John says: As threatened in my speech last week, I’m posting the following little list of very basic terms for which I’d really like to find a coherent set of English words to use in the context of the buddha-nature teachings. I have included a few common renderings and some random jottings, and would be most grateful for any suggestions (even negative ones) or other forms of input: clues, references, definitions, whatever. Thanks!

de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po (tathāgata-garbha)

  • buddha nature, tathāgata nature
  • buddha essence, tathāgata essence
  • tathāgata matrix

bde bar gshegs pa’i snying po (sugata-garbha)

  • buddha nature, sugata nature
  • buddha essence, sugata essence
  • (idem) matrix

The most basic terms, but there must be a difference between them. As Steve reported, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche mentioned that sugata-garbha is more from the cause aspect, tathāgata-garbha more from the result aspect.

[With that in mind, I have been indulging in some purely personal speculation that, in that they relate to the potential for (or obscured presence of) buddhahood in unenlightened sentient beings, sugata-garbha could correspond to the instinctive tendency of sentient creatures to seek happiness (however misguidedly), while tathāgata-garbha could correspond to their intrinsic affinity for truth or reality (however primitive or approximate) – or perhaps to their objective participation in reality (however unaware they may be of it subjectively).]

khams (dhātu)

  • constituent
  • element
  • disposition
  • potential

As many texts state, the term refers especially to buddha-nature in the ‘phase’ of sentient being.

rigs (gotra)

  • lineage
  • (spiritual) affinity
  • kind
  • potential
  • disposition
  • potency
  • heritage
  • spiritual gene

If only a single term in English is to be used, it has to mean an essential element that derives from, carries, and confers specificity; preferably, it also has to indicate something present in both cause and result; and its meaning has to be able to straddle not only the notion of seed or potential but also the notion of fully present fruit. Finally, it also has to allow for subdivision into rigs chad rigs, rang bzhin gnas pa’i rigs, yang dag blang ba’i / bsgrub pa’i rigs, and rgyas gyur rigs.

dbyings (dhātu or dharmadhātu)

  • (basic) space
  • (open) expanse
  • element, constituent

Buddha-nature especially in the more enlightened phases. When does it specifically stand for chos dbyings and when not?

9 Responses to “Those basic buddha-nature terms…”

  • Je vais noter tout ce que les Chinois disent, persistant ainsi dans ma théorie de “l’espace de la traduction”, espace de liberté de choix et espace de convention.
    In brief, and for a beginning :
    The Tathâgatagarbha is always rulaizang, meaning “treasure-house of the thus-come”.
    Khams = jie, meaning “sphere”, “zone”… Chu : “place”
    Rigs = zhong : 1. “lineage” & 2. “seed”
    dbYings = fajie — the “jie “(cf. sup.) of dharma(s)

    …/…

  • art:

    John:

    Here is a rough draft of a short passage from the first chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi that is devoted to the topic of gotra. The Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents are included at the end:

    Moreover, not only is that spiritual lineage called a “support”; it is also called a “basis,” a “cause,” an “object that is relied upon,” a “foundation,” a “[necessary] antecedent,” and a “resting place.” Just as [these synonyms can be used to refer to] the spiritual lineage, the same is true for the initial development of [enlightenment] mind and for all the entities that are conducive to enlightenment.

    What is [the Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage?

    In brief, [the Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage is of two types: that which exists naturally and that which has been developed.

    Regarding this, [the Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage that exists naturally is one that constitutes a quality of Bodhisattvas’ six [inner] bases. It has existed in that manner as an unbroken series since beginningless time and it is obtained through the natural order of things. The spiritual lineage that has been developed is one that is obtained through having previously cultivated virtue roots. In the present context, [the term “spiritual lineage”] is meant to apply to both of these forms. This spiritual lineage, moreover, is also called a “seed”; it is also a primary element that is a “fundamental nature.” Additionally, the form [of the spiritual lineage] that has not yet born fruit is subtle, by virtue of the absence of any fruit. The form that has born fruit is distinguishable, by virtue of the presence of that fruit.

    spiritual lineage: gotram, rigs
    support: S: ādharaḥ, T: gzhi
    basis: S: upastambhaḥ, T: rton pa
    cause: S: hetuḥ, T: rgyu
    object that is relied upon: S: niśrayaḥ, T: rten
    foundation: S: upaniṣad, T: nyer gnas. Literally, “that which sits near.”
    [necessary] antecedent: S: pūrvaṃgamaḥ, T: sngon du ’gro ba
    resting place: S: nilayaḥ, T: gnas. As in “an object to rest upon”

    that which exists naturally: S: prakṛtistham, T: rang bzhin gyis gnas pa
    that which has been developed: S: samudānītam, T: yang dag par bsgrubs pa

    seed: bījam, sa bon
    primary element: S: dhātuḥ, T: khams
    fundamental nature: S: prakṛtiḥ, T: rang bzhin

  • john:

    Art has very kindly sent me the opening passage of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi, enumerating several synonyms of rigs. I am posting it here, but as the footnotes did not convert I have inserted them within curly brackets:

    Obeisance to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

    Obeisance to Ārya Maitreya.

    CHAPTER ONE: SPIRITUAL LINEAGE

    Ten entities serve to encompass the Bodhisattvas’ Mahāyāna path along with its result. What are the ten? They are support, mark, pakṣa, superior attitude, vihāra, birth, parigraha, level, conduct, and pratiṣṭhā.

    A summary verse:

    Support, sign, side pakṣa (phyogs),
    Superior attitude, vihāra (gnas pa),
    Birth, assistance (parigraha, yongs su ’dzin pa), level,
    Conduct, and, lastly, steadfastness (pratiṣṭhā, rab gnas).

    SUPPORT

    What is the support ? {S: ādharaḥ, T: gzhi}

    In this case, (1) the Bodhisattva’s own [Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage, (2) the initial development of enlightenment mind, and (3) all the entities that are conducive to enlightenment * are called a “support.”

    *{S: bodhipakṣyā dharmāḥ, T: byang chub kyi phyogs kyi chos rnams. The adjectival term pakṣyaḥ is not easy to translate literally. It derives from the noun pakṣaḥ (T: phyogs), which has a range of meanings that include “wing” or “feather” of a bird, and “fin” of a fish; “flank,” or “side” of an object; “party” or “faction”; “partisan” or “adherent.” In this context, the noun and adjective forms of the term refer to qualities that are favorable to the attainment of enlightenment. The term bodhipakṣyā dharmāḥ is often associated with these thirty-seven forms of spiritual knowledge: (1) the four closely placed recollections; (2) the four correct exertions; (3) the four elements of spiritual accomplishment; (4) the five faculties; (5) the five strengths; (6) the seven limbs of enlightenment; and (7) the eight components of the noble path. BBVy (f. 3b) gives this description: “‘The entities that are conducive to enlightenment’ are all the spiritual qualities subsumed within the perfections of generosity and the rest. They should be understood as ‘conducive to enlightenment’ because they are favorable (S: anulomaḥ, T: rjes su mthun pa) to the attainment of enlightenment. In the world, that which is favorable to another thing is described as being [literally] “of its side” (S: tasya pakṣyaḥ, T: de’i phyogs).”}

    Why is that?

    In this context, through relying upon and remaining steadfast in the [Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage, the Bodhisattva has the capacity and can develop the strength to become enlightened in the state of unsurpassed true and complete enlightenment. Therefore, the [Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage is called a support by virtue of its endowing [a person] with the capacity [to attain supreme enlightenment].

    In this context, relying upon and remaining steadfast in the initial development of enlightenment mind, the Bodhisattva is fit to undertake generosity, and he [or she] is fit as well to undertake morality, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom. Put another way, he [or she] is fit to undertake the six perfections and all the entities that are conducive to enlightenment and that relate to the merit accumulation and the wisdom accumulation. Therefore, the initial development of enlightenment mind is called the support for a Bodhisattva to undertake the conduct [of the Mahāyāna path].

    In this context, through relying upon and remaining steadfast in that very undertaking of Bodhisattva conduct, the Bodhisattva will complete [the process that culminates in] unsurpassed true and complete enlightenment. Therefore, that undertaking of Bodhisattva conduct is called the support for attaining the fulfillment of unsurpassed enlightenment.

    Because the person who does not abide the [Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage lacks that spiritual lineage, he [or she] will not be capable of reaching fulfillment in true and complete enlightenment, even though he [or she] may generate [enlightenment] mind and seek to make effort [in the practice]. Therefore, in this manner, it should be understood that the [Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage is a support even for a Bodhisattva that has not yet developed [genuine enlightenment] mind and that has not yet undertaken the Bodhisattva conduct. Moreover, it should be understood that while someone who abides in the [Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage has the capacity to achieve enlightenment, if he [or she] neither generates [enlightenment] mind nor undertakes the conduct that leads to enlightenment, [that person] will not attain enlightenment quickly.

    However, one who is the opposite of that will attain [enlightenment] quickly.

    Moreover, not only is that spiritual lineage called a “support”; it is also called a “basis,” {S: upastambhaḥ, T: rton pa} a “cause,” an “object that is relied upon,” {S: niśrayaḥ, T: rten} a “foundation,” {S: upaniṣad, T: nyer gnas. Literally, “that which sits near”} a “[necessary] antecedent,” {S: pūrvaṃgamaḥ, T: sngon du ’gro ba, literally “that which goes before”} and a “resting place.” {S: nilayaḥ, T: gnas, as in a object to rest upon} Just as [these synonyms can be used to refer to] the spiritual lineage, the same is true for the initial development of [enlightenment] mind and for all the entities that are conducive to enlightenment. {The Skt. edition has “all Bodhisattva conduct” (S: sarvā bodhisattvacaryā); however, given the intial three forms of support identified at the beginning of this passage, it would seem that the Tibetan is correct.}

    What is [the Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage?

    In brief, [the Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage is of two types: that which exists naturally {S: prakṛtistham, T: rang bzhin gyis gnas pa} and that which has been developed. {S: samudānītam, T: yang dag par bsgrubs pa}
    Regarding this, [the Mahāyāna] spiritual lineage that exists naturally is one that constitutes a quality of Bodhisattvas’ six [inner] bases. {S: ṣaḍāyatanāni, T: skye mched drug. Buddhist Abhidharma literature formulates twelve “bases.” The six inner bases are those of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. In this school, the spiritual lineage is a quality associated with these six bases. The six outer bases are those of visible form, sound, smells, taste, tangible objects, and entities that are perceived by the mind faculty. The latter, known as the “entity basis,” is made up of the three of the five heaps—that is, those of feeling, conception, and the formations—as well as non-informative form, and unconditioned entities.}
    It has existed in that manner as an unbroken series since beginningless time and it is obtained through the natural order of things. The spiritual lineage that has been developed is one that is obtained through having previously cultivated virtue roots. In the present context, [the term “spiritual lineage”] is meant to apply to both of these forms. This spiritual lineage, moreover, is also called a “seed”; it is also a primary element {S: dhātuḥ, T: khams} that is a “fundamental nature.” {S: prakṛtiḥ, T: rang bzhin} Additionally, the form [of the spiritual lineage] that has not yet born fruit is subtle, by virtue of the absence of any fruit. The form that has born fruit is distinguishable, by virtue of the presence of that fruit.

  • john:

    Sorry, I caused some repetition — by myself posting Art’s very helpful extract after his own posting of the same material (because it hadn’t yet appeared). He has sent me another interesting summary of not-exactly “etymologies” of rigs from Vimuktisena’s commentary on the Abhisamaya-alaṃkāra. This time I’ll wait to see if it appears, and if not will post it here.

  • art:

    The following three “etymologies” (nges tshig) of gotra appear in Aryavimuktisena’s commentary to the Abhisamaya Alaṃkāra (pp. 77–77) in connection with Ch. 1, v. 40 (chos kyi dbyings la dbyer med phyir / rigs ni tha dad rung ma yin / brten pa’i chos kyi bye brag gis / de yi dbye ba yongs su brjod). The first one seems to be the one that the author prefers:

    S: niruktam tu guṇottāraṇārthena gotram / tasmād dhi te guṇāḥ rohanti prabhavantītyarthaḥ.

    T: nges pa’i tshig ni yon tan sgrol ba’i don gyis na rigs te / de las yon tan de dag skye zhing ‘bhyung ba zhes bya ba’i don to.

    Translation: “The literal interpretation (nges tshig) of the term ‘gotra’ is that which causes good qualities to come out. Thus [the term ‘gotra’] means: “from that, [all] the good qualities arise and come forth.”

    This is clearly not an etymology in the Western sense but rather a literary device that is meant to provide an interpretation of how the term should be understood. Haribhadra repeats this first explanation in his own commentary, but does not include the following two. The additional etymologies are presented as alternative views by Vimuktisena:

    (1) “‘Go’ means ‘earth’ (bhūḥ), and earth means ‘foundation’ (pratiṣṭhā). In this context, the term ‘earth’ (S: go) is figuratively applied to [all] beings in whom such a foundation is situated in the sense that it accompanies them. Therefore, gotra is that which causes those who possess that ‘earth’ (gosaṃgṛhītān, sas bsdus pa) to be saved (trāyate, skyob par byed) (i.e. gotra = gosaṃgṛhītān trāyate).

    Pratiṣṭhā can variously mean “resting-place,” “ground,” “foundation,” “support.” There are other senses of the word, but these seem to be the ones that apply here.

    (2) “Alternatively, ‘go’ means ‘region’ (diś, phyogs), and thus the term “go” is figuratively applied to beings who reside in regions. Therefore, gotra means that which causes beings who reside in regions (gās, acc. pl. of go) to be saved (trāyate, skyob par byed). (i.e. gotra = gās trāyate).

  • Sugatagarbha and Tathagatagarbha
    Looking in my notes, I would confirm what Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche said to Anne: that bde bar gshegs pa’i snying po is related to gzhi (rather than cause, as I perhaps mentioned in Boulder), and de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po is related to ‘bras.

  • Further thoughts on rigs/gotra
    I toyed with “type” for rigs in Chapter 4 of the mdo sde rgyan, trying to find a word that implies both the gene and its expression, the seed and the tree, the atomic or molecular structure of silver (or perhaps its position in the periodic table) and the metal itself; but it didn’t work.
    Art’s translation of rigs by “lineage” seems to be an attempt to imply the “-ty” in “royalty,” the implication that a person is born royal and will always be royal, or that someone has what it takes to be royal, the “stuff” of being a prince or king, prince or princess. But for many readers I feel the connotation of lineage as a succession or series could be too distracting for them to get the true sense of the word.
    The word that perhaps best implies what is meant by rigs, and which would hold for both the Sutralamkara/Bodhisattvabhumi and Uttaratantra interpretations, is “caste,” which Indians, with their ingrained notion of caste, would have no difficulty in understanding. Sutralamkara presents the different castes from Shravaka to Bodhisattva, indeterminate-caste, and outcaste. Uttaratantra presents the good news that everyone is Buddha-caste. But we clearly cannot use this term in the West, nor does it fit syntactically. Also for some people, quite apart from being unsavoury and smacking of class prejudice, it might imply more the result aspect (as does “family”) than the seed or potential. Is there a less unacceptable equivalent?
    Meanwhile, following the Chittamatra sense described in the mdo sde rgyan, and until someone comes up with a better term, I am provisionally sticking to “potential.”

  • art:

    John:

    I just realized that the nges tshig for gotra that Vimuktisena presents in his commentary to the Abhisamaya Alamkara is in fact the one that appears in verse 4 of the gotra chapter in the Mahayana Sutra Alamkara.

    T: yon tan ni / sgrol ba’i don du shes par bya /

    S: veditavyaṃ guṇottāraṇatārthataḥ /

    Vasubandhu also provides a gloss in his commentary to this verse. The Tibetan translation doesn’t capture the tā ending of the Sanskrit guṇottāraṇatā that is usually rendered “nyid.” For example, the tā in śūnyatā that makes it stong pa nyid. This would make the verse read something like: “[gotra] should be understood to mean the condition that causes good qualities to emerge.”

  • Thanks, Art. That passage from Vimuktisena certainly looked familiar! And it gives a clearer explanation of the use of sgrol in this nges tshig than does Mipham’s commentary.

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