Why Buddha is called "thus gone"?


Is the word Thathagatha exclusively used for Samma Sambuddha or Gotama Buddha?
Can we say Tathagata to an Arahant?


I think it’s a safe bet that Tathagata only applies to a Buddha in the EBT. Since it’s not a personal epithet but a functional one it would apply to any other Buddha before Gotama as well (Kassapa etc.).

Outside of the EBT of course it’s a different topic altogether (as we can see from @Kensho 's contributions). So other Buddhist groups use it differently, and for example the Jains use it rarely as well.


As a Mahayana Buddhist, I believe that the Mahayana sutras made explicit certain concepts which were already at least implicit in the Pali suttas, like a tree growing from a seed.


What would make you ask this question?

Check again the lists of definitions quoted above in DN29, AN4.23 and Iti112:
Does any arahant is “a prophet of the Norm, a prophet of the Discipline”? Does any arahant is "the vanquisher, the unvanquished, the universal seer, the wielder of mastery"?

Or else check SN22.58:

"[…] The Tathagata, bhikkhus, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, is the originator of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path unproduced before, the declarer of the path undeclared before. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the one skilled in the path. And his disciples now dwell following that path and become possessed of it afterwards.

“This, bhikkhus, is the distinction, the disparity, the difference between the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One, and a bhikkhu liberated by wisdom.”

In the suttas it seems clear that Tathāgata is not a term that can be attributed to any arahants (except maybe with poetic licence in some verses).


The Buddha is “thus come one” or “Tatha agata” in the sense that he attained Nirvana and, rather than keeping it to himself, he thus came to us and taught us the path to Nirvana.

And then, when he passed away into final Nirvana, he became “Tathagata” or “thus gone one.”


“Monks, being liberated by becoming disenchanted with bodily form and free from desire for it, by its cessation and not arising, one is called a Tathāgata, who is an arahant, fully awakened. In the same way being liberated by becoming disenchanted with feeling … perception … formations … consciousness and free from desire for it, by its cessation and not arising, one is called a Tathāgata, who is an arahant, fully awakened.


And for those who are uninterested in the grammatical stuff, at the bottom of that I say:

As an epithet of the Buddha, the primary sense is “one who has realized the truth”.

The philosophically important sense of tathā is “truth”, and the suffix -gata does not mean “gone” in a literal sense, but can be compared to such English idioms as “too far gone”, “gone crazy”, and so on. It signifies having arrived at such a state. The compound as a whole means “someone who has arrived at or embodied or become the truth”, and I translate it as “Realized One”.

The various other etymologies are playful. :woman_cartwheeling:


Bhante ,

From SN 12.20:

Iti kho, bhikkhave, yā tatra tathatā avitathatā anaññathatā idappaccayatā – ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, paṭiccasamuppādo.

What’s there in this way is a reality, not an unreality, not other than what it seems, conditioned by this/that. This is called dependent co-arising. (Thanissaro)

Thus bhikkhus, the actuality in this, the inerrancy, the not-otherwiseness, specific conditionality: this is called dependent origination.(Bodhi)

Does Tathata = Reality/actuality/suchness. ?


That’s right. I’d avoid hybrid English phrases like “suchness”, though.


Don’t know if reopening this “old” thread, as I’ve been warned by the help-robot [¿?] of the forum, goes against the netiquette of SuttaCentral. My apologies if that is the case. I’m taking the risk anyway.

Here are Richard Gombrich’s 2 cents to the discussion about the meaning of ‘tathāgata’:

Acording to the Pali canonical texts, after his Enlightenment he always referred to himself as Tathāgata. This word, the same in Sanskrit and Pali, is a compound with two parts: tathā, which means ‘thus’, and gata, which commonly means ‘gone’. The whole word is often translated into English as ‘Thus-gone’. The Buddhist tradition has made various attempts to etymologize the term, attempts which I regard as fanciful. The word gata when it occurs as the second member of a compound of this type often loses its primary meaning and means simply ‘being’. For example, citra-gatā nārī is not ‘the woman who has gone into the picture’ but simply ‘the woman in the picture’. The Buddha is referring to himself as ‘the one who is like that’. This is tantamount to saying that there are no words to describe his state; he can only point to it. Moreover, though the epithet Tathāgata most commonly refers to a Buddha, and in later texts does so exclusively, in the Pali Canon it can refer to any enlightened person (MN I, 140).

Gombrich, Richard F. (2009) What the Buddha Thought, London: Equinox, p. 151.

“The one who is like that” kind of reminds me to YaHWeH’s, “I’am that I’am” or “I am who am” (“Ehyeh asher ehyeh”).

Best and sorry again, just in case. :blush: