Hua-yen regarded itself as the culmination of the Buddha Śākyamuni's teaching after his enlightenment. This teaching maintains the interdependence and equality of all appearance, the ‘teaching of totality’. Appearances may be in different states, but they are necessarily interdependent in constituting the universe of phenomena, and in equally manifesting the Buddha-illumination of enlightenment. Thus when Fa-tsang was summoned by the formidable empress Wu to expound the sūtra, he took a golden lion in the room as illustration: the lion is the phenomenal world, shih, but it is constituted by gold, li, the underlying principle which has no form of its own. By analysis into shih and li, every manifestation is identical to every other, and is an expression of the buddha-nature (buddhatā). This key perception of the interpenetration of all existences is expressed in Fa-Tsang's image of Indra's net, which spreads across the universe, with a perfect jewel in each of its links: each jewel reflects every other jewel in the whole net.
Hua-yen Buddhism (hwä-yŭn) [Chin.,=flower garland], school of Chinese Buddhism centering on the Avatamsaka Sutra [flower garland sutra]. This school has no Indian counterpart. Hua-yen classifies Buddhist scriptures and doctrines on five levels, with its own teaching as the highest and most complete. According to the school, all phenomena arise simultaneously from the universal principle of the Dharma-realm. The ultimate principle and manifested things mutually interpenetrate without obstruction. At the same moment all phenomena both embody the Absolute, and reflect and are identified with each other. The first master of the school was Tu-shun (557–640); he was succeeded by Chih-yen (602–668), Fa-ts'ang (643–712), Ch'eng-kuan (737–838), and Ts'ung-mi (780–841), who was also a master of the Ch'an or Zen school. The name also appears as Hwa-yen.
See C. C. Chang, The Buddhist Teaching of Totality (1971); F. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism (1977).