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GhanaBhuti Returns to BBnB: The Three Bodies of the Buddha

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  • rayh12@aol.com
    Hi Folks, I m looking forward to seeing everyone again. Tonight s topic is the Three Bodies of the Buddha. This is a subject that permeates all the teachings
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 16, 2009
      Hi Folks,

      I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again.

      Tonight's topic is the Three Bodies of the Buddha. This is a subject that permeates all the teachings of the Buddha and yet is rarely taught as such. We'll begin to unravel the many levels of understanding present in this Teaching on Friday in BBnB.

      Namaste and Shanti,


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      Forwarded Message:
      Subj:The Three Bodies of the Buddha: General Considerations 
      Date:7/16/2009 11:45:38 AM Pacific Daylight Time
      Sent from the Internet (Details)

      The Three Bodies of the Buddha, General Considerations


      This document is the First of Two Presentations on the Bodies of the Buddha. The first is a general introduction while the second gives greater detail on the use of the concept in practice in the Vajrayana, Mahamudra and Dzogchen.


      There are three (sometimes four, five and more) Bodies of the Buddha mentioned in various teachings. The Pali texts mention Two Bodies, the Dhammakaya or Truth Body and the Rupakaya or Form Body. The term ‘Rupakaya’ reappears in the Indo-Tibetan lineages but, as described below, with a different meaning.


      The reason for the many systems of thought and many terms comes about due to contemplations on the remarkable presence of such a thing as a Buddha. A Buddha, born a human, transforms by the Desire to Attain Freedom, Refining the Wisdom born of the Realization of Emptiness and the Motive of Helping Others. In this process, the Buddha becomes free of the suffering that is the staining reality of those born in the Desire Realm. To understand our own path one of our tasks is to examine the state of a Buddha for clues pointing to how we can also attain such an exalted state in order to be of service to all Sentient Beings.


      Such contemplations about the Nature of the Buddha has resulted in the Teachings of The Three Bodies (Trikaya) of the Buddha as one of the foundational Teachings of the Mahayana Schools. The Three Bodies of the Buddha is a construct that developed from interpretations of the Abhidharma and was expressed in the early Mahayana.  The Lotus Sutra, a foundational sutra of early Mahayana, contains an early reference to the ‘Three Bodies of the Buddha’ or Trikaya. Later on, the Mind Only tradition expanded on this tradition and served as a referent to the development of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. Early mentions of the Trikaya are also found in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in 8,000 Lines.


      The basic list we learn in our early studies of Buddhism describe the Three Bodies. When we venture into the Vajrayana, the number of bodies is expanded in some Teachings.  The Three Bodies of the Buddha are: the Form Body or Nirmanakaya,  the Complete Enjoyment Body or Sambhogakaya and the Truth Body or Dharmakaya. Another term meaning ‘Form Body, is ‘Rupakaya.’ In the extinct Theravada and extinct Hinayana traditions, the term ‘Rupakaya’ is sometimes used to refer to the Nirmanakaya. In the Mahayana traditions, Rupakaya usually refers to both the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.


      The Dharmakaya, or Truth Body is a term also used to express the Wisdom Aspect of Emptiness, the actual state of the Buddha.  It is said correctly that the Dharmakaya is the Ultimate Source of the other Buddha Bodies. It is also correct to say that the Dharmakaya gives rise to the Sambhogakaya which in turn gives rise to the Nirmanakaya due to the increase of Merit, along with Wisdom, one of the Two accumulations. This subtle arising is indicated in the chart below.




      The Three (and more) Bodies, a Brief Description

                                                                                                                                                                      &nb sp;                                                                         

      While somewhat mysterious to the Western Mind, the Teachings of the Three-bodies is one of the most important and pervasive in Buddhism at it evolved in India, Tibet and beyond. The Teaching of Trikaya comes largely from the Cittamatra Tradition, building on the seed ideas of the First Turning Schools. The Middle Path Schools took the concepts of the Cittamatra and added to them as the line progressed into the various Indian and Tibetan Traditions. Moreover, the attainment of the Three Bodies of the Buddha is a guide to our own practice as it is a synonym for the attainment of Enlightenment.


      One thing I should point out is that the Buddha is not some sort of 'sandwich' with layers that can be left out. The Buddha is more a ‘casserole,’ a Whole and Unified Phenomenon that bubbles up out of this world and is manifest from the causes of both suffering and enlightenment. The Three Bodies are best seen as metaphors of Mind and Function as well as a goal of individual practice. In a similar vein, the Late Eminence Kalu Rinpoche described the Three Bodies with the metaphor of the Sun. He compared:


      Ø       “the Dharmakaya to the sun, the direct perception of which is impossible for us,

      Ø       the Samboghakaya is the disc form that we see and of which we say, "It is rising " or "It is setting," and

      Ø       the Nirmanakya is the light and heat we experience.”


      Keeping this metaphor in mind we can better understand the Three Bodies as described in many places in the literature.


      Dharmakaya. The Truth Body is so-named because it represents enlightenment itself. This Enlightenment is the actual state of the Buddha which manifests as Wisdom without any limiting factor, source or point of reference. Dharmakaya is thus the Unborn Wisdom (meaning ‘Wisdom without Origin’) that represents the complete enlightenment of the Buddha and that manifests in the Sambhogakaya and the Nirmanakaya.


      Sambhogakaya. Also called the Enjoyment Body or the ‘Body of Full Usage,’ is seen as a realm of manifestation of Dharmakaya that is encountered in meditative and heavenly realms and also appears to advanced Bodhisattvas. In terms of our own practice, it is our own Sambhogakaya that we build up along with our stores of Wisdom and Merit, the Two Accumulations.


      As we progress in practice and the two accumulations, we attain an ever more refined mind of enlightenment. Our thought process conforms more often to the Dharma and we increasingly see the error-prone nature of the uneducated form of human thought. It is by embracing the increasing stores of Wisdom and Merit as well as surrendering negative thought that we ‘creep up on enlightenment.’


      An actively increasing Body of Full Use (Sambogokaya) is the ripening fruit of such practice. This is possible as we are born with the Dharmakaya and Sambhogakaya as part of our mental continuum. Nirmanakaya, however, is not part of us at birth. We develop the Manifestation Body as we practice the Six Perfections and grow in Merit. As we enhance our knowledge of our Dharmakaya we begin to express activity in terms of our growing capabilities. As we enter the higher paths of the Bodhisattva, this is referred to as ‘Sambhogakaya activity.’


      Nirmanakaya (sometimes referred to as ‘Rupakaya’). The Form Body or Emanation Body manifests in the world. Our own Shakyamuni Buddha is an example of Nirmanakaya. This is the aspect of Enlightenment that can be seen by and related to by normal human beings.


      Also, the Tibetan Term, ‘Tulku’ (spelled ‘sprul sku’ in Tibetan), is a translation of the Sanskrit term, ‘Nirmanakaya.’ Tulku means ‘Emanation Body,’ a reference to the return to the world of Bodhisattvas who postpone their final enlightenment in order to return to the world to help all sentient beings escape from suffering. ‘Tulku’ is also a term used to refer to reincarnate Lamas such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the many incarnate lamas who teach in the many traditions. The term Rinpoche is an honorific term applied to Incarnate Lamas and other persons of note. Note that the term ‘tulku’ is NOT synonymous with being a Monk.


      Other Bodies of the Buddha

                There are other Buddha Bodies mentioned in Highest Yoga Tantra, Mahamudra and other High Teachings. An often-mentioned fourth kaya is the Svabhavakaya or ‘Essence Body’ which represents the unity of the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. Svabhavakaya (also spelled as Svabhavakakaya or Svabhavikakaya), thus, is emblematic of ‘How’ a Buddha actually exists. This term also informs us that it is improper to make a hierarchy of the Three Bodies as they exist together in the State of a Buddha.


      In his explanation of Mahamudra H. E.  Tai Situpa, informs us that, " ... svabhavikakaya (Tib. ngo wo nyi kyi ku) is not a further form of manifestation, but denotes the fact that the dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya are not separate from each other. They are just three different aspects of the state of a Buddha, which is indivisible." If we were to compare Dharmakaya to vapor, Sambhogakaya to clouds, and  Nirmanakaya to rain, then Svabhavikakaya is the essential nature of them all --  water-ness or moisture.”

                  Also, There is several terms mentioned in reference to a Fifth Kaya mentioned in some Teachings. One such kaya refers to the Body of Great Bliss' or ‘MahaSukhaKaya,’ which is an Enlightened Quality of the Svabhavikakaya, the Union of the Three Bodies. Another term used as a fifth kaya is ‘Vajrakaya,’ the Immutable Body which denotes the Indestructible and non-changing nature of the Union of the Buddha Bodies.


      The Two Accumulations


      Our goal in practice is to attain the Three Bodies of the Buddha, a synonym of Complete Enlightenment. In order to accomplish this formidable task the many schools and traditions have generated a number of practices which are aimed at building up both our stores of the Two Accumulations of Wisdom and Merit.


      The Practice of the Six Perfections is in prime focus as we gather the Two Accumulations. It is said that the Practices of Generosity, Ethical Deportment, Patience and Joyous Effort build Merit while the Practice of Meditative Stability and Prajna are aimed at building up Wisdom, itself.


      As we practice, learn and grow in the Two Accumulations, they author in our own Mind an ever-greater degree of realization which builds an ‘Enlightenment-Building Network’ which is the substantive fruit of our continuing practice. It is in this context that we begin to develop the attainment of the Three Bodies.


      A Few Quotes


      Here are a few quotes about the Two Accumulations that show the importance of our continual effort.


      Atisha, in his Bodhipathapradipa, mentions that, “The accumulations of merit and wisdom are the perfect causes of enlightenment.”


      In ‘The Path of Transmutation’ Jamgon Kongtrul the Great mentions in the Outline of Essential Points that:


      “In the Mantra approach (the Vajrayana), with its many methods and few austerities,
      a person of sharp faculties and high intelligence
      may gather the two accumulations during all activities.”

      Jamgon Kongtrul also mentions the Two Accumulations in his advice on the Mind Training aspect of ‘Being Grateful to Everyone.’ This quote emphasizes the Three Jewels in that our Sangha is very much part of our aspiration to gather the Two Accumulations. In his The Great Path of Awakening : An Easily Accessible Introduction for Ordinary People, Jamgon Kongtrul instructs us:

      “In general, all methods for attaining Buddhahood rely on sentient beings. Therefore, to the individual who wishes to awaken, sentient beings are as worthy of gratitude as Buddhas. Specifically, all sentient beings are worthy of gratitude since there is not one who has not been my parent. In particular, all those who hurt me are worthy of gratitude since they are my companions and helpers for gathering the accumulations of merit and pristine wisdom and for clearing away the obscurations of disturbing emotions and conceptual knowledge.

      “Do not be angry, not even at a dog or an insect. Strive to give whatever actual help you can. If you cannot help, then think and say:

      “May this sentient being (or troublemaker) quickly be rid of pain and enjoy happiness. May he come to attain Buddhahood..”


      Namaste and Shanti,


      GhanaBhuti, Email at RimeBuddha@...,



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