I was reading through the sutra (well, using global search in my kindle) to find references to the word mathematics. In at least two places the author suggests Bodhisattvas should study all manners of topics to be of benefit to others, including mathematics. And in at least two places, the text goes on and on naming extremely large numbers and describing how to calculate them using powers of ten. These chapters seem to have been written by the same guy-- an interest in large numbers and their application to Buddhism can't be that common.

The last chapter, the Gaṇḍavyūha, even wikipedia says it used to be a suttra separate from the rest of the book.

1 Answer 1


Kenneth Wilson was from India and he had a deep interest in mathematics till his death in 2013 http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blogs-the-copernican/article4992321.ece

He has probed deeply into numbers and found ancient sources that attribute large numbers to the Bodhisatva's

Link above has this paragraph.

The incalculable number

Kenneth Wilson did not come up with inclusivity. Yes, he found a way to use it in the problems that were prevalent in mid-20th century physics. But in the Mahavaipulya Buddhavatamsaka Sutra, an influential text of Mahayana Buddhism written in the third or fourth century AD, lies a treatment of very large numbers centered on the struggle to comprehend divinity. The largest titled meaningful number in this work appears to be the bodhisattva (10^37218383881977644441306597687849648128) and the largest titled number as such, the jyotiba (10^80000 infinities).

The jyotiba may not make much sense today, but it represents the early days of a centuries-old tradition that felt such numbers had to exist, a tradition that acknowledged and included the upper-limits of human comprehension while on its quest to deciphering the true nature of 'god'.

The Mahavaipulya Buddhavatamsaka Sutra itself, also known as the Avatamsaka Sutra, also contains a description of an "incalculable" number divined to describe the innumerable names and forms of the principal deities Vishnu and Siva. By definition, it had to lie outside the bounds of human calculability. This number, known as the asamkhyeya, owes its value to one of three arrived at because of an ambiguity in the sutra. Asamkhyeya is defined as a particular power of a laksha, but there is no indication of how much a laksha is!

One translation, from Sanskrit to the Chinese by Shikshananda, says one asamkhyeya is equal to 10 to the power of 7.1-times 10-to-the-power-of-31. Another translation, to English by Thomas Cleary, says it is 10 to the power of 2.03-times 10-to-the-power-of-32. The third, by Buddhabhadra to the Chinese again, says it is 10 to the power of 5.07-times 10-to-the-power-of-31. If they have recognisable values, you ask, why the title "incalculable"?

As far as authorship, there are several references to translators, but unlike many Buddhist texts, the authorship is attributed to someone that may not have written it, of unknown authorship or a collaborative effort. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatamsaka_Sutra

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra was written in stages, beginning from at least 500 years after the death of the Buddha. One source claims that it is "a very long text composed of a number of originally independent scriptures of diverse provenance, all of which were combined, probably in Central Asia, in the late third or the fourth century CE."[6] Two full Chinese translations of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra were made. Fragmentary translation probably began in the 2nd century CE, and the famous Ten Stages Sutra, often treated as an individual scripture, was first translated in the 3rd century. The first complete Chinese version was completed by Buddhabhadra (Bodhibhadra) around 420 in 60 scrolls with 34 chapters,[7] and the second by Śikṣānanda around 699 in 80 scrolls with 40 chapters.[8][9] There is also a translation of the Gaṇḍavyūha section by Prajñā around 798. The second translation includes more sutras than the first, and the Tibetan translation, which is still later, includes many differences with the 80 scrolls version. Scholars conclude that sutras were being added to the collection.

According to Paramārtha, a 6th-century monk from Ujjain in central India, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra is also called the "Bodhisattva Piṭaka."[4] In his translation of the Mahāyānasaṃgrahabhāṣya, there is a reference to the Bodhisattva Piṭaka, which Paramārtha notes is the same as the Avataṃsaka Sūtra in 100,000 lines.[4] Identification of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra as a "Bodhisattva Piṭaka" was also recorded in the colophon of a Chinese manuscript at the Mogao Caves: "Explication of the Ten Stages, entitled Creator of the Wisdom of an Omniscient Being by Degrees, a chapter of the Mahāyāna sūtra Bodhisattvapiṭaka Buddhāvataṃsaka, has ended."[4]

It may not be that common in Buddhist texts, but Hindu texts are filled with all kinds of numbers. It is apparent that this environment friendly to numbers must have inspired some writers to go down this avenue, perhaps to appeal to potential Hindu converts to Buddhism.

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