The Jewel Net of Indra
by Francis H. Cook (1977)
It should come as no great surprise that I was led to this book by Joseph Campbell, but after reading Cook’s work, I am surprised that Campbell did not make more of what he called “the Indian image of the ‘Net of Gems,'” in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. Maybe Campbell made the mistake of settling for the Indian concept when he should have researched Indra’s Net of Gems further. Had he done so, he would have discovered that this mind-blowing concept of reality blossomed not in India, where it sprouted in the fifth century B.C., but in China, a thousand years later.
My use of botanic metaphor is not accidental. “Hua-yen” literally means “flower ornament,” and it is the Chinese translation of “Avatamsaka,” the Indian sutra in which the concept was first described. What drew Chinese philosophers to this particular sutra was its unique doctrine of identity and intercausality:
Everything is its own “self”; everything is something else’s “other.” Things do not know that they are other things’ “other”; they only know that they are themselves. Thus it is said that the other rises out of the self, just as the self rises out of the other. This is the theory that “self” and “other” give rise to each other. (27)
This “totalistic view of existence” has more recently captured our imagination in fields as diverse as ecology and fractal geometry. In fact, when combined with the interpenetrating concept of dharma, Hua-yen can be seen as a direct precursor to fractals:
Abstractly speaking, the part includes the whole while the whole includes the part. Finally, the whole which is included in the one part is already a whole which includes the part, so that the interpenetration of dharma and dharma is repeated over and over, infinitely. (68)
Once seriously considered, this idea takes root in one’s mind and soon blossoms into an entirely different perspective on life. Read Hua-yen Buddhism and you will see this for yourself. 146 pages.
- The Jewel Net of Indra
- The Hua-yen School
- The Jewel Indian Background of Hua-yen
- The Part and the Whole
- Living in the Net of Indra
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