Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Pannapetar
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Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Pannapetar »

Apparently the notions of Tathāgatagarbha (Buddha embryo or Buddha matrix) and Buddha-dhātu (Buddha nature) are not part of the Theravada teaching. However, I see a logical problem with the concept of arahatship and enlightenment in Theravada without the notion of Buddha-dhātu. If enlightenment is possible in this (human) life then how is this supposed happen? In absence of the Buddha nature, would this not require some sort of "magical" transformation?

The same problem can be phrased in another way: if sentient beings have the potential for enlightenment, and if enlightenment does not involve becoming something else altogether, then the logical conclusion must be that we are in some sense already enlightened. In other words, the seeds for enlightenment should be present already. I know this is a slightly esoteric question. Perhaps someone with better knowledge of the subtleties of the Theravadin doctrines could answer it.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Jechbi »

My off-the-cuff response is: Because there is nothing to be enlightened. Buddha nature seems to imply some kind of underlying true self. Enlightenment illuminates the anatta nature of phenomena. Maybe someone else can give a more precise answer.
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Cittasanto »

Thanissaro Bhikkhu has talked about this but cant find it on the web to give an accurate link and cant attack it here,

I will post it on my blog and give a link to it there soon
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Cittasanto »

http://manapa.multiply.com/music/item/7 ... kkhu_talks" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by kc2dpt »

The answer is that arahantship is not becoming anything. It is the ceasing of all becoming. It is the destruction of the taints, the cutting of the fetters, the removal of the defilements. It is a problem with using language like "becoming arahant" or "gaining enlightenment". These phrases can mislead a person into thinking there is something acquired or someone to do the acquiring.

It is like saying "the glass has become empty". Does this mean emptiness was always present even when the glass was full? Does this mean the glass magically transformed into something else? What it means is the stuff in the glass has been removed. "Empty" is a description of the state of the glass when it's contents has been removed, just as "arahant" is how we describe the state of one who has eradicated the defilements.
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Sanghamitta »

Jechbi wrote:My off-the-cuff response is: Because there is nothing to be enlightened. Buddha nature seems to imply some kind of underlying true self. Enlightenment illuminates the anatta nature of phenomena. Maybe someone else can give a more precise answer.

Indeed. "Buddha nature" doctrine it seems to me , is not only not found in the Suttas in any readily recognisable form, but many accounts of it , particularly in certain modern popular presentations , seem indistinguishable from Atta doctrine.
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Cittasanto »

Peter wrote:The answer is that arahantship is not becoming anything. It is the ceasing of all becoming. It is the destruction of the taints, the cutting of the fetters, the removal of the defilements. It is a problem with using language like "becoming arahant" or "gaining enlightenment". These phrases can mislead a person into thinking there is something acquired or someone to do the acquiring.

It is like saying "the glass has become empty". Does this mean emptiness was always present even when the glass was full? Does this mean the glass magically transformed into something else? What it means is the stuff in the glass has been removed. "Empty" is a description of the state of the glass when it's contents has been removed, just as "arahant" is how we describe the state of one who has eradicated the defilements.
Well said,

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Everything :tongue:
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He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Dan74 »

My understanding is that the concept of Buddha-nature is to serve as a positive side of emptiness - yes, everything is empty but everything also has Buddha-nature - its drawing attention to that experiential "suchness" of everything when there is no gain and loss. And the other aspect is developing faith in one's potential for enlightenment, ie - "you've already got it, now you've just got to see it." Then in Chan(Zen) tradition this may help with the Great Doubt, "well if I've got it, where the hell is it?"

As for Tathagatagarba and Buddhadhatu, this is sometimes confused with Buddha-nature. I can't really comment on these properly sorry.

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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Ceisiwr »

Peter wrote:The answer is that arahantship is not becoming anything. It is the ceasing of all becoming. It is the destruction of the taints, the cutting of the fetters, the removal of the defilements. It is a problem with using language like "becoming arahant" or "gaining enlightenment". These phrases can mislead a person into thinking there is something acquired or someone to do the acquiring.

It is like saying "the glass has become empty". Does this mean emptiness was always present even when the glass was full? Does this mean the glass magically transformed into something else? What it means is the stuff in the glass has been removed. "Empty" is a description of the state of the glass when it's contents has been removed, just as "arahant" is how we describe the state of one who has eradicated the defilements.


Sadhu!
“When serenity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Lust is abandoned.”

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Wisdom is developed. And when wisdom is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned."


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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Ceisiwr »

Ajahn Chah discusses Buddha nature in this Dhamma talk


http://ajahnchah.org/book/Opening_Dhamma_Eye1.php" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;



An extract

When Aññā Kondañña, the first disciple, heard the Buddha's teaching for the first time, the realization he had was nothing very complicated. He simply saw that whatever thing is born, that thing must change and grow old as a natural condition and eventually it must die. Aññā Kondañña had never thought of this before, or if he had it wasn't thoroughly clear, so he hadn't yet let go, he still clung to the khandhas. As he sat mindfully listening to the Buddha's discourse, Buddha-nature arose in him. He received a sort of Dhamma 'transmission' which was the knowledge that all conditioned things are impermanent. Any thing which is born must have ageing and death as a natural result.

This feeling was different from anything he'd ever known before. He truly realized his mind, and so 'Buddha' arose within him. At that time the Buddha declared that Aññā Kondañña had received the Eye of Dhamma.
I think hes using it in a different way than Mahayana teachings though
metta
“When serenity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Lust is abandoned.”

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Wisdom is developed. And when wisdom is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned."


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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Pannapetar »

Thanks for your answers and for the links. I have put the talk on my MP3 player for early hearing. I agree with Peter that language is tricky here, because it is said that enlightenment entails letting go and sloughing off, rather than achieving and gaining. I am however sceptical that even this latter definition is complete. It seems that enlightenment is ineffable and that definitions principally fail, therefore the proper thing to do would be to close the case and be silent about it (as proposed by Wittgenstein). The problem with this approach is that enlightenment is a necessary reference on the spiritual path.

When you apply the idea of cessation and letting go consequently and think it out, the question arises what remains after enlightenment. If you empty a glass, then the glass itself remains. If you empty a vessel, the vessel remains. Is the vessel Buddha nature? This conclusion seems absurd...

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Ben »

Hi Thomas
Pannapetar wrote:When you apply the idea of cessation and letting go consequently and think it out, the question arises what remains after enlightenment.
Its an interesting question. I guess its because, as you've already alluded, the experience and state is ineffable and defies our ability to describe it using languages which are rooted in samsara. The way that I look at it, and I may be completely off the mark, is that what comes after enlightenment is life without defilements. Thoughts, words and deeds which are kiriya: kammically neutral.
Metta

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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by kc2dpt »

Pannapetar wrote:When you apply the idea of cessation and letting go consequently and think it out, the question arises what remains after enlightenment.
I think the question arises out of the same grasping that causes all of our other suffering. We want to be. We need to be. So we find ways to be however we can. The idea of not trying to be is just so foreign, so strange, and so scary for us unawakened folk.
If you empty a glass, then the glass itself remains. If you empty a vessel, the vessel remains. Is the vessel Buddha nature? This conclusion seems absurd...
The Buddha said, more than once, that it is not describable. So what can you and I say? :shrug:


"Does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata exists: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...no..."

"Seeing what drawback, then, is Master Gotama thus entirely dissociated from each of these positions?"

"These positions are a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. They are accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and they do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding."

- MN 72 (edited for brevity)
- Peter

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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by Pannapetar »

I listened to Thanissaro Bhikkhu's talk entitled "the problem with Buddha nature" last night. He likens the concept of Buddha nature to a new tree in your garden that kills of some of your old flowers and presents two arguments to support this assertion: 1. That the concept of Buddha nature is superfluous, that is has been introduced in Mahayana 800 years after the Buddha, and that people can become enlightened without the idea of Buddha nature. 2. That the notion of Buddha nature might lead to misunderstandings which arrest the practitioner in certain (detrimental) states of spiritual complacence. He then proceeds to outline three ways how this might happen.

While the talk is very enjoyable and erudite, and is recommendable for various reasons, I can't find myself agreeing with either of these two arguments. The first argument can be applied to pretty much any Mahayana tenet, as it essentially boils down to: "It's not in my book." Although none of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's statements are false, they do neither invalidate Buddha-dhātu. I mean, people do get to enlightened in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions, as well as in Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, etc. - you get the point. The fact that something is "not in my book" does not invalidate it.

The second argument has a little more weight, and it was actually mentioned first in the talk, as it points out the various misunderstandings that can result from the notion of Buddha-dhātu. For example, people might get the idea that they are already enlightened, or that enlightenment is an automatic unfolding process comparable to evolution, or that progress on the path is due to grace rather than effort. Certainly we have to agree that this might mislead people, but what the heck? The same can be said for almost any concept in Buddhism from the four noble truths, the three marks to the khandhas, the pāramīs and what not. Traps and pitfalls are everywhere.

The value that I see in the idea of Buddha nature is that it provides impetus necessary to go all the way. For a Buddhist practitioner, after having dropped the gross attachments and after having developed some skill in meditation, it is fairly easy to become comfortable in samsara. With some practice one can achieve a level of comfort and bliss that is comparable to that of the devas. Obviously, it would be a mistake to stop there. The awareness of Buddha nature provides the necessary inspiration to go beyond these states and as such it has a soteriological significance; unfortunately, this point was not addressed by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Neither did he address possible ontological interpretations of Buddha-dhātu, which are equivalent to ātman and generally rejected by Buddhists.

Cheers, Thomas
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Re: Tathāgatagarbha and Buddha-dhātu

Post by tiltbillings »

Thomas,

Here is a fellow highly trained in Mahayana talking about Buddha-nature which you might find of interest:

http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Stephen_Batchelor" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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