What Are the Three Kayas?

According to Mahayana Buddhism, the human form of Shakyamuni Buddha we all know represents only one of the three bodies, or kayas, of the buddhas.

Lion’s Roar
30 June 2016
Illustration by Ray Fenwick.

According to Mahayana Buddhism the three bodies, or kayas, of the buddhas are different manifestations of enlightened mind, and they are also the true nature of all sentient beings. In fact, the transformation of conventional body, speech, and mind into the three kayas is the basis of the Vajrayana path.

Dharmakaya: The Body of Truth

The ultimate body, the absolute. It is without form, substance, or concept of any sort, including existence and nonexistence. It is the formless form we enter through the gateless gate. The dharmakaya is, as it says in one Vajrayana chant, “nothing whatever but everything arises from it.”

Sambhogakaya: The Body of Enjoyment

The body of communication, bliss, and the play of energy, in which enlightened mind manifests as the five wisdoms. As the bridge between the formless and the material, sambhogakaya is the realm of what Thinley Norbu Rinpoche called “nonmaterial spiritual reality.”

Nirmanakaya: The Body of Emanation

From their limitless compassion, the buddhas appear in a physical body, one that sentient beings can perceive, such as Prince Siddhartha. The buddhas can manifest in any physical form—not simply as spiritual teachers—in response to what beings need.

Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

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