Gods and Sacred Mountains | Guru Rinpoche | The Second Buddha | The South-West Paradise | The Three Bodies

The Three Bodies

The appearance of Guru Rinpoche on all three levels can be ascribed to Mahayana Buddhism. According to this form, one can distinguish between three ways the Buddha effects, whereby this is referred to as the »Three Bodies« - in Sanskrit »trikaya«*: Dharmakaya (»The Body of the Learned«), Sambhogakaya (»The Body of Enjoyment«) and Nirmanakaya (»The Body Manifest«).

Dharmakaya represents the absolute and the conceptually non-graspable reality, which can only be recognized in the moment of enlightenment. The existence of the Buddha is, like everything else, marked by formlessness and emptiness.

Sambhogakaya represents the semi-manifest form of the figure of the Buddha, as can be recognized during visualising forms of meditation. During meditation these qualities can be experienced.

Finally, Nirmanakaya represents the rough, earthly emanations of Buddha, as they appear in our world, in order to spread the holy teachings and to lead living beings to enlightenment.


The philosophy of the teachings of the »Three Bodies« also determines an iconographic depiction of the three areas. The Buddhas as the embodiment of Dharmakaya appear without any ornamentation or attributes. Gods on the level of Sambhogakaya are depicted in heavenly garments with the glorious jewelry of the Bodhisattva. On the Nirmanakaya level embodiment often takes the shape of mythological saints, but also of historical Lamas.

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The South-West Paradise of Guru Rinpoche, zangdog palri; Thangka*; 125 x 77 centimeters; on loan from Josette Schulmann