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Lankavatara Sutra, The: An Epitomized Version

Lankavatara Sutra, The: An Epitomized Version

Product no.: 0-9726357-4-2
Scholars have tended to date the original compilation to early in the first century, and the written work to the fourth century AD.

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Publisher's Synopsis

The Lankavatara was virtually unknown in the West until D. T Suzuki’s Studies in the Lanakavata Sutra was published in 1929. Suzuki’s subsequent translation and publication of the The Lankavatara Sutra in 1932 earned him the respect and gratitude of scholars and Buddhists worldwide.

Professor Suzuki felt that an editing of the Lankavatara, for the sake of easier reading, would make the sutra more widely accessible. He encouraged the editor Dwight Goddard to take on the challenge, and the publication of the "epitomised" version appeared in print also in 1932, under the title, Self-Realization of Noble Wisdom: The Lankavatara Sutra.


"There is a tradition that when Bodhidharma handed over his begging-bowl and robe to his successor that he also gave him a copy of the Lankavatara, saying that he needed no other sutra."      ~Dwight Goddard

"Perpetuating the Mahayana myth, Monkfish Publishing declares: 'The Lankavatara Sutra, according to tradition, contains the actual words of the Buddha spoken in Sri Lanka (Ceylon).' Composed at the very earliest in the 2nd century, nearly 700 years after the closing of the Pali Canon, this seminal, esoteric exposition belongs to the Yogacara school of Mahayana pseudepigrapha. It should appreciated for what it is—Buddhist exegesis of the highest order."      ~Mandala Books


"This sutra is said to have been given by Bodhidharma to his chief disciple Hui-k'e as containing the essential teaching of Zen. Since then it has been studied chiefly by Zen philosophers. But being full of difficult technical terms in combination with a rugged style of writing, the text has not been so popular for study as other Mahayana sutras, for instance, the Pundarika, the Vimalakirti, or the Vajracchedika.

The chief interlocutor is a Bodhisattva called Mahamati, and varied subjects of philosophical speculation are discussed against a background of deep religious concern. The topic most interesting for the reader of this book is that of svapratyatmagati, i.e. self-realization of the highest truth.

Some of the terms may be explained here: 'Birth and death' (samsara in Sanskrit) always stands contrasted to 'Nirvana'. Nirvana is the highest truth and the norm of existence while birth and death is a world of particulars governed by karma and causation. As long as we are subject to karma we go from one birth to another, and suffer all the ills necessarily attached to this kind of life, though it is a form of immortality. What Buddhists want is not this.

'Mind only' (cittamatra) is an uncouth term. It means absolute mind, to be distinguished from an empirical mind which is the subject of psychological study. When it begins with a capital letter, it is the ultimate reality on which the entire world of individual objects depends for its value. To realise this truth is the aim of the Buddhist life.

By 'what is seen of the Mind-only' is meant this visible world including that which is generally known as mind. Our ordinary experience takes this world for something that has its 'self-nature', i.e. existing by itself. But a higher intuition tells us that this is not so, that it is an illusion, and that what really exists is Mind, which being absolute knows no second. All that we see and hear and think of as objects of the vijnanas are what rise and disappear in and of the Mind-only. This absolute Mind is also called in the Lankavatara the Dharma of Solitude (vivikta-dhama), because it stands by itself. It also signifies the Dharma's being absolutely quiescent.

There is no 'discrimination' in this Dharma of Solitude, which means that discrimination belongs to this side of existence where multiplicities obtain and causation rules. Indeed, without this discrimination no world is possible.

Discrimination is born of 'habit-energy' or 'memory', which lies latently preserved in the 'alayavijnana' or all-conserving consciousness. This consciousness alone has no power to act by itself. It is altogether passive, and remains Inactive until a particularizing agency touches it. The appearance of this agency is a great mystery which is not to be solved by the intellect; it is something to be accepted simply as such. It is awakened 'all of a sudden', according to Asvaghosa.

To understand what this suddenness means is the function of 'noble wisdom' (aryajnana). But as a matter of experience, the sudden awakening of discrimination has no meaning behind it. The fact is simply that it is awakened, and no more; it is not an expression pointing to something else. When the Alayavijnana or the all-conserving consciousness is considered a store-house, or better, a creative matrix from which all the Tathagatas issue, it is called 'Tathagata-garbha'. The Garbha is the womb.

Ordinarily, all our cognitive apparatus is made to work outwardly in a world of relativity, and for this reason we become deeply involved in it so that we fail to realize the freedom we all intrinsically possess, and as a result we are annoyed on all sides. To turn away from all this, what may psychologically be called a 'revulsion' or 'revolution' must take place in our inmost consciousness. This is not however a mere empirical psychological fact to be explained in terms of consciousness. It takes place in the deepest recesses of our being."      ~From the 1932 Introduction by D.T. Suzuki


Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was a renowned Buddhist scholar largely responsible for the popularity of Buddhism in the West. He was born in 1870 in North Japan. As a disciple to Zen masters at Engakuji Monastery in Kamakura, he received the name Daisetz (“great humility”) as a mark of enlightenment.

He wrote over twenty books in English, and a similar number in Japanese. He lectured and taught in the United States, Europe and Japan. He died in 1966.

Editor Goddard, Dwight
Translator Suzuki, D.T.
Book Type Hardcover
Page Count 125 pp.
Publisher Monkfish Book Publishing 2003
Gold Medal

Gold Medal


  Gold Medal Essential Reading

Browse these categories as well: Mahayana Sutras, Northern Buddhism, Bodhidharma and Chinese Ch'an, Eastern Buddhism and Zen Masters, Noteworthy Releases 2003, Gold Medal Essential Reading

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