Buddha-nature (as Depicted in the Lankavatara-sutra)

by Nguyen Dac Sy | 2012 | 70,344 words

This page relates ‘The Buddha-nature and the Luminous Mind’ of the study on (the thought of) Buddha-nature as it is presented in the Lankavatara-sutra (in English). The text represents an ancient Mahayana teaching from the 3rd century CE in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and Bodhisattva Mahamati, while discussing topics such as Yogacara, Buddha-nature, Alayavijnana (the primacy of consciousness) and the Atman (Self).

1.2. The Buddha-nature and the Luminous Mind

[Full title: Traces of the Buddha-nature in Early Buddhism, (2): The Buddha-nature and the Luminous Mind]

Another concept in Early Buddhism which is identical with the Buddha-nature is the luminous mind (pabhassara cittaṃ) that presented in the Anguttara-nikāya. The scripture states that mind is originally luminous and inherently freed from defilements.

“Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭha”nti. Navamaṃ.
“Pabhassaramidaṃ, bhikkhave, cittaṃ. Tañca kho āgantukehi upakkilesehi vippamutta”nti. Dasamaṃ.[1]

“This mind, monks, is luminous, but it is defiled by taints that come from without;
This mind, monks, is luminous, but it is cleansed of taints that come from without.”[2]

These verses have been taken from the Paṇihitaacchavaggo Sutta (The mind Directed and Pellucid) in the Anguttara-nikāya. In the text, the Buddha gave several examples to teach monks how to direct their mind in right way in order to reach holy result. The terms “this mind” (idaṃ cittaṃ) in the verses imply that the Buddha was referring to the preceding “mind” as mentioned in the preceding verses. The preceding verses described that the result of mind was determined by what we did with this mind. When this mind was uncultivated (adanta);it led to great loss and suffering, and vice versa. At the end of the sutta, the Buddha declared, as in the above verses, that the mind is originally pure and luminous; it indeed is stained by incidental defilements.

This originally luminous mind is identical with the intrinsically pure Buddha-nature as described by the Laṅkāvatārasūtra .

“Now the Blessed One makes mention of the Tathāgatagarbha in the sutras, and verily it is described by you as by nature bright and pure, as primarily unspotted, endowed with the thirty-two marks of excellence, hidden in the body of every being like a gem of great value, which is enwrapped in a dirty garment, enveloped in the garment of the Skandhas, Dhatus, and Ayatanas, and soiled with the dirt of greed, anger, folly, and false imagination.”[3] .

Thus, the above quotes from the Pāli Nikāya show that the idea of the Buddha-nature pre-existed in Early Buddhism in the forms of the “Buddha’s enlightenment” or the “luminous mind”. In addition, Lokottaravāda, a sub-sect of Mahāsāṅghika, also holds that while all mundane dharmas were unreal, the supramundane dharmas were real.[4] This idea is also akin to the universality of the Buddha-nature.

Footnotes and references:


The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Aṅguttara-Nikāya), tr. F.L. Woodward & E.Majjhimanikāya. Hare, Vol. I, p. 8.


Nalinaksha Dutt, Buddhist Sects in India, pp.69-71.

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