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rūpakāya (T. gzugs sku གཟུགས་སྐུ་; C. seshen 色身) refers to the physical body of a buddha. This term is used to distinguish a buddha's physical body from the buddha's "dharma body" (dharmakāya).[1]

Rūpakāya is identified as:

It is said that the rūpakāya arises from the accumulation of merit and the dharmakāya from the accumulation of wisdom.[2]

Two kayas of early Buddhism

Early Buddhism described two bodies (kāyas) of a buddha:

  • rūpakāya - the form (rupa) body or "physical body"
  • dharmakāya - the body or corpus of the buddha's marvelous qualities

Three kayas of Mayahana Buddhism

The Sanskrit Mahayana tradition identified two aspects of the rūpakāya:

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

Hence, the Mahayana posits a system of three bodies (trikāya): the two types of rūpakāya along with the dharmakāya.


In the Sanskrit term rūpakāya:

  • rūpa is typically translated as "form"; it generally refers to material form, including both the body and external matter.
  • kāya literally means ‘body’ but can also signify dimension, field or basis.


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. rūpakāya.
  2. RW icon height 18px.png rupakaya, Rigpa Shedra Wiki