Nine similes for tathāgatagarbha

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Nine similes for tathāgatagarbha are identified in the literature on tathāgatagarbha and buddha-nature. These are also commonly referred to as the "nine similes for buddha-nature." These similes were first presented in the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra, and they were elaborated upon in the Ratnagotravibhāga and other commentaries.

In brief, these nine similes are:

1) a buddha in a decaying lotus, 2) honey amid bees, 3) kernels in their husks, 4) gold in filth, 5) a treasure in the earth, 6) a sprout and so on from a small fruit, 7) an image of the victor in a tattered garment, 8) royalty in the womb of a destitute woman, and 9) a precious statue in clay.[1]

For detailed explanations of these similes, see:

Brief explanation

The Library of Wisdom and Compassion (Vol 3) states:

By using nine similes, the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra gives us an inkling of the buddha nature that has always been and will continue to be within us. Maitreya's Sublime Continuum and its commentary by Asaṅga explain these similes that point to a hidden richness inside of us—a potential that we are usually unaware of. Contemplating the meaning of these similes generates great inspiration and confidence to practice the path.
All afflictive and cognitive obscurations are condensed into nine obscurations spoken of in the nine similes. By applying the appropriate antidotes, all of these can be removed and full awakening attained. From beginningless time, the basic nature of the mind has been immaculate and has never been mixed with stains or afflictions. But it has been covered by these nine obscurations. As we progress on the path, the transforming buddha nature develops, the mind becomes purer, and the obscurations are gradually eliminated. When all obscurations have been removed such that they can never return, the purified mind becomes the wisdom dharmakāya and its emptiness becomes the nature dharmakāya. Maitreya says (RGV 1:80-81):

This [tathāgatagarbha] abides within the shroud of the afflictions,
as should be understood through [the following nine] examples:

Just like a buddha in a decaying lotus, honey amidst bees,
a grain in its husk, gold in filth, a treasure underground,
a shoot and so on sprouting from a little fruit,
a statue of the Victorious One in a tattered rag,
a ruler of humankind in a destitute woman's womb,
and a precious image under clay,
this [buddha] element abides within all sentient beings,
obscured by the defilement of the adventitious poisons.[2]

Further reading:


  1. Tsadra commons icon.jpg Tsadra editors, The Nine Similes, Buddha Nature: A Tsadra Foundation Initiative
  2. Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron 2018b, s.v. Nine Similes for Tathāgatagarbha.