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The Ratnagotravibhāga (Sanskrit, abbreviated as RgV) and its vyākhyā commentary (abbreviated RgVV), also known as the Uttaratantraśāstra, are a compendium of the tathāgatagarbha literature. The text was originally composed in Sanskrit, likely between the middle of the third century and no later than 433 CE.[1][lower-alpha 1] Authorship is uncertain, the Tibetan tradition states it was taught by the Bodhisattva Maitreya and transmitted via Asanga, while the Chinese tradition states it was written by a certain Sāramati. Modern scholarship favors Sāramati.[1][2] The text and its commentary are also preserved in Tibetan and Chinese translations.[lower-alpha 2]

The Ratnagotravibhāga describes the gotra or "lineage" of the buddhas, which is the buddha-nature present in all beings. It is a Yogacara text particularly popular in East Asian Yogacara.

In the Tibetan tradition, this text is identified as one of the Five Treatises of Maitreya.



The text is attributed to a certain Sāramati (娑囉末底) in the earlier Chinese tradition, while the Tibetan tradition considers the verse portion to have been composed by Maitreya-nātha and the prose commentary by Asanga. Ruegg suggests that the Chinese and Tibetan traditions may be reconciled by understanding the name given in Chinese sources as an epithet for Maitreya.[lower-alpha 3]

The case for the involvement of Maitreya-nātha is also strengthened by the discovery of a Sanskrit fragment of the Ratnagotravibhāga in Saka script which mentions Maitreya-nātha as the author of the 'root' (mūla) verses.[4] The question of authorship may possibly be resolved by an analysis of the structure of this multi-layered text. Takasaki [5] is certain that the author of the embedded commentary is Sāramati through his comparison of the RGV with the Dharmadhātvaviśeṣaśāstra.[6]

Peter Harvey finds the attribution to Asanga less plausible.[7]



Sanskrit gotra is a figurative term for family or lineage.[8] It later came to have the meaning of "destiny", particularly in Yogacara literature. "Another division of lineage is into prakṛtisthagotra (naturally present) and samudānītagotra (developed). According to the Yogācārabhūmiśāstra, the former refers to one's innate potential for spiritual achievement; the latter refers to the specific individual habits one can develop that will help speed the mastery of that potential."[8] The Ratnagotravibhāga describes the gotra of the buddhas, which is the buddha-nature present in all beings.[9]

Nugteren contextualizes the Buddhist 'inheritance' of the term gotra from the wider tradition, where Sanskrit gotra literally means "cowshed". Gotra evolved in Buddhism to first different spiritual lineages one of which (rather controversially within the broader tradition) according to their spiritual predisposition and constitution were doomed to cycle endlessly in the wheel of saṃsāra without the intervention of a bodhisattva, that is they would never attain bodhi of their own volition, that doctrine in turn eventually evolved into the doctrine of Jina.[10]


A secondary title for this work is Uttaratantraśāstra "Manual of the Ultimate Doctrine", by which name it is known in the Tibetan tradition, and in translations from that tradition's literature and commentaries.

The 14th Dalai Lama[11] conveys that tantra in the Tibetan title to specifically refers to the "everlasting continuum of the mind", the translation by Berzin [12] of mindstream in English:

Here, since the text indicates primarily the cleansing of the everlasting continuum of the mind when it is tarnished with fleeting stains, and thus since it concerns the everlasting mental continuum, it includes the term tantra, meaning everlasting continuum, in its title. Moreover, the word tantra has the connotation of something that goes on and on with continuity, something that continues over time with connection from prior to later moments. We can undoubtedly understand something from that connotation as well.[13]


Hookham affirms that there are precious few records of the RGV or RGVV (its commentary) in India and that their traditional recorded history commences with their 'rediscovery' by Maitripa. According to Hookam, there is no evidence that the work was associated with Maitreya before the time of Maitripa and modern scholarship favors the view of the Chinese tradition which states that the work was composed by a certain Saramati (3rd-4th century CE).[2]

Mathes [14] relates a version of the traditional textual transmission of the RGV by Maitripada (also called "Maitrīpa", ca. 1007-ca.1085), the disciple of Naropa and the guru of Marpa Lotsawa, and proffers his critical analysis that Maitripada's teachers Jñanasrimitra (980-1040) of Vikramashila and Ratnākaraśānti must have had access to the RGV, RGVV and/or their extracts:

Tradition has it that the Dharmadharmatāvibhaga and the Ratnagotravibhāga were rediscovered and taught by Maitrīpa, but Maitrīpa's teacher at Vikramashila, Jñānaśrīmitra (ca. 980-1040), must have already known these two works when he composed his Sākārasiddhiśāstra and Sākārasamgraha. Ratnākaraśānti, another teacher of Maitrīpa, also quotes the Ratnagotravibhāga in the Sūtrasamuccayabhāṣya. Maitrīpa passed the Dharmadharmatāvibhaga and the Ratnagotravibhāga on to *Ānandakīrti and Sajjana.[15]

Textual versions


The critical edition of the RGV in Sanskrit was first published by Johnston, et al. (1950)[16] This critical edition of Johnston is founded on two manuscripts discovered by Rev. Rāhula Sāñkṛtyāyana (1893–1963) in Tibet.[17][18][19]

Of the complete extant Sanskrit [Johnston, et al. (1950)[16]], Tibetan[20] and Chinese[21] manuscript versions, recension or interpolations of the RGV (according to perspective), Takasaki (1966) considered the Chinese translation of a no longer extant Sanskrit text to be the oldest RGV manuscript in existence, though not necessarily truly representing the original Sanskrit.[22]


According to Takasaki (1966: p. 7), the Chinese Tripiṭaka retains one translation of the RGV, being known as No. 1611, Vol.31 (Taisho Daizokyo Ed.) with the nomenclature chiu-ching yi-ch'eng pao-sing-lun, (pinyin) Jiūjìng yìchéng bǎoxìng lùn, 《究竟一乘寶性論》 (literally back-translated into Sanskrit: Uttara-ekayāna-ratnagotra-śāstra).[22][23]


Takasaki (1966: p. 6) holds the Tibetan Tanjur to retain two versions of the RGV:

  • Theg-pa-chen-po rgyud-bla ma'i bstan-bcos (Mahāyāna-uttaratantra-śāstra), Tohoku Catalogue No. 4024;[17]
  • Theg-pa-chen-po rgyud-bla-ma'i bstan-bcos rnam-par-bsad-pa (Mahāyāna-uttaratantra-śāstra-vyākhyā), Tohoku Catalogue No. 4025.[17]

Both of these versions were translated by Matiprajna (Sanskrit, 1059–1109) (also known as: Ngok Loden Sherab; Wylie: Blo-ldan-shes-rab) under the guidance of Kashmiri Pandits 'Ratnavajra' (Sanskrit) (Wylie: Rin-chen rdo-rje)[24] and Sajjana, conducted at Srinagar in Kashmir, towards the close of the 11th century CE.[17][25]

Wangchuk has examined the intellectual history of the Uttaratantra in Tibet from the 12th century to the early 15th century.[26]

English Translations

Obermiller (1931) pioneered research into the RGV literature in English language through his translation of the Tibetan RgVV under the name of the Uttara-tantra-shastra, (the text's name in the Tibetan tradition), labeling it an example of monism.[27]

The verse portion of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga has been translated several times into English, including by E. Obermiller (1931) and Rosemary Fuchs (2000).[28] The English translations by Takasaki and Brunnholzl are the only English translations of the complete work, including the commentary.[29]

Commentary on the Ratnagotravibhaga

To mitigate any confusion or perhaps to bring uncertainty into awareness, the RGV in certain textual transmissions has an embedded commentary RGVV that has become for the most part integrated with the RGV through the passage of time even though there are distinct editions of the RGV and RGVV. Takasaki provided a valuable textual analysis of the Sanskrit critical edition edited by Johnston with those versions preserved in certain editions of the Chinese and Tibetan canon. Takasaki identified a textual core of the RGV with the most ancient verses of this core, dated ..., being extant in the Chinese. The work of Takasaki and Johnston has been critiqued by the extensive reviews of such scholars as De Jong [30] and Lambert Schmithausen.[31]


The text consists of about 430 Sanskrit verses with a prose commentary (vyākhyā) that includes substantial quotations from tathāgatagarbha-oriented sutras. As well as a single extant Sanskrit version, translations exist in Chinese and Tibetan, though each of these versions show a degree of recensional variation. Extensive analysis[32] of the critical Sanskrit text edited by Johnston (1950) with the Tibetan and Chinese versions, identified that the verses actually comprise two separate groups: a core set of 27 ślokas and 405 additional or supplementary verses of explication (Skt. kārikā).[33] The work of Johnston, et al. (1950) and Takasaki have been critiqued by the extensive reviews of such scholars as deJong[30] and Schmithausen.[31]


Doctrinal significance

Final teaching

The secondary title for this work, Uttaratantraśāstra, highlights the text's claim that the tathāgatagarbha or buddha-nature teachings represent the final, definitive teachings of the Buddha, in contrast to the earlier teachings on emphasizing intrinsic emptiness, such as contained in the Prajñāpāramitā sutras and other Mahayana sutras. In addition to the group of scriptures known as the Tathagatagarbha sutras, this work is the cornerstone of the tathāgatagarbha trend of thought in Mahayana Buddhism.


The Ratnagotravibhaga is notable for its exploration of the doctrine of the buddha nature[lower-alpha 4], the view that all sentient beings are already buddhas or have the propensity to attain buddhahood.[34]

The Uttaratantra takes as its key topic the idea of the dhātus of the Buddha present in all beings:

The principal subject matter of this treatise is the special theory of Dhatu (fundamental element) of the Absolute (Tathagata-garbha = essence of Buddha)... It is an exposition of the theory of the Essence of Buddhahood (tathagata-garbha), the fundamental element (dhatu) of the Absolute, as existing in all sentient beings. ... This element which had been regarded as an active force (bija) before, is regarded, in this text, as eternal, quiescent and unalterable, as the true essence of every living being and source of all virtuous qualities.'[35]

Completion of sunyata

Within tathagatagarbha literature a completion of sunyata (emptiness) theory and an emphasising of metaphysics and mysticism can be found:

The Uttaratantra is a Mahayana text with emphasis on Buddhist metaphysics and mysticism [...] Tathagata-garbha thought is complementary to sunyata thought of the Madhyamika and the Yogacara, as it is seen in the Uttaratantra. The Uttaratantra first quotes the Srimala-devi-sutra to the effect that tathagata-garbha is not accessible to those outside of sunya realization and then proceeds to claim that sunyata realization is a necessary precondition to the realization of tathagata-garbha. There is something positive to be realized when one’s vision has been cleared by sunyata. The sunyata teachings of the prajna-paramita are true but incomplete. They require further elucidation, which is found in the Uttaratantra.'[36]

The Uttaratantra constitutes a higher Buddhist doctrine than that of sunyata as found in the prajnaparamita sutras:

The sunyata teachings in the Prajna-paramita are true, but incomplete. They require still further elucidation, which the Uttaratantra provides. Thus it assumes the Prajna-paramita teachings as the purva or prior teachings, and the tathagata-garbha teachings as the uttara, in the sense of both subsequent and superior.'[37]

Positive understanding of sunyata

Both the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra and the Ratnagotravibhāga enunciate the idea that the buddha-nature is possessed of four transcendental qualities:

  1. Permanence
  2. Bliss
  3. Self
  4. Purity

The buddha-nature is ultimately identifiable as the dharmakāya.[lower-alpha 5] These elevated qualities make of the Buddha one to whom devotion and adoration could be given: "Here there is an elevation and adoration of Buddha and his attributes, which could be a significant basis for Mahayana devotionalism."[38]

Exegetical tradition

Notable exegetes of the Ratnagotravibhāga have been Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, Gö Lotsawa Zhönnu-pel, Gyaltsab Je, and Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso, amongst others.

The Nyingma commentary of Ju Mipham from a Dzogchen view has been rendered into English by Duckworth (2008).[39] Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche (2008/2009) commenced the Rigpa Shedra teachings on Mipham's view of Buddha Nature[40] which has been followed by Khenpo Dawa Paljor (2009) of Rigpa Shedra's oral word by word commentary of Ju Mipham's exegesis of RGV[41] in Tibetan with English translation.

Dzogchen view: Seven Diamond Points

Tibetan Dzogchen commentaries describe the text in terms of five chapters that distill seven 'diamond points' (vajrapada):

  1. 'Buddha' (Wylie: sangs-rgyas)
  2. 'Dharma' (Wylie: chos)
  3. 'Sangha'
  4. 'Essence' (Sanskrit: dhātu; Wylie: khams)
  5. 'Awakened' (Sanskrit: bodhi; Wylie: byañ-chub)
  6. 'Qualities' (Sanskrit: guna; Wylie: yon-tan)
  7. 'Activities' (Sanskrit: karman; Wylie: phyin-las' )

See also


  1. Though Sanskrit versions of the RGV and RGVV are extant, these versions are of later recensions and not truly representative of the original according to the analysis of Takasaki (1966).
  2. The Chinese version being the oldest manuscript of the RgV but not necessarily the most faithful.
  3. Il se peut que quelques-unes des divergences, en principe fondamentales, entre les traditions tibétaines et chinoise au sujet de l'auteur du RGV soient plus apparentes que réeles. Jusqu' ici on a le plus souvent procédé en suposant que la tradition indo-tibétaine qui tient Maitreya pour l'auteur de ce traité est entirècontraire a la tradition sino-indienne sur *Sāramati. Cependant, ne serait-il pas également possible de considérer le nom *Sāramati -- de même que le nom Vyavadāta-samaya dans le colophon du MSA -- comme une épithète de Maitreya ? En effect, dans le Maitreya-prasthāna-sūtra, bLo-gros brtan-po (= Sthiramati, ou quelque nom synonyme comme Dṛḍhamati) a été effectivement mentioneé comme l'appelation sous laquelle Maitreya était connu dans dans une existence antériere. Si le nom mentioné par Fa-tsang et d'autres autorités pouvait alors être considéré comee une epithéte de Maitreya, la divergence entre la tradition rapporté par les docteurs chinois et la tradition indo-tibétaine ne serait plus irréductible.[3]
  4. Wylie: de bzhin gshegs pa'i snying po
  5. most exalted nature of the Buddha


  1. 1.0 1.1 Takasaki (1966),
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hookham, S. K. (1991). The Buddha within: Tathagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-0357-2. Source; [1] (accessed: Tuesday May 5, 2009), pp.165-166.
  3. La Théorie du Tathāgatagarbha et du Gotra, David Seyfort Ruegg, EFEO (1969), p46
  4. V.H. Bailey & E.H. Johnston, "A Fragment of the Uttratantra in Sanskrit", BSOS 8 (1935-37) p77-89
  5. Takasaki 1966: p. 62
  6. Takasaki, Jikido (1966). A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra) Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism (Rome Oriental Series 33). Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, p.62
  7. Peter Harvey, "An Introduction to Buddhism." Cambridge University Press, 1993, page 114.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lopez 2013, p. 324.
  9. Lopez 2013, p. 701.
  10. Ruegg, D. Seyfort (1976). 'The Meanings of the Term "Gotra" and the Textual History of the "Ratnagotravibhāga".' Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 39, No. 2 , pp.341-363.
  11. Tenzin Gyatso 1982 in his teaching on the Uttaratantra
  12. Berzin 2008
  13. Gyatso, Tenzin (discourse, 1982) & Berzin, Alexander (translation and transcription, 2008). Buddha-Nature, Day One of a Discourse on 'Uttaratantra'; Part Two: The First Three Verses of Chapter One. Discourse by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Bodh Gaya, India, January 17, 1982. Translated by Alexander Berzin and revised, January 2008. Source: [2] (accessed: Saturday May 9, 2009)
  14. Mathes 2008: p. 2
  15. Mathes, Klaus-Dieter (2008). A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa's Mahāmudra Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga. Somerville, MA, USA: Wisdom Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-86171-528-4(pbk.:alk.paper): p.2
  16. 16.0 16.1 Johnston, E. H. (ed.) & Chowdhury, T. (indexation)(1950). The Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānanottaratantraśāstra. Patna. (NB: seen through the press and furnished with indexes by T. Chowdhury).
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Takasaki, Jikido (1966). A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra) Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism (Rome Oriental Series 33). Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, p.6
  18. For further information on these manuscripts refer Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society (J.B.O.R.S.), vol XXI, p. 31 (III. Ṣalu monastery, vol. XI-5, No. 43) and. XXIII, p. 34 (VII. Ṣalu monastery, vol. XIII-5, No. 242).
  19. ratnagotravibhāgo mahāyānottaratantraśāstram Archived 2010-06-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. No. 4025; Tohoku University (Ed.)(1934). A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons, Sde-dge Edition, Tohoku University; refer Tibetan Buddhist canon
  21. No. 1611, Vol.31; Chinese Tripiṭaka. Taisho Daizokyo Edition, Japanese. Refer: Machine-readable text-database of the Taisho Tripitaka (zip files of Taisho Tripitaka vol. 1-85); refer Chinese Buddhist canon.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Takasaki, Jikido (1966). A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra) Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism (Rome Oriental Series 33). Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, p.7
  23. Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 31, No. 1611 究竟一乘寶性論 Archived 2008-09-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. Sadhukhan, Sanit Kumar (1994). 'A Short History of Buddhist Logic in Tibet'. Bulletin of Tibetology, p.12.
  26. Wangchuk, Tsering (2009). "The Uttaratantra in the Age of Argumentation: Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen and His Fourteenth-Century Interlocutors on Buddha-Lineage". UVA Library | Virgo. Retrieved 2017-08-06. [permanent dead link]
  27. Obermiller, Eugène (1931). 'The Sublime Science of the Great Vehicle to Salvation Being a Manual of Buddhist Monism.' Acta Orientalia 9, 81-306.
  28. Buddha Nature: The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra with Commentary Rosemary Fuchs. Snow Lion Publications. Ithica: 2000
  29. Takasaki, Jikido A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga – Being a Treatise on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Serie Orientale Roma XXXIII ISMEO 1966
  30. 30.0 30.1 Jong, Jan W. de (1979). 'Review of Takasaki 1966'. Buddhist Studies by J. W. de Jong, 563-82. Ed. by Gregory Schopen. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Schmithausen, Lambert (1971). 'Philologische Bemerkungen zum Ratnagotravibhaga.' Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 15, 123-77.
  32. Takasaki (1966)
  33. Takasaki, Jikido (1966)pp10-18
  34. Mathes, Klaus-Dieter (2008). A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa's Mahāmudra Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga. Somerville, MA, USA: Wisdom Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-86171-528-4(pbk.:alk.paper): p.1
  35. C.D. Sebastian, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism, Delhi, 2005, pp. 40-41
  36. Sebastian, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism, Delhi, 2005, p. 50
  37. Sebastian, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism, Delhi, 2005, pp. 46-47
  38. C.D. Sebastian, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism, 2005, p. 21
  39. Duckworth, Douglas S. (2008). Mipham on Buddha-nature: the ground of the Nyingma tradition. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-7521-2.
  40. Mipham's view of Buddha Nature
  41. oral word by word commentary of Ju Mipham's exegesis of RGV


Further reading

  • Hookham, S.K. (1991). The Buddha within : Tathagatagarbha doctrine according to the Shentong interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791403587. 

External links

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