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Svabhavikakaya (Skt. svabhāvikakāya [alt. svabhāvakāya]; T. ngo bo nyid sku ངོ་བོ་ཉིད་སྐུ་; C. zixing shen 自性身), or "body of essential nature," is one of the kayas ("body") of a buddha. This term is interpreted differently within different traditions.

Within Tibetan Buddhism, Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang describes this term according to the Nyingma school in the context of the Four kayas:

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.[1] 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.[2]

Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang also describes this term as the inseparability of the three kayas (nirmānakāya, sambhogakaya and dharmakaya).[2]

The StudyBuddhism glossary provides the following definition, from the point of view of the Gelug school:[3]

(1) In the Gelug non-Kalachakra system, the voidness of a Buddha's omniscient mind and its state of being parted from the two sets of obscurations.
(2) In the Gelug Kalachakra system, the blissful awareness aspect of a Buddha's omniscient mind.
(3) In the Non-Gelug systems, the inseparability of all the Corpuses of a Buddha - equivalent to the inseparability of the two truths.

Within Chinese Buddhism, texts such as the the Buddhabhūmiśāstra (Fodijing lun), the Mahāyānasaṃgraha (She dasheng lun), and the Cheng Weishi Lun (*Vijñaptimātratāsiddhiśāstra) describe Svabhāvakāya along with the “body intended for personal enjoyment” (svasaṃbhogakāya), the “body intended for others’ enjoyment” (parasaṃbhogakāya), and the “transformation body” (nirmānakāya).[4] According to the Princeton Dictionary, this type of buddha-body is functionally equivalent to the dharmakāya as presented within the scheme of the two or three kayas.[4]

John Makransky presents Haribhadra's explanation of the four kayas:

Haribhadra, in his Aloka and Sphutartha, interpreted [Abhisamayālaṃkāra chapter 8] as teaching four Buddha kayas (comprising the four topics of the chapter) together with a Buddha's activity. Using a Madhyamaka style of analysis, he analytically separated the ultimate truth of a Buddha (paramartha satya) from the conventional truth (samvrti satya). The former he identified as the svabhavikakaya: the sunyata (emptiness) or dharmata (ultimate reality) of a Buddha's mind. The latter he resolved into three conventional kayas, distinguished according to the type of person to whom each appears. The (jñanatmaka) dharmakaya consists of a Buddha's undefiled dharmas, understood as his pure forms of awareness, his gnoses. They appear directly only to himself as conventional object. The sambhogakāya is the form in which a Buddha appears conventionally to arya bodhisattvas, and the nirmāṇakāya is the form in which he appears conventionally to other beings.[5]


  1. Fn: this is not necessarily what the New Traditions claim, but it may be a riposte directed at a contemporary of Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang. A Guide to "The Words of My Perfect Teacher". Translated by Padmakara Translation Group. Shambhala Publications. 2005. (Part II, Chapter 1)
  3. StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png Svabhavakaya, StudyBuddhism
  4. 4.0 4.1 Robert E. Buswell Jr., Donald S. Lopez Jr., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton: 2014), s.v. Svabhāvakāya
  5. Makransky, John (1997), Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet, SUNY Press, p. 39

Further reading