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).


Also here is how definitive Mahayana sutras are defined:
Sūtra of Definitive Meaning vs Sūtra of Provisional Meaning
Quoted from Kyle:
The Āryākṣayamatinirdeśa-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra sets out the criteria for a sūtra of definitive meaning:
'Any sūtrānta which explains in a variety of different terms a self, a sentient being, a living being, a personality, a person, an individual, one born from a human, a human, an agent, an experiencer — teaching an owner in what is ownerless — those sutras are called "of provisional meaning". Any sūtrānta which teaches emptiness, the signless, the wishless, the unconditioned, the non-arisen, the unproduced, the insubstantial, the non-existence of self, the non-existence of sentient beings, the non-existence of living beings, the non-existence of individuals, the non-existence of an owner up to the doors of liberation, those are called "definitive meaning". This is taught in the sūtrāntas of of definitive meaning but is not taught in the sūtrāntas of the provisional meaning.'

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.
It is well known through the Dharma of the tantras, agamas and upadeśas of the Great Perfection, the teachings of Omniscient Longchenpa up to the lineage of gurus of Kama and Terma of the present day that unconditioned vidyā is introduced as the dharmatā of the union of clarity and emptiness.
You mean rig pa. Rig pa is also empty, baseless, and not established in anyway at all. The Dzogchen tantras and Longchenpa declare this univocally.
Retinue of nonexistent superficial appearances, listen!
There is no separate object in me, the view of self-originated pristine consciousness. Passing away in the past does not exist. Arising in
the future does not exist. Appearing in the present does not exist in any way. Karma does not exist. Traces do not exist. Ignorance does not exist. Mind does not exist. Intellect does not exist. Wisdom does not exist. Saṃsāra does not exist. Nirvāṇa does not exist. Not even vidyā (rig pa) itself exists. Not even the appearances of pristine consciousness exist. All those arose from a nonexistent apprehender.
-- Tantra Without Syllables.
This "nonexistent apprehender," indicates the union of the two truths. Even rig pa is something relative, that is why it is a path dharma, not a result dharma. It vanishes at the time of the result.

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


John Tan's reply on something Malcolm wrote in 2020:


“This is like what I tell you and essentially emphasizing 明心非见性. 先明心, 后见性. (Soh: Apprehending Mind is not seeing [its] Nature. First apprehend Mind, later realise [its] Nature).


First is directly authenticating mind/consciousness 明心 (Soh: Apprehending Mind). There is the direct path like zen sudden enlightenment of one's original mind or mahamudra or dzogchen direct introduction of rigpa or even self enquiry of advaita -- the direct, immediate, perception of "consciousness" without intermediaries. They are the same.


However that is not realization of emptiness. Realization of emptiness is 见性 (Soh: Seeing Nature). Imo there is direct path to 明心 (Soh: Apprehending Mind) but I have not seen any direct path to 见性 (Soh: Seeing Nature) yet. If you go through the depth and nuances of our mental constructs, you will understand how deep and subtle the blind spots are.


Therefore emptiness or 空性 (Soh: Empty Nature) is the main difference between buddhism and other religions. Although anatta is the direct experiential taste of emptiness, there is still a difference between buddhist's anatta and selflessness of other religions -- whether it is anatta by experiential taste of the dissolution of self alone or the experiential taste is triggered by wisdom of emptiness.


The former focused on selflessness and whole path of practice is all about doing away with self whereas the latter is about living in the wisdom of emptiness and applying that insight and wisdom of emptiness to all phenomena.


As for emptiness there is the fine line of seeing through inherentness of Tsongkhapa and there is the emptiness free from extremes by Gorampa. Both are equally profound so do not talk nonsense and engaged in profane speech as in terms of result, ultimately they are the same (imo).”

Dalai Lama - "Nature - there are many different levels. Conventional level, one nature. There are also, you see, different levels. Then, ultimate level, ultimate reality... so simply realise the Clarity of the Mind, that is the conventional level. That is common with Hindus, like that. So we have to know these different levels...." -
Dalai Lama on Anatta and Emptiness of Buddha Nature in New Book


If, following Sakya Paṇḍita, one understands tathāgatagarbha to be freedom from proliferation, then there is no problem, since freedom from proliferation renders samara and nirvana possible for sentient beings. But if one takes tathāgatagarbha aka buddhadhātu to be something existent, it is no different than a nonbuddhist view of self. He makes a number of arguments to which the only response is some misguided, literal reading of tathāgatagarbha sūtras, one rejected in the Laṅkāvatara Sūtra, and even in the Uttaratantra itself, one imagines, because in 3rd century CE India, some people were taking this doctrine too literally. He even points out that if one argues that sugatagarbha denotes an uncontaminated mind, this refers only to the clear aspect of the ālayavijñāna, and not another ninth consciousness (Paramartha does make this argument, of course, but not in India, only in China).

See A Clear Differentiation of the Three Codes, pp. 56-58.

One think that should stand out as remarkable to folks, something I have mentioned before, is just how little positive commentarial attention the tathāgatagarbha doctrine received in India prior to the eighth century and the appearance of the tantras. Indeed, we have no commentaries on the Uttaratantra composed by Indians after Asanga until the 11th century, and those were not translated into Tibetan at all. Talk about lack of interest.

It is certainly true that there were Buddhist sectarians (Pudgalavādins) who proposed the existence of an inexpressible pudgala, neither the same as nor different from the aggregates. And this remains the problem for proponents of an existent buddhadhātu. Is it part of the aggregates or separate from them?
Posted by
pure land
3 days ago

Why do people try to sneak in atman into Buddhism?

I often see non-Buddhists talk about the nirvana sutra mentioning that there is an atman in us. Is the mention of atman in the sutra meant not to be taken literally?

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· 3d · edited 3dekayana

According to other sutras like the Lankavatara and Madhyakama masters like Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka, no, we are not to take atman statements in Buddha nature texts literally.

The Lanka says:

[Buddha nature] it is emptiness, reality-limit, Nirvana, being unborn, unqualified, and devoid of will-effort; the reason why the Tathagatas [...] teach the doctrine pointing to the Tathagata-garba is to make the ignorant cast aside their fear when they listen to the teaching of egolessness and to have them realise the state of non-discrimination and imagelessness.

Master Bhavya says:

[The expression] “possessing the tathagata heart” is [used] because emptiness, signlessness, wishlessness, and so on, exist in the mind streams of all sentient beings. However, it is not something like a permanent and all-pervasive person that is the inner agent. For we find [passages] such as “All phenomena have the nature of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness. What is emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness is the Tathagata.”

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· 3dekayāna

In part, perhaps, the reason for using such language is to overcome subtle clinging to the conceptual habit of negation related to the doctrine of anatman. At a point I think basically no words are taken literally when it comes to ... basically ultimate wisdom. Depending on the circumstance, a realized being may use seemingly contradictory language without fault, depending on the needs of the circumstance, beings, etc.

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level 2

In part, perhaps, the reason for using such language is to overcome subtle clinging to the conceptual habit of negation related to the doctrine of anatman.

In the Lankavatara it says verbiage of that nature is just for people who are scared of emptiness.

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· 3dekayāna

Kongtrul says,

With regard to the dharmakaya, the children entertain a strong attachment in terms of the belief in purity, in the existence of a self, in happiness, and in permanence. Sravakas and pratyekabuddhas reverse these four aspects of an exaggerated view [of a view wrongly asserting reality where it is not present]. In doing so they get attached to [their vision of] impurity, non-existence of self, suffering, and impermanence. The four aspects of the [true] purity of dharmakaya and so on act as the remedies for this attachment.

So I guess you can find multiple citations.

He also says,

The conceptual elaboration consisting of the belief in the existence of a self as it is imputed by the tirthikas and so on, and the conceptual elaboration consisting of the belief in the non-existence of a self as it is imputed by the sravakas and so on, have been totally stilled and pacified without any remainder. Thus it is the perfection of true self.

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level 4

Like the Buddha says in the Mahāyāna-mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra, these apparent discrepancies are pacified through understanding that the self is a convention:

Fools who do not understand words, "While the seed of happiness exists in my body, this conflicts with permanence because suffering is shown." Grasping everything, these immature ones think "my body is not stable." If impermanence is explained, the immature think it is like a pot made by a potter. Since the intelligent on the other hand think "The seed of dharmakāya exists in my body," they do not grasp to everything. 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.” If it is explained "tathagatagarbha is empty." The immature cultivate the dread of annihilation.The intelligent know that permanence, stability and immutability exists as a mere illusion.

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The import of the perfection of self [ātmapāramitā] and/or supreme self [paramātma] is essentially the same. Asanga explains it is like the tathāgata using the convention self because he cannot be deceived by a self that does not actually exist.

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Buddhism argues that none of the five aggregates is the self, but Hinduism would argue the same. Atman is beyond the five aggregates.

Vasubandhu states:

There is neither direct perception nor inference of an ātman independent of the skandhas. We know then that a real ātman does not exist.


Dzogchen teacher Acarya Malcolm Smith:

In fact, the Lankāvtāra Sūtra states that tathāgatagarbha is just a name for the ālayavijñāna. How is the ālayavijñāna not personal and individual?

Asanga states in the Uttaratantra commentary that the name for the dharmakāya encased in afflictions is "tathāgatagarbha." How can personal afflictions encase a transpersonal entity? He later states in the same that the name for suchness, tathāta, encased in afflictions is tathāgatagarbha. The same question applies. He later describes sentient beings as "tathāgarbhins", possessors of tathāgatagarbha. In the same way consciousness pervades all sentient beings, it is stated that tathāgatagarbha pervades all sentient beings. However, no one thinks the phrase "consciousness pervades all sentient beings" means there is one unitary consciousness that pervades all sentient beings. It is the same with the basis, tathāgatagarbha. Finally, Asanga concludes his treatises by pointing out that the gnosis of tathāgatagarbha is just the tathāgata's gnosis of emptiness. He says:

"Without the gnosis of ultimate emptiness, it is impossible to realize and actualize the dhātu of pure nonconceptuality. Having stated this, the gnosis of tathāgatagarbha is the Tathāgata's gnosis of emptiness. Further, it is said extensively that the tathāgatagarbha has not been seen or realized by all śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas. However tathāgatagarbha is, the dharmakāyagarbha is just like that, and it is not within the domain of those who fall into a view of personality (satkāyadṛṣṭi), because the dharmadhātu is the antidote to views."

So how is the dharmadhātu defined in this text? Again "The so-called dharmadhātu is the tathāgatagabha that is no different than the nature of one's dharmatā."

So here you have a very precise description of tathāgatagarbha being described as individual and specific to each sentient being. Since the spyi gzhi is just a term for tathāgatagarbha in Dzogchen teachings, we can understand the meaning to be the same here, especially since in the discussion of how the basis exists in the body in the third topic of the Tshig don mdzod, Longchenpa mainly cites from the Uttaratantra.

In the same way that we talk about the vijñānadhātu or the sattvadhātu as aggregates of consciousness and sentient beings, we talk about the dharmadhātu as an an aggregate of dharmatās. Without individual dharmatās that belong to dharmins, we cannot talk about dharmatās at all, just as we cannot talk about the emptiness of nonexistents like the children of barren women, etc.

And of course in Vajrayāna teachings, we go a step further and site the location of sugatagarbha in the bodies of sentient beings. However, the idea the sugatagarbha sited in the bodies of all sentient beings refers to one transpersonal entity has been rejected by the Buddha very clearly as an incorrect view of atman. For example, the Nirvana Sūtra (Chinese recension) explicitly rejects it: "Child of a good family, some tīrthikas advocate a permanent "self," other advocate an annhilationist "not-self." The Tathagata is not like that. Because he teaches self and not-self, it is called "the middle." Now, whoever teaches the Buddha's middle way can say that the nature of buddhahood exists in all sentient beings, but it is not known and not seen because it is obscured by afflictions. Therefore, be diligent in the method of eliminating afflictions." The Indian recension of the Nirvana sutra states, "The buddhadhātu exists in all sentient beings, held in each one's body. After sentient beings exhaust afflictions, they become buddhas."

I could go on, but we are getting into TL;DR territory