Why Buddha is called "thus gone"?


What is the etymology of Tathagata?
What is “gone” meaning?


Bhante @Sujato has previously examined the etymology of the term:

I was able to find two relevant EBTs in which we see the Buddha explaining why he would use the title tathāgata:

"Concerning things past, future and present the Tathāgata is a prophet of the hour, a prophet of fact, a prophet of good, a prophet of the Norm, a prophet of the Discipline.
For this is he called Tathāgata.
Whatever, O Cunda, in this world with its devas and Māras and Brahmās, is by the folk thereof, gods or men, recluses or brahmins, seen, heard, felt, discerned, accomplished, striven for, or devised in mind,—all is understood by the Tathāgata.
For this is he called Tathāgata.
And all that in the interval between the night, O Cunda, wherein the Tathāgata was enlightened in the supreme enlightenment, and the night wherein he passed away without any condition of rebirth remaining,—all that, in that interval, he speaks in discourse or conversation or exposition:—all that is so, and not otherwise.
For that is he called Tathāgata.
As the Tathāgata says, O Cunda so he does; as he does, so he says.
Inasmuch as he goeth even according to his word, and his word is according to his going,
for that is he called Tathāgata.
As to the world, O Cunda, with its Māras and its Brahmās, of all its folk, divine or human, recluses or brahmins, the Tathāgata hath surpassed them, hath not by them been surpassed, surveys them with sure vision, disposer of things.
For that is he called Tathāgata.


"Whatever is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, reached, sought after, examined by the mind—all that the Tathāgata has fully awakened to;
therefore he is called the Tathāgata.
Whatever the Tathāgata speaks, utters, or expounds in the interval between the night when he awakens to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment and the night when he attains final nibbāna, all that is just so and not otherwise;
therefore he is called the Tathāgata.
As the Tathāgata speaks, so he does; as he does, so he speaks. Since he does as he speaks and speaks as he does,
therefore he is called the Tathāgata.
In this world with its devas, Māra, and Brahmā, among this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its devas and humans, the Tathāgata is the vanquisher, the unvanquished, the universal seer, the wielder of mastery;
therefore he is called the Tathāgata.”
– AN4.23

P.S.: @Yasoja kindly pointed me to Iti112.


It seems to summarise down to:

the Blessed One is
-worthy/blessed (bhagava)
-enlightened (arahan)
-rightly self-awakened, (sammasambuddho)
-consummate in knowledge & conduct, (vijja carana sampanno)
-well-gone, (sugato)
-an expert with regard to the world/or penetrating wisdom with regard to the ‘world’ (lokavidu)
-unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, (anuttaro purisadhamma)
-the Teacher of divine & human beings’ (satta devamanussanan)
-awakened (buddho) AN11.13


With metta


I don’t have any EBT passage to explicitly support this, but my impression of what “tathagata” means is based on examining the nickname “su-gata” (well-gone), and anatta, and how the Buddha answered questions about what happens to an arahant after death.

When people asked the Buddha what happens to an arahant after death, probably his most frequent response is “I only teach dukkha and its cessation.” Meaning dukkha as 5 clingable aggregates that disperse when it’s no longer nourished by craving at death. There’s no god, no personality, no self that suddenly got annihilated.

Similarly, “thus gone one” avoids giving people who like metaphysical fancy talk anything to grab on to and misapprehend. Tathagata IMO is just a convenient nickname to designate a being who’s so thoroughly awakened that no words can describe that condition, but for conventional purposes we know he’s not just an arahant disciple, not just any old pile of “dukkha that ceased”, but a special one who re-discovered the way to supreme awakening.


Just putting it out there that the epithets ‘Buddha’ and ‘Tathagata’ are not unknown to the Jains as well. There are not everywhere as in the Buddhist texts, but still. Also we have ‘Mahāvīra’ as occasional epithets of the Buddha in the EBT.

Dragon of dragons (nāganāga), great hero (mahāvīra), / While you are speaking,
The gods all rejoice, / Both Nāradas and Pabbatas. (Snp 3.6)

Good sirs, listen up / As the seer speaks,
The surgeon, the great hero (mahāvīra), / Roars like a lion in the forest. (Snp 3.7, MN 92)

Having four wheels and nine doors, / Filled up and bound with greed,
Born from a bog, O great hero (mahāvīra)! / How does one escape from it? (SN 1.29, SN 2.28)

The great heroes (mahāvīra) roar their lion’s roar / Confident in the assemblies—
The Tathagatas endowed with the powers / Have crossed over attachment to the world. (SN 4.12)

“O great hero, great in wisdom, / Blazing forth with power and glory!
I worship your feet, One with Vision, / Who has overcome all enmity and fear.
“O great hero who has vanquished death, / Your disciple is longing for death.
He intends [to take his own life]: / Restrain him from this, O luminous one! (SN 4.23)

[The Blessed One:] “Truly the Tathagatas, the great heroes, / Lead by means of the true Dhamma.
When they are leading by means of the Dhamma, / What envy can there be in those who understand? (SN 4.25)

Having emerged from his daytime abode / From a desire to behold the Teacher,
Your disciple Vangısa, O great hero, / Bows down in worship at your feet. (SN 8.8)

Endowed with the seven gems, / Trained in the threefold training,
Those great heroes wander about / With fear and trembling abandoned. (SN 35.76)

Homage due, to him who’s drawn the dart / Of craving, to the Buddha, peerless Lord,
Mighty hero, kinsman of the Sun! (DN 23)

It’s no coincidence that all these are in verses, none of it is in prose, and it’s kinda cute, the editors of the EBT must have been in a dilemma: ‘Mahavira’ would have been appropriated at that time by the Jains, so naturally they would have avoided the term in the Buddhist texts. In prose you can find synonyms without altering the meaning, but in poetry it’s difficult, also with the Indian heritage you don’t just change verses - they breathe antiquity and authority. So they could not have edited the old verses where ‘Mahavira’ still appears as a name for the Buddha. And maybe the Jains did the same with ‘Tathagata’, who knows.


Tathagata means both “thus come one” and “thus gone one.” The Buddha has “thus come” from the Dharmakaya, and has “thus gone” into Nirvana.

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.


The short and correct answer is that nobody has a clue what Tathagata means. If you can find the excellent article “Tathagata and Tahagaya” by Thomas (1936), it will be easily clear that the Buddha didn’t invent the term but took it over as a technical epithet from the existent vocabulary of his time. Add to this that Buddhagosa was also fumbling to find a satisfying etymology and comes up with six possibilities without any foundation in the suttas and then it should be clear that very early on it was already forgotten why this exact word became an epithet for the highest being.


ATI: Here are a few of the many epithets that appear in the suttas in reference to the Buddha. The indicated sutta passages contain examples.
All-seeing: Iti 112
Awakened one (buddho): AN 11.12
Best of those who can be tamed: Iti 112
Blessed one (bhagava): AN 11.12
Brahma: MN 18
Bull among men: Sn 3.11
Bull among seers: Sn 3.11
Bull of the Sakyan clan: Sn 3.11
Caravan leader: Iti 84
Conqueror of beasts: Sn 3.11
Consummate in knowledge & conduct (vijja-carana-sampanno): AN 11.12
Dhamma: MN 18
Dispeller of darkness: Iti 38
Elucidator of meaning: MN 18
Endowed with all the foremost marks: Snp III.1
Expert with regard to the world (lokavidu): AN 11.12
The Eye: MN 18
First in the world: Iti 84
Foremost jewel: Sn 3.11
Foremost of all people: Sn 3.11
Foremost of charioteers: Thag 6.9
Foremost of those who can cross: Iti 112
Foremost sage: Sn 3.11
Giver of the deathless: MN 18
Great One (naga): Ud 5.6
Great seer: Sn 4.14
Kinsman of the sun: Sn 4.14
Knowledge: MN 18
Lord of the Dhamma: MN 18
Peerless bull: SN 1.38
Rightly self-awakened (samma-sambuddho): AN 11.12
Shower of the way: MN 107
Supreme among those who can be released: Iti 112
Tathagata (the one “Thus-gone” or “Thus-come”): Iti 112
Teacher of divine & human beings (sattha deva-manussanam): Iti 112
Thoroughly mature: Iti 112
Ultimate leader: Thag 6.9
Unconquered conqueror: Iti 112
Unexcelled trainer for those people fit to be tamed (anuttaro purisa-damma-sarathi): AN 11.12
Unsurpassed doctor and surgeon: Iti 100
Victor in battle: MN 26
Well-gone one (sugato): AN 11.12
Wielder of power: Iti 112
Worthy one (arahant): AN 11.12


As @gnlaera and @Mat rightly pointed out, the Buddha himself gave quite a few explanations for why he is called Tathāgata (see DN29, AN4.23 and Iti112)… why would we want to find new meanings using etymology or something else?


Remind me again what it means then please? Except that it can mean anything that is great and admirable…


It means what is stated in the 3 suttas quoted above. The sentence ‘For this is he called Tathāgata.’ cannot be more explicit.

Here is a summary I made some time ago (#1 to 5 correspond to the suttas quoted above and are the most important because of the explicit statement ‘For this is he called Tathāgata’; #6 to 24 are other characteristics that are associated with the term Tathāgata in the suttas but without the Buddha saying explicitly that he is called Tathāgata for this reason):

As a side note, #3 was an important discovery for me the first time I read it!


But you have to admit this is quite a variety of “meaning” for one word.

It’s like saying that “Apollo Creed” means
The Master of Disaster
The King of Sting
The Dancing Destroyer
The Prince of Punch
The Count of Monte Fisto


Yes, I think the term predated the Buddha- entire philosophies had been built around it- and he was later identified with it. I’m not surprised poets, writers and the devout added more to it. Even now prominent personalities have epithets after them:- Elvis Presly ‘The King (of rock and roll)’.

with metta


I admit! (5 meanings)
But why is this a problem and why should we look for more meanings outside these explanations provided by the Buddha? (it’s a genuine question, I’m trying to understand the implications of your statement)


There is actually no big issue here, I mean not much depends on that question. But when it comes to epithets it hardly gets more vague than ‘Tathagata’.

Just imagine (casually) that you attained enlightenment. When people continued to address you by your given name, would the natural thing for you to say “Hey, don’t call me Max any more, henceforth call me… Thusgoner!”?

Other epithets have more intuitive validity - with ‘Buddha’ we get the image of someone who has slept in delusion and then woke up to supreme truth and light. A ‘bull of a man’, ‘a great hero’, ‘a great victor’, ‘a lion’, they all easily evoke masculine images fitting to the warrior caste.

But ‘Tathagata’? we don’t even know if it’s a ‘comer’ or a ‘goner’, if it’s ‘thus’ or ‘completely’. (look up ‘tathā’ in Monier-Williams - you’ll be surprised how many side meanings it has). Of course we can imagine some meaning but the word in itself is not helping us much, nor are the pre-buddhist texts helpful. It is so vague that Ananda Coomaraswamy 1937 had no issues arguing for ‘Tathagata’ to be an epithet of the principal Vedic god Agni:

It is precisely in connection with the advent of Agni that the verb a-gam is characteristically employed in the Rigveda. Thus in RV. x, 53, 1, “He whom we sought intellectually hath come! (a-agat) . . . the knowledgeable Person.” In RV. vi, 52, 5, tatha occurs with a-gam in one and the same sentence, although without direct connection… …

So you see anyone with some knowledge or theory can read almost anything to it. DN 29 and AN 4.23 are not so much explanations of the word ‘Tathagata’, they rather say “and therefore he is called the-highest-title-we-have-for-a-human”.


This is interesting, thanks for Coomaraswamy’s reference!

Agree, it would be interesting to better understand the origin of this epithet and how/why it was used before and during the time of the Buddha.


It’s pretty simple once a person looks at the etymology of the word:


Can you give a reference from the suttas? Because it could also mean “thus come from Lumbini” and “thus gone to Benares”. Or “thus come by foot” and “thus gone flying through the air”. Or anything else. Your reference from a dictionary represents the opinion of… who again? “Dharmakaya” e.g. is hardly an EBT term.

I understand that it makes sense to you. But in order to make sense to others as well some source criticism would be nice.


That is not exactly the case:

The Meaning of “Dhammakaya” in Pali Buddhism

Please read this article before commenting again on the concept of Dhammakaya in early Buddhism. Thank you.


You’re right, it’s not exactly true that dhammakaya doesn’t appear in the old texts. It appears exactly once in the four nikayas, in DN 24

…this designates the Tathagata: “The Body of Dhamma”, that is, “The Body of Brahma”, or “Become Dhamma”, that is, “Become Brahma”
Tathāgatassa hetaṃ, vāseṭṭha, adhivacanaṃ ‘dhammakāyo’ itipi, ‘brahmakāyo’ itipi, ‘dhammabhūto’ itipi, ‘brahmabhūto’ itipi.

I quote this because the article from a graduate student you referenced doesn’t even bother to do so. It goes straight into philosophizing what great things dhammakaya could mean. So please check your references.

‘Pali Buddhism’ doesn’t mean ‘early Buddhism’, in fact most of Pali Buddhism is commentarial and not early Buddhism at all. The article speaks for example about ‘dhammakaya in DN and Mil’. Milindapanha, as grateful as I am that we have this text, is again not Early Buddhism in the sense that it would be the earliest layer of Buddhist texts we have.

So to base your argument (in fact it’s not yours, you just referenced it without a source) that ‘Tathagata’ pretty simply means ‘to come from the dhammakaya’ when the word appears only once, is rather flimsy, wouldn’t you say?