Sources for Buddha-Nature Teachings
This page provides a listing of some of the key sources for buddha nature teachings found in the sutras, as well as the key texts found in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan traditions, as well as influential commentaries from centuries of traditional scholarship on the subject.
The Titles of the Text
For more detail on the meanings of the terms in the title, see the excerpt from When the Clouds Part by Karl Brunnhölzl here.
The title Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra is attested in the surviving Sanskrit manuscripts. It roughly translates as “The Ultimate Teaching (uttaratantra) of the Mahāyāna, A Treatise (śāstra) Analyzing (vibhāga) the Jewel (ratna) Disposition (gotra).” One surviving Sanskrit reference, Abhayākaragupta’s Munimatālaṃkāra, gives the name as Mahāyānottara: [Treatise] on the Ultimate Mahāyāna [Doctrine]. Western scholars only became aware of Sanskrit versions in the 1930s (see below); prior to this, they knew the text only in Chinese or Tibetan translation, and this was complicated by the fact that both the Chinese and the Tibetan traditions divide the text into two. Where in India the Ratnagotravibhāga was a single work comprised of root verses, explanatory verses, and prose commentary, the Chinese and Tibetan translators and commentators considered the root and explanatory verses to be one text and the complete text, including the prose commentary, to be a second. Thus not only do we have multiple names in multiple languages for the treatise, but multiple names in Chinese and Tibetan for its different parts....
According to the Kālacakra tradition, the extant version of the Kālacakratantra is an abridged version of the larger original tantra, called the Paramādibuddha, that was taught by the Buddha Śākyamuni to Sucandra, the king of Śambhala and an emanation of Vajrapāṇi, in the Dhānyakaṭaka stūpa, a notable center of Mahāyāna in the vicinity of the present-day village of Amarāvatī in Andhra Pradesh. Upon receiving instruction on the Paramādibuddhatantra and returning to Śambhala, King Sucandra wrote it down and propagated it throughout his kingdom. His six successors continued to maintain the inherited tradition, and the eighth king of Śambhala, Mañjuśrī Yaśas, composed the abridged version of the Parāmadibuddhatantra, which is handed down to us as the Sovereign Abridged Kālacakratantra (Laghukālacakratantrarāja). It is traditionally taught that it is composed of 1,030 verses written in the sradgharā meter. However, various Sanskrit manuscripts and editions of the Laghukālacakratantra contain a somewhat larger number of verses, ranging from 1,037 to 1,047 verses. The term an “abridged tantra” (laghu-tantra) has a specific meaning in Indian Buddhist tantric tradition. Its traditional interpretation is given in Naḍapādas (Nāropā) Sekoddeśaṭīkā, which states that in every yoga, yoginī, and other types of tantras, the concise, general explanations (uddeśa) and specific explanations (nirdeśa) make up a tantric discourse (tantra-saṃgīti), and that discourse, which is an exposition (uddeśana) there, is an entire abridged tantra.
The tradition tells us that Mañjuśrī Yaśas's successor Puṇḍarīka, who was an emanation of Avalokiteśvara, composed a large commentary on the Kālacakratantra, called the Stainless Light (Vimalaprabhā), which became the most authoritative commentary on the Kālacakratantra and served as the basis for all subsequent commentarial literature of that literary corpus. The place of the Vimalaprabhā in the Kālacakra literary corpus is of great importance, for in many instances, without the Vimalaprabhā, it would be practically impossible to understand not only the broader implications of the Kālacakratantra' cryptic verses and often grammatically corrupt sentences but their basic meanings. It has been said that the Kālacakratantra is explicit with regard to the tantric teachings that are often only implied in the other anuttara-yoga-tantras, but this explicitness is actually far more characteristic of the Vimalaprabhā than of the Kālacakratantra itself. (Source: Wallace, Vesna A. The Inner Kālacakratantra: A Buddhist Tantric View of the Individual. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001: pp. 2-3.)
- Annotated Commentary on the Ultimate Continuum
- According to the Sanskrit grammatical rules associated with sandhi, the word boundaries of the “a” of Mahāyāna and the “u” of Uttaratantra combine as “o.” The title could just as easily be rendered “Mahāyāna Uttaratantra Śāstra.”
- See the more detailed discussion of the translation of this term here: Continuum vs. Teachings: Discrepancies in the Translation of the Term Tantra (rgyud) in the Subtitle of the Ratnagotravibhāga.
- Kano, K. Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, 27, note #41.