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The Dharmakāya (Sanskrit: धर्मकाय; Pali: धम्मकाय, lit. "truth body" or "reality body") is one of the three bodies (trikaya) of the Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism. Dharmakāya constitutes the unmanifested, "inconceivable" (acintya) aspect of a Buddha, out of which Buddhas arise and to which they return after their dissolution. Buddhas are manifestations of the dharmakāya called nirmanakaya ("transformation body"). One Buddhist scholar writes of it as "the body of reality itself, without specific, delimited form, wherein the Buddha is identified with the spiritually charged nature of everything that is."
- 1 Tibetan etymology
- 2 Origins and development
- 3 Interpretation in Buddhist traditions
- 4 Iconography
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
- 8 External links
In Tibetan, the term chos sku glosses Dharmakāya; it is composed of chos "religion, dharma" and sku "body, form, image, bodily form, figure". Thondup & Talbott render it as the "ultimate body". In a key scholarly collaborative, Nyingma translation work published in 2005, furthermore notable as the first complete rendering of the Bardo Thodol into the English language from the Tibetan, this technical term was configured into English as "Buddha-body of Reality".
The Yungdrung Bon term for dharmakāya is rdzogs sku, where rdzogs means "perfection".
Origins and development
In the Pāli Canon, Gautama Buddha tells Vasettha that the Tathāgata (the Buddha) is Dhammakaya, the "Truth-body" or the "Embodiment of Truth", as well as Dharmabhuta, "Truth-become", that is, "One who has become Truth."
He whose faith in the Tathagata is settled, rooted, established, solid, unshakeable by any ascetic or Brahmin, any deva or mara or Brahma or anyone in the world, can truly say: 'I am a true son of Blessed Lord (Bhagavan), born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, an heir of Dhamma.' Why is that? Because, Vasettha, this designates the Tathagata: 'The Body of Dhamma,' that is, 'The Body of Brahma,' or 'Become Dhamma,' that is, 'Become Brahma.'" 
During the Buddha's life great veneration was shown to him. A mythology developed concerning the physical characteristics of Universal Buddhas.
After the Buddha's Parinirvana a distinction was made between the Buddha’s physical body or rūpakaya and his Dharmakaya aspect. As the Buddha told Vakkali, he was a living example of the "Truth" of the Dharma. Without that form to relate to, the Buddha's followers could only relate to the Dharmakaya aspect of him.
The Trikaya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally "three bodies" or "three personalities") is a Buddhist teaching both on the nature of reality, and the appearances of a Buddha.
The Dharmakaya-doctrine was possibly first expounded in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā, composed in the 1st century BCE.
- The Nirmāṇakāya "Transformation body"
- The Sambhogakāya "Enjoyment-body"
- The Dharmakāya, "Dharma-body"
Tulku Thondup states that Dharmakaya must possess three great qualities:
- Great purity (Wylie: spang pa chen po, "the great abandonment"),
- Great realization (Wylie: rtogs pa chen po),
- Great mind (Wylie: sems pa chen po).
Interpretation in Buddhist traditions
According to Guang Xing, two main aspects of the Buddha can be seen in Mahāsāṃghika teachings: the true Buddha who is omniscient and omnipotent, and the manifested forms through which he liberates sentient beings through skillful means. For the Mahāsaṃghikas, the historical Gautama Buddha was one of these transformation bodies (Skt. nirmāṇakāya), while the essential real Buddha is equated with the Dharmakāya.
Sarvāstivādins viewed the Buddha's physical body (Skt. rūpakāya) as being impure and improper for taking refuge in, and they instead regarded taking refuge in the Buddha as taking refuge in the Dharmakāya of the Buddha. As stated in the Mahāvibhāṣā:
Some people say that to take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in the body of the Tathāgata, which comprises head, neck, stomach, back, hands and feet. It is explained that the body, born of father and mother, is composed of defiled dharmas, and therefore is not a source of refuge. The refuge is the Buddha's fully accomplished qualities (aśaikṣadharmāḥ) which comprise bodhi and the dharmakāya.
Predominantly, Theravada Buddhism views the Dhammakaya (Dharmakaya) as a figurative term relating to the manner in which the Buddha exemplifies or embodies the Dharma. Theravada Buddhism does not usually invest the term Dhammakaya with a metaphysical connotation.
Dhammakaya Movement of Thailand
The Dhammakaya Movement of Thai Theravada Buddhism supposedly has doctrinal elements which distinguish it from conventional Theravāda Buddhism. The Dhammakāya school of meditation is marked by its literal interpretation of Buddhist technical terms, including the term dhammakāya, in their physical meaning, as described by Phramongkolthepmuni. Basing itself on the Pali suttas and meditative experience, it teaches that the Dhammakaya is the eternal Buddha within all beings. The dhammakaya is nirvana, and nirvana is equated with the true Self (as opposed to the non-Self):
The Buddha discovered that nirvana is atta [the Self], this movement teaches.
In some respects its teachings resemble the Buddha-nature doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Paul Williams has commented that this view of Buddhism is similar to ideas found in the shentong teachings of the Jonang school of Tibet made famous by Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen.
The Thai meditation masters who teach of a true Self of which they claim to have gained meditative experience are not rejected by Thai Buddhists in general, but tend, on the contrary, to be particularly revered and worshipped in Thailand as arhats or even bodhisattvas, far more so than more "orthodox" Theravada monks and scholars.
In the tathagatagarbha sutric tradition, the Dharmakaya is taught by the Buddha to constitute the transcendental, blissful, eternal, and pure Self of the Buddha. "These terms are found in sutras such as the Lankavatara, Gandavyuha, Angulimaliya, Srimala, and the Mahaparinirvana, where they are used to describe the Buddha, the Truth Body (dharmakaya) and the Buddha-nature." They are the "transcendent results [of spiritual attainment]".
In the Lotus Sutra (sixth fascicle) the Buddha explains that he has always and will always exist to lead beings to their salvation.
[T]he ultimate nature or essence of the enlightened mind [byang-chub sems], which is uncreated (skye-med), free from the limits of conceptual elaboration (spros-pa'i mtha'-bral), empty of inherent existence (rang-bzhin-gyis stong-pa), naturally radiant, beyond duality and spacious like the sky. The intermediate state of the time of death ('chi-kha'i bar-do) is considered to be an optimum time for the realisation of the Buddha-body of Reality.
Reginald Ray, writing of the Vajrayana view of the Dharmakaya, defines it as:
The body of reality itself, without specific, delimited form, wherein the Buddha is identified with the spiritually charged nature of everything that is.'
According to Jamgon Kongtrul, the founder of the Rimé movement, in his 19th century commentary to the Lojong slogan, "To see confusion as the four kayas, the sunyata protection is unsurpassable", when one meditates on ultimate bodhicitta and rests in a state where appearances simply appear but there is no clinging to them, the dharmakaya aspect is that all appearances are empty in nature, the sambhogakaya is that they appear with clarity, the nirmanakaya is that this emptiness and clarity occur together, and the natural kāya aspect is that these are inseparable.
Gyaltrul Rinpoche's Dharmakaya Organization
Recently, Dharmakaya has also become the name for an organization founded by H. E. the 4th Trungram Gyaltrul Rinpoche, and is affiliated with his global organization the United Trungram Buddhist Fellowship (UTBF).
Gyaltrul Rinpoche's Dharmakaya organization was founded for the specific purpose of bringing the teachings and meditation practices from the Trungram Tradition of the Karma Kagyu lineage to North America.
In the early traditions of Buddhism, depictions of Gautama Buddha were neither iconic nor aniconic but depictions of empty space and absence: petrosomatoglyphs (Images of a part of the body carved in rock), for example.
Thondup & Talbott identify Dharmakaya with the naked ("sky-clad"; Sanskrit: Digāmbara), unornamented, sky-blue Samantabhadra:
Space is simultaneously the first and the last of the great elements. It is the origin and precondition of the other four, and it is also their culmination... The Sanskrit word for space is the same as for the sky: akasha, which means "shining and clear." What is it that we call the sky? It marks the boundary of our vision, the limit our sight can reach. If we could see more clearly, the sky would extend infinitely into outer space. The sky is an imaginary boundary set by the limitations of our senses, and also by the limitations of our mind, since we find it almost impossible to imagine a totally limitless [U]niverse. Space is the dimension in which everything exists. It is all-encompassing, all-pervading, and boundless. It is synonymous with emptiness: that emptiness which is simultaneously fullness.
The conceptually bridging and building poetic device of analogy, as an exemplar where Dharmakaya is evocatively likened to sky and space, is a persistent and pervasive visual metaphor throughout the early Dzogchen and Nyingma literature and functions as a linkage and conduit between the 'conceptual' and 'conceivable' and the 'ineffable' and 'inconceivable' (Sanskrit: acintya). It is particularly referred to by the terma Gongpa Zangtel [lower-alpha 2], a terma cycle revealed by Rigdzin Gödem (1337–1408) and part of the Nyingma "Northern Treasures" (Wylie: byang gter).
Sawyer conveys the importance of mirror iconography to Dharmakaya:
The looking glass/mirror (T. me-long, Skt. adarsa), which represents the dharmakaya or Truth Body, having the aspects of purity (a mirror is clear of pollution) and wisdom (a mirror reflects all phenomena without distinction).
- Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World, Shambhala, Boston, 2001, p. 13
- Source:  (accessed: January 15, 2008)
- Source:  (accessed: January 15, 2008)
- Thondup, Tulku & Harold Talbott (Editor)(1996, 2002). Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambhala, South Asia Editions. ISBN 1-57062-113-6 (alk. paper); ISBN 1-56957-134-1. p.48
- Padmasambhava (composed), Karma Linga (revealed), Gyurme Dorje (translated), Graham Coleman (Editor) and Thupten Jinpa (Associate) (2006). The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-14-045529-8. p.452
- Digha Nikaya III.84, Maurice Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995) 409
- Snelling 1987, p. 126.
- Thondup, Tulku (1996). Masters of meditation and miracles : the Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Tibetan Buddhism (1. ed. ed.). Boston [u.a.]: Shambhala. p. 50. ISBN 1-57062-113-6.
- "dictionary". Nitartha. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
- Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. p. 53
- Sree Padma. Barber, Anthony W. Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra. 2008. pp. 59-60
- Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004. p. 49
- Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Routledge, Oxford, Second Edition, 2009, p. 126
- Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Second Edition, 2009, Routledge, Oxford, p. 237
- Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Second Edition, 2009, Routledge, Oxford, pp. 327 - 329
- Mipam on Buddha-Nature: The Ground of the Nyingma Tradition by Douglas S. Duckworth, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2008, p. xiv
- For more discussion on this particular 'intermediate state of the time of death' refer "Chikkhai bardo" (Tibetan) in the Bardo article.
- Kongtrul, Jamgon (2005). The great path of awakening : the classic guide to lojong, a Tibetan Buddhist practice for cultivating the heart of compassion. Boston, MA: Shambhala. ISBN 978-1590302149.
- Huntington, Susan (1990). "Early Buddhist art and the theory of aniconism" in Art Journal, Winter 1990.
- Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-450-X. p.85
- Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-450-X. p.86
- Kunsang, Eric Pema (compiler, translator); Tweed, Michael (editor); Schmidt, Marcia Binder (editor); Zanpo, Ngawang (artwork) (2006). Wellsprings of the Great Perfection: Lives and Insights of the Early Masters in the Dzogchen Lineage. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications. ISBN 962-7341-57-6; ISBN 978-962-7341-57-4. p. 209
- Sawyer, Chad (1998, 2004), Offerings to Mahakala[dead link] (accessed: Saturday March 14, 2009)
- Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-450-X.
- Jamgon Kongtrul translated by Ken McLeod (2000) The Great Path of Awakening - A commentary on the Mahayana teaching of the seven points of mind training Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-57062-587-5
- John J. Makransky (1997), Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet, Publisher: State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-3432-X
- Padmasambhava (composed), Karma Linga (revealed), Gyurme Dorje (translated), Graham Coleman (Editor) and Thupten Jinpa (Associate) (2006). The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-14-045529-8
- 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
- Snelling, John (1987), The Buddhist handbook. A Complete Guide to Buddhist Teaching and Practice, London: Century Paperbacks
- Thondup, Tulku & Harold Talbott (Editor)(1996). Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambhala, South Asia Editions. ISBN 1-57062-113-6 (alk. paper); ISBN 1-56957-134-1
- Khandro: The Three Kayas
- Kagyu: The Three Kayas
- Dhammakaya Foundation, Thailand
- Trikaya - The Three Bodies of a Buddha or Learning to Love
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