From Buddha-Nature


'phags pa rgyan stug po bkod pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po'i mdo
Dà chéng mì yán jīng
D110   ·  T681,682

Only extant in Chinese and Tibetan translations, this sūtra, which is centered around Buddha Śākyamuni's visit to the pure land of the Buddha Vairocana, is an important source for the Yogācāra notions of the three natures, tathāgatagarbha, and the ālayavijñāna. These latter two terms are often treated as synonyms in the text, especially in their pure form, while in its impure form the ālayavijñāna is designated as the source from which all ordinary phenomena emerge.

Description from When the Clouds Part

Similar to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, this text mainly discusses Yogācāra themes (such as the three natures and the related threefold lack of nature).[1] Despite its not being mentioned in the Uttaratantra, RGVV, or the above lists of tathāgatagarbha sūtras, it contains some brief references to tathāgatagarbha. Like several of the above sūtras, the sūtra says that the Tathāgata is permanent, eternal, everlasting, peaceful, blissful, unconditioned, and indestructible. What is called "tathāgata heart" is the dhātu of nirvāṇa or the dharmadhātu, which is indestructible like space. No matter whether buddhas appear or not, this is the abiding true nature.

      Similar to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, the Ghanavyūhasūtra relates tathāgatagarbha to the ālaya-consciousness. Though it does not always clearly distinguish between ālaya-consciousness, ālaya, and tathāgatagarbha, it sometimes differentiates the defiled ālaya-consciousness from the pure ālaya. This pure ālaya is then described as being naturally luminous, the object of those skilled in yoga, and a synonym of tathāgatagarbha. Both the ālaya-consciousness and the pure ālaya/tathāgatagarbha abide together in sentient beings but are, respectively, like dirt and gold covered by dirt.

What is luminous and always pure
Is the ālaya of all living beings.
Likewise, mentation, mind, and consciousness
Cycle in the dhātus of sentient beings,
But there is neither increase nor decrease—
Natural luminosity always shines.[2]

No matter how ignorant beings think
About the moon’s arising and waning,
The moon itself lacks any arising and waning.
Likewise, naive ignorant beings
Always think about the arising and waning
Of the ālaya-consciousness,
But it is uncontaminated buddhahood.

No matter how it may arise, this ālaya
Does not become different through that.
Being the matrix from which the active consciousnesses come,
It is like the moon due to the [waxing and waning of] latent tendencies.[3]

      The sūtra continues that the ālaya is the cause of afflicted and purified phe- nomena alike—the cause of all saṃsāric forms of existence, of the medi- tative equipoise of the noble ones who see the dharma, and the beautiful realms of all buddhas. When it is realized, buddhahood, the disposition, and the yāna are not different. The pure natural state of the ālaya is seen and heard by bodhisattvas—the supreme purity of the ālaya is seen as adhering to the bodies of all beings, as being endowed with the thirty-two major marks, as buddhas in all kinds of forms, and as the turning of the wheel of dharma. Just as the moon abides in the sky together with the multitude of stars, the ālaya and the consciousnesses abide together in the body. All bodhisattvas who are and will be prophesied as buddhas will become tathāgatas by virtue of the merit of the stainless ālaya.[4]

      Some further examples among the many that this sūtra presents of the purity of the ālaya-consciousness in the sense of tathāgatagarbha ’s being enclosed in its obscurations are as follows. Just as pure gold does not shine in its ore but shines when it is cleansed, the ālaya-consciousness within the seven consciousnesses is seen by yogins who purify it through samādhi. Since butter exists in milk but is not seen, those who know that churn the milk to obtain butter. Likewise, the ālaya-consciousness within the seven consciousness is seen by the sages who churn and process it. Just as pure sun and moon crystals reveal their qualities through being hit by sun and moon rays, the uncontaminated ālaya-consciousness—the pure tathāgata heart— reveals its qualities, when it has undergone the fundamental change.[5] Similarly, the sūtra says:

O king, the mind is inconceivable,
Always being naturally luminous.
It is the tathāgata heart,
Which abides like gold in rocks.

Together with the mind of latent tendencies,
The ālaya of all seeds
Is always the luminous nature
Of what is afflicted and what is pure.

Thus, the disposition of the tathāgatas
Just as the waves of the ocean,
The ālaya likewise pervades
What is inferior, medium, and supreme.[6]


The ālaya with all kinds of seeds
Is also the splendid[7] sugata heart.
The Tathāgata has taught
This heart through the term ālaya.

The heart that is also known as the ālaya
Is not understood by those of weak insight .. .
Likewise, the purity within the ālaya of consciousness
Is the sphere of the noble ones—
It always shines like gold.
The ālaya that is known as the heart
Is not an object of the conceptual mind.

The imaginary natures
Cannot be conceived,
While the perfect nature
Is always seen by those capable of yoga.

The subject that is the mental consciousness
Is the entity that fetters childish beings.
What appears [for them like] mirages and clusters of hairs
Is seen by the noble ones as what is stainless.[8]

      Thus, similar to the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, this sūtra implicitly equates the tathāgata heart even with the perfect nature. One even finds Mahāmudrā-like statements about this ālaya:

Through not knowing one’s own thoughts, They arise similar to waves. Being liberated from thoughts and what is thought of Is the ālaya of all sages.[9]

Interestingly, the main interlocutor in this sūtra has the name Vajragarbha and the same term is also used in the text as a synonym for tathāgatagarbha and the pure ālaya. In the same vein, the sūtra also speaks of "the indestructible vajra mind." (pp. 38-41)

  1. D110 (fifty-five folios) and Taishō 681 and 682.
  2. Ibid., fol. 36b.3–5. Here, the second line could mean either "the realms of sentient beings" or "the basic elements of sentient beings" in the sense of tathāgatagarbha. With the latter meaning, this verse would be an even clearer parallel to Uttaratantra I.52–63, which describes the arising and ceasing of the skandhas and so on within the space-like purity of the mind, without the latter’s ever being affected by this arising and ceasing.
  3. D110, fol. 36b.3–6.
  4. Ibid., fols. 36b.6–37b.5.
  5. Ibid., fols. 43a.1–4 and 43b.4–5.
  6. Ibid., fol. 23a.4–7.
  7. The Tibetan has "virtuous" (dge ba), but this is a rather stereotypical way of rendering the Sanskrit śubham, which can also mean "beautiful," "good," "pleasant," "eminent," "bright," and "pure."
  8. Ghanavyūhasūtra, D110, fol. 55b.1–7.
  9. Ibid., fol. 15b.2.

Text Metadata

Other Titles ~ ārya-ghanavyūha-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra
Text exists in ~ Tibetan
~ Chinese
~ Japanese
Canonical Genre ~ Kangyur · Sūtra · mdo sde · Sūtranta
Literary Genre ~ Sūtras - mdo

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