The Mahāparinirvāṇa-Mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine-Review by Lee
Previous Buddhist scholarship has generally regarded the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra as a “side line” or “offshoot” from the “mainstream” group of tathāgatagarbha scriptural texts, such as the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra. This view has been also supported by the presumed chronological order between the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra: The Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra, which is also the putative earliest tathāgatagarbha text, has been considered to be an earlier text than the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra, on the basis of the supposed evidence that the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra refers to the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra by its title on the one hand and borrows one simile from the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra on the other. Michael Radich’s book, The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine, fundamentally challenges such previous scholarship on the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra. Employing meticulous analysis of vast range of primary-source materials, Radich convincingly demonstrates that the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra is most likely “our earliest” tathāgatagarbha text. More importantly, Radich, presents an insightful perspective on the matter of the origin of the tathāgatagarbha doctrine: He argues that the tathāgatagarbha/*buddhadhātu ideas of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra constitutes part of a broader pattern of docetic Buddhology, the idea that the buddhas’ appearance is not the reality of their true nature.
The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine consists of two parts. Part I, which is divided into three chapters, mainly concerns chronological issues revolving around the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra, thereby arguing that the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra is the earliest tathāgatagarbha text available to us. In Chapter 1, Radich argues that the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra can be considered a tathāgatagarbha text proper, by questioning the scholarly presumption that the “Buddha nature” (*buddhadhātu) doctrine of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra derives from the center of tathāgatagarbha doctrinal discourse. Through a careful comparative analysis of the text common to the four versions of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra, Radich shows that the sūtra in fact speaks of tathāgatagarbha much more than it speaks of *buddhadhātu, and that even when it mentions *buddhadhātu, it is used in an interchangeable manner with tathāgatagarbha. In this way, Radich undermines the previous scholarly tendency to distinguish the concept of *buddhadhātu from tathāgatagarbha and to regard the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra as a side-line of the tathāgatagarbha doctrine. (Lee, "Review of The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine," 199–200)