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Trikaya (sanskr., M., त्रिकाय, trikāya, "three-body") is a term of the three-body teaching of Mahayana Buddhism that refers to the levels of manifestation or activity. Tri means three and Trikaya as a concept refers to the three levels of Buddhahood.


The Sarvastivadins established the two-body theory of a dharmakAya and a rupakAya based on the teachings of the Agamas. According to the teaching of Mahayana , the all-connecting Buddha -nature is the essence of every sentient being. The Buddha nature itself is described in detail in the Mahayana through the doctrine of the three bodies (Trikaya). It was explained by Asanga in his Abhisamayalankara. The Buddha nature is defined within this teaching by the all-embracing Dharmadhatu . The Dharmakaya (Dharmadhatu) stands for emptiness and unity (sanskr .: Shunyata , Tib .: tong pa ni) of all phenomena and appearances (see below). However, it is interpreted differently in the various lines. According to the Astasāhasrikā-prajñapāramitā-sūtra, the Dharmakaya as Buddha-Kaya is what constitutes a Buddha.

The old tantra school of Tibet, which emerged from the shamanic Bon religion , goes back directly to its founder Padmasambhava in the 8th century. In Vajrayana Buddhism (see below), Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) is often a direct manifestation of Samantabhadra as primordial or Adibuddha in many practices and sadhanas . This appears spontaneously as an emanation of Samantabhadra in the middle of the Sambhogakaya mandala . In the classical representation, Vairocana is shown as a white Adibhuddha in the center of the Sambhogakaya mandala. As the white light is broken down into its dispersion colors by a prism, it now splits up and forms the sambhogakaya from four further manifestations of its self. The teachings are very specific and differ in the different directions of Mahayana (for example Pure Land , Vajrayana, Zen ), but partly also within the teaching directions of the individual schools.


The three-body teaching in Vajrayana represents the different levels of realization of an enlightened being. The bodies of Dharma-kāya , Saṃbhoga-kāya and Nirmāṇa-kāya are not to be understood as separate phenomena, rather they represent different levels of expression of one and the same enlightened being State. In general, however, a distinction is made between:

  • Dharma-kāya (Tib .: chos sku) (roughly: Dharma body )
  • Saṃbhoga-kāya (Tib .: longs spyod rdzogs pa'i sku) (roughly: body of blessing ) and
  • Nirmāṇa-kāya (Tib .: sprul-sku) (for example: manifested bodies or emanation bodies )


Dharmakāya denotes the original enlightened nature of the mind itself. The Dharmakaya represents the all-embracing unity and emptiness of the mind. Its nature is unborn and deathless, open and wide, without center and without limitation. The classic iconographic representation shows the Dharmakaya (also: body of emptiness ) as a naked Buddha without jewelry in union with his partner (Tib .: Yab-Yum) against a deep blue background (Sanskr .: Samantabhadra / Samantabhadri, Tib .: Küntu Zangpo / Zangmo ). Out of the pure, open and at the same time potential dimension of being of the Dharmakaya arise spontaneously (Tib .: lhündrup) shining forms shimmering in all rainbow colors and form the Sambhogakaya, the original mandala of the five Dhyani Buddhas . In this, the five spiritual poisons of sentient beings (ignorance, hate, greed, envy and pride) are transformed into the five underlying wisdom aspects and are represented as the five original Buddhas . There are also the terms truth body , space body or transcendent Buddha body to describe the Dharma-kāya. Buddhas who represent the Dharma-kāya are therefore called adibuddhas.


Saṃbhoga-kāya denotes the joy body, pleasure body or body of bliss. The Sambhogakaya is a direct emanation of the Dharmakaya. It is represented by the entire iconography of Vajrayana, Tibetan Buddhism and is therefore the basis for a comprehensive insight into the nature of the mind. In the context of the tantric tradition, this mandala is presented as follows (Tantra can be interpreted here as "fabric" or "web" and indicates the interwoven existence of all sentient beings including all phenomena and appearances):

The Sambhogakaya is represented as a mandala and metaphysical construct from the antipodes of the universal mind through the five transcendent Buddhas (Dhyani Buddhas, Jinas , Tathagatas , the "victorious"). In the middle of the mandala, the Adibuddha appears as a direct emanation of the Dharmakaya Buddha Samantabhadra. This can vary depending on tradition and practical requirements. It can appear in the form of one's own guru ( Vajradhara ) or Padmasambhava; Vajrasattva (Tib .: Dorje Sempa) or Dorje Chang will often also take this form in the visualization, Vairocana appears classically in the middle of the Sambhogakaya mandala. Vairocana has a white body color depending on the point of view of the deity embodied in guru yoga. He is the manifestation of the all-embracing consciousness or the creator of all appearances. Its original reason (sanskr .: Alayavidjana, Tib .: Kün chi) is the basis of all appearances. He embodies the pure, clear and infinite consciousness and occupies a central position in Mahayana, he continues to embody the overall view of reality. He is everything, everything there is. He takes every name as the emanation of the Dharmakaya, pure clear consciousness, the embodiment of space as a conscious knowing being. Where there is space, there is awareness, wide, open, impersonal. He is the lord of the family of the wheel, symbol of the Jhanakula, the family of wisdom, and sits on a throne adorned with lions or dragons in the center of the mandala of the five Dhyani Buddhas. His gesture symbolizes the turning of the wheel of teaching. It therefore corresponds to the white light before it is dispersed into the individual colors. Pure, clear consciousness, wide and open like infinite space, without center and without limitation, timeless, eternal in the present, something that transforms all the failings of life into all-encompassing wisdom. Four other Buddhas emanate from it in the four directions of the wind:

Akshobhya as the first in the East: The “unshakable”, deep blue, on an elephant throne with a vajra as a symbol, in union with his partner Locana, the “seer”, embodies the mirror-like wisdom, the element of water in its resting and reflecting function thus represents the first skandha of form. This makes it the direct revelation of the Prajnaparamita - sutra of voidness as form and form as voidness (see also: Heart Sutra ). He embodies entry into the Sambhogakaya mandala from the east and transforms anger, anger and hatred into infinite compassion. Since it stands for the mirror-like wisdom of form as emptiness and emptiness as form, its position can change depending on tradition and practice. In this respect he often appears as the Adibuddha in the middle of the mandala and Vairochana in the east. Akshobya is the Lord of the Vajra family. If we circle the Sambhogakaya mandala clockwise from the left, we now meet the Buddha Ratnasambhava in the south.

Ratnasambhava's color is the yellow of a ripe wheat field; its shape is represented in the jewel-giving, giving Dhyana gesture (cf.: Mudra ). He is in union with his partner Mamaki, who represents the energetic, moving form of water in its appearance as river, clouds, rain, blood. His throne sign is the lion, in some traditions the horse, he embodies the wisdom of the essential equality of all sentient beings through their Buddha nature. Ratnasambhava also stands for the spirit poison of pride and pride and its transformation into humility and devotion. He also embodies the second Skandha (the I-constituting component) of sensation and feeling. He is the patriarchate of the jewel family (Ratnakula). We now go left around the mandala and now meet in the west

Amitabha , who sits on a lotus (Pema) and is lord of the Padmakula (lotus family). The element fire is assigned to him. He sits as a red Buddha in the west, his partner is Panderava, from his seed syllable Hri emanate an infinite number of deities (yiddams) of Vajrayana, so u. a. Avalokiteshvara (Tib .: Chen Resi), the embodiment of the current Dalai Lama, Padmasambhavas, Amitayus and others. He embodies passion, transforms desire and desire, stands for the wisdom of differentiated perception with the knowledge of its emptiness, his throne sign is the peacock, he sits directly opposite Akshobya, whose throne sign (vajra) as a phallic symbol corresponds to the lotus as a symbol for that female gender. It is representative of the third skandha of rational perception. Now we come from the west to the north

Amoghasiddhi , the head of the karma family (karmakula). Its body color is green, sits in the north, represents the element of wind and stands for thoughts, deeds and actions. These in turn cause karma after our death through their released energy, the relationship energy created through interaction with other beings. It then appears to us in the intermediate state between death and new birth (Tib .: Bardo ) as an embodied form of energy. Negative attitudes during biological life are now embodied as demons (e.g. horror), positive attitudes to life should be perceived as light beings (angels, fairies, etc.) (see also: Tibetan Book of the Dead ). But the almighty wind of karma, to which we are helpless after our physical existence in the disembodied state, forces us to a new incarnation according to the conditions created by our deeds and actions. Amoghasiddhi with his partner Tara (the "slipping over") is also an expression of the fourth skandha, the act and action. Now the mandala dissolves by reuniting with the center and dissolving it into emptiness.

It is a kind of light body or subtle body that Buddhas adopt to appear to bodhisattvas and realized yogis . It should not be perceived by ordinary sentient beings, or only to a very limited extent.

In the iconographic representation of the various Buddha forms, Saṃbhoga-kāya Buddha forms traditionally appear in their peaceful form with the “jewelry of Saṃbhoga-kāya”, crown, necklaces, bracelets and noble robes. Wrathful Saṃbhoga-kāya forms are traditionally depicted with terrible facial expressions, skull garlands, a crown of skull and surrounded by a wreath of flames. Saṃbhoga-kāya usually also hold various attributes, such as bell, dorje, lotus and wisdom swords. This typical representation is not strictly adhered to in the distribution area of ​​Mahayana Buddhism, therefore forms of Dharma-kāya with the characteristics of Saṃbhoga-kāya are also shown in some cases. In some cases, the Buddha-forms of the Dharma-kāya also have equivalents on the level of the Saṃbhoga-kāya.


Nirmāṇa-kāya denotes the emanation or manifestation body on the level of the perception of ordinary beings in space and time. Nirmāṇa-kāyas manifest through “all-encompassing compassion” and appear to us in the form of enlightened teachers who have vowed to liberate all sentient beings from the cycle of suffering of samsara .

Types of nirmana-kaya

Bodies of manifestation of Buddhas exist in various forms (on various levels) in order to be visible or effective for ordinary beings (whose minds are open or prepared / permeable). The innumerable manifested forms can appear either consecutively or simultaneously / simultaneously (in different places) according to the receptivity of the respective person. 1) They appear only as a result of the karmic openness, potentials and needs of the student and 2) They appear due to the power of the (pre-made) aspiration / wish prayers of Buddhas to serve sentient beings. You are not limited to Buddhist living beings.

There are four types of manifestation bodies:

  1. highest body of manifestation: the highest form that living beings can see; they have 32 main characters and 80 smaller (secondary) characters;
  2. Manifestation body as a practically inclined being (English artisan): to inspire living beings and to lead them to the path / enlightenment;
  3. take any form: whether it be animate or inanimate (bridge, image or flower);
  4. Birth manifestation body: be it as a person, spirit or animal;

Working principle of the three Buddha bodies

The figure of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is according to the three-body teaching: 1. A Nirmāṇa-kāya who appeared to us to teach us the way out of the cycle of suffering of samsara. 2. At the level of Saṃbhoga-kāya he took various forms such as Prajnaparamita or Manjusri in order to transmit the teachings of Mahayana and Vajrayana to highly realized beings. 3. At the level of Dharma-kāya, it represents the enlightened nature of the mind itself and that of the five transcendent wisdoms and is represented in the forms of Samantabhadra and the five original Buddhas.


  • Guang Xing: The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory: The Origin and Development of the Trikaya Theory , Routledge (January 2005), ISBN 041533344X
  • John J. Makransky: Buddhahood Embodied: Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet , Publisher: State University of New York Press (August 1997), ISBN 079143432X (10), ISBN 978-0791434321 (13)
  • Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: The Three Bodies of Enlightenment , in: Buddhadharma, Spring 2003, pp. 46–53. Online version
  • Henning Wrogemann: The Buddhism , in: Religions in conversation - A workbook for interreligious dialogue, Calwer Verlag Stuttgart 2008 ISBN 978-3766840318
  • Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Second Edition, 2009, Routledge, Oxford

Web links

Individual evidence

  2. ^ Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet by Tulku Thondup