A Syntactic Analysis of the Term Tathāgatagarbha in Sanskrit Fragments and Multiple Meanings of Garbha in the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra

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A Syntactic Analysis of the Term Tathāgatagarbha in Sanskrit Fragments and Multiple Meanings of Garbha in the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra
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Citation: Kano, Kazuo. "A Syntactic Analysis of the Term Tathāgatagarbha in Sanskrit Fragments and Multiple Meanings of Garbha in the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra." In "What is Tathāgatagarbha: Buddha-Nature or Buddha Within?" Edited by Akira Saitō. Special issue, Acta Asiatica 118 (2020): 17–40.

Article Summary

The current of tathāgatagarbha thought that was born in Indian Mahayana Buddhism spread throughout the cultural sphere of Mahayana Buddhism in Asia and has also long held a fascination for people far beyond its geographical confines. The academic foundations for the study of tathāgatagarbha thought in India were laid by Takasaki Jikido, and the task left to us is to repeatedly reexamine each of Takasaki's findings on the basis of existing and newly discovered materials and corroborate or emend them.
      Takasaki argued that the first extant text to use the word tathāgatagarbha was the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra. Since Takasaki's research was published, there have been some remarkable advances in research on the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra, and in recent years scholars such as S. Hodge and M. Radich have begun to argue that it was the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra that was the first Buddhist text to use the word tathāgatagarbha. The question of which of these two sūtras came first has not yet been definitively resolved, but it may be generally accepted that both belong to the oldest stratum of Buddhist texts dealing with tathāgatagarbha.
      On a previous occasion (Kano 2017), focusing on this point, I collected Sanskrit fragments of both texts containing the word tathāgatagarbha and discussed differences in the expressions in which it is used. In particular, taking into account the findings of Shimoda Masahiro, I argued that if the word tathāgatagarbha appearing in the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra is interpreted as a bahuvrīhi compound qualifying stūpa, this would accord with the word's usage in this sūtra and with the gist of the chapter "Element of the Tathāgata" (Habata 2013: §§ 375–418). This does not mean, however, that this understanding needs to be applied uniformly to every example of its use in the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra. Because in this earlier article I focused somewhat unduly on the interpretation of tathāgatagarbha as a bahuvrīhi compound, the fact that there are instances of wordplay making use of the multiple meanings of garbha in the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra needs to be added, together with some concrete examples. (In the passages of this sūtra, it is natural to understand the term tathāgatagarbha as a substantive in the sense of "garbha of tathāgata" or "garbha that is tathāgata," namely, tatpuruṣa or karmadhāraya, and I do not exclude this possibility as discussed in Kano 2017: 39–42.) In addition, there were some redundant aspects in the structure of my earlier article. In this article I rework these aspects so as to sharpen the focus on the points at issue and add some supplementary points. In the first half I clarify some grammatical characteristics to be observed in examples of the use of tathāgatagarbha in Sanskrit fragments of the Mahāparinirvāṇamahāsūtra, while in the second half I ascertain the polysemy of the word garbha on the basis of some concrete examples. (Kano, "A Syntactic Analysis," 17–18)