The Nine-Sheaths

Even though the Tathagata-garbha is “within” all sentient beings, it is still plagued by a series of kleśas that soil and keep it dormant until efficacious Buddha-qualities peel-away the damning-sheathes. The Ratna gives nine-examples of these defilements that are by their very nature adventitious. Once un-sheathed, the unadulterated Buddhadhātu shines through. The nine are taken directly from the Tathagata-garbha Sutra. This is a prime example of how the Ratnagotravibhāgaśāstra is compiled from a wide array of Tathāgata-scriptures.

Obermiller:

Now we shall take into consideration “the coverings of defilement” which, existing without beginning, are essentially unconnected (with the pure Spiritual Essence), and the Absolute Essence which likewise has no beginning, but is perfectly pure and connected (with the spirit of every living being). Here, in accordance with the (Tathagatagarbha-sutra), we have the Essence of the Buddha, as it is concealed by the innumerable coverings of defilement, illustrated by 9 examples. What are these nine?

Like the Buddha in an ugly lotus flower,
Like honey (concealed by) a swarm of bees,
Like a kernel of a fruit in the bark, and like gold buried in
impurities,
Like a treasure in the ground, and like a sprout hidden in a
small seed,
Like the image of the Lord covered by a tattered garment,
Like the Chieftain of men in the womb of a miserable woman,
And like a precious statue covered by dust,
In such a way does this Germ abide
In the living beings obscured by the occasional stains.

The following are extracted from the Tathagata-garbha Sutra itself:

1. It is like the wilted flowers;
Before their petals have opened,
One with supernatural vision can see
The unstained Tathagata-kaya.
After the wilted flowers are removed,
One sees, without obstacle, the Teacher,
Who, in order to sever kleshas,
Triumphantly appears in the world.

Imagine an ugly closed-calyx of a diseased lotus flower harboring an unsoiled Buddha-statue within. Someone who is possessed with the marvelous gift of clairvoyance can peer-straight-through the soiled lotus-covering and deliver the statute from its stained-womb. In a similar fashion, the mystically-endowed Munis can freely and clearly discern the perfect-nature of Buddhahood dwelling within all sentient beings, thereby extracting them free from their ignominious shell.

2. It is just like what happens when the honey in a cave or tree,
Though surrounded by countless bees,
Is taken by someone who knows an upaya
To first get rid of the swarm.
The tathagatagarbha of sentient beings
Is like the honey in a cave or tree.
The entanglement of ignorance and tribulation
Is like the swarm of bees
That keep one from getting to it.
For the sake of all beings,
I expound the saddharma with virtuous expedients
Removing the klesha bees,
Revealing the tathagatagarbha.

Picture how honey is present in the path of a surrounding swarm of bees. Upon the arrival of a skillful person who directly knows how to carefully separate the honey from the bees, the delicious substance is then soon readied for sale. Similarly, the Buddha, yea the ShakyaMUNI with his all-pervading Dharma-Eye, transcendentally perceives how the Buddha-Element (Gotra) is covered by those swarming defilements and magnificently extracts the pure Bodhi-Element thus producing the Immaculate-manifestation of the Dharmakaya.

3. It is just like what happens when all the kernels,
The husks of which have not yet been washed away,
Are disdained by someone who is impoverished,
And said to be something to be discarded.
But although the outside seems like something useless,
The inside is genuine and not to be destroyed.
After the husks are removed,
It becomes food fit for a king.
I see that all kinds of beings
Have a buddhagarbha hidden by kleshas.
I preach the removal of those things
To enable them to attain universal wisdom.
Just as I have a Tathagata dhatu,
So do all beings.

Just as a grain of rice is encapsulated within the shell of its husk and is not fit for eating before sentient beings remove the husk in order to obtain the palpable-food, just-so must the spirit of the Dharma-Lord become unhusked in order to freely distribute the taste of the Buddhadharma to all sentient beings, thus empowering them to discern their own participation in the Tathagata-dhatu.

4. It is just like what happens when gold is submerged
In impure waste, where no one can see it.
But someone with supernatural vision sees it
And tells people about it, saying
‘If you get it out and wash it clean,
You may do with it as you will,’
Which causes their relatives and family all to rejoice.
The sugata-vision is like this.
He sees that for all kinds of beings,
The Tathagata dhatu is not destroyed,
Though it is submerged in the muddy silt of kleshas.
So he appropriately expounds the Dharma
And enables them to manage all things,
So that the kleshas covering the Buddha dhatu
Are quickly removed and beings are purified.

Fashion in your mind’s eye someone venturing-forth on a long journey and quite unawares loses some pure-gold from his pocket and it soon becomes indistinguishable from a lying piece of rubbish. It remains so for countless kalpas until a god-like being with clairvoyance points someone in the right direction in order to procure this forgotten treasure. Similarly the omniscient Shining Ones can free sentient beings from the rotting-filth of their mental poisons by expounding the Truth of the Buddhadharma, thus cleansing them from their defiled-garbha and empowering them to discern and claim their rightful treasure of the Buddha-dhatu.

5. Or, kulaputras, it is like a store of treasure hidden beneath an impoverished household. The treasure cannot speak and say that it is there, since it isn’t conscious of itself and doesn’t have a voice. So no one can discover this treasure store. It is just the same with beings. But there is nothing that the power of the Tathagata’s vision is afraid of. The treasure store of the great dharma is within beings’ bodies. It does not hear and it is not aware of the addictions and delusions of the five desires. The samsara cakra turns and beings are subjected to countless duhkhas. Therefore Buddhas appear in the world and reveal to them the Tathagata-dharmagarbha in their bodies. And they believe in it and accept it and purify their universal wisdom. Everywhere on behalf of beings he reveals the Tathagatagarbha.

Envision a man so poor and destitute that he is not even dimly aware of a great treasure that remains hidden beneath his house. If only the treasure could cry-out “Look—I’m here, I’m here!” In a similar state of affairs, sentient beings cannot perceive that they have within them the great treasure of the Buddha-Nature of their own precious Unborn Mind! Hence they suffer from the eternal pangs of their own ignorance. Therefore, the Shining Ones break through the great sheath of samsara and reveals to them the “Tathagata-dharmagarbha in their own bodies.”

6. It is just like the pit of an amra fruit
Which does not decay.
Plant it in the earth
And inevitably a great tree grows.
The Tathagata’s faultless vision
Sees that the tathagata garbha
Within the body of beings
Is just like the seed within a flower or fruit.
Though ignorance covers the Buddhagarbha,
You ought to have faith and realize
That you are possessed of samadhi wisdom,
None of which can be destroyed.
For this reason I expound the Dharma
And reveal the tathagatagarbha,
That you may quickly attain the unexcelled (anuttara) path,
Just as a fruit grows into the most regal of trees.

Recollect that a miniscule-seed has the potential to develop into a mighty-tree. Initially, one cannot envision the tree dormant in the tiny seed, but employing the right conditions like water and sunlight, the resilient-tree will take root and develop to its full potential. In like-fashion, the Bodhi-seed (gotra) is initially encased under the dirt of ignorance accompanied by many weeds of emotional and cognitive obscurations. If one develops the necessary Buddha-gnosis, then the Bodhi-seed will mature into a Mighty Bodhisattva enroute to full Tathagatahood.

7. Or, kulaputras, it is like a man with a statue of pure gold, who was to travel through the narrow roads of another country and feared that he might be victimized and robbed. So he wrapped the statue in worn-out rags so that no one would know that he had it. On the way the man suddenly died, and the golden statue was discarded in an open field. Travelers trampled it and it became totally filthy. But a person with supernatural vision saw that within the worn-out rags there was a pure gold statue, so he unwrapped it and all paid homage to it. Similarly, kulaputras, I see the different beings with their many kleshad, transmigrating through the long night of endless samsara and I perceive that within their bodies is the wondrous Tathagatagarbha. They are august and pure and no different from myself. For this reason the Buddha expounds the Dharma for beings, that they might sever those kleshad and purify their Tathagata jnana. I turn the Dharmacakra again and again in order to convert all worlds.

A valuable Gold Buddha Statue wrapped in torn garments and left by a forsaken roadside would be unnoticed by unwary travelers, but instantaneously recognized beneath all the filth by a Noble Shining One who teaches the means whereby the Dharmadhatu is released from its adventitious wrappings. Just so would they inform sentient beings how to discard their soiled samsaric-garbs for the full splendor of the Tathagatakaya.

8. It is like an impoverished woman
Whose appearance is common and vile,
But who bears an Arya son
Who will become a Cakravartin king.
Replete with Seven Jewels and all virtues,
He will possess as king the four quarters of the earth.
But she is incapable of knowing this
And conceives only thoughts of inferiority.
I see that all beings
Are like infants in distress.
Within their bodies is the Tathagatagarbha,
But they do not realize it.
So I tell bodhisattvas,
‘Be careful not to consider yourselves inferior.
Your bodies are Tathagatagarbhas;
They always contain
The world’s light of saving grace.’
If you exert yourselves
And do not spend a lot of time
Sitting in the meditation hall,
You will attain the path of very highest siddhi
And save limitless beings.

Picture a poor destitute woman dwelling amongst the most wretched of conditions being full of misery and despair, yet unaware that she bears within her womb a blessed Noble Child, chooses to remain in abject poverty of mind and spirit. Likewise the sentient being who chooses to live in similar fashion by rejecting their own inner Bodhichild thus remaining and suffering from the awful vicissitudes of samsara.

9. It is like a great foundry
With countless golden statues.
Foolish people look at the outside
And see only the darkened earthen molds.
The master foundryman estimates that they have cooled,
And opens them to extract their contents.
All impurity is removed
And the features clearly revealed.
With my Buddha vision
I see that all beings are like this.
Within the mud shell of passions,
All have the Tathagata-nature.
By means of vajra jnana,
We break the mold of the kleshas
And reveal the Tathagatagarbha,
Like pure, shining gold.
Just as I have seen this
And so instructed all the bodhisattvas,
So should you accept it,
And convert in turn all other beings.

Imagine a very pure Buddha-statue covered with a crusty-scab of clay. The one who is privy to the True Substance lying beneath is able to reveal its Rightful Import. Similarly the Noble Shining Ones clearly see beneath the defiled-garbha that encrusts the Luminous Nature of the Unborn Mind; through teaching the Right Path all the impurities are gradually removed from the dysfunctional mind.

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