The Development of the Tathāgatagarbha in the Early Mahāyāna Buddhism

Shi Yong Hua
MA Big Thesis
Prof. Tilak Kariyavasam
March, 2014

The tathāgatagarbha in early Mahāyāna Buddhism along with the arising of the Mahāyāna doctrine, was one of the major doctrines of the Mahāyāna. There are many sūtra-s and Mahāyāna śāstra-s which were produced and developed in India that based on the tathāgatagarbha literature, such as the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra, Aṅgulimālika-sūtra, Śrīmālā-sūtra Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra (Lkt.), Ghana-vyūha-sūtra, almost of them were translated into Chinese.

In this thesis, I will try to explore the origin of the tathāgatagarbha and to verify whether it is the teaching of the Buddha. My study will base on the tathāgatagarbha literature extant in Chinese translation. 

The tathāgatagarbha is from the early Buddhist doctrine founded in the Chinese/Sanskrit Āgama-s and Pāli Nikāya-s. The tathāgatagarbha functions as prakṛti-prabhāsvara-citta (Pāli, pabhassara), the subtle of mind. The tathāgatagarbha is within the mind of all beings, but it is covered by the defilements explained in later Mahāyāna Buddhism.

This thesis will also explore the development of the tathāgatagarbha in the Mahāyāna literature and its signification, its relation with karma (paramārtha & saṃvṛti). It is the syncretizing of the prajñā-pāramitā and śūnyatā in Madhayamaka & Yogācāra. The importance of the tathāgatagarbha and its practice will be discussed.