Although I'm sure I'm quite ignorant of the larger context of this book, if I could only take one book into a cell for the remainder of my life, I would choose this. At the rate of a few pages most evenings (aloud) I'm half way through and looking forward to beginning again, more slowly next time. They say that if you study Lam-rim, it helps you with any Buddhist teachings you might come across. For this reason, I find every page filled with gems. I had owned it for two years before I returned from a Tibetan Buddhist retreat and discovered that the final pages are "The Noble King of Vows of the Conduct of Samantabhadra".
The Avatamsaka Sutra (The Sutra of the Garland of Flowers) is among the largest and greatest of the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. It is 12 volumes in Chinese, and 1600 pages in this English edition published by Shambhala. As with most Mahayana scriptures, it treats Buddha not as merely a man of ancient India, but as a cosmic principle. Differing from the austere and non-theist Theravada scriptures, it is full of gods and goddesses, heavens, jewelled trees and imaginary beings. The Avatamsaka Sutra became very influential in Chinese Buddhism, and was responsible for the creation of the Hua-Yen school.
This edition by Thomas Cleary, THE FLOWER ORNAMENT SCRIPTURE, is excellent. It includes not only his translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra, but also a book subsequently pinned onto it (the 400-page Gandhavyuha, or "Entry into the Realm of Reality"), the Chinese mystic Li Tongxuan's seventh-century commentary on the Gandhavyuha, a glossary of difficult Mahayana concepts, and an incredibly helpful translator's introduction.
Dr. Cleary ranks among the foremost translators of Asian religious literature and always succeeds in translating works clearly and precisely. In THE FLOWER ORNAMENT SCRIPTURE, his years of experience have enabled him to produce a stunning translation, and I can only admire his persistence in translating such a massive work.
This edition is really a treasure for Buddhist students. Or, should I say, serious students and scholars. At 1600 pages and a high cost (though much more inexpensive than several years ago), this tome is for the dedicated. THE FLOWER ORNAMENT SCRIPTURE, however, is an excellent translation. Dr. Cleary has benefitted Westerners greatly through his singular translation.