Looking for suttas or EBTs as a basis for some newer teachings

I’m reading an interesting work derived from a D.Phil thesis by Jungnok Park, titled “How Buddhism Acquired a Soul on the Way to China” published by the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. The book deals with an interesting topic as you may surmise from the title.

The work touches upon the evolution of Buddhist soteriology, epistemology and ontology thoroughly while limiting its scope to the topic of the title. The author describes how the concepts of the dharma-body (dharma-kaya), and the tathagata-garba were developed and considered.

What’s interesting as a layperson is that some of these concepts appear to go against what the Buddha himself taught, for example, tilakkhana, specially anatta.

Page 140 has an overview of these concepts:

The dharma-body is not attained by Buddhas through practice, and ordinary beings possess the same dharma-body from the beginning. It is not to be produced, not subject to change, and not to be purified; but it is always of such a kind (tathathā).

Further, there is an overview of the tathagata-garba

The idea that all living beings are possessed of the nature of a Buddha is called the theory of tathāgatagarbha (the embryo of a Tathāgata): there is no difference in suchness among all [living beings]; for it is the self-nature of purity and [it is] Tathāgata. Therefore all living beings are said to possess the tathāgatagarbha.

The author indicates that this leans towards the interpretation of a permanent “self” in the way these concepts evolved and adapted.

I’m trying to investigate whether there were any kernels of ideas in the EBTs that may have led towards these types of thinking or concepts, or whether these were due to external influences. I haven’t been able to find anything like this in the EBTs and the only reference to the “Dhamma-body” is in DN27 which Bhante Sujato had also commented upon in another discussion here. I’m unable to find any more about this concept, and literally nothing like a predecessor to, or a seed of an idea of the tathāgatagarbha in the EBTs. Thanks in advance to anyone who can point me in the right direction.

[Moderators, please advise/move/remove if you consider this out of place & unrelated.]

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I think you’ll have a difficult time finding any direct reference to a dhamma-body in the Pali canon as Venerable @sujato says. It might be that some of the Agamas contain it, but I’m not sure of that at all. Some of what you ask relies upon a definition of EBT, but the way it is used on this forum I think makes it unlikely you’ll find such a word as dhamma-body used in this way.


The Nibbana is not attained by Buddhas through practice, and ordinary beings possess the same Nibbana from the beginning. It is not to be produced, not subject to change, and not to be purified; but it is always of such a kind (tathathā).

Sometimes Nibbana is described as being attained and sometimes it is deemed problematic to describe it as such for those who study mostly EBT. Sometimes Nibbana is described as possessed and sometimes it is deemed problematic to describe it as such for those who study mostly EBT. Generally, speaking it is not controversial to describe Nibbana as, “not produced, not subject to change, and not to be purified” but always suchness. Hard to say something categorical here, but that is generally the mood I detect on this forum.

That isn’t to suggest that what some adherents of the Chinese traditions regard as “dharma-body” are necessarily the same as what some adherents of studying mostly EBT regard as Nibbana. However, perhaps there are some who equate like this or in another fashion?

Dharma-body and Nibbana are just words and what meaning people ascribe to them varies with the perspective of the person or (loose) group using it. It is hard to nail down any specific usage and say that is what is meant. Even here on this forum you’ll find seemingly endless debates about Nibbana - what it is, what it isn’t, if it’s possessed, if it’s not, if it’s unconditioned, if it’s the absence of conditions, if it’s only fully realized at death, if it’s fully realized in life, etc, etc.

Rather than searching for something categorical to say about Dharma-body or Nibbana it probably matters more how the views formed around these words alter practice and that is a much more difficult question without knowing the minds of those who perceive “dharma-body” or “nibbana.” :pray:


For these are terms for the Tathāgata: ‘the embodiment of principle’ (dhammakāya), and ‘the embodiment of divinity’ (brahmakāya), and ‘the manifestation of principle’ (dhammabhūto), and ‘the manifestation of divinity’ (brahmabhūto).
DN 27

“For a long time I’ve wanted to go and see the Buddha, but I was physically too weak.”
[The Buddha:] “Enough, Vakkali! Why would you want to see this rotten body? One who sees the Dhamma sees me. One who sees me sees the Dhamma. Seeing the Dhamma, you see me. Seeing me, you see the Dhamma.”
SN 22.87

In the early Mahāyāna literature, such as the early Prajñāpāramitā, the characters say that if something is spoken from a realization of Dharma, then it is spoken by the Buddha, because the Buddha is the Dharma. We already see kernels of this idea in some of the āgama literature, as above. For them, “The Buddha said this” didn’t need to mean some decaying body said some words. This made room for new ideas and scriptures to be considered ‘buddhavacana’ despite not being found in the common āgama literature that all Buddhists would have been familiar with.

The transition being something like:
Buddha → Buddha = Teachings he gives → Buddha = Principles which those Teachings point to.

Because every sentient being operates under the laws of Dhamma, and the Dhamma is considered all-pervasive and always true, some might have began saying that all beings have the “Buddha” in them in the above sense of Buddha = Dhamma in the abstract. Obviously, then, over time this could be taken in different directions by different people.

For example, if impermanence is an eternal law that every being is subject to (dhammaniyāmatā), and if the Buddha is the laws of Dhamma, then could we say that every being has an eternal ātman which is the Dharmakaya of the Buddha? m This is the kind of word-play and concepts tossed around in this genre of literature. In some schools, ‘Tathāgatagarbha’ was matched with a kind of pure consciousness considered to be underlying every sentient being or perhaps the universe.

It was also in reaction to a concept that developed in some schools / strands of Buddhist thought: icchantikas. These were people who were considered basically to not have the karmic potential to attain awakening; they were doomed to samsāra. So the Tathāgatagarbha counter-acts that idea.


Rather than looking too far out, it’s best to look around. A good example is Ishvara - Lord God, which is completely absent in Pāli Canons, but part of the general Brahmanical culture. Go to the East and you find AvalokitESHVARA.

Mahabrahma would be the closest thing to Ishvara, which is a completely deluded god who learns dhamma from Buddha, as opposed to being an overseer god.

In Pāli Suttas, there’s a clear cessation of six-sense base and five-aggregates. Yet in Lotus Sutra, this exposition is explained as a placeholder teaching for people on the path to Budhahood.

A lot of things Buddha refuted or refused to talk about, for example Self, is found in other schools. Zen, for example, talks about the true self, similar to tathagata-garba, Buddhanature, which is kind of like both potential for enlightenment and emptiness bundled up together.

The closest thing to eternalist ideas in Pāli source, and a cause for a lot of discussion, is the term viññāṇa anidassana. This could be translated both as consciousness not landing (appearing) or also unlanding consciousness. Certain theravāda schools even, like Thai Forest tradition, of which Ajahn Thanissaro is a part of, use this seldom used and cryptic term to explain that nibbāna is a type of consciousness.

It’s not hard to understand why. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Buddha did talk about complete cessation of all six senses and all aggregates. How do you think people would react to it? The fact that there’s rebirth in this life is proof that people are afraid of non-existence. People crave existence. So it’s only natural that people would try to find loopholes and find something that crosses over, even if that something is beyond logic or exposition.

Either way, as for specifics of dhammabody, buddhanature and similar pseudo-eternalist views, one should look within the Brahmanical tradition, to see many such views that Buddha spent his life trying to refute. :slight_smile:


I just want to address this.

There’s a sutta that says perception feeling and consciousness are together, not separated.

So when there’s perception there’s feeling.

The perceiving nibbāna in AN10.6 is not cessation of perception and feeling.

The former has perception the latter no perception.

There’s different types of consciousness.

There’s Hindu Swamis out there instructing that Brahma-Nirvana for example is a type of God-Consciousness. But that is the tip of the scale with regards to consciousness and Nibbana coming together, and it’s not a Buddhist perspective per-se. Yet not attaching to words like dry dictaphones, there may be a Way to talk about Nibbana for some non-traditional Buddhist Teachers as a type of Spiritual Consciousness. I think it has to do with the modern sphere and influence of Hinduism becoming more and more popular in the world.

Buddha’s philosophy will prevail, but every Dhamma has a meaning.

What’s interesting about Jungnok Park’s work is that although this Brahmanical influence is taken into consideration, his research provides significant details that show how the the rich and multi-faceted concepts of the “Shen” (神) developed in the Chinese strands of Buddhism as a permanent agent of perception, and quite independently and took on a life of its own, so to speak.

While the early concept of “Shen” in Daoism is described in the book as an agent of thought and not something permanent, this concept appears to have been co-opted and infused with new meaning in some of the Chinese sutras. As an example, the author quotes one translation of the Mahāparinirvāna-sūtra that states:

Since the mind is attached to existence, [the body] arises dependent on conditions. Doing [karmic] actions repetitiously, one receives extraordinary suffering. Once one has been born, one must die; once one has died, one must be reborn. Although one comes and passes away through birth and death, [one’s] jingshen does not cease. Therefore [you] should not [cry] like this!

The interpretation is extraordinary, since the term jingshen here indicates something permanent.

To your point @Dogen the author goes into detail on how the Chinese translators interpolated some phrases to indicate a permanent agent in samsāra, but he also covers in detail how the pre-Buddhist Chinese ideas of the self (Shen, and other concepts such as the hun [魂] and po [魄]) evolved and played a significant part in the later narratives, infusing and being infused with ideas from Daoism among others.

All in all, a very thoroughly researched book and fascinating to study.

Yes we see Avalokiteshvara relics here in Singapore more in the museums and art galleries, though we find the GuanYin / Kuan-Yin everywhere here.

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