Of Transcendental, Celestial & Terrestrial Buddhas

Immeasurable compassion guided by
immeasurable wisdom to manifest
immeasurable skilful means is need to guide
immeasurable beings to Buddhahood.

Stonepeace | Books

The Lankavatara Sutra suggests another important Mahayana doctrine in germinal form: the doctrine of the three bodies, or dimensions, of Buddhahood – the transcendental dimension, (Dharmakaya) the celestial dimension, (Sambhogakaya) and the terrestrial or transformational dimension, (Nirmanakaya). These three reflect, in general terms, three levels of enlightened reality: (1) the transcendental dimension is synonymous with the ultimate level of enlightenment, which is beyond names and forms; (2) the celestial dimension is an expression of the symbolic and archetypal dimension of Buddhahood, to which only the spiritually developed have access [e.g. in Pure Lands]; and (3) the terrestrial dimension is the dimension of Buddhahood to which all of us in our unenlightened condition have access, and which participates in the world of mundane phenomena. It is this terrestrial dimension that appears in countless forms in order to nurture and emancipate sentient beings.

Here you may recall that the essence of the Mahayana tradition is great compassion. The skillful means that spring directly from great compassion manifest themselves not only in the devising of various disciplines, or vehicles, but also in diverse and countless forms of the terrestrial dimension of Buddhahood. According to the Lankavatara and other Mahayana texts, the terrestrial dimension of Buddhahood can assume any form and any number of forms. It can assume not only a recognizable, special form like Shakyamuni Buddha, with whom we are all familiar but also the form of a drunkard, gambler or the like, in order to benefit and liberate sentient beings. If a particular drunkard or gambler is not affected by the delivery of an exalted Dharma discourse, nor by the examples of moral purity advocated in the conduct of a Bodhisattva, a Buddha or Bodhisattva will assume the form of one of that’s persons company and, through the exercise of skillful means labor to bring about the emancipation of that person.

In addition to assuming the form of animate beings, Bodhisattvas can also assume the form of inanimate things, such as food, clothing, medicine, a bridge, a road, and so forth. This is put very beautifully by Shantideva in his book on the Practice of the Bodhisattva, Bodhicharyavatara where he prays that he may become food for the hungry, medicine for the ill, and shelter for the homeless. Thus, through skillful means born of great compassion, the Buddha and Bodhisattvas appear in countless unknown and unrecognizable forms, working for the emancipation of all sentient beings, each according to his or her individual needs and abilities.

The Tree Of Enlightenment: An Introduction To The Major Traditions Of Buddhism
Peter Della Santina

Related Courses:

Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra (14th Run)
The Mindfulness Factor: How To Be Mindful Of Buddha Purely (2nd Run)


  • Mind if you would clear my doubt.
    1) These 3 kayas that you are mentioning – is it attainable by non Buddhist due to ones practice.
    2) Can this 3 kayas be used against sentient beings thus harming them.
    3) If it is attainable by non Buddhist, what are the terms that they will refer to instead of these 3 kayas, if any?
    Your assistance and reply is greatly appreciated. With Luv and Metta.

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