The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Sanskrit: लंकावतारसूत्र Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra; traditional Chinese: 楞伽經; pinyin: léngqié jīng) is a sutra of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The sūtra recounts a teaching primarily between the Buddha and a bodhisattva named Mahāmati ("Great Wisdom"). The sūtra is set in Laṅkā, the island fortress capital of Rāvaṇa, the king of rākṣasas. The title of this text roughly translates as, "Scripture of the Descent into Laṅkā."

The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra figured prominently in the development of Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism. It is notably an important sūtra in Chinese Chán and its Japanese version, Zen.

Sūtra doctrine

The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra draws upon the concepts and doctrines of Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha.[1] The most important doctrine issuing from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra is that of the primacy of consciousness (Skt. vijñāna) and the teaching of consciousness as the only reality. In the sūtra, the Buddha asserts that all the objects of the world, and the names and forms of experience, are merely manifestations of the mind:

On the contrary my teaching is based upon the recognition that the objective world, like a vision, is a manifestation of the mind itself; it teaches the cessation of ignorance, desire, deed and causality; it teaches the cessation of suffering that arises from the discrimination of the triple world.[2]

Because the world is seen as being "mind-only" or "consciousness-only", all phenomena are void, empty of self (atman) and illusory:

There are four things by the fulfilling which an earnest disciple may gain Self-Realization and Noble Wisdom. First; He must have a clear understanding that all things are only manifestations of the mind itself. Second ; He must clearly understand the ego-lessness of both things and persons.

As to the first: he must recognize and be fully convinced that this triple world is nothing but a complex manifestation of one`s mental activities ; that it is devoid of self-ness and its belongings. That there are no strivings, no comings and no goings. He must recognize and accept the fact that this triple world is manifested and imagined as real only under the influence of habit-energy that has been accumulated since the beginning-less past, by reason of memory, false-imagination, false-reasoning, and attachments to the multiplicities of objects and reactions in close relationship and in conformity to ideas of body-property-and-abode. As to the Second thing ; he must recognize and be convinced that all things are to be regarded as forms seen in a vision and a dream, empty of substance, un-born without self-nature, that all things exist only by reason of a complicated network of causation. As for the third; He must recognize and patiently accept the fact that his own mind and

personality is also Mind-constructed, that it is empty of substance, unborn and Ego-less.[3]

The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra describes the various tiers of consciousness in the individual, culminating in the tathagatagarbha (womb of the Buddhas) or "storehouse consciousness" (Skt. Ālayavijñāna), which is the base of the individual's deepest awareness and his tie to the cosmic.

In the sutras the Bhagavan (aka Buddha) says that the tathagatha-garbha (womb of the Buddhas) is intrinsically pure, endowed with thirty-two attributes and present in the bodies of all beings, and that, like a precious jewel wrapped in soiled clothing, the ever-present unchanging tathagatha-garbha is likewise wrapped in the soiled clothing of the skandhas, dhatus and ayantas and stained with the stains of erroneous projections of greed, anger and delusion. [4]

However, the Buddha makes clear that the tathagatagarbha is not a self (atman) and is empty of self nature. He states that it is merely a useful means (upaya) of teaching the dharma to others:

The reason why the 'Tathagatas' who are Arhats and fully enlightened Ones teach the doctrine pointing to the tathagatagarbha which is a state of non-discrimination and image-less, is to make the ignorant cast aside their fear when they listen to teaching of egolessness. It is like a potter who manufactures various vessels out of a mass of clay of one sort by his own manual skill and labor ... that the 'Tathagatas' preach the egolessness of things which removes all the traces of discrimination by various skillful means issuing from their trancendental wisdom, that is, sometimes by the doctrine of the 'tathagatagarbha' , sometimes by that of egolessness ... Thus, 'Mahamati', the doctrine of the 'tathagatagarbha' is disclosed in order to awaken the philosophers from their clinging to the idea of the ego. Accordingly, 'Mahamati', the 'Tathagatas' disclose the doctrine of the 'tathagatagarbha' which is thus not to be known as identical with the philosopher's notion of an ego-substance. Therefore , 'Mahamati', in order to abandon the misconception cherished by the philosophers, you must depend on the 'anatman-tathagatagarbha'.[5]

The 'tathagatagarbha' doctrine has been interpreted as an expression of the doctrines of dependent origination and emptiness. While seemingly monistic in nature, describing the 'tathagatagarbha' as eternal (nitya) and immutable ('atman'), this doctrine is ultimately based on emptiness. According to Japanese scholar Yamaguchi Susumu, the most important point in the 'tathagatagarbha' literature is that "the 'pratitysamutpada' is the 'tathagatagarbha'." [6] Likewise, Ichijo Ogawa, argues that 'tathatagatagarbha' is basically equivalent to emptiness and the nature of the mind which allows it to understand emptiness. This interpretation is based on a passage from the Ratnagotravibhaga which states that "all sentient beings are possessed of the 'tathagatagarbha'". [7]

History and editions

According to one scholar, "it is generally believed that the sutra was compiled during 350-400 CE," although "many who have studied the sutra are of opinion that the introductory chapter and the last two chapters were added to the book at a later period."[8] A number of ancient translations of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra were made from Sanskrit into the Chinese language, as early as the 3rd century CE with a translation by the Indian monk Dharmarakṣa.[9] Of these, only three are now extant.

The first extant Chinese translation is Taisho Tripitaka 670 (楞伽阿跋多羅寶經). This is the earliest edition which was translated by Guṇabhadra in 443 CE, and divided into four fascicles.[10] This edition by Guṇabhadra is said to be the one handed down from the founder of Chinese Zen, Bodhidharma, to the Second Patriarch, Huike, saying:[11][12]

I have here the Laṅkāvatāra in four fascicles which I now pass to you. It contains the essential teaching concerning the mind-ground of the Tathagata, by means of which you lead all sentient beings to the truth of Buddhism.

The second extant Chinese translation is Taisho Tripitaka 671 (入楞伽經). This second edition was translated by Bodhiruci in 513 CE,[13] and divided into ten fascicles.[14] This edition is criticized in the imperial preface to the later translation, which says that it contains extra words and sentences mixed in that detract from the original meaning.[15]

The third extant Chinese translation is Taisho Tripitaka 672 (大乘入楞伽經). This third edition was translated by Śikṣānanda in 700-704 CE, and divided into seven fascicles.[16] This final translation was made at the behest of Empress Wu Zetian, after Śikṣānanda had completed his 80-fascicle translation of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra.[17] This translation is said to have employed five separate Sanskrit editions for accuracy.[18] Before the final edits to this version had been made, Śikṣānanda returned to India, and another Indian monk came to China who had studied the Buddhist sutras for 25 years in India, and who knew the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. He was then given the task of revising the translation made by Śikṣānanda.[19]

In addition to these Chinese translations, an extant Sanskrit edition of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra is available, as well as a Tibetan edition.

English translations

  • Lankavatara Sutra, translated into English from the Sanskrit by D.T. Suzuki. Boulder, CO: Prajña Press, 1978, ISBN 0-87773-702-9, first published Routledge Kegan Paul, 1932.

Red Pine has translated the earliest extant edition of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, the Guṇabhadra edition in four fascicles. This translation was published in 2012 as The Lankavatara Sutra: Translation and Commentary.


  • D. T. Suzuki: Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi 1998 (1st ed. 1930), ISBN 81-215-0833-9
  • Christian Lindtner: The Lankavatarasutra in Early Indian Madhyamaka Literature, Copenhagen. Asiatische Studien, XLV, 1 (1992), pp.244-279.


External links

  • Online version of full text of the Sutra translated and introduced by D. T. Suzuki (710K)
  • Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, by D. T. Suzuki
  • The Lankavatara Sutra : An Epitomized Version, (Provenance Editions) by D.T. Suzuki
  • The Lankavatara Sutra BIONA online version at the Buddhist Information of North America website.
  • Version française du Lankavatara Sutra version of the Suzuki/Goddard translation of the Lankavatara Sutra
  • Collection of materials for studying the Lankavatara sutra. (Page text is in Russian but materials are in English, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan.)
  • B. Nanjio (ed.): The Laṅkāvatāra sūtra, Kyoto, Otani University Press 1923 (in Nāgarī) Internet Archive (PDF 11,8 MB)
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