlightening self and others,
aspiring to see into buddha-nature.
The Avatamsaka Sutra says:
The buddha-nature is the most profound real nature of things.
It is silent and formless, like space.
The story of a reconstruction gone awry (a play).
Monk Tosan, an Afghan scribe [arriving at square
n=81in the list], in the atelier:
I think we should not use this number 666, better change it in the middle.
Tosan, who just met with Christian missionaries in Kabul, doubles ...333... to ...646...
Silence follows, then a joke by the bold Buddhist master on this superstitious monk:
I don't want sixes. All evil should be avoided(but what is written must stay).
Tosan does not understand irony and takes up substituting six as a practise, and [at
Look master, this number now doesn't have any sixes at all.
Master spells trouble! Work is stopped and intervention comes from the numerology expert in the team. The bearded sage proposes to introduce an error [at
This number magic is needed to maintain the equilibrium...
One digit is changed with the result that as a miracle [at
n=86,88,90] the sequence 666 reappears! Also the heretic monk Tosan must make two inverse substitutions [4 to 6 at
n=87,92] to pay tribute for his sins.
Buddhist harmony must be ALL embracing, such is the eternal message of the Avatamsaka.
This anecdote is not historical, because the Indian writers as well as the Chinese translators wrote words instead of decimal numbers. Must get back at the publisher about the typos [vertical stripes] and calculation errors [horizontals] in the text.
Or take 10 steps at a time – multiply the exponent by
That last number is Cleary's unspeakable
And more follows at
"In one atom are untold lands, and as in one, so in each."
This means that all atoms contain untold lands, and that we can substitute
each one of them for that many.
Cleary's untold is with
the largest single number name.
The first four verses of this poem are most challenging. They apply a superexponential iteration over an exponential one.
“If untold buddha-lands are reduced to... an unspeakable number of atoms in an instant,
and this continuous reduction [iteration 1] moment to moment goes on for untold ^aeons...
Counting ^aeons by these atoms [iteration 2],
and counting this way for an unspeakable... (number of times).”
Exactly what number heights do these strange over-the-top iterations
(or recursions) achieve?
At Novaloka the visions from the Avatamsaka Sutra receive a mathematical formulation. These numbers are proven to increase (at least) through an operation called tetration – the superpower which comes after exponentiation.
The record number (of atoms, lands or aeons) is expressed as a
power tower of exponents.
The value of the exponents is unimportant.
What matters is the tetrational iterator,
indicating that the height of the tower here is
Remember when powers are piled on top of each other, they are resolved from the top down (else use brackets).
A point the Avatamsaka Sutra often makes at the end of an array of concepts
(a number is taken up as a concept – a name to describe an unknown)
is, that the astronomically large returns to the atomically small.
Here too the last record is embodied (as a number of virtues)
by a being (Universal Good), who comes in an unspeakable multitude.
Again to be multiplied by
all points in the cosmos –
a quantity which receives no further specification (are points atoms of space?).
For theoretical physicists the litany of repetitive topologies that follows may hold promise, but our Big number expansion ends here, in the proximity of the enlightening being Universally Good (the bodhisattva Samantabhadra).