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Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra

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The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra is an influential and doctrinally striking Mahayana Buddhist scripture which treats of the existence of the "Tathagatagarbha" (Buddha-Matrix, Buddha-Embryo, Buddha-Essence, lit. "the womb of the thus-come-one") within all sentient creatures. The Buddha reveals how inside each person's being there exists a great Buddhic "treasure that is eternal and unchanging". This is no less than the indwelling Buddha himself.

Text

The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra is considered "the earliest expression of this [the tathāgatagarbha doctrine) and the term tathāgatagarbha itself seems to have been coined in this very sutra."[1] The text is no longer extant in its language of origin, but is preserved in two Tibetan translations and a Chinese one.[2]

Doctrinal content

Only a Buddha can see the "inner Buddha" - ordinary, "unawakened" persons lack the necessary vision, as the "Tathagatagarbha" is covered and obscured by innumerable mental/moral contaminants (notably desire, anger and ignorance). The Buddha comments:

...when I regard all beings with my Buddha eye, I see that hidden within the klesas [mental afflictions] of greed, desire, anger, and stupidity there is seated augustly and unmovingly the tathagata's [the Buddha's] wisdom, the tathagata's vision, and the tathagata's body. Good sons, all beings, though they find themselves with all sorts of klesas, have a tathagatagarbha that is eternally unsullied, and that is replete with virtues no different from my own.

—Buddhism in Practice p. 96

The Buddha of this scripture urges faith in its teachings on the part of its auditors and insists that the upholding of this sutra will turn the faithful follower into a "Dharma King", a Buddha like himself. The ultimacy of the tathagatagarbha doctrine (from the Mahayana standpoint) as articulated by the sutra is indicated by the exalted nature of the audience to whom it is imparted - an audience which includes Manjusri (embodiment of supreme Wisdom), Avalokitesvara (the manifestation of highest Compassion), and the future Buddha, Maitreya (personification of limitless Loving-kindness).

The Tathagatagarbha Sutra constitutes one of a number of Tathagatagarbha or Buddha-nature sutras (including the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Srimala Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra, and the Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa scripture) which unequivocally declare the reality of an Awakened Essence within each being. The "tathagatagarbha"/Buddha nature does not, according to some scholars, represent a substantial self (atman); rather, it is a positive language expression of "sunyata" (emptiness) and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices; the intention of the teaching of 'tathagatagarbha'/Buddha nature is soteriological rather than theoretical.[3][4] This interpretation is contentious. Not all scholars share this view. Professor Michael Zimmermann, a specialist on the Tathagatagarbha Sutra,[5] writes for instance: 'the existence of an eternal, imperishable self, that is, buddhahood, is definitely the basic point of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra'.[6]. Professor Zimmermann also declares that the compilers of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra 'did not hesitate to attribute an obviously substantialist notion to the buddha-nature of living beings'[7] and notes the total lack of evident interest in this sutra for any ideas of 'Emptiness' (sunyata): 'Throughout the whole Tathagatagarbha Sutra the term sunyata does not even appear once, nor does the general drift of the TGS somehow imply the notion of sunyata as its hidden foundation. On the contrary, the sutra uses very positive and substantialist terms to describe the nature of living beings.'[8] Also, writing on the diverse understandings of tathagatagarbha doctrine, Dr. Jamie Hubbard comments on how some scholars see a tendency towards monism in the Tathagatagarbha [a tendency which Japanese scholar Matsumoto castigates as non-Buddhist]. Dr. Hubbard comments:

'Matsumoto [calls] attention to the similarity between the extremely positive language and causal structure of enlightenment found in the tathagatagarbha literature and that of the substantial monism found in the atman/Brahman tradition. Matsumoto, of course, is not the only one to have noted this resemblance. Takasaki Jikido, for example, the preeminent scholar of the tathagatagarbha tradition, sees monism in the doctrine of the tathagatagarbha and the Mahayana in general … Obermiller wedded this notion of a monistic Absolute to the tathagatagarbha literature in his translation and comments to the Ratnagotra, which he aptly subtitled “A Manual of Buddhist Monism” … Lamotte and Frauwallner have seen the tathagatagarbha doctrine as diametrically opposed to the Madhyamika and representing something akin to the monism of the atman/Brahman strain …’[9]

Buddhahood is thus taught to be the timeless, virtue-filled Real (although as yet unrecognised as such by the deluded being), present inside the mind of every sentient being from the beginningless beginning. Its disclosure to direct perception, however, depends on inner spiritual purification and purgation of the superficial obscurations which conceal it from view.

See also

Further reading

  • Buddhism in Practice (Princeton University Press, Princeton 1995), ed. by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
  • Zimmermann, Michael, A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University (2002) [PDF can also be downloaded from the Institute's website]

Notes

  1. Zimmermann, Michael “The Tathagatagarbhasutra: Its Basic Structure and Relation to the Lotus Sutra,” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University for the Academic Year 1998, 143–168[1]
  2. Zimmermann, Michael “The Tathagatagarbhasutra: Its Basic Structure and Relation to the Lotus Sutra,” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University for the Academic Year 1998, 143–168[2]
  3. Heng-Ching Shih, "The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha' -- A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata.'" http://zencomp.com/greatwisdom/ebud/ebdha191.htm.
  4. Sallie B. King, The Doctrine of Buddha Nature is Impeccably Buddhist, http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/nlarc/pdf/Pruning%20the%20bodhi%20tree/Pruning%209.pdf )
  5. http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/Michael-Zimmermann.23.0.html?&L=1
  6. Dr. Michael Zimmermann, A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University (2002) p. 82
  7. Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 64
  8. Professor Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 81
  9. Dr. Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2001, pp. 99-100

External links

  • http://www.nirvanasutra.net Appreciation of the Nirvana Sutra and Tathagatagarbha teachings
  • [3] "Tathagatagarbha Buddhism": the full text of the "Tathagatagarbha Sutra" plus text of 4 other "tathagatagarbha" sutras

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