The Meanings of the Term "Gotra" and the Textual History of the "Ratnagotravibhāga"

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The Meanings of the Term "Gotra" and the Textual History of the "Ratnagotravibhāga"

Citation: Ruegg, David Seyfort. "The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 39, no. 2 (1976): 341–63.


No abstract given. Here are the first relevant paragraphs:

The word gotra is frequently used in the literature of Mahāyāna Buddhism to denote categories of persons classified according to their psychological, intellectual, and spiritual types. The chief types usually mentioned in this kind of classification are the Auditors making up the śrāvaka-gotra, the Individual Buddhas making up the pratyehabuddha-gotra, and the Bodhisattvas making up the bodhisattva-gotra.[2] In the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra these three types constitute altogether different gotras, which thus coincide with the three separate Vehicles (yāna) as recognized by the Yogācārin/Vijñaptimātratā, school.[3] To these three some sources add the further category of the undetermined (aniyatagotra), which is made up of persons not yet definitively attached to one of the three preceding classes; and the non-gotra (agotra), that is the category made up of persons who cannot be assigned to any spiritual class.[4] Each of the first three categories is thus comprised of persons capable of achieving a particular kind of maturity and spiritual perfection in accordance with their specific type or class, the Auditor then attaining the Awakening (bodhi) characteristic of the Śrāvaka and so on.[5] Especially remarkable in this connexion, and somewhat anomalous as a gotra, is the non-gotra, i.e. that category of persons who seem to have been considered, at least by certain Yogācārin authorities, as spiritual ‘outcastes’ lacking the capacity for attaining spiritual perfection or Awakening of any kind; since they therefore achieve neither bodhi nor nirvāṇa, they represent the same type as the icchantikas to the extent that the latter also are considered to lack this capacity.[6]
       The three gotras mentioned first together with the aniyatagotra and the agotra are discussed chiefly in the Śāstras of the Yogācārins[7] and in the commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra.[8]
      In addition, the gotra functions so to speak as a spiritual or psychological 'gene' determining the classification of living beings into the above-mentioned categories, which may be either absolutely or temporarily different according to whether one accepts the theory that the three Vehicles (yāna) are ultimately and absolutely separate because they lead to the three quite different kinds of Awakening of the Śrāvaka, Pratyekabuddha, and Bodhisattva—namely the extreme triyāna doctrine-or, on the contrary, the theory that the Vehicles are ultimately one because all sentient beings are finally to attain Awakening and buddhahood which are essentially one—in other words the characterized Mādhyamika version of the ekayāna theory.[9]


1. (Note 1 belongs to title): A shortened version of this paper was read before the Indological section of the twenty-ninth International Congress of Orientalists in Paris in July 1973.
       The following abbreviations are used.
IBK    Indogaku-Bukkyōgaku Kenkyū.
MSA    Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (ed. Lévi).
RGV    Ratnagotravibhāga (Sanskrit text ed. E. H. Johnston).
RGVV    Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā (Sanskrit text ed. E. H. Johnston).
TGS    Tathāgatagarbhasūtra (Tibetan translation in the lHa-sa ed. of the bKa'-'gyur).
Théorie    D. Seyfort Ruegg, La théorie du tathāgatagarbha et du gotra (Publications de l'École Française d'Extreme-Orient, LXX, Paris, 1969).
2. v. Laṅkāvatārasūtra, ed. Nanjō, 2, pp. 63-6, and the other sources quoted in Ruegg, Théorie, 74 f.
3. Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra 7.15, 24; cf. Théorie, 73-4.
4. Laṅkāvatārasūtra 2, p. 63.
5. v. Laṅkāvatārasūtra 2, pp. 63-5; MSABh. 3.2.
6. Laṅkāvatārasūtra 2, pp. 65-6; MSABh. 3.11: aparinirvāṇadharmaka. There are two categories of persons not attaining nirvāṇa, those who do not attain it for a certain length of time (tatkālāparinirvāṇadharman) and those who never do so (atyantāparinirvāṇadharman). The theory that some persons are destined never to attain nirvāṇa and buddhahood is considered characteristic of the Yogācārin school, which does not admit the doctrine of universal buddhahood implied by the usual interpretation of the ekayāna theory (see Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra 7.24) and the theory of the tathāgatagarbha present in all sentient beings. (MSA 9.37 does not, it seems, refer to the fully developed tathāgatagarbha theory which is based on three factors—the irradiation of the dharmakāya, the non-differentiation of the tathatā, and the presence of the gotra [see RGV 1.27 f.]—and concerns only the non-differentiation of the tathatā, and the tathāgatatva, which all beings possess as their embryonic essence. Cf. below, n. 50.)
      The agotra doctrine to the extent that it assumes a class of spiritual 'outcastes' being evidently incompatible with the tathāgatagarbha theory, the question arises as to the significance of the allusion to persons without a gotra in RGV 1.41. The reference there seems to be to a hypothetical case (opposed to the author's own view expressed before in RGV 1.40-41c), which is not, however, admitted by the author; and the revised reading of pāda 1.41d agotrāṇāṃ na tad yataḥ (cf. L. Schmithausen, WZKS, xv, 1971, 145) 'since this is not so for those without gotra ' makes this interpretation easier (see p. 346). Indeed, according to RGVV 1.41, any allusion to an icchantika who does not attain nirvāṇa is to be interpreted as referring to a certain interval of time (kālāntarābhiprāya) only, and not to a permanent incapacity. On the icchantika cf. D. S. Ruegg, Le traité du tathāgatagarbha de Bu ston Rin chen grub, Paris, 1973, p. 12, n. 1. The aparinirvāṇagotra is also mentioned in RGVV 1.32-3, 1.38, and 1.41, and the aparinirvāṇadharman in 1.41.
7. cf. MSA, ch. 3; Madhyāntavibhāgabhāṣya and ºṭīkā, 2.1, 4.15-16.
8. cf. Théorie, 123 f.

9. v. Théorie, 177 f.; MSA 11.53-9; Madhyāntavibhāgaṭīkā 3.1a, 22. On the equivalence of nirvāṇa and buddhahood, see RGV 1.87.