The Top-Ten Qualities of the Ratnagotra

We have arrived at the core-teaching of the Ratna: all sentient beings are endowed with the Buddhagarbha, or the transcendent seed (gotra) of Bodhi. It is taught as Vajra-point four–the Dhātu, or the essence of the Buddha-Element—Tathagata-garbha. As essence, the Dhātu as the inner-most nature is still best serviced by the Gotra, or the [Germ] bodhi-seed enlivening one with the spirit of Bodhi. Obermiller’s translation of the forthcoming is “And the Germ of Buddhahood exists in every living being. Therefore, forever and anon, all that lives is endowed with the Essence of the Buddha.”


(Kārikā 5)

The multitudes of living beings are included
in the Buddha’s Wisdom,
Their immaculateness is non-dual by nature,
Its result manifests itself on the Germ of the Buddha;
Therefore, it is said: all living beings
are possessed of the Matrix of the Buddha.

[What is shown by this śloka?]

The Buddha’s Body penetrates everywhere,
Reality is of undifferentiated nature,
And the Germ [of the Buddha] exists [in the living beings].
Therefore, all living beings are
always possessed of the Matrix of the Buddha.

The Dharmakaya of the Buddha-body (Buddhakaya) permeates everywhere (Tathagatahood). In its Perfect-Suchness (Tathata) It is one Undivided-Whole.

There are three reasons for buddha nature being present in all beings. First, the dharmakaya of the Buddha pervades all phenomena and can give rise to any phenomena so it is present everywhere. Second, the suchness or the actual nature of nirvana and samsaric phenomena is undifferentiated so there’s no “good suchness” which relates to nirvana and no “bad suchness” which relates to samsara. There is only one suchness of all phenomena. Third, all beings possess the foundation for buddha nature and when purified it can develop into full Buddhahood. (A Commentary on The Uttara Tantra Sastra of Asaṅga, The Venerable Khenchen Thrangu, Rinpoche Abbot of Rumtek Monastery, translated by Ken and Katia Holmes)

We next come to those “top-ten” qualities of the Ratnagotra. The second blog of this series, Gotra: the Transformative Principle, gives a fine overview of these ten qualities considering the Ratnagotra as Transforming Principle. It remains the most concise treatment of the Principle for this series. For the remainder of this blog we shall consider them more extensively in depth.



The own nature and the cause,
The result, function, union and manifestation,
Various states and all-pervadingness,
The qualities always unchangeable and non-differentiation;
In these [points of view], there should be known
The implication of the Absolute Essence.

In short, with reference to these 10 meanings, there should be understood the various aspects of the Essence of the Tathāgata, which is the sphere of the highest true knowledge. What are the 10 meanings? They are namely : 1) the own nature (svabhāva) [of the Germ]; 2) the cause (hetu); 3) the result (phala) [of its purification]; 4) the function (karman) [towards the purification]; 5) the union (yoga) [of the Germ]; 6) the manifestation (vṛtti) [of the Germ]; 7) the various states (avasthāprabheda) [of its manifestation]; 8) all-pervadingness (sarvatraga) [of the Germ]; 9) unchangeability (avikāra) [of the Germ through various states]; and 10) non-differentiation (abheda) [of the Germ with the Reality].

  1. Nature (svabhāva):

In Sanskrit, “self-nature,” “intrinsic existence,” or “inherent existence”; in the LAṄKĀVATĀRASŪTRA, seven forms of svabhāva or natures are enumerated to account for the functioning of phenomena: (1) samudayasvabhāva (C. jixing zixing), the nature of things that derives from the interaction between various conditions; (2) bhāvasvabhāva (C. xing zixing), the nature that is intrinsic to things themselves; (3) lakṣaṇasvabhāva (C. xiangxing zixing), the characteristics or marks (LAKṢAṆA) that distinguish one thing from another; (4) mahābhūtasvabhāva (C. dazhongxing zixing), the nature of things that derives from being constituted by the four physical elements (MAHĀBHŪTA); (5) hetusvabhāva (C. yinxing zixing), the nature of things that is derived from the “proximate causes” (HETU) that are necessary for their production; (6) pratyayasvabhāva (C. yuanxing zixing), the nature derived from the “facilitating conditions” (PRATYAYA); (7) niṣpattisvabhāva (C. chengxing zixing), the consummate, actualized buddha-nature that is the fundamental reality of things.

[Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 66390-66398). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.]

In the text the gotra is likened unto three similes: jewel, sky, and water. Like a jewel, it has the adamantine power to dispel poverty of spirit. Compared to the sky, It is limitless and all expansive—boundless. Like water, it is free-flowing and has the quality of “moistness”, such as the compassionate spirit of the Tathagata.

  1. Cause (Hetu):

In Sanskrit and Pāli, “cause.” In one of the first accounts of the Buddha’s teachings, he was said to have “set forth the causes of things that have causes and also set forth their cessation.” The process of causality is provisionally divided between hetu and PRATYAYA, “causes and conditions”: hetu designates the main or primary cause of production, which operates in conjunction with pratyaya, the concomitant conditions or secondary, supporting causes; these two together produce a specific “fruition” or result (PHALA): thus, the fruition of a tree is the result of a primary cause (hetu), its seed; supported by such subsidiary conditions as soil, sunlight, and water; and only when all the relevant causes and conditions in their totality are functioning cooperatively will the prospective fruition or effect occur.

[Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 26696-26703). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.]

In the text this causal aspect of the gotra concerns four obstacles to the Tathatic-Path. Firstly, are those who have a disfavorable regard towards the Dharma. Secondly, the embrace of the skandhic-self. Thirdly, an inordinate fear of samsara—thus perpetually enslaving themselves to the wheel of rebecoming.  Fourthly, an unwillingness to embrace the Bodhisattvic-call to Universal Compassion (karuna). Through deep-samadhi the gotra empowers one to overcome these obstacles, thus becoming heirs to the Buddhadharma.

  1. Result and fruition—a simultaneous realization (phala):

In Sanskrit and Pāli, lit. “fruition,” and thus “effect” or “result”; the term has three principal denotations. First, in discussions of causation, phala refers to the physical or mental “effect” produced by a cause (HETU), such as a sprout produced from a seed, or a moment of sensory consciousness (VIJÑĀNA) produced through the contact (SPARŚA) between a sense base (INDRIYA) and a sense object (ĀYATANA; ĀLAMBANA). Second, in discussions of the path (MĀRGA), phala refers to the fruition of the four supramundane paths (ĀRYAMĀRGA), i.e., stream-enterer (SROTAĀPANNA), once-returner (SAKṚDĀGĀMIN), nonreturner (ANĀGĀMIN), and worthy one (ARHAT).

The term phala is also used as one of the epithets of Buddhist TANTRA, which is called the PHALAYĀNA or “fruition vehicle” because it incorporates the fruition of buddhahood into the practice of the path.

[Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 48402-48404). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.]

In the text, the gotra as fruition occurs when Buddha-nature has completely manifested itself. In Lankavatarian Unborn Mind Tathagata-Zen, the seed (gotra) has begun to ripen into the Bodhichild. Both result and fruition are combined since they lead to the ultimate function of the next quality. The results of the purification of the Tathagata-garbha are the four guṇa-pāramitās.


In Sanskrit, “the perfection of qualities,” referring to the four salutary qualities of the TATHĀGATAGARBHA: permanence, purity, bliss, and self, as described in the ŚRĪMĀLĀDEVĪSIṂHANĀDASŪTRA. These qualities are in distinction to the four perverted views (VIPARYĀSA), where ignorant sentient beings regard the conditioned realm of SAṂSĀRA as being permanent, pure, blissful, and self when in fact it is impermanent (ANITYA), impure (aśubha), suffering (DUḤKHA), and not-self (ANĀTMAN). More specifically, according to the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākyā, sentient beings assume that all the conditioned phenomena they experience are permanent and real: they consider their own bodies to be pure, regard their five aggregates (SKANDHA) as having a perduring self (ĀTMAN), falsely imagine permanence in the transitory, and mistakenly regard saṃsāra as a source of real happiness. In order to counter these attachments, the Buddha therefore taught that saṃsāra is impermanent, impure, suffering, and not-self. However, the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākyā says it would be wrong to assume that these four qualities also apply to the tathāgatagarbha or the DHARMAKĀYA; the Buddha teaches that it is endowed with the four guṇapāramitā, or perfect qualities, of permanence, purity, bliss, and self. The FOXING LUN (“Buddha-Nature Treatise”) additionally presents the guṇapāramitā as resulting from the perfection of four soteriological practices, e.g., bliss refers to the condition of being free from suffering, which is experienced through cultivating a SAMĀDHI that overcomes wrong conceptions of emptiness (ŚŪNYATĀ); permanence indicates the endless variety of acts that bodhisattvas cultivate on the path of great compassion (MAHĀKARUṆĀ), etc. This positive valorization of the qualities of the tathāgatagarbha serves to counteract any mistaken tendency toward nihilism that might be prompted by the apophatic language used within the PRAJÑĀPĀRAMITĀ literature or the MADHYAMAKA school.

[Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 25951-25960). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.]

  1. Function (Karman):

Sanskrit, “action”; in its inflected form “karma,” it is now accepted as an English word; a term used to refer to the doctrine of action and its corresponding “ripening” or “fruition” (VIPĀKA), according to which virtuous deeds of body, speech, and mind produce happiness in the future (in this life or subsequent lives), while non-virtuous deeds lead instead to suffering. The fruition of action is also received by the mental continuum (CITTASAṂTĀNA) of the being who initially performed the action, not by another; thus, in mainstream Buddhism, one can neither receive the fruition of another’s karman nor redeem another’s actions.

[Buswell Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 31922-31925). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.]

This vital function of the Gotra is to create aversion to samsara and aspiration for the Nirvanic-Mind.

  1. Union (Yoga) of the Germ:

Yoga—herein it is referenced as “to Yoke”. The lower-self of the constricted (body) consciousness needs to be subjugated (yoked) [by the yogin] in order for the Higher-Self (Mind) to Recollect Its full staturehood—fruition. This fifth characterization of the Gotra is the UNION of the Tathagata-garbha with the result or fruition as aforementioned above.

The self-unfoldment of the samalā Tathata (Tathagatagarbha) to the nirmalā Tathata (Dharmak-kaya) is decisively stated under the category of yoga.

The self-unfoldment of the samalā Tathata to be purified and with the fruition, the purified nirmalā Tathata.

(C.D. Sebastian in his Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism: An Analytical Study of the Ratnagotravibhagomahayanottaratantra-sastram)

  1. The manifestation (vṛtti) [of the Germ:

vṛtti=[fluctuations] self-manifestation of the Mind.

Patañjali: Pluralized Outflows (vrtti, fluctuations)—all the mental agitations (daily samsaric-injections); Mind mistakes Itself for this incessant mind turbulence. It feels and identifies Itself AS the turbulence.

[Vṛtti is a manifestation of the mind. It is variously translated as “fluctuation” (Woods 1914/1988; Feuerstein 1979), “modification” (Taimni 1961) “function” (Jha 1907), “behavior” (Krishnamacharya 1976), “transformation” (Dvivedi 1890/1992)…

In Sāṃkhya-Yoga, the perceptual process is one in which the mind assumes the form of the object of perception. It involves a kind of metamorphosis of the mind. Vṛtti is the result. Therefore, vṛtti may be considered a manifestation of the mind.

However, when the mind is devoid of content and the buddhi does not manifest in the form of vṛttis, then it has access to pure awareness or consciousness-as-such. It is the state where the person abides in oneself as puruṣa and manifests self-illuminating consciousness. (K. Ramakrishna Rao, Foundations of Yoga Psychology, pgs. 9-11]

[The perceiver-of-suchness taught
the buddha-nature (jinagarbha) to sentient beings,
based on the different manifestations of suchness
of ordinary beings, noble ones, and perfect buddhas. (I.45)

What are the three manifestations?

The manifestation by:

1) Ordinary beings with perception and wrong views

2) Noble ones [on the path of] learning who, having seen the truth, turned away from being mistaken, and [no longer] have mistaken views; and

3) Tathāgatas, who, having abandoned the two types of obscurations together with their imprints, see things as they really are, without mistake and free from [conceptual] elaborations.

The first two do not participate in the dharmakāya, while the latter do not participate in the gotra. Therefore natural suchness manifests [in all three]. (Rong-ston on Buddha-Nature: A Commentary on the Fourth Chapter of the Ratnagotravibhāga, Christian Bernert, Magister der Philosophie)]

  1. The various states (avasthāprabheda):

Meaning the various states involved in the phases of Buddha-nature. Firstly, the impure state represents ordinary beings, the pṛthagjana, in which the dormant gotra is obscured through a vast sea of emotional and cognitive obstructions; secondly, the mixed state—partly pure and impure—rounding out the development of a Bodhisattva; and the stage THAT is perfect-purity of the Buddhas.

  1. All-pervasiveness (sarvatraga) of the germ:

Meaning the all-pervasiveness of the gotra wherein It embraces everything with nothing left out. “The clarity is given the name ‘immaculate space.’ Immaculate space is the name for Buddhahood and is all-pervasive in all beings.”–Rong-ston on Buddha-Nature

  1. Unchangeability (avikāra) [of the Germ through various states]:

अविकार, adj. avikāra · unchangeable. अविकार, adj. avikāra · immutable.

The Immaculate Gotra (potential-seed of Bodhi) is never altered [in-itself] and only becomes so due to coverings of adventitious defilements. Hence, the [essence] of Buddha-nature remains the same during its embryonic stages and after Buddhahood.

This clear and luminous nature of mind
is as changeless as space. It is not afflicted
by desire and so on, the adventitious stains,
which are sprung from incorrect thoughts.

The nature of space is not changed through clouds, smoke, and so on. In the same way, the tathagatagarbha, the clear and luminous nature of the minds of all beings, is changeless. It is not in the slightest altered by the fact that the veils are purified or unpurified, and so on.

There are adventitious defilements consisting of the affliction of birth, the affliction of karma, and the affliction of the mental poisons such as desire, hatred, mental blindness, and so on, all of which are sprung from improper conceptual activity, from incorrect thoughts that conceive in a way not corresponding to reality. The true state is changeless since it is by nature utterly pure and will constantly remain unafflicted by these adventitious defilements, which are able to be removed. (From The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, by Arya Maitreya, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs)

  1. Non-differentiation (abheda) [of the Germ with the Reality]:

Meaning the non-existence of difference.


The Essence of the Tathāgata characterized as having reached the ultimate point of perfect purification in this pure state is of undifferentiated (asambheda) nature. With reference to this meaning of undifferentiation we have one śloka.

(Kārikā 26)

It is the Absolute Body, it is the Tathāgata,
Also it is the Holy Truth, the Highest Nirvana;
Therefore, being indivisible from qualities like the sun with its rays,
There is no Nirvana, apart from the Buddhahood.

Discriminative or analytical wisdom, primordial wisdom, and complete liberation are inseparable from the four qualities [dharmakaya, tathagata, noble truth, and nirvana]. In their given sequence they illuminate, radiate, and purify, and these three [aspects] are not separate from each other. For these reasons they have properties corresponding to those of the sun: to the clarity of its light, the radiation of its rays, the purity of its orb, and to the fact that these three are not separate from each other. (From The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, by Arya Maitreya, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs)

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