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Theosophy, Buddha-nature & Tathagatagarbha

May 16, 2007 09:27 PM
by danielhcaldwell



Compare these two related subjects as given
above with the Theosophy of H.P. Blavatsky
and the Mahatmas.

I quote below from the Buddha-Nature article:

The Buddha-nature is taught by the Buddha to be incorruptible, 
uncreated, and indestructible. It is eternal bodhi ("Awake-ness") 
indwelling Samsara, and thus opens up the immanent possibility of 
Liberation from all suffering and impermanence....

Buddha-nature vs. atman
Unlike the Western concept of "soul" or some interpretations of the 
Indian "atman", Buddha-nature is not considered an isolated essence 
of a particular individual, but rather a single unified essence 
shared by all beings with the Buddha himself. (This doctrine of 
essence unsettles many Buddhists as it strikes them as in violation 
of some interpretations of anatta, as for example that of Nagarjuna, 
which attacks all essences; similarly, a trans-personal self shared 
by multiple beings exists already within the Hindu context in some 
monistic and/or pantheistic interpretations of the atman, and such 
concepts are generally regarded as being rejected under anatta.)

However, in the Mahayana version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, 
Tathagatagarbha is equated with Atman in, for some, direct 
contradiction of the Buddhist doctrine of anatman and is actually 
spoken of as an inner Reality which "nurtures/sustains" the being. 
The Sutra, in the view of some, contains many Hindu / Brahmanist 
elements and is thought to have been compiled during the Gupta Period 
which coincided with a Hindu revival in India.

The "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra" is, however, generally accepted 
by Mahayana Buddhists as genuine "Buddha-word" and is not alone 
amongst Mahayana sutras in asserting the reality of an essential Self 
within each sentient being (including animals) and linking it to the 
Tathagatagarbha/Buddha-dhatu. Other sutras which mention the Self in 
a very affirmative manner include the Srimala Sutra, the Lankavatara 
Sutra (in the "Sagathakam" chapter - e.g."The Self characterised with 
purity is the state of Self-realisation; this is the Tathagata-
garbha, which does not belong to the realm of the theorisers"), the 
Shurangama Sutra and the Mahavairocana Sutra (this list is by no 
means exhaustive).

The teaching on the Self which is attributed to the Buddha in 
the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra" insists upon the True Self's 
ultimacy, sovereignty and immortality. The Buddha states (in the 
Tibetan version of the Sutra): "all phenomena ["dharmas"] are not non-
Self: the Self is Reality("tattva"), the Self is eternal ("nitya"), 
the Self is virtue ("guna"), the Self is everlasting ("shasvata"), 
the Self is immovable("dhruva"), and the Self is peace ("siva")". In 
the Chinese versions of the Sutra, the Self is also characterised 
as "autonomous/sovereign" ("aishvarya"). The main concern in 
the "Mahaparinirvana Sutra" in contrasting this doctrine of the Self 
with that of the Astikas seems to have been to remove the reifying 
notion that the Self was a little person, the size of a grain of rice 
or of one's thumb, sitting in the heart of the being. This, the 
Buddha says, is a misconception of the nature of Self. The Self of 
which the Buddha speaks is said by him to be the "essential/intrinsic 
being" ("svabhava") or even "life-essence" ("jivaka") of each person, 
and this essential being is none other than the Buddha himself -
 "radiantly luminous" and "as indestructible as a diamond".

Thus, while there certainly are distinctions between the 
Brahmanist/Hindu notion of Self and that of even the most 
essentialist version of Buddha-nature, there are similarities too. 
What is certain is that to assert categorically that the Buddha (of 
the Mahayana) utterly and absolutely denied the Self is to fly in the 
face of very weighty Mahayana doctrinal statements by the Buddha 
across a number of highly respected sutras. As for the Buddhist 
Tantras, they also on occasion speak affirmatively of the Great Self, 
which is the Primordial Buddha ("Adibuddha") himself.

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