I think it translates as e.g. "one who has thus gone".

My question is whether any historical being has ever really and in entirety "thus gone".

Perhaps in spirit, or in expression, but if e.g. Gautama really did - wouldn't we all be likewise "thus come"?

  • 2
    possible duplicate of Why does the Buddha call himself the Tathāgata?
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 11:34
  • @ChrisW i don't think the question is the same - please do edit the question if you feel you can help :) ??
    – user2512
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 11:37
  • The answers to that question say that it has several (eight) possible 'etymological' meanings. I don't know what a 'literal' meaning is, that you could be asking about anew, apart from the several/ambiguous 'etymological' meanings. Unrul3r's answer is that they can't tell whether it's "gata" or "agata" i.e. going or coming. Andrei's is that it means "rooted". My guess is that its meaning includes the Buddha's loss of identity-view. And then you're asking about "in spirit, or in expression" which might be the very opposite of "literal".
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 11:53
  • I'm not sure what you trying to ask. Is it something like, "What does 'tathagata' mean? Was Gautama telling the truth when he called himself 'tathagata'? And/or any other historical being? Are we the opposite of whatever 'tathagata' means?" And you added the boddhisattva-vows tag: do you want to connect that, somehow, with what you're asking?
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 12:12
  • 2
    This question is hard to interpret. By asking, "is X ever Y?", it seems like you are asking about the usage of X in a particular context; but then you clarify in the form of "has anyone ever P" which is a totally different question. Lastly, why would Gautama's having done P mean that we have all ~P?
    – Anthony
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 4:56

3 Answers 3


The term Tathagata is gramatically ambiguous. You can parse it in two main ways. You can parse it as Tatha+gata, "He who has gone thus" which refers to going over to the other shore, which is a title of Nirvana, or you can take it as Tatha+agata (in which case the first a in agata drops out due to Sandhi) which means "He who has come thus" referring to coming to see the truth, or as "He who has come to see thus" because the term thus here is related to the term Tathata, meaning suchness, which is another title of Nirvana.


This article is highly relevant


I don't have time to write a full response, but that article (especially the Notes section) contains a lot of worthy information about the origins of the name.

  • 1
    Thank you for the reference! The note says, "consciousness of a Tathagata is untraceable" but the referenced Sn 1074 says, "goes to an end that cannot be classified". So, IMO it's consciousness after death that's unclassifiable. Using the bird-and-sailors simile, I can see the advantage of a bird that's unattached to the ship, but presumably the sailors need to be able to watch the direction in which the bird will fly away.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 6, 2015 at 6:44

I think there is a clue when the Buddha was asked "Who are you?" Buddha thought for awhile and then said I am awake. Buddha did not say I am the son of a king, the father of a child and a husband, he did not say he was the head of a spiritual order. http://www.noble-buddhism-beliefs.com/buddha-quotes.html

I am Awake

A Brahman saw the Buddha resting under a tree in meditation. The Brahman was impressed with the Buddha's disposition and demeanor. He asked, "Are you a god?"

"No, Brahman, I'm not a god."

"Are you an angel?"

"No", replied the Buddha.

"You must be a spirit then?"

"No, I'm not a spirit," said the Buddha.

"Then what are you?"

"I'm awake."

"I am awake" he said. In modern terms it is not a long stretch to say I am consciousness. Well if I am consciousness or I am awake, is there any historical figure the Buddha would point out to us? Is it not probable that those who are trying to establish historical figures waking up have missed a fine point? It is not the historical figure that changes, it is their state of consciousness.

One who has thus gone would then be one who has gone out of the awareness of the world seen as things to a state of seeing all as an expression of consciousness.

We are all potential Buddha realized beings so we are all potentially "One who has thus gone." The spiritual preparation does have steps of purifying intentions and disciplining an unruly sense of self. But the emphasis is more on realizing awakeness than on categorizing our unpolished diamond nature.

So for me the question is what can I do to know in my heart without wavering or doubt that "I am awake." No more illusions then. Perhaps that is the going beyond, going beyond illusions. More than that is difficult to say with certainty.

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