(NOTE: for a complete English translation and detailed analysis of the 'Mahaparinirvana Sutra', please go to: www.nirvanasutra.net Please type this into the URL bar at the top of your browser. For a London University lecture by Dr. Tony Page on the 'True Self' in Buddhism, please go to: http://webspawner.com/users/buddhaself/ )
Welcome to the site which aims to present and discuss the Buddhist doctrine of the "Tathagata-garbha" / "Tathagata-dhatu" - or "Buddha-Matrix" (also popularly known as the "Buddha Nature"). This website primarily seeks to present the teachings of the Buddha himself on the subject of the Tathagatagarbha, as contained in certain key Tathagatagarbha sutras which are provided here, as opposed to much later formulations and interpretations of the concept. The idea of the Tathagatagarbha is encountered in a number of Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, notably the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra" (the Buddha's final Mahayana sutra), the "Tathagatagarbha Sutra", the "Srimaladevisimhanada Sutra", and the "Mahayana Angulimaliya Sutra". It expresses the notion of an ultimate, uncreated, immortal core spiritual Reality in all living creatures - an indestructible, omniscient, eternal, infinite, pure, benevolent, nurturing and blissful Buddha Essence in each and every being (animals included), which empowers each being to become a Buddha. In some Tathagatagarbha sutras (notably the Angulimaliya Sutra), this spiritual Essence is taught to inhere in, and form the foundation of, all phenomena without exception and to contain all good and true qualities. That sutra states that the tathagatagarbha 'is present like a lamp' within all beings. This teaching thus complements the doctrine of the "emptiness" of worldly phenomena: worldly things are empty of an eternally unchanging, individual identity, but not of the perfect virtues of the omnipresent Buddha. The virtue-replete "Tathagatagarbha" is in fact no less than the Buddha-generating Potency itself - the state of spiritual Awake-ness or Knowing-ness ("Bodhi" or "Buddha-jnana") concealed within the deeps of each person's and each creature's profoundest mind. A similar teaching can be found in the Tibetan Buddhist 'Dzogchen' scriptures.
It is vital to understand from the outset that the doctrine of the Buddha Nature is overwhelmingly presented by the Buddha in the core Tathagatagarbha sutras as definitive and absolute truth (not as an elementary, provisional or "relatively true" teaching). The Tathagatagarbha is viewed by these sutras as supreme, virtue-filled, totally pure and immutable spiritual Reality. Contrary to a mass of disinformation circulating on the Internet and elsewhere on this subject, the Tathagatagarbha is NOT simply Emptiness (devoid of all positive qualities), or merely a more attractive way of speaking about Emptiness (again construed in a purely negative sense), or just conditioned chains of onward-flowing "dependent origination". The key Tathagatagarbha sutras make it abundantly clear that in its ultimate nature the Buddha Matrix is an unconditioned, changeless, virtuous, eternal, ineffable, spiritual Essence unshackled by the confines of time, place and process. And when it is termed "the Self" (as in the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra"), that does NOT refer to the mutable, conditioned, worldly ego (as some Tathagatagarbha commentators, who author essays on the "significance" of the Tathagatagarbha doctrine, misleadingly imply), but equates with the eternal, changeless Self of Buddha (found in all beings), which is one with Great Nirvana (according to the Buddha himself in the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra"). The Tathagatagarbha is nowhere taught by the Buddha to be a mere ruse without genuine truth behind it, or to be merely some form of fictitious, purely metaphorical, concessionary phantasm or doctrinal crutch for spiritually retarded or immature students, or "for the masses at a given time" - as certain writers on Buddhism, out of whatever motive, are happy to have people erroneously believe. The very opposite of this is the case. This Buddha-Garbha (Buddha Matrix or Essence) is revealed by the Buddha to his ADVANCED students as the unchanging and peaceful Buddhic Quintessence within each being (the "svabhava" or "atman" - the infinite, ego-less, unitary "Soul" of the Buddha), but which also actively functions as the seed of all positive spiritual qualities and underlies the thirst for Nirvana, and which indeed makes the obtention of Nirvana possible (since Nirvana, through the Tathagatagarbha, is already present within us). Thus the Tathagatagarbha is dipolar, possessing both a quiescent, calm and motionless mode (as indicated by the "Vajrasamadhi Sutra", for instance) and a dynamic, active mode of nurturing and liberating all suffering beings. This richness of the combined ontic being and salvific function of the Tathagatagarbha seems to baffle some Western scholars, who cling to the mistaken view that the one precludes the other - yet that is the wonder of the Tathagatagarbha, that it is both quiescent in the nirvanic realm and salvationally active within the world of samsaric being.
The Tathagatagarbha is on occasion called by the Buddha the True Self ("satya-atman") or the Buddha-Principle ("Buddha-dhatu"), and it is indestructible. It knows no death, only life eternal. Indeed, it is the "life-principle" ("jivaka") itself, according to the Tibetan version of the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra". This is in keeping with the definition of 'soul' found in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2002): 'the immaterial essence, animating principle of an individual life; the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe.' This Buddha-Soul is present everywhere, as the Buddha states in the full 'Mahaparinirvana Sutra': 'I also teach, for the sake of all beings, that, in truth, there is the Soul / the Self ('Atman') in all things'. This is the unified Buddha-Self, all 'of one taste', which the Buddha teaches to his experienced, non-Self schooled monks - not just to 'Hindu ascetics' (as some commentators mendaciously like to pretent). In the Faxian version of the 'Nirvana Sutra', the Buddha says: "The Tathagata-dhatu cannot be killed. Those who die are said to be short-lived, while the Tathagta-dhatu is stated to be the true life-principle." Although present within samsara (the sphere of reincarnation), this Self or Tathagatagarbha yet essentially transcends all negative samsaric qualities and is replete with wondrous virtues.
When considering the Tathagatagarbha, one must at all times be mindful of the caveat that the Tathagatagarbha is ultimately incomprehensible and inexplicable to the un-Awakened mind - so to define it as mere "Emptiness" or as merely a function of Buddhist practice (rather than as a truly real, sustaining internal presence), as some commentators are pleased to claim, is to fail to do justice to this transcendental noumenon. The fact is that whatever one says about the Tathagatagarbha cannot fully capture its plenitude of mystery and perfection, since words are ultimately inadequate to the task and there is nothing in the world that can truly be compared to it (this is explicitly stated in the "Angulimaliya Sutra", as well as in the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra" - the lengthiest sutra dealing with the Tathagatagarbha). The Tathagatagarbha constitutes the inconceivable realm or sphere ("visaya") of the perfect, all-knowing Buddhas themselves and nurtures each person in whom it is found (i.e. every single being). Only when it is seen and truly known by profound inward introspection and purified spiritual vision can it be fully understood. And at that point - one has become a perfect Buddha!
There are several key scriptures (including the immensely important "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra", which is not discussed here but which is given extensive analysis and commentary on my other major website, www.nirvanasutra.net) which contain this teaching and which we shall look at on this website. They include the "Tathagatagarbha Sutra" ("Buddha-Matrix Sutra"), the "Srimaladevisimhanada Sutra" ("Queen Srimala Lion's Roar Sutra"), the "Anunatva-Apurnatva Nirdesa" Sutra ("The Teaching on Non-Decrease, Non-Increase" Sutra), and the "Lankavatara Sutra" ("Descent into Lanka Sutra").
As a leading advocate in the UK (myself still aspiring to a full perception of the Buddha-Garbha !) of an affirmative "Tathagatagarbha" approach to the understanding and practice of Buddhism, centred especially on the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra" (see my major website on the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra": www.nirvanasutra.net), I hope that the current website will offer some inspiration to other Buddhists who are intuitively drawn to the immanent, immortal Soul ("atman") of the Buddha and who aspire to become Bodhisattvas. - Dr. Tony Page (author of: "Buddhism and Animals", UKAVIS London, 1999; "Buddha-Self: The Secret Teachings of the Buddha in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra", Nirvana Publications, London, 2003).
The Tathagatagarbha Sutra
There follows William H. Grosnick’s extremely important and excellent translation (for which I am personally immensely grateful) of this key “tathagatagarbha” sutra. It appears in the valuable book, "Buddhism in Practice", edited by Donald S. Lopez (Princeton University Press 1995, with Copyright owned precisely by Princeton University Press 1995). The idea of an actual hidden Buddha dwelling within the being of each person and each creature first found full expression in this influential scripture.
The Tathagatagarbha Sutra
Translated by William H. Grosnick
Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying on the Vulture Peak near Rajagrha in the lecture hall of a many-tiered pavilion built of fragrant sandalwood. He had attained buddhahood ten years previously and was accompanied by an assembly of hundreds and thousands of great monks and a throng of bodhisattvas and great beings sixty times the number of sands in the Ganges River. All had perfected their zeal and had formerly made offerings to hundreds of thousands of myriad legions of buddhas. All could turn the irreversible wheel of the dharma. If a being were to hear their names, he would become irreversible in the highest path. Their names were Bodhisattva Dharma-Wisdom, Bodhisattva Lion-Wisdom, Bodhisattva Adamantine Wisdom (Vajra-mati), Bodhisattva Harmonious Wisdom, bodhisattva Wonderful Wisdom, Bodhisattva Moonlight, Bodhisattva Jeweled Moon, Bodhisattva Full Moon, Bodhisattva Courageous, Bodhisattva Measureless Courage, Bodhisattva Transcending the Triple World, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattva Mahasthamaprapta, Bodhisattva Fragrant Elephant, Bodhisattva Fine Fragrance, Bodhisattva Finest Fragrance, Bodhisattva Main Treasury, Bodhisattva Sun Treasury, Bodhisattva Display of the Standard, Bodhisattva Display of the Great Standard, Bodhisattva Stainless Standard, Bodhisattva Boundless Light, Bodhisattva Bestower of Light, Bodhisattva Stainless Light, Bodhisattva King of Joy, Bodhisattva Eternal Joy, Bodhisattva Jeweled Hand, Bodhisattva Treasury of Space, Bodhisattva King of Light and Virtue, Bodhisattva Self-Abiding King of Dharanis, Bodhisattva Dharani, Bodhisattva Destroying All Ills, Bodhisattva Relieving All the Ills of Sentient Beings, Bodhisattva Joyous Thoughts, Bodhisattva Satisfied Will, Bodhisattva Eternally Satisfied, Bodhisattva Shining on All, Bodhisattva Moon Brightness, Bodhisattva Jewel Wisdom, Bodhisattva Transforming into a Woman’s Body, Bodhisattva Great Thunderclap, Bodhisattva Spiritual Guide, Bodhisattva Not Groundless Views, Bodhisattva Freedom in All Dharmas, Bodhisattva Maitreya, and Bodhisattva Manjusri. There were also present bodhisattvas and great beings just like them from countless Buddha lands, whose number equalled sixty times the number of sands in the Ganges River. Together with an uncountable number of gods, nagas, yaksas, gandharvas, asuras, garudas, kinnaras, and mahoragas [all divine and quasi-divine beings], they all gathered to pay their respects and make offerings.
At that time, the Buddha sat up straight in meditation in the sandalwood pavilion and, with his supernatural powers, put on a miraculous display. There appeared in the sky a countless number of thousand-petaled lotus flowers as large as chariot wheels, filled with colors and fragrances that one could not begin to enumerate. In the center of each flower was a conjured image of a Buddha. The flowers rose and covered the heavens like a jewelled banner, each flower giving forth countless rays of light. The petals all simultaneously unfolded their splendor and then, through the Buddha’s miraculous powers, all withered in an instant. Within the flowers all the Buddha images sat cross-legged in the lotus position, and each issued forth countless hundreds of thousands of rays of light. The adornment of the spot at the time was so extraordinary that the whole assembly rejoiced and danced ecstatically. In fact, it was so very strange and extraordinary that all began to wonder why all the countless wonderful flowers should suddenly be destroyed. As they withered and darkened, the smell they gave off was foul and loathsome.
But at that point the World-honored One realized why the bodhisattvas were perplexed, so he addressed Vajramati (“Adamantine Wisdom”), saying, “O good son. If there is anything in the Buddha’s teaching that perplexes you, feel free to ask about it.” Bodhisattva Vajramati knew that everyone in the whole assembly was perplexed, and so addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World-honored One, why are there conjured Buddha images in all of the innumerable flowers? And for what reason did they ascend into the heavens and cover the world? And why did the Buddha images each issue forth countless hundreds of thousands of rays of light?” Everyone in the assembly looked on and then joined his hands together in respect. At that point, Bodhisattva Vajramati spoke in verses, saying:
"Never ever have I witnessed
A miraculous display like today's.
To see hundreds of thousands and millions of buddhas
Seated in the calyxes of lotus flowers,
Each emitting countless streams of light,
Filling all the fields,
Scattering the dirt of false teachers,
Adorning all the worlds!
The lotuses suddenly wilted;
There was not one which was not disgusting.
Now tell us,
Why did you display this conjured vision?
We see buddhas more numerous than
The sands of the Ganges,