trikāya (T. sku gsum སྐུ་གསུམ་; C. sanshen; J. sanshin; K. samsin 三身), literally "three bodies/dimenisions", refers to three aspects or dimensions of buddhahood, or three ways in which a buddha can manifest, according to the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition.
In the Vajrayana, the term trikāya is also used to refer to three different aspects of the mind.
Three dimensions of buddhahood
In the context of three dimensions of buddhahood, these three dimensions are:
- The Dharmakāya or dharma body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries;
- The Sambhogakāya or enjoyment body which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation;
- The Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.
Three aspects of mind (in Vajrayana)
- The mind is emptiness and awareness, or emptiness and clarity. Within the clarity aspect, the thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise. These are the mind’s manifestations. In Vajrayana terminology, these three aspects of the mind are known as the three kayas: the mind’s nature is emptiness, which is the dharmakaya; the mind has clarity or awareness, which is the sambhogakaya; and the mind is continuously manifesting and displaying, which is the nirmanakaya. Please don’t get confused by these terms—sometimes using Sanskrit is more of a drawback than a help. Just as these three aspects describe one single mind, the kayas are merely different aspects of the mind and not three separate things.
The etymology of the Sanskrit term trikāya:
- tri - means 'three'
- kāya - literally means ‘body’ but can also signify dimension, field or basis. This term designates the different manifestations or dimensions of a buddha.
Patrul Rinpoche stated:
- The nature as it appears is the nirmanakaya mandala,
- The nature as it is is the sambhogakaya mandala,
- The all-pervading aspect is the dharmakaya mandala.
- Ringu Tulku 2012, pp. 46-47.
- Pelzang, Khenpo Ngawang (2004), Part II: Chapter 4.
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Pelzang, Khenpo Ngawang (2004), A Guide to 'The Words of My Perfect Teacher' . Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.
- Ringu Tulku (2012), Confusion Arises as Wisdom, Shambhala
- Guang Xing. The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. 2004.