The "Net of Indra"

L.S.Cousins selwyn at NTLWORLD.COM
Fri Aug 18 09:21:24 UTC 2000

Dear Steve,

>In India, one later variant shows up as the "Net of Indra," which
>is discussed in the AvataMsaka Suutra. The text was translated
>into Chinese in the 5th century CE and was central to the Huayan
>school in China and Kegon school in Japan. Each node of the
>Indra's net, viewed as a cosmic symbol, was said to be decorated
>with a jewel that reflected not only every other jewel but also
>every *reflection* of each jewel in every other -- and so on to
>infinity. Similar metaphors evolved independently in mature
>commentarial traditions in other old world socities at
>predictable points. Exactly how they emerged depended on a
>variety of exegetical factors.

Not the Avatam.saka which is a Chinese collection of materials, not
all of which has been proven to be of Indian origin. It is the
Ga.n.davyuuha (extant in Sanskrit) a translation of which is included
in that Chinese collection.

>In Indian traditions, I've traced precursors of this kind of idea
>(not the "Net of Indra" itself) as far back as the BraahmaNas.
>I'm now searching for *extreme* ideas of this sort as *early* as
>possible in Indian (and hopefully Vedic) traditions. Does anyone
>know any good candidates? =Examples of *extreme* anticipations of
>these ideas (e.g., elaborate correlations of directions, numbers,
>colors, sounds, Vedic metres, emotions, etc.) would also be
>appreciated. (I emphasize "extreme" here since I know lots of
>garden-variety Vedic examples.)

It is rather difficult to know exactly what would constitute '
extreme' here. This might be why not many people have replied.

>Also, if anyone knows of early instances of the "Net of Indra"
>idea, or knows anything about its origins, please let me know.

One aspect of its origins lies in the abhidha(r)mma. Specifically in
the theories of hetu and pratyaya which try to show the
interrelatedness of things. This is most elaborate in the last book
of the canonical Abhidhamma-pi.taka in Pali: the Pat.thaana. This is
a work of the last two centuries B.C. for those who accept the
substantial closure of the Pali Canon in the first century B.C.
Others would date it a century or two later.

It presents a system of dhammas using the 22 triplets and 100
couplets of the abhidhamma, analyzing their relationships in 24 major
ways. In each of the 24 are seven chapters subdivided into four
sections, each with questions and answers. Within each of these parts
it operates its basic method of 24 paccaya (conditions/relations). In
effect, everything is intricately related to everything else either
because it must be there or it must not be there, etc., etc.

I think this does qualify as 'extreme'. (And we haven't got to the
commentaries yet!)  Whether it is precisely an example of what you
are looking for, is harder to say. For myself, I would see it as
expressing in terms of 'dhammas' something similar to what is
expressed in some later Mahaayaana works in terms of persons
(puggalaadhi.t.thaana). But these are not exactly systems of

Lance Cousins

selwyn at

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