Thought of Buddha Nature as Depicted in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra

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Thought of Buddha Nature as Depicted in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra


Buddhism, as a religion arose in ancient India and developed in various parts of the world, aims at the unique goal that is providing welfare and happiness for human beings. The real happiness brought to mankind by Buddhism is not a satisfaction of self-requirement, but a spiritual benefit coming from enlightenment of the absolute truth, emancipation of the ego of things and persons, and free from the hindrances of passion and ignorance. Buddhism that is mainly based on teachings of the Buddha delivered at different places on different occasions continues to develop and adapt to the new challenges in the form of thought, different cultures, religions, customs and tradition of the people wherever it went. However, all the Buddha’s teachings originate in the enlightenment of the Buddha.
      All traditions of Buddhism accept that the Buddha attained enlightenment through stages of meditation that led to the Buddhahood endowed with transcendent wisdom and compassion. According to some Mahāyāna scriptures, the Buddhahood is nothing other than the Buddhanature which is the inherent essence within all beings. The doctrine of the Buddha-nature presented in several Mahāyāna scriptures of the so-called Tathāgatagarbha literature was formed in about the third century CE. There is no evidence that the doctrine of Buddha-nature formed a school in India like the Śūnyatā (Emptiness) of the Mādhyamika or the Vijñaptimātratā (Consciousness-only) of the Yogācāra School, but the Buddha-nature plays an important role in the religious life of Mahāyāna Buddhism in the East and Southeast Asian countries because it provides a faith of the permanence and immortality due to a declaration that all sentient beings possess the innate Buddha-nature and have a potentiality of becoming the Buddhas.
      Although most of the followers of Mahāyāna Buddhism believe the doctrine of the Buddha-nature and constantly try their best endeavor to attain the goal of Buddhahood, there were a lot of opinions that criticize the doctrine of the Buddha-nature by asserting that it is not Buddhist because this idea of the Buddha-nature seems to be akin to the permanent Self (ātman/brahman) presented in the Vedānta of Brahmanism. Conversely, according to some other scholars, the Buddha nature or Tathāgatagarbha referred in some Mahāyāna Sūtras does not represent a substantial self or ego; it is rather a positive language to express the thought of śūnyatā and to represent the potentiality of realizing the Buddhahood through Buddhist practices. Modern scholars today fall into an unending discussion about the similarity or difference between the Buddha-nature and Brahman but no one compares the date of these doctrines. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is an attempt to clarify the Buddhist orthodoxy of the doctrine of the Buddha-nature through chronological comparison of the date of Buddha-nature with that of Brahman. Based on the Laṅkāvatārasūtra and other scriptures, the work attempt to elucidate that the Buddhist thought of the Buddha-nature had existed prior the Vedāntic thought of Brahman. Indeed, the thesis shows that while the doctrine of the Buddha-nature had come into existence in the third century CE in the Tathāgatagarbha literature, the Vedāntic doctrine of Brahman appeared for the first time in the sixth century CE. Consequently, although the Buddha-nature is closely akin to Brahman/ātman of the Vedānta, the doctrine of the Buddha-nature is originally a thought of Buddhism. For this reason, the writer chose the topic entitled “Thought of Buddha-nature as Depicted in the LaṅkāvatāraSūtra” for the Ph.D. thesis.
Study on the Buddha-nature is a task which cannot be carried out without the important texts, teachings, practices and historical movements of Buddhism. This study is mainly based upon the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, a Buddhist text of the later period of the Tathāgatagarbha literature, in which the thought of the Buddha-nature is depicted in relationship with most of the Mahāyāna concepts such as the Buddhatā, Tathāgatagarbha, Ālayavijñāna, Dharmakāya, Mind-only, etc. Especially, the Laṅkāvatārasūtra emphasizes the practice of self-realization and sudden enlightenment of the Buddha-nature. It is also said that the Sūtra was handed down by Bodhidharma to his heir disciple Hui-ke 慧可 as the proof of enlightenment in Chan (Zen) Buddhism.
      This thesis is an attempt to investigate and criticize the philosophical and religious thought of the Buddha-nature as depicted in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra. In so doing, we have taken into consideration the following principle themes:

      1. Evolution of the Buddha-nature Concept
      2. The Buddha-nature in the Tathāgatagarbha Literature
      3. The Laṅkāvatārasūtra and Hindu Philosophy
      4. The Thought of Buddha-nature in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra
      5. The Practice of Buddha-Nature in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra
      6. Further Development of the Concept of Buddha-nature in

      Structurally, therefore, excluding the introduction and conclusion, the thesis consists of six major chapters in accordance with the above six main themes respectively.

Citation Sy, Nguyen Dac. "Thought of Buddha Nature as Depicted in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra." PhD diss., University of Delhi, 2012.