Different Ways of Explaining the Meaning of Tathāgatagarbha
Brunnhölzl, Karl. "Different Ways of Explaining the Meaning of Tathāgatagarbha." In When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra, 53–80. Boston: Snow Lion Publications, 2014.
As for the meaning of the Sanskrit compound tathāgatagarbha, its first part (tathā) can be taken as either the adverb “thus” or the noun “thusness/suchness” (as a term for ultimate reality; many texts, among them the Uttaratantra, gloss tathāgatagarbha as “suchness”). The second part can be read either as gata (“gone”), or āgata (“come, arrived”; the Tibetan gshegs pa can mean both). However, in the term tathāgata, both meanings more or less come down to the same. Thus, the main difference lies in whether one understands a tathāgata as (a) a “thus-gone/thus-come one” or (b) “one gone/ come to thusness,” with the former emphasizing the aspect of the path and the latter the result. The final part of the compound—garbha—literally and originally means “embryo,” “germ,” “womb,” “the interior or middle of anything,” “any interior chamber or sanctuary of a temple,” “calyx” (as of a lotus), “having in the interior,” “containing,” or “being filled with.” At some point, the term also assumed the meanings of “core,” “heart,” “pith,” and “essence” (which is also the meaning of its usual Tibetan translation snying po). As Zimmermann points out, Sanskrit or Pāli dictionaries do not explain garbha in those ways, but the corresponding forms of the term in several modern Indian languages can have all of those meanings. In addition, late Indian Buddhist texts also refer to such meanings. For instance, Kṛṣṇa’s Yogaratnamālā and Ratnākaraśānti’s Muktāvalī (both commentaries on the Hevajratantra) equate garbha in vajragarbha with hṛdaya. Jayaratha’s Tantrālokaviveka, a commentary on the Tantrāloka, interprets garbha as sāra. Wayman and Wayman (1974, viii–ix) mention that, in commentaries on the Guhyagarbhatantra, garbha is not only explained as womb (kukṣi) and embryo (bhrūṇa) but also as middle or center (madhyama).
In that vein, as a proficient Sanskrit translator, Gö Lotsāwa Shönnu Bal (1392–1481) explains a number of Sanskrit synonyms of garbha and correlates some of them with the three aspects of garbha in the Uttaratantra—the dharmakāya, suchness, and the disposition. He says that sāra represents a basis from which many dharmas radiate or emanate, thus referring to the dharmakāya. Hṛdaya has the sense of being crucial or very precious, like a human heart. Thus, it refers to suchness because those who wish for liberation need to regard it as crucial or precious. Garbha itself means “seed” or “womb.” Since it stands for something that is present in an enclosing sheath, it refers to the disposition. Furthermore, maṇḍa means “something very firm” or “quintessence,” as in calling the vajra seat in Bodhgāya bodhimaṇḍa or speaking of “the essence of butter.” Also, according to Vasubandhu’s commentary on the Daśabhūmikasūtra, garbha means something solid, like the core of a tree. However, in general, Gö Lotsāwa says, all four terms can apply to all these meanings.
JKC explains garbha similarly but differs in its glosses of sāra and hṛdaya and relates all three terms to suchness.Garbha refers to something that exists in the middle of an enclosure or a sheath that covers it. Therefore, at the time of the ground, suchness appears to be obscured by adventitious stains and to exist in their middle. The term hṛdaya means “essence” or “supreme,” so this suchness is the essence or what is supreme. Sāra refers to being firm and stable, thus indicating that suchness never changes.
Technically speaking, the term tathāgatagarbha can be understood as either a bahuvrīhi or a tatpuruṣa compound, meaning “containing a tathāgata (as one’s core or heart)” or “the core or heart of a tathāgata,” respectively. The first one is the most natural reading and is also supported by numerous passages in the scriptures, but the tatpuruṣa version is also found in RGVV and elsewhere.
Explanations of Tathāgatagarbha in Indian Texts
As for the different ways in which the notion of tathāgatagarbha is explained in Indian Buddhist scriptures, Gö Lotsāwa’s introduction to his GC presents four meanings in general and four meanings in the Uttaratantra in particular. The first four are: (1) the emptiness that has the characteristic of being a nonimplicative negation, (2) the luminous nature of the mind (the basic element of awareness), (3) the ālaya-consciousness, and (4) all bodhisattvas and sentient beings. In the Uttaratantra, the tathāgata heart is taught as having the three specific characteristics: (1) dharmakāya, (2) suchness, and (3) disposition, as well as the general characteristic (4) nonconceptuality.
Tathāgatagarbha as the Emptiness That Is a Nonimplicative Negation
As for buddha nature’s being explained as the emptiness that is a nonimplicative negation, based on quotations from Bhāviveka’s (c. 500–570) Madhyamakahṛdaya, its commentary Tarkajvālā, and Candrakīrti’s (c. 600–650) Catuḥśatakaṭīkā, GC says that emptiness is asserted by these masters as a nonimplicative negation. In particular, it is this kind of emptiness that Bhāviveka’s Tarkajvālā refers to as “tathāgata heart” in response to the critique of some śrāvakas that, in the mahāyāna, the tathāgata heart is said to have the characteristic of being all-pervasive, which contradicts the third seal of the Buddha’s teachings—that all phenomena are empty and without self:
[The expression] “possessing the tathāgata heart” is [used] because emptiness, signlessness, wishlessness, and so on, exist in the mind streams of all sentient beings. However, it is not something like a permanent and all-pervasive person that is the inner agent. For we find [passages] such as “All phenomena have the nature of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. What is emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness is the Tathāgata.”
Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya on VI.42 says:
One should know that since [the ālaya-consciousness] follows the nature
of all entities, it is nothing but emptiness that is taught through the
GC comments that it is not possible for Candrakīrti not to have seen that the tathāgata heart is well known as the ālaya-consciousness, which is stated many times in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, and thus he asserts this emptiness that is a nonimplicative negation as the tathāgata heart. Candrakīrti, GC says, saw the explanation that, based on quoting the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, the statement of the emptiness of sentient beings’ being a buddha adorned with all major and minor marks is of expedient meaning. Thus, his Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya states that the tathāgata heart is of expedient meaning.
According to GC, Āryavimuktisena (sixth century) and Haribhadra (mid-eighth–early ninth century) explain the emptiness that is a nonimplicative negation as the disposition and the svābhāvikakāya. Jñānagarbha (early eighth century) even explains it as the dharmakāya, thus implicitly asserting it as the tathāgata heart. GC also adds the position of Ngog Lotsāwa and his followers that the tathāgata heart is the emptiness in the sense of a nonimplicative negation that is taught in Nāgārjuna’s “collection of reasoning.” They explain the statement that all sentient beings are pervaded by the dharmakāya as sentient beings’ being suitable to attain the dharmakāya.
One should add here Kamalaśīla’s (c. 740–795) Madhyamakāloka, which takes the tathāgata heart to be natural luminosity but defines the latter as the dharmadhātu characterized by twofold identitylessness:
This statement “All sentient beings possess the tathāgata heart” teaches that all are suitable to attain the state of unsurpassable completely perfect awakening since it is held that the term tathāgata expresses that the dharmadhātu, which is characterized by personal and phenomenal identitylessness, is natural luminosity.
Kamalaśīla’s interpretation seems to be based on the term tathāgatanairātmyagarbha (“the heart of nonself of a tathāgata”) mentioned above in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, which indicates that buddha nature does not refer to an ātman but to the lack of a self. This approach of Kamalaśīla influenced later Mādhyamikas in their take on the tathāgata heart, as seen in Jayānanda’s (eleventh century) Madhyamakāvatāraṭīkā and Abhayākaragupta’s (died 1125) Munimatālaṃkāra. Kamalaśīla also quotes the passage from the Laṅkāvatārasūtra that Candrakīrti used to establish the teaching on buddha nature as being of expedient meaning. However, Kamalaśīla does not follow Candrakīrti in that regard but only states that, depending on the different ways of thinking of those to be guided, the Buddha taught nothing but the dharmadhātu through a variety of conventional means (including the expression “tathāgata heart”).
It should also be noted in this context that virtually all early Indian Yogācāra masters (such as Asaṅga, Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, and Asvabhāva), if they refer to the term tathāgatagarbha at all, always explain it as nothing but suchness in the sense of twofold identitylessness. Thus, all Indian Mādhyamikas (except for Nāgārjuna in his Dharmadhātustava) and virtually all classical Yogācāra masters up to the tenth century were not willing to openly embrace the tathāgatagarbha teachings as anything other than emptiness, obviously being very concerned about not getting anywhere near the non-Buddhist notion of an ātman. Interestingly, the exceptions in this regard among early Indian Yogācāras all “went into exile,” teaching and translating in China, with their works being preserved only in Chinese. The most prominent among them are Guṇabhadra (394–468), Ratnamati, Bodhiruci (both fifth–sixth century), and especially Paramārtha (499–569), all of whom extensively translated and taught Yogācāra and tathāgatagarbha materials. In India, it was only later Yogācāras, such as Jñānaśrīmitra and Ratnākaraśānti, who interpreted the tathāgata heart along the lines of mind’s luminous nature (see right below).
Tathāgatagarbha as Mind’s Luminous Nature
Gö Lotsāwa’s GC continues that, in terms of the tathāgata heart’s being explained as the luminous nature of the mind (the basic element of awareness), Uttaratantra I.63ab says:
The luminous nature of the mind
Is unchanging, just like space.
Therefore, it explains the tathāgata heart as suchness. Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra XIII.19 states:
It is asserted that mind is always natural luminosity
And that it is tainted by adventitious stains.
Apart from the mind that is the nature of phenomena,
No other mind is proclaimed to be luminous in nature.
Thus, these and other passages explain the true nature of the mind—the basic element of awareness—as the tathāgata heart. GC continues that the same is also stated in many texts by Nāgārjuna (such as his Dharmadhātustava, Cittavajrastava, and Bodhicittavivaraṇa) and a great number of sūtras of the final dharma wheel.
As indicated above, a few later Indian Yogācāras need to be added here. For example, the beginning of the sixth chapter of Jñānaśrīmitra’s Sākārasiddhi says that one can neither superimpose the tiniest thing that does not manifest lucidly (aprakāśa) nor deny even the slightest trace of what manifests lucidly (prakāśa). In order to support this statement, he quotes the Madhyāntavibhāga, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, Abhisamayālaṃkāra, and Uttaratantra. After identifying the wrong positions of superimposition and denial, Jñānaśrīmitra cites Uttaratantra I.154 and RGVV and explains that real aspects are mental forms that have the nature of being appearances of lucidity (prakāśarūpa), which he equates with buddha nature—the tathāgata element (tathāgatadhātu). Just as this tathāgata element, those lucid forms are free from all superimposition and denial.
Ratnākaraśānti generally describes the tathāgata heart as being equivalent to naturally luminous mind, nondual self-awareness, and the perfect nature (which he considers to be an implicative negation and not a nonimplicative negation). As for the ontological status of mind, his Prajñāpāramitopadeśa says that it does not exist as apprehender and apprehended, but the existence of the sheer lucidity of experience cannot be denied. The text also brings up the well-known objection against the existence of self-awareness, known from the Laṅkāvatārasūtra and Śāntideva’s Bodicaryāvatāra, that mind is unable to act upon itself, just as a sword cannot cut itself and a finger cannot touch itself. In his answer, Ratnākaraśānti emphasizes the soteriologically crucial role of mind’s fundamental nature’s being nondual self-awareness. If mind just experiences its own delusional superimpositions onto this nature, it appears as mistakenness (called “ālaya-consciousness”), but when it realizes its own true nature directly, it is unmistaken nondual wisdom or the dharmakāya. The transition from the former to the latter state is accomplished through progressively stripping away all characteristics of mistakenness, thus experiencing the lucidity of all phenomena empty of duality. Ratnākaraśānti also highlights the fact that realization and buddhahood cannot be reasonably defined as the cessation of the entirety of mind and mental factors (as Candrakīrti does), but that the uncontaminated characteristics of their continuum remain and continue to operate forever. He also says that the liberated minds of śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha arhats and buddhas are taught to be equally pure, but the qualities of the fundamental change of buddhahood as the full expression of mind’s natural luminosity are far greater since the dharmakāya functions as the support of the buddha qualities. Thus, Ratnākaraśānti clearly argues against all Mādhyamikas who deny self-awareness, while emphasizing that it is precisely this self-awareness that is the nature of the experiential quality of realizing the ultimate, adding that this nondual wisdom is empty because it is devoid of adventitious mistakenness.
As for the tathāgata heart’s being temporarily obscured by adventitious stains, Ratnākaraśānti’s Sūtrasamuccayabhāṣya quotes the Buddha, Nāgārjuna, and Maitreya and concludes that buddha nature is the single disposition that serves as the basis for there being only a single yāna ultimately:
Since the dharmadhātu has the meaning of disposition they are inseparable. Therefore, since all [beings] possess the tathāgata heart, its fruition is just a single yāna. However, since it was taught as various yānas in the form of progressive means of realization and [since] this disposition does not appear due to [being obscured by] afflictions and so on, temporarily, [the Buddha] spoke of five dispositions. For, he said:
Just as within stony debris
Pure gold is not seen,
And then is seen through being purified,
Tathāgatas [become visible] in the world.
Also noble Nāgārjuna says [in his Dharmadhātustava]:
In a pregnant woman’s womb,
A child exists but is not seen.
Just so, dharmadhātu is not seen,
When it’s covered by afflictions.
Likewise, noble Maitreya states [in his Uttaratantra]:
Because the illuminating dharmadhātu radiates light,
There is no difference in suchness,
And the actuality of the disposition appears,
All [sentient beings] possess the sugata heart.
Therefore, just as [described in] the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra, though [the tathāgata heart] is ensnared by afflictions, when the conditions for [its] awakening have formed, all [yānas] are simply a single yāna.
This tathāgata heart is naturally pure suchness, merely obscured by adventitious stains, and the natural luminosity that is free from apprehender and apprehended:
The essence of the nature of phenomena is called “tathāgata heart.” The dhātu is the suchness that is naturally pure and associated with stains. Other sūtras [call it] tathāgata heart and so on. It is described [in the Uttaratantra through] stating nine examples:
A buddha in a decaying lotus, honey amid bees,
Grains in their husks, gold in filth,
A treasure in the earth, a sprout and so on from a small fruit,
An image of the Victor in tattered rags,
Royalty in the womb of a destitute woman,
And a precious statue in clay—just as these exist,
This dhātu dwells in sentient beings
Obscured by the adventitious stains of the afflictions.
Its characteristics are stated as “natural luminosity” and so on. The characteristic of its being devoid of stains from the very beginning is called “purity,” which refers to being devoid of apprehender and apprehended.
Naturally luminous mind is the self-awareness that remains after all afflictive and cognitive obscurations (apprehender and apprehended) have been relinquished. When this self-aware luminous mind is realized, it is called “nirvāṇa”:
As for “mind’s true nature lacking any difference by way of a distinct division in terms of mistakenness and unmistakenness,” it is said, “Mind does not exist by any nature of its own.” Since afflictedness is mistakenness, it is not established through a nature of its own, that is, through reasoning. “But how is what is purified established?” It is said, “through mind just as it is.” This is self-aware luminous mind, just as it is, which is free from [all] afflictive and cognitive obscurations in the form of the characteristics of apprehender and apprehended. As for “mind not existing,” it refers to [mind’s appearing as] apprehender and apprehended. “What is mind” is the self-awareness that is free from those [two]. Since this [latter mind] is not understood by those who just see this life, it is the inconceivable dhātu. In brief, what is called “nirvāṇa” is analyzed by prajñā as being the realization of self-aware luminosity.
Compare also Ratnākaraśānti’s Śuddhamatī commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, which describes mind’s luminosity as being obscured by adventitious stains by saying “the [nature of phenomena] is natural luminosity, while the activity of the path is to terminate the adventitious obscurations” and “ultimately, signlessness is sheer lucidity.” Thus, ultimate reality is not the utter lack of any entity, but mind’s ultimate luminosity:
Just as suchness, the defining characteristic of mind is not the lack of any entity because it has the defining characteristic of utter lucidity. Mind is not other than suchness because it is not different from lucidity.
Consequently, the fruition of buddhahood is nothing but this luminosity with all its innate qualities having become free from adventitious stains:
The uncontaminated dharmas, which are the nature of dharmatā completely pure in all aspects, make up the svābhāvikakāya of the buddha bhagavāns. For, through being free from all adventitious mistakenness, they abide as that nature. As [Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra IX.2] says:
The knowledge of all aspects is attained—
Immaculateness in terms of all obscurations.
Buddhahood is illustrated
By a jewel casket thrown open.
Likewise, the text says that the uncontaminated dharmas make up the svābhāvikakāya because, through being free from all mistakenness, they are the sheer dharmatā that has the character of lucidity.
In sum, in his works Ratnākaraśānti generally sees himself as a Mādhyamika, but one who integrates many essential elements of Yogācāra and the teachings on buddha nature, such as emphasizing the soteriologically crucial role of mind’s nature being nondual lucid self-awareness—the tathāgata heart—which is only obscured by adventitious stains and needs to be experienced in an unmediated manner as what it truly is. This self- aware natural luminosity is what remains after all obscurations have been eliminated. In other words, the realization of the ultimate or buddhahood is not the mere cessation of the entirety of mind and mental factors, but the pure elements of their continuum remain as the wisdom minds of bodhisattvas and buddhas.
A commentary on the Heart Sūtra by Mahājana  speaks of emptiness as an implicative negation and says that all phenomena have the character of mind’s luminous nature. Interestingly, Mahājana explains the word kula in kulaputra (“son of good family”) and kuladuhitā (“daughter of good family”) as having the disposition (kula or gotra) of bodhisattvas, which he glosses as the tathāgata heart. The weariness about suffering and the wish to be protected from it and attain nirvāṇa are caused by or indicate the power of the tathāgata heart in beings, which parallels the explanation of this in Uttaratantra I.40–41. Thus, based on the tathāgata heart, bodhisattvas develop bodhicitta, practice the six pāramitās, and so the entire path unfolds. In the context of explaining the mantra of prajñāpāramitā, Mahājana says that the phrase “the mantra that calms all suffering” refers to this mantra’s being the cause for realizing the four pāramitās of purity, self, permanence, and bliss on the final path of nonlearning. As described in several tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Uttaratantra, these four pāramitās are the ultimate defining characteristics of the tathāgata heart.
Praśāstrasena’s Āryaprajñāpāramitāhṛdayaṭīkā comments on the Heart Sūtra ’s phrase “all phenomena are without arising, ceasing, purity, impurity, increase, and decrease” by using the notion of buddha nature (sangs rgyas kyi ngo bo), which exists without any change in all beings, is naturally pure, and is only obscured by adventitious stains:
As for [the sūtra’s] saying “without arising, without ceasing,” the subsequent existence of what did not exist before is called “arising.” The subsequent nonexistence of what existed before is called “cessation.” Since this buddha nature—the dharmadhātu, ultimate emptiness—has no beginning point, an endpoint is not to be found. Therefore, [the sūtra] says, “without arising, without ceasing.”
Even when sentient beings cycle on the five paths [of rebirth in saṃsāra], buddha nature does not become stained. Therefore, [the sūtra] speaks of “purity.” Even when awakening to unsurpassable completely perfect awakening, there is no superior purity than buddha nature. Therefore, [the sūtra] says, “without purity.”
Despite manifesting in the bodies of ants and beetles, buddha nature does not become smaller. Therefore, [the sūtra] says, “without de- crease.” Despite manifesting as the dharmakāya, buddha nature does not increase. Therefore, it is without becoming full. Why? Because it is beyond thought and expression and thus not within the confines of measurement.
Since the dharmadhātu does not arise in two ways (through karma and afflictions), it is unarisen. Being unarisen, it is without perishing and therefore is unceasing. Since the dharmadhātu is naturally pure, it is not pure and thus is without purity. Though it is naturally pure, it is not that it becomes impure [through] adventitious afflictions. Therefore, it is pure. Since there is no decrease in the dharmadhātu through the relinquishment of the factors of afflictiveness, it is without decrease. At the time of the increase of purified phenomena, the dharmadhātu does not increase. Therefore, it is without increase.
The sūtra’s phrase “no attainment and no nonattainment” is also explained in terms of buddha nature. The entire path is merely the dissolution of the latent tendencies of ignorance in the ālaya-consciousness, which simply reveals the already existing qualities of buddha nature— buddha wisdom or the mirrorlike dharmadhātu—which are also the qualities of prajñāpāramitā. Though buddhahood has the nature of emptiness, it is not that prajñāpāramitā is without result. Moreover, without any result, any actions on the path to attain a result would be pointless.
Tathāgatagarbha as the Ālaya-Consciousness
Gö Lotsāwa’s GC continues that the explanation of the tathāgata heart as the ālaya-consciousness is found in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, the Ghanavyūhasūtra, the Śrīmālādevīsūtra, the vajra songs (dohās), and others.
It should be added here that Paramārtha in his rather free translations of the Mahāyānasaṃgrahabhāṣya and The Awakening of the Mahāyāna Faith, which contain passages from the Uttaratantra and RGVV, also relates the ālaya-consciousness to the tathāgata heart. Ratnamati said that, just as with the tathāgata heart, awakening consists of purifying the ālaya-consciousness from its defilements in order to uncover its pure and original nature (like removing dust from a mirror), rather than eliminating it. The Distinction of the Views by the early Tibetan translator Yeshé Dé (eighth century) speaks of buddha nature as “the ālaya:”
It is taught that, at the time of the tathāgata heart’s not having become clearly manifest, it is called “ālaya.” When it has become clearly manifest, it is called “dharmakāya.”
Tathāgatagarbha as a Sentient Being
According to GC, the explanation of the tathāgata heart as a sentient being is found in texts such as the Pradīpoddyotana:
All sentient beings are the tathāgata heart.
Also, the Uttaratantra contains passages such as:
The basic element . . .
Is taught through three names
In its three phases.
In addition to these two sources, one may as well add the Hevajratantra’s famous verse:
Sentient beings are buddhas indeed.
However, they are obscured by adventitious stains.
Due to the removal of these, no doubt,
Beings are definitely buddhas.
Tathāgatagarbha as the Dharmakāya, Suchness, the Disposition, and Nonconceptuality
GC does not discuss the Uttaratantra’s above-mentioned four explanations of the tathāgata heart as dharmakāya, suchness, disposition, and nonconceptuality further since it says that they are explained in detail throughout the text. However, JKC’s introduction (13–14) elaborates on these four explanations based on GC’s comments on Uttaratantra I.27 (compare appendix 1):
Since buddha wisdom enters into the multitudes of beings,
Since its stainlessness is nondual by nature,
And since the buddha disposition is metaphorically referred to by [the
name of] its fruition,
All beings are said to possess the buddha [heart].
According to Gö Lotsāwa, JKC says, (1) the buddha wisdom that is present in sentient beings is called “tathāgata heart” because buddha wisdom enters into all these beings. (2) Since the nature of the mind—suchness without adventitious stains—exists in all buddhas and sentient beings without difference, it is also called “tathāgata heart.” (3) The factors similar to a buddha (the skandhas and so on) that exist in sentient beings represent the buddha disposition. Since “disposition” has the meaning of being very similar, this disposition is labeled with the name “tathāgata” and thus explained as the heart of a tathāgata. Thus, in brief, the tathāgata heart is taught to be the dharmakāya, suchness, and the disposition, respectively. The first one is the actual tathāgata and the nominal heart of sentient beings. The second one is both the actual tathāgata and the actual heart because it covers both buddhas and sentient beings. The third one is the actual heart and the nominal tathāgata. (4) Nonconceptuality should be understood as applying to all the preceding points (1)–(3) in general.
JKC continues that “disposition,” “basic element,” “seed,” and so on, are used as the synonyms of the tathāgata heart. However, “basic element” (dhātu) does not have the meaning of “cause” here—it is called “basic element” because, in terms of not being clearly manifest, it also has the meaning of the word garbha (“heart”). This is why a buddha in a decaying lotus and so on are given as the nine examples of this basic element because it is present as the actually existent true nature that is obscured from the outside by obscurations that are something else. The dharmadhātu too is taught to be the disposition and the basic element.
In addition to the above eight different ways of explaining the meaning of tathāgatagarbha, note that Uttaratantra I.23–24 identifies the tathāgata heart as being fourfold: (1) stained suchness, (2) stainless suchness (awakening), (3) the qualities of this awakening, and (4) its enlightened activity. Thus, besides being the intrinsic disposition for (or cause of) awakening as well as the result that is awakening, the tathāgata heart is here additionally explained as the buddha qualities and nonconceptual enlightened activity for all beings. Still, these four can be subsumed easily under the above four points of GC—the dharmakāya, suchness, the disposition, and nonconceptuality. For suchness is twofold—stained (1) and unstained (2), the disposition is the same as stained suchness (1), the dharmakāya consists of (2)–(4), and nonconceptuality applies to all, but in particular to (4).
Tibetan Assertions on Tathāgatagarbha
As for the many different ways in which Tibetan scholars explain the meaning of tathāgatagarbha, only a brief sketch of the main positions in the major Tibetan schools is possible here.
According to BA, those who follow the tradition of Dsen Kawoché (Tib. Btsan Kha bo che) hold that since the tathāgata heart is the naturally luminous nature of the mind, it is the powerful vital cause of buddhahood. TOK agrees, saying that, according to the Eighth Situpa, the texts in Dsen Kawoché’s lineage accepted a really established, self-aware, self-luminous cognition empty of the duality of apprehender and apprehended to be the powerful vital cause of buddhahood.
Ngog Lotsāwa (1050–1109) says in his commentary on the Uttaratantra that the basic element or dhātu is the conventional object that is a nonimplicative negation. He defines this dhātu as the mind stream that has the nature of emptiness and is accomplished through the accumulation of the virtue that is attained from the path of accumulation up through the seventh bhūmi. Moreover, Ngog equates “dhātu” not only with the tathāgata heart (as in RGVV) but also with the ālaya-consciousness (maybe influenced by the Laṅkāvatārasūtra). Obviously, this creates a considerable tension with his definition of the tathāgata heart as emptiness, but he does not resolve it (some of his followers, such as Chaba Chökyi Sengé, thus explicitly reject the identification of the tathāgata heart as the ālaya-consciousness). BA adds that both Ngog Lotsāwa and his student Dsangnagpa hold the tathāgata heart to be ultimate reality, but for them ultimate reality is not even a mere referent object (zhen yul), let alone being an object of terms and conceptions. On the other hand, Chaba Chökyi Sengé is said to assert that ultimate reality consists of the nonimplicative negation of all entities’ being empty of real existence and that this negation does serve as a referent object of terms and conceptions. Chaba also states that the teaching on the tathāgata heart in the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra bears an intention and is not to be taken literally.
The Kadampa tradition, and later the Gelugpa School, generally follow Ngog Lotsāwa in asserting the tathāgata heart as mind’s emptiness that is a nonimplicative negation. However, like Chaba Chökyi Sengé, Gelugpas usually assert that the teachings on tathāgata heart are of expedient meaning. Kedrub Jé Geleg Balsang (1385–1438) says that the tathāgata heart refers to the emptiness of mind’s being empty of being really established in its phase of not being free from adventitious stains:
In the Mahāyānottaratantra, it is said that the sugata heart and the sugata element are equivalent. In its commentary, it is stated:
Here, the meaning of “dhātu” is the meaning of “cause.”
Therefore, the sugata heart is called “the sugata cause.” [However,] the mere cause of a buddha is not called “sugata heart.” “How is it then?” It is the emptiness of mind’s being empty of being really established that is called “the naturally pure true nature of the mind.” The naturally pure true nature of the mind in its phase of not being free from adventitious stains is called “sugata heart” or “naturally abiding disposition.” The naturally pure true nature of the mind in its phase of being free from all adventitious stains without exception is called “svābhāvikakāya,” “the ultimate reality of cessation,” “the ultimate result of freedom,” “the true nature endowed with twofold purity,” or “the dharmakāya endowed with twofold purity.” The adventitious stains are the afflictive and cognitive obscurations. Therefore, the svābhāvikakāya is necessarily not the sugata heart because what is free from adventitious stains is necessarily not what is not free from stains. In our own system, though the synonyms “sugata heart” and “svābhāvikakāya” are unconditioned, nonentities, permanent, eternal, and everlasting, they are not really established.
The similar view of Gyaltsab Darma Rinchen (1364–1432) says that the tathāgata heart is the state of a being in whom mind’s emptiness is obscured, while buddhas by definition do not possess this tathāgata heart. Thus, the tathāgata heart as mind’s emptiness is the cause of buddhahood only in the sense that this emptiness is the focal object of the wisdom of bodhisattvas in meditative equipoise, which is the primary cause of buddha wisdom (however, both the wisdoms of bodhisattvas and buddhas are momentary and belong to seeming reality). Thus, the tathāgata heart is only a cause in the sense that the mind stream is purified through focusing on it. Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) himself is quite silent about buddha nature (probably because his champion Candrakīrti declared it to be of expedient meaning). In his commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, Tsongkhapa says about the Madhyamaka position on the buddha disposition that both the Abhisamayālaṃkāra and the Uttaratantra teach it to be the dharmadhātu or the nature of phenomena free from anything to be removed or added.
Just as the Gelugpas, The Ornament That Illuminates and Beautifies the Tathāgata Heart, by Butön Rinchen Drub (1290–1364), holds the teachings on buddha nature to be of expedient meaning. To that end, he says that the general basis of intention of these teachings is the ālaya-consciousness, while Maitreya’s Uttaratantra entails the threefold basis of intention that consists of the dharmakāya, suchness, and the disposition. The purpose of teaching the tathāgata heart is to relinquish the five flaws in Uttaratantra I.160–67, and the invalidation of the explicit statement is that the tathāgata heart lacks wisdom and all the qualities that are contained in this wisdom because these two (wisdom and qualities) must be produced by the two accumulations of wisdom and merit, respectively, on the path. Taking the reverse position of the Gelugpas on this, both Butön and his student and commentator Dratsépa Rinchen Namgyal (1318–1388) identify the actual tathāgata heart as being solely the final fruition of buddhahood. As the latter says:
The fully qualified sugata heart is the dharmakāya of a perfect buddha
but never exists in the great mass of sentient beings.
The position of Dölpopa, Tāranātha, and their followers on the tathāgata heart differs in almost all regards from everybody else’s (in particular, the Gelugpas, the Sakyapas, and Butön reject Dölpopa’s interpretation vehemently). For Dölpopa, the teaching on buddha nature is of definitive meaning and serves as one of the cornerstones of his Shentong view. He typically describes both buddha nature and the dharmakāya as being ultimately really established, everlasting, eternal, permanent, immutable (ther zug), and being beyond dependent origination. He also equates the tathāgata heart with “ālaya-wisdom” as opposed to the ālaya-consciousness. In that vein, Dölpopa makes a sharp distinction between the spheres of ordinary consciousness and nondual wisdom as being two separate kingdoms because consciousness is merely seeming and empty of itself, while nondual wisdom is really established and only empty of other seeming phenomena but not empty of its own nature. The object of consciousness is exclusively saṃsāra and the object of wisdom is exclusively nirvāṇa. Dölpopa explicitly declares that the tathāgata heart, nondual wisdom, and ultimate reality withstand analysis. In other words, self-emptiness—phenomena’s being empty of a nature of their own—pertains only to conventional reality but not to ultimate reality (the tathāgata heart), which is not empty of itself. He also holds that the sixty-four qualities of a perfect buddha exist in a complete and unobscured manner at the time of the ground, that is, in ordinary sentient beings. However, as mentioned above, Dölpopa’s typical Shentong presentation of the tathāgata heart, as found in his main work Mountain Dharma, is absent in his commentary on the Uttaratantra.
Virtually all Kagyü masters hold the teaching on buddha nature to be of definitive meaning and deny that the tathāgata heart is just sheer emptiness or a nonimplicative negation. Though the Kagyü approach has certain similarities with Dölpopa’s view, it is generally less absolute than the latter’s and shows several significant differences, such as not claiming that the buddha qualities exist in their full-blown form even in confused sentient beings and not making such an absolute distinction between the two realities as Dölpopa does (the exception is Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé, who largely follows Tāranātha and Dölpopa but at times blends their positions with the Third Karmapa’s view).
Gö Lotsāwa’s GC summarizes his own position on the tathāgata heart in the Uttaratantra and its relation to the adventitious stains as follows. Among the seven vajra points, he says, the basic element is to be explained first for the following reason. The basic element is described as emptiness or suchness and therefore all explanations of the seven vajra points in their ultimate aspects refer to nothing but suchness, merely differing in whether this suchness is pure or not pure of stains. The emptiness explained in the second dharma wheel is the nonimplicative negation of being empty of a nature that is not mixed with any other nature, which is to be realized through inferential valid cognition as its cognitive subject. This emptiness is also described as not having arisen from any causes or conditions at all. In the last dharma wheel, that kind of emptiness applies only to the outer cocoon of adventitious stains, while thereafter the emptiness that represents the tathāgata heart is determined. The tathāgata heart’s own essence is not a nonimplicative negation but is the element of basic awareness. It is not a direct object of inferential valid cognition but is the object of direct perception. As for its not originating due to causes and conditions, this does not mean that it is absolutely unoriginated. Just as the element of space occurs naturally within its own state, in its own continuum, the basic element does not depend on any changes through having contact with other phenomena.
GC continues by saying that also the great Madhyamaka masters assert the sūtras of the last dharma wheel as authoritative (tshad ma) and it is not the case that they do not accept the emptiness that represents the tathāgata heart. For Bhāviveka’s Prajñāpradīpa says:
What was taught [by the Buddha] is mainly dependent origination with the distinctive features of nonarising and so on. Therefore, it is established that the meaning of this treatise [the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā] is to teach nonconceptual wisdom, whose object is nectar[like] true reality (the nonconceptual ultimate, which is like the stainless autumn sky), in which all reference points without exception are at utter peace, and which is free from being a unity or a multiplicity, peaceful, and to be experienced personally. Though the way of being of the Bhagavān is true reality, those with bad thoughts do not have confidence in it. Therefore, it is apprehended through the predominance of inference.
In the context of the last dharma wheel, the hotness of fire and so on are used as examples because Nāgārjuna’s Bodhicittavivaraṇa states:
Just as sweetness is the nature
Of sugar, and hotness that of fire,
So the nature of all phenomena
Is asserted to be emptiness.
Also, the object of negation of which something is empty is a bit different here from that of the second dharma wheel. The tathāgata heart exists from sentient beings up through buddhas as the nature of the mind by way of not being impaired or fabricated by any other conditions, while it is said to be empty of all fabricated adventitious phenomena.
Next, GC provides a list of such adventitious phenomena, which includes not only the conventionally unmistaken and mistaken subjects and objects of ordinary beings but also the subjects and objects in the mind streams that represent the spiritual paths of ordinary beings, śrāvakas, and pratyekabuddhas. Thus, what is adventitious consists of: (1) the direct appearances that are apprehended as blue, yellow, and so on, and consist of the mind’s being colored in the form of distinct aspects of objects, (2) the aspects that are the apprehenders of these appearances, (3) the aspects that are the objects that appear for conceptions and are produced by the power of the latent tendencies planted by direct appearances, (4) the aspects that are the apprehenders of those objects, (5) the appearances of inference explained in Madhyamaka, (6) the aspects that are the apprehenders of those appearances, (7) the aspects of strands of hair, yellow conch shells, and so on, that are caused by impaired sense faculties, (8) the aspects that are the apprehenders of those, (9) the clear appearances of dreams, (10) the appearances that arise from meditation, such as skeletons and the totalities, (11) the appearances of contaminated supernatural knowledges, (12) the appearances of the dhyānas and formless absorptions, (13) the appearances of the objects of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas realizing personal identitylessness, and (14) the aspects that are the apprehenders of those. Since all of these are fabricated by either objects, latent tendencies, or impaired sense faculties, they are not the mode of being of mind’s natural state. Therefore, it is said that mind’s nature is empty of all of them.
Still, it is not that these adventitious phenomena arise as something that is apart from the nature of the mind. This is similar to the example of space’s being described as empty because it does not turn into clouds, mountains, and so on, while it is at the same time not tenable for clouds and so on to abide anywhere else than in space. Moreover, since the outer world and the bodies of sentient beings are brought about by ignorance, they are fabricated too and thus also represent objects of negation of which the tathāgata heart is empty.
The buddhas do not see this element of basic awareness as having any kinds of characteristics whatsoever because the Bodhicittavivaraṇa says:
In brief, the buddhas
Did not see [mind] nor will they see it.
How could they see
What has the nature of lacking a nature?
What is called “entity” is a conception,
The lack of conceptions is emptiness.
Wherever conceptions appear,
How could there be emptiness?
The tathāgatas do not see a mind
With the aspects of something to be cognized and what cognizes it.
Wherever there is something to be cognized and what cognizes it,
There is no awakening.
Being without characteristics, without arising,
Without abiding, and without words,
Space, bodhicitta, and awakening
Have the characteristic of being nondual.
The Madhyāntavibhāga states:
In brief, suchness, the true end,
Signlessness, the ultimate,
And the dharmadhātu
Are the synonyms of emptiness.
Since they refer to being changeless, being unmistaken,
Being the cessation of [signs], being the sphere of the noble ones,
And being the cause of the qualities of the noble ones,
These are the respective meanings of those synonyms.
According to Gö Lotsāwa, these synonyms are suitable to be applied to both kinds of emptiness—the one that is a nonimplicative negation and the one that is basic awareness. He concludes that Maitrīpa, the lord of this dharma (the Uttaratantra), and his successors assert that the emptiness taught in the Madhyamakāvatāra represents middling Madhyamaka, while the emptiness that is basic awareness is the system of supreme Madhyamaka.
The Drugpa Kagyü master Padma Karpo (1527–1592) says that the nature of the tathāgata heart is threefold—the dharmakāya is the power to accomplish what one wishes for, suchness never changes into anything else, and the disposition means to be moistened through compassion. Since the tathāgata heart is lasting, it is the basis for everything unconditioned that is connected to it and cannot be separated from it as well as everything conditioned that is not connected to it and can be separated from it. When this tathāgata heart is not realized, it is suitable to be called “saṃsāra,” and when it is realized as it is, it is suitable to be called “nirvāṇa.” This is comparable to the existence of space, which can appear as having clouds for some and as being without clouds for others. The adventitious stains, which do not withstand analysis on the level of the correct seeming, are like clouds, while the dharmadhātu, which withstands being analyzed, is like space. However, to say that the tathāgata heart actually exists in all sentient beings is of expedient meaning. Therefore, it is called “buddha heart” but not “śrāvaka heart” and so on. The object that is to be realized is this tathāgata heart alone, but the cognizing subject that realizes it just as it is is solely the vision of buddhas.
In the Karma Kagyü School, it is the Third Karmapa’s works that are considered to be the most authoritative on buddha nature. In particular, he discusses the tathāgata heart in the first and ninth chapters of his Profound Reality and its autocommentary, his commentary on the Dharmadhātustava, and his Pointing Out the Tathāgata Heart. The Karmapa’s unique approach to presenting the tathāgata heart is to skillfully combine the teachings of Yogācāra, Madhyamaka, and the Uttaratantra. The tathāgata heart is mind’s luminous ultimate nature or nondual wisdom, which is the basis of everything in saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. Its essence is empty, its nature is lucid, and its display is unimpeded (this is also how the nature of the mind is presented in the Mahāmudrā tradition, and the Karmapa’s commentary on the Dharmadhātustava indeed equates the tathāgata heart with Mahāmudrā). Like Padma Karpo, Rangjung Dorje says several times that not realizing this nature of the mind or buddha nature is saṃsāra, while realizing it is liberation (something that Dölpopa repeatedly rejects at length). The commentary on the Profound Reality by the first Karma Trinlépa, Choglé Namgyal (1456–1539), elaborates that, according to the Third Karmapa, the tathāgata heart is the essence of the inseparability of the naturally luminous dharmadhātu and personally experienced wisdom—nothing but ordinary mind, which is free from being real or delusive, like a reflection of the moon in water, and beyond identification and characteristics. This is understood as the personally experienced awareness of mind’s being profound and lucid in a nondual way.
The Eighth Karmapa’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra contains several uncommon discussions of the tathāgata heart, describing it as the ultimate reality of prajñāpāramitā, nondual wisdom, mind’s luminosity, the perfect nature, “the profound other-empty” (shentong), and Mahāmudrā, which is empty of all imaginary and dependent phenomena of seeming reality. The Karmapa emphasizes that the tathāgata heart is the only ultimately real entity, which is permanent and able to perform functions (such as enlightened activity). He also repeatedly says that the tathāgata heart and sentient beings are mutually exclusive since sentient beings are nothing but the sum of adventitious stains. Thus, sentient beings neither possess nor are the tathāgata heart. This also means that it is not the case that buddha nature exists in sentient beings, but sentient beings (seem to) exist in buddha nature, just like clouds floating in the sky without affecting it.
The Nyingma views on buddha nature are complex. From early on, there is a tendency in this school to bring the explanations on the tathāgata heart in line with Dzogchen, starting with Rongsom Chökyi Sangpo (1042–1136), Rog Sherab Ö (1166–1244), and Longchen Rabjampa (1308–1364). In that regard, Longchenpa, Mipham Rinpoche (1846– 1912), and others state repeatedly that the Dzogchen view accords with *Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka. Also, no Nyingma scholar ever considered only the last dharma wheel as being of purely definitive meaning while categorizing the second one as being of purely expedient meaning. Rather, there is generally a balanced approach to these two cycles of teachings. As Pötrül Dongag Denpé Nyima (1898–1959) says:
Therefore, in the system of Great Madhyamaka, according to the intended meaning of sūtras such as the Akṣayamati[nirdeśasūtra] and great treatises such as the root text of the [Madhyamak]āvatāra and its commentary, the middle words of the Buddha are asserted as being of definitive meaning. According to the intended meaning of sūtras such as the Dhāraṇīśvararāja[sūtra] and great treatises such as the Uttaratantra, the sūtras of the last words of the Buddha that teach the [tathāgata] heart are asserted as being of definitive meaning. The intended meanings of [these two combined] as a single essential point without contradiction represents the general [approach of] Nyingma texts.
Mipham Rinpoche wrote four texts that discuss the tathāgata heart—his commentary on the Uttaratantra,The Beacon of Certainty,The Lion’s Roar of Shentong, and A Synopsis of the Sugata Heart. As Dorji Wangchuk says, the “official position” of the Nyingma School on buddha nature may be said to be spelled out in A Synopsis of the Sugata Heart. Briefly speaking, Mipham generally describes the tathāgata heart as the unity of appearance and emptiness, adopting a view of buddha nature that reflects Longchenpa’s description of the ground of Dzogchen—the ground of the indivisible ultimate reality that is primordially pure (ka dag) and spontaneously present (lhun grub). Mipham also uses reasoning in the tradition of valid cognition to establish the existence of the tathāgata heart, similar to his use of reasoning to establish the purity and divine nature of appearances in the vajrayāna (the latter use of reasoning is a unique feature of the Nyingma tradition, which is said to go back to the works of Rongsom). To that end, Mipham juxtaposes the realm of conceptual mind and the sphere of nonconceptual wisdom, thus integrating an epistemological system of valid cognition with what is completely beyond any conceptions. However, ordinary reasoning is only an expedient means of knowledge, whereas nonconceptual wisdom is the ultimate mode of realization and is said to be present primordially.
Pötrül Dongag Denpé Nyima’s view of the tathāgata heart, which is largely based on Mipham Rinpoche’s, is briefly outlined as follows:
Thus, the manner of presenting the two realities by means of [the mode of] appearance and [the actual mode of] being’s being in accordance is as follows. As for the distinctive feature of the sugata heart that is the definitive meaning in the sūtras of definitive meaning in the last wheel of the words of the Buddha (such as the ten sūtras on the [tathāgata] heart), in terms of the aspect of being empty, it has the character of being the object that is the dharmadhātu whose essence is empty and which is endowed with the three doors of liberation. In terms of the aspect of appearance, it is the subject that is the natural luminosity of wisdom, which is inseparable from the qualities of knowledge, loving-kindness, and power. This is [asserted as] the ultimate in which [the mode of] appearance and [the actual mode of] being are in accordance. The appearances of mistakenness that have the nature of saṃsāra and constitute the aspect of adventitious stains—all subjects and objects that are separable from and do not enter the basic ground of the basic nature—are asserted as the seeming in which [the mode of] appearance and [the actual mode of] being are not in accordance.
Thus, from the point of view of emptiness, buddha nature is the empty dharmadhātu (the object) and from the point of view of appearance, it is the wisdom (the subject) that is not empty of the inseparable qualities of a buddha. Both these aspects are inseparable and are empty of the adventitious stains that represent the delusive appearances of saṃsāra. Interestingly but definitely in line with this explanation, Pötrül says repeatedly that both the Madhyamakāvatāra and the Uttaratantra are scriptures of “the Great *Prāsaṅgika Mahāyāna,” though he clearly rejects the Gelugpa understanding of this being the case because, he says, the Gelugpa position is solely based on a nonimplicative negation (the lack of real existence), while completely rejecting the notion of luminosity.
In the early Sakya School, Sakya Paṇḍita (1182–1251) identifies the tathāgata heart as being the dharmadhātu free from all reference points and rejects interpretations of buddha nature as being an entity (be it matter or mind) or a nonentity. Like the Gelugpas and Butön, he asserts the teaching in some sūtras and in the Uttaratantra that buddha nature exists in all sentient beings to be of expedient meaning, saying that the basis of intention of this statement is emptiness, the purpose is to relinquish the five flaws in Uttaratantra I.160–67, and the invalidation of the explicit statement is that if the tathāgata heart really existed, it would be a real entity, be like the self of the tīrthikas, and contradict the sūtras of definitive meaning in all respects. He also says that Candrakīrti taught it to be of expedient meaning in his Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya.
According to BA, Rendawa Shönnu Lodrö (1348–1412) first took the Uttaratantra to be a treatise of Mere Mentalism and composed a commentary in accordance with that system. However, when Rendawa stayed in solitary retreat later, BA reports that he sung a spontaneous dohā:
Therefore, seeing our own mind, this inseparability of being aware
To exist in all sentient beings in a pervasive manner,
Through examples such as a treasure below the earth and the womb
of a pregnant woman,
[Maitreya] declared that all beings are endowed with the tathāgata
Rongtön explains that what is called “the tathāgata heart” is suchness with stains (the basic element not liberated from the cocoon of the afflictions), which is the emptiness of mind with stains. By contrast, the dharmakāya of a tathāgata is what is liberated from this cocoon. The term “tathāgata heart” is used in terms of what is primary because this heart (in the sense of emptiness) is explained to exist at the time of the fruition too. This also refutes the assertion that the fully qualified tathāgata heart is solely the buddhahood that is endowed with twofold purity (natural purity and purity of adventitious stains) because it is explained repeatedly that the primary tathāgata heart is suchness with stains. Rongtön’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra says that the Mādhyamikas identify the disposition as the dharmadhātu specified by the six inner āyatanas.
In the later Sakya School, it is the works of Gorampa Sönam Sengé (1429–1489) that are usually taken to be authoritative. According to him, the tathāgata heart refers to the nondual unity of mind’s lucidity and emptiness or awareness and emptiness free from all reference points. It is not mere emptiness because sheer emptiness cannot be the basis of both saṃsāra and nirvāṇa. However, it is not mere lucidity either because this lucidity is a conditioned entity and the tathāgata heart is unconditioned. When the unity of lucidity and emptiness is not associated with skillful means, it becomes the basis of saṃsāric phenomena. Then, out of this unity, improper mental engagement arises, which leads to afflictions, karma, and the skandhas, dhātus, and āyatanas, as described in Uttaratantra I.55–57. When the unity of lucidity and emptiness is associated with skillful means, it becomes the basis of all phenomena of the path through becoming weary of saṃsāra and striving for nirvāṇa, as explained in Uttaratantra I.41. Once the unity of lucidity and emptiness has become free from all adventitious stains through the power of having cultivated the path, it is endowed with twofold purity and serves as the basis of all buddha qualities.
In his commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the contemporary Sakya scholar Ngawang Kunga Wangchug (1921–2008) also emphasizes that the tathāgata heart is not just sheer emptiness but the union of lucidity and emptiness. In the Mere Mentalist system, he says, the naturally abiding disposition, emptiness, suchness, the true end, signlessness, the ultimate, and the dharmadhātu are asserted to be synonyms for the emptiness of the dependent nature’s being empty of the imaginary nature, which is an emptiness that is established as withstanding analysis through reasoning, with all of the above being equivalents. However, in the Madhyamaka system, the sugata heart, the dharmadhātu, and the naturally abiding disposition are asserted as the unity of lucidity (the bearer of the nature of phenomena) and the cessation of all reference points of the four extremes within this very lucidity (the nature of phenomena) being inseparable. On the other hand, emptiness, suchness, and so on, are presented from the point of view of the basic nature that is the cessation of all reference points of real existence or of the four extremes. Therefore, the difference between the sugata heart and suchness or emptiness is very big because suchness is presented as only the empty part of said unity. In brief, in the Madhyamaka system, the naturally abiding disposition must be the dharmadhātu because it is the cause of the buddhadharmas (such as the ten powers) and because dharmadhātu, disposition, and cause are equivalents.
As in a lot of other areas, the details of the position of Śākya Chogden(1428–1507) on the tathāgata heart differ from Gorampa’s view, as well as from virtually all other Tibetan presentations of buddha nature. According to Śākya Chogden, the pāramitāyāna teaches two types of tathāgata heart, as described in the second and third dharma wheels, respectively. The first type is the nonimplicative negation of all extremes of reference points. This tathāgata heart pervades all beings up through buddhas. However, this type of tathāgata heart is not the actual one but only the nominal tathāgata heart. Śākya Chogden says that neither the temporary position on the tathāgata heart (its being a nonimplicative negation) nor the final position (its being inexpressible) of the Niḥsvabhāvavādins provide a correct identification of the tathāgata heart. The third dharma wheel teaches the actual tathāgata heart, which is said to be of two kinds. Some of its sūtras explain that the tathāgata heart endowed with all buddha qualities is present in all sentient beings. Other sūtras take this statement as bear- ing an intention. Following these latter sūtras, Śākya Chogden argues that the basis of the intention of the third dharma wheel’s teachings on the tathāgata heart is mind’s natural luminosity free from all extremes of refer- ence points, which is the sphere of personally experienced wisdom and an implicative negation. According to him, this is also what the Uttaratantra says—that the statement of the tathāgata heart’s pervading all sentient beings bears an intention and is to be interpreted correctly. He further argues that the Uttaratantra’s explanation of the basis of intention in teaching the tathāgata heart was misunderstood by Tibetan thinkers as an explanation of the actual tathāgata heart.
Furthermore, to possess wisdom is not equivalent to possessing the tathāgata heart. Though everyone including ordinary beings possesses wisdom in a nonmanifest manner, only bodhisattvas on the first bhūmi onward manifest this wisdom as the direct realization of ultimate reality. This means that only such bodhisattvas possess the actual tathāgata heart in that they see at least certain degrees of purification of the stains that cover the tathāgata heart as well as its inseparability from certain degrees of buddha qualities. Ordinary beings thus do not possess this actual tathāgata heart at all, while buddhas possess it in its completeness. In other words, the close connection between seeing the tathāgata heart free from adventitious stains and possessing it, as well as between becoming free from adventitious stains and “attaining” the qualities of a buddha, is a prominent feature of Śākya Chogden’s interpretation of tathāgatagarbha.
In general, he argues against identifying the tathāgata heart as a mere natural purity—the state of the natural freedom from obscurations as it is taught in the explicit teachings of the second dharma wheel and their commentaries. In his opinion, the actual tathāgata heart has to be asserted not only as natural purity and purity from adventitious stains, but also— and most importantly—as what is inseparable from the buddha qualities. In sum, Śākya Chogden distinguishes three kinds of tathāgata hearts: (1) the nominal tathāgata heart that is the mere natural purity (as taught in the second dharma wheel and its Madhyamaka commentaries), (2) the actual tathāgata heart that is the purity of adventitious stains and represents the relative tathāgata heart (as taught in the third dharma wheel and the Nonaspectarian system of Maitreya and Asaṅga, as well as in the teachings of expedient meaning in the second dharma wheel as these are interpreted by the third dharma wheel), and (3) the actual tathāgata heart that is the natural purity that is inseparable from all buddha qualities and represents the ultimate tathāgata heart (as taught in the system of Maitreya and Asaṅga and in the third dharma wheel).
Consequently, Śākya Chogden criticizes Ngog Lotsāwa and those who follow him for taking the emptiness of mind with stains as the meaning of the tathāgata heart because, he says, the tathāgata heart has to be identified in terms of the buddha qualities, which however is not suitable for a sheer emptiness. He is thus closer to those who explain the tathāgata heart as natural luminosity and nondual wisdom. However, he does not agree with all aspects of that view either because (as explained above) he does not accept that the actual tathāgata heart pervades all beings; it exists only in noble bodhisattvas and buddhas. Also, Śākya Chogden speaks of a conditioned and an unconditioned as well as a seeming and an ultimate tathāgatagarbha. He holds that even the ultimate tathāgata heart is impermanent because it is a functional entity, which is ceasing moment by moment. On the other hand, he says, this does not contradict its being explained as permanent in other contexts, when having in mind the permanence in terms of continuity.
Elsewhere, Śākya Chogden summarizes the main positions on buddha nature in the Tibetan schools as follows:
1. Asserting that all sentient beings possess buddha nature
a) Asserting buddha nature from the point of view of a nonimplicative negation, which means that it thus is not specified by buddha qualities such as the powers (Ngog and his followers)
b) Asserting buddha nature from the point of view of an implicative negation, which means that it thus is specified by the buddha qualities (Dölpopa and his followers)
c) Asserting buddha nature as being sheer natural purity (Gelugpas)
d) Asserting buddha nature as the compound of natural purity and buddha qualities’ being inseparable
(1) Asserting those qualities to be the qualities of the fruitional dharmakāya of realization (many Kagyüpas such as Pamo Trupa)
(2) Asserting those qualities to be the qualities of the natural dharmakāya (Bodong Choglé Namgyal, 1376–1451)
2. Asserting that sentient beings do not possess buddha nature (Sakya Paṇḍita, Butön, and others)
In sum, though there are numerous specific differences between the views of all these Tibetan masters, they can be said to fall into two camps—those who assert the tathāgata heart as sheer emptiness (be it as the dharmadhātu, the nature of phenomena, or a nonimplicative negation) and those who regard it as the union of mind’s emptiness and luminosity (which includes the buddha qualities). The former typically consider the teaching on buddha nature as being of expedient meaning, while the latter usually regard it as being of definitive meaning.
- Note that the Chinese tradition chose the meaning "womb" or "enclosure" of garbha to render tathāgatagarbha and developed the notion that buddha nature pervades all phenomena, both animate and inanimate. The first occurrence of the position that inanimate things such as grasses and trees also have buddha nature is found in Chi-tsang’s (549–623) Ta-ch’eng hsüan-lun (Taishō 45, 40b; see Koseki 1980).
- For details, see Zimmermann 2002, 41. Zimmermann says that the Muktāvalī has not been published, but it was published as Hevajratantram with Muktāvalī Pañjikā of Mahāpaṇḍitācārya Ratnākaraśānti, ed. Ram Shankar Tripathi and Thakur Sain Negi, Bibliotheca Indo-Tibetica Series, vol. 18 (Sarnath: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 2001).
- Tib. ’Gos lo tsā ba gzhon nu dpal.
- GC, 262.24–263.4.
- Sutton (1991, 53) refers to the Fo xing lun (*Buddhadhātuśāstra; Taishō 1610), which is attributed to Vasubandhu, as saying that garbha has three meanings: (1) the garbha that is enveloped, (2) the garbha that is hidden, and (3) the garbha that is enveloping. Therefore, all beings are said to have or to be tathāgatagarbha because (1) they are included in suchness (the nature of buddhas), (2) a tathāgata is not manifest in beings but is concealed in them, and (3) all buddha qualities are present in all sentient beings in a potential form. In the Fo xing lun, tathāgatagarbha is explained to be of five kinds (following the Śrīmālādevīsūtra): (1) having the meaning of the nature (svabhāva) that includes all phenomena (tathāgatadhātu), (2) the saddharmagarbha as the cause of all virtuous dharmas, corresponding to the nature of all tathāgatas, (3) the dharmakāyagarbha, which has the sense of attainment or mastery, (4) the supramundane garbha (lokottaragarbha), in which garbha means true reality (tattva), and (5) the naturally pure garbha (prakṛtiśuddhagarbha), which implies that the naturally pure true nature of all phenomena is concealed as the inner nature of all tathāgatas.
- For a detailed analysis of the term tathāgatagarbha, see Zimmermann 2002, 39–46.
- The introduction of JKC (12–13) includes an abbreviated version of the discussion of these eight meanings of the tathāgata heart in GC and adds a few points. Here, JKC says that these eight ways of explaining the tathāgata heart represent different ways of describing it in terms of its three phases of being impure, impure and pure, and completely pure and also in terms of having the expedient meaning or the definitive meaning in mind.
- Skt. antarvyāpārapuruṣa, Tib. nang gi byed pa’i skyes bu rtag pa thams cad du khyab pa.
- D3856, fol. 169a.1–3. Bhāviveka obviously refers in this context to the passages already mentioned from the Laṅkāvatārasūtra about tathāgatagarbha and emptiness. Note that the Tarkajvālā (ibid., fol. 50b.3–4) also speaks of tathāgatagarbha in its function of encouraging sentient beings—bodhisattvas having respect even for beings with no qualities since they think that these beings will come to possess all qualities in the future due to being endowed with the tathāgata heart.
- D3862, fol. 261b.7.
- Since the Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya explicitly refers to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra in the context of saying that the ālaya-consciousness has the meaning of emptiness, one may well assume that Candrakīrti also knew about that sūtra’s equation of the tathāgata heart with the ālaya-consciousness and thus implicitly also asserted the tathāgata heart as emptiness.
- D3862, fols. 281a.6–282a.4. This passage consists primarily of Candrakīrti’s quotes of the passages from the Laṅkāvatārasūtra about the teachings on the tathāgata heart being a means to prevent fear of emptiness and to attract non-Buddhists, concluding that these sūtra passages make it clear that all sūtras (such as the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra) that are taken to be of definitive meaning by the Vijñānavādins are of expedient meaning.
- Note that, just as Bhāviveka and Candrakīrti, āryavimuktisena and Haribhadra do not explicitly identify the tathāgata heart as a nonimplicative negation but speak only of the disposition—the foundation of practice—in Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra I.37–39 as being the nature of phenomena, suchness, or the dharmadhātu (which they elsewhere do equate with emptiness, to be realized through Madhyamaka reasoning). Āryavimuktisena’s Abhisamayālaṃkāravṛtti first quotes the Ratnakūṭa as saying that the disposition of the noble ones is the space-like, unconditioned, and permanent suchness that is the single taste of all phenomena. Then it explains that the disposition is the nature of phenomena (dharmatā), which may be called "disposition" in the sense of its serving as the cause of the qualities of the noble ones through focusing on it on the path. Haribhadra’s Abhisamayālaṃkārālokā says that the notion of disposition only pertains to the level of seeming reality but that there is no disposition ultimately. The actual foundation of practice is nothing but the dharmadhātu, which may only conventionally be said to serve as the cause or bearer of the qualities of the noble ones by virtue of being taken as the object of their progressive practice. There is no realization for bodhisattvas unless they train in realizing the buddhadharmas like illusory persons by not clinging to anything as being real. On the level of seeming reality, the dharmadhātu is glossed as this illusory bodhisattva who is the foundation of the buddhadharmas’ being realized on the various stages of the path. Also, all distinctions of the disposition, such as naturally abiding, unfolding, certain, and uncertain dispositions, or the dispositions of śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas, are not tenable ultimately. For it is nothing but the dharmadhātu’s being taken as the focal object by all practitioners in the three yānas that serves as the cause or foundation for realizing and manifesting the distinct qualities of the noble ones, all of which are expressions of this single ultimate dharmadhātu. For more details, see Brunnhölzl 2010, 284 and 790n823.
- Jñānagarbha’s Satyadvayavibhāgavṛtti (D3882, fol. 14b.4) explains the dharmakāya (which is equated with emptiness in the sense of cognition, what is cognized, a self, and characteristics being unobservable in verse 39 and its autocommentary) as the body of all dharmas because all beings do not go beyond having the nature of a tathāgata. Eckel (1987, 147) also says about this passage that "the terminology suggests the element of Buddhahood (gotra) that pervades all living beings." JKC adds here that it is taught that the emptiness that is arrived at through inferential valid cognition is the great disease of bodhisattvas because it represents a great conceptual bondage. Therefore, the third dharma wheel is also more eminent in the sense of entering into nonconceptuality.
- JKC adds that most Indian *Prāsaṅgikas and *Svātantrikas as well as all Tibetan Rangtongpas assert emptiness as the nonimplicative negation that is explained in Nāgārjuna’s "collection of reasoning" and is arrived at through reasoning.
- D3887, fol. 242b.4–7. This text is the first one to incorporate the teaching on tathāgatagarbha into the Madhyamaka tradition with a more positive meaning. Later, the same is done in Dharmamitra’s (eighth/ninth century) commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (quoting the phrase that all beings possess the tathāgata heart from the Adhyardhaśatikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra).
- Nanjio ed., 79.11; D107, fol. 86b.5.
- D3870, fols. 211b.5, 212b.2–3, 213a.4–5, and 352b.1–2. Jayānanda several times equates the tathāgata heart with emptiness and considers the tathāgata heart to be of expedient meaning. Still, he quotes the Uttaratantra as authoritative in establishing that there is only a single yāna. For details, see Kano 2006, 75–79.
- For example, D3903, fol. 150a.6–7. For details, see Kano 2006, 61–71.
- D3887, fol. 162b.3–7.
- For more details, see the chapter "The Uttaratantra and Its Relationship with Yogācāra."
- For more details, see the chapter "The Uttaratantra and Its Relationship with Yogācāra."
- GC only quotes the last two lines.
- For details, see Brunnhölzl 2007b.
- JKC says that this is taught in both the second and third dharma wheels as well as the vajrayāna.
- Jñānaśrīmitra, Jñānaśrīmitranibandhāvali, 483.12–13.
- For details, see appendix 2.
- Prajñāpāramitopadeśa, D4079, fol. 149a.6–149b.1.
- Ibid., fols. 143b.7–144a.1.
- Ibid., fols. 153b.2–154b.1.
- See his Madhyamakāvatāra XI.17 and Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya (D3862, fols. 255a.4 and 332a.1–3).
- Prajñāpāramitopadeśa, D4079, fol. 141a.7–141b.7.
- Ibid., fol. 240a.2–3.
- The same verse appears in Prakrit in RGVV (J6), which adds that the Buddha uttered it while having the pure disposition and the tathāgata element in mind.
- Verse 27. Note that this corresponds to the eighth of the nine examples for buddha nature in the Tathāgatagarbhasūtra (D258, fols. 253b.1–254a.5) and the Uttaratantra (I.121–23).
- I.28. I retained Ratnākaraśānti’s version of this verse, since it contains interesting variant readings compared to J, RGVV (D and P; hereafter, to indicate both D and P, I abbreviate as DP), and Ut (DP), especially in lines 1 and 3. Either he had a different manuscript, quoted his version from memory, or deliberately paraphrased this verse.
- Sūtrasamuccayabhāṣyaratnālokālaṃkāra, D3935, fols. 296b.5–297a.2.
- Sūtrasamuccayabhāṣyaratnālokālaṃkāra, D3935, fol. 325a.5–325b.1.
- Ibid., fol. 320b.3–6.
- Abhisamayālaṃkārakārikāvṛittiśuddhamatī, D3801, fol. 141b.3–4.
- Ibid., fol. 102b.2–3.
- Ibid., fol. 168b.4–5.
- Ibid., fol. 193b.1–3.
- Ibid., fol. 194a.2–3. The same author’s Aṣṭāsāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāpañjikāsārottamā also contains similar statements about natural luminosity and adventitious stains.
- For further details, see Brunnhölzl 2011a, 133–58.
- He was the son of Sajjana, the most influential Indian paṇḍita in the transmission of the Uttaratantra to Tibet (for details, see the chapter "The History and Transmission of ‘The Five Dharmas of Maitreya’ from India to Tibet.)"
- Prajñāpāramitāhṛdayārthaparijñāna, D3822, fols. 308b.5–309a.3.
- Ibid., fols. 307b.7–308a.1.
- Ibid., fol. 312a.1–2.
- Also, when matching the five paths with the words of the mantra, Mahājana (ibid., fol. 312a.4) quotes Uttaratantra I.68 as the scriptural support for the relinquishment of being reborn and so forth on the path of seeing. For further details, see Brunnhölzl 2011a, 126–31.
- D3821, fols. 300b.3–301a.1.
- Ibid., fol. 302a.5–302b.2. For further details, see Brunnhölzl 2011a, 122–25. For YDC’s presentation of the tathāgata heart as mind’s luminous nature and its refutation of being mere awareness, a nonimplicative negation, or the skandhas, see appendix 5.
- This sūtra does not mention the term "ālaya-consciousness," but its meaning is conveyed by using the term "the ground of the latent tendencies of ignorance."
- JKC adds that the teachings that identify the tathāgata heart with the ālaya-consciousness are taken literally by the Mere Mentalists.
- Taishō 31, 157a.
- Taishō 1666.
- Tib. Ye shes sde.
- Lta ba’i khyad par, D4360, fol. 218b.
- The Tengyur contains four texts by this name—a commentary on the Guhyasamājatantra ascribed to Candrakīrti (D1785) and three more commentaries on the same text by Bhāviveka (D1792), Bhavyakīrti (D1793), and āryadeva (D1794). However, the quote is not found in any of them. Note also that it may be that Tib. de gshegs snying po yin in this sentence is simply a case of rendering Skt. tathāgatagarbhāh in the sense of a bahuvrīhi compound instead of using the more common de gshegs snying po can, thus meaning, "All sentient beings possess the tathāgata heart." However, it is unlikely that Gö Lotsāwa, as a Sanskrit expert, would have missed that. Also, as YDC (see appendix 5) attests, there obviously were some people who due to an overly literal reading of certain passages in the tantras, held the five skandhas of sentient beings to be a buddha or the buddha disposition.
- I.48. Uttaratantra I.47 is even more explicit:
- Its being impure, its being both impure and pure,
- And its being completely pure, in due order,
- Are expressed as "sentient being,"
- "Bodhisattva," and "tathāgata."
- Part 2, IV.69.
- This refers to GC’s (33.21–25) saying that in the teaching on the factors that unfold the basic element (the ten pāramitās) in Dharmadhātustava 66–68, the disposition is the similarity of a given person’s skandhas, faculties, and so on, being made similar to the Buddha himself. Therefore, at that time, those skandhas and so on are the causes of this disposition. When, by virtue of this similarity, that person naturally or automatically engages in virtue, this is the sign of that disposition. Thus, the cause is illustrated by the result. This is said, among others, in the Bodhisattvabhūmi (D4037, fol. 3b1–2): "The sign of the disposition for a bodhisattva’s pāramitā of generosity is that that bodhisattva naturally delights in generosity."
- 349. My translations from, or references to, BA follow the Tibetan text, but for the reader’s convenience, the page numbers refer to the English version.
- Vol. 2, 460–61.
- Rngog lo tsā ba blo ldan shes rab 1993b, fol. 4a.2–6.
- Ibid., fol. 42a.3–6.
- For details on Ngog’s and Chaba’s views on tathāgatagarbha, see Kano 2006 and 2009.
- Dge legs dpal bzang 1980–82, 465.3–466.3.
- Tib. Rgyal tshab dar ma rin chen.
- For more details on the Gelugpa presentation of tathāgatagarbha and the Uttaratantra, see the excerpts from Gyaltsab Darma Rinchen’s commentary in appendices 1 and 2, as well as Ruegg 1968, 1969, 1976, and 1989; Schmithausen 1973; Hookham 1991a (particularly 289–90 and 319–23); and Brunnhölzl 2010, 463–73.
- Bu ston rin chen grub 1965–71, fols. 12a.5–19a.3.
- The triad of "basis of intention," "purpose," and "invalidation of the explicit statement"represents the typical three criteria that the Madhyamaka tradition considers as determining a teaching as being of expedient meaning. See Ruegg 1985, 309–11 and Ruegg 1988.
- Sgra tshad pa rin chen rnam rgyal 1971, fol. 23b.2–3.
- For details, see appendix 1 and Brunnhölzl 2010, 454–57. Even in China there is an example of someone’s saying that emptiness is the definitive meaning and that the tathāgata heart is of expedient meaning since the tathāgata heart ultimately is a synonym of "emptiness." The contemporary master Yin Shun (1906–2005) "continually asserts the doctrine of emptiness as the definitive expression of Buddhist truth and relegates the tathāgatagarbha to the category of expedient means. . . . For Yinshun, to regard the tathāgatagarbha as the ultimate truth rather than as an expedient means can only result in misguided practice and confusion about how to attain enlightenment" (Hurley 2001, 11). Otherwise, in China, and in fact in all of East Asia, at least since the eight century the reverse position is generally held (Madhyamaka was eventually subsumed under, and reinterpreted by means of, the notion of tathāgatagarbha).
- For details, see Hookham 1991a, especially 135ff.; Hopkins 2006 and 2007; Sheehy 2007; Mathes 2008a, 75–91; and Stearns 2010.
- For significant distinctions between the shentong views of Dölpopa and the Third Karmapa as well as between Dölpopa and the Eighth Karmapa, as well as differences on understanding tathāgatagarbha, see Brunnhölzl 2009, 114–17 and Brunnhölzl 2010, 196–99.
- GC, 14.22–16.17.
- GC supports this by quoting Uttaratantra I.106b in its Ut (DP) version: "Having seen this honey-like basic element of awareness . . ." (rig khams sbrang rtsi dang ’dra ’di gzigs nas). However, this corresponds neither to the version of this line in RGVV (DP) nor to the Sanskrit of I.103. Karma Trinlépa’s commentary on The Profound Inner Reality also quotes this line as a support for there being a connection between awareness and the basic element, furthermore adding Uttaratantra I.107c "So the uncontaminated wisdom in living beings is like honey" (see Brunnhölzl 2009, 320).
- D3853, fols. 258b.7–259a.2.
- Verse 57.
- "Skeletons" refers to the final object in the meditation on the repulsiveness of the body. Among the "ten totalities," by virtue of the power of mastering samādhi, the whole universe eventually appears as earth through mentally focusing on the characteristics of earth. The same goes for water, fire, wind, blue, yellow, red, white, infinite space, and infinite consciousness.
- Verses 43–46.
- See Maitrīpa’s Tattvadaśaka and its commentary by Sahajavajra under "The Uttaratantra and Mahāmudrā" and in Brunnhölzl 2007a, 148–49 and 159–65.
- Padma dkar po 1991, fols. 174b.2–177b.3.
- For more details, see Brunnhölzl 2010, 473–76.
- Rang byung rdo rje 2006c, fol. 22a.3–4.
- Karma phrin las pa phyogs las rnam rgyal 2006, 35–37 (for more details, see Brunnhölzl 2009, 313–23).
- For details of the Third and Eighth Karmapa’s views on buddha nature, as well as Karma Trinlépa’s and Tsugla Trengwa’s (Tib. Gtsug lag phreng ba; 1504–1566) positions, see the extensive discussions in Brunnhölzl 2007b, 2009, and 2010, 129–99 and 428–54. See also the translation of the Eighth Karmapa’s Lamp in this volume.
- The following brief survey is largely based on D. Wangchuk 2005 as well as Duckworth 2005 and 2011. For further details, see those works as well as Pettit 1999, in particular, 114–24 and 415–27.
- Tib. Rong zom chos kyi bzang po.
- Tib. Rog shes rab ’od.
- Tib. Klong chen rab ’byams pa.
- Bod sprul mdo sngags bstan pa’i nyi ma 2004, 92.
- ’Ju mi pham rgya mtsho 1984b. For Mipham’s comments on Uttaratantra I.28 and I.154–55, see appendices 1 and 2.
- Tib. Nges shes sgron me (translated with a commentary in Pettit 1999, 194–413).
- ’Ju mi pham rgya mtsho c. 1990b (translated in Pettit 1999, 415–27).
- ’Ju mi pham rgya mtsho 1984c (translated in Duckworth 2005, 221–60; see also the lengthy excerpts in appendices 1 and 2).
- Bod sprul mdo sngags bstan pa’i nyi ma 2004, 122–23.
- For example, ibid., 125. For more details on Pötrül’s view in this regard, see Duckworth 2011, particularly 13–16, 98, 106–9, 131–33, and 211. Note that the position that both the Madhyamakāvatāra and the Uttaratantra are Madhyamaka texts goes back at least to the twelfth century to Maja Jangchub Dsöndrü (died 1185; Rma bya ba byang chub brtson ’grus 1975, fol. 4b.6). The contemporary Nyingma and Kagyü master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche (born 1965) explains (oral communication, July 24, 2013) that Mipham Rinpoche speaks of two ways in which the two realities are presented: (1) in terms of appearance and emptiness and (2) in terms of the mode of appearance (snang tshul) and the actual mode of being (gnas tshul). In approach (2), seeming reality is defined as "all subjects and objects in which the mode of appearance and the actual mode of being are not in accord" and ultimate reality as "all subjects and objects in which the mode of appearance and the actual mode of being are in accord." According to the Nyingma tradition, this corresponds to the way in which the two realities are distinguished in the third turning of the wheel of dharma and in the shentong approach. Specifically, the definition above of ultimate reality refers to the minds of bodhisattvas on the bhūmis while being in meditative equipoise and to the minds of buddhas. This means that the qualities of the tathāgata heart (such as the four pāramitās of supreme purity, bliss, self, and permanence) exist only when the mode of appearance and the actual mode of being are in accord. Therefore, they are established only through "the valid cognition of the pure vision of the noble ones" ( ’phags pa dag gzigs gi tshad ma) but never through "the valid cognition of seeing just this life" (tshur mthong tshad ma). For more details, see Duckworth 2005 and Kapstein 1988.
- Sa skya paṇḍita kun dga’ rgyal mtshan 1992b, 14–16.
- Tib. Red mda’ ba gzhon nu blo gros.
- This seems to be in line with a passage in Rendawa’s latest and most substantial work on the Kālacakratantra that Stearns (2010, 59) points out. After having severely criticized the Jonang position on the Kālacakratantra, the Uttaratantra, and the Dharmadhātustava repeatedly and in detail, Rendawa’s text (Red mda’ ba gzhon nu blo gros 2007, 340–41) describes the difference between self-empty and other-empty as follows: "The presentation of the two realities by the system of this tantra is as follows. All the many phenomena that are the adventitious stains and arise from the condition of mistakenness due to ignorance represent seeming reality because they obscure the seeing of true reality and are the focal objects of what is afflicted. Since they are not established as objects of perfect wisdom they are self-empty, are empty in the sense of extinction, and represent a dead emptiness (bem stong). All the many phenomena of native mind’s luminous nature are ultimate reality. This is not the case by virtue of their being established as something that withstands analysis through reasoning. . . . They are the ultimate because they are the sphere of nonconceptuality. They are other-empty because they are devoid of adventitious stains. They are not empty in the sense of extinction, nor do they represent a dead emptiness because they are experienced in the manner of being experienced personally. . . . Here, since what is self-empty falls into the extreme of extinction, its realization is not the correct path to liberation. Rather, what is asserted as the correct path is solely the changeless inner awareness that is experienced in the manner of being personally experienced through the power of familiarizing with the other-empty—the luminous true nature of the mind." For details, see Stearns 2010, 55–60.
- Rong ston shes bya kun gzigs 1997, 75–76.
- For more details on Rongtön’s position, see the excerpts from his commentaries in appendices 1 and 2 and Brunnhölzl 2010, 457–63, as well as Hookham 1991, particularly 290–91, 317–23.
- This paragraph is based on Jorden 2003, 126–27 (for more details, see there).
- Ngag dbang kun dga’ dbang phyug 1987, 199–200.
- For more details, see Brunnhölzl 2010, 476–78.
- Tib. Śākya mchog ldan.
- The following summary is largely based on Komarovski 2006 and 2010.
- For example, Śākya Chogden says that the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra ’s presentation of tathāgatagarbha is not of definitive meaning but of expedient meaning. That the Uttaratantra explains the teaching of the tathāgata heart’s pervading all sentient beings as being interpretive and as having a veiled intent (mind’s natural luminosity) is regarded by him as an authoritative view of Alīkākāravāda ("False Aspectarian"). At least in his later works after 1477, Śākya Chogden classifies Alīkākāra Yogācāra as a subcategory of Madhyamaka, while he treats Satyākāra ("Real Aspectarian") Yogācāra as Mere Mentalism. Therefore, it seems safe to argue that whenever a sūtra states that tathāgatagarbha pervades all beings, that sūtra (or at least that passage in it) should be taken as interpretive or expedient according to Śākya Chogden’s interpretation of Alīkākāravāda. Note though that his writings do not provide any lists of sūtras of definitive meaning and expedient meaning in general or within the third dharma wheel (personal communication from Yaroslav Komarovski, October 20, 2013).
- For details on these complex issues, see Komarovski 2006, 534–38.
- Śākya mchog ldan 1988c, 568.5–569.4.
- Tib. Bo dong phyogs las nam rgyal.
- For the position of YDC on the tathāgata heart, see appendices 5 and 6.