From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Dharmakāya (T. chos sku ཆོས་སྐུ་; C. fashen; J. hosshin 法身) is translated as "dharma body," "truth body," etc. It refers to the body (i.e. corpus or collection) of the a buddha's qualities as well as to his teachings.

Rupert Gethin states:

To say that the Buddha is dharma-kāya means that he is at once the embodiment of Dharma and the collection or sum of all those qualities—non-attachment, loving kindness, wisdom, etc.—that constitute Dharma. Thus the nature of a buddha does not inhere primarily in his visible human body—it is not that which makes him a buddha—but in his perfected spiritual qualities.[1]

Dharmakāya is identified as:

Two kayas of early Buddhism

The "two kayas" of early Buddhism are:

In this context, dharmakāya refers to the body or corpus of the buddha's marvelous qualities, as well as corpus the buddhas teachings.

The The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism states:

...the term dharmakāya seems to have been coined to refer to the corpus or collection (kāya) of the auspicious qualities (dharma) of the Buddha, including his wisdom, his compassion, his various powers, etc.; it also referred to the entire corpus (kāya) of the Buddha’s teachings (dharma).[2]

Three kayas of the Mahayana

The Sanskrit Mahayana tradition identified two aspects of the rūpakāya:

  • nirmāṇakāya or emanation body which manifests in time and space and is visible to ordinary beings
  • sambhogakāya or enjoyment body which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation, and which is visible only to advanced bodhisattvas

Hence, the Mahayana identifies three kayas in total:

  • nirmānakāya
  • sambhogakāya
  • dharmakāya

In this context, dharmakāya has the sense of a cosmic principle which is the true nature of the buddha, from which various other forms of the buddha arise.[3]

Tibetan teacher Thinley Norbu states:

Dharmakāya in Tibetan is Chhos.sku. Chhos means all phenomena. sKu means body. The true nature of all phenomena is without substance, shape, color, or form, not coming or going, not dwelling any place. It is without any reality; it is great emptiness. All phenomena are completely pervaded by or entirely contained within great emptiness: this is the emptiness-body or dharmakāya.[4]

Qualities of dharmakaya

Tulku Thondup states that dharmakaya must possess three great qualities:[5]

  1. Great purity (Wylie: spang pa chen po),
  2. Great realization (Wylie: rtogs pa chen po),
  3. Great mind (Wylie: sems pa chen po).



Thondup & Talbott identify Dharmakaya with the naked ("sky-clad"; Sanskrit: Digāmbara), unornamented, sky-blue Samantabhadra:

In Nyingma icons, Dharmakāya is symbolized by a naked, sky-coloured (light blue) male and female Buddha in union, called Samantabhadra.[6]


The dharmakaya is also represented by a mirror:

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).[7]


  1. Gethin 1998, s.v. Chapter 1, section "The nature of a buddha".
  2. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. dharma.
  3. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. dharmakāya.
  4. Thinley Norbu 1993, Chapter 13.
  5. 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. 
  6. Thondup, Tulku & Harold Talbott (Editor)(1996, 2002). Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, South Asia Editions. p.48
  7. Sawyer, Chad (1998, 2004), Offerings to Mahakala[dead link] (accessed: Saturday March 14, 2009)


Further Reading

  • Thinley Norbu, The Small Golden Key (Shambhala Publications, 1999), ‘Chapter 14. Dharmakāya’.