The Huayan Hall

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on June 27, 2016.)

Vairocana Buddha reflected in mirrors in the Huayan Hall at Dafo Temple, Shaoxing, Zhejiang

Some temples will have a Huayan Hall, especially temples with strong dedication to the Avatamsaka Sutra (called the Huayan in Chinese or the "Flower Garland" in English).

Typically in this hall there will be statues of three figures called collectively the "Three Sages of the Huayan." These are Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, in the center; Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom, often shown seated on a lion (the roar of which represents the teaching of the Buddha); and Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Great Practice, generally seated on an elephant (whose docility represents the mind tamed in the practice of meditation). Other Huayan Halls may simply have a statue of Vairocana (Piluzhena), the primary Buddha of the Huayan.

Less often--and it is a delight if you can find it--such a hall may have a number of small twinkly lights that are replicated "infinitely" by a series of mirrors to represent the interdependence of all things. It is said that Fazang, Third Patriarch of the Huayan School, first constructed a hall of lights and mirrors for the instruction of Empress Wu.

This illustrates the Huayan Sutra's image known as "Indra's Net," a model of the universe. Suppose, we are told, there were an infinite three-dimensional net. At each node, where the net's strings meet, there is a jewel. These jewels have the unusual property of reflecting the light of every other jewel. Thus, if one jewel is moved, the appearance of every jewel is changed. Just so, what affects one part of the universe affects all.

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