Section LXXXII of the Lanka delineates the nature of the Tathagata-garbha and the Alaya vijnana (repository consciousness). This can be quite confusing because although apparently different—one pure, one defiled—they are also essentially synonymous in nature. A good analogy to break this down is the nature of “twins”; while they may be different in temperament and personality, they are a product of the same seed-bed, or womb. In UnbornMind Zen the bodhichild is the developing light-bearer, or bodhisattva within the womb (garbha) of tathata (Absolute Suchness); yet there is another alongside it, a “dark-side” whose “habit-energy of beginningless fabrications…gives birth to fundamental ignorance…”(Red Pine, pg. 241) If the bodhichild were to exclusively “tune-into” this dark-side, thus neglecting its rightful affinity with the Unborn Buddha Mind through the Recollective resolve, the waves of the vijnanas (defiled body consciousness) become stirred into motion within its alaya (receptacle)—which is really all those stored defiled-seeds since beginningless time. If left alone and not stirred through the act of grasping, the alaya would remain calm, like the surface of the ocean—just reflecting its pure-essential stature as the Tathagata-garbha. The way, of course, to avoid this release of all that stored habit energy, is to initiate the “turn-about” (paravrtti) and keep one’s sight devotedly fixated on one’s Original Self-Nature. Another way of expressing this is what Sutton states, “Being closely associated with the system of the Sense perceptions (Vijnanas), it is only through its purification, or reabsorption (paravrtti—or turn-about) that the Embryo-of-Buddhahood may emerge in its original state.” (Existence and Enlightenment in the Lanka, p.86)
Sutton also underscores the important “connection between the Tathagata-garbha and the Alaya component of the Vijnana system. One important point needs to be emphasized…while the Garbha taken as “embryo” is associated with the seven evolving Vijnanas (i.e., the five Sense-perceptions, the Manas, and the Manovijnana), the Garbha as “womb” is virtually identical with Alaya-vijnana. This is said to be the deepest stratum of consciousness, in itself pure and tranquil, and from which all the other Vijnanas emerge.” (Existence and Enlightenment in the Lanka, p.67) Sutton makes a fascinating observation and helps to pinpoint the precise “connection” between the Tathagata-garbha and the Alaya vijnana—and it has to do with the “Garbha”; when, as he says, it is taken as “embryo”—this indicates something “evolving” and hence the potentiality for all defiled phenomena to become activated from within the Alaya…however, when taken as “womb”—this indicates that “deepest stratum of consciousness” which is in itself pure and tranquil…and hence the womb of suchness, or the Tathagata-garbha. So, in this sense, the gotra or bodhichild can never be considered as a developing “embryo”—since that reflects a sense of defiled association with the evolving seven vijnanas, which are a springboard for the continuous formation of habit-energy (phenomena); rather, its development within the womb of Absolute suchness (Tathagata garbha) is an imageless affair that will hopefully culminate in full Tathagatahood.
There was a great movie released in 1972 entitled, “The Other”, that revolves around the intricate relationship between twin brothers—the one “apparently” good, and [the other] “apparently” evil. Apparent is the word. Not wanting to be a spoiler here if one hasn’t seen the movie (well worthwhile), suffice to say that the apple doesn’t fall very far away from the symbiotic tree as one is intricately linked and dependent upon the other for identity and psychic survival. This directly relates to what Red Pine writes, “The Buddha explains this relationship, if it can be called that, between the tathagata-garbha and the alaya-vijnana, whereby the former is the cause of the latter but whereby the latter is an illusion.” (Red Pine, pg. 240)
*It’s interesting to note here that Red Pine apparently makes a misinterpretation of the following line:
“Mahamati, if there were nothing called the repository consciousness, the tathagata-garbha would neither arise nor cease.” (Red Pine, pg. 243) Apparently, he interprets this as, “If there were no repository consciousness, there would be no tathagata-garbha and, thus, no liberation or path leading to liberation.” (pg. 242) He misses the mark here by implying that the tathagata-gabha is somehow dependent upon the alaya vijnana for some kind of “existence”. The Lanka is stating that, when self-deprived of the Unmoving Principle, the tathagata-garbha “arises and cessates” as a result of the Moving Principle within the alaya vijnana.
How good is Sutton’s book? Interesting translation “reabsorption”, – I’ve always known of only “turn-about”.
Sutton’s scope is purely a hermeneutical one–i.e., the study of different methodological
principles of interpretation in approaching the Lanka–yet, it’s an excellent tool of observation. Sutton essentially sums up this approach with the following:
“The Tathagata-garbha concept is one of the most widely discussed in the Mahayana literature, and like the Citta-matra principle–its epistemological counterpart in the Yogaracara school–has engendered a broad range of scholarly interpretations and comments regarding its meaning and significance. However important this may be, I will not attempt to review here the relevant literature regarding the meaning of the term garbha, since a) it has been done elsewhere in great detail, and b) it falls beyond the limited scope of the present work. What I intend to pursue in this section is the hermeneutics of the concept, as it appears in the Lankavatara-sutra (using both philological and historical approaches, when appropriate), in the hope that more light can be shed on its multiple and complementary levels of meaning, and on its relation with other, parallel, metaphysical constructs, both Buddhist and Hindu (e.g., Alaya Vijnana, the Repository-of-impressions, and Atman, the Self, respectively).” Sutton, pg. 51