The Dharmakāya (T. chos sku; C. fashen; J. hosshin) is one of the "three bodies" (Skt. trikaya) of the Buddha. In the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition, dharmakāya constitutes the unmanifested, "inconceivable" (acintya) aspect of a Buddha, out of which Buddhas arise and to which they return after their dissolution.
According to Buswell, the term dharmakaya "seems to have originally been meant to refer to the entire corpus (kaya) of the Buddha's transcendent qualities (dharma)."
The Trikaya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally "three bodies") 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).
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).
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. dharma.
- 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.
- Huntington, Susan (1990). "Early Buddhist art and the theory of aniconism" in Art Journal, Winter 1990.
- 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
- 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
- Trikaya - The Three Bodies of a Buddha or Learning to Love
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