AS AN EXTENDED INTRODUCTION to the study of LANKAVATARA SUTRA has been given by Prof. Suzuki in both his STUDIES and TRANSLATION, only a very brief statement is necessary here.
Nothing is known as to its author, the time of its composition, or as to its original form. There is a myth that it originally consisted of 100,000 verses, and the second chapter of the present text has a footnote which reads: "Here ends the second chapter of the Collection of all the Dharmas, taken from the Lankavatara of 36,000 verses." Apparently it was originally a collection of verses covering all the main teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. This vast collection of verses became a source from which the Masters selected texts for their discourses. As the verses were very epigrammatic, obscure and disconnected, in the course of time the discourses were remembered and the verses largely forgotten, until in the present text there are remaining only 884 verses. The present text has every appearance of being something in the way of a disciple's notebook in which he had written down extracts or outlines of his master's discourses on some of these verses.
It is generally felt that the present text must have been compiled early in the First Century, probably a
little earlier than the AWAKENING OF FAITH by Ashvagosha, which doctrinally it greatly resembles. The earliest date connected with it is the date of the first Chinese translation made by Dharmaraksha about A.D. 420 and which was lost before 700. Three other Chinese translations have been made: one by Gunabhadra in 443; one by Bodhiruci in 513; and one by Shikshananda about 700. There is also one Tibetan version.
The Sutra has always been a favorite with the Chan Sect (Zen, in Japan) and has had a great deal to do with that sect's origin and development. There is a tradition that when Bodhidharma handed over his begging-bowl and robe to his successor that he also gave him his copy of the Lankavatara, saying, that he needed no other sutra. In the early days of the Chan Sect the Sutra was very much studied, but because of its difficulties and obscurities it gradually dropped out of common use and has been very much neglected for the past thousand years. But during that time many of the great Masters have made it a subject of study and many commentaries have been written upon it. Although other sutras have been more commonly read none have been more influential in fixing the general doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, and in bringing about the general adoption of Buddhism in China, Korea and Japan.
In closing just a paragraph must be given about the characteristic teachings of the LANKAVATARA. It is not written as a philosophical treatise is written, to establish a certain system of thought, but was written to elucidate the profoundest experience that comes to
the human spirit. It everywhere deprecates dependence upon words and doctrines and urges upon all the wisdom of making a determined effort to attain this highest experience. Again and again it repeats with variations the refrain: "Mahamati, you and all the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas should avoid the erroneous reasonings of the philosophers and seek this self-realisation of Noble Wisdom." For this reason the LANKAVATARA is to be classed with the intuitional scriptures of the Orient, rather than with the philosophical literature of the Occident. In China it combined easily with the accepted belief of the Chinese in Laotsu's conception of the Tao and its ethical idealism to make the Buddhism of China and Japan eminently austere and practical, rather than philosophical and emotional.