Wednesday, May 30, 2007
This morning, I ran across the term "dharmakaya" and looked it up on Wikipedia, that amazing all purpose encyclopedia. Here is what I found:
The Dharmakaya (lit. Truth Body or Reality Body) is a central concept in Mahayana Buddhism forming part of the Trikaya doctrine that was first expounded in the Saddharma Pundarika Sutra (The Lotus Sutra), composed in the first century BCE. It constitutes the unmanifested aspect of a Buddha out of which Buddhas and indeed all phenomena arise and to which they return after their dissolution. Buddhas are manifestations of the Dharmakaya called Nirmanakayas. Unlike ordinary unenlightened persons, Buddhas (and arhats) do not die (though their physical bodies undergo the cessation of biological functions and subsequent disintegration). In the Lotus Sutra (sixth fascicle) Buddha explains that he has always and will always exist to lead beings to their salvation. This eternal aspect of Buddha is the Dharmakaya. The Dharmakaya can be considered the highest or truest reality in the universe corresponding closely to the post-Vedic conception of Brahman and that of the Father in the Christian Trinity.
In the Pali Canon The Buddha tells Vasettha that the Tathagata (the Buddha) is Dharma-kaya, the 'Truth-body' or the 'Embodiment of Truth', as well as Dharmabhuta, 'Truth-become', that is, 'One who has become Truth' (Digha Nikaya). On another occasion, the Buddha told Vakkali:'He who sees the Dhamma (Truth) sees the Tathagata, he who sees the Tathagata sees the Dhamma (Samyutta Nikaya). That is to say, the Buddha is equal to Truth, and all Buddhas are one and the same, being no different from one another in the Dharma-kaya, because Truth is one.'
During the Buddha's life great reverence and veneration was shown towards him by persons from the highest to the lowest social classes. The Buddha understood that this veneration was sometimes misguided based on superficialities and appearances and he warned people against turning him into an object of worship. Thus he forbade carvings and sculptures that represented his physical form. Nonetheless, a mythology developed concerning the physical characteristics of Universal Buddhas. In the Pali scriptures it is claimed that all Buddhas have the 32 major marks, and the 80 minor marks of a superior being. These marks are not necessarily physical, but are talked about as bodily features.
After the Buddha's Parinirvana a distinction was made between the Buddhas physical body, rupakaya; and his Dharmakaya aspect. This was an understandable and necessary development. As the Buddha told Vakkali, he was a living example of the 'Truth' of the Dharma. Without that form to relate to, the Buddha's followers could only relate to the Dharmakaya aspect of him.
Later Mahayana Buddhists were concerned with the transcendent aspect of the Dharma. So therefore if the Dharma is transcendental, totally beyond space and time, then so is the Dharmakaya. One response to this was the development of the Tathagatagarbha Doctrine. Another was the introduction of the Sambhogakaya which conceptually fits between the rupakaya, now renamed nirmanakaya or created body, and the Dharmakaya.
The Trikaya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally "Three bodies or personalities". . . is an important Buddhist teaching both on the nature of reality, and what a Buddha is. By the 4th century CE the Trikaya Doctrine had assumed the form that we now know. Briefly the doctrine says that a Buddha has three 'bodies': the nirmana-kaya or created body which manifests in time and space; the sambhoga-kaya or body of mutual enjoyment which is an archetypal manifestation; and the Dharma-kaya or 'Reality body' which 'embodies' the very principle of enlightenment and is omnipresent and boundless.
The Sambhogakaya is that aspect of the Buddha, or the Dharma, that one meets in visions and in deep meditation. It could be considered an interface with the Dharmakaya. What it does, and what the Tathagatagarbha doctrine also does, is bring the transcendental within reach, it makes it immanent.
This last paragraph is of especial interest to me, since I have often viewed the Buddha as both exterior representation and inner "vision" during my morning practice. I also had a most moving experience of similar nature during the workshop "journey" I described a few days ago. The encounter with the archetype was quite profound, and I am still processing the effects. In the vision, I become one with the manifest Buddha. Beyond that lies the Dharmakaya itself, that from which all phenomena arise and to which they return at "death."