Last year, Thusness wrote in a discussion with a follower of early Buddhism who doesn't identify with Theravada,

"The key issue about authenticity is centered on the idea of whether authenticity is based on the 'words of Buddha' or the 'teaching of Buddha'. All the four tenet systems have claimed their authenticity and each generation based on their experience, studies and realizations attempt to integrate these four tenets. If (authenticity is) strictly based on the 'words of the Buddha' then Mahayana isn't by definition Buddhism, of course.

...Yes Nixon, Vajrayana has their culture incorporated into Buddhism. But when we talk about Mahayana teaching, I think the cultural aspect has to be put aside. Rather, we should look at Mahayana as a development based on the 'teaching'. It is a development over time about what exactly is the right understanding of the 'teaching'.

...Many are linked to political systems and which sect is in power and their 'closeness' to the ruler, so we also cannot assume popularity as authentic either.

...We have stripped out those magical elements and fantasies when talking about the teachings as well. Many are simply metaphorical. Great teachings often blend themselves into cultures and teachers often used their cultural background settings as a base to explain and make people understand the deeper 'meaning' of certain ideas. Now, we must also understand that 'logic' is not the only way of understanding. Some insights are triggered not with rational induction or deduction theory. So a development of a great teaching to allow someone to understand something deep requires us to have multifaceted discipline and instrument.

We are not just a rational being. We dream and fantasize.. to understand our nature, our suffering, our way of understanding, we got to know ourselves too. When attempting to know what Buddhism has developed into a particular trend, these are all needed. However for deciding whether what is authentic, these are not needed."

Thusness then discussed the Tathagatagarbha teachings:

"Tathagatagarbha is a potentiality, the idea that everyone has the capacity to actualize oneself to Buddhahood. Invented as part of a reaction towards the strong movement of Hindu culture. Hinduism is basically based on Brahman and Atman - the eternal Self, and Buddhism's anatta is a direct contradiction against that. It is for this reason that Mahayana developed. In all the four tenets, the middle way, the yogacara, the sutra school and Vaibhashika, all are based on the fundamental understand of the three universal characteristics.

That said, in every system, there is surely some of those hiccups that deviate from the definitive view. Even in Theravada, we see the Thai Forest traditions promoting Poo Roo - The One Who Knows, as ultimate. Many foreigners in the West that are less informed can mistaken that to represent the teaching of the Buddha too. There are those who go even further to say that Anatta implies 'not self' as the five aggregates are 'not self' and the essence of the teaching of anatta is to find the True Self, quoting instead the Kevatta Sutta on the luminous mind and consciousness without features.

Buddha Nature is thus not a problem peculiar to Mahayana, in all traditions we see this.

To me, I'm a non-sectarian, so I am quite free not having prejudice for/against Theravada, Mahayana or Vajrayana. We get our experience and teaching to release, as well as to relief ourselves from our suffering from a great teaching.

To come to our understanding of what is the fundamental cause of our suffering, and the core teaching of Selflessness is not that straight forward. We experiment and test our paradigm to see if it works. It is a life experience and journey.

In my experience and journey, there is essential two paths. First is taking and seeking comfort in the ultimate and carrying it throughout, and the other, is looking into the fundamental core of suffering and understanding its nature. So there are basically these two - one relies on the essentialist practice that they need to have an ultimate, and the other says no... there is no need to, you just have to understand the nature of suffering. Therefore when we clearly see this, we realize that Buddhism is based on the latter, and the whole development of Theravada and Mahayana is based on such a system. Otherwise there is no difference from other (religions). As such it depends on an individual path and which core system one believes in.

For me, the essence view has in a certain sense proven to not be the way and I greatly appreciate the Buddha's path. To state otherwise would mean that Buddhism is using the view of an essence to solve suffering, which isn't true for me."

"I just appreciate Buddhism as a beautiful teaching and Buddha as my teacher, as a student doing something for a teacher... nothing more than that. I seldom participate in discussion as I am not a scholar and cannot contribute much."

"It's not in my nature to seek Buddhism. I have a strong Taoist background and passion for Hinduism when I was young. So philosophically and culturally, essencelessness is not a view that suits me. But it takes painful experiences to come to a willingness to let go, to see the truth of impermanence and anatta. To challenge and come to an understanding that you don't actually have to do this and that.... (or have an) ultimate here and there to release. But rather to truly accept and look deeply into impermanence, then you will let go and we can come to a new understanding of the relationship of suffering and the truth of suffering having to do with a fundamental paradigm we hold so dearly.

..Your mindset and experience can change, so is your understanding, and you just begin a new path with new understanding. Impermanence from personal, micro and macro view. You see when you see impermanence and use it as a door in practice, your view changes also, from Vipassana observing the minutest sensations in our bodily sensations to appreciating a view in current quantum physics, macro view, to observe events. So our idea changes and we adopt such understanding in our life over time. Sometimes it really depends and it needs the right condition and situation to trigger it, just like the case of financial crisis."


[24/3/19, 11:17:05 PM] John Tan: From the perspective of clarity, it is true that Buddhism anatta and emptiness is more profound and deep… lol. But still good to caution about respecting all religions and practice. Why empty clarity is only pointed out in buddhism. So although it is true about all points to pure consciousness, it is realizing the emptiness that is the prajna eye to allow us to clearly see the empty nature of clarity. Otherwise we will most likely land in alaya or [be] required to still in deep stillness of samadhi.”
Someone wrote:

"Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra is one of the most famous text of Mahāyāna Buddhism devoted to the positive affirmation of the eternal Self (or True Self) as opposed to impermanent nonself.

Buddha gives the following characteristics to the notion of Self:
“The Self (ātman) is reality (tattva),
the Self is permanent (nitya),

the Self is virtue (guna),
the Self is eternal (śāśvatā),
the Self is stable (dhruva),
the Self is peace (siva)”"

I replied:

Did the historical Buddha teach the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra? Certainly not. It developed several hundred years after the first suttas appeared. But Buddhism as a whole is clearly an evolutionary/evolving thing, in the same way as everything in the world - biology, religion, worldviews, politics, economy, art, culture, you name it, it has grown and evolved over time. Something that is alive and living is evolving and growing and progressing, otherwise it's dead. From the Pali suttas, to the Abdhidharma, to Mahayana - Tathagatagarbha, Prajnaparamita, Yogacara, Madhyamika, etc... from Theravada, to Mahayana, to Vajrayana, (and even within Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana, there were many evolutionary offshoots) etc.

Mahaparinirvana Sutra should be seen in that light. It arose as an evolutionary reaction to the environment, the times. In particular as a reaction to the growing influence of Hinduism. But something evolutionary would by definition include its preceding doctrines, but 'transcend' it by adding 'new features' or a 'new presentation' of it. However, it cannot be something that fundamentally contradicts the preceding teachings by completely replacing it with something else (then that would not be 'transcend and include'), such as replacing the non-substantialist Prajnaparamita tenets with a diametrically contradicting tenet such as a substantialist/essentialist or Vedantic vision of reality.

So we cannot understand Tathagatagarbha Sutra without first understanding the fundamental teachings of Prajnaparamita, Abhidharma, and Pali Suttas, since the evolutionary edge always includes but transcends its predecessors.

And we know this from the Mahayana sutras that dealt with the Tathagatagarbha doctrines. We know that Nirvana Sutra "transcends and includes" its preceding doctrines.

Nirvana Sutra: "If selflessness is demonstrated, the immature grasp to the explanation thinking there is no self. The intelligent on the other hand think "The [self] exists conventionally, there is no doubt."

-- The conventional nature of self is taught even in the Pali Suttas, such as Vajira Sutta.

Nirvana Sutra: "One must know that the teaching of the Buddha is "this is the middle way." The Bhagavān Buddha teaches the path as the middle way that is free from the extremes of permanence and annihilation. Some fools however, confused about the Buddha's teaching, like those with weak digestive heat who consume butter, quickly come to have views about the two extremes. Though existence is not established, also nonexistence is not established."

Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:

This passage merely indicates that sometimes Buddha taught there is no self, other times he taught there was a self, as an antidote to different extremes. It is not the case however that this passage is claiming there is an actual self that is real, permanent, and so on. The Nirvana sutra states, as mentioned before:

When it is explained that the tathāgatgarbha is empty, the immature cultivate an incorrect fear; the intelligent know permanence, stability and immutability to be illusory.

Also the idea that tathāgatagarbha is full-fledged buddhahood is contradicted by this passage:

The seed existing in oneself that turns into buddhahood is called "tathāgatgarbha," the buddhahood which one will obtain.


When the Tathāgata explains to the bhikṣus and bhikṣunis that his body is afflicted with a limitless great illness, at that time it should be understood that absence of self is being explained, and one should cultivate the meditation of selflessness. When the Tathāgata explains liberation is signless, empty and nothing at all, at that time one should understand the explanation that liberation is free from the 25 existences, and therefore it is called emptiness. Why?, since there is no suffering, there isn't any suffering at all, it is supreme bliss and signless. Why?, since that [suffering] is not permanent, not stable and not immutable, and because the nature of peace is not nonexistent, therefore, liberation is permanent, stable, immutable and peaceful, that is the Tathāgata. When the Tathāgata explains that the tathāgatagarbha exists sentient beings, at that time, one must correctly cultivate the meditation of permanence.

So really, it is not necessary reify liberation as a self, though some people may find it temporarily useful. But in the above statement there is no reason to reify an entity. Being free from the 25 or three realms does not mean that there is some entity outside of or apart from the three realms. A self either a) exists in the three realms, b) or it does not exist at all, or c) is just a philosophical abstraction used to describe the permanence of liberation when it is attained, and the permanent potential one has to be liberated.

Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:

Here, the Nirvana sutra clearly and precisely states that buddha-svabhaava, the "nature of a Buddha" refers not to an actual nature but a potential. Why, it continues:

"Child of the lineage, I have said that ‘curd exists in milk’, because curd is produced from milk, it is called ‘curd’.

Child of lineage, at the time of milk, there is no curd, also there is no butter, ghee or ma.n.da, because the curd arises from milk with the conditions of heat, impurities, etc., milk is said to have the ‘curd-nature’."

So one must be quite careful not to make an error. The Lanka states unequivocably that the tathagatagarbha doctrine is merely a device to lead those who grasp at a true self the inner meaning of the Dharma, non-arising, the two selflessnesses and so on, and explains the meaning of the literal examples some people constantly err about:

"Similarly, that tathaagatagarbha taught in the suutras spoken by the Bhagavan, since the completely pure luminous clear nature is completely pure from the beginning, possessing the thirty two marks, the Bhagavan said it exists inside of the bodies of sentient beings.

When the Bhagavan described that– like an extremely valuable jewel thoroughly wrapped in a soiled cloth, is thoroughly wrapped by cloth of the aggregates, aayatanas and elements, becoming impure by the conceptuality of the thorough conceptuality suppressed by the passion, anger and ignorance – as permanent, stable and eternal, how is the Bhagavan’s teaching this as the tathaagatagarbha is not similar with as the assertion of self of the non-Buddhists?

Bhagavan, the non-Buddhists make assertion a Self as “A permanent creator, without qualities, pervasive and imperishable”.

The Bhagavan replied:

“Mahaamati, my teaching of tathaagatagarbha is not equivalent with the assertion of the Self of the non-Buddhists.

Mahaamati, the Tathaagata, Arhat, Samyak Sambuddhas, having demonstrated the meaning of the words "emptiness, reality limit, nirvana, non-arisen, signless", etc. as tathaagatagarbha for the purpose of the immature complete forsaking the perishable abodes, demonstrate the expertiential range of the non-appearing abode of complete non-conceptuality by demonstrating the door of tathaagatagarbha.

Mahaamati, a self should not be perceived as real by Bodhisattva Mahaasattvas enlightened in the future or presently.

Mahaamati, for example, a potter, makes one mass of atoms of clay into various kinds containers from his hands, craft, a stick, thread and effort.

Mahaamati, similarly, although Tathaagatas avoid the nature of conceptual selflessness in dharmas, they also appropriately demonstrate tathaagatagarbha or demonstrate emptiness by various kinds [of demonstrations] possessing prajñaa and skillful means; like a potter, they demonstrate with various enumerations of words and letters. As such, because of that,

Mahaamati, the demonstration of Tathaagatagarbha is not similar with the Self demonstrated by the non-Buddhists.

Mahaamati, the Tathaagatas as such, in order to guide those grasping to assertions of the Self of the Non-Buddhists, will demonstrate tathaagatagarbha with the demonstration of tathaagatagarbha. How else will the sentient beings who have fallen into a conceptual view of a True Self, possess the thought to abide in the three liberations and quickly attain the complete manifestation of Buddha in unsurpassed perfect, complete enlightenment?"

Thus, the Lanka says:

All yaanas are included
in five dharmas, three natures,
eight consciousnesses,
and two selflessnesses

It does not add anything about a true self and so on.

If one accepts that tathaagatagarbha is the aalayavij~naana, and one must since it is identified as such, then one is accepting that it is conditioned and afflicted and evolves, thus the Lanka states:

Tathaagatagarbha, known as ‘the all-base consciousness’, is to be completely purified.

Mahaamati, if what is called the all-base consciousness were (37/a) not connected to the tathaagatagarbha, because the tathaagatagarbha would not be ‘the all-base consciousness’, although it would be not be engaged, it also would not evolve; Mahaamati, it is engaged by both the childish and Aaryas, that also evolves.

Because great yogins, the ones not abandoning effort, abide with blissful conduct in this at the time of personally knowing for themselves…the tathaagatagarbha-all basis consciousness is the sphere of the Tathaagatas; it is the object which also is the sphere of teachers, [those] of detailed and learned inclinations like you, and Bodhisattva Mahaasattvas of analytic intellect.


Although tathaagatagarbha
possesses seven consciousnesses;
always engaged with dualistic apprehensions
[it] will evolve with thorough understanding.

If one accepts that the tathaagatagarbha is unconditioned and so on, and one must, since it is identified as such other sutras state:

"`Saariputra, the element of sentient beings denotes the word tathaagatagarbha.
`Saariputra, that wordtathaagatagarbha’ denotes Dharmakaaya.


`Saariputra, because of that, also the element of sentient beings is not one thing and the Dharmakaaya another; the element of sentient beings itself is Dharmakaaya; Dharmakaaya itself is the element of sentient beings.

Then one cannot accept it as the aalayavij~naana-- or worse, one must somehow imagine that something conditioned somehow becomes conditioned.

Other sutras state that tathaagatagarbha is the citta, as the Angulimaala suutra does here:

"Although in the `Sraavakayaana it is shown as ‘mind’, the meaning of the teaching is ‘tathaagatagarbha’; whatever mind is naturally pure, that is called ‘tathaagatagarbha’.

So, one must understand that these sutras are provisional and definitive, each giving different accounts of the tathaagatagarbha for different students, but they are not defintive. Understood improperly, they lead one into a non-Buddhist extremes. Understood and explained properly, they lead those afraid of the profound Praj~naapaaramitaa to understanding it's sublime truth. In other words, the Buddha nature teaching is just a skillful means as the Nirvana sutra states

"Child of the lineage, buddha-nature is like this; although the ten powers and the four fearlessnesses, compassion, and the three foundations of mindfulness are the three aspects existing in sentient beings; [those] will be newly seen when defilements are thoroughly conquered. The possessors of perversion will newly attain the ten powers (44/b) and four fearlessness, great compassion and three foundations of mindfulness having thoroughly conquered perversion.

Because that is the purpose as such, I teach buddha-nature always exists in all sentient beings.

When one can compare and contrast all of these citations, and many more side by side, with the proper reading of the Uttataratantra, one will see the propositions about these doctrines by the Dark Zen fools and others of their ilk are dimmed like stars at noon.

Lankavatara Sutra then states:
"O Mahāmati, with a view to casting aside the heterodox theory, you must treat the tathāgatagarbha as not self (anātman).


Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:

The Uttaratantra states:
  • Unconditioned, effortless,
    not realized through other conditions,
    endowed with wisdom, compassion and power,
    buddhahood is endowed with two benefits.
But what does this really all mean?

When we examine Asanga's comments on this, he states:
  • When these are summarized, buddhahood is described with eight qualties. If it is asked what those eight qualities are, they are unconditioned, effortless, not realized through other conditions, wisdom, compassion, power, the abundance of one's own benefit and the abundance of others' benefit. [Buddhahood] is unconditioned because it is the nature of lacking a beginning, middle and end. It is called "effortless" because peace is endowed with the dharmakāya. It is not realized through other conditions because each person must realize it for themselves. It is wisdom because those three things are realized. [Buddhahood] is compassionate because [the Buddha] shows the path. It is powerful because it is free from suffering and affliction. The former three [unconditioned, effortless and not realized through other conditions] are for one's own benefit; the latter three [wisdom, compassion and power] are for others' benefit.

    In that regard, the conditioned is fully understood as arising somewhere, and also understood as abiding and perishing. Because those do not exist [arising, abiding and perishing], buddhahood itself is unconditioned without a beginning, middle and an end. This is seen as a differentiation made through the dharmakāya. Because all proliferation and concepts are pacified, [buddhahood] is effortless [lhun gyis grub]. Buddhahood is not realized through other conditions because it is realized through wisdom oneself produced. Here, udayo [to produce] is not the arising of a desire for realization. As such, the tathāgata is unconditioned due to the truth, out of the characteristics of non-engagement, all the activities of the buddha effortlessly engaged in without impediment and without interruption for as long as samsara exists
So let us parse this out a little bit.

Asanga states in his commentary on the Uttaratantra:
  • ...the conditioned is understood as arising somewhere, and also understood as abiding and perishing. Because those do not exist [arising, abiding and perishing], buddhahood itself is unconditioned without a beginning, middle and an end.
Buddhahood is unconditioned because the trio of arising, abiding and perishing are false. Not because in contrast to things that arise, abide and perish, buddhahood does not arise, abide and perish.

Buddhahood however has a cause, as he writes:
  • Buddhahood is not realized through other conditions because it is realized through wisdom oneself produced.
Buddhahood is also effortless, because, as he writes:
  • ...all proliferation and concepts are pacified, [buddhahood] is effortless [lhun gyis grub]...As such, the tathāgata is unconditioned due to the truth; and from the characteristics of non-engagement, all the activities of the buddha are engaged in effortlessly [lhun grub], without impediment and without interruption for as long as samsara exists
As for tathāgatagarbha always existing in the continuums of sentient beings; if you think somehow tathāgatagarba is something other than or different than a sentient beings mind, there there is a fallacy of the tathāgatagarbha being something like an atman. But there is no atman in the tathāgatagarbha theory, not really. the supreme self, (paramātma) is explained very clearly in the Uttaratantra:
  • The supreme self is the pacification of the proliferations of self and and nonself.
But what does this mean? Asanga adds:
  • The perfection of self (ātmapāramitā) is known through two reasons: due to being free from proliferation of a self because of being free from the extreme of the non-buddhists and due to being free from the proliferation of nonself because of giving up the extreme of the śrāvakas.
He explains further:
  • From cultivating prajñāpāramita in order to turn away from seeing the five addictive aggregates as self, the non-existent self in which the others, the nonbuddhists, delight, one attains the result, the perfection of self. In this way all the others, the nonbuddhists, accept natureless things such as matter and so on as a self due to their being deceived by a characteristic of a self according to how those things are being apprehended, but that self never existed.

    The Tathāgata, on the other hand, has attained the supreme perfection of the selflessness of all phenomena through the wisdom that is in accord with just how things truly are, and though there is no self according to how he sees things, he asserts a self all the time because he is never deceived by the characteristic of a self that does not exist. Making the selfless into a self is like saying "abiding through the mode of nonabiding.
There are some people who, ignoring the Nirvana Sutra's admonition to rely on the meaning rather than on the words, fall headlong into eternalism, unable to parse the Buddha's profound meaning through addiction to naive literalism.

Tathagatagarbha is just a potential to become a buddha. When we say it is has infinite qualities, this is nothing more nor less than when the Vajrapañjara praises the so called "jewel-like mind":
  • The jewel-like mind is tainted with
    evil conceptual imputations;
    but when the mind is purified it becomes pure.
    Just as space cannot be destroyed,
    just as is space, so too is the mind.
    By activating the jewel-like mind
    and meditating on the mind itself, there is the stage of buddhahood,
    and in this life there will be sublime buddhahood.
    There is no buddha nor a person
    outside of the jewel-like mind,
    the abode of consciousness is ultimate,
    outside of which there isn't the slightest thing.
    All buddhahood is through the mind...
    Matter, sensation, perception
    formations and consciousness
    these all arise from the mind,
    these [five] munis are not anything else.
    Like a great wishfulfilling gem,
    granting the results of desires and goals,
    the pure original nature of the true state of the mind
    bestows the result, Buddha's awakening
There is no other basis apart from this natural purity of the mind that is inseparable clarity and emptiness. We can call it whatever we want, but still this fact remains. The Lankāvatara rightly observes that tathāgatagarbha is just a name for emptiness and the ālayavijñāna for those afraid of emptiness. Jayānanda writes that ālayavijñāna is the mind that comprehends the basis, i.e. emptiness. How else can the mind be purified of evil conceptual imputations other than by realizing emptiness? Emptiness free from all extremes is the pure original nature of the true state of the mind, so why bother confusing oneself with all kinds of rhetoric? The mind itself has two aspects, emptiness and clarity, ka dag and lhun grub, and these are inseparable. This inseparable clarity and emptiness is call the ālaya in gsar ma and the basis in Nyingma. This also known as tathagatagarbha when it encased in afflictions, the dharmadhātu from its ultimate side, the ālayavijñāna from its relative side and so on. It really is not that complicated.


According to the Lanka, it is a doctrine for those afraid of emptiness, therefore provisional.


According to Longchenpa, the TTG Sutras are the definitive ones. FWIW. I'm sure you know that. 
Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:
They are for Gorampa as well, providing tathāgatagarbha is properly understood. But if for example the nine examples are not correctly understood, he states the TTG sūtras are provisional.

Also, the reason Longchenpa claims the TTG sūtras are definitive has to do with how he understands them in relation to Dzogchen. He also defines Prasanga Madhyamaka as the definitive view.

In general, however, the Buddha himself declares the tathāgatagarbha doctrine provisional, that is interpretable, in the Lanka Sūtra.


No, Yogacāra really is a realist school, despite the attempts of some traditional Tibetan and Chinese scholars, and modern scholars like Dan Lusthaus, to revision it in nonrealist terms.
You can just use Nāgārjuna as a source: emptiness incorrectly seen is like grasping a viper by the tail or incorrect reciting a vidyāmantra. Nevertheless, the Lanka's perspective on tathāgatagarbha is pretty clear.
shankara wrote: Sat Dec 05, 2020 9:31 pm I just last night read something of Taranatha on this subject. A short treatise you can find here: ... mentaries/.

What he says about the Rangtong treating the second turning of the wheel of Dharma as definitive and the third (as well as the first) as provisional is very interesting. Firstly, I would like to know if this is true? If so, it strikes me as problematic.
Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:

The whole theory of the three turnings of the wheel is problematic, actually. There isn't any agreement which sutras are "third turning."

The Indian masters paid no attention to the three turnings at all. As a doctrine it finds no place in Dzogchen teachings at all until after the thirteenth century. The Sakyapas largely ignore it.

The Gelukpas treat the second turning as definitive.

Some teachers include the tathāgatagarbha sūtras in this category (though the Indian Yogacāra master themselves were skeptical of tathāgatagarbha theory, since they advocated the theory of the icchantika, Madhyāmikas were actually more open to it than Yogacārins).

This is mostly a Tibetan trip, based on the commentary of the Korean Master Wongchuk on the Samdhinirmocana Sūtra, translated during the imperial period.
shankara wrote: The "Mahaparinirvana Sutra" is apparently of the third turning, and personally I think it is the most definitive of all Sutras (excepting perhaps the Lotus) due to it being the last preached before the death of Shakyamuni. Does the Rangtong school really regard this Sutra as provisional?
Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:

There is no such thing as a "rang stong school," except in the eyes of gzhan stong pas.

Generally speaking, everyone in India, including the Yogacāra masters, regarded the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras as definitive in meaning. We know this for example because Virupa, who had been a Yogacāra master prior to his awakening, carried a copy of the PP in 8000 lines with him everywhere he travelled.
As for what is the definitive meaning of Buddha-Nature, the Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith wrote:

The term bdag nyid, atman, just means, in this case, "nature", i.e. referring to the nature of reality free from extremes as being permanent, blissful, pure and self. The luminosity of the mind is understood to be this.

There are various ways to interpret the Uttaratantra and tathāgatagarbha doctrine, one way is definitive in meaning, the other is provisional, according to Gorampa Sonam Senge, thus the tathāgatagarbha sutras become definitive or provisional depending on how they are understood. He states:

In the context of showing the faults of a literal [interpretation] – it's equivalence with the Non-Buddhist Self is that the assertion of unique eternal all pervading cognizing awareness of the Saṃkhya, the unique eternal pristine clarity of the Pashupattis, the unique all pervading intellect of the Vaiśnavas, the impermanent condition, the measure of one’s body, in the permanent self-nature of the Jains, and the white, brilliant, shining pellet the size of an atom, existing in each individual’s heart of the Vedantins are the same.

The definitive interpretation he renders as follows:

Therefor, the Sugatagarbha is defined as the union of clarity and emptiness but not simply emptiness without clarity, because that [kind of emptiness] is not suitable to be a basis for bondage and liberation. Also it is not simple clarity without emptiness, that is the conditioned part, because the Sugatagarbha is taught as unconditioned.

Khyentse Wangpo, often cited as a gzhan stong pa, basically says that the treatises of Maitreya elucidate the luminosity of the mind, i.e. its purity, whereas Nāgarjuna's treatises illustrate the empty nature of the mind, and that these two together, luminosity and emptiness free from extremes are to be understood as noncontradictory, which we can understand from the famous Prajñāpāramita citation "There is no mind in the mind, the nature of the mind is luminosity". 
So, the definitive meaning of buddha-nature is the union of clarity and emptiness.

This is why clarity is not being negated but realised to be empty of inherent existence --

Not just John Tan, Malcolm, Archarya Shridhar Rana Rinpoche, etc etc, even the current Dalai Lama has explained in his talks multiple times that the Hindus and Buddhists both share similar realisation on the Clarity aspect of Buddha-Nature, but what is unique about Buddhism is the insights into its empty nature.

As John Tan/Thusness wrote way back even in 2004:

“Buddhism is nothing but replacing the 'Self' in Hinduism with Condition Arising. Keep the clarity, the presence, the luminosity and eliminate the ultimate 'Self', the controller, the supreme. Still you must taste, sense, eat, hear and see Pure Awareness in every authentication. And every authentication is Bliss.” - John Tan, 2004

“Understand immense intelligence not as if someone is there to act and direct, rather as total exertion of the universe to make this moment possible; then all appearances are miraculous and marvelous.” - John Tan, 2012

“The Pristine awareness is often mistaken as the 'Self'. It is especially difficult for one that has intuitively experience the 'Self' to accept 'No-Self'. As I have told you many times that there will come a time when you will intuitively perceive the 'I' -- the pure sense of Existence but you must be strong enough to go beyond this experience until the true meaning of Emptiness becomes clear and thorough. The Pristine Awareness is the so-called True-Self' but why we do not call it a 'Self' and why Buddhism has placed so much emphasis on the Emptiness nature? This then is the true essence of Buddhism. It is needless to stress anything about 'Self' in Buddhism; there are enough of 'Logies' of the 'I" in Indian Philosophies. If one wants to know about the experience of 'I AM', go for the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita. We will not know what Buddha truly taught 2500 years ago if we buried ourselves in words. Have no doubt that The Dharma Seal is authentic and not to be confused.

When you have experienced the 'Self' and know that its nature is empty, you will know why to include this idea of a 'Self' into Buddha-Nature is truly unnecessary and meaningless. True Buddhism is not about eliminating the 'small Self' but cleansing this so called 'True Self' (Atman) with the wisdom of Emptiness.” - John Tan, 2005

"What you are suggesting is already found in Samkhya system. I.e. the twenty four tattvas are not the self aka purusha. Since this system was well known to the Buddha, if that's all his insight was, then his insight is pretty trivial. But Buddha's teachings were novel. Why where they novel? They were novel in the fifth century BCE because of his teaching of dependent origination and emptiness. The refutation of an ultimate self is just collateral damage." - Lopon Malcolm

In January 2005, John Tan wrote:

“[19:21] <^john^> learn how to experience emptiness and no-selfness. :)
[19:22] <^john^> this is the only way to liberate.
[19:22] <^john^> not to dwell too deeply into the minor aspect of pure awareness.
[19:23] <^john^> of late i have been seeing songs and poems relating to the luminosity aspect of Pure Awareness.
[19:23] <^john^> uncreated, original, mirror bright, not lost in nirvana and samsara..etc
[19:23] <^john^> what use is there?
[19:24] <ZeN`n1th> oic...
[19:24] <^john^> we have from the very beginning so and yet lost for countless aeons of lives.
[19:25] <^john^> buddha did not come to tell only about the luminosity aspect of pure awareness.
[19:25] <^john^> this has already been expressed in vedas.
[19:25] <^john^> but it becomes Self.
[19:25] <^john^> the ultimate controller
[19:26] <^john^> the deathless
[19:26] <^john^> the supreme..etc
[19:26] <^john^> this is the problem.
[19:26] <^john^> this is not the ultimate nature of Pure Awareness.
[19:27] <^john^> for full enlightenment to take place, experience the clarity and emptiness.  That's all.”

    And in March 2006, John Tan said:

    <^john^> the different between hinduism and buddhism is they return to the "I AM" and clings to it.
    <^john^> always "I" as the source.
    <ZeN`n1th> icic
    <^john^> but in buddhism it is being replaced by "emptiness nature", there is a purest, an entity, a stage to be gained or achieved is an illusion.
    <^john^> there is none. No self to be found. No identity to assumed. Nothing attained.
    <ZeN`n1th> oic..
    <^john^> this is truly the All.
    <^john^> so for a teaching that is so thorough and complete, why must it resort back to a "True Self"?
    <ZeN`n1th> hmm but i got a question about just now you say impermanent... but mahayana texts also say tathagathagarbha is permanent right?
    <^john^> yes but for other reasons.
    <ZeN`n1th> what kind of reasons
    <ZeN`n1th> wat you mean
    <^john^> first you must know that there is really a very subtle difference between pure subjectivity and emptiness nature.
    <ZeN`n1th> icic
    <^john^> for one that has experienced in full emptiness nature, does he/she need to create an extra "True Self"?
    <ZeN`n1th> so wat difference
    <ZeN`n1th> no
    <^john^> he already knows and experiences and completely understand the arising cause and conditions of why the "true self" was created...
    <^john^> will he still be confused?
    <^john^> he knows exactly what is happening, the reality of the 'self'.
    <ZeN`n1th> icic..
    <^john^> i would say it is due to his compassion to let the other sects have a chance to understand the dharma that he said so.
    <^john^> this is what i think.
    <^john^> but there is no necessity to preach something extra.
    <ZeN`n1th> oic
    <^john^> in light of emptiness nature, "True Self" is not necessary.
    <ZeN`n1th> icic
    <^john^> the so called "purest" is already understood, there is no clinging.
    <^john^> there is hearing, no hearer...etc
    <^john^> is already beyond "True Self".
    <ZeN`n1th> oic
    <^john^> yet it exactly knows the stage of "True Self".
    <^john^> if there is no hearing...then something is wrong.
    <^john^> but there is hearing but no hearer.
    <ZeN`n1th> hahaha
    <ZeN`n1th> oic
    <^john^> put your time into practice and understanding of no-self and emptiness.
    <ZeN`n1th> ok

Taken from


In INSIGHTS by James Corrigan1 Comment
I had an experience once in my mid-teens, sitting by a fire my friend and I had built in a weed-and-construction-debris-filled field that had been cleared as part of the construction of the World Trade Center in New York City. We were living in a small shack that we had made out of wooden pallets covered with nylon hosiery fabric found in a pile of garbage from a building that had been cleared out prior to its demolition. Another vagrant, like us, had seen our fire and come up to sit and warm up a little, because the spring evenings were still cold on those city streets, especially when the only meals you had were fetched out of dumpsters behind fast food restaurants—half-eaten food still in wrappers was much more palatable than loose waste from a restaurant. “Grease,” he announced at one point. “Grease is the source of life!” “Cool, man,” I replied. What else could one say? It was my first experience of attachment to an understanding that was less grand than the holder assumed.
Many people implicitly believe that coming to a complete understanding of reality involves a leap, whether it be an intuition or an insight, or some blissful experience in meditation, or a scientific or philosophical theory based upon the givens—those facts of experience that fill our days and our memories, and form the basis of our nervous tensions, phobias, and damaged feelings, as well as our moments of bliss and leaps of intuitive insight and conceptual theorizing. I noticed that the leaps never get one to the finish line. They may get us to a comfortable place, perhaps even a blissful one, but it’s not possible to understand reality this way.
Instead of figuring out how things are, we need to loosen the chains of both conceptual thought and the intelligible appearances that fill our experience, because even though we might be able to come to an understanding of our experiences, that understanding will always separate us from the truth because an understanding creates a something-that-is-understood, even if, through careful movements and keen insights, we never allow a someone-that-understands to arise. The understanding is itself the problem, and it is a huge problem because it is the primordial source of the illusion of separate existence.
The process of coming to an understanding isn’t like getting to the far side of a flat field of information that one leaps over suddenly, it’s a multi-layered lasagna of misunderstandings with the consistency of a bog, that traps us in our many and varied viewpoints, leaving a long, long trail of false halts on our way to our hoped-for complete transcendence. This process is founded on the belief that overcoming wrong beliefs by undoing our strong attachment to our conceptual knowledge and focusing instead on the givens, while being in the moment, will free us from misconceptions and misunderstandings and will allow us to transcend the factual appearances and get to the bottom of it all, in the fashion of a scientist approaching a problem, studying and reflecting. But you should note the way I worded that sentence, making it’s point in the repetition of reliance upon belief. Beliefs aren’t true or false, they are never true, nor false. Instead, they are always wrong to varying degrees, which is their fault, but also, to some degree true, which is their allure. And in many, many cases, the expression half truths really overestimates their value.
It occurred to me that holding to the possibility of complete transcendence, in the manner given above, is a fool’s errand based on a grave misunderstanding. That field of givens is there before us, and seemingly beckoning in a beguiling way, but only because of our need to understand, and it is this that will lead us to our doom. The truly important insight to be had there, derives from that field of givens’ presence, not from anything situated in that field. And it is the same with our conceptual thought—none of the contents of those thoughts will help us to transcend anything, even if they are the words of a respected teacher, or a world-renowned scientist. Even these words can’t. It is the presence of these thoughts, and words, and facts that is the important point. And by presence I mean presencing, or arising presentially. But don’t form an understanding of that word yet; it will just be a misunderstanding.
The desire to transcend reality is a really weird appetite to have, and yet many of us have it, in one way or another, because we either find our lives to be unsatisfactory or we find ourselves annoyed by the unsettling feeling that we don’t really understand what is going on. It’s unfortunate too that the majority of people blithely live out their lives, never having taken hold of their opportunity to realize something truly important through it. For those that want out, getting to the bottom of things is the only way they can see to get out. But there is no out, no exit, no escape—Reality is an inside without an outside, so you can’t escape. But what you can do is get free of all of your misunderstandings—not by creating new ones, but by loosening the chains of the conceptual as well as the intelligible. But it has to be both of those, or like that vagrant who thought grease was the source of life, you’ll just find yourself in another storyline.
Over the course of my life, I have found that every time I thought I had gotten somewhere by coming to some new understanding, or by changing something about the way I perceived my life, all I had done was change a storyline, exchanging it for a slightly modified one, a storyline more to my liking. I had never been able to change my being in a story. For many on this path, their answer is to be found in not thinking or conceptualizing about what is, just being, just being That. While there is nothing wrong with just being That, it is still a storyline. Why do I say that? Because we hold the implicit assumption that while our conceptual thoughts, ideas, and philosophies color our perceptions with our wants and desires, hopes and dreams, hurts and insults, and dichotomies, we believe that our perceptions are something different, if left alone, something more real than illusions of the mind. And who could fault us for that? After all, some of those perceptions can save our lives!
I’ve heard it said that when we see, we should just see—and not color what we see with hopes, dreams, aversions, fears, doubts or dichotomizations—and when we hear we should just hear. And by doing that, we free ourselves from our suffering because in those moments there is no self intervening in the process.
Even ignoring the fact that physical suffering from thirst, hunger, pain, age and disease is still suffering even when it is freed from all of our self-colorations, and what we perceive through our senses is always perspectival, so that while there may be no self involved in the perception, there is certainly a perspective limiting the visceral experience to a certain body. The truth is, everything arises empty of intrinsic self-reality, based upon conditions, uncreated and uncaused, as the spontaneous naturing that some call dharmata.
This idea that perception through any sense-door is somehow being in contact with something real, or at least pure as in pure experience, is an illusion. It is an illusion because there is no thing to be in contact with, there is no entity who can drop the illusion of self-colorations, there isn’t even an entity that natures that which appears, even the Buddhist dharmakaya is empty of an intrinsic self-nature. What we perceive arises in our mind, which is the name we give to that perspective we gloom onto because of our confusion and misunderstanding, not realizing what that perspective truly is. So in seeing, there is only the fabrication of form and light. In hearing, there is only the fabrication of sounds, etc. We are never not in intimate contact with what is arising because there is and can be no separation in reality, and what arises does so in the mind. So what’s going on?
Literally, what is going on is that we have come to understand that experiences are based upon perceptions that arise from conditions of some external kind in conjunction with a body with some specific senses. Many Buddhists include consciousness of thoughts as a sixth human sense, but a more insightful view is found in those teachings that point out that there is only one sense—that our dichotomization of experience involves a transfer of the source of perceptions from the dharmata, which is not a thing, it’s just the essential character of the activity I am referring to as naturing, to some physical equipment inherent in human and non-human lifeforms and their associated mental faculties that are distinguished based upon the kind of physical phenomena that is sensed.
If you are starting to feel that in naturing, just naturing than you are well on your way to complete freedom. Gaining freedom from conceptual thinking is the first step. I did it by noticing how thoughts arise—presentially—based upon conditions, but uncaused by any condition. Being empty of origin, empty of an intrinsic self-nature, how could their content or meaning be otherwise than empty? And yet, thoughts spontaneously appeared, and that was necessary to see. And see that I did, and you can, through the practice of meditation. But seeing that thoughts are empty of origin, means I am not creating them, and yet, if I focused upon them I found them arising in a coherent stream of thoughts strung together for as long as I attended to them. And if I looked away in another direction towards some other focus, that stream of thoughts changed! All of the words of this essay arose because of the direction of my attention and various manifesting conditions that include a desire to share something that I’ve found. Authorship is an exaggeration of an activity that is spontaneously natured, uncaused, by no entity at all. And if that doesn’t take your breath away… but you can’t stop here.
Once we see through conceptual thinking, our next step is not just to be in the moment averting our attention away from conceptual thought, it must be to see into this process of self-less naturing. And for that, I didn’t use thoughts, instead I turned my attention towards a phenomenon that had always been there for me to use—the self-arising sounds of dharmata, which are the resonances of that self-less activity of naturing. I listened to the sounds of thoughts arising, as well as my whole being arising, and it was there in those sounds that I came to realize that all of our perceptions arise in exactly the same way—not through some hybrid physical process and half-understood concepts—and that this meant that pure experiences were just as empty of intrinsic self-nature, and therefore truth, as any conceptual thoughts that might arise for me. Useful, yes. All of it—thoughts, experiences, understandings—were useful in a practical sense, but wrong in a real sense, thus always lying somewhere between truth and untruth. I had to see through all of it, and in doing so, in direct experience, not out there in some kind of illusory world, or even in here in a confused mental understanding based on beliefs, but just directly experienced through peeling off all those layers of concepts and understandings, perspectives, and causes, freeing myself from conceptual thought and intelligible appearances. And in the end, there was no myself to free. What needed to be done was to unbridle, unimpede, unobstruct, uninhibit, and stop interfering with, the natural and spontaneous inventiveness of this self-less naturing with my wandering attention and its searching for meaning in understandings and ideas, whether based upon experience or not.
It is through concepts that we learn of the problem. It is through conceptual thought that we learn of techniques to overcome the problem. It is by letting concepts go that we free our minds, opening it to other possibilities. It is through the intelligible appearances that we can truly see reality in action. But it is in giving up those intelligible appearances by training our minds to stop wandering aimlessly all over the flowerbed, that we allow the true self-less naturing to appear in all of its awesome beauty. And it is in that, that all the confused thinking and frightening appearances can be seen to be nothing other than what we casually call our mind, i.e. self-less naturing—the dharmata.
This is the strategy, half-measures are only tactics in a never-ending story. End the story.

About the Author

James Corrigan

James is a writer, philosopher, contemplative practitioner and theorist, living in the Dordogne region of France, where he runs a Bed & Breakfast. He loves to hike with friends, and ride his Vespa through the countryside, and play with his over-active joyous dog, when he is not writing. He loves to love. He was formerly a software engineer in New York, a university professor of philosophy, he taught Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Nature, as well as meditation. He was an elected official, an activist for animal rights and environmental justice, a soccer coach, a police commissioner, and a taxi driver. Once a father, now a grandfather, he was born too early for his age. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.
Someone wrote:

Let's talk practice.
What can you DO to attain enlightenment?

I replied:

First off: for anything to work, there must be discipline and perseverance. Whether it is self-inquiry, meditation (vipashyana or shamatha), yoga, etc. Or even any mundane pursuits -- mastering your job skills, your fitness, etc. Effort, attention, consistency of practice are the foundational and crucial factors for success in any areas in life, including realizing our 'spiritual nature'. I personally do not like comments that suggest people "do nothing". While that sort of philosophy are thrown around in neo-advaita circle, in my eyes it is bullshit, misleading and leads nowhere, it doesn't lead to any kind of insight, realization, or mastery of anything*. You can waste your whole life 'doing nothing', then times up. I like Daniel M. Ingram's approach to things - pragmatic and methodical (although his practices and mine may differ).

The beginning of spiritual life is direct immediate realization of life/existence. It is to directly realize what the Heart of Existence -- what Reality/Life/Spirit is -- even in the absence of thoughts or perceptions. Just that pure sense of beingness or existence, that is most crucial. And anatta was realized through questioning the nature of Presence (investigating whether there was any 'Seer' or 'Seeing' or 'Presence' besides the vivid colours/display/manifestation, and likewise for hearing and sound, etc
, basically questioning the relationship of 'Presence' and 'Things' until that dichotomy was utterly seen through in an instant of realization), through contemplation on Bahiya Sutta the delusion of Presence or 'Seeing' as a background was penetrated and the 'manifold' of Presence is experienced fully. It is the extension of the realization of that very core essence of Being or Life, but now anatta allows you to touch the very 'Heart' or 'Life' of all things in complete intimacy, whereby the formless sense of Presence is only just one face of it. Then one brings this taste to all experiences, not only in the passive experience of 'lettings things happen' but in all activities where full engagement in that activity arising as universe -- maha. Every activity is experienced in complete 'oneness' and aliveness. All manifestations are equally so. And twofold emptiness allows us to penetrate the very delusion of that vivid manifest Presence as having any core, inherency, arising, abiding or dwelling, and directly taste Presence as illusory like empty mirages. But it requires a direct taste of Presence as the manifold, we question whether there is any essence or core to which the manifestation could arise/abide/cease and realize that it is empty and non-arising. The other aspect has to do with re-looking at the implications of constructs and the cessation of constructs through penetrating dependent designation.

The direct and unshakeable certainty of what that Presence or Existence is has been crucial for me, and practicing self-inquiry has been a very effective method to trigger that realization. But that initial realization must not be taken as an endpoint as delusions pertaining to duality and inherency remain until clear insight arises.

(*Also related, Thusness wrote before:

"Many wrongly conclude that because there is no-self, there is nothing to do and nothing to practice. This is precisely using "self view" to understand "anatta" despite having the insight.

It does not mean because there is no-self, there is nothing to practice; rather it is because there is no self, there is only ignorance and the chain of afflicted activities. Practice therefore is abt overcoming ignorance and these chain of afflictive activities. There is no agent but there is attention. Therefore practice is abt wisdom, vipassana, mindfulness and concentration. If there is no mastery over these practices, there is no liberation. So one should not bullshit and psycho ourselves into the wrong path of no-practice and waste the invaluable insight of anatta. That said, there is the passive mode of practice of choiceness awareness, but one should not misunderstand it as the "default way" and such practice can hardly b considered "mastery" of anything, much less liberation.")
Someone posted a picture:

Someone replied:

I can say for certain: Practice looks nothing like this photo you posted :)

I commented:

Practice does not look 'like' this photo. Practice is this photo as actualized... free from subject and object, desires, hopes and fears. Also the stain on the wall, too, and the smell when entering the toilet, the sensations of sitting on the toilet bowl, etc.