Gotra: The Transformative Principle

As mentioned in the introduction to this series, the Ratnagotravibhāga principally covers seven vajrapadas (adamantine topics); vajrapada is Sanskrit for “Vajra-Base”. The seven [Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Saṃgha), the element (dhātu, which is equivalent to tathāgatagarbha), awakening (bodhi), the Buddha qualities (guṇa), and activity (kriyā–karma)] are comprised of an impenetrable Vajra Nature, each likened unto a “teaching-device” that acts like Indra’s weapon (Vajra) of old—the thunderbolt, strikingly hard and invincible like a diamond. The first three Vajra-points relate to the Three Jewels: Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha (Sanskrit: saṃgha). Vajra-point one is the Buddha, the awakened one who points the way to enlightenment. Vajra-point two is the Dharma—the supreme teachings (Buddhadharma) of the Tathagatas. Vajra-point three is the Sangha, the mystical community of the Illumined-Ones who safeguard and promulgate the Buddhadharma whilst at the same time [acting] like a buttressed fortress against the snares of samsara. Vajra-point four is the Dhātu, or the essence of the Buddha-Element—Tathagata-garbha. The actual “awareness” of this Buddha-Element is the fifth Vajra-point termed Bodhi, or the Awakened Mind-element Itself. Vajra-point six represents the subsequent good and enlightened qualities produced after one puts on the Bodhimind—Gūna. The final Vara-point, Karma or Kriyā, are the Right-Actions that are accrued after being baptized by that Supreme Dharma element: the Buddhadhatū.

The one salient term that encompasses all the above is the Gotra, yea, it is the Transformative Principle Itself.

…it is said that the Absolute Reality manifests itself in 2 forms, viz. the active and the immutable. The first of these forms has again 2 varieties,—the pure Transcendental Wisdom of the Buddha and the seed, the germ of this Transcendental Wisdom. This seed is the gotra, the fundamental element and the original cause of Enlightenment, It is, as has been mentioned before, of 2 kinds, viz. the primordial and that which becomes developed.

… the agency of the gotra, which is accordingly viewed as the force bringing about the transformation of the internal bases of cognition (and of the store—consciousness with the elder school) into the elements of Buddhahood.

Thus we see the tendency of viewing the gotra as a special element, an active, transforming principle. It cannot be regarded as identical with the store-consciousness or as included in the internal bases of cognition. It is a force “standing above” the store-consciousness, dominating it and bringing about the transformation of it into the pure Transcendental Wisdom of the Buddha. It is, so to say, a counteragent of the store-consciousness, inasmuch as it brings about its transformation. The gotra is a force governing these bases of cognition, and in such an aspect cannot be considered as equal to them, because its function, that of bringing about the transformation of the elements and the attainment of Buddhahood, is other than the functions of the sense-organs and the intellect. On the other hand it is not something totally different from the internal elements. (E. Obermiller, Uttaratantra: The Sublime Science of the Great Vehicle to Salvation, being a Manual of Buddhist Monism.)

We can see how the gotra is a Transcendent-agent of transformation; thus not equitable with defiled dharmata. Within Lankavatarian Unborn Mind Zen, the gotra is the primordial dormant seed that, in its initial stages, is like a tiny spiritual embryo that eventually grows into a Bodhisattva, or Light Bearer. When this little seed within us all begins to awaken it is referred to as the Bodhi-child. This child has a highly concentrated Spirit of Bodhi, or undivided self-awareness; when the Bodhi-child awakens it begins the process of “recollecting” the very vivifying Source of its original nature; hence, the “potential” for Buddhahood is present in all sentient reality.

This past April’s series, Unborn Light Reiki, included a blog that broke down the nature of the gotra in a most thorough fashion. It is worth reproducing here in full for this series as well since it is the best representation of the gotra as the all-encompassing transformative principle:

The kernel of this understanding is actually based on the gotra. This is very apropos since it deals with the very essence of the Source ITself; a full explanation of the nature of the gotra can be found in a Buddhist work entitled, the Ratnagotravibhaga. The main thrust of this work is to elaborate on the gotra, which also happens to be the source of several Mahāyana notions like dhatu, dharmadhatu, buddhata, tathagata-garbha, tathata, dharmatā, and even sūnyata itself. The Ratna embellishes on the following ten points concerning the gotra:

  1. Its Essence: This is the original nature of the gotra; one of absolute purity and its spiritual nature encompasses Universal Compassion.
  2. Its Cause: In this sense the gotra empowers one to adhere to the Dharma in general, to profound meditation (samadhi) and Universal Compassion (karuna); all of these, in turn, empower one to remove defiled sensate reality.
  3. Its Effect: Upon the removal of the above defilements, the gotra gives rise to the correct understanding (aviparyasa) of all impermanence and dukkha as well as the inadequacy of phenomenal thingness.
  4. Its Function: Its essential function is that it instills detachment from phenomena and then creates will power (chanda) to empower one to fully achieve nirvana. Hence, it gives rise to the awareness of how to overcome phenomena and empowers one to achieve Ultimate Liberation.
  5. Its Relation: Being fully connected to prajna and samadhi, the gotra helps to give rise to Buddhagnosis, as well as establishing the manifestation of Universal Compassion of the Tathagata.
  6. Its Manifestation: The gotra manifests itself in varying degrees. For the Icchantikas (those whose gotra remains inactive), it is mostly concealed, dormant; for the more spiritually advanced (aryapudgala), the gotra is partly manifested and partly concealed; for the Enlightened Tathagata, one who has gone beyond defiled sensate phenomena, it is manifested to the max which leads to the Dharmakaya (Absolute Buddha Body of Perfect Suchness) of the Buddha.
  7. Its State: In the defiled state (asuddha), it is the essence of sentient beings; in its partly defiled state (asuddhasuddha), it is the essence of the Bodhisattva; in its ultimately pure state (suvisuddha), it is the absolute essence of the Tathagata.
  8. Its All-Pervasive Character: Due to its varying manifestations, the gotra is all-pervasive.
  9.  Its Unmodifiable Essence: Once again, its original nature, one that can only be fully realized through perfect prajna (or in reference to the Unborn, only through the Self Realization of Noble Wisdom).
  10. Its Unitary Character: Here the gotra is totally identified with the Dharmakaya.
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