The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra (T. de bzhin gshegs pa'i snying po'i mdo དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོའི་མདོ་; C. dafangdeng rulaizang jing 大方等如來藏經) is an influential Mahāyāna sutra, and the earliest to set forth the doctrine of tathāgatagarbha. According to this doctrine, all sentient beings are born with buddha-nature and have the potential to become a Buddha. Physical and mental defilements of evertday life acts as clouds over the this very nature and usually prevents this realization. This nature is no less than the indwelling Buddha himself.
Origins and development
Anthony Barber associates the development of the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra with the Mahāsāṃghika sect of Buddhism, and concludes that the Mahāsāṃghikas of the Āndhra region (i.e. the Caitika schools) were responsible for the inception of the Tathāgatagarbha doctrine.
The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra is considered "the earliest expression of this [the tathāgatagarbha doctrine] and the term tathāgatagarbha itself seems to have been coined in this very sutra." The text is no longer extant in its language of origin, but is preserved in two Tibetan and two Chinese translations.
- the Chinese translation of Amoghavajra (middle of 8th century);
- an apocryphal Tibetan translation from Bathang;
- the canonical Tibetan translation (around 800 CE).
The nine similes
According to Zimmermann, the nine similes "embody the new and central message of the text, embedded in the more or less standard framework consisting of the setting, a passage expounding the merit of propagating the sutra and a story of the past." The simile (1) in the first chapter describes a fantastic scene with many buddhas seated in lotus calyxes in the sky, who are not affected by the withering of the flowers. The following eight similes illustrate how the indwelling Buddha in sentient beings is hidden by the negative mental states (kleśas),
comparing it to (2) honey protected by bees, (3) kernels enclosed by their husks, (4) a gold nugget in excrement, (5) a hidden treasure beneath the house, (6) a sprout in the seed becoming a huge tree, (7) a tathāgata image wrapped in rotten rags, (8) a cakravartin in the womb of a despised, orphan woman and (9) a golden figure within a burned clay mold.
In regard to the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra and the term Tathāgatagarbha, A. W. Barber writes:
... as Alex Wayman, Michael Zimmermann, and I have noted, the original meaning of the term was that one is "already" or primordially awakened. For example, the Tathagatagarbha sutra illuminates the matter metaphorically this way: "inside a casting mold there is perfectly formed Buddha; the ignorant see the filth of the mold but the wise know that the Buddha is within."
The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra constitutes one of a number of Tathāgatagarbha or Buddha-nature sutras (including the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra, the Angulimaliya Sutra, and the Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa) which unequivocally declare the reality of an Awakened Essence within each being.
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Grosnick, William H. (1995), The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra (PDF), Princeton: In: Lopez, Donald S. Jr.; ed. Buddhism in Practice, Princeton University Press, archived from the original (PDF) on March 27, 2013
- Hubbard, Jamie (2001), Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press
- King, Sallie B. (1997). The Doctrine of Buddha Nature is Impeccably Buddhist (PDF). In: Jamie Hubbard, Paul Swanson, Pruning the Bodhi Tree, the Storm over Critical Buddhism, Honolulu: University of Hawai’iPress. ISBN 0-8248-1908X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-02-25.
- Padma, Sree; Barber, Anthony W. (2008), Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra, Albany: State University of New York Press, ISBN 0791474852
- Shih, Heng-Ching, The Significance Of 'Tathagatagarbha' -- A Positive Expression Of 'Sunyata, archived from the original on February 15, 2005
- Zimmermann, Michael (1999), The Tathagatagarbhasutra: Its Basic Structure and Relation to the Lotus Sutra (PDF), Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University for the Academic Year 1998, pp. 143–168, archived from the original (PDF) on October 8, 2011
- Zimmermann, Michael (2002), A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra. Biblotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica VI (PDF), Tokyo: The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University
- Cole, Alan (2005), "Sameness with a Difference in the Tathagatagarbha Sutra", Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature (PDF), University of California Press, pp. 197–235, ISBN 9780520931404
- Hodge, Stephen (2009 & 2012)."The Textual Transmission of the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana-sutra", lecture at the University of Hamburg
- King, Sallie, B. (1991). "Buddha Nature", State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-0428-5
- Chinese, Tibetan and English texts of the TGS in the Thesaurus Literaturae Buddhicae, University of Oslo
- Appreciation of the Nirvana Sutra and Tathagatagarbha teachings
- "Tathagatagarbha Buddhism": the full text of the "Tathagatagarbha Sutra" plus text of 4 other "tathagatagarbha" sutras