Rūpakāya is identified as:
- one of the two kayas described in the early Buddhist teachings
- one of the three kayas described in the Mahayana teachings
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.