The Tathagata’s Womb

Carl Van Brunt



The Correction of Evil Attachments


There are five kinds of biased views held by ordinary men that may be discussed. Hearing that it is explained in the sutra that the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata is, in the final analysis, quiescent, like empty space, ordinary men think that the nature of the Tathāgata is, indeed, the same as empty space, for they do not know [that the purpose of the sūtra is to uproot their adherence].

Question: How is this to be corrected?

Answer: [The way to correct this error is] to understand clearly that “empty space” is a delusive concept, the substance of which is nonexistent and unreal. It is merely predicated in relation to [its correlative] corporeal objects. If it is taken as a being [termed nonbeing, a negative being, then it should be discarded, because] it causes the mind to remain in saṃsāra. In fact there are no external corporeal objects, because all objects are originally of the mind. And as long as there are no corporeal objects at all, “empty space” cannot be maintained. All objects are of the mind alone; but when illusions arise, [objects that are regarded as real] appear. When the mind is free from its deluded activities, then all objects [imagined as real] vanish of themselves. [What is real,] the one and true Mind, pervades everywhere. This is the final meaning of the Tathagata’s great and comprehensive wisdom. [The Dharmakāya is, indeed,] unlike “empty space.”

The Dharmakaya of the Tathagata is perfectly “quiescent” in the sense that it is empty of any attributes. This includes the concept of “space”. Space is a particularized construct that somehow apparently exists side by side objective phenomena; space somehow encompasses this phenomenon but is distinct from it. The prthagjana have it inside their heads that the Dharmakaya of the Tathagata is some form of conceptual construct like empty space. In Essence IT is Self-empty of any and all attributes that attempt to pin it down in the objective order of thingness.

Hearing that it is explained in the sūtra that all things in the world, in the final analysis, are empty in their substance, and that nirvana or the principle of Suchness is also absolutely empty from the beginning and devoid of any characteristics, they, not knowing [that the purpose of the sutra is] to uproot their adherence, think that the essential nature of Suchness or nirvana is simply empty.

Question: How is this to be corrected?

Answer: [The way to correct this error is] to make clear that Suchness or the Dharmakāya is not empty, but is endowed with numberless excellent qualities.

The “sūtra” referred to during these four question-answer sessions is the Lankavatara. Suzuki’s footnote states:

“The Tathagatagarbha is in its intrinsic nature pure, clean, eternal, permanent, unintermittent, and immutable; it embraces the thirty-two excellent qualities, and abides within the body of all sentient beings,” etc.

The qualifying answer to this first question makes it clear that Suchness or the Dharmakaya is not empty [of Itself], but is rather Full of very vivifying qualities (like Illuminative Light, Unborn Light, ect). This also puts to rest that these Buddhaic truths have anything whatsoever to do with nihilism.

Hearing that it is explained in the sūtra that there is no increase or decrease in the Tathāgata-garbha and that it is provided in its essence with all excellent qualities, they, not being able to understand this, think that in the Tathāgata-garbha there is plurality of mind and matter.

Question: How is this to be corrected?

Answer: [They should be instructed that the statement in the sūtra that “there is no increase or decrease in the Tathāgata-garbha”] is made only in accordance with the [absolute] aspect of Suchness, and [the statement that “it is provided with all excellent qualities”] is made in accordance with [the pluralistic outlook held by the defiled minds in] saṃsāra.

Hakeda on Fa-tsang:

Fazang says: “In accordance with the [absolute] aspect of Suchness stands for “the nonduality of the dual (the nonduality of Absolute and phenomena),” and “in accordance with the pluralistic outlook held by the defiled minds in saṃsāra” stands for “the duality of the nondual (phenomena on the ground of the Absolute).”

Hearing that it is explained in the sūtra that all defiled states of saṃsāra in the world exist on the ground of the Tathāgata-garbha and that they are therefore not independent of Suchness, they, not understanding this, think that the Tathāgata-garbha literally contains in itself all the defiled states of saṃsāra in the world.

Question: How is this to be corrected?

[In order to correct this error it should be understood that] the Tathāgata-garbha, from the beginning, contains only pure excellent qualities that, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges, are not independent of, severed from, or different from Suchness; that the soiled states of defilement that, outnumbering the sands of the Ganges, merely exist in illusion; are, from the beginning, nonexistent; and from the beginningless beginning have never been united with the Tathāgata-garbha. It has never happened that the Tathāgata-garbha contained deluded states in its essence and that it induced itself to realize [Suchness] in order to extinguish forever its deluded states.

This (as well as the next verse) should forever put to rest the notion that the Tathagata’s Womb (Tathagata-garbha) somehow contains defiled garbha. IT is akin to Bhūtatathatā (Absolute Suchness) and AS SUCH is not in any shape, way or form identical to Its defiled outflows. In ITSELF It radiates the SUCH and no-thing more. Hakeda asks an excellent question: “If evils were part of Suchness, how could Suchness help to extinguish evils?” Thus all defiled-garbha are part of the Tathagata-garbha’s defiled twin, the Alaya-vijnana.

Hearing that it is explained in the sūtra that on the ground of the Tathāgata-garbha there is saṃsāra as well as the attainment of nirvana, they, without understanding this, think that there is a beginning for sentient beings. Since they suppose a beginning, they suppose also that the nirvana attained by the Tathāgata has an end and that he will in turn become a sentient being.

Question: How is this to be corrected?

Answer: [The way to correct this error is to explain that] the Tathāgata-garbha has no beginning, and that therefore ignorance has
no beginning. If anyone asserts that sentient beings came into existence outside this triple world, he holds the view given in the scriptures of the heretics. Again, the Tathāgata-garbha does not have an end; and the nirvana attained by the buddhas, being one with it, likewise has no end.

The nirvana of the heretics is a location that has a beginning and an apparent end. The nirvana of the Tathagatas is the Self-Same Kingdom of the Dharmakaya. IT is locationless and is beginningless and endless and therefore Unborn. Suzuki’s translation summates as follows:

In order that this clinging may be eliminated, be it clearly understood that as the Tathagata’s womb has no beginning, ignorance and birth-and-death depending on it have also no beginning ; that it is a view held by the tīrthaka and not taught by the Buddha, to say that there are outside of the three worlds (triloka) some other beings coming into existence ; that the Tathagata’s womb has no future [i. e., time of extinction]; and that those who have an insight into it, will eternally destroy the seeds of birth-and-death and attain to Nirvana which has also no future [i. e., time of extinction].


Because of their inferior capacity, the Tathāgata preached to the Hīnayānists only the doctrine of the nonexistence of ātman and did not preach his doctrines in their entirety; as a result, the Hīnayānists have come to believe that the five components, the constituents of saṃsāric existence, are real; being terrified at the thought of being subject to birth and death, they erroneously attach themselves to nirvana.

Question: How is this to be corrected?

Answer: [The way to correct this error is to make clear that] the five components are unborn in their essential nature and, therefore, are imperishable—that [what is made of the five components] is, from the beginning, in nirvana.

This particular passage should clear-up for all time the Tathagata’s understanding of “ātman”; as firmly demonstrated here it is non-other than the five-skandhas. Furthermore, their inherent essence is Unborn. IT is the Essence that is incorruptible. The nirvana of the Hīnayānists implies “extinction”. This is in direct contrast to the Mahayana teaching that Nirvana is the Dharmakaya as seen through the eyes of the Tathagatas. Also, as can be observed from other blogs here in Unborn Mind Zen, the five-skandhas are transmutable when acted upon by the Five Tathagatas ( Dhyani Buddhas); in light of this their corruption while in samsaric-mode is transformed into their original essence in the Heart of Suchness.

Finally, in order to be completely free from erroneous attachments, one should know that both the defiled and the pure states are relative and have no particular marks of their own-being that can be discussed. Thus, all things from the beginning are neither matter nor mind, neither wisdom nor consciousness, neither being nor nonbeing; they are ultimately inexplicable. And yet they are still spoken of. It should be understood that the Tathāgatas, applying their expedient means, make use of conventional speech in a provisional manner in order to guide people, so that they can be free from their deluded thoughts and can return to Suchness; for if anyone thinks of anything [as real and absolute in its own right], he causes his mind to be [trapped] in saṃsāra and consequently he cannot enter [the state filled with] true insight [i.e., enlightenment].

Excellent assessment that all uses of conventional linguistic tools are an expedient means to try to convey what is truly ineffable. This even includes phrases like Absolute-Suchness. The Tathagatas purposely use provisional means for an absolute end: to empower sentient beings to eventually abandon ALL constructs and Directly enter into the Real.

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One Response to The Tathagata’s Womb

  1. n. yeti says:

    I think what he is saying is that space (empty space) is only different from the objects relative to their falsely discriminated (dual) reality. When the objects are “removed” so to speak, the “space” between them is also removed. But in fact it never was more than false discrimination, so it is neither added nor “removed”, but recognized as having no separate reality from the objective world. Accordingly there can be no “emptiness” thought of as having an existence unto itself. Thus is explained pretty early on in the Lankavatara as assembled by Suzuki, as one of the first questions attributed to the Yaska king Ravana, answered pretty succinctly by the Bhagavan regarding dharmas and adharmas. Thank you for this exquisite series.

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