Three-body doctrine

Doctrines and rituals

The three-body doctrine (Skt. trikaya) was formulated in Mahayana Buddhism in the fourth century. It is based on the idea that Buddha Shakyamuni was just one in a long succession of buddhas who disseminated the Buddhist teaching (dharma) throughout different ages and worlds. All three are manifestations of absolute Buddhahood, which is identical to purest wisdom. According to this understanding, the three ‘bodies’ are considered as having different characteristics:


1 The ‘truth body’ (Skt. dharmakaya) is formless and conceptually not graspable. It is identical with the highest truth and the Buddhist teaching.

2 The ‘body of delight’ (Skt. sambhogakaya) is the mental image of a buddha. In this form it is perceivable, for example during meditation. The Transcendent Buddhas also become manifest in the sambhogakaya.

3 The ‘transformation body’ (Skt. nirmanakaya) is the physically perceptible body in which a buddha appears in the world.