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Key Term tathāgatagarbha
Hover Popup Choices de bzhin gshegs pa'i snying po; དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་; tathāgatagarbha; तथागतगर्भ; 如来藏; rúláizàng; ju lai tsang
In Tibetan Script དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་
Wylie Tibetan Transliteration de bzhin gshegs pa'i snying po
Devanagari Sanskrit Script तथागतगर्भ
Romanized Sanskrit tathāgatagarbha
Sanskrit Phonetic Rendering tatagatagarbha
Chinese Script 如来藏
Chinese Pinyin rúláizàng
English Standard Buddha-nature
Karl Brunnhölzl's English Term Heart of the Thus Gone One
Jeffrey Hopkin's English Term Tathāgata essence; matrix of a One-Gone-Thus
Alternate Spellings buddha-nature; buddha nature
Term Type Noun
Source Language Sanskrit
Basic Meaning Buddha-nature, literally the "womb/essence of those who have gone (to suchness)."
Has the Sense of The seed or essence of enlightenment. Tathāgata loosely translates as "one who has gone to a state of enlightenment," while garbha has the sense of "womb," "essence," and "embryo." Tathāgatagarbha thus suggests a potential or innate buddhahood possessed by all sentient beings that is either developed or revealed when one attains enlightenment.
Did you know? "Buddha nature" is an English translation not of Tathāgatagarbha but of buddhadhātu, as well as of buddatā, tathatā, prakṛtivyadadāna, and other possible Sanskrit originals.
Related Terms sugatagarbha;Buddhadhātu;tathatā
Karl Brunnhölzl

Read more about Different Ways of Explaining the Meaning of Tathāgatagarbha by Karl Brunnhölzl.

Explanations of Tathāgatagarbha in Indian Texts
Tathāgatagarbha as the Emptiness That Is a Nonimplicative Negation
Tathāgatagarbha as Mind’s Luminous Nature
Tathāgatagarbha as the Ālaya-Consciousness
Tathāgatagarbha as a Sentient Being
Tathāgatagarbha as the Dharmakāya, Suchness, the Disposition, and Nonconceptuality
Tibetan Assertions on Tathāgatagarbha
Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism See page 897: In Sanskrit, variously translated as “womb of the tathāgatas,” “matrix of the tathāgatas,” “embryo of the tathāgatas,” “essence of the tathāgatas”; the term probably means “containing a tathāgatha.” It is more imprecisely interpreted as the “buddha-nature,” viz., the potential to achieve buddhahood that, according to some Mahāyāna schools, is inherent in all sentient beings.
Rangjung Yeshe's English Term tathagata-essence, enlightened essence, buddha-nature
Muller's Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (DDB)

如來藏 Basic Meaning: womb of the Tathāgata


(Skt. tathāgata-garbha). The matrix of the thus come one(s). An embryo that should become a Buddha, or the 'womb' where the Buddha-to-be is carried. An expression that refers to sentient beings as the full embodiment of the Buddhaʼs capability for existence. At the same time, in concrete terms, it is in the condition of being temporarily defiled by non-inherent factors, thus it cannot be called an actualized 'Buddha.' Therefore the term refers to the capability for becoming a tathāgata that is present in the minds of unenlightened sentient beings. The notion of tathāgatagarbha is usually described as first having been introduced in the Śrīmālā-sūtra 勝鬘經. It is true that the topic is broached in that text, but only at a late point, and it is not explained in any great detail. However, the tathāgatagarbha is taken up as a central theme in such texts as the Ratnagotravibhāga 寶性論, the Laṅkâvatāra-sūtra 楞伽經, the Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith 大乘起信論, etc. The tradition of thought and practice that developed around these texts, as well as in the writings and commentaries of Paramârtha 眞諦, co-existed and interacted with the streams of Yogâcāra that developed together in East Asia between the fifth and seventh centuries, and would end up becoming the predominant soteriological influence in East Asian schools such as Huayan, Tiantai, and Chan.

There are three meanings of the term tathāgatagarbha: (a) the meaning that the absolute body of the Tathāgata (dharma-kāya) is existent within all living creatures; (b) the meaning that the tathāgata as reality-nature (true thusness) is a whole without distinctions; (c) the meaning that the tathāgata exists within every living creature in a seed, or embryonic form. The Awakening of Mahāyāna Faith says: " tathāgata has the mind of sentient beings as matrix, the mind of sentient beings has the tathāgata as matrix, the mind of sentient beings has the multifarious virtues of the tathāgata as matrix. In addition to these three kinds of interpretation the tathāgatagarbha is called the 'mind of clear and pure reflection,' or the 'Dharma-body in a state of confusion.' " (起信論, T 1666.32.575c27). See 五種藏.

(Charles Muller; source(s): JEBD: Japanese-English Buddhist Dictionary (Daitō shuppansha) 225a/250)

Source Accessed April 30, 2018, http://www.buddhism-dict.net/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?59.xml+id(%27b5982-4f86-85cf%27)
TshigmdzodChenmo [1370] sems can thams cad kyi rgyud la ye nas gnas pa'i gzhi rgyud bde bar gshegs pa'i snying po ngo bo stong pa rang bzhin gsal ba thugs rje kun khyab kyi bdag nyid can...
Wikipedia wikipedia:Buddha-nature
RigpaWiki rigpa:Buddha_nature
Other Definitions

Womb of the tathagatas

Richard Barron:
Sutra context: tathagatagarbha or "buddha nature"
Dzogchen context: potential or heart essence that consitutes attaining (state of) suchness

“Containing the tathagatas”

“Womb”, “embryo”, “essence”, or “heart” (garbha) of the Thus Gone (tathāgata)
Synonyms Buddha-dhatu “The inherent potential of all sentient beings to achieve buddhahood.” - Princeton Dictionary, p. 151 Ch: 如来藏 J: busshō
Grammatical / Etymological Analysis

“As for the meaning of the Sanskrit compound tathāgatagarbha, its first part (tathā) can be taken as either the adverb “thus” or the noun “thusness/suchness” (as a term for ultimate reality; many texts, among them the Uttaratantra, gloss tathāgatagarbha as “suchness”). The second part can be read either as gata (“gone”), or āgata (“come, arrived”; the Tibetan gshegs pa can mean both). However, in the term tathāgata, both meanings more or less come down to the same. Thus, the main difference lies in whether one understands a tathāgata as (a) a “thus-gone/thus-come one” or (b) “one gone/ come to thusness,” with the former emphasizing the aspect of the path and the latter the result. The final part of the compound—garbha—literally and originally means “embryo,” “germ,” “womb,” “the interior or middle of anything,” “any interior chamber or sanctuary of a temple,” “calyx” (as of a lotus), “having in the interior,” “containing,” or “being filled with.” At some point, the term also assumed the meanings of “core,” “heart,” “pith,” and “essence” (which is also the meaning of its usual Tibetan translation snying po).” - Karl Brunnhölzl, When the Clouds Part

ZIMMERMAN on Tathāgatagarbha

An interpretation of the meaning of the term tathāgatagarbha must, as a matter of course, start from the context in the TGS in which it originates. 52 The context is that of the withered lotuses with beautiful tathligatas sitting in the center of their calyxes (padmagarbha). In the same way that full-fledged tathāgatas sit in the flowers, so also, according to the siitra, are buddhas contained in living beings. 53 If living beings are said to contain a tathāgata, they should function as receptacles, and the compound tathāgatagarbha must accordingly be understood either as a bahuvrīhi in the sense of "containing a tathāgata" or as a tatpuruṣa meaning "store of a tathāgata." However, in order to reach an adequate interpretation of the compound, I need to preface some remarks on the term garbha, and then give an overview of the range of possible interpretations of the whole compound, in part offered by the texts which succeeded the TGS. 54

Concerning the term garbha, the Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen 55 provides us only with the two meanings "Mutterleib; Leibesfrucht, Embryo, Neugeborenes." It seems, however, that, starting from this biological background, garbha took on other, less specific senses, such as "the inside, middle, interior of anything, calyx (as of a lotus), ... any interior chamber, adytum or sanctuary of a temple &c." (MW), or, as Hara has shown for epic literature, "germ, seed, infant, child" and, by analogy with the vocable putra as the last member of a compound, even simply "member (of a family lineage)."56

Also familiar is the function of -garbha at the end of a bahuvrīhi compound,

indicating that the prior member(s) of the compound is/are contained in the subject the compound refers to.57 Especially in the last case it is difficult to judge how far a biological, embryonic shade of meaning was still felt, that is, to what degree -garbha had become a purely grammatical unit used at the time our siitra came into existence to express a relation of inclusion void of any strong lexical connotations. However, the original embryo-related meaning of garbha did not completely fade out in later centuries; indeed garbha even became associated with the semantic field of "offspring." This suggests that the grammatical application of -garbha never became totally free of the underlying idea of an embryo still in need of development in a nurturing, womb-like container, if the context in question was susceptible of such a nuance. (Source: Michael Zimmerman, A Buddha Within, 2002, pages 40-41).
sutra/śastra quote:

Son of good family, the True Nature (dharmatā) of the dharmas is this:
whether or not tathāgatas appear in the world, all these sentient beings

contain at all times a tathāgata.
sutra/śastra quote source: Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā 73.11-12. As translated in Zimmerman, A Buddha Within, 2002, p 40.
Usage Example

Zimmerman, A Buddha Within, 2002, p 40:

Sanskrit: eṣā kulaputra dharmāṇāṁ dharmatā / utpādād vā tathāgatānām anutpādād vā sadaivaite sattvās tathāgatagarbhā iti / (Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā 73.11-12)

Tibetan: རིགས་ཀྱི་བུ་དག་འདི་ནི་ཆོས་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ཆོས་ཉིད་དེ། དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པ་རྣམས་བྱུང་ཡང་རུང་མ་བྱུང་ཡང་རུང་། སེམས་ཅན་འདི་དག་ནི་རྟག་ཏུ་དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པའི་སྙིང་པོ་ཡིན་

English: Son of good family, the True Nature (dharmatā) of the dharmas is this: whether or not tathāgatas appear in the world, all these sentient beings contain at all times a tathāgata.