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Tathātā (/ˌtætəˈtɑː/; Sanskrit: तथाता; Pali: tathatā) is a Buddhist term variously translated as "thusness" or "suchness," referring to the nature of reality free from conceptual elaborations and the subject–object distinction.[1] Although it is a significant concept in Mahayana Buddhism, it is also used in the Theravada tradition.[2][3]

The Buddha[edit]

The Buddha referred to himself as the Tathāgata, which can mean either "One who has thus come" or "One who has thus gone",[4] and can also be interpreted as "One who has arrived at suchness".

Theravada Buddhism[edit]

In Theravada, this term designates the nature of existence (bhāva), the truth which applies to things. According to the Kathavatthu, tathātā is not an unconditioned or un-constructed (asankhata) phenomenon.[5] The only phenomenon which is un-constructed in Theravada is Nibbana.[6]

According to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, tathātā is merely the way things are, the truth of all things: "When tathātā is seen, the three characteristics of anicca [impermanence], dukkha [suffering], and anatta [not-self] are seen, sunnata [emptiness] is seen, and idappaccayata [specific conditionality] is seen. Tathātā is the summary of them all -- merely thus, only thus, not-otherness."[7]

Mahayana Buddhism[edit]

Tathatā in the East Asian Mahayana tradition is seen as representing the base reality and can be used to terminate the use of words. A 5th-century Chinese Mahayana scripture entitled Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana describes the concept more fully:

In its very origin suchness is of itself endowed with sublime attributes. It manifests the highest wisdom which shines throughout the world, it has true knowledge and a mind resting simply in its own being. It is eternal, blissful, its own self-being and the purest simplicity; it is invigorating, immutable, free... Because it possesses all these attributes and is deprived of nothing, it is designated both as the Womb of Tathagata and the Dharma Body of Tathagata.[8]

R. H. Robinson, echoing D. T. Suzuki, conveys how the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra perceives dharmata through the portal of śūnyatā: "The Laṅkāvatāra is always careful to balance Śūnyatā with Tathatā, or to insist that when the world is viewed as śūnya, empty, it is grasped in its suchness."[9]


In the Madhyamaka Mahayana tradition, Tathātā is an uncompounded permanent phenomenon, (as is Nirvana – in Madhyamaka, not being products, all absences are uncompounded and permanent - not everlasting, but not subject to decay and dissolution). Tathātā is the natural absence of intrinsic/inherent existence or nature. It is a natural absence, because intrinsic existence (or the equivalent synonyms) is a fiction, or a non-existent: Intrinsic existence is the faulty object of an ignorant consciousness. All fictions, being fictions, are naturally absent. So, because of this, the fiction of inherent existence is absent from all phenomena, and that absence is Tathātā..[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Buswell & Lopez 2014, p. entry "tathatā".
  2. ^ Goldwag, Arthur (2014). 'Isms & 'Ologies: All the movements, ideologies and doctrines that have shaped our world. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 206. ISBN 9780804152631. Most of its doctrines agree with Theravada Buddhism, but Mahayana does contain a transcendent element: tathata, or suchness; the truth that governs the universe
  3. ^ Stevenson, Jay (2000). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Eastern Philosophy. Penguin. p. 144. ISBN 9781101158364.
  4. ^ Oxford dictionary of Buddhism; P296
  5. ^ Andre Bareau, Les sectes bouddhiques du Petit Véhicule (Ecole Française d'Extreme-Orient, 1955), Chapitre I 'Les Mahasanghika', p. 236
  6. ^ James P. McDermott. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume VII: Abhidharma Buddhism to 150 A.D, see entry on the Kathavatthu.
  7. ^ Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu (1997) The Natural Cure for Spiritual Disease: A Guide into Buddhist Science. Archived 2021-01-17 at the Wayback Machine Evolution/Liberation, Published by The Dhammadana Foundation.
  8. ^ Berry, Thomas (1996). Religions of India: Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism. Columbia University Press. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-231-10781-5.
  9. ^ Robinson, Richard H. (1957). "Some Logical Aspects of Nagarjuna's System". Philosophy East & West. 6 (4): 306. doi:10.2307/1397476. JSTOR 1397476.
  10. ^ Hopkins, Jeffrey (183). Meditation on Emptiness. Wisdom Publications. p. 218. ISBN 0861710142.}


  • Buswell; Lopez (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism