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Emerson's "God-within"and the Buddhist "Buddha-womb"

Emerson wrote with excitement of his discovery of “God-within” in his poem “Gnothi Seauton”: “There doth sit the Infinite embosomed in a man.” He furthermore preached in his sermon “The Genuine Man” that “the essential man” dwells in the innermost soul, and that this indwelling essential self is a higher self, God’s image, and “Reason.” The doctrine of “Buddha-womb,” tathāgatagarbha meaning “essence of self” or “Buddha-nature,” buddhadātu meaning “true self,” is an important teaching in Mahāyāna Buddhism, which affirms that each sentient being contains the indwelling potency for attaining Buddhahood and enlightenment. This notion is explained when referring to the boundless, nurturing, sustaining, and deathless Self of the Buddha. The affinities between Emersonian Transcendentalism and Mahāyāna Buddhism, especially Zen, have often been pointed out. In this article the comparison between Emerson’s “God-within” and Mahāyāna Buddhism’s “Buddha-womb” or “Buddha-nature” will be examined.

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