The Three Svabhāvas of the Tathagata-garbha

The Tathagata-garbha is three-fold in nature (Svabhāva): Dharma-kāya, Tathatā and Tathāgata-gotra. They are seen in correspondence with the nine sheathes reinforced with a purity aspect. Firstly, though, we would be remiss if neglecting to indicate the Concordance between the 9 Illustrations and the 9 Defilements. Obermiller succinctly indicates them as follows:

The water-born lotus flower
At the first appearance causes delight,
But later on (when it withers) it no more excites joy,
Similar to it is the delight of sensual passion.

Just as the bees,
Being disturbed, sting painfully,
In a like way hatred, being aroused,
Produces suffering of the heart.

As the kernel of a fruit and the like
Is concealed by the outward peal,
In a like way the perception of the Truth which is essential
Is hindered by the covering of ignorance.

Just as impurities are something repulsive,
In a like way with those that are possessed of desire,
The outburst of their passions, being the cause
For giving way to the desires, is abhorrent like impurities.

As riches, being hidden in the ground,
Are not known of and cannot be obtained,
Similarly, in the living beings, the self-sprung (essence)
Is obscured by the elementary force of illusion.

As a sprout and the like, growing gradually,
Rend asunder the peal of the seed,
In the same way, the perception of the Truth
Removes all those forms of defilement
That are to be extirpated by direct intuition.

The Obscurations which are to be removed
By the Wisdom on the Path of Concentrated Trance
Of those who, acting on the Path of a Saint,
Have done away with the views of a real personality,—
Are shown as resembling a tattered garment.

The stains relating to the first 7 Stages
Are like the impurities in the interior of a womb,
And the non-dialectical wisdom resembles the mature form
Delivered from the coverings of the womb.

The stains connected with the last 3 Stages
Are known as being like the covering of muddy ground.
They are to be suppressed by the concentrated trance
Called “the diamond-cutter” which is of most sublime nature.

Thus the 9 forms of defilement, passion and the rest
Have a resemblance with a lotus flower and the other forms.
And the Essence of the Buddha, which of is threefold nature,
Bears a similarity with the Buddha, &c.

  1. Dharma-kāya:

The first three illustrations, Buddha, honey and kernel of grain, represent the Tathagatagarbha in its identification with the Dharmakaya. This Dharmakaya itself is represented by two levels—the Absolute and the Empirical.


The Absolute Body is to be known in 2 aspects,
[One] is the Absolute Entity which is perfectly immaculate,
[The other] is its natural outflow, the teaching
Of the profound [truth] and of the diverse guidance.

Thus, Absolute Dharmakāya is the Immaculate Dharmadhātu and its function is known as:

{Takasaki} the natural outflow of the perfectly pure Absolute Entity (dharmadhātu—nisyanda) as the cause for its attainment, which produces the communication among other living beings according to their faculties in discipline. And this is to be known in the reference to the Truth as the doctrine to be taught (deśanā—dharma).

Dharmakaya Buddha is unfathomable in the sense of an ordinary construction, hence It is represented by the Buddha in the faded-lotus.

Relative (Empirical) Dharmakaya is conventional and hence is represented by the ordinary taste of honey.

The third example of the grains in the husk depicts the great variety of the teachings.

  1. The Tathāta:

The fourth instance of gold fallen into filth indicates the unalterable Absolute or Tathāta. Recollect that the Absolute Substance is never alterable by any form of defiled garbha—likened unto the illustration as gold submerged in impurities.


Being unchangeable, by nature,
Sublime, and perfectly pure,
Reality is illustrated
By the analogy with a piece of gold.

Therefore, it is called ‘Reality’ in the sense of being unchangeable like excellent gold. This very Mind gets also the appellation of the Tathāgata, whenever it perfects the purification from all accidental pollutions even in the case of those living beings who are ranked among the groups in the definitely wrong way, since all of them are not different by nature. Thus, with reference to the sense that Reality is the undifferentiated whole, it is explained by the one example of gold, that the Tathāgata, being Reality, is [identical with] the Matrix (i.e. the inner essence) of these living beings.

  1. Tathāgata-gotra:

The last five examples—treasure, tree, precious statute, the Noble-Being in the Womb, golden statue, reveal the Svabhāva of the Tathagata-garbha AS GOTRA—the Germ [of the Buddha] in all sentitalia. It Is the auspicious nature of the Substance harboring and later implanting the inner-seed of Tathagatahood.


Therefore, these 5 remaining examples,—of a treasure, a tree, a precious image, the universal monarch, and the golden statue, refer to the source that gives rise to the 3 Bodies of the Buddha, as it exists (in all living beings). They illustrate the fact that (from this point of view likewise) the element [gotra—inclusion mine] of Buddhahood is the fundamental element of all the living beings. Now, Buddhahood manifests itself in the 3 Bodies of the Buddha. Therefore, the source of Buddhahood in its 2 forms is the cause for the attainment (of these 3 Bodies). The word dhātu (element or essence) has here accordingly the special meaning of “a cause.” It is accordingly said:—In every living being there exists the Essence of the Buddha as the element owing to which (the properties of the Buddha) are attained, but the living beings do not know about it.

***The concluding section of Chapter One, entitled THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MATRIX OF THE TATHAGATA, teaches that the Ultimate of Teachings (Uttara-tantra) is to eradicate the five kinds of hindrances (pañca-doṣa-prahāṇāya) in all sentitalia, that prevent them from Realizing their union with the Tathagata-garbha. The five kinds of hindrances are as follows:

  1. Self-Depreciation: the first doṣa (defect) is having a form of faint-heartedness—thinking, imagining, and believing that one is incapable of reaching Buddhahood.
  2. Self-Pride, Superiority: the opposite of the first doṣa in that one is too over-confident about one’s capabilities, feeling superior to and looking down upon others.
  3. Is not cognizant of the UN-real: one who perceives the false to be true and the true to be false. Indeed, such incognizance of the True Nature of ALL beings as Tathagata-garbha.
  4. Rejection of the Real: Yea, this is the most serious doṣa. One somehow denies the True Import of the Living Gotra in all sentitalia, including themselves. They are the great Nay-Sayers, the heralds of adharma and nihilism.
  5. Inability to obtain benevolence “by which One regards [other] living beings as equal to oneself.” (Takasaki) Here, once again, an inability to recognize that ALL beings have Tathagata-garbha as their Essence.

The five remedies to the above as stated in the text are confidence (in the Buddhadharma), respect for others, proper Buddha-gnosis (not to confuse the real with the unreal), proper prajñā (to know the Real AS Real), and Karuna—proper compassion for others. Yea, with these five in-tow, one is better-able to Realize the Tathagata-garbha and Its Blessed Bodhi-Seed, empowering one towards Tathagatahood.

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