Four kayas

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The four kayas (Skt. catuḥkāya; T. sku bzhi སྐུ་བཞི་) are four dimensions (kayas) of a buddha identified within Tibetan Buddhism. These are:[1]

  1. dharmakaya (chos kyi sku, ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྐུ་) - the body of reality
  2. sambhogakaya (longs spyod rdzogs pa’i sku, ལོངས་སྤྱོད་རྫོགས་པའི་སྐུ་) - the body of perfect rapture
  3. nirmanakaya (sprul pa’i sku, སྤྲུལ་པའི་སྐུ་ ) - the emanational body
  4. svabhavikakaya (ngo bo nyid kyi sku ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་ཀྱི་སྐུ་ ) - the body of their essentiality

Atisha's Seven Points of Mind Training (slogan number 14) states:[2]

Seeing confusion as the four kayas
Is unsurpassable shunyata protection.

According to Haribhadra, chapter 8 of the Abhisamayalankara describes buddhahood through four kayas.[3]


Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang describes the four kayas according to the Nyingma school as follows:

The svabhavikakaya of the Buddha is considered differently by the New Traditions and the Ancient Tradition. The New Traditions consider that it is the emptiness devoid of the five skandhas. They claim that such emptiness is mere nothingness and there cannot therefore be such a thing as the Buddha’s wisdom of omniscience.[4] The Ancient Tradition considers that the svabhavikakaya is the wisdom [of omniscience]. The dharmakaya is the wisdom of the radiant natural expression. The original meaning of the word kaya is “gathered together,” so the dharmakaya is said to be that in which the twenty-one sets of immaculate dharmas are gathered together.
These two kayas represent the mind aspect of the Buddha, the wisdom of omniscience, and are therefore posited from the Buddha’s own point of view. The sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya are posited from the point of view of others, that is, of the beings destined to be benefited, and these are of two kinds, pure and impure.
(i) Pure Beings
The sambhogakaya appears to pure beings through the power of the Buddha’s natural compassion and prayers and the merit of those beings to be benefited, namely Bodhisattvas on the tenth level. It is endowed with five certainties.
The certain place is the unexcelled buddhafield of the Dense Array.
The certain teacher comprises the Buddhas of the five families, the five Hemasagara Buddhas. Each of these is surrounded by an entourage of five subfamilies:134 wherever there is space, it is pervaded by the dharmakaya, and whatever is pervaded by the dharmakaya is pervaded by the sambhogakaya for the purpose of benefiting the pure beings.
The certain teaching is that of the Great Vehicle, which cannot be expressed with sounds or words. The certain assembly consists of Bodhisattvas on the tenth level. The certain time is the ever-revolving wheel of eternity. Here it is not that time is permanent by nature but that the passing of time never ceases.
(ii) Impure Beings
The Buddhas appear to impure beings in their supreme nirmanakaya form through the power of the sambhogakaya Buddhas’ prayers and the merit of the beings they are to benefit.
There are four kinds of nirmanakaya: supreme nirmanakaya manifestations, nirmanakayas who manifest through birth, nirmanakayas who manifest in art, and diversified nirmanakaya manifestations.[5]


  1. Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg Four_kayas, Rangjung Yeshe Wiki
  2. Train Your Mind: Seeing confusion as the four kayas,
  3. see Makransky, page 115
  4. Fn: this is not necessarily what the New Traditions claim, but it may be a riposte directed at a contemporary of Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang.
  5. Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang. A Guide to "The Words of My Perfect Teacher". Translated by Padmakara Translation Group. Shambhala Publications. 2005. (Part II, Chapter 1)

Further reading