User Tools

Site Tools

Three Bodies of a Buddha - Trikaya

see Trikaya

1. the Absolute Body or Truth Body, or Dharmakaya;

2. the Enjoyment Body, or Sambhogakaya;

3. the Emanation Body, or Nirmanakaya

The Trikāya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally “Three bodies”; 三身 Chinese: Sānshēn,

) is an important Mahayana Buddhist teaching on both the nature of reality and the nature of a Buddha. By the 4th century CE the Trikāya Doctrine had assumed the form that we now know. Briefly, the doctrine says that a Buddha has three kāyas or bodies: the nirmānakāya or created body which manifests in time and space; the saṃbhogakāya or body of mutual enjoyment which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation; and the Dharmakāya or Truth body which embodies the very principle of enlightenmen and knows no limits or boundaries.<ref name=“Welwood, John 2007”>Welwood, John (2000). The Play of the Mind: Form, Emptiness, and Beyond. Source: (accessed: Saturday January 13, 2007)</ref> In the view of Anuyoga, the 'Mindstream' (Sanskrit: citta santana) is the 'continuity' (Sanskrit: santana; Wylie: rgyud) that links the Trikaya.<ref name=“Welwood, John 2007”/> The Trikāya, as a triune, is symbolised by the Gankyil.


Buddhism has always recognized more than one Buddha. In the Pāli Canon twenty-eight previous Buddhas are mentioned, and Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha, is simply the Buddha who has appeared in our world age. Even before the Buddha's Parinirvāṇa the term Dharmakāya was current. Dharmakāya literally means Truth body, or Reality body. However all of these Buddha are unified in two ways: firstly they share similar special characteristics. All Buddhas have the 32 major marks, and the 80 minor marks of a superior being. These marks are not necessarily physical, but are talked about as bodily features. They include the 'ushnisha' or a bump on the top of the head; hair tightly curled; a white tuft of hair between the eyes, long arms that reach to their knees, long fingers and toes that are webbed; his penis is completely covered by his foreskin; images of an eight-spoked wheel on the soles of their feet etc.

The other thing that all Buddhas have in common, is the Dharma that they teach, which is identical in each case.

In the Pali Canon The Buddha tells Vasettha that the Tathāgata (the Buddha) was Dharmakāya, the 'Truth-body' or the 'Embodiment of Truth', as well as Dharmabhuta, 'Truth-become', that is, 'One who has become Truth' (Dīgha Nikāya 27.9).<ref>See Walshe, Maurice. 1995. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, “Aggañña Sutta: On Knowledge of Beginnings,” p. 409.</ref>

On another occasion, Ven. Vakkali, who was ill, wanted to see the Buddha before he died from old age. The text from the Samyutta Nikaya (SN 22.87) is as follows:

Similarly in this same text, the term Putikaya meaning “decomposing” body is distinguished from the eternal Dhamma body of the Buddha and of course the Bodhisattva body.

Trikāya and Mahāyāna

Later Mahayana Buddhists were concerned with the transcendent aspect of the Dharma. One response to this was the development of the Tathāgatagarbha Doctrine. Another was the introduction of the Saṃbhogakāya, which conceptually fits between the Rāpakāya, now renamed Nirmānakāya, and the Dharmakāya.

Schools have different ideas about what the three bodies are.<ref>佛三身觀之研究-以漢譯經論為主要研究對象</ref><ref>佛陀的三身觀</ref> The Three Bodies of the Buddha from the point of view of Pure Land Buddhist thought can be broken down like so:<ref>


  • The Nirmaṇakāya is a physical body of a Buddha. An example would be Gautama Buddha's body.
  • The Sambhogak%C4%81ya is the reward-body, whereby a bodhisattva completes his vows and becomes a Buddha. Amitabha, Vajrasattva and Manjushri are examples of Buddhas with the Sambhogakaya body.
  • The Dharmakāya is the embodiment of the truth itself, and it is commonly seen as transcending the forms of physical and spiritual bodies. Vairocana Buddha is often depicted as the incomprehensible Dharmakāya, particularly in esoteric Buddhist schools such as Shingon and Kegon in Japan.

As with earlier Buddhist thought, all three forms of the Buddha teach the same Dharma, but take on different forms to expound the truth.

The Three Bodies of the Buddha from the point of view of Zen Buddhist thought are not to be taken as absolute, literal, or materialistic; they are expedient means that “are merely names or props” and only the play of light and shadow of the mind.<ref>


<blockquote>Do you wish to be not different from the Buddhas and patriarchs? Then just do not look for anything outside. The pure light of your own heart [i.e., 心, mind] at this instant is the Dharmakaya Buddha in your own house. The non-differentiating light of your heart at this instant is the Sambhogakaya Buddha in your own house. The non-discriminating light of your own heart at this instant is the Nirmanakaya Buddha in your own house. This trinity of the Buddha's body is none other than he here before your eyes, listening to my expounding the Dharma.</blockquote>

Dakinis can also be classified according to the Trikaya, or three bodies of a Buddha. The dharmakaya dakini, which is Samantabhadri, represents the dharmadhatu where all phenomena appear. The sambhogakaya dakinis are the yidams used as meditational deities for tantric practice. The nirmanakaya dakinis are human women born with special potentialities, these are realized yogini, the consorts of the gurus, or even all women in general as they may be classified into the five Buddha-families.<ref>Cf. Capriles, Elías (2003/2007). Buddhism and Dzogchen'://', and Capriles, Elías (2006/2007). Beyond Being, Beyond Mind, Beyond History, vol. I, Beyond Being://</ref>

Fourth body

Vajrayana sometimes refers to a fourth body, called the Svabhavikakaya (Wylie: ngo bo nyid kyi sku, THDL: ngo wo nyi kyi ku), meaning essential body.<ref>remarks on Svabhavikakaya by</ref><ref>explanation of meaning</ref><ref> In the book Embodiment of Buddhahood Chapter 4 the subject is: Embodiment of Buddhahood in its Own Realization: Yogacara Svabhavikakaya as Projection of Praxis and Gnoseology.</ref>

The Svabhavikakaya is simply the unity or non-separateness of the three kayas.<ref> citing H.E. Tai Situpa</ref>

The term Svabhavikakaya is also known in Gelug teaching, where it is one of the assumed two aspects of dharmakaya: Essence Body/Svabhavikakaya and Wisdom Body or Body of Gnosis/Jnanakaya.<ref>Paul Williams: Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (Library of Religious Beliefs & Practices),Routledge, ISBN 0415025370 (10), ISBN 978-0415025379 (13),://</ref>

Haribhadra (Seng-ge Bzang-po) claims, that Abhisamayalamkara chapter 8 is describing Buddhahood through four kayas: svabhavikakaya, [jnana]dharmakaya, sambhogikakaya and nairmanikakaya.<ref>see Makransky, page 115</ref>

In Mahamudra and Dzogchen

In dzogchen teachings, “dharmakaya” means the buddha-nature's absence of self-nature, that is, its emptiness of a conceptualizable essence, its cognizance or clarity is the sambhogakaya, and the fact that its capacity is 'suffused with self-existing awareness' is the nirmanakaya.<ref>Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, page 315.</ref>

The interpretation in Mahamudra is similar: when the mahamudra practices come to fruition, one sees that the mind and all phenomena are fundamentally empty of any identity; this emptiness is called dharmakāya. The essence of mind is seen as empty, yet having potential which takes the form of luminosity; the nature of the sambhogakāya is understood to be this luminosity. The nirmanakāya is understood to be the powerful force with which the potentiality effects living beings.<ref>Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, pages 284-285.</ref>

See also


Further reading

trikaya.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/26 18:13 (external edit)