Definition: Mahayana Term ‘True Self-Nature’ (自我真性)

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According to Chinese language Buddhist dictionaries, the Mahayana Buddhist term (translated into English as) ‘True Self-Nature’, is found in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, and appears to refer to a supreme realisation, position or understanding. As the Mahayana Buddhist tradition adheres to the Buddha’s teaching of ‘anatman’, or ‘non-self’, this term cannot be used to refer to a permanent self, or ‘soul’. The term ‘True Self-Nature’ is written in its long Chinese language form as ‘自我真性’ (Zi Wo Zhen Xing). This can be assessed as:

1) 自 (zi4), self, personal, private and natural

2) 我 (wo3) I, me, my and self

3) 真 (zhen1), true, real, genuine and actual

4) 性 (xing4) essence, nature, substance and underlying reality

Taken together, this term appears to refer to the process of realising the ‘true essence’ of the ‘individual self’. Within Prajnaparamita thinking, the ‘true essence’, or ‘true nature’ of the individual self is ‘non-substantiality’, or more specifically the direct perception of the self being ‘empty’ (sunya) of any permanent substance. Often, this term appears in Chinese dictionaries in the concise form of ‘自性’ (Zi Xing) or ‘self-nature’, which is a Chinese language translation of the Sanskrit term ‘svabhava’. The term ‘svabhava’ appears within later Theravada (Pali) texts, but is used to refer to a full and profound realisation of the Buddha’s teaching regarding ‘non-self’ (anatman).

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