The Idea of Dh„tu-v„da in Yogacara and Tath„gata-garbha Texts

Y AMABE Nobuyoshi

Matsumoto Shirõ are convinced that tath„gatagarbha theory and the Yogacara school share a common framework that they call dh„tu-v„da or “locus theory.” The word dh„tu-v„da itself is a neologism introduced by Matsumoto1 and adopted by Hakamaya.2 They argue that the dh„tu-v„da idea stands in direct contradiction to the authentic Buddhist theory of prat‡tyasamutp„da or “dependent origination,” which in turn leads them to consider tath„gata-garbha and Yogacara theories to be non-Buddhist. In their opinion, not only these Indian theories but also the whole of “original enlightenment thought” (hongaku shisõ) in East Asia fell under the shadow of the dh„tu-v„da idea,3 with the result that most of its Buddhism is dismissed as not Buddhist at all.4 The idea of dh„tu-v„da is thus an integral part of the Critical Buddhism critique and as such merits careful examination in any evaluation of the overall standpoint. Since Matsumoto ³rst found the dh„tuv„da structure in Indian tath„gata-garbha and Yogacara literature, we need to begin with a look at the texts in question. My approach here will be purely philological and will limit itself to the theoretical treatises (sastras).



For Hakamaya and Matsumoto, the cardinal tenet of Buddhism is prat‡tyasamutp„da, which they understand as consisting of a temporal sequence of causally linked dharmas or “phenomena” that lack any solid basis in reality. Matsumoto illustrates this by means of the following chart.5







Chart 2, in contrast, illustrates the basic structure of dh„tu-v„da.6





= super-locus

dharmadh„tu = ekay„na

= locus

This second model, in contrast to the prat‡tyasamutp„da model, introduces a universal, solid basis under such names as dharmadh„tu and buddhadh„tu. In Matsumoto’s terminology, this universal dh„tu is a “locus” that supports phenomenal dharmas as “super-loci.” He enumerates the characteristic features of this dh„tu-v„da model as follows:7
1. “Locus” is the basis for “super-loci.” 2. “Locus” gives rise to “super-loci.” 3. “Locus” is one, “super-loci” are many. 4. “Locus” is real, “super-loci” are not real. 5. “Locus” is the essential nature of “super-loci.” 6. “Super-loci” are not ultimately real, but have some reality in that they have arisen from the “locus” and share its nature.8

Thus, the dh„tu-v„da model is essentially a monism (or, according to Matsumoto’s own terminology, a “generative monism” n´ÇísâÇ).9



Hakamaya and Matsumoto take this to be an Upani¤adic model and thus not authentically Buddhist. Particularly problematic for them is the fact that this dh„tu-v„da framework is not as egalitarian as it appears. As they see it, one can classify any number of different elements—from the three vehicles to social castes—as “super-loci” resting on the universal “locus.” Since the diversity of the “super-loci” is an essential element of the dh„tuv„da structure, the distinction among “super-loci” remains unaffected. On the other hand, the apparent equality that obtains on the absolute level serves at once to justify, obscure, and con³rm the discrimination that appears on the phenomenal level.10 In Matsumoto’s opinion, this essentially discriminatory nature of the dh„tu-v„da structure is clearly expressed in verse I.39 of the Abhisamay„la½k„ra:11
Because the dharmadh„tu has no distinction, any distinction among gotra is unreasonable. Nevertheless, because the dharmas to be posited [on the “locus” of dharmadh„tu] are distinct, a distinction [among gotra] is proclaimed.12

In the same way, the ideas of universal “Buddha-nature” and icchantika in the Mahayana Mah„parinirv„«a Sutra do not contradict each other but combine to form a harmonious whole. The Mah„y„nasðtr„la½k„ra asserts, on the one hand, that all sentient beings have tath„gatagarbha (verse IX.37)13 and, on the other hand, admits that some people will never be able to attain nirvana (verse III.11). Hence the dh„tu-v„da structure also represents a principle supporting the discriminatory gotra theory of the Yogacara school.14


Matsumoto’s arguments are well prepared, and the coexistence of a universal “Buddha-nature”15 and unequal attainments is indeed problematic. Still, it may well be possible to explain this coexistence in somewhat different terms. A good place to begin is the famous de³nition of gotra in the Bodhisattvabhðmi section of the Yog„c„rabhðmi :
What is gotra? In brief, gotra is twofold: the one existing by nature (prak£tistha) and the attained one (samud„n‡ta). The gotra existing by nature is the distinct state of the six-sense-basis (¤a^„yatana-više¤a ) of bodhisattvas. That [distinct state] was naturally 195


acquired in the beginningless past and has been transmitted as such [to the present]. The attained gotra is what is acquired through the practice of merits in the past [lives]. In this case, both meanings are intended. Further, this gotra is also called seed (b‡ja), dh„tu, and origin (prak£ti ).16

Since Hakamaya himself quotes this last sentence as an example of the monistic dh„tu model,17 it is clear that he considers the gotra theory of the Bodhisattvabhðmi to be a form of monism. His argument is based on the fact that all the terms given (gotra, b‡ja, dh„tu, prak£ti) appear in singular forms.18 But the argument is not without its weaknesses. First, the paired terms prak£tistha-gotra and samud„n‡ta-gotra have a close analogue in the Vastusa½graha«‡ section of the Yog„c„rabhðmi:
In sum, dh„tus are twofold: the ones existing by nature (rang-bzhin gyis gnas pa, WÀ§ƒ, *prak£tistha19) and the ones enhanced through habitual practice (goms-pas yongs-su-brtas-pa, H†˜ƒ, *abhy„sa-paripu¤¦a). The ones existing by nature are, for example, the eighteen dh„tus (khams), which are seeds (sa-bon, *b‡ja) staying in their own respective continuities. The dh„tus enhanced through habitual practice are enhanced seeds resting in the body (rten, *„šraya) so that the good or bad dharmas habitually practiced in other, former lives might arise [easily]….20

In these two passages, it is clear that the prak£tistha-gotra of the Bodhisattvabhðmi corresponds to the *prak£tistha-dh„tu of the Vastusa½graha«‡. The correspondence between the samud„n‡ta-gotra, “attained gotra,” of the Bodhisattvabhðmi and the *abhy„sa-paripu¤¦a-dh„tu, “the dh„tu enhanced through habitual practice,” of the Vastusa½graha«‡ may not be immediately evident, but is con³rmed by the Mah„y„nasðtr„la½k„ra-bh„¤ya, which equates samud„n‡tam [gotram], “attained gotra,” and paripu¤¦a½ [gotra½], “enhanced gotra.”21 Consequently, a correspondence between this portion of the Vastusa½graha«‡ and the aforementioned portion of the Bodhisattvabhðmi seems beyond dispute. The basic message of the passage of the Vastusa½graha«‡ is that there are innumerable good and bad elements (dh„tu) in sentient beings that correspond to good and bad mental functions, and that one must accordingly cultivate the good elements in order to realize good mental states.22 In other words, here the dh„tu theory is clearly of a pluralistic sort. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the pluralistic structure of this


passage was recognized by Hakamaya himself in an earlier essay.23 At the same time, we have established that the gotra theory of the Bodhisattvabhðmi was closely related to the dh„tu theory of the Vastusa½graha«‡. This being the case, it is likely that the gotra theory of the Bodhisattvabhðmi itself was pluralistic in structure.24 The pluralistic dh„tu model and the gotra theory are intrinsically related to one another. In the same way that the dh„tu of desire is incapable of generating hatred, the gotra of sravakas is unable to generate the supreme wisdom of the Buddha. Without such distinct gotras, therefore, it would not be possible to establish a distinction among the three vehicles.25 Accordingly, at least as far as these passages are concerned, the only chart we are able to draw is the one below (Chart 3). Obviously the pluralism it presents is not the same as the “generative monism” that Matsumoto offers.




šr„vaka-dh„tu (gotra)

pratyekabuddha-dh„tu (gotra)

bodhisattva-dh„tu (gotra)


There is more involved in what has been discussed above than merely whether dh„tu is singular or plural. It has to do with the foundation for supramundane attainment. If there is any possibility at all for us to acquire supramundane wisdom, on what does such a possibility rest? The Bodhisattvabhðmi responds by referring to inherent gotra and de³nes the foundation as ¤a^„yatana-više¤a, or “the distinct state of the six-sensebasis.” But just what does this ¤a^„yatana-više¤a mean? We get a clue, I believe, from the following passage of the Abhidharmakoša-bh„¤ya:
The [distinction between noble ones and ordinary ones] is made in terms of the distinct states of bodies („šraya-više¤a). [This distinction is possi197


ble] because the body („šraya) of noble ones is transformed (par„v£tta) by the power of the paths of seeing and practice (daršana-bh„van„m„rga), so that [the body] is no more capable of generating the de³lements to be abandoned by the [paths of seeing and practice]. Therefore, when one’s body has ceased to be the seed of de³lements (ab‡j‡-bhðte „šraye kleš„n„½), like a grain of rice consumed by the ³re, one is called [a noble person] who has abandoned de³lements.26

In the body of literature to which this text belongs, „šraya usually means, in the absence of further contextual speci³cation, “body,” or perhaps more precisely, our personal existence centered on the body. This makes it virtually synonymous with ¤a^„yatana, which makes ¤a^„yatana-više¤a and „šraya-više¤a equivalent.27 In the passage cited, the body of a noble person is distinguished from the body of an unenlightened person in that the former no longer produces de³lements. In other words, the bodies of the unenlightened remain in a state that produces de³lements and such bodies are conceived of as the b‡ja of de³lements.28 In the passage from the Bodhisattvabhðmi, the six-sense-basis (¤a^„yatana) of a bodhisattva is distinguished from that of a sravaka and a pratyekabuddha in that the ¤a^„yatana of a bodhisattva is capable, eventually, of generating the supreme wisdom of the Buddha. The six-sensebasis of a bodhisattva who has the potentiality to give rise to the highest wisdom of the Buddha is considered to be the bodhisattva-gotra. The important point here is that the gotra is taken to represent a particular state of concrete physical-mental existence. In other words, the basis for deliverance is posited on the phenomenal level—namely, sa½sk£ta—and not on the absolute level of asa½sk£ta.29 We are reminded here of an important theoretical requirement of abhidharma Buddhism, namely that an asa½sk£ta or “unconditioned” dharma cannot be a generative cause of anything30 and therefore cannot directly generate supramundane wisdom.31 This same pattern is followed by the Yog„c„rabhðmi.32 Tathat„ is synonymous with dharmadh„tu, which, according to Hakamaya and Matsumoto, gives rise to all the mundane and supramundane elements. It should be noted, however, that the role of tathat„ in soteriological contexts of the Yogacara system (especially in the Yog„c„rabhðmi ) is rather limited. If it is sometimes called the cause of holy dharmas (namely supramundane wisdom), it is because tathat„ assists the arising of


supramundane wisdom by becoming its cognitive object or „lambanapratyaya. In other words, meditation on tathat„ in the preliminary stages eventually induces supramundane wisdom.33 But tathat„, in principle, does not become a generative cause,34 which means that once again the suitability of the dh„tu-v„da model as “generative monism” to the Yogacara literature is suspect.35 Classical Yogacara theory regarding gotra maintains that the divergent attainments of the three vehicles are each based on their own dh„tu or gotra. Needless to say, this is a highly problematic position, and one needs to consider carefully why they were driven to take it. Merely in terms of the formal logic involved, however, the argument is rather straightforward: divergent effects must have divergent causes. This is much easier to understand than the idea of divergent effects based on a single cause, as the dh„tu-v„da model suggests.36 I do not believe that the universal dharmadh„tu was the leading principle that supported the gotra theory of the Yogacara school.37


The theory does not, however, hold universally. If we consider a typical tath„gata-garbha text, the Ratnagotravibh„ga, we ³nd that such a clear distinction between sa½sk£ta and asa½sk£ta is not strictly observed.38 The text does not hesitate to assert that the actions of the Buddha arise from asa½sk£ta.39 Even the prak£tistha-gotra of the Bodhisattvabhðmi is linked to the tath„gata-garbha, which is equivalent to tathat„.40 But if prak£tistha-gotra is equated with the omnipresent tathat„, no theoretical basis remains to support the absolute distinction among the three vehicles. Thus, the Ratnagotravibh„ga states:
Eventually the rays from the sun-disk of the Tath„gata fall even on the bodies of sentient beings ³xed in state of evil (mithy„tva-niyatasa½t„na)…. The statement that an icchantika never attains nirvana was made to remove the hatred against the teachings of Mahayana, because the hatred against the teachings of Mahayana is the cause of one’s being icchantika. [In other words, this statement has] a hidden intention [that even icchantikas will attain nirvana] at another, [later] time [if they abandon their hatred of Mahayana]. Indeed, because the originally pure gotra exists (prak£ti-višuddha-gotra-sa½bhav„d), no one can be ultimately impure by nature.41 199


The dh„tu-v„da model of ultimate discrimination based on universal buddhadh„tu does not seem to work very well on this end either. Logic requires that divergent phenomena must have divergent bases. If the basis is universal, there is no logical reason to maintain an ultimate discrimination among the “super-loci.” This structure is presented graphically in Chart 4. Note that the “super-loci” here are no longer discriminatory:

attainment of nirvana

attainment of nirvana

attainment of nirvana

prak£tistha-gotra = dharmadh„tu


On the basis of the above arguments, I am persuaded that the classical gotra theory of the Yogacara school was based on pluralistic dh„tus or gotras. Once the gotra is reinterpreted as universal dharmadh„tu or tathat„, it loses the theoretical basis that supports the absolute distinction among the three vehicles.42 There is yet another factor to be taken into account. India is a country in which tradition holds great authority. Old theories are not directly discarded when new ones come along, but are often retained and attempts are made to reconcile the old with the new. Something like this seems to have happened in the case of the gotra theory of the Yogacara school. Actually, even within the Yog„c„rabhðmi the idea of tathat„ was coming to play an ever greater role in the soteriological context. For example, a portion of the Vinišcayasa½graha«‡ section of the Yog„c„rabhðmi says that the cause of supramundane dharmas does not lie in ordinary seeds but in tathat„ as a cognitive object.43 The theoretical limitation of tathat„ to the realm of a cognitive object, and hence its exclusion from the realm of generative causes, seems still to be in force. And yet at the same time one senses a dissatisfaction with the gotra theory of the Bodhisattvabhðmi, which grounds supramundane attainment on the phe-



nomenal ¤a^„yatana-više¤a. This appears to indicate an expansion of the role of tathat„ into the realm of the soteriological. Now if the source of supramundane attainment is not individual seeds but universal tathat„, there seems no reason to sustain the idea of individuals being predestined to a particular level of attainment.44 Nevertheless, the idea of distinct gotras is not abandoned, and the attempt is made to defend distinct, predestined goals by claiming that some people are faced with an ultimate obstacle that blocks the way into tathat„, while others are not. At this point the argument, it seems to me, has ceased to be rational and is simply concerned with preserving tradition. The Yog„c„rabhðmi is not a coherent text but a composite of heterogeneous elements, some more traditional, others more progressive. In general the material in the Vinišcayasa½graha«‡ is more developed than what we ³nd in the basic seventeen sections of the Yog„c„rabhðmi. Still, the Vinišcayasa½graha«‡ is part of the Yog„c„rabhðmi and presupposes what is contained in its basic sections. And since the basic sections clearly present the traditional gotra theory, the authors of the Vinišcayasa½graha«‡ were not at liberty directly to contradict or ignore that theory. This would appear to be the historical dynamic at work behind the inconsistency between the monistic tathat„ and the pluralistic three vehicles. True, certain passages do suggest a dh„tu-v„da-type structure. A good example is the verse of the Abhisamay„la½k„ra that we referred to at the outset:
Because the dharmadh„tu has no distinction, any distinction among gotras is unreasonable. Nevertheless, because the dharmas to be posited [on the “locus” of dharmadh„tu] are distinct, a distinction [among gotras] is proclaimed.

The earliest extant commentary on the work, the Abhisamay„la½k„rav£tti of Ãrya-Vimuktisena, explains the meaning of the latter half of the verse as follows:
[Gotras are differentiated, just as the vessels] made from the same clay and baked in the same ³re [are differentiated] by the distinct names “honey pot,” “candy pot,” and so forth [according to what is put in them].45

In Matsumoto’s phraseology, the V£tti would clearly hold that the manifold “super-loci” are posited on a single “locus,” and that this


homogeneous “locus” is differentiated only in the sense that the heterogeneous “super-loci” are differentiated one from another. It is precisely this that he has chosen to name dh„tu-v„da. But if the distinction among gotra amounts to no more than the super³cial temporary distinction between a “honey pot” and a “candy pot,” it has ceased to characterize anything essential. This is clearly different from the stringent gotra theory of the Yogacara school.46 The great possibility for the conversion of šr„vaka allowed for in the V£tti seems to justify my suspicions.47 It seems certain that the distinction among the three vehicles in the V£tti is not the absolute predestination of the Yogacara school.48 In addition, we might mention the following arguments:
Therefore, [the k„rik„ I.5cd of the Abhisamay„la½k„ra]49 teaches that the dharmadh„tu itself, [namely] the gotra existing by nature (prak£tistha½ gotra½), is the basis for practice, because [the dharmadh„tu is] the cause of the holy dharmas…. Others hold that gotra is the distinct state of the six-sense-basis (¤a^„yatana-više¤a), which is twofold: one attained by conditions (pratyaya-samud„n‡ta) and one existing by nature (prak£ty-avasthita)…. [This opinion is rejected.]50 [Objection:] If dharmadh„tu is gotra, does it not follow that all [the sentient beings] are [equally] established in the gotra (gotra-stha),51 since the [dharmadh„tu] is omnipresent? [Answer: The dharmadh„tu] is called gotra [only] to the extent that it is recognized („lambyam„na) and becomes the cause of holy dharmas….52

The context here is very similar to that of the Vinišcayasa½graha«‡ on a number of points. First, the entire argument is necessitated by the rejection of the classical Yogacara theory of gotra and the adoption of tathat„ or dharmadh„tu as the basis for supramundane attainment. Second, tathat„ or dharmadh„tu thus adopted aids the arising of supramundane wisdom by serving as its cognitive object. Third, in spite of the adoption of such a universal basis, the author does not discard the traditional distinction among the three vehicles outright, but strives somehow to retain it. Most likely the crucial factor once again was the authority of the preceding tradition. The Abhisamay„la½k„ra had close ties with certain Yogacara texts,53 which makes it easy to understand how the Abhisamay„la½k„ra and its V£tti could not completely neglect the traditional gotra


distinction of the Yogacara school. At the same time, the Yogacara tradition seems not to have been so closely binding on the V£tti as the Vinišcayasa½graha«‡. The logic of the V£tti that supports the differentiation of gotras is very weak. Hence, as we saw earlier, the distinction among gotras in this text cannot be considered ³nal.


In the compass of this essay I have only been able to cover a small portion of the large number of texts analyzed by Hakamaya and Matsumoto, and have had to exclude mention of any of the sutras. Obviously so limited an examination cannot claim to have taken into account all the aspects of tath„gata-garbha thought. However, we can say that at least as far as the sastra texts we have discussed are concerned, the applicability of the dh„tu-v„da model of discrimination based on monism is questionable at best. The Yogacara theory of gotra is indeed discriminatory, but it is not based on monism. Tath„gata-garbha thought is clearly monistic, but the gotra distinction does not seem to signify anything essential. Some texts, such as the Abhisamay„la½k„ra-v£tti, show an apparent dh„tu-v„da structure, but that structure would appear to be an inconsistency brought about by a reinterpretation of the gotra theory. That is, replacing the pluralistic gotras with monistic dharmadh„tu did not entirely do away with the traditional distinction among the three vehicles. I have tried to illustrate this in Chart 5, which presents my understanding of the dh„tu-v„da structure. While it may look very similar to Matsumoto’s scheme, it is really a clumsy patchwork of the super-structure of Chart 3 with the infra-structure of Chart 4, aimed at showing how the infrastructure and superstructure of Chart 5 contradict one another. I




superstructure of
Yogacara inconsistent with

dharmadh„tu = prak£tistha-gotra

infrastructure of tath„gatagarbha

➛ ➛


remain rather skeptical of the position that the dh„tu-v„da had anything like the solid structure that Hakamaya and Matsumoto seem to accord it. I wish respectfully to acknowledge their contribution to Buddhist studies in pointing out the problematics of the tath„gata-garbha thought so far overlooked. At the same time, I have tried to indicate the possibility of alternative interpretations based on the philological arguments presented in the foregoing.


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