Anonymous X wrote:He even goes as far as calling this 'True Self'. Of course, we immediately think of Advaita and it's posit of an atman as true self. This kind of conception is not very different from each other, and the Buddha lived in a time where this kind of teaching must have been prevalent. Buddhist scholars have argued this point of 'positive' essence vehemently, both for and against this kind of thinking. How do you personally interpret this? Is it just semantics that we get lost in and both systems are talking about the 'ineffable' using different terms? What would the difference between Brahman and buddhanature really be?
The term "true self" [satyātman] actually never appears in any of the tathāgatagarbha sūtras. It's presence in select English texts is a translational gloss chosen by a couple authors to fit their own biases.
Further, the Laṅkāvatāra is explicitly clear that the tathāgatagarbha is not to be conflated with the self of the non-buddhists.
The Laṅkā also states:
- O Mahāmati, with a view to casting aside the heterodox theory, you must treat the tathāgatagarbha as not self [anātman].
Bhāviveka demonstrates the proper way to view buddhanature:
- The statement "The tathāgata pervades" means wisdom pervades all objects of knowledge, but it does not mean abiding in everything like Viśnu. Further, "Tathāgatagarbhin" means emptiness, signlessness and absence of aspiration exist the continuums of all sentient beings, but is not an inner personal agent pervading everyone.
These quotes seem to contradict what you just said. There are many more like these in the Tathagathagarbha 'class' of sutras.
From the Mahaparinirvana Sutra:
'When the Tathagata speaks of Self, in no case are things thus. That is why he says: 'All things have no Self.'
Even though he has said that all phenomena [dharmas] are devoid of the Self, it is not that they are completely/ truly devoid of the Self. What is this Self? Any phenomenon [dharma] that is true [satya], real [tattva], eternal [nitya], sovereign/ autonomous/ self-governing [aisvarya], and whose ground/ foundation is unchanging [asraya-aviparinama], is termed 'the Self' [atman].'
In the chapter entitled, “The Tathāgata-garbha”,
the Buddha declares to Bodhisattva-Mahāsattva
Kāśyapa (I quote from Faxian, Hodge, 2005, p.1):
The True Self is the tathāgata-dhātu
[Buddha Principle, Buddha Element,
Buddha Factor]. You should know
that all beings do have it, but it
is not apparent, since those beings
are enveloped by immeasurable
kleśas [defects of mind, morality and
The keen young Bodhisattva will have none of
this, however, and mounts a vehement, verbal assault
on the Buddha in an attempt to shore up the validity
of the general non-Self doctrine, attempting to argue
for the total illogicality and impossibility of a real
Does the Buddha at this point then modify or
even withdraw his revelation that the True Self is the
indwelling Buddha-Principle within all beings? No.
He strengthens it - by telling the tale of a rather
witless wrestler who mistakenly believes he has lost
a precious jewel, which he always wore fastened to
his forehead, when in fact it has merely been driven
under his flesh by the force of his engagement in a
bout with a wrestling rival. The Buddha states
All beings are also like this. Each one of
them has the tathāgata-dhātu, but,
through having recourse to evil
acquaintances, they give rise to
attachment, hatred and stupidity and fall
into the three miserable states …,
adopting various kinds of bodies
throughout the twenty-five modes of
existence. The precious jewel that is
the tathagata-dhātu is buried within the
wound of the kleśas of attachment,
hatred and stupidity, so that they are
unaware of its presence there. Engaging
in the notion that there is no Self with
regard to the mundane self, they do not
understand the skilful words of implicational
purport of the Tathāgata …
They have the notion that there is no
Self and are unable to know the True Self. Regarding this, the Tathāgata …
utilises skilful means: he causes
them to extinguish the raging fires of
the countless kleśas, revealing and
elucidating the tathāgata-dhātu to
them … (Hodge, 2005, p. 2)
On the specific question of the supramundane
or nirvanic Self, it is apparent that the sūtra does
assert an eternally abiding entity or dharma – what
we might call the “Buddha-Self”, since the Buddha
utters the equation ‘Self = Buddha’ - as an everenduring
reality of the highest order. That Buddha-
Self is one with Nirvāna. In the Dharmaksema
Nirvāna Sūtra, the Buddha is asked by Mañjuśrī,
“What is the meaning of this ‘real truth’ that you
have mentioned?” The Buddha’s reply is instructive
Noble son, the real truth is the true
Dharma. Noble son, if the Dharma is
not true, then it cannot be called the
‘real truth’. Noble son, the real truth
is devoid of distortions …the real truth
is free from falsity. If it were not free
from falsity, it would not be called the
‘real truth’… Noble son, that which is
endowed with the Eternal, Bliss, the
Self and Purity is stated to be the
meaning of the ‘real truth’. (Yamamoto/
Page, 2000, Vol. 4, “On Holy Actions, p.48".
Actions”, p. 48).