The term tathagatagarbha is translated and interpreted in various ways by western translators and scholars:

This [tathāgatagarbha] abides within the shroud of the afflictions, as should be understood through [the following nine] examples: Just like a buddha in a decaying lotus, honey amidst bees, a grain in its husk, gold in filth, a treasure underground, a shoot and so on sprouting from a little fruit, a statue of the Victorious One in a tattered rag, a ruler of humankind in a destitute woman's womb, and a precious image under clay, this [buddha] element abides within all sentient beings, obscured by the defilement of the adventitious poisons.

In the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra there are two possible states for the tathāgatagarbha:

The Lankavatara-sutra contains tathagata-garba thought, but also warns against reification of the idea of buddha-nature, and presents it as an aid to attaining awakening:

According to Alex and Hideko Wayman, the equation of tathagatagarbha and ālāya-vijñāna is innovative:

When this active transformation is complete, the other seven consciousnesses are also transformed. The 7th consciousness of delusive discrimination becomes transformed into the "equality wisdom". The 6th consciousness of thinking sense becomes transformed into the "profound observing wisdom", and the 1st to 5th consciousnesses of the five sensory senses become transformed into the "all-performing wisdom".

A famous reference to buddha-nature in the Zen-tradition is the Mu-koan:

According to Brunnholzl, in the works of the influential Sakya scholar Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429–1489), buddha-nature is

Kedrub Jé Geleg Balsang (1385–1438), one of the main disciples of Tsongkhapa, defined the tathāgatagarbha thus:

The 14th Dalai Lama sees the buddha-nature as the "original clear light of mind", but points out that it ultimately does not exist independently, because, like all other phenomena, it is of the nature of emptiness:

Shenpen Hookham, Oxford Buddhist scholar and Tibetan lama of the Shentong tradition writes of the buddha-nature or "true self" as something real and permanent, and already present within the being as uncompounded enlightenment. She calls it "the Buddha within", and comments:

Buddhist scholar and chronicler, Merv Fowler, writes that the buddha-nature really is present as an essence within each being. Fowler comments:

Paul Williams puts forward the Madhyamaka interpretation of the buddha-nature as emptiness in the following terms: