A Self-Aggrandizing Vehicle: Tathāgatagarbha, Tīrthikas, and the True Self
With reference to two of these 'ātmavādin’ tathāgatagarbha works, I present evidence that authors of this tradition used the idea of a Buddhist doctrine of the self to undermine non-Buddhist accounts of liberation: not only describing them as deficient, but as having been created (nirmita) by the Buddha himself. Such claims expand the boundaries of the Buddha’s sphere of influence, after the description of his activities found in the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra: a clear influence upon these tathāgatagarbha sources. Other Mahāyānist literature of an ‘ekayānist’ orientation used this strategy also: i.e. that any teaching regarding liberation from saṃsāra finds its origin in the activities of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, but has its definitive expression in the Buddhist dharma. The tathāgatagarbha presented as a Buddhist doctrine of the self can hence be understood as a complement to a certain understanding of the Mahāyāna, here the archetype of all paths that claim to deliver an end to saṃsāra, and to an account of the Buddha as the architect of all ostensibly non-Buddhist accounts of liberation.