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The Trikāya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally "Three bodies"; 三身 Chinese: Sānshēn Vietnamese: Tam thân, Japanese: Sanjin or Sanshin, Tibetan: སྐུ་གསུམ, Wylie: sku gsum) is a Mahayana Buddhist teaching on both the nature of reality and the nature of the Buddha.
The doctrine says that a Buddha has three kāyas or bodies:
- The Dharmakāya or Truth body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries;
- The Sambhogakāya or body of mutual enjoyment which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation;
- The Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.
Pāli Canon 
Even before the Buddha's Parinirvāṇa the term Dharmakāya was current. Dharmakāya literally means Truth body, or Reality body.
In the Pāli Canon the Buddha tells Vasettha that the Tathāgata (the Buddha) was Dharmakāya, the 'Truth-body' or the 'Embodiment of Truth', as well as Dharmabhuta, 'Truth-become', 'One who has become Truth' 
The Buddha is equated with the Dhamma:
... and the Buddha comforts him, "Enough, Vakkali. Why do you want to see this filthy body? Whoever sees the Dhamma sees me; whoever sees me sees the Dhamma."
Putikaya, the "decomposing" body, is distinguished from the eternal Dhamma body of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva body.
The Dharmakāya-doctrine was possibly first expounded in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā prajñā-pāramitā (The Perfection of Insight In Eight Thousand Verses), composed in the 1st century BCE.
Mahayan Buddhism introduced the Sambhogakāya, which conceptually fits between the Nirmāṇakāya [note 1] and the Dharmakaya. The Sambhogakaya is that aspect of the Buddha, or the Dharma, that one meets in visions and in deep meditation. It could be considered an interface with the Dharmakaya.
Around 300 CE, the Yogacara school systematized the prevalent ideas on the nature of the Buddha in the Trikaya or three-body doctrine.
Interpretation in Buddhist traditions 
Chinese Mahayana 
Pure Land 
- The Nirmaṇakāya is a physical body of a Buddha. An example would be Gautama Buddha's body.
- The Sambhogakāya is the reward-body, whereby a bodhisattva completes his vows and becomes a Buddha. Amitābha, Vajrasattva and Manjushri are examples of Buddhas with the Sambhogakaya body.
- The Dharmakāya is the embodiment of the truth itself, and it is commonly seen as transcending the forms of physical and spiritual bodies. Vairocana Buddha is often depicted as the Dharmakāya, particularly in esoteric Buddhist schools such as Shingon, Tendai and Kegon in Japan.
As with earlier Buddhist thought, all three forms of the Buddha teach the same Dharma, but take on different forms to expound the truth.
According to the Lin-ji yu-lu ("Zen teachings of Rinzai") the Three Bodies of the Buddha are not to be taken as absolute. They are "mental configurations" that "are merely names or props" and only the play of light and shadow of the mind.[note 2]
The Lin-ji yu-lu states it this way:
Do you wish to be not different from the Buddhas and patriarchs? Then just do not look for anything outside. The pure light of your own heart [i.e., 心, mind] at this instant is the Dharmakaya Buddha in your own house. The non-differentiating light of your heart at this instant is the Sambhogakaya Buddha in your own house. The non-discriminating light of your own heart at this instant is the Nirmanakaya Buddha in your own house. This trinity of the Buddha's body is none other than he here before your eyes, listening to my expounding the Dharma.
Tibetan Buddhism 
Fourth Body - Svabhavikakaya 
The Svabhavikakaya is simply the unity or non-separateness of the three kayas.
The term Svabhavikakaya is also known in Gelug teaching, where it is one of the assumed two aspects of dharmakaya: Essence Body/Svabhavikakaya and Wisdom Body or Body of Gnosis/Jnanakaya.
In dzogchen teachings, "dharmakaya" means the buddha-nature's absence of self-nature, that is, its emptiness of a conceptualizable essence, its cognizance or clarity is the sambhogakaya, and the fact that its capacity is 'suffused with self-existing awareness' is the nirmanakaya.
The interpretation in Mahamudra is similar: when the mahamudra practices come to fruition, one sees that the mind and all phenomena are fundamentally empty of any identity; this emptiness is called dharmakāya. The essence of mind is seen as empty, yet having potential which takes the form of luminosity; the nature of the sambhogakāya is understood to be this luminosity. The nirmanakāya is understood to be the powerful force with which the potentiality effects living beings.
In the view of Anuyoga, the 'Mindstream' (Sanskrit: citta santana) is the 'continuity' (Sanskrit: santana; Wylie: rgyud) that links the Trikaya. The Trikāya, as a triune, is symbolised by the Gankyil.
A dakini (Sanskrit: डाकिनी ḍākinī; Standard Tibetan: མཁའ་འགྲོ་མ་ khandroma, Wylie: mkha' 'gro ma, TP: kanzhoima; Chinese: 空行母) is a tantric deity described as a female embodiment of enlightened energy. In the Tibetan language, dakini is rendered khandroma which means 'she who traverses the sky' or 'she who moves in space'. Sometimes the term is translated poetically as 'sky dancer' or 'sky walker'.
Dakinis can also be classified according to the Trikaya, or three bodies of a Buddha. The dharmakāya dakini, which is Samantabhadrī, represents the dharmadhatu where all phenomena appear. The sambhogakāya dakinis are the yidams used as meditational deities for tantric practice. The nirmanakaya dakinis are human women born with special potentialities, these are realized yogini, the consorts of the gurus, or even all women in general as they may be classified into the five Buddha-families.
Western Buddhism 
In the 19th century Theosophy took an interest in Buddhism. It regarded Buddhism to contain esoteric teachings. In those supposed esoteric teachings of Buddhism, "exoteric Buddhism" believes that Nirmanakaya simple means the physical body of Buddha. According to the esoteric interpretation, when the Buddha dies he assumes the Nirmanakaya, instead of going into Nirvana. He remains in that glorious body he has woven for himself, invisible to uninitiated mankind, to watch over and protect it.
See also 
- Formerly called Rupakaya
- Lin-ji yu-lu: "The scholars of the Sutras and Treatises take the Three Bodies as absolute. As I see it, this is not so. These Three Bodies are merely names, or props. An old master said: "The (Buddha's) Bodies are set up with reference to meaning; the (Buddha) Fields are distinguished with reference to substance." However, understood clearly, the Dharma Nature Bodies and the Dharma Nature Fields are only mental configurations."
- Welwood, John (2000). The Play of the Mind: Form, Emptiness, and Beyond, accessed January 13, 2007
- Dīgha Nikāya 27.9
- See Walsh, Maurice. 1995. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, “Aggañña Sutta: On Knowledge of Beginnings,” p. 409.
- Samyutta Nikaya (SN 22.87) See footnote #3
- Snelling 1987, p. 126.
- Hattori, Sho-on (2001). A Raft from the Other Shore : Honen and the Way of Pure Land Buddhism. Jodo Shu Press. pp. 25–27. ISBN 4-88363-329-2.
- Schloegl 1976, p. 19.
- Schloegl 1976, p. 21.
- Schloegl 1976, p. 18.
- remarks on Svabhavikakaya by khandro.net
- explanation of meaning
- In the book Embodiment of Buddhahood Chapter 4 the subject is: Embodiment of Buddhahood in its Own Realization: Yogacara Svabhavikakaya as Projection of Praxis and Gnoseology.
- khandro.net citing H.E. Tai Situpa
- Paul Williams: Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (Library of Religious Beliefs & Practices),Routledge, ISBN 0-415-02537-0 (10), ISBN 978-0-415-02537-9 (13),
- see Makransky, page 115
- Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, page 315.
- Reginald Ray, Secret of the Vajra World. Shambhala 2001, pages 284-285.
- Cf. Capriles, Elías (2003/2007). Buddhism and Dzogchen'', and Capriles, Elías (2006/2007). Beyond Being, Beyond Mind, Beyond History, vol. I, Beyond Being
- Helena Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence Theosophical Publishing Co., pages 75-77.
- John J. Makransky: (August 1997) Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet, Publisher: State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-3432-X (10), ISBN 978-0-7914-3432-1 (13), 
- Schloegl, Irmgard (1976), The Zen Teaching of Rinzai, Shambhala Publications, Inc., ISBN 0-87773-087-3
- Snellgrove, David (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Vol. 1. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-87773-311-2.
- Snellgrove, David (1987). Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Vol. 2. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-87773-379-1.
- Snelling, John (1987), The Buddhist handbook. A Complete Guide to Buddhist Teaching and Practice, London: Century Paperbacks
- Walsh, Maurice (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.
- Trikaya del Saya Kunsal Kassapa
- trikāya - A Dictionary of Buddhism
- Khandro: The Three Kayas
- Kagyu: The Three Kayas
- 32 marks of the Buddha ("THIRTY TWO MARKS OF A GREAT MAN")