top of page

The Dharmakaya. Mahayana. and Nagarjuna

Between 100 BCE and 300 CE Buddhism branched geographically and in teaching emphases. New conditions and new thinkers offered insight and teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, as well as newer teachings, were available in writing. This era is sometime referred to as the Third Turning of the Dharma Wheel

The emphasis of the third turning of the Dharma Wheel presents insight into the various ways in which "Buddha" is perceived and teaching emphasis of Branches of Buddhism are taught:

  1. The First Turning of the Dharma Wheel: Dukkha

  2. The Second Turning of the Dharma Wheel: Sila

  3. The Third Turning of the Dharma Wheel: Prajna

Important to Mahayana is the doctrine of the Trikaya, which says that each Buddha has three bodies (sangaku-thinks fields of energy). These are called the dharmakaya, sambogakaya and nirmanakaya. Very simply, dharmakaya is the body of absolute truth, sambogakaya is the body that experiences the bliss of enlightenment, and nirmanakaya is the body that manifests in the world. Another way to understand the Trikaya is to think of the dharmakaya as the absolute nature of all beings, sambogakaya as the blissful experience of enlightenment, and nirmanakaya as a Buddha in human form. This doctrine paves the way for belief in a Buddha-nature that is inherently present in all beings and which can be realized through the proper practices. (Barbara O'Brien):

The idea of Buddha in three bodies sounds similar to the Holy Trinity teaching after St. Augustine,

The place of spirit (Absolute/Mind), or the unformed. in the two teachings differ by hierarchy. The Trikaya has absolute or emptiness (Dharmakaya), divine (Sambogakaya), and earthly (Nirmanakaya) where Father, then Son, and then Holy Spirit as the order in the Holy Trinity.

The Trikaya is important to the development of Mahayana teachings as the focus is on Prajna, Nirmanakaya, and Bodhisattvas shifts from Theravada perspectives more of Sambogakaya, Buddha's Sutras, and role of Monks as teachers. Emphasis of teachings continue to shift even in Schools within Branches of Buddhism as different Orders may offer different perspectives. All of this comes into play in a common view of Buddha Nature, as practitioners take vows (sila).

The role of our Indian ancestor Nagarjuna's Mahayana perspective is important as a bridge to Chan and later Zen, and is presented well by Peter Bolland in the video below:

Please take time to look at each of the offerings in today's Dharma Notes and we'll talk about the teachings Tuesday night, April 20,2021

108 Bows


63 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page