Karl Brunnhölzl: Buddha-Nature Sings Its Song: Tathāgatagarbha and Its Equivalents in the Indian Dohā Tradition

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Karl Brunnhölzl: Buddha-Nature Sings Its Song: Tathāgatagarbha and Its Equivalents in the Indian Dohā Tradition
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Karl Brunnhölzl: Buddha-Nature Sings Its Song: Tathāgatagarbha and Its Equivalents in the Indian Dohā Tradition

In the corpus of Indian Buddhist tantric songs of realization (dohā, vajragīti, and caryāgīti) and their commentaries, the explicit term tathāgatagarbha and its equivalents dhātu and gotra are not found very frequently. However, when they do appear, they are often equated with many of the more common expressions for mind's ultimate nature in those songs, such as mahāmudrā, the connate (sahaja), ordinary mind (*prākṛtajñāna; tha mal gyi shes pa), luminosity, true reality (tattva), great bliss, unity (yuganaddha), the native state (nija), self-aware wisdom, emptiness whose heart is compassion, and so on. Thus, through these equivalents and the ways in which they are used and explained in these songs, it becomes obvious that the songs are firmly grounded in the teachings on what the sūtras, tantras, and their commentaries call tathāgatagarbha.

Nāropa's Summary of the View (*Dṛṣṭisaṃkṣipta; Tib. Lta ba mdor bsdus) contains an extensive list of equivalents of tathāgatagarbha and gotra that are also used in many other dohās. Using this as a springboard, instances of tathāgatagarbha (or the short Tib. snying po), dhātu, and gotra are explored in a number of these songs and their Indian and Tibetan commentaries. Themes familiar from the tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Ratnagotravibhāga appear here too: buddha nature existing in all beings without being realized (like oil pervading sesame seeds or butter pervading milk); naturally luminous mind never being obscured by adventitious stains; remaining unchanging throughout the three phases of ground (sentient beings), path (bodhisattvas), and fruition (buddhas); being unconditioned, unborn, and unceasing, yet self-arising; being without existence, nonexistence, beginning, middle, and end; there being nothing to be removed from or added to it; being suchness with and without stains; and constituting the three kāyas and the five wisdoms. One commentary even parallels the second cause-and-effect relationship of the seven vajra points in Ratnagotravibhāga I.23 and I.26.

Tathāgatagarbha is also said to represent the essential point of the vajrayāna's profound utpannakrama without characteristics as well as the basis of the related mahāmudrā instruction of thoughts arising as the dharmakāya's play. In some of the songs, the singer as a person is occasionally replaced by snying po, indicating that the innermost heart of all being’s mind constantly calls out to them, trying to wake them up from their sleep of being ignorant about its existence within them. Thus, they are also in harmony with the approach in the Aspiration Prayer of Samantabhadra of the rDzogs chen tradition, in which primordial awareness (Tib. rig pa), another equivalent of tathāgatagarbha, directly addresses the beings who do not realize their mental afflictions as the play of this awareness.

In brief, all of this clearly shows that many of the spontaneous songs of the Indian mahāsiddhas are based on the standard teachings on buddha nature.
Featuring Karl Brunnhölzl
Creator Tsadra Foundation
Director Perman, M.
Producer Tsadra Foundation
Event Old Topic, New Insights: Buddha-Nature at the Crossroads between Doctrine and Practice (July 2022, Prague)
Related Website Buddha-Nature
Creation Date July 2022
Citation Brunnhölzl, Karl. "Buddha-Nature Sings Its Song: Tathāgatagarbha and Its Equivalents in the Indian Dohā Tradition." Old Topic, New Insights: Buddha-Nature at the Crossroads between Doctrine and Practice. The 16th IATS Conference, Prague, July 3–9, 2022. Produced by the Tsadra Foundation Research Department. Video, 15:31. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJJ98iRuBxU

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