Tathagata, aka: Tathāgata, Tatha-gata; 8 Definition(s)

Introduction

Tathagata means something in Buddhism, Pali, Hinduism, Sanskrit. If you want to know the exact meaning, history, etymology or English translation of this term then check out the descriptions on this page. Add your comment or reference to a book if you want to contribute to this summary article.

In Buddhism

Theravada (major branch of Buddhism)

Tathagata, literally, “one who has truly gone (tatha gata)” or "one who has become authentic (tatha agata), an epithet used in ancient India for a person who has attained the highest spiritual goal. In Buddhism, it usually denotes the Buddha, although occasionally it also denotes any of his arahant disciples.

(Source): Access to Insight: A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms

Tathagata:’An epithet of the Buddha, used by the Buddha in referring to himself. The Commentaries (DA.i.59-67; AA.i.58-63; MA.39-43; UdA.128ff., etc.) give eight (sometimes expanded to sixteen) explanations of the word, which shows that there was probably no fixed tradition on the point. The explanations indicate that the name can be used for any Arahant, and not necessarily only for a Buddha. The term was evidently pre-Buddhistic, though it has not yet been found in any pre-Buddhistic work.

(Source): Pali Kanon: Pali Proper Names

Tathagata refers to the one who is enlightened, who has a perfect knowledge. The omniscient one. Buddha.

(Source): Dhamma Dana: Pali English Glossary

Tathagata (“the perfect one”), lit. the one who has “thus gone”, or “thus come”, is an epithet of the Buddha used by him when speaking of himself.

To the often asked questions, whether the Tathāgata still exists after death, or not, it is said (e.g. S. XXII, 85, 86) that, in the highest sense (paramattha, q.v.) the Tathāgata cannot, even at lifetime, be discovered, how much less after death, and that neither the 5 groups of existence (khandha, q.v.) are to be regarded as the Tathāgata, nor can the Tathāgata be found outside these corporeal and mental phenomena. The meaning intended here is that there exist only these ever-changing corporeal and mental phenomena, arising and vanishing from moment to moment, but no separate entity, no personality.

When the commentaries in this connection explain Tathāgata by 'living being' (satta), they mean to say that here the questioners are using the merely conventional expression, Tathāgata, in the sense of a really existing entity. Cf. anattā, paramattha, puggala, jīva, satta. A commentarial treatise on "The Meaning of the Word 'Tathāgata' " is included in The All-Embracing Net of Views (Brahmajāla Sutta), tr. Bhikkhu Bodhi (BPS).

(Source): Pali Kanon: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines
context information

Theravāda is a major branch of Buddhism having the the Pali canon (tipitaka) as their canonical literature, which includes the vinaya-pitaka (monastic rules), the sutta-pitaka (Buddhist sermons) and the abhidhamma-pitaka (philosophy and psychology).

Pali

tathāgata : (adj.) one who has gone so; the Enlighten One.

(Source): BuddhaSasana: Concise Pali-English Dictionary

Tathāgata, (Derivation uncertain. Buddhaghosa (DA. I, 59—67) gives eight explanations showing that there was no fixed tradition on the point, and that he himself was in doubt). The context shows that the word is an epithet of an Arahant, and that non-Buddhists were supposed to know what it meant. The compilers of the Nikāyas must therefore have considered the expression as pre-Buddhistic; but it has not yet been found in any pre-Buddhistic work. Mrs. Rhys Davids (Dhs. tr. 1099, quoting Chalmers J. R. A. S. Jan. , 1898) suggests “he who has won through to the truth. ” Had the early Buddhists invented a word with this meaning it would probably have been tathaṃgata, but not necessarily, for we have upadhī-karoti as well as upadhiṃ karoti.—D. I, 12, 27, 46, 63; II, 68, 103, 108, 115, 140, 142; III, 14, 24 sq. , 32 sq. , 115, 217, 264 sq. , 273 sq.; S. I, 110 sq.; II, 222 sq.; III, 215; IV, 127, 380 sq.; A. I, 286; II, 17, 25, 120; III, 35, etc.; Sn. 236, 347, 467, 557, 1114; It. 121 sq.; KhA 196; Ps. I, 121 sq.; Dhs. 1099, 1117, 1234; Vbh. 325 sq. , 340, etc., etc.

—balāni (pl.) the supreme intellectual powers of a T. usually enumd as a set of ten: in detail at A. V, 33 sq. =Ps. II, 174; M. I, 69; S. II, 27; Nd2 466. Other sets of five at A. III, 9; of six A. III, 417 sq. (see bala); —sāvaka a disciple of the T. D. II, 142; A. I, 90; II, 4; III, 326 sq.; It. 88; Sn. p. 15. (Page 296)

(Source): Sutta: The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary
Pali book cover
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Pali is the language of the Tipiṭaka, which is the sacred canon of Theravāda Buddhism and contains much of the Buddha’s speech. Closeley related to Sanskrit, both languages are used interchangeably between religions.

Mahayana (major branch of Buddhism)

Tathāgata (तथागत) is a synonym for the Buddha according to the Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra (chapter IV).

Why is he called To t’o a k’ie t’o (Tathāgata)?:

1) He preaches the natures of the Dharmas (dharmalakṣaṇa) in the way (tathā) that he has understood (gata) them.

2) In the way that the previous Buddhas have gone by the path of safety (yogakṣema-mārga), thus (tathā) the actual Buddha is going (gata) and will not go on to new existences (punarbhāva).

(Source): Wisdom Library: Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra
Mahayana book cover
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Mahayana (महायान, mahāyāna) is a major branch of Buddhism focusing on the path of a Bodhisattva (spiritual aspirants/ enlightened beings). Extant literature is vast and primarely composed in the Sanskrit language. There are many sūtras of which some of the earliest are the various Prajñāpāramitā sūtras.

General definition (in Buddhism)

Thus Come One [如来] (Skt, Pali tathagata; Jpn nyorai). One of the ten honorable titles of a Buddha, meaning one who has come from the realm of truth. This title indicates that a Buddha embodies the fundamental truth of all phenomena and has grasped the law of causality spanning past, present, and future. There are two opinions about the Sanskrit and Pali word tathagata. One view interprets it as a compound of tatha and agata, meaning "thus come one" and indicating one who has arrived from the realm of truth. This is the interpretation generally used in Chinese translations. The other interprets the word tathagata as the compound of tatha and gata, meaning "thus gone one" and indicating one who has gone to the world of enlightenment.

(Source): Soka Gakkai International: The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism

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