The Trikāya doctrine (Sanskrit, literally "Three bodies"; 三身 Chinese: Sānshēn, Koreean: Samsin, Vietnamese: Tam thân, Japanese: Sanjin or Sanshin, Tibetan: སྐུ་གསུམ, Wylie: sku gsum) is a Mahayana Buddhist teaching on both the nature of reality and the nature of Buddhahood.
The doctrine says that a Buddha has three kāyas or bodies:
- 1. The Dharmakāya or Truth body which embodies the very principle of enlightenment and knows no limits or boundaries;
- 2. The Sambhogakāya or body of mutual enjoyment which is a body of bliss or clear light manifestation;
- 3. The Nirmāṇakāya or created body which manifests in time and space.
The Dharmakāya doctrine was possibly first expounded in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā "The Perfection of Wisdom In Eight Thousand Verses", composed in the 1st century BCE.
Mahayana Buddhism introduced the Sambhogakāya, which conceptually fits between the Nirmāṇakāya (the manifestations of enlightenment in the physical world)[note 1] and the Dharmakaya. 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.
The Trikaya-doctrine and the Buddha-nature bring the transcendental within reach, by placing the transcendental within the plane of immanence.
Around 300 CE, the Yogacara school systematized the prevalent ideas on the nature of the Buddha in the Trikaya or three-body doctrine.