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Svabhava (Sanskrit: ; IAST: svabhva)
Pli: sabhva; Chinese: zxng; Tibetan: ---(,, Wylie:
literally means "own-being" or "own-becoming". It is the intrinsic nature, essential nature or
essence of living beings.
The concept and term svabhva are frequently encountered in Hindu and Buddhist traditions such as Advaita
Vednta (e.g. in the Avadhta Gt), Mahyna Buddhism (e.g. in the Ratnagotravibhga), Vaishnavism (e.g.,
the writings of Rmnuja) and Dzogchen (e.g. in the seventeen tantras).
In the nondual Advaita Vednta yoga text, Avadhta Gt, Brahman (in the Upanishadic denotation) is the
sabhva. In the Pli tradition of the Buddhadharma: "To become Brahman is to become highest self-nature
(sabhva)" (Atthakanipata-Att. 5.72).
In the Mahyna Buddhadharma tradition(s) it is one of a suite of terms employed to denote the Buddha-nature,
such as "gotra".
1 Hinduism
1.1 Bhagavad Gt
1.2 Vaishnavism
2 Buddhism
2.1 Theravda
2.2 Prajnaparamita Sutras
2.3 Madhyamaka
2.4 Dzogchen
2.4.1 Bonpo Dzogchen
2.4.2 The Mirror of the Mind of Samantabhadra
2.4.3 Namkhai Norbu
3 See also
4 Notes
5 References
6 Sources
7 External links
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Bhagavad Gt
The Bhagavad Gt (18.41) has nature (svabhava) as a distinguishing quality differentiating the var.
Overzee (1992: p. 74) in her work on de Chardin (18811955) and Rmnuja (10171137) highlights
Rmnuja's usage of svabhva in relation to Brahman thus:
Let us look more closely at what Rmnuja means by the Lord's "nature". If you read his writings,
you will find that he uses two distinct yet related words when referring to the nature of Brahman:
svarpa and svabhva.
In early Theravdin texts, the term "svabhva" did not carry the technical meaning or the soteriological weight
of later writings. Much of Mahyna Buddhism (as in the Prajpramit Stra) denies that such a svabhva
exists within any being; however, in the tathgatagarbha sutras (notably the Nirva Stra), the Buddha states
that the immortal and infinite Buddha-nature - or "true self" of the Buddha - is the indestructible svabhva of
In the Pli canon, "sabhva" is absent from what are generally considered to be the earliest texts.
found in later texts (e.g., the paracanonical Milindapaha), it generically refers to state (of mind), character or

In the post-canonical Abhidhamma literature, sabhva is used to distinguish an irreducible, dependent,
momentary phenomenon (dhamma) from a conventionally constructed object. Thus, a collection of visual and
tactile phenomena might be mentally constructed into what is conventionally referred to as a "table"; but,
beyond its constituent elements, a construct such as "table" lacks intrinsic existence (sabhva).
Prajnaparamita Sutras
In the Prajpramit sutras, the early Buddhist notion of no-self (anatta) is extended to all objects, so that all
things are emptiness (nyat), without inherent existence (svabhva).
Robinson (1957: p. 300) in discussing the Buddhist logic of Ngrjuna, states:
Svabhva is by definition the subject of contradictory ascriptions. If it exists, it must belong to an
existent entity, which means that it must be conditioned, dependent on other entities, and possessed
of causes. But a svabhva is by definition unconditioned, not dependent on other entities, and not
caused. Thus the existence of a svabhva is impossible.
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Dzogchen upholds a view of nisvabhva, refuting svabhva using the same logic employed by Madhyamaka, a
freedom from extremes demonstrated succinctly via Catukoi Tetralemma.
As it (rigpa) transcends awareness and non-awareness, there are not even the imputations of
awareness. This is called the Dzogpa Chenpo, free from extremes.
In the context of logical analysis, Dzogchen agrees with the view of Madhyamaka as elucidated by Ngrjuna,
Chgyal Namkhai Norbu explains:
...Madhyamaka explains with the four "beyond concepts," which are that something neither exists,
nor does not exist, nor both exists and does not exist, nor is beyond both existing and not existing
together. These are the four possibilities. What remains? Nothing. Although we are working only in
an intellectual way, this can be considered the ultimate conclusion in Madhyamaka. As an
analytical method, this is also correct for Dzogchen. Nagarjuna's reasoning is supreme.
The Union of the Sun and Moon (Tibetan: -g-, Wylie: nyi zla kha sbyor), one of the 'Seventeen tantras of
the esoteric instruction cycle' (Tibetan: -,---_;--_,, Wylie: man ngag sde'i rgyud bcu bdun) which are
a suite of tantras known variously as: Nyingtik, Upadesha or Menngagde within Dzogchen discourse, states:
Whoever meditates on the absence of nature [svabhva]
in objects that are objective appearances
this is the non-duality of appearance and emptiness,
the relaxed unimpeded group of six.
Bonpo Dzogchen
Svabhva is very important in the nontheistic theology of the Bonpo Great Perfection (Dzogchen) tradition
where it is part of a technical language to render macrocosm and microcosm into nonduality, as Rossi (1999:
p. 58) states:
The View of the Great Perfection further acknowledges the ontological identity of the macrocosmic
and microcosmic realities through the threefold axiom of Condition (ngang), Ultimate Nature (rang
bzhin) and Identity (bdag nyid). The Condition (ngang) is the Basis of all (kun gzhi) -- primordially
pure (ka dag) and not generated by primary and instrumental causes. It is the origin of all
phenomena. The Ultimate Nature (rang bzhin) is said to be unaltered (ma bcos pa), because the
Basis [gzhi] is spontaneously accomplished (lhun grub) in terms of its innate potential (rtsal) for
manifestation (rol pa). The non-duality between the Ultimate Nature (i.e., the unaltered appearance
of all phenomena) and the Condition (i.e., the Basis of all) is called the Identity (bdag nyid). This
unicum of primordial purity (ka dag) and spontaneous accomplishment (lhun grub) is the Way of
Being (gnas lugs) of the Pure-and-Perfect-Mind [byang chub (kyi) sems].
The Mirror of the Mind of Samantabhadra
The term "svabhva" is mentioned in six verses of the first chapter of the Avadhta Gt: 1.5, 1.6, 1.44, 1.54,
1.58, 1.76.
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This extreme nondual yoga text shares a lot of common language with the extreme nondual yoga of Atiyoga
(Dzogchen) and its standard Tibetan analogue rang-bzhin (Wylie) is employed in The Mirror of the Mind of
Samantabhadra, one of the Seventeen Tantras of Atiyoga Upadesha.
Dzogchen strictly refutes the notion of "svabhva", and so The Mirror of the Mind of Samantabhadra, states
specifically that dharmakya is non-arisen and natureless:
...this meaningful supreme wisdom kya
ultimate, natureless [rang bzhin med], the state of the nonarising dharmakya,
the lamp of the teachings, the great light of the dharmakya
manifests to persons who are in accord with the meaning.
The following quotation from The Mirror of the Mind of Samantabhadra is drawn from the Lungi Terdz:
You should understand that the nature of all phenomena is that of the five aspects of
What are these? you ask
They are Samantabhadra as nature,
Samantabhadra as adornment,
Samantabhadra as teacher,
Samantabhadra as awareness, and
Samantabhadra as realization .
Namkhai Norbu
Dzogchen teacher Namkhai Norbu (2001: p. 155) in discussing the view of the pratyekabuddhas states that:
... the Pratyekabuddhas accede to the absence of a self or independent self-nature (bdag med).
See also
Atman (Buddhism)
Anatman (Hinduism)
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^ For instance, a search for "sabhv" in the SLTP
edition of the Pali literature
identifies this term as
arising only once in the first four Nikyas (outside of
end notes): in DN 6, Mahli Sutta (PTS i 153). It
occurs in the phrase, "idha mahli bhikkhuno
puratthimya disya ekasabhvito samdhi hoti,"
which Walshe (1995, p. 144, para. 6) translates as:
"'Mahli, in one case a monk, facing east, goes into
one-sided samdhi..." (boldface added to identify
Walshe's apparent translation of sabhva)
^ According to Rhys Davids & Stede (192125),
pp. 5023,
"sva+bhva" is equivalent to the Pli
word "sabhva".
The entry for "Sabhva" (p. 681) is as follows:
Sabhva [sa4+bhva] 1. State (of mind), nature,
condition Miln 90, 212, 360; PvA 39 (ummattaka),
98 (santa), 219. 2. Character, disposition, behaviour
PvA 13, 35 (ullumpana), 220 (lokiya). 3. Truth,
reality, sincerity Miln 164; J v.459; v.198 (opp.
musvda); J vi.469; sabhva sincerely, devotedly J
vi.486. -dhamma principle of nature J i.214;
-dhammatta= dhamma Vism 238. -bhta true J
iii.20. These general Theravdin denotations lack the
technical specificity of the Mahyna notion of
svabhva as "intrinsic nature".
In addition, each of the aforementioned references is
to what Rhys Davids & Stede (192125) elsewhere
refer to as "later literature" (p. 454):
the Jtaka
tales (J), Milindapaha) (Miln) and the Pli
commentaries (e.g., PvA).
^ Gethin (1992), p. 150, in discussing the word
"dhamma" in the Dhammasagai and its related
commentary (Atthaslin) writes, "... the force of
sabhva here appears to focus not so much on the
essential nature of particular dhammas, but rather on
the fact that there is no being or person apart from
dhammas; dhammas are what exist."
In a related footnote (26), he adds: "The earliest
usage of sabhva in Pli sources is even more
problematic. [The quasi-canonical] Pe 104 explains
hetu ["cause" or "condition"] as the sabhva of a
dhamma (i.e. it acts as a cause for other dhammas)
and paccaya ["requisite" or "support"] as its
parabhva (i.e. other dhammas act as conditions for
its occurrence).... According to [the late-canonical]
Pais 178-9 dhammas are "empty by self-existence"
(sabhvena su)."
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^ Williams (2007), p. 60, writes:
The concept of self-existence or essence
(svabhva) was a development of Abhidharma
scholars, where it seems to indicate the
defining characteristic of a dharma. It is that
which makes a dharma what it is, as
resistance or hardness is the unique and
defining characteristic of earth dharma [see
Mahbhta], for example. In the Abhidharma
only "ultimate existents" (dharmas) have
essences. Conventional existents tables,
chairs, and persons do not. This is because
they are simply mental constructs out of
dharmas they therefore lack their own
specific and unique existences.
In regards to which texts Williams was writing of
when he mentioned "Abhidharma scholars" above, Y
Karunadasa (1996/2007) states that sabhva is first
used in place of dhamma in the post-canonical Pli
commentaries to the Abhidhamma. Relatedly, a
search of the Pli Canon for "sabhv" identified no
pertinent hits in the Pli Abhidhamma itself. In the
d. Dhammasagai, for example, the only hits were for
the compound term purisabhvo that is,
purisa-bhvo which Rhys Davids [1900, p. 191]
translates as "masculine in... being.")
^ The Lungi Terdz (Wylie: lung-gi gter-mdzod) is
the prose autocommentary by Longchenpa
(13081364 or possibly 1369) to his Chying Dz
(Wylie: chos-dbyings mdzod) -- which are numbered
amongst the Seven Treasuries (Wylie: mdzod chen
bdun). This text is rendered into English by Barron,
'et al.' (2001: p. 8) and the Wylie has been secured
from Wikisource and interspersed and embedded in
the English gloss for probity
^ chos thams cad kun tu bzang po lnga'i rang bzhin
du shes par bya'o
de yang gang zhe na 'di lta ste
rang bzhin kun tu bzang po dang
rgyan kun tu bzang po dang
ston pa kun tu bzang po dang
rig pa kun tu bzang po dang
togs pa kun tu bzang po'o.
^ Alternative Sanskrit orthographies are swabhawa,
swabhava and svabhaava.
[citation needed]
^ Dharma Dictionary (2008). rang bzhin. Source: [1]
(accessed: January 29, 2008)
^ Ruegg, D. Seyfort (1976). 'The Meanings of the
Term "Gotra" and the Textual History of the
"Ratnagotravibhga"'. Bulletin of the School of
Oriental and African Studies, University of London,
Vol. 39, No. 2 (1976), pp. 341363
^ Source: [2] (
(accessed: Tuesday April 6, 2010)
^ Overzee, Anne Hunt (1992). The body divine: the
symbol of the body in the works of Teilhard de
Chardin and Rmnuja. Issue 2 of Cambridge
studies in religious traditions. Cambridge University
Press. ISBN 0-521-38516-4, ISBN
978-0-521-38516-9. Source: [3]
q=svabhava%20brahman&f=false) (accessed:
Monday April 5, 2010), p.74
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^ [4] (
^ entry for "Bhva" (retrieved 2007-06-24)
^ [5] (
^ [6] (
^ See, e.g., Williams (2007, p. 46): "The principal
ontological message of the Prajpramit is an
extension of the Buddhist teaching of no-Self to
equal no essence, and therefore no inherent existence,
as applied to all things without exception."
^ A well-known example of a Prajpramit sutra
that declares the emptiness of the aggregates
(skandhas), is the Sanskrit (although not the
antecedent Chinese) version of the Heart Sutra in
which Avalokitevara "looked upon the five
skandhas, ... seeing they were empty of
self-existence ..." (vyvalokayati sma paca
skandhs tnsh ca svabhva nyn pashyati sma
...) (Red Pine, 2005, pp. 2, 56, 67).
^ Robinson, Richard H. (1957). Some Logical
Aspects of Nagarjuna's System. Philosophy East &
West. Volume 6, no. 4 (October 1957). University of
Hawaii Press. Source: [7] (
/printout470.html) (accessed: Saturday March 21,
2009), p.300
^ Thondup Rinpoche, Tulku (1989). The Practice Of
Dzogchen. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion. ISBN
1-55939-054-9, p.103
^ Namkhai Norbu, Chgyal (2006). Dzogchen
Teachings. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion. ISBN
1-55939-243-6, p.55
^ Source: Union of the Sun and Moon (Wylie: nyi zla
kha sbyor) (
Tantras) (accessed: Friday March 19, 2010)
^ Rossi, Donatella (1999). The Philosophical View
of the Great Perfection in the Tibetan Bon Religion.
Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion. ISBN 1-55939-129-4,
^ 'Kun tu bzang po thugs kyi me long gi rgyud'.
Source: [8] (
d) (accessed: Monday April 5, 2010)
^ Longchenpa (author, compilor); Barron, Richard
(translator, annotator) (2001). A Treasure Trove of
Scriptural Transmission (autocommentary on
Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of
Phenomena). Padma Publishing, p.8.
^ 'Kun tu bzang po thugs kyi me long gi rgyud'.
Source: [9] (
d) (accessed: Monday April 5, 2010)
^ Norbu, Namkhai (2001). The Precious Vase:
Instructions on the Base of Santi Maha Sangha
(Shang Shung Edizioni, 2nd rev. ed., trans. from the
Tibetan, edited and annotated by Adriano Clemente
with the help of the author; trans. from Italian into
English by Andy Lukianowicz), p. 155. Note that the
Dharma Dictionary (
/index.php/Main_Page) (2008) equates the Tibetan
bdag-med with antman (Sanskrit) (Dharma
Dictionary, 2008, bdag med, retrieved January 29,
2008 from
Gethin, R.M.L. (1992). The Buddhist Path to Awakening: A Study of the Bodhi-Pakkhiy Dhamm.
Leiden: E.J. Brill. ISBN 90-04-09442-3.
Svabhava - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Y Karunadasa, (1996). The Dhamma Theory: Philosophical Cornerstone of the Abhidhamma (WH
412/413). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 2008-06-30 from "BPS" (transcribed 2007) at
Red Pine (2004). The Heart Sutra. Emeryville, CA: Shoemaker & Hoard. ISBN 1-59376-009-4.
Rhys Davids, Caroline A. F. ([1900], 2003). Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, of the Fourth
Century B.C., Being a Translation, now made for the First Time, from the Original Pli, of the First
Book of the Abhidhamma-Piaka, entitled Dhamma-Sagai (Compendium of States or Phenomena).
Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.
Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (192125). The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary
( Chipstead: Pali Text Society.
Walshe, Maurice (1987, 1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya.
Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.
Williams, Paul (1989; repr. 2007). Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. London:
Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-02537-9.
Yamamoto, Kosho (tr.), Page, Tony (ed.) (19992000).The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra
/Mahaparinirvana_Sutra_Yamamoto_Page_2007.pdf) in 12 volumes. London: Nirvana Publications
External links
The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra and its teachings on the deathless Self of the Buddha
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