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Trikaya - The Three Bodies of a Buddha or Learning to Love

It is common to find in the Mahayana literature references to the three bodies (Skt. kaya) of a buddha: nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, and dharmakaya. Sometimes references to a fourth body are found, the svabhavikakaya, which would synthesize the three former bodies. Usually the explanations are cryptic or too academic. This brief essay provides a fresh channeled explanation of the spiritual meaning (from a mystical or experientially channeled viewpoint) of the three bodies of a buddha.

While the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya are the form bodies of a buddha (Skt. rupa kaya), the dharmakaya, or truth body, is the formless body of a buddha (Skt. arupa kaya). The dharmakaya is the body that consciousness experiences at a moment of enlightenment in which it is felt that the body has no definable shape and is as vast as the universe. This body is the body of all beings, it feels what all beings in the universe feel. In other words, the true nature of mind and universe is experienced. The dharmakaya is the true body of enlightenment and corresponds to the empty, nonconceptual, quiescent state of the mind.

However, in the endless play of expansion and collapse of the universe, of the bigbangs and all that, an unceasing kinetic energy is expressed—the energy of love. In that way, from the love of the buddha emerge endless illusory replications of joyous bodies which occupy the entire universal body of the dharmakaya. This is the sambhogakaya or body of enjoyment of a buddha. It is the buddhic play of enjoyment of the illusory duality of an individuated subtle radiant body for the benefit of all those saintly beings who, even though they still are not fully aware of their dharmakaya, possess enough purity to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste a sambhogakaya. The sambhogakaya is colored by the cultural background of the saint: if he or she is a Christian, the sambhogakaya will be experienced as Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, an angel; if he or she is a Buddhist, it will be experienced as a buddha, etc.

The sambhogakaya is like dividing the universal body of the dharmakaya in infinite individuated magical and illusory bodies for the enjoyment of creation and the created with the sole purpose of inspiring through the play of love and the five senses those who still cannot experience their dharmakaya. The sambhogakaya is the illusory, magical and subtle body of enlightenment and corresponds to a vibratory or kinetic state of the mind, the realm of perception.

The nirmanakaya is the body of emanation of a buddha (Tib. tulku). Like the sambhogakaya, the nirmanakaya is the expression of countless individuated bodies coming from the dharmakaya, the product of the love of the buddha. Unlike the sambhogakaya, the nirmanakaya is a physical emanation or temporary illusory sensation of insulation of consciousness in a physical body with a perception that is channelized and limited by the sense organs. The nirmanakaya is the incarnated illusory body of enlightenment and, like the sambhogakaya, corresponds to a vibratory or kinetic state of the mind.

The nirmanakaya or tulku is not only that being considered “special” who, nevertheless, still has not actualized his or her enlightenment and that believing in the dual illusion of the bodhisattva vow has taken a human body “for the benefit of all sentient beings.” Indeed, all of us incarnated human beings are the nirmanakayas, tulkus or emanations of the buddha. We all are buddhas in potency, even though we may not be aware of it, and we have incarnated through the love of the buddha with the final purpose of inspiring other beings of impure perception like us who, nevertheless, eventually will be able to have a glimpse or intuition of our buddhic nature and as a consequence of that wake up to the love of the buddha. Likewise, we take a body to be inspired by others, to re-learn or remember through that inspiration which generates love in us, or the play of enjoying the illusion of duality, which also has the high cost of suffering when the ego takes credit of the experience and believes as true the illusion of its real existence, grasping to it, trying to escape from its death or dissolution.

When we finally are able to let go of the ego and recuperate the original meaning of existence in this plane—learn to love by inspiring others and being inspired by others, or the joy of playing the dual expression or creation—then we can experience the three kayas of the buddha as one, the svabhavikakaya, or essential body.