Indeed, many controversial issues and mis-understandings concerning Buddhism, such as whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy of life, whether the Buddha is a human or God, and whether Buddhists are atheists, monotheists or polytheists, can be resolved with a proper understanding of this triple body concept.

3.73 Void and Quantum Fields

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Zhen Ru mentioned earlier is undifferentiated, devoid of all characteristics. Then why say its body is provided with all sorts of merits? Answer is that although reality has these merits, there are no differentiated characteristics; they are the same as one flavour, only one Zhen Ru. What meaning? There is no differentiation, devoid of all characteristics, thus without any double.


It is mentioned earlier that the Supreme Reality is undifferentiated, and devoid of all characteristics. Then why is it that its body or essence is provided with all sorts of phenomena? The answer is that although the Supreme Reality can be manifested in differentiated phenomena, these differentiated characteristics are actually of one and the same nature. There is only one Zhen Ru.

What is the meaning of this: saying that it is differentiated and also undifferentiated? The Supreme Reality has no differentiation, and is devoid of all characteristics. There is only one Supreme Reality; it is without any double. But, because of our gross perception, we wrongly interpret the Supreme Reality as differentiated.


Perhaps the most notable tenet of Mahayana Buddhism is void or emptiness. This concept has puzzled many people. What is meant by void here, is not absolute nothingness; it means that transcendental reality is devoid of phenomena. In other words, the countless, different objects and processes we see are actually an illusion.

How can the universe be void or empty? If we limit ourselves on earth and to the phenomenal dimension, we can, of course, see countless, different objects and processes. But what about the universe out there? Does it consist of the countless, different objects we see on earth?

Many of us would be surprised at what our scientists have found out -- according to their gross perception, albeit with elaborate scientific instruments. "Hydrogen is believed to account for about 92.7 per cent of all the atoms in the entire universe, and helium for around 7.2 per cent. This leaves a tiny 0.1 per cent for all the other types of atoms, of which there are 90 known to occur naturally." So, we can imagine if any one of our unenlightened humans happens to be out there in the universe, all he probably sees, as he cannot see hydrogen and helium atoms, is void or emptiness.

Let us now listen to what our latest physicists have to say about our physical world. "Many physicists now believe that particles are not fundamental constituents of matter. According to these scientists, the physical world is made up of quantum fields, which can manifest themselves as particles in many different ways. Quantum fields are all that exists, they say; there is nothing else."

It is indeed amazing that our modern physicists are saying the same things Buddhist masters said centuries ago, although the same ideas are expressed in different words. The Buddhist masters went further. As described in details elsewhere in this book and summarily reviewed below, they explained why we see the particles or quantum fields as houses, cars, birds and other phenomena. On the other hand, what earthlings see as void out in the universe, may be experienced by other beings operating in other phenomenal realms as countless, different objects and processes. Conversely, when these beings look at our world, because of their different forms of sense perception, all they see may just be emptiness!

3.74 Manifestations of Phenomena

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Then why is there differentiation? This is due to the characteristics of karma, consciousness and samsara. How? All dharmas basically come from the heart; reality has no thoughts. Non-Enlightenment gives rise to thoughts, and sees all phenomenal happenings. Hence it is said to have ignorance. When the nature of heart does not arise, this is the meaning of the light of great wisdom. If perception arises in the heart, there arises the characteristic of not seeing reality. When the nature of heart is free from perception, this is the meaning of illuminating the dharmarealm.

    If the heart is moved, it is not real knowledge, and results in unnaturalness, non-permanence and non-joy, non-self and non-purity, hot-headed and troubled heart, hence non-spontaneity. This causes defilements more numerous than the sands of Ganges. Concerning this meaning, the heart nature is not moved, thus merits of purity more numerous than the sands of Ganges. If heart arises, then like earlier dharmas with thoughts, thus lacking. Thus merits of purity are unlimited, all is only one heart, without thoughts. Hence, fully endowed, named Fa Shen Yu Lai Zang.


If the Supreme Reality is undifferentiated, then why is there differentiation in its manifestation as the phenomenal world? This differentiation is due to the characteristics of karma, consciousness and samsara.

How is this possible? All dharmas, or objects and processes in the phenomenal world, basically come from the mind. The Supreme Reality has no thoughts of its own. Thoughts arise because of non-Enlightenment, which causes us to see undifferentiated reality as differentiated phenomena. Hence, this non-Enlightenment is said to be the original ignorance of the Supreme Reality.

When thoughts do not arise in the mind, it is the meaning of having the light of great wisdom. If perception arises in the mind, the mind becomes defiled and thus cannot see reality as it really is. When the mind is free from perception, this is the meaning of the light of great wisdom illuminating the dharmarealm, or the phenomenal world, thus seeing reality as it is.

If the mind is defiled by thoughts, what it knows is not real knowledge, because it is only knowledge of the illusory world, not of cosmic reality. This is not consistent with the nature of the Supreme Reality, thus causing non-permanence and non-joy, non-self and non-purity, defiled mind and troubled heart. Hence, this is not the spontaneous state of Supreme Reality. This results in defilements more numerous than the sands of Ganges.

But if the mind is not defiled, then it results in excellent qualities more numerous than the sands of Ganges. The four excellent qualities of permanence (chang), joy (le), self (wo) and purity (jing) will result. If the mind is defiled, then, like the results of defilement mentioned earlier, these excellent qualities will be lacking. These excellent qualities are unlimited, and they all come from the one and only Universal Mind.

When the mind of an aspirant, which is an expression of the Universal Mind, is purified of all thoughts, he attains cosmic realization. This fully endowed nature of the Supreme Reality is called Cosmic Body (Fa Shen, or Dharmakaya) when manifested, or Supreme Storehouse (Ju Lai Zang, or Tathagata-garbha) when latent.


Why do we see the phenomenal world as differentiated when transcendental reality is undifferentiated? This question has been answered in details earlier when Asvaghosha describes the two aspects of the Supreme Reality. Here, as he explains the universal characteristics of the Supreme Reality after explaining its universal forms, he summarizes the earlier detailed explanation.

In a nutshell, phenomenal differentiation is the result of karma, consciousness and samsara. It means that because of the karmic effects of his previous lives, a person is born with innate different qualities that constitute his consciousness, which is also linked to the alaya consciousness, or universal consciousness, of man developed through the millennia. Hence he sees reality as differentiated. This further generates karmic effect, thus perpetuating his cycle of birth and rebirth, with the result that the defilement of his mind is intensified.

It is significant to note that here, again, Asvaghosha mentions the "four excellent qualities" of permanence, joy, self and purity (chang, le, wo, jing) in transcendental reality, and he contrasts them with non-permanence, non-joy, non-self and non-purity (fei chang, fei le, fei wo, fei jing) in the phenomenal world. It is clear that the so-called three marks of (mainly Theravada) Buddhism, i.e. impermanence, suffering and non-self, are certainly not meant as uncompromising features of Buddhist life, but meant as doctrinal techniques to help devotees attain Enlightenment. In Mahayana Buddhism, the three most typical marks are void, compassion and wisdom.

3.75 Simultaneous Arising of All Realms

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Next, application of Zhen Ru. All Buddhas are Thusness. Originally at the land of cause, they mani¬fested great compassion, cultivated various paramitas, saved all sentient beings, made great vows, desired to eliminate all samsara of sentient beings. Their effort is unlimited by the number of kalpas, to the end of eternity. They save all sentient beings as if saving ourselves, but they do not manifest the characteristics of sentient beings. What is the meaning? They know that all sentient beings are not different from their own body of the Supreme Reality. With great wisdom of great expedient means, they eliminate ignorance, and see the original Spiritual Body. Naturally there are miraculous effects, thus extending to everything and everywhere. Yet, there are no characteristics. Why? Because all Buddhas are the Tathagata, the Spiritual Body as the body of wisdom, the first truth, without the realms of phenomena. They are free from activi¬ties, but through sights and hearing sentient beings get benefits. Thus it is said to be application.


After discussing the forms and characteristics of the Supreme Reality, let us now discuss its applications.

All Buddhas, during their appearance in the phenomenal worlds as Bodhisattvas, manifested great compassion and cultivated various paramitas to save all sentient beings. They made great vows with the desire to eliminate all cycles of birth and rebirth of all sentient beings. Their effort is unlimited by the numbers of kalpas, and continues till the end of eternity.

These Buddhas regard all sentient beings as they regard themselves; the Buddhas never regarded sentient beings as separate with different characteristics. Why is this so? This is because they know that all sentient beings and they themselves are the same Supreme Reality with no differentiation. They have great wisdom which is manifested in the expedient means they employed in their spiritual cultivation. Hence they could eliminate all ignorance, and perceive the original Spiritual Body. Naturally they possess the application of miraculous effects with manifold influences, pervading the whole Dharmarealm.

Yet they leave no marks of their applications. Why is this so? It is because all the Buddhas, or the Buddha-Tathagata is the Supreme Reality itself, the embodiment of all wisdom, the Absolute Principle. The Buddha-Tathagata is free from all phenomenal activities where conventional truths operate; yet because sentient beings can derive benefits from seeing and hearing the Buddhas, they are regarded as the universal application of the Tathagata.


"One Heart, Two Gates, Three Universals". This is the main theme of Asvaghosha's Awakening of Faith in Mahayana. It means there is the one and only Supreme Reality, which can be experienced in two dimensions, namely the phenomenal and the transcendental, and which manifests as universal forms, universal characteristics and universal applications in the timeless past, present and future. Phenomenally, the Supreme Reality encompasses everything there is, including all known and unknown forms of matter and energy in all galaxies, as well as all "non-material" entities like thoughts, emotions, heavens, hells and astral beings. Transcenden¬ally, space and time become irrelevant: everything is one beautiful living unity interpenetrating one another, and all arising at the same time. Ten dharma¬realms (or universes) can be found in a particle of dust, and a particle of dust can contain ten dharma-realms!

But how can that be possible? We, so used to our spatial and temporal limitations, would ask. Indeed, Empress Wu of the Tang Dynasty once asked the great Hua Yen master, Fa Zang (who was also a celebrated comment¬ator of Awakening of Faith), to demonstrate this famous Hua Yen doctrine of all in one and one in all, the simultaneous arising of all realms, the inter-penetration and containment of all dharma.

Fa Zang prepared a hall full of mirrors on all the walls, ceiling and floor. Then he placed a statue of the Buddha in the centre of the hall with the mirrors reflecting and counter-reflecting the Buddha images infinitely. As the empress was spell-bound by the panorama, the master said: Your Majesty, this is a demonstration of Totality in the Dharmadhatu. In each and every mirror within this room you will find the reflection of all the other mirrors with the Buddha's image in them. And in each and every reflection of any mirror you will find all the reflections of all the other mirrors ... the mystery of realm embracing realm ad infinitum is thus revealed.

Then he placed a crystal ball on his palm, and explained: Your Majesty, now we see all the mirrors and their reflections within this small crystal ball. Here we have an example of the small containing the large as well as of the large containing the small. This is a demonstration of the non-obstruction of "sizes", or space.

3.76 Transformational and Reward Bodies

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Such uses are of two kinds. What two? One, according to discriminating consciousness, what laymen and Hinayana followers see in their hearts is called the Transformational Body. Because they do not know the appearance of transformational consciousness, they regard from the outside, taking from form, unable to understand fully. Two, according to the karma consciousness, conceived by all Bodhisattvas from initial stage of vows till the final stage, seen by the heart, called the Reward Body. The Body has countless forms, the forms have countless characteristics, the character-istics have countless benefits. According to their fruit, there are countless and various glories, manifested as needed, without bounds, and there are no limits. The differentiation into characteristics is manifested according to needs. They are permanent and inexhaustible, indestructible and never lost. Such are the results of merits due to the practice and permeat¬ion of the paramitas, as well as the results of miraculous effects, sufficient to provide countless characteristic of bliss, hence called the Reward Body.


The application of the Buddha or the Supreme Reality is of two kinds. What are the two kinds?

One, according to the discriminating consciousness of sentient beings in the phenomenal dimension, there is the Transformational Body (Nirmanakaya), which is what laymen and Hinayana followers see in their mind. Because the laymen and Hinayana followers fail to understand that the appearance of the phenomenal world is actually the result of a series of consciousness transformation, they erroneously think that this appearance comes from outside the observers (that is, erroneously think that the phenomenal world has objective reality). This is because they do not understand fully.

Two, according to the karma consciousness conceived by all Bodhisattvas from the initial stage of taking vows to the final stage of enlightenment, there is the Reward Body (Sambhogakaya), which, because of their karmic merits, the Bodhisattvas understand is an expres¬sion of the mind.

The Reward Body may be mani-fested in countless forms, the forms with countless characteristics, and the charac¬ter¬istics with countless benefits.

According to the fruit of their cultivation, the Bodhisattvas may experience the manifestations of the Reward Body of the Buddha in countless, glorious ways relating to what is needed. The manifestations are without bounds, and there are no limits. The differ¬entiation of the manifestations into infinite charac¬teristics is manifested according to needs. The manifestations are permanent and inexhaustible, indestructible and never lost. Such are the results of merits due to the Bodhisattvas' practice and permeat¬ion of the paramitas (or perfections) as well as the results of miraculous effects. The Reward Body is so called because it is sufficient to provide countless characteristic of bliss.


It is amazing how far was Asvaghosha ahead of modern physicists and psychologists. Almost twenty centuries before overwhelming experimental results in quantum mechanics force modern physicists to accept "that nothing is real and that we cannot say anything about what things are doing when we are not looking at them", Asvaghosha already explained that the so-called outside world, known as the Transform¬ational Body of the Buddha, has no objective reality. Those who are not familiar with quantum mechanics, may like to know that "quantum theory represents the greatest achieve¬ment of science", without quantum mechanics "we'd have no computers, no science of molecular biology, no under¬standing of DNA, no genetic engineering."

And when modern psychologists and neuroscientists are still uncertain whether the mind is housed in the brain, long ago Asvaghosha expounded that what most people regard as objective reality is actually an illusion due to a series of consciousness transform¬ations (described in some detail elsewhere in this book). The great Buddhist master further explained that because of their spiritual cultivation, Bodhi¬sattvas experience a different, and more beautiful, perception of the phenomenal world, which is known as the Reward Body of the Buddha, and they are able to apply the manifestations of this Reward Body for countless needs, including saving sentient beings. It should be noted that "Buddha" here refers to the Eternal Buddha, or the Supreme Reality.

Here, the concept of the Transformational Body and Reward Body of the Buddha is used at the cosmic scale. The phenomenal experience of Cosmic Reality by ordinary people is referred to as the Transformational Body by Bodhisattvas as the Reward Body. The concept can also be applied at the human scale, where the Buddha is manifested in the human form. The human manifestation as Siddharta Guatama Sakyamuni seen by ordinary people is the physical body of the Buddha; when manifested in other forms in other spatial or temporal dimensions is known as the transformational body. The Buddha seen by Bodhisattvas in celestial light at the divine dimension is the reward body.

3.77 Triple Body of the Buddha

Original Text in Chinese


Literal Translation

    Then, what is seen by ordinary people is its coarse form. According to the six planes, each see differently, various different types, not receiving the characteristic of bliss. Thus called the Transform¬ational Body. Again, Bodhisattvas since their first stage of spiritual development, because of their deep faith in Zhen Ru, have a partial insight into reality. They know that the forms, characteristics and other glorious manifestations do not come or go, free from differentiation, dependent on the mind's perception, inseparable from Zhen Ru. But these Bodhisattvas still differentiate because they have not enter the Spiritual Body (Dharmakaya). If they attain pure heart, are able to perceive the subtlest marvels, their application will turn to perfection as they arrive at the final stage of the Bodhisattvas' cultivation and perceive the ultimate. When free from karma, there is no perception of characteristics. The Spiritual Body of all Buddhas has no such forms and characteristics to be seen.


What is seen by ordinary people is the coarse form of Cosmic Reality. According to their different planes of existence in the six realms of hell dwellers, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, astral beings and gods, different beings perceive reality differently. Ordinary people perceive reality as differentiated into countless phenomena, and this differentiation is according to the transformational processes of their consciousness. Thus the illusory phenomenal world is called the Transformational Body of the cosmic reality.

Since the first stage of their spiritual cultivation, because of their deep faith in the Tathagata or Supreme Reality, Bodhisattvas have a partial insight into Cosmic Reality. They know that all the forms, characteristics and other glorious manifestations of the cosmic reality do not just come and go as perceived by ordinary people, and this Bodhisattvas' perception is called the Reward Body of cosmic reality. All the different phenomena seen by ordinary people are in reality free from differentiation; they appear as differentiated because of the coarse perception of deluded mind. Actually what is ignorantly perceived as phenomena is inseparable from the Supreme Reality.

Yet, these Bodhisattvas at the early stages of spiritual cultivation still differentiate. Their mind is still dualistic, because they have not entered the One and Only Mind of Supreme Reality, known as the Spiritual Body of the Buddha. If they attain this One Mind, and are able to perceive the subtlest marvels, their application of cosmic reality in whatever they do will turn to perfection, as they arrive at the final stage of the Bodhisattvas' cultivation and perceive the ultimate. When the Bodhisattvas have become Buddhas, and are free from the effects of karma, there is no perception of any forms or characteristics, because cosmic reality is undifferentiated and non-dualistic. The Spiritual Body of all Buddhas, who are physical bodies of the one and only Eternal Buddha, has no such forms and characteristics to be seen.


Here Asvaghosha gives an excellent and concise explanation of the triple body of the Buddha, which is one of the most important concepts in Mahayana Buddh¬ism. Indeed, many controversial issues and mis-understandings concerning Buddhism, such as whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy of life, whether the Buddha is a human or God, and whether Buddhists are atheists, monotheists or polytheists, can be resolved with a proper understanding of this triple body concept.

Professor Yoshito S. Hakeda provides an admirable commentary:

    The Awakening of Faith is known, among other things, for its concise presentation of this (triple body) theory. As presented in the text, the Dharmakaya or `Essence-body' repre¬sents the manifested form of pure Suchness, which in its latent form is known as Tatha¬gata-garbha. The Sambhogakaya or `Bliss-body' represents Suchness as conceived by the mind of the Bodhisattvas, endowed with infinite attributes of bliss. The Nirmanakaya or `Transformation-body' represents Suchness as conceived by the minds of ordinary people, the body appearing in the likeness of the conceiver.
The Sanskrit terms for the triple bodies, Nirmana¬kaya, Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya, are variously translated. Pro. Hakeda (1967) uses `Transformation-body', `Bliss-body' and Essence-body' respectively. Rev. Timothy Richard (1907) refers to them as `common state', `inspired state' and `Divine State". All these terms are appropriate; the difference, I believe, is due to the personal choice and emphasis of the trans¬lator, which perhaps is inevitable in any trans¬lation. My choice of `Transformational Body', `Reward Body' and `Spiritual Body' is guided by my preference to lin¬guistic exactness of the original Chinese terms, `ying shen', `bao shen' and `fa shen', from which all trans¬lations are made.

My choice, however, is arbitrary: "Response Body" is probably more linguistically exact than `Transformational Body', but I choose the latter because it has been widely used. The translations of `Zhen Ru' (`Tathagata' in Sanskrit) into `Suchness' by Prof. Hakeda, and into `True Model', `True Likeness' and `True Reality' by Rev. Richard are linguistically more exact, but I prefer `Supreme Reality' and sometimes `cosmic reality' because of cultural consideration.

However, in the last sentence of the quotation above, Prof. Hadeka appears to say that the `Trans¬formation-body' of the Buddha is the physical body (rupakaya) of the historical Buddha as seen by ordinary conceiver, though elsewhere in his book `Transform¬ation-body' can be taken to mean `the total body of phenomena'. This apparent confusion is due to the different interpretation of the word `Buddha'.

It is important to remember that "Buddha" in this context does not refer to Siddhartha Guatama Sakyamuni or to other human manifestations in other aeons, but refers to the Supreme Reality, which is the Omnipresent and Omniscient of all and everything there IS, probably corresponding to what in Western term would be called the Almighty God in transcen¬dental dimension. This is a typical Mahayana concept, not readily accepted by Theravadins. Hence readers who are used to Theravada literature, may find this concept unfamiliar.

Not only are the three bodies of the Buddha or Supreme Reality perceived differently by people at different developmental stages, every manifestation is also perceived differently by different beings at different planes of existence. At the human plane, for example, while a devoted Buddhist may view a wooden statue of Guatama Buddha with deep reverence and perhaps with awe, a follower of another religion, if he is tolerant enough, may just admire the beauty and majesty of its sculpture. On the other hand, a Zen monk who has attained enlightenment but who for some reasons still remains in his human form, would have no need for the statue, and may find it more useful to chop it into pieces for a fire to keep warm -- though this will be a selfish gesture, probably contributing a karmic effect that pulls him down to his human plane.

But to a micro-organism that happens to be lodged in the wooden belly, the statue would be a physical universe, and the micro-organism would perhaps regard clusters of carbon atoms at the head of the statue as distant galaxies. Sentient beings vibrating at a different frequency in a different plane of existence may not see this "solid" statue at all, or they may see it in a form more weird than our wildest imagination can conjure. If some of their members happen to have scientific knowledge similar to our own, they may develop mathematical equations demonstrating that much of their "empty space" is actually filled with shadow matter.



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