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Trikāya (T. sku gsum; C. sanshen; J. sanshin; K. samsin 三身), within the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition, refers to three aspects or dimensions of the buddhahood, or three ways in which a buddha can manifest. In the Vajrayana traditon, the term trikāya is also used to refer to three different aspects of the mind.

In the context of three dimensions of buddhahood, these three dimensions are:

  1. The Dharmakāya or dharma body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries;
  2. The Sambhogakāya or enjoyment body which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation;
  3. The Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.

With regard to the Vajrayana context of three aspects of the mind, Ringu Tulku states:

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.[1]


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.[2]

See also


  1. Ringu Tulku 2012, pp. 46-47.
  2. Pelzang, Khenpo Ngawang (2004), Part II: Chapter 4.


  • 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 

External links

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