Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra

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Statue of the Buddha at Bojjannakonda, Andhra Pradesh, India

The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra[1] is an influential and doctrinally striking Mahāyāna Buddhist scripture which treats of the existence of the "Tathāgatagarbha" (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.

History[edit]

Anthony Barber associates the development of the Tathagātagarbha Sūtra with the Mahāsāṃghika sect of Buddhism, and concludes that the Mahāsāṃghikas of the Āndhra region (i.e. the Caitika schools) were responsible for the inception of the Tathāgatagarbha doctrine.[2]

The Tathagātagarbha 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."[3] The text is no longer extant in its language of origin, but is preserved in two Tibetan translations and one Chinese translation.[4]

Doctrines[edit]

Overview[edit]

In regard to the Tathagātagarbha Sūtra and the term Tathāgatagarbha, A. W. Barber writes:[5]

... as Alex Wayman, Michael Zimmermann, and I have noted, the original meaning of the term was that one is "already" or primordially awakened. For example, the Tathagatagarbha sutra illuminates the matter metaphorically this way: "inside a casting mold there is perfectly formed Buddha; the ignorant see the filth of the mold but the wise know that the Buddha is within."

The Tathagātagarbha Sūtra constitutes one of a number of Tathāgatagarbha or Buddha-nature sutras (including the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra, the Angulimaliya Sutra, and the Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa) which unequivocally declare the reality of an Awakened Essence within each being.

Tathagātagarbha and ātman[edit]

According to some scholars, the Tathāgatagarbha does not represent a substantial self (ātman); rather, it is a positive language expression of emptiness (śūnyatā) and represents the potentiality to realize Buddhahood through Buddhist practices; the intention of the teaching of Tathāgatagarbha is Soteriology#Buddhism rather than theoretical.[6][7] This interpretation is contentious. Not all scholars share this view. Michael Zimmermann, a specialist on the Tathagātagarbha Sūtra,[8] writes for instance: "the existence of an eternal, imperishable self, that is, buddhahood, is definitely the basic point of the Tathagatagarbha Sutra."[9]

Zimmermann also declares that the compilers of the Tathagātagarbha Sūtra "did not hesitate to attribute an obviously substantialist notion to the buddha-nature of living beings,"[10] and notes the total lack of evident interest in this sutra for any ideas of "emptiness" (śūnyatā): "Throughout the whole Tathagātagarbha Sūtra the term śūnyatā does not even appear once, nor does the general drift of the TGS somehow imply the notion of śūnyatā as its hidden foundation. On the contrary, the sutra uses very positive and substantialist terms to describe the nature of living beings.'[11] Also, writing on the diverse understandings of Tathāgatagarbha doctrine, Jamie Hubbard comments on how some scholars see a tendency towards monism in the Tathāgatagarbha [a tendency which Japanese scholar Matsumoto castigates as non-Buddhist]. Hubbard comments:[12]

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 …

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[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Zimmermann, Michael, A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University (2002), pp. 93-162. (Translation)
  2. ^ Sree Padma. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. 2008. pp. 155-156
  3. ^ 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 PDF
  4. ^ 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 PDF
  5. ^ Padma, Sree. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. 2008. pp. 152
  6. ^ Heng-Ching Shih, "The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha' -- A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata.".
  7. ^ Sallie B. King, The Doctrine of Buddha Nature is Impeccably Buddhist in: Jamie Hubbard, Paul Swanson, Pruning the Bodhi Tree, the Storm over Critical Buddhism, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu 1997, ISBN 0-8248-1908-X, pp.174-192
  8. ^ Prof. Zimmermann, Numata Zentrum für Buddhismuskunde Universität Hamburg
  9. ^ Zimmermann, Michael (2002), A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI, The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, p. 82
  10. ^ Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 64
  11. ^ Zimmermann, A Buddha Within, p. 81
  12. ^ Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2001, pp. 99-100

External links[edit]