The Buddha Nature: A Study of the Tathāgatagarbha and Ālayavijñāna (Dissertation)

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The Buddha Nature: A Study of the Tathāgatagarbha and Ālayavijñāna (Dissertation)


The present dissertation identifies the ontological presuppositions and the corresponding soteriological-epistemological principles that sustain and define the Mahāyāna Buddhist belief in the inherent potentiality of all animate beings to attain the supreme and perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood. More specifically, the study establishes a coherent metaphysic of Absolute Suchness (Tathatā), synthesizing the variant traditions of the Tathāgata-embryo (Tathāgatagarbha) and the Storehouse Consciousness (Ālayavijñāna).
      The dissertation interprets the Buddhist enlightenment as the salvific-transformational moment in which Tathatā "awakens" to itself, comes to perfect self-realization as the Absolute Suchness of reality, in and through phenomenal human consciousness. It is an interpretation of the Buddhist Path as the spontaneous self-emergence of "embryonic" absolute knowledge as it comes to free itself from the concealments of adventitious defilements, and possess itself in fully self-explicitated self-consciousness as the "Highest Truth" and unconditional nature of all existence; it does so only in the form of omniscient wisdom.
      Aside from Ruegg's La Theorie du Tathāgatagarbha et du Gotra and Verdu's study of the Ālayavijñāna in Dialectical Aspects in Buddhist Thought, Western scholarship treating of the subject is negligible. And while both sources are excellent technical treatises, they fail to integrate in any detailed analysis the dual concepts as complementary modes of each other. Thus, the dissertation, while adopting the methodology of textual analysis, has as its emphasis a thematic-interpretive study of its sources. Conducting a detailed analysis into the structure of the texts, the dissertation delineates and appropriates the inherent ontological, soteriological and epistemological foci which they themselves assume as their natural form.
      Structurally, the dissertation is divided into three major parts. The first focuses on the Tathāgatagarbha, the second on the Ālayavijñāna, the third on their relation and deeper significance in the human thought tradition. The first two parts are sub-divided into seven and four chapters respectively. The former seven chapters establish the ontological identity of the Tathāgata-embryo (Tathagātagarbha) through a critical examination of the major sūtral authority for the concept, i.e., the Śrī-Mālā-Sūtra, and the primary śāstral elaboration inspired by it, viz., the Ratnagotravlbhāga.
      Following the same pattern, the four chapters of part 2 note the role of the Laṅk¯āvatāra Sūtra as a principal scriptural advocate for the theory of the Storehouse Consciousness (Ālayavijñāna), while detailing the scholastic amplification of it in Hsüan Tsang's Ch'eng Wei-Shih Lun. Part 3 concludes the study by recapitulating the principal developments in the emergent complementarity of the two concepts, arguing that any adequate discussion of the Buddha Nature must be informed on the one hand by the theory of the Tathāgatagarbha which grounds and authenticates its ontological status, and on the other by the Ālayavijñāna, its noetic-cognitive determination. While the former tends to elucidate the process towards, and experience of enlightenment as a function of Absolute Suchness (Tathatā), the latter adopts the reciprocal perspective and examines the subject in the light and function of phenomenal consciousness.
      By way of comparison with Western thought, the chapter likewise demonstrates the analogous dynamic in the bilateral theory of the Tathāgatagarbha-Ālayavijñāna and the Hegelian Absolute Spirit in-and-for-itself. Focusing upon The Phenomenology of Spirit, the chapter notes that the self-becoming process in and through which consciousness realizes its own plenitude is strikingly homologous to the theory of Buddhist enlightenment presented through the concept of the Tathāgatagarbha-Ālayavijñāna. It suggests that these two representative thought systems mutually illumine each other, and together illustrate a correspondent framework within which the relationship of the Absolute and relative may gain a more universal conception and therefore, a more comprehensive resolution.

Citation Brown, Brian Edward. "The Buddha Nature: A Study of the Tathāgatagarbha and Ālayavijñāna." PhD diss., Fordham University, 1981.

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