Three buddha statues symbolizing the Three Bodies. Dharma Flower Temple, Huzhou, Zhejiang province, China
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The Trikāya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally "Three bodies"; 三身 Chinese: Sānshēn, Japanese: sanjin) 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 enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries.[1] In the view of Anuyoga, the 'Mindstream' (Sanskrit: citta santana) is the 'continuity' (Sanskrit: santana; Wylie: rgyud) that links the Trikaya.[1] 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).[2]

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:

...and the Buddha comforts him, "Enough, Vakkali. Why do you want to see this filthy body? Whoever sees the Dhamma sees me; whoever sees me sees the Dhamma."[3]

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.[4][5] The Three Bodies of the Buddha from the point of view of Pure Land Buddhist thought can be broken down like so:[6]

  • The Nirmaṇakāya is a physical body of a Buddha. An example would be Gautama Buddha's body.
  • The Sambhogakāya 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.[7]

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.

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.[8]

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.[9][10][11]

The Svabhavikakaya is simply the unity or non-separateness of the three kayas.[12]

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.[13]

Haribhadra (Seng-ge Bzang-po) claims, that Abhisamayalamkara chapter 8 is describing Buddhahood through four kayas: svabhavikakaya, [jnana]dharmakaya, sambhogikakaya and nairmanikakaya.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

Esoteric Buddhism

In Esoteric teachings of Buddhism, it is the Bodhisattva who refuses to pass into the Nirvanic state or "don the Dharmakaya robe and cross to the other shore", as it would then become beyond their power to assist even so little as Karma permits. They prefer to remain invisibly (in spirit so to speak) in the world, and contribute towards men's salvation by influencing them to follow the Good Law, i.e., lead them on the Path of Righteousness. It is Exoteric Buddhism that believes that Nirmanakaya simple means the physical body of Buddha, however Esoteric Buddhism shows no such thing.

It is the Nirmanakaya of Esoteric teachings that assumes when the Buddha dies, instead of going into Nirvana, he remains in that glorious body he has woven for himself, invisible to uninitiated mankind, to watch over and protect it. [17]

See also


  1. ^ a b Welwood, John (2000). The Play of the Mind: Form, Emptiness, and Beyond. Source: (accessed: Saturday January 13, 2007)
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ See footnote #3
  4. ^ 佛三身觀之研究-以漢譯經論為主要研究對象
  5. ^ 佛陀的三身觀
  6. ^ Hattori, Sho-on (2001). A Raft from the Other Shore : Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism. Jodo Shu Press. pp. 25–27. ISBN 4883633292. 
  7. ^ Schloegl, Irmgard (1976). The Zen Teaching of Rinzai. Shambhala Publications, Inc.. p. 21. ISBN 0-87773-087-3. 
  8. ^ Cf. Capriles, Elías (2003/2007). Buddhism and Dzogchen'[1]', and Capriles, Elías (2006/2007). Beyond Being, Beyond Mind, Beyond History, vol. I, Beyond Being[2]
  9. ^ remarks on Svabhavikakaya by
  10. ^ explanation of meaning
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ citing H.E. Tai Situpa
  13. ^ Paul Williams: Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (Library of Religious Beliefs & Practices),Routledge, ISBN 0415025370 (10), ISBN 978-0415025379 (13),[3]
  14. ^ see Makransky, page 115
  15. ^ Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, page 315.
  16. ^ Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, pages 284-285.
  17. ^ Helena Blavatsky, "The Voice of the Silence" Theosophical Publishing Co., pages 75-77.

Further reading

  • Walshe, Maurice (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0 86171 103 3. 
  • Snellgrove, David (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Vol. 1. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.. ISBN 0 87773 311 2. 
  • Snellgrove, David (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Vol. 2. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.. ISBN 0 87773 379 1. 
  • John J. Makransky: (August 1997) Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet, Publisher: State University of New York Press , ISBN 079143432X (10), ISBN 978-0791434321 (13), [4]

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Trikaya — (Sanskrit, m., त्रिकाय, trikāya, „Drei Körper“) ist ein Begriff der Drei Körper Lehre des Mahayana Buddhismus der sich auf die Ebenen der Manifestation oder Aktivität bezieht. Tri bedeutet drei und trikaya als Konzept bezieht sich auf die drei… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Trikaya — Trikāya Le terme sanskrit trikāya (tib. sku gsum) ou triple corps des bouddhas désigne dans le mahāyāna et le vajrayāna trois plans d expression de l éveil, ou encore dimensions de la réalité. Sommaire 1 Les trois corps dans le Theravāda 2 Les… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Trikaya —   [Sanskrit »drei Körper«, »einer, der drei Körper hat«] der, , Mahayana Buddhismus: die Lehre von den drei Körpern des Buddha: 1) Im Dharmakaya (»Körper der Lehre«) sind die Buddhas miteinander identisch. Der Dharmakaya ist das Absolute, die… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Trikāya — Le terme sanskrit trikāya (tib. sku gsum) ou triple corps des bouddhas désigne dans le mahāyāna et le vajrayāna trois plans d expression de l éveil, ou encore dimensions de la réalité. Sommaire 1 Les trois corps dans le Theravāda 2 Les trois… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • trikaya — In Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of the three bodies, or modes of being, of the Buddha: the dharmakaya ( body of essence ), the unmanifested mode; the sambhogakaya ( body of enjoyment ), the heavenly mode; and the nirmanakaya ( body of… …   Universalium

  • trikaya — En el budismo mahayana, el concepto de los tres cuerpos, o maneras de ser, de Buda: el dharmakaya ( cuerpo de la esencia o ley), el modo no manifestado; el sambhogakaya ( cuerpo de goce o bienaventuranza), el modo celestial; y el nirmanakaya (… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • trikaya — trə̇ˈkī(y)ə, käyə noun ( s) Etymology: Sanskrit trikāya three bodies, from tri three + kāya body, mass (akin to Sanskrit cinoti he heaps up) more at three, poet : a Mahayana Buddhist doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha see dha …   Useful english dictionary

  • trikaya — tri·kaya …   English syllables

  • Dharmakaya — Trikaya (Sanskrit, m., त्रिकाय, trikāya, Drei Körper ) bezeichnet die Drei Körper Lehre des Mahayana Buddhismus. Es handelt sich dabei um den Versuch, Wesen und Wirken der verschiedenen Buddhas, insbesondere in ihrem Verhältnis zueinander,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nirmanakaya — Trikaya (Sanskrit, m., त्रिकाय, trikāya, Drei Körper ) bezeichnet die Drei Körper Lehre des Mahayana Buddhismus. Es handelt sich dabei um den Versuch, Wesen und Wirken der verschiedenen Buddhas, insbesondere in ihrem Verhältnis zueinander,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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