Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tathagata , say what?

            The term tathagata seems to cause a lot of confusion when it comes up during ceremonies and teachings. It seems to be an alternative pronoun that the Buddha used and is seen often when referring to the Buddha. So I thought I would just take a moment to add a little reference for my friends and neighbors in the Sangha.

A tathagata is often said to be "one who has thus gone" (tathā-gata) or "one who has thus come" (tathā-āgata). This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathagata is beyond all coming and going.
          Frankly to most of us that definition is more or less useless. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard that said and then seeing people nodding as if they understood what the heck it meant and then the conversation moves on. But clearly most of us in the West could  use a little more clarity to really understand what the word means.

    A tathagata then is one who goes (proceeds) in accord with reality (tatha [ta], that is comprehends (gata) the way things are (tatha[ta]. Therefore he or she is fully awake and sees the world as it is.
    The Buddha is quoted on numerous occasions in the Pali Canon as referring to himself as the Tathagata instead of using the pronouns me, I or myself. This may be meant to emphasize by implication that the teaching is uttered by one who has transcended the human condition, one beyond the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth and death, i.e. beyond suffering.

    At some point people will have to take the time to learn about the concept of the cycle of rebirth and death and Buddha's four noble truths to really get the gist of this.

     Buddha was walking along the road after he woke up or what some people called his enlightenment and he encountered a man on the road. His demeanor was such that the man asked him  who or what he was, since clearly there was something about the man that made him stand out from the rest of the people that this fellow had ever met. He asked him if he was a God or a diva and Buddha said no. He simply said I’m awake. Thus A tathagata.