The idea that living beings are imbued with the self-same nature as the enlightened buddha (and thus are potential buddhas) came to be widely expressed in the literature of early Mahayana Buddhism. Terms used to designate this concept included “buddha-nature” (Sanskrit buddhadhātu, lit. “buddha-element”; Chinese foxing) and tathāgata-garbha, which was translated into Chinese as “tathāgata storehouse” (rulai zang) and into Tibetan as “tathāgata essence” (de gshegs snying po). (The Sanskrit tathāgata-garbha more precisely means “having a tathāgata [= buddha] within.”) Despite the broad distribution of the idea of “buddha-nature” in Indian Mahayana canonical texts, few Indian Buddhist systematic thinkers seem to have concerned themselves with either its elaboration or criticism. This would change, however, with the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism to East Asia and Tibet, where “tathāgata-garbha thought” became an arena of doctrinal contestation and has so remained to the present day. East Asian Buddhisms often understood garbha in the sense of “womb” or “embryo,” which is reflected in current English translations including “womb/embryo/matrix of the tathāgata.” The metaphor of giving birth to a buddha that this seemed to imply also deeply influenced the conceptualization, and even iconography, of Buddhist contemplative practice. It may be noted, moreover, that the associated concept of “clan” or “family” (Sanskrit gotra)—one’s affinity with buddhahood—was much discussed in Indian doctrinal treatises. Though not a major focus in this bibliography, it is examined in some of the works cited (especially Ruegg 1969 cited under General Overviews).
Included here are both introductory texts (Williams 1989 and Takasaki 1987), suitable for those who have little or no prior familiarity with this subject matter, as well as some works (Griffiths and Keenan 1990, May 1971, Ruegg 1969, and Ruegg 1989) that deal with a range of materials representing different Buddhist cultural spheres in South, Central, and East Asia. Ruegg 1989 may be recommended in particular to those who wish to explore the philosophical problems raised by the concept of buddha-nature.
Griffiths, Paul J., and John P. Keenan, eds. Buddha Nature: A Festschrift in Honor of Minoru Kiyota. Tokyo: Buddhist Books International, 1990.
The ten articles in this collection treat buddha-nature, or closely related topics, in relation to Buddhist doctrinal traditions in India, China, and Tibet.
May, Jacques. “La philosophie bouddhique idéaliste.” Asiatische Studien/Études Asiatiques 25 (1971): 265–323.
An invaluable bibliographical essay, devoted to the study of the Yogācāra school of Buddhism. Includes remarks on the major tathāgata-garbha texts inter alia.
Ruegg, David S. La Théorie du Tathāgatagarbha et du Gotra: Études sur la Sotériologie et la Gnoséologie du Bouddhisme. Publications de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient 70. Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1969.
A scholarly tour de force, treating diverse aspects of topics related to buddha-nature in India and Tibet, particularly the concepts of gotra and of the “single vehicle” (ekayāna) in the Yogācārabhūmi, Abhisamayālaṃkāraśāstra, Ratnagotravibhāga, and their allied literature. Difficult but required reading for those engaged in academic research in this area.
Ruegg, David S. Buddha Nature, Mind and the Problem of Gradualism in a Comparative Perspective: On the Transmission and Reception of Buddhism in India and Tibet Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion 13. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1989.
The volume as a whole is focused on the “Samyé Debate” in 8th-century Tibet, which centered on the issue of gradualism vs. immediate enlightenment. The first chapter, however, concerns primarily the interpretation of the tathāgata-garbha doctrine in its Indian contexts, particularly in its ramifications for Buddhist hermeneutics.
Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. London: Routledge, 1989.
Chapter 5, “The Tathāgatagarbha,” offers what is perhaps the finest general introduction available to buddha-nature in its Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan formulations. An ideal first reading on the topic.
Takasaki, Jikidō. An Introduction to Buddhism. Translated by Rolf W. Giebel. Tokyo: Tōhō Gakkai, 1987.
Takasaki is among the leading contributors to the study of buddha-nature in canonical texts (see Takasaki 1966, cited under Ratnagotravibhāga-Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra). In this volume, intended for general readers, he summarizes his findings on pp. 215–223.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese