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In Buddhism

Theosophical concept

In a footnote to the third fragment of The Voice of the Silence, H. P. Blavatsky offers an esoteric view of the subject that differs from the traditional Buddhist description. In her view, the nirmanakaya is not a physical body but a subtle or ethereal body:

This same popular reverence calls "Buddhas of Compassion" those Bodhisattvas who, having reached the rank of an Arhat (i.e., having completed the fourth or seventh Path), refuse to pass into the Nirvânic state or "don the Dharmakaya robe and cross to the other shore," as it would then become beyond their power to assist men even so little as Karma permits. They prefer to remain invisibly (in Spirit, so to speak) in the world, and contribute toward man's salvation by influencing them to follow the Good Law, i.e., lead them on the Path of Righteousness. It is part of the exoteric Northern Buddhism to honour all such great characters as Saints, and to offer even prayers to them, as the Greeks and Catholics do to their Saints and Patrons; on the other hand, the esoteric teachings countenance no such thing. There is a great difference between the two teachings. The exoteric layman hardly knows the real meaning of the word Nirmanakaya — hence the confusion and inadequate explanations of the Orientalists. For example Schlagintweit believes that Nirmanakaya-body, means the physical form assumed by the Buddhas when they incarnate on earth — "the least sublime of their earthly encumbrances" (vide "Buddhism in Tibet") — and he proceeds to give an entirely false view on the subject. The real teaching is, however, this:

"The three Buddhic bodies or forms are styled: —
1. Nirmanakaya
2. Sambhogakaya
3. Dharmakaya
The first is that ethereal form which one would assume when leaving his physical he would appear in his astral body — having in addition all the knowledge of an Adept. The Bodhisattva develops it in himself as he proceeds on the Path. Having reached the goal and refused its fruition, he remains on Earth, as an Adept; and when he dies, instead of going into Nirvâna, he remains in that glorious body he has woven for himself, invisible to uninitiated mankind, to watch over and protect it.
Sambhogakaya is the same, but with the additional lustre of "three perfections," one of which is entire obliteration of all earthly concerns.

The Dharmakaya body is that of a complete Buddha, i.e., no body at all, but an ideal breath: Consciousness merged in the Universal Consciousness, or Soul devoid of every attribute. Once a Dharmakâya, an Adept or Buddha leaves behind every possible relation with, or thought for this earth. Thus, to be enabled to help humanity, an Adept who has won the right to Nirvâna, "renounces the Dharmakâya body" in mystic parlance; keeps, of the Sambhogakâya, only the great and complete knowledge, and remains in his Nirmânakâya body. The esoteric school teaches that Gautama Buddha with several of his Arhats is such a Nirmânakâya, higher than whom, on account of the great renunciation and sacrifice to mankind there is none known.​[1]

According to C. W. Leadbeater

C. W. Leadbeater interpreted this teaching in terms of the permanent atoms that the enlightened being retains. He wrote:

Comparing the three, it may be said that the Dharmakaya keeps nothing below the Monad, though what the vesture of the Monad may be on its own plane [Anupadaka] we do not know. The Sambhogakaya retains his manifestation as a triple spirit [on the atmic plane], and I think he can reach down and show himself in a temporary Augoeides. The Nirmanakaya appears to preserve his Augoeides and keeps all his permanent atoms, and therefore has the power to show himself at whichever level he chooses. Yet the three are all equal in development; the difference is only that he who casts aside the permanent atoms is therefore unable to make himself visible on the lower levels, and he throws them away because he no longer needs them for his kind of work. The man who retains them has the power to come down to those levels and work upon them, but it cannot rightly be said that those who choose to do the other work are in any way less important, lower in value or honour. We might think of him who is dealing at a higher level with great solar forces as the more important, but that would be a mistake, for the whole solar system is a manifestation of the Logos.​[2]

The man who takes the Dharmakaya robe retires into the Monad, and drops even His nirvanic atom; the Sambhogakaya retains His nirvanic atom and shows Himself as the Triple Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya retains His causal body and also the permanent atoms which He has carried all through His evolution, so that at any moment He can materialize round them mental, astral and physical bodies, if He so desires. He definitely keeps His link with the world from which He has come, in order that He may supply the reservoir from which spiritual power is poured down upon that world.​[3]

According to G. de Purucker

G. de Purucker related the three kayas to the three lower worlds or realms (datus) in Buddhism, as follows:

The three vestures can be correlated to the three dhatus of Buddhism, these dhatus being respectively the spiritual realms, the intermediate or higher manifested worlds, and the lower cosmic subplanes on which we humans are presently living. Thus the dharmakaya belongs to the arupa-dhatu; the sambhogakaya to the rupa-dhatu; and the nirmanakaya to the kama-dhatu.
Likewise these three vestures correspond to the three divisions of the human constitution — broadly spoken of in the West as spirit, soul and body — which the adept or initiate on rare occasions when the need arises can separate one from the other without killing himself. The dharmakaya, then, corresponds to the higher triad, atma-buddhi-manas (or rather higher manas here); the sambhogakaya to the higher manas conjoined with kama and the higher ranges of prana; and the nirmanakaya to manas-kama-prana and the astral garment that these three exude from themselves. Since the nirmanakaya is living in the astral worlds, he obviously needs an 'astral body' corresponding to the plane on which he is active. Furthermore, his higher manas and buddhi are of course functional within him, although his self-conscious field of work is in the manas-kama-prana, just as the self-consciousness of man today is largely centered in the kama-manas and the lower principles, yet the higher principles are more or less functional in him.​​[4]

See also

Additional resources


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1964), 255-260.
  2. Charles Webster Leadbeater, Talks on the Path of Occultism Volume 2, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), ???.
  3. Charles Webster Leadbeater, ​​The Masters and the Path, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1992), ???
  4. G. de Purucker, ​​Fountain-Source of Occultism, Part 1, "The Three Vestures."