Matthew Kapstein

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:

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The idea that living beings are imbued with the self-same nature as the enlightened buddha (and thus are potential buddhas) came to be widely expressed in the literature of early Mahayana Buddhism. Terms used to designate this concept included “buddha-nature” (Sanskrit buddhadhātu, lit. “buddha-element”; Chinese foxing) and tathāgata-garbha, which was translated into Chinese as “tathāgata storehouse” (rulai zang) and into Tibetan as “tathāgata essence” (de gshegs snying po). (The Sanskrit tathāgata-garbha more precisely means “having a tathāgata [= buddha] within.”) Despite the broad distribution of the idea of “buddha-nature” in Indian Mahayana canonical texts, few Indian Buddhist systematic thinkers seem to have concerned themselves with either its elaboration or criticism. This would change, however, with the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism to East Asia and Tibet, where “tathāgata-garbha thought” became an arena of doctrinal contestation and has so remained to the present day. East Asian Buddhisms often understood garbha in the sense of “womb” or “embryo,” which is reflected in current English translations including “womb/embryo/matrix of the tathāgata.” The metaphor of giving birth to a buddha that this seemed to imply also deeply influenced the conceptualization, and even iconography, of Buddhist contemplative practice. It may be noted, moreover, that the associated concept of “clan” or “family” (Sanskrit gotra)—one’s affinity with buddhahood—was much discussed in Indian doctrinal treatises. Though not a major focus in this bibliography, it is examined in some of the works cited (especially Ruegg 1969 cited under General Overviews).

Article.  6111 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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