Even more terms

O Bhante! Thou shalt not have too many scruples about reification. The Buddha was not beyond borrowing terms originally smacking of hypostatis, eg the Upanisadic sarvaṃ/sabbaṃ but using it without all those connotations. How else do we explain the suttas’ use of what sound like reifying language to describe Nibbana as ajātaṃ abhūtaṃ akataṃ asaṅkhataṃ (the Thinginess in the passage comes through from the existential verb atthi used in conjunction with these words).

Which brings us to an ancillary issue - would the Buddha always have spoken clinically, or did He also resort to “emotive” language?

This passage is frequently invoked to thingify Nibbāna, but it doesn’t have to be read in this way, nor probably should it. In Pali the prefix a is often simply privative, that is, negating the meaning of the unprefixed word. As such ajāta probably only means “freedom from the born” and asaṅkhata “freedom from the conditioned”. Moreover, the fact that these statements are only found in the Udāna make them slightly suspect. They may well stem from a time post Buddha.

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Indeed Bhante. Let me be the first to disavow any “thingified” Nibbana; I wanted only to make the point that suttas do show usage of reifying language, even if the intent may have been purely evocative.

Phew! :relaxed:

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Dear Ajahn, I would like to suggest that when the Buddha uses the word/title Tathāgata, it is meant in a more general sense than just himself.

The feeling I get from the suttas, is that Tathāgata (mostly) refers to the naturally occurring phenomenon ‘someone becomes a Buddha’.

Here are some illustrative examples:

“Monks on the manifistation of the Tathāgata […]” (AN 4:128; Bhikku Bodhi; In the Buddha’s Words; p.191)

"So too,
brahmin, here a Tathāgata appears in the world […] "(MN 27)

A Tathāgata is something that appears or manifests, more like an important event in the universe rather than a particular person.

On the flip side, whenever the Buddha talks about his bodhisatta days, he always uses regular pronouns: “Before my enlightenment, when I was still a bodhisatta” etc.

As far as I know, it’s never “Before the Tathāgata’s enlightenment, when he was a bodhisatta”, or anything like that.

And for example like in the Group of Ones, there is a lot of:

“Monks, I don’t envision even one other […]”

My own impression is that there are plenty of examples where the Buddha uses “I” to refer to himself.

So I would suggest something like “an Awaited One” as a translation for Tathāgata .

Because without the Dhamma taught by a Tathāgata, basically you just have to wait until one arises if you want to get out of samsara.

And there are other titles which talk about how awesome the Buddha as a being is, but not so many which capture the idea of the Buddha as a rare and precious event; a narrow window in time where beings can escape.

Anyway, just my two cents :slight_smile:

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You are quite right that Tathāgata is also used in a more general sense; I even think it is occasionally used to describe arahants in general (or is this my memory leading me astray!). But the main usage of Tathāgata in the suttas is the Buddha applying it to himself. It occurs in this usage hundreds of times, perhaps more.

I quite like your rendering “an Awaited One”, except that nobody is actually waiting for anything. They should be waiting, but everyone is too deluded to do so! Waiting implies that you know what you are waiting for, but of course that knowledge is exactly what is missing and it is why the arising of a Buddha is so crucial. In any case, although your idea is inspired, it is perhaps a little too far from the most likely meaning of the word, which revolves around “truth”.

Judging by your avatar, it must be very cold in Norway right now!

Is it possible that the main use (that of self-reference {haha} ) is a later devotional effort, the way Thai folk will have the Buddha speaking in a royal-esque way?

Perhaps it was a neologism?

Dear Ajahn, I took the liberty of skimming through Bhikkhu Bodhi’s “In the Buddha’s Words”, looking for uses of “I” and “Tathāgata”.

According to my counting, the Buddha uses “I” to refer to himself about 40 times (39 “I” + 3 “me”). He uses Tathāgata about 22 times.

Some observations:

  • 6 out of 22 uses of Tathāgata have appear, arisen or manifestation in the same sentence.

  • 2 out 22 uses of Tathāgata are in plural, spoken by someone else, as in “Tathāgatas are awesome”.

Of course, “In the Buddha’s Words” as a sample doesn’t necessarily represent the general trend of the suttas.

Here are also some excerpts from the suttas about the Tathāgata:

“Here, bhikkhus, a Tathāgata appears in the world, […] This, bhikkhus, is the first person appearing in the world who appears for the welfare of many people, for the happiness of many people, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of devas and humans. Iti 84

So too, bhikkhus, so long as a Tathagata has not arisen in the world, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One, for just so long there is no manifestation of great light and radiance, but then blinding darkness prevails, a dense mass of darkness; for just so long there is no explaining, teaching, proclaiming, establishing, disclosing, analysing, or elucidating of the Four Noble Truths. SN56:38

I agree that Tathāgata has something to do with truth, perhaps that he is the first being to discover the truth (in a world where the truth has been lost).

What about “Discoverer” as a translation for Tathāgata?

I also think “Realized One” is good.

I guess I just feel that “Tathāgata” is tied to this narrative of a great spiritual event in the universe. I would guess that it was probably a myth that existed in the time of the Buddha, about the appearance of a great sage who would hold the answers to the mysteries of the universe, or something like that.

And also, I would be so bold as to respectfully suggest that the the Buddha usually (statistically) uses “I” and “me” when he is referring to himself, and that when the Buddha uses Tathāgata, it includes himself, but it also serves the purpose of defining what a supreme spiritual being must be like.

Sort of like taking the word ‘messiah’ and defining it to be one who awakens and teaches the four noble truths.

Anyway, there are many good options, I am sure whatever choice is made will bring much praise and blame :smiley:

Edit: It’s not so cold, but there is wind and a lot of slippery ice; a perfect day for staying inside reading suttas and meditating! :slight_smile:

i agree with Erik on this, as i get the same impression from the usage of the term in the suttas

it only turns out that he’s speaking of himself because he’s too a Tathagata, one of the lot, but if i’m not mistaken this term is never used in the context of actual biographical events of Gotama Buddha

it’s when he’s speaking of himself as a ‘being’ (also tathagata) an embodiment of the phenomenon so to speak, of behavior, knowledge, faculties and qualities applicable to any Tathagata

@Erik_ODonnell @LXNDR

I have to confess I haven’t done a proper count, and so I guess I should be careful not to overstate my case. Anyway, I have decided to follow Linda’s suggestion and “translate” Tathāgata with Buddha, and the distinction in usage then loses its relevance. My reasoning here is as follows. The word Buddha is generally used as an adjective in the suttas, acting as a descriptive term, and not so much as a noun referring to a historical person or a class of persons. It seems to me that Tathāgata is used in the suttas in much the same way that Buddha is used in later literature. If this is roughly correct, then it seems appropriate to use the word Buddha throughout and not create any artificial distinction between these more or less synonymous words.

So that’s my position now, but as always it is subject to change …

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