Within Michael Radich’s, The Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra and the Emergence of Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine, he makes the case that the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine can be considered under the lens of a Docetic Buddhology in that the apparent physical appearances of a Tathāgata are inherently deceptive. A Buddha has no ordinary human embodiment, but rather a most salient transcendent-emBODHIment, or the awakening of an Enlightened-Spirit within the Tathātic-Womb:
Buddhas are not conceived and gestated in putrid, painful human wombs; rather, buddhahood springs from a “womb” (garbha), inherent in all sentient beings, in which glimmers the transcendent promise of final liberation from flesh altogether. (Radich, pg. 10)
This is within the approximate vicinity of Unborn Mind, Tathāgatagarbha-Zen. Śākyamuni himself was not enlightened until his own inner-garbha child first stirred from within the depths of THAT Self-same Tathātic-Womb. After his mystical encounter beneath that Bodhi-tree the seed of Tathāgatahood was activated. It was thus that he became an awakened Buddha—or the One THAT transcends all defiled aggregated existence. His earlier “physical-birth” as Siddhartha was simply a manifestation of a vehicle that housed the garbha-seed until it was ready to become fully mature—in a very real sense, an Immaculate-Birth of his own Bodhi-child. Within the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine this is elucidated as follows:
I argue further that the elaboration of tathāgatagarbha doctrine in MPNMS is part of a much wider pattern of docetic Buddhology and its corollaries. In particular, the claim that all sentient beings have a garbha (“womb” or embryo”) of the Tathāgata within them, I suggest, was elaborated as a type of soteriologically-oriented, positive substitute for the idea that Buddhas could have their genesis in an ordinary, fleshly human womb, which was unacceptable to docetic thinking. (Radich, pg. 13)
This is a milestone in revealing the soteriological-impetus that does not find its genesis within some defiled fleshy substratum, but rather within an Immaculate-Womb that gestates the transcendent-seed thus empowering one to become free from the samsaric-environment:
Buddhas are not engendered by painful processes, from impure human mothers, touched by filthy physical organs; Buddhas properly have their genesis in a soteriologically loaded “womb” (garbha) found within all sentient beings. (Radich, pg. 15)
It needs to be stressed that in this fashion Buddha’s are not some psycho-physical beings, but rather highly awakened and spiritually charged supra-beings—emanating not from a fleshy, but rather a [spiritual womb, albeit housed in sentient beings]. Hence Buddhas are wholly-spiritual in essence—Spirituals, NOT Homines. It follows, then, that Buddhas are indwellers of the dharmadhātu and not of the karmadhātu; as The Dhammapada in Light of the Unborn specified, “Being bestowed with the Element of Truth is the ultimate ecstasy as well as dukkha’s demise”. All former karmic ties and associations are now rendered void. That is the soteriological import—put on the Unborn Buddha-Mind and make no further provisions for the flesh.
However, this is not to accuse the flesh of being all-evil. It is primarily being reborn as a human that the soteriological-principle becomes impregnated as the tathāgatagarbha. As was highlighted in the opening blog of this series: According to tradition, the Buddha-to-be spent the life before the one in which he gained Enlightenment in a god realm called the Tuṣita devaloka. It was only when he descended from the god-realm and lived as a Bodhisattva (Recollecting the inner Bodhi-seed) that led to his eventual enlightenment. Then again, the tathāgatagarbha is not always housed within humans, as was marvelously illustrated in the opening “Ravana Chapter” of the Lankavatara Sutra, when King Ravana, the Overlord of the Yakshas, also became impregnated with the Garbha-Child by virtue of the Great Turn-About. This is emphatically an indication that the Tathāgatagarbha is not just an exclusive domain for humans, but for every-variety of sentient-being extant within the cosmos.
To sum-up the general thrust of this present blog:
Viewed within the frame of the larger patterns of docetic thought, tathāgatagarbha doctrine can be regarded, more specifically, as a positive, soteriologically efficacious, religiously valorised substitute for one particular life-phase in the Buddha’s fleshly existence, namely, his conception, gestation and birth. (Radich, pg. 102)
While Gautama Buddha’s (as well as all other Buddhas-Tathāgatas) enlightened-spirit was not conceived in human fashion, the gestation of their garbha-child was housed within sentientalia AS the Tathāgatagarbha. Thus the sentient-factor is always relevant though never superior to the Self-Actualizing Principle THAT is housed within.