The Matrix of the Tathāgata

 danita clark

The text of the Ratnagotravibhāga consists essentially of 430 Sanskrit verses with an accompanying prose commentary (vyākhyā) that incorporates extensive quotations from Tathāgata-garbha orientated sutras. The first chapter is indeed the longest and initiates the śāstra with an exposition on the Three-Jewels and establishing the Tathāgata-garbha as the definitive refuge for sentient beings.  Jikido Takasaki refers to the garbha as “matrix” when it is usually signified as womb, although one begins to appreciate this option since it is representational of THAT which is all-encompassing and universal.


§ 1. The Meaning of the 7 Vajrapadas.
The Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Community,
The Essence [of the Buddha], the Supreme Enlightenment,
The Virtuous Qualities [of the Buddha],
And, last of all, the Act of the Buddha; —
These are the 7 Adamantine Subjects, [which show]
Briefly, the body of the whole text.

The word ‘vajrapada’ (adamantine subject) means the term (pada),i.e. the basis (sthāna), which expresses the meaning of the enlighten-ment (adhigama) which is similar to a thunderbolt [or diamond] (vajra). Here, it being difficult to be penetrated  by the knowledge consisting in studying and thinking, the meaning [of the Enlightenment] which is not capable of being explained but is to be realized by oneself, should be understood as ‘like a thunderbolt’.

Interesting how this reflects the Lankavatarian adage: IT is to be known inwardly by oneself alone. This indicates that the Lanka was written before the Ratna and most likely served as one of its sources. Obermiller’s text runs thus:

The subject which is accessible (only) to the inward conviction (or introspection) of the Saint and is of an inexpressible, unutterable character, resembles a diamond (that is hard and unpenetrable), since it cannot be “pierced” by the (ordinary) knowledge, which is a result of study and investigation.

All of this designates that this is to be a “gradual gnosis”.


(It is said further on):—O Lord, the perfect Supreme Enlightenment (Anuttara samyak sambodhi) is a name for the essence of Nirvana. O Lord, the essence of Nirvana (nirvāa-dhātu) is a name for the Cosmical [Dharmakaya—inclusion mine] Body of the Buddha.

This is a reinforcement on Tozen’s Dharmakaya Sutra that the Dharmakaya is another synonym for the “essence of Nirvana.” Or, it is the Nirvanic Kingdom of Self.


§ 2. Authorities on the 7 Subjects
1) ‘Buddha’: “Verily, O Ānanda, invisible is the Tathāgata. He cannot be seen by eyes”.
2) ‘Dharma’: “Verily, O Ānanda, unutterable is the Doctrine. It cannot be heard by ears”.
3) ‘Samgha’: “Verily, O Ānanda, the Holy Community is of an immutable character. It cannot be completely served, either by body or by mind”.


The elucidation of the particular essence of these 7 subjects and their interconnection is demonstrated in the dhāraṇīśvara-rāja-paripṛccha-sūtra in the order (in which the subjects have just been described). From the introductory chapter we come to know the first 3 subjects; then come the remaining 4 which are contained in the description of the various attributes peculiar to the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas.
*This is in reference to the dhāraṇīśvara-rāja-paripṛccha-sūtra (The Questions of King Dhāraṇīśvara Sūtra). The nature of the reference has to do with a main theme in that particular sūtra that uses the example of a skillful jeweler gradually refining a jewel in order to illustrate the need to guide the student’s mind in stages. Obermiller’s text runs thus:

In this Sutra the subject is discussed immediately after the description of the Buddha’s acts, (the Germ of Buddhahood) being compared with an impure stone of lapis-lazuli. (It is said as follows):—O noble youth, take for instance a skillful jeweler who knows well the methods of polishing precious stones. He gets from a jewel-mine a stone, completely impure, and, having washed it with acrid salt water, polishes it by wiping with a cloth made of hair. But he does not give up his task after having merely accomplished this. He then washes the stone with an acrid fluid of vitriol and cleanses it with a woolen cloth. But even here his efforts do not cease. Having washed again (the stone) with a medicinal fluid, the jeweler completely purifies it with a very fine cloth. That which is thus purified and made completely free from all the stains is the precious essence of lapis-lazuli. O noble youth, in the same way the Buddha, having perceived the fundamental element of the living beings obscured by defilement, arouses aversion in those who love this worldly existence, by speaking so as to present before their minds the evanescence*, suffering, impersonality, and impurity of the Phenomenal World.

*Footnote: The Buddha speaks of evanescence that is of the momentary change peculiar to Phenomenal Existence, of the uneasiness accompanying perpetual origination, of the unreality of the individual and of the Phenomenal World as a whole being like an impure pit.

Takasaki, continued:

4) ‘ Dhātu ‘: “Verily, O Śāriputra, this meaning is a subject for the Tathāgata [and only belongs to] the sphere of the Tathāgata. This meaning, O Śāriputra, can neither be known nor be seen, nor be examined correctly through the knowledge of the Śrāvakas and the Pratyekabuddhas.

Needless to say, this applies to the case of ignorant and ordinary beings, except when they have faith in the Tathāgata. O Śāriputra, the ultimate truth is really approachable only by faith [in the Tathāgata]. O Śāriputra, the ultimate Truth is a synonym of the mass of living beings (sattva-dhātu). The mass of living beings is, O Śāriputra, nothing but a synonym of the Matrix of the Tathāgata (tathāgatagarbha).

The Matrix of the Tathāgata is, Śāriputra, nothing but a synonym of the Absolute Body (dharmakāya).”

Thus is the fourth ‘ vajrapada ‘ and is to be understood according to the Anūnatvâpūrnatvanirdeśa—parivarta.

Ultimately we can discern from this passage that the “Matrix of the Tathāgatagarbha” is the all-encompassing Absolute Buddha-Body of Perfect Suchness, the Dharmakāya.

5) ‘Bodhi’: “O Lord, the Supreme Perfect Enlightenment (anuttarā samyaksambodhi) is a synonym of the Sphere of the Nirvana (nirvānadhātu**). The Sphere of the Nirvana is nothing but a synonym of the Absolute Body of the Tathāgata”.

Thus is the fifth Vajrapada which is to be understood according to the Ārya Śrīmālā-sūtra.

From Obermiller:

On account of this he who has attained Supreme Enlightenment can duly expound the Doctrine. (The Bodhisattva abiding) on the 10th Stage becomes consecrated as the successor to (the Buddha’s) religious kingdom and, immediately after, begins to perform the acts of the Buddha without effort and uninterruptedly. As a consequence, he who duly expounds the Doctrine has the illumined power of converting the circle of his disciples (who become members of the Congregation).

{Footnote: The 10th Stage is that of the Clouds of the Truth (dharma-megha). It is (called) so, because the rain of the Highest Truth descends upon the saints, and the Bodhisattvas are consecrated with the light of the Buddha…once again, another inference to the Lanka}

**the element of nirvana.

Once again we can discern how even though all these names are countless, they all share the self-same essence.

6) ‘Guna’: “0 Śāriputra, that which is called the Absolute Body, preached by the Tathāgata, is of indivisible nature, of qualities inseparable from the Wisdom, that is to say, [indivisible from or endowed] with the properties of the Buddha which far surpass the particles of sands of the Gangā in number”.

This is the sixth Vajrapada and is to be understood according to the Anūnatvâpūrnatvanirdeśa.

7) ‘Karman’: “0 Mañjuśri, the Tathāgata never imagines anything nor distinguishes falsely. That is to say, *his acts of this kind flow forth without any effort, without any imagination or any thought construction.”

This is the seventh Vajrapada which is to be understood according to the Tathāgatagunajñānâcintyavisayâvatāra—nirdeśa.

In short, these are the 7 Vajrapadas which should be known as the body of this whole text, in the sense of being a collection of preliminary explanations.

*Meaning that the transcendental acts of the Tathāgata are really action-less in terms of being beyond the quantifiable.

This entry was posted in The Ratnagotravibhāgaśāstra and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enter Captcha Here : *

Reload Image