In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, fully enlightened beings or Buddhas manifest in three different aspects to benefit sentient beings. These are called “Trikaya” (literally meaning “Three Bodies”) and they are the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.
The primary manifestation of a fully enlightened being is called the Dharmakaya. “Dharma” means phenomenon, while “kaya” means body. Therefore, Dharmakaya refers to the primordial or true nature of phenomena which is beyond conceptual and dualistic thought. This manifestation is essentially the mind of a fully enlightened being, beyond appearance and sensory perception. This mind knows no limits or boundaries.
In order to benefit sentient beings, a Buddha also emanates a radiant wisdom aspect called the Sambhogakaya, which is translated as the Enjoyment Body. In this aspect, the enlightened mind takes on physical attributes and usually appears in a beautiful, youthful body that displays the spiritual qualities of the enlightened mind. In other words, the enlightened being is projecting spiritual accomplishments by manifesting this through a ‘celestial’ body.
Meditational deities or “yidams” such as Manjushri, Chenrezig and Vajrapani are manifestations of Buddhas in Sambhogakaya form. However, one would need to be a highly accomplished practitioner to perceive the enlightened beings in their Sambhogakaya state. The scriptures state that only practitioners who have achieved the third Bodhisattva Bhumi (level) and above are able to perceive the enlightened beings in this form. For instance, Lama Tsongkhapa is well-known to have had direct visions of Manjushri, and even received profound teachings and advice from him.
Since most sentient beings are unable to perceive the wisdom aspect of the Buddhas, they also emanate in Nirmanakaya form. In this aspect, the Buddhas appear to us in a gross physical form, such as a human being or worldly god. In essence, they emanate in a body within the six realms of samsaric existence. This enables us to connect with the enlightened beings easily.
Examples of Buddhas in Nirmanakaya form include His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden. His Holiness is the emanation of Chenrezig in human form, whereas Dorje Shugden is the emanation of Manjushri appearing in worldly or mundane form. Often, these emanations take rebirth again and again to form an incarnation lineage. For instance, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, considered to be one of the highest lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, has 14 recognised successive incarnations to date.
It is not uncommon for the Buddhas to manifest a number of Nirmanakaya emanations concurrently, nor are they bound to a linear succession of incarnations. For instance, both the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are recognised as emanations of Chenrezig. Similarly, both the incarnation lines of the Panchen Lamas and Sharmapas are recognised as emanations of the Buddha Amitabha.
In the Tibetan tradition, high lamas are recognised and given the title “Rinpoche”, meaning Precious One. Similarly, “tulkus” (Tibetan for Nirmanakaya) are also recognised and customarily enthroned. Tulkus are usually brought to the monastery from a very young age to be given a monastic education. Examples of highly accomplished Tulku incarnations are His Holiness Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, His Holiness Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche.
Therefore, the Trikaya or the Three Bodies of a Buddha are different forms in which a Buddha manifests. It is important to learn about the Trikaya in order to understand how Dorje Shugden can be an enlightened being while manifesting in a worldly form. A Buddha will manifest to a being in accordance with the being’s karmic affinity and spiritual level. As one of the main emanations of Manjushri, Dorje Shugden manifested due to the powerful and compassionate aspirations of Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, combined with the affinity of the beings of today. As a result of this, Dorje Shugden in his kangso is said to have the strength of a million Dharma Protectors, and when we propitiate him, we are also invoking the essence of Manjushri.
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