Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Three Inseparable Kayas - Ngakma Nor’dzin Pamo - 089


The Three Inseparable Kayas - Ngakma Nor’dzin Pamo - 089


(i.e. RÉSUMÉ:
[Ground / Suchness / Thusness / Buddha-nature / Genuine-emptiness / Primordial awareness] =
[Fourth Kaya] = [Union of the three kayas: Unio dharmakaya <==> sambhogakaya <==> nirmanakaya] =
[Union of the three qualities of the Ground: Union i. essence / emptiness <==> ii. compassionate energy / Union of the Two Truths <==> iii. nature / appearance] =
[Union of the three vajras / Jewels / Roots: Union i. mind / Buddha / guru <==> ii. speech / Dharma / yidam <==> iii. body / Sangha / protectores / dakini] =
[Union of the three spheres: Union subject / mind / cause <==> relation / action / causality <==> object / phenomena / effect]


(Note: ‘Union’ or ‘<==>’ means that the apparent opposites (of any duality / triad / quad / etc, including the two truths) are not really in opposition, but are more like a Union of being empty of inherent existence (2nd truth) <==> because/thus inseparable, interdependent, co-defined, co-relative, co-dependent (1st truth), co-emergent, co-evolving, co-ceasing / co-transcended, in harmony, equal / non-dual / one -- in the non-dual sense of those terms: ex. Not existent, not non-existent, not both together, not neither; not different / separate / multiple / dual, not identical / united / one / non-dual, not both together, not neither; not permanent / continuous / eternal, not impermanent / discontinuous / annihilated, not both together, not neither; not good / pure / perfect / divine, not bad / impure / imperfect / ordinary, not both together, not neither; not dependent / conditioned, not independent  / unconditioned, not both together, not neither; not empty, not non-empty, not both together, not neither; not dependently arisen (1st truth), not empty of inherent existence (2nd truth), not both together (two truth together), not neither (neither of the two truths); not this, not non-this, not both together, not neither. Meaning the true nature of the opposites and of their co-relation is inconceivable for our flawed conceptual dualistic mind, beyond all conceptual proliferations, beyond all extremes & middle, beyond all conditioning / karma.)

The exploration of the spheres of being — the kayas is a method by which we can approach an understanding of nonduality (i.e. Ground = 4th kaya = Union of the three kayas). We can use this method as a means to examine how we exist, and to gain insight into the nature of reality. The kayas (ku sum – sKu gSum) are enumerated as three spheres of being (i.e. Ground = Union of the three inseparable qualities of the Ground), but this division is purely for the purposes of practice and understanding our existence. 

The kayas are not in fact separate or divisible. We only speak of the kayas as separate spheres in order to gain insight into their inseparability (i.e. Ground = Union of the three kayas) and the nature of reality (i.e. Ground / Suchness / Thusness / Buddha-nature / Genuine-emptiness / Primordial awareness). It is not within our capacity to view them as a unity because our view is dualistic – we separate emptiness and form. Therefore we must tease the kayas apart in order to approach an understanding of chö (chos) – as it is.

We look at the kayas separately whilst retaining an awareness of their indivisibility (i.e. Ground = 4th kaya = Union of the three kayas). The logic of this approach can easily be grasped if we use an analogy: if we wanted to explore the nature of the human body, we may look at the separate limbs, organs and tissues in detail in order to understand their function, but this would not prevent us from retaining the knowledge that they are not separately existing entities. We might look at the hand — for example — to study the intricate detail of its bones, ligaments, muscles and blood vessels. We may observe that each individual’s fingerprint is unique, as are the markings and shape of the hand. However we do not expect the hand to exist as an entity in its own right. We do not expect it to be able to wander off and live a separate life – well except perhaps in horror movies. We are able to examine the hand as a separate entity without losing sight of its necessity to exist as part of the whole body and be inseparable from the whole body. It is the same when examining the kayas. We do not examine the kayas individually in order to develop a belief in their separate identity or expect the kayas to arise as separate, independent states. 

We look at each of the three kayas whilst remembering that this is a means to understand their unification, to understand the fourth all-encompassing sphere of the indivisibility of the kayas (i.e. Ground = fourth kaya = Union of the three kayas).

There are a number of ways to approach and understand the three kayas as can be seen in the table below:







chö-ku (chos sKu)

long-ku (longs sKu)

trül-ku (sPruls sKu)


sphere of unconditioned potentiality

sphere of
visionary appearance

sphere of
realised manifestation




Three vajras

Essence / emptiness
/ 2nd truth

Compassionate energy
/ dynamism /
Union of the Two Truths

Nature / form
/ 1st truth

Qualities of
the Ground

Buddha body of truth

Buddha body of enjoyment

Buddha body of emanations

Sphere of space

Sphere of sensation

Sphere of activity


joyous, semi-wrathful


Kuntuzangmo (kun to bZang mo)

Dorje Phagmo (rDo-rje phag-mo)

Seng-gé Dongma (seng ge gDong dMar)




Simha Mukha or Simha Vaktra





5 elements

5 skandhas

5 senses



The fourth kaya is the unification of the three kayas
and the reality of our existence.
(i.e. Ground / Suchness / Thusness / Buddha-nature / Genuine-emptiness
= fourth kaya = Union of the three kayas = Union of the Two Truths)

The three kayas are unified as the fourth kaya (ku-zhi – sKu bZhi):
Svambhavikakaya (ngo-wo nyid-kyi ku – ngo bo nyid kyi sKu) or
Vajrakaya (dorje ku – rDo rJe sKu).

As the spheres are actually a single sphere, it becomes impossible to talk about one of them without reference to the others. Such apparent contradiction as ‘separate but not separate’ (i.e. They are not different / separate / multiple / dual, not identical / united / one / non-dual, not both together, not neither.) is common in Vajrayana, because we are working to discover the nonduality of that which conventionally appears to be dual – emptiness and form. 

The base of Vajrayana is emptiness and the path is to discover experientially (i.e. Directly perceive / realise)
the nonduality of emptiness and form.
(i.e. Union of the Two Truths: Union of conventionally dependently co-arisen relatively functional impermanent appearances (1st truth) <==> and emptiness of inherent existence (2nd truth). One truth implies the other (<==>). Like any other pair of opposites, the two truths are themselves like a Union of being inseparable, interdependent, co-defined, co-relative, co-dependent, co-emergent, co-evolving, co-ceasing / co-transcended, equal / non-dual / one -- in the non-dual sense of those terms (1st truth about the two truths) <==> and thus both empty of inherent existence (2nd truth about the two truths). This is the Union of the Two Truths about the two truths.) 

Hence Vajrayana conjures paradox:
the inseparability of nonduality and our conventional dualistic view.
(i.e. Union of opposites: ex. Union duality <==> non-duality.  Union many <==> one. Union differentness <==> sameness.
Union of the three spheres: Union subject <==> relation / action <==> object.
Union samsara <==> nirvana.
Union of the Two Truths. Union conventional/relative <==> absolute. Union existence <==> non-existence.) 

We believe that we are substantial permanent, separate, continuous and defined beings – but through meditation practice and intelligent observation we discover that we are also empty (2nd truth) of form and in fact also insubstantial, impermanent, totally [inter-]connected (1st truth), discontinuous and lacking in definition. 


  • We discover that we exist in the moment as beings of form,
    (1st truth - co-dependence / conventionally dependently co-arisen relatively functional appearances)

  • but that no solid, permanent, separate, continuous or defined essence moves from moment to moment.
    (2nd truth - emptiness of inherent existence)


  • we look at emptiness (2nd truth - essence of the Ground) — chö-ku, Dharmakaya
    — in order to gain understanding of our empty essence; 

  • we look at form / appearance (1st truth - nature of the Ground) — trül-ku, Nirmanakaya
    — in order to examine the nature of our form, our materiality; 

  • and we look at the [compassionate] energy / dynamism of the Ground (Union of the Two Truths) — long-ku, Sambhogakaya — the sphere of energetic tension between emptiness and form, where there is the movement of form arising or dissolving.

Chö-ku - emptiness - Dharmakaya  (2nd truth, essence of the Ground, pure subject, pure mind, Buddha)

‘Chö’ means as it is; ‘ku’ means body, dimension, sphere or field; so chö-ku is the body of suchness (i.e. essence of the Ground), the sphere of unconditioned potentiality, the dimension of as it is. This is the sphere of the nature of Mind and emptiness. This emptiness is not a nihilistic void. (i.e. The Ground is not mere emptiness / nothingness, but the Union of the Two Truths) It is a potent emptiness, the womb of potentiality – it is the essence of the potential of manifestation, of form arising. It is the emptiness from which all form can arise. This is the part of us that knows – and does not know how it knows and does not question what it knows. It knows without cognition or examination and is beyond intellect. Chö-ku is the sphere that is permanent. It simply is as it is. This potent emptiness cannot be created or destroyed, changed or manipulated; it simply is. Hence the sphere of emptiness displays the form qualities of equilibrium, permanence, separateness, continuity and definition – and lacks the empty qualities of form which are movement and change. The sphere of unconditioned potentiality is primal purity (kadag – ka dag) – that which is all-pervasive and beyond time.

To experience the sphere of emptiness we need to practise emptiness meditation such as shi-nè. Shi-nè enables us to experience ‘Mind-without-thought’ – it allows us to experience empty Mind, when the continuous conceptual babble of ordinary mind subsides. From this space of Mind-without-thought, we can then become aware of thought arising and observe its movement. We can become aware that chö-ku is our natural state; the ground from which everything arises. This state is beyond intellectual understanding and can only be discovered experientially.

In terms of the relationship with the vajra master, chö-ku is the experience of the Lama’s presence display and the open awareness of the potential for transmission in every moment. It is the experience of the presence of one’s teacher at all times in all situations. It is the experience of the Lama as the empty potential of one’s own realisation, and as the empty reflection of one’s beginningless wisdom Mind. It is the recognition of the indivisibility of the internal Lama and the external Lama.

Long-ku - energy - Sambhogakaya (Union of the Two Truths, compassionate energy of the Ground, pure relation / action, pur speech, Dharma)

‘Long’ means to arrive at, richness, to receive, communicative, contact (i.e. relations / actions). Long-ku is usually translated as ‘enjoyment body’. We cannot enjoy something without connecting with it. That enjoyment is rich, communicative and receptive, so long-ku communicates between emptiness and form, between chö-ku and trül-ku.

Long-ku — Sambhogakaya — is the sphere of intangible visionary appearance that links emptiness and form. It is the display of chö-ku – the energy between the potential of manifestation and manifestation itself. Long-ku is experienced as emotion and sensation, and accessed through practices of voice and vision, whereby we can experience the spatial quality of the realm of form. Anything that is communicative is of this sphere – art, craft, music, dance, horse riding, and all experiences connected with the sense fields. We are aware of manifestation in this sphere, but it is intangible – it cannot be contained or grasped. This is the sphere where the suchness of chö-ku manifests as the energy of the elements. As dualised beings we experience our disconnection between emptiness and form in the energy of the emotions of territorialism or obduracy, aggression, obsession, paranoia and bewilderment. In dualism the energy of long-ku manifests as confused emotion and thought; in nonduality it manifests as liberated energy of the elements.

Whatever the emotional state in which we find ourselves, it will distract the flow of energy in long-ku and channel it into a particular experience of trül-ku. However if we relax and become open to whatever we are experiencing, then we can make contact with the unimpeded flow of energy, and the fundamental nature of this elemental energy. Then we can experience long-ku as enjoyment body (its literal meaning). We can transform our confused emotions into generosity, clarity, compassion, unimpeded accomplishment and wisdom. We can delight in the manifestations of our sense fields and experience them ecstatically.

With regard to the vajra master, long-ku is the experience of the Lama’s personality display. It is the joyful awareness of the potential for transmission in every moment. It is the experience of all emotion and sensation as the colour, flavour, texture, scent and taste of the path of realisation as the Lama's personality. It is the experience of the Lama as an energetic reflection of the energy of rigpa. It is the discovery of appreciation as the energy of transformation, and delight in one’s own personality as an expression of our potential to spontaneously liberate the energy of our neuroses.

Trül-ku - form - Nirmanakaya (1st truth, nature of the Ground, pure object / pure land, pure body, Sangha)

‘Trül’ means manifestation, appearance, emanation, arising into form, so trül-ku is the sphere of form and appearances. From a mundane perspective trül-ku can be understood as the way in which we ordinarily experience ourselves as beings of form in a world of form. However from the perspective of Vajrayana, trül-ku specifically refers to realised manifestation – the experience of form in the moment undivided from the spheres of emptiness and energy. Trül-ku is the sphere of tangible appearance – manifestation that can be touched and experienced by our senses. Just as emptiness essentially displays form qualities of permanence and immutability, form essentially displays the emptiness qualities of movement and change. (i.e. still a dualistic perspective) Form continually arises and dissolves, moves and changes, manifests and subsides. Form is inherently insubstantial because it moves and changes; it is impermanent, continually in relationship with other form, discontinuous and constantly being redefined. Trül-ku’s form qualities cannot be fixed, they are totally, continually in flux. Hence the sphere of realised manifestation displays the qualities of emptiness.

An individual who is described as a Trül-ku is someone who has realised themselves as long-ku and chö-ku and/or has been reborn with a continuity of awareness from their previous life.

Trül-ku is the experience of the Lama’s life circumstances display. It is the inspiring recognition of the ability to dance with everyone and everything everywhere being exactly as it is. It is the willingness to embrace life circumstances whether they are seductive, searing or soporific. It is the awareness of the potential of transmission in every moment and every circumstance of our lives. Devotion spontaneously arises through appreciation of our Lama's capacity to dance with the display of their lives as inseparable from realisation, and this inspires us to courageously engage with the dance of our own lives.

Our dualistic experience of the spheres of energy and form give rise to attraction, aversion and indifference. We are attracted to tangible or intangible form that seems to prove, substantiate or bring pleasure to our existence; we are averse to form that seems to contradict, threaten or mar our existence; and we are indifferent to form that seems irrelevant to our comfort or security. We feed the continual cycle of samsara through these three root misconceptions – striving for experiences that attract us; avoiding experiences to which we are averse; and ignoring everything else. We block our ability to enjoy form in all its wonderfully diverse manifestations. We lose contact with the empty quality of form to be exactly as it is by wishing it to be that which we believe will support the sense of ourselves as substantial, permanent, separate, continuous and defined beings.

The realisation of the nonduality of emptiness and form (i.e. Union of the Two truths)
and the ecstatic energy of this nonduality (i.e. the energy of the Union of the Two Truths)
give rise to the three bodies of the Buddha. (i.e. Union of the three qualities of the Ground: fourth kaya.)

From the perspective of Sutra, the emphasis is on emptiness, chö-ku, and the realisation of wisdom. The path is the practice of compassion — bodhicitta — in order to develop wisdom. We realise that wisdom and compassion are nondual (i.e. Union Virtuous methods like compassion <==> and wisdom / emptiness. Thus the Path is in accord with the View & Froution.) as the manifestation of true wisdom is kindness, and the manifestation of true kindness is wisdom. 

  • Chö-ku is the fruit of wisdom and 

  • long-ku and trül-ku are the fruits of compassion. 

When compassion is viewed from the perspective of the three kayas

  • chö-ku makes us open and available;
    (Chö-ku - emptiness - Dharmakaya  (2nd truth, essence of the Ground, pure subject, pure mind, Buddha))

  • long-ku fills us with the intention to help others;
    (Long-ku - energy - Sambhogakaya (Union of the Two Truths, compassionate energy of the Ground, pure relation / action, pur speech, Dharma))

  • and trül-ku enables us to know how to help others and to give them that help.
    (Trül-ku - form - Nirmanakaya (1st truth, nature of the Ground, pure object / pure land, pure body, Sangha))

In outer Tantra the Lama is chö-ku, the yidam is long-ku and the khandros and pawos are trül-ku. 

  • The Lama — the internal Lama and the external Lama — is the source of wisdom. 

  • The yidam is the source of power or energy, of visionary experience, and is the method of transformation 

  • The khandros and pawos  (protector & dakini) are the source of inspiration. 

They are the symbols of our emotional confusion, which functions as the fuel that enables us to engage with the method of transformation.

In inner Tantra 

  • thiglé (thig-le; bindu in Sanskrit) are chö-ku; 

  • lung (rLung; prana in Sanskrit) is long-ku; and 

  • tsa (rTsa; nadi in Sanskrit) are trülku. 

Thiglé, lung and tsa are the components of the subtle body – how we exist at the psycho-physical level. Here the essence of our being is realised and experienced as realised emptiness, realised energy and realised form.

In Dzogchen the three kayas are inseparable
and spontaneously experienced as ngo-wo (ngo bo),
rang-zhin (rang bZhin) and thug-jé (thugs rJe)
– the essence, nature and energy of the inseparability of the three spheres.
(See: )

Many teachings and practices can be viewed from the perspective of the three kayas. An example would be the practice of Dorje Tsig Dün (rDo rJe tshig bDun): the seven thunderbolt phrases of Padmasambhava. This can be understood at three levels: 

  1. as an expression of the nature of Mind, which is chö-ku; 

  2. as an expression of Padmasambhava manifesting as the yidam in visionary form, which is long-ku; 

  3. and Padmasambhava as an historical figure manifesting the path of realisation, which is trül-ku.

See also: 






The dharmakaya is naturally arisen, the ultimate,

The sambhogakaya is all-pervading, bliss-emptiness unceasing;

Through the nirmanakaya pouring forth a rain of joy,

May auspiciousness in all its glory be present.

-- 17th Karmapa

translation by Michele Martin

from the book "Music In The Sky: The Life, Art, And Teachings Of The 17Th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje" 


Essence of mind ~ Mipham Rinpoche 

What we call “essence of mind (subject)” is the actual face of unconditioned pure awareness (true nature of the mind free from all defilements / obscurations), which is [directly] recognised through receiving the guru’s blessings and instructions.

If you wonder what this is like,

  1. it is empty (2nd truth -- emptiness -- dharmakaya) in essence, beyond conceptual reference;

  2. it is cognisant (1st truth -- dependently co-arisen relatively functional appearances / cognizance / clarity -- nirmanakaya) by nature, spontaneously present (inseparability, interdependence ... of the two);

  3. and it is all-pervasive and unobstructed in its compassionate energy (Union of the Two Truths -- sambhogakaya).

This is the rigpa in which THE THREE KAYAS ARE INSEPARABLE 

(Inseparability / Interdependence / Harmony / Union of the three pure kayas).

– Mipham Rinpoche 

from the book "Beyond the Ordinary Mind: Dzogchen, Rimé, and the Path of Perfect Wisdom" 


Three kayas:

1) dharmakaya,

2) sambhogakaya and

3) nirmanakaya.

The three 'bodies' of a buddha.
They relate not only to the truth in us, as three aspects of the true nature of mind, but to the truth in everything.
Everything we perceive around us is nirmanakaya;
its nature, light or energy is sambhogakaya; and
its inherent truth, the dharmakaya. 


[Vajrakaya: Union of the three kayas = Union of the three Vajras = Union of the three spheres = Union of the three doors ...]

"We do not examine the kayas individually in order to develop a belief in their separate identity or expect the kayas to arise as separate, independent states. We look at each of the three kayas whilst remembering that this is a means to understand their unification, to understand the fourth all-encompassing sphere of the indivisibility of the kayas. ...

The fourth kaya is the unification of the three kayas and the reality of our existence. 

The three kayas are unified as the fourth kaya: Svabhavikakaya or Vajrakaya." 


Robert Beer (2003: p. 186) states:

The trinity of body, speech, and mind are known as the THREE GATES, three receptacles or THREE VAJRAS, and correspond to the western religious concept of righteous thought (mind), word (speech), and deed (body).

The three vajras also correspond to the THREE KAYAS, with the aspect of body located at the crown (nirmanakaya), the aspect of speech at the throat (sambhogakaya), and the aspect of mind at the heart (dharmakaya)."

From Wikipedia: 


Kayas refer to bodies. In the Mahayana we talk about two bodies or kayas: the dharmakaya and the rupakaya. The dharmakaya is the truth body, which is non-duality beyond all extremes. The rupakaya is the form body, which is all form and manifestation. These two correspond to 'emptiness' and 'form' in the Heart Sutra. When we speak of the 'Three Kayas' in the Vajrayana, the rupakaya is subdivided into the sambhogakaya and the nirmanakaya. The sambhogakaya is the body of mutual enjoyment, the body of bliss or clear light manifestation. The nirmanakaya is the created body, which manifests in time and in space.


(i.e. Correspondence between the three spheres, the three doors, the three vajras and the three kayas.)

1. pure body = pure object / physical fabrications / nirmanakaya;

2. pure speech = pure relation / action / conceptual fabrications / sambhogakaya;

3. pure mind = pure subject / mental fabrications / dharmakaya;

4. Union pure body speech & mind = Svabhavikakaya / Vajrakaya: Union of the three kayas = Union of the three spheres = the inconceivable true nature of Reality as it is here & now = Union of the Two Truths: Union relative <==> absolute.

1-2. Rupakaya = nirmanakaya + sambhogakaya = conventional truth;

3. Dharmakaya = emptiness = absolute truth.

They are purified by the wisdom / awareness of their true nature.)


A fifth kaya?

Abhisambodhikaya : In some dzogchen presentations, the appearance-making factor of the deep awareness (ye-shes) of a Buddha’s pure awareness (rig-pa, a Buddha’s omniscient mind). Because all Buddha Bodies are complete in a Buddha’s pure awareness, the Abhisambodhikaya makes Buddha Bodies appear in various forms suitable for benefiting others, but without ever moving from the Dharmakaya. 

-- Study Buddhism 


abhisambodhikaya (mngon par byang chub pa'i sku). The fifth of the five kayas of buddhahood, defined by Jamgön Kongtrül in his Treasury of Knowledge as 'manifold manifestation in accordance with the karma of those to be influenced, without departing from dharmakaya, that (appears) because the (other four kayas are) spontaneously complete within awareness wisdom.' 



“The first Jewel is the Buddha. His qualities are displayed in the three kayas: the Dharmakaya or absolute body, the Sambhogakaya or body of perfect enjoyment, and the Nirmanakaya or manifested body. The Dharmakaya expresses itself as five wisdoms: the wisdom of absolute expanse, the mirror-like wisdom, the wisdom of equality, the all-distinguishing wisdom, and the wisdom of all-accomplishing action. These five wisdoms appear as the Sambhogakaya Buddhas of the five families, who continually turn the Wheel of the Dharma in the Buddhafields for their perfect retinue of Bodhisattvas. The Sambhogakaya Buddhas manifest in forms that can be perceived by ordinary beings, called the Nirmanakaya Buddhas. Buddha Shakyamuni is the preeminent example of a Nirmanakaya Buddha.

The second Jewel is the Dharma, the expression of the Buddha’s wisdom for the sake of all sentient beings, enabling them to escape from the suffering and ignorance in which they are immersed.

The third Jewel is the Sangha, which includes all who practice the path shown by the Buddha.”

Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche - The Excellent Path to Enlightenment – Oral Teachings on the Root Text of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo – on Taking Refuge –  Collected Works Vol II pg 25, Shambhala




“Thus, when the ground aspect of dharmakaya (chhö-ku), supremely deep and lucid, has been made evident, dharmakaya is the essential nature, that of the equal purity of samsara and nirvana. Sambhogakaya is the inherent nature as pristine awareness and positive qualities. Nirmanakaya is innate compassionate responsiveness, inherently lucid, free of obscuring overlay. The display of these is ultimate reality.”

Dudjom Lingpa – Nang-jang - A Visionary Account Known as Refining Perceptions) Chapter XIV - p 175, Padma Publishing





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