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Here you will find some examples of major themes in which the influence of buddha-nature is readily apparent. The first two are directly related to the Ratnagotravibhāga and address topics discussed in the treatise. The following themes are mostly related to the Tibetan tradition and detail how these teachings entered Tibet, as well as several important developments that arose based upon the buddha-nature teachings and how these intersected with other prominent forms of Buddhism that spread in Tibet. These pages are intended as basic introductions to these themes and include citations from traditional sources as well as suggestions for further reading in modern publications.
The Nine Similes
The Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra utilizes a series of nine similes to describe how buddha-nature exists within sentient beings— a state in which this basic element is ever-present, but obscured by the adventitious stains of afflictive emotions. These nine are repeated and explained in the first chapter of the Ratnagotravibhāga, in which they are enumerated as 1) a buddha in a decaying lotus, 2) honey amid bees, 3) kernels in their husks, 4) gold in filth, 5) a treasure in the earth, 6) a sprout and so on from a small fruit, 7) an image of the victor in a tattered garment, 8) royalty in the womb of a destitute woman, and 9) a precious statue in clay.
The Traditions of Ngok and Tsen
The analytic tradition (thos bsam gyi lugs) and the meditative tradition (sgom lugs) originated with the Tibetan disciples of the Kashmiri master Sajjana, namely Ngok Lotsāwa and Tsen Khawoche, respectively.
Other-Emptiness and the Great Middle Way
The philosophical concept of other-emptiness (zhentong) has long since been a lightning rod for controversy on the Tibetan plateau. Some of its most ardent supporters have had their works banned, yet it not only endured, but gained the support of prominent adherents of almost every one of the major Tibetan schools.
Mahāmudrā & Buddha-Nature
For the Kagyu, the lines of transmission of the Ratnagotravibhāga and the Mahāmudrā teachings converge with the Indian teacher Maitrīpa. In terms of the former, Maitrīpa is believed to have extracted the treatise from a stūpa after receiving instructions from Maitreya in a dream.
Dzogchen & Buddha-Nature
With roots stretching back to the 8th century, the notion of tathāgatagarbha was initially introduced into the lexicon of what would become the Nyingma Tradition through scholastic works that sought to reconcile the philosophy of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra, as well as through Tantric literature that presented advanced
Tantra & Buddha-Nature
Though the theory of buddha-nature is more readily associated with certain Mahāyāna Sūtras and related treatises, such as the Ratnagotravibhāga, in the Tibetan tradition there also developed a strong association between this concept and the Vajrayāna. For instance, terms like tathāgatagarbha and sugatagarbha also appear in tantric literature and in the Jonang tradition Dolpopa's development of his famed view of other-emptiness (zhentong) was directly linked with a profound realization he attained through his practice of the Kālacakra Tantra.
Contemporary Masters on Buddha-Nature
Though the teachings of buddha-nature have a long and storied history, that is not to say that it is an idea which is merely consigned to the past. It is not something that Buddhists once believed, but have since abandoned for new paradigms of how one might now, in our modern times, progress along the path. Rather buddha-nature remains a key feature of many of the Buddhist traditions that exist today.