Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz
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Indra's net - Young Sudhana’s Apprenticeship

A Piano Cycle – Based on the Avatamsaka Sutra

The Indian God Indra "in his heavenly palace has a pearled net. These pearls reflect each other so that in one pearl all other pearls appear. On the other hand, also one pearl is reflected in all other pearls, so that infinite reflections of each pearl in all the other pearls and again in itself are revealed." This is how the sinologist Michael Friedrich describes the image of Indra’s Net which is adverted to time and again in one of the most important Buddhist texts: the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Indra’s Net, however, should not be understood as a static image of the highest awareness, but as a process of ever widening reflections which starts from a certain position in time and space. This means that every process takes its individual progression because each pearl has its own identity. In the 34th book of the Avatamsaka Sutra, this image is linked together with the idea of development in the story of the apprenticeship of the boy Sudhana – with music being an art form in time, this offers a theme for a musical depiction.

In the sutra, Sudhana meets 53 teachers. "They are of very different social ranks and religious ancestries. Representatives of other (non-Buddhist) tenets can be found, as well as Gods and demons next to Bodhisattvas … and also outsiders like for example a courtesan. It should be noted that many of them are women." (Jörg B. Quenzer & Sibylle Girmont) Demons are not ostracized as "the evil" but Buddhism is about "not trying to destroy negative forces by means of defense or revenge, but overcoming them by taking them in and transforming them." (Quenzer & Girmont) So demons are often found as serving beings, and they also can be teachers.

Within a long introduction of ritual character, the theme of Sudhana is introduced in which the motives of all his future teachers can be heard in the melody or in other voices.

Then Sudhana goes on his travels and meets nine teachers. After each meeting he goes on his travels again and digests what he has experienced and learnt. At the same time all beings that were there before stay present, so that bit by bit the net of reflections is created. Finally all teachers are present in a kind of simultaneity:

  • Mother Earth
  • The Snake Demon
  • The Friend of the World (the courtesan)
  • The Demon of Despondency
  • The Indian Teacher
  • The Earth Demon
  • Here the ritual from the beginning is taken up again.
  • The Japanese Teacher (in a Zen-Garden)
  • The Chinese Teacher
  • The Bodhisattva Maitreya. "Towards the end of the quest the circle is completed: Sudhana meets Maitreya. Maitreya is the future Buddha … There he can experience multiplicity in unity which had been mentioned already several times in the sutra." (Quenzer & Girmont)

Translated by Carola Maack