dhātu = ātman

By David Reigle on July 29, 2015 at 10:47 pm

Not long after the Sanskrit text of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was first published (1950), V. V. Gokhale published a note (ratnagotravibhaga_1.52_=_bhagavadgita_13.32_gokhale_1955) calling attention to the parallel between its verse 1.52 and Bhagavad-gītā verse 13.32. Both verses give a comparison with space (ākāśa) in the same words. The Bhagavad-gītā verse speaks of the ātman, the “self,” while the parallel Ratna-gotra-vibhāga verse speaks of the dhātu, the “element.”

Bhagavad-gītā 13.32:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthito dehe tathâtmā nôpalipyate || 13.32 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so the ātman, everywhere established in the body, is not tainted.

Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.52:

yathā sarva-gataṃ saukṣmyād ākāśaṃ nôpalipyate |
sarvatrâvasthitaḥ sattve tathâyaṃ nôpalipyate || 1.52 ||

Just as all-pervading space, due to its subtlety, is not tainted, so this [the dhātu], everywhere established in the living being, is not tainted.

The pronoun “this” (ayam) refers back to the dhātu in the preceding verse 1.49:

sarvatrânugataṃ yadvan nirvikalpâtmakaṃ nabhaḥ |
citta-prakṛti-vaimalya-dhātuḥ sarvatra-gas tathā || 1.49 ||

Just as space, whose nature is non-conceptual, is everywhere-pervading, so the dhātu, which is the purity of the nature of mind, is everywhere-pervading.

If these two parallel verses are representative, the dhātu in the teachings of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga holds the same place as the ātman holds in the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā.

Category: Dhatu, Ratnagotravibhaga | 2 comments

  • David Reigle says:

    Thank you, Jonathan, for your kind comments. Yes, the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra is indeed a text of fundamental importance for seeing the Ageless Wisdom Tradition teachings in the Buddhist teachings, and Tony Page’s longtime work with it is of great value. This in fact partly explains a point you raised, namely, why I would focus on the Great Madhyamaka teachings. Since their source is tathagata-garbha sutras such as this one (as well as the Yogacara sastras), we have Buddhist canonical texts in which the teachings of the Ageless Wisdom Tradition can be traced. Even the Sanskrit technical terms have been preserved in the summary of the tathagata-garbha sutras which is the Ratna-gotra-vibhaga. This is of great help to me in trying to trace the terms and ideas of the Book of Dzyan.

  • Jonathan Darrall-Rew says:

    Hi David – this is Jonathan Darrall-Rew. We corresponded about a year ago about Dzogchen, Mahamudra and the Secret Doctrine’s teaching on the Boundless Immutable Principle. Thanks for this post and those below it. I have been deeply inspired by the work you are doing and the writing you are sharing here that illuminate how Helena Blavatsky’s statements about the Buddha’s teaching as it relates to the ageless wisdom religion are correct.

    I have to admit, for some time I found the degree of effort I saw in your highlighting of the Buddhist Shentong teaching on Other-Emptiness as a support for the existence of a Boundless Immutable Principle teaching in the Buddhist both a great service to the Jonang school and somewhat strange at the same time. This is because, as I mentioned during our correspondence, the now much better known practice lineages of Dzogchen and essence Mahamudra are explicitly founded upon not only the existence of such a Boundless Immutable Principle, but taking the revelation of that Reality as the ground, path and fruition of the entire spiritual way. In a global culture in which Dzogchen and essence Mahamudra teachings are now so readily available, the work to highlight the presence of such a teaching in the mostly unknown Jonang lineage seemed a little like trying to draw people’s attention to a nugget of gold in a house built of it.

    That said, I hold the same view as many Tibetan Buddhists that Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Great Madhyamaka represent the three summit peaks of Buddhist teaching. So I deeply appreciate the work you have done to highlight the third of these and the roots it has in the noble Jonang lineage.

    I appreciate your work here also owing to how you are pointing so powerfully to how each of these three summits of Buddhist teaching – which all take Buddha-nature as their foundational principle – can actually be traced back to the teaching of the Buddha himself, rather than being later developments of the Buddhist tradition.

    This has major importance for a number of different reasons. One is that it supports Helena Blatavsky’s statements about the Buddha’s teaching being perfectly in accordance with the ageless wisdom religion. I have not had any doubt for a long time that Buddha-nature, whether it is called rigpa in Dzogchen or ordinary mind in Mahamudra is perfectly equivalent with the atman of Vedanta and that the issue over the use of the word “self” is purely semantic. The Buddhists have great hesitancy to use the word ‘self’ as a referent for Buddha-nature owing to the danger of it becoming confused with mundane personality – the very issue Bhattacharya’s work has described the Buddha’s teaching as seeking to clarify.

    The semantic issue is tricky. The Reality of Buddha-nature, when recognised, is tacitly known to have no self, if that word is defined as involving some controlling entity. It is though, resplendent with self-knowing infinite awake presence, and if the word self is defined in terms of a self-knowing source-basis for all reality, it is perfectly appropriate – hence its use both by the Vednatins in terms of Atman, and also on occasion also by Buddhists.

    Indeed, on this last point, I am guessing you likely are already familiar with the work of Dr. Tony Page, but in case not, here is a link to his website: http://www.nirvanasutra.net/

    Dr. Page is a Buddhist scholar and practitioner who has spent the last couple of decades deeply studying and writing about Mahaparinirvana Sutra, which records the Buddha’s last major teaching at the end of his life. As I am sure you know, it is a core sutra of the Buddha-nature sutras, and is controversial among Buddhists owing to the Buddha explicitly teaching his followers that his emptiness teachings, as they relate to both self and world, were not his ultimate and definitive teachings. Rather, he explicitly says they are a preliminary support to clarify his ultimate teaching – the ultimate reality of Buddha-nature as rightly recognised in terms of being eternal, immutable, pure self, and true bliss – all those qualities his emptiness teachings had shown the relative self and world to be devoid of.

    The beauty of these recognitions is that as you are writing about, they reveal a coherence and shared deep structure to the Wisdom Traditions of the East (Buddhism, Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism) that truly support the reality of the ageless Wisdom Religion. Thanks for you work.


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