Venerable Yuen Hang Memorial Trust Professorship in Buddhist Studies Inaugural Lecture

Public Lecture

The Concept of Tathāgatagarbha:

Are we all Buddhas by Nature?

Speaker: Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes

Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes is a renowned scholar in the field of Buddhist Studies. Prior to joining the University of Hong Kong in August 2023, he held the position of head of the Department of South Asian, Tibetan, and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna. His current research focuses on the Tibetan reception of Mahāmudrā and buddha-nature thought. Prof. Mathes and his team organized the 2014 conference of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, demonstrating his involvement and contribution to the academic community. He has published notable works such as “A Direct Path to the Buddha Within: Gö Lotsāwa’s Mahāmudrā Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhāga” (Wisdom, 2008) and “A Fine Blend of Mahāmudrā and Madhyamaka: Maitrīpa’s Collection of Texts on Non-conceptual Realization (Amanasikāra)” (Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2015).

Time: 3-5 pm | 21 Apr 2024 (Sun)

Venue: Rayson Huang Theatre, HKU

Conducted in English | Free admission | All are welcome | 
Online registration required

Lecture Abstract

The concept of tathāgatagarbha or buddha-nature looks back on a long, variegated history across Asia. Its meanings in the discourses (sūtras) on buddha-nature, stretch from physical Buddha relics, a stūpa in sentient beings’ bodies, and “essential ingredient” (dhātu) of a Buddha to sentient beings’ true nature of mind. The main Indian treatise on these sūtras, the Ratnagotravibhāga, explains their content in line with Yogācāra, while the identification of buddha nature with emptiness in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra also allows for an interpretation along the lines of Madhyamaka. Whether tailored to Yogācāra and/or Madhyamaka, the concept of buddha-nature proved valuable in such tantric philosophy and meditation traditions as Mahāmudrā. While nontantric sources thought the buddha-nature to be next to inaccessible, privileged access to it through tantric empowerment and similar techniques brought that nature within experiential reach of ordinary practitioners.