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Tathātā (/ˌtætəˈtɑː/; Sanskrit romanised: tathātā; Pali romanised: tathatā) is a Buddhist term variously translated as "thusness" or "suchness" and meaning the true, concrete essence or nature of things before ideas or words about them.[1] It is a central concept in Mahayana Buddhism,[2][3] having a particular significance in Chan Buddhism as well. The synonym dharmatā is also often used.[citation needed]

While alive 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 phenomena 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]

Chan Buddhism[edit]

In Chan stories, tathatā is often best revealed in the seemingly mundane or meaningless, such as noticing the way the wind blows through a field of grass, or watching someone's face light up as they smile. According to Chan hagiography, Gautama Buddha transmitted the awareness of tathātā directly to Mahākāśyapa in what has come to be rendered in English as the Flower Sermon. In another story, the Buddha asked his disciples, "How long is a human life?" As none of them could offer the correct answer he told them "Life is but a breath".[10] Here we can see the Buddha expressing the impermanent nature of the world, where each individual moment is different from the last. Molloy states, "We know we are experiencing the 'thatness' of reality when we experience something and say to ourselves, 'Yes, that's it; that is the way things are.' In the moment, we recognize that reality is wondrously beautiful but also that its patterns are fragile and passing."[11]

The Thiền master Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote, "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child--our own two eyes. All is a miracle."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tathata". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. n.d.
  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 Fransaise 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. 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. ^ Tsai, Chih-Chung; Bruya, Brian (1994). Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness. Anchor Books. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-385-47257-9.
  11. ^ Molloy, Michael (23 November 2012). Experiencing the World's Religions: Sixth Edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-07-743490-8.
  12. ^ Thích, Nhất Hạnh (5 April 1996). The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Beacon Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-8070-1244-4.