The Three Bodies of a Buddha The Three Bodies of a Buddha
In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, fully enlightened beings manifest in three different aspects to benefit sentient beings. These are called “Trikaya” (literally meaning “Three... The Three Bodies of a Buddha

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.

Manjushri: Sambhogakaya form

Manjushri: Sambhogakaya form

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.

Dorje Shugden: Nirmanakaya form

Dorje Shugden: Nirmanakaya form

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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  • Su Ming

    Posted on July 27, 2016 #1 Author

    Thank you for such a simple explanation of the 3 bodies of Buddha. My lama, Tsem Rinpoche is also a Nirmayakaya form and I have the privilege to witness a lot of incidences which will support this plus Rinpoche line of incarnation.

    I remember there was once I asked Rinpoche how do we (lay people) know whether a lama is a Nirmayakaya form. Rinpoche just replied me, look at the results of the lama and their achievements.
    And with that, I have been using that to gauge the other lamas.

    Thank you


  • jerry_sito

    Posted on July 27, 2016 #2 Author

    三身,佛学术语,梵语 trikāyāh 的意译,又作三身佛、三佛身、三佛。身即聚集之义,聚集诸法而成身,故理法之聚集称为法身(梵dharmakāya ),智法之聚集称为报身(梵sambhogakāya ),功德法之聚集称为应身(梵nirmāṇakāya )。

    法身:代表着佛法,绝对真理,也指存在于每个人心中的佛性,法身不现。 报身:经过艰苦修行,证得真理而成佛,他是佛的一种客观存在相,行态圆满福态,极为高大,常为诸菩萨说法,报身时隐时现。 化身:是佛的变化身,佛为了教化众生,可现为六道众生,以各种生命形式显现,活佛就是佛以人体的形式显现来教化众生。



    Jerry sito


  • KarenC

    Posted on July 27, 2016 #3 Author

    The enlightened Buddhas are very compassionate to take on the human form to help us to lessen our sufferings in samara. In this degenerate era, Dharma is considered rare because it’s not widely and easily accepted by the people due to our karmic affinity and of course the lack of merits.

    Dorje Shugden who emanates in a worldly form and is relatively a new Dharma protector, arose due to our karmic affinity. Our life is filled with attachment, desire, anger, sickness, etc that makes us so overwhelmed by our own problems that we do not even have time for Dharma, enlightened Buddhas like His Holiness Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama and my guru Tsem Rinpoche have to take on human form, get closer to us and teach us Dharma. Therefore when we have the opportunity to meet a guru, we should never take it lightly and give up easily because in this Kaliyuga era, it’s so hard to even meet Dharma.


  • William Chua

    Posted on July 27, 2016 #4 Author

    The Buddhas are very compassionate to us living beings, knowing that we need to be enlightened, they come to us in three forms which will help us to achieve liberation. Because of our heavy karma, we are unable to meet the Dharmakaya and Sambhogakaya forms of Buddha. We are still fortunate enough to be able to meet Nirmanakaya Buddhas like our Tsem Rinpoche. The will be able to tell which Rinpoche is a Nirmanakaya Buddha from the results of the Rinpoche created.

    So, we never know who are walking amongst us.


  • Wylfred Ng

    Posted on July 28, 2016 #5 Author

    佛的三身-法身、报身及化身。 前两者都不是普通凡人可以看到或直接得到教诲。

    反之, 化身佛则是佛化身成为我们可以接触的人, 比如释迦牟尼佛, 各位活佛等等。

    今天学到另外一种就是护法也可以是化身佛之一, 比如多杰雄登护法。 文殊菩萨化身成为拥有世间护法像的多杰雄登, 让我们可以更贴近他, 也可以更快帮助我们。

    佛菩萨真的是慈悲, 化身成不同的形态让我们可以更有效修习佛法。



  • Carmen

    Posted on August 1, 2016 #6 Author

    Just like how Buddha Shakyamuni taught 86000 different methods/ways to enlightenment due to the different minds there are, enlightened beings manifests in different forms for the many types of minds there are too, for them to be perceived accordingly. Enlightened beings are compassionate, because their forms are for all to perceive, and so that in whatever form they are, they are still able to benefit beings and lead them to enlightenment. My teacher Tsem Rinpoche is in a form that I am able to perceive now, subjected to the conditions of the 6 realm of existence. Because of the Nirmanakaya form that Rinpoche incarnated in, I, along with many others, are able to practice and learn the Dharma due to the kindness of Tsem Rinpoche, which ultimately benefits us and those around us. We have a walking Buddha amongst us, guiding and teaching us to enlightenment. How fortunate we are.


  • nicholas

    Posted on August 18, 2016 #7 Author

    It’s beneficial to understand the different forms of Buddha manifestation.
    Due to our karma we are not able to perceive the enlightened being in their Dharmakaya and Sambhogakaya. In that case the enlightened being compassionately emanate in Nirmakaya form to get closer to us to benefit us.

    When the enlightened being in the wordly form is also to show us the practical way how we can achieve in our spiritual path in this wordly from.


  • Pastor Ong Moh Mei

    Posted on August 18, 2016 #8 Author

    To read the explanation in the article about the 3 bodies of Buddha and accepting it as it is, as it is explained is not that hard to grasp academically but yet impossible to grasp realistically. How much of something is real or fake, how much of it is just us making ourselves believe because we want to or because we do not want to. Most of us cannot even control our body weight and we are trying to understand beings that are able to manifest in different forms at will. One thing about Buddhism is reality is not what it seems.


    • Mingwen

      Posted on August 19, 2016 #9 Author

      It’s true that there have no reliable sources which can prove that things in Buddhism are solid and real. Undeniable, most of the religions around the world are mostly written down & transmitted by mankind.

      Seem like the only way to practice in spiritual is to buy the way to place faith in spiritual practice without any scientific research supports. However, personally, I could notice that by practicing & know about Buddhadharma, the end result, mind transformation is really worth to place my faith “blindly” in it. There are so much needs and wants in life that we wanted to obtain. And true enough, having them all will never be enough due to the greedy within ourselves. Moreover, I ve realized living as a human is purely a high way lead to sufferings , IF we only blindly chasing for our wants in life.

      I would rather “blindly” placing my faith in Buddhism and transform myself to be a better person, instead of “blindly” chasing those wants that most people out here are chasing for.


  • pammie yap

    Posted on August 18, 2016 #10 Author

    How compassionate that the Buddhas chose to emanate in 3 different bodies so that those who cannot perceive directly can still see them even at Nirmanakaya forms. And to even have the slightest ‘good’ karma to meet the Buddhas in that form, are tremendous blessings.
    “these emanations take rebirth again and again to form an incarnation lineage” just like our Guru H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche. How fortunate to be able to learn, study and receive blessings directly from Him.


  • June Kang

    Posted on August 18, 2016 #11 Author

    认识佛菩萨的三种佛-法身佛、报身佛和应身佛,能让我们了解为何证悟者要化现世间相,目的是让我们娑婆众生能够更容易跟证悟者结缘。多杰雄登是证悟者文殊菩萨的主要化现,出于我们上师的慈悲和教诲,我们今天才有机会修持多杰雄登法门, 感恩!当我们向多杰雄登祈祷时,我们也等于在祈请文殊菩萨的精髓,多殊胜呀!


  • Jace Chong

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #12 Author

    Thanks for the explanation. The Tri-kayas are the terms that I always confused about and this article explains it clearly how to differentiate among the three.

    The form that we able to meet now is Nirmakaya who kindly take the forms that can help us efficiently in order for us to realize more. Grateful to the enlighten beings who be with us.

    For me, the Nirmakaya being that I can confirm is my spiritual guide, Tsem Rinpoche who take a human body, suffer all the physical and mental pains in order for us understand more Dharma. Thank you and may I will always meet a Guru life after life until I gain attainment.


  • Pastor Henry Ooi

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #13 Author

    It’s amazing what highly attained beings are capable of and how they are of benefit to sentient beings. Like most ordinary people, I can only read and hear of the good qualities of enlightened beings. For hundreds of years Dorje Shugden compassionately appears through trained oracles to talk, advice and assist people. And I consider myself very fortunate to get to listen to Lord Shugden through some oracles. This is all possible through the kindness of His Eminence The 25th Tsem Rinpoche


  • Jason

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #14 Author

    This is an interesting and informative articles.Enlightened beings can manifest in three type of forms. Dharmakaya , Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. most of the time we can see Buddha in Nirmanakaya form.Dorje Shugden is a Manjushri in Nirmanakaya form which layman has a karmic affinity with him.
    Beside that, Tsem tulku Rinpoche is a tulku in Nirmanakaya form. He reincarnate back to teach us dharma with unbroken lineage .



  • Pastor Chia

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #15 Author

    Understood of the three bodies of enlightenment being ,make me appreciate more how kind of enlightenment being compassion toward the sentient being in order to help them free from the samsara. Boddhisatta and buddha are emanating themselves into Nirmanakaya form in order close to the sentient being to helping them.Our guru or lama are one of the form the boddhisattva emanation at this earth to help the sentient being and his students. Therefore, we such devote to our guru whole heartedly like you are meeting the living buddha.


  • Khoo Hou Haw

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #16 Author

    Thank you. This article made me finally understand why Buddha is taking different forms. That is to help sentient beings with different level of mind. Such as high dharma practitioners who can perceive Buddha Manjushri in Sambhogakaya form while most of lay people cannot, thus Lord Manjushri have to emanate in Nirmanakaya form as Dorje Shugden in worldly protector form. All this is done through pure compassion towards benefitting all sentient beings in the six realms.


  • Albert

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #17 Author

    This is the clear explanation of the 3 bodies of a Buddha, they are extremely compassion to even manifest in different form tirelessly to benefit the sentient beings till they gained enlightenment, imagine how “stubborn” we human are, and there are also beings in the 3 lower realms which has created tremendous negative karma to block their Dharma practice, how much effort the Buddhas need to put in to bring us to enlightenment?


  • Pastor Antoinette Kass

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #18 Author

    The three bodies of a Buddha are the Dharmakaya or mind emanation of a Buddha, the Sambhogakaya or enjoyment body and the Nirmanakaya body is the wordly or mundane form. We are most fortunate to learn about this and understand the difference. Buddhas emanate into this world to teach us and show us a way out of Samsara. I feel most fortunate to have met my Guru, H. E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche, who is so kind to take a Nirmanakaya body to be close to us and teach us. How fortunate we are. Most of us can not connect to the Dharmakaya form and the Nirmanakaya form. Also H.H. the Dalai Lama and many more also take the Nirmanakaya form to help us.
    Thank you for this explanation.


  • Julia Tan

    Posted on August 19, 2016 #19 Author

    Buddhas has no form. we cannot see them. To see Buddha in Sambhogakaya, not this life, hopefully in the future life if I am a good girl for a few lives doing my practice well. Buddhas are very compassionate, knowing that we are still busy with our samsaric drama, they manifested in Nirmanakaya form to become our guru like H.E. the 25th Tsem Rinpoche, our protector such as Dorje Shugden, to inspire us, to help us, to protect us and the Dharma, to spread the Dharma and all kinds of skillful means even put up some divine play to hook us into Dharma and practice so that we will have the opportunities for liberation. My guru and my protector are the Buddha on earth. This is definitely not blind faith. Results says everything.


  • Stella Cheang

    Posted on August 23, 2016 #20 Author

    Very clear and concise! The explanation of the Trikaya allows us to understand the meaning of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, as well as the difference between each “kaya”. It is also pertinent for us to understand that since we are normal beings, we cannot preserve Dharmakaya nor Sambhogakaya, hence the omniscience enlightened ones out of compassion, emanated in Nirmanakaya, i.e. in a gross physical form existing in this 6 realms so that they can benefit us directly. This article also explicitly explain why Dorje Shugden is the Dharma Protector who can assist us swiftly because he is an enlightened being manifested in a worldly form (Nirmanakaya). Thank you very much for this article.


  • Sofi

    Posted on August 25, 2016 #21 Author

    Thank you for the clear explanation on the 3 bodies of a Buddha. Thank you Su Ming for further sharing our Guru, H.E. the 25th Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s answer on signs of an Buddha in Nirmayakaya form. I definitely agree that our Guru is enlightened and am grateful that he had the compassion to return life after life in this form to teach and guide us in our dharma path. Although he has an enlightened mind, he still suffers as we do in his worldly body and his very life is a teaching and example of enlightened attainments that could also be ours if we were to practise well to transform our minds. May we all swiftly practise with clean samaya with our Guru and be the fulfilment of our Guru’s wishes.


  • Fong

    Posted on September 14, 2016 #22 Author

    Thanks for linking the trikayas of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya for our easy comprehension. Sometimes, we forget and tend to limit the ability of the Buddhas and tend to think of them as slightly higher than we mere humans.

    This is good for us to understand that there can be many emanation and manifestations of the Buddhas in the various realms or even within the same realm simultaneously. The abilities and powers of the Buddhas are limitless.

    Thank you, yet again, for bringing a simple teaching that do form the base of the Buddhist believes.


  • Alice Tay

    Posted on September 18, 2016 #23 Author

    It is important to learn about the Trikaya so that we can understand clearly Manjushri’s emanation, Dorje Shugden, is appearing in worldly form although he is an enlightenment beings.

    We should appreciate that our precious guru, H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, appears in human beings form (Nirmanakaya form) to teach the dharma to enlighten our mind.


  • Pema Thinley

    Posted on February 25, 2017 #24 Author

    I always had trouble understanding the basic meaning of the Trikaya. I always tend to forget it because I never understood even the basic of it fully. And this post has done incredible thing to me.

    Thank you so much _()_



  • yin ping

    Posted on April 16, 2018 #25 Author

    The Buddha is said to exist in ‘Three Bodies’, the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya.

    Dharmakaya is the ‘truth body’, it is without form. It is Buddha’s mind which is non tangible, unperceivable and anyone below that lever cannot perceive. It can only perceived by another Buddha.

    Sambhogakaya is Buddha body in an enjoyment form. It is a body of show us the results of our practice. This Sambhogakaya can be perceived by Buddhas, Boddhisattvas, and high level of practitioners who have visions of these beings. The many images of Buddhas found in Buddhism arts are Sambhogakaya.

    Nirmanakaya is the earthly, physical body of a Buddha. In Tibetan, Nirmanakaya is called Tulku. A real Tulku is a high level being who emanated from the Dharmakaya or Sambhokaya form of the buddhas. The mind of these beings is Dharmakaya but the body of these beings is Nirmanakaya. The body is borrowed from this planet, so it is subject to old age, sicknesses and death.

    The many Tulkus in Tibetan Buddhism has taking rebirth life after life to spread the dharma so that sentient beings can achieve liberation and enlightenment someday. Be grateful and show our gratitude to our precious Guru as our Guru is a living Buddha _/\_