A Multi-associative Term: Why Tathāgatagarbha Is Not One and the Same

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A Multi-associative Term: Why Tathāgatagarbha Is Not One and the Same
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Citation: Zimmermann, Michael. "A Multi-associative Term: Why Tathāgatagarbha Is Not One and the Same." In "What is Tathāgatagarbha: Buddha-Nature or Buddha Within?" Edited by Akira Saitō. Special issue, Acta Asiatica 118 (2020): 41–55.

Abstract

This essay deals with how the Sanskrit term tathāgatagarbha is used in the Mahāyāna text to which it gave its name, the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra. Whether the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra is the oldest text in which the term appears or not, the particular way in which it is applied there documents that the authors created or made use of it while associating it with many diverse aspects, less in a philosophical or abhidharma-like way but rather in a loose and associative style, opening the door to incorporate the different connotations described metaphorically in the sūtra. The rich illustrations found in the sūtra help us understand the early context in which the term was coined and took shape. It will become evident that it is impossible to reduce the genesis and meaning of the term tathāgatagarbha by way of a monoexplanatory model.