The Dhammakaya That I Know from Thor Wei Wynn (A Winner in the DIRI Academic Contest 2021)

The Dharmakāya / Dhammakāya That I Know (Thor Wei Wynn)



In the first part of the article, I provide a general overview of the evolution of the concept of dhammakāya in Indian Buddhism after the Great Passing Away of the Buddha. The similarity of this development with the Christian concept of emanation, Christology and Trinity is noted. Early Indian Mahayana Buddhists developed an elaborated two-body theory, which eventually morphed into the popular trikāya (three-body) doctrine. Next, I explore the conception of dhammakāya in the early post-canonical Pali Texts, and also its development in the Theravada tradition. It’s occurrences in the Apadāna is noted. In the second part, the core of this article, I pointed out that the word dhammakāya occurred only once throughout the entire collection of Pali suttas –hence the apparent difficulty to properly comprehend its meaning from the viewpoint of the early Pali Buddhist texts, that is the Pali Canon, excluding the late strata of the Khuddaka Nikāya. I explore its meaning within the context of the Pali Language and the early Pali Buddhist Texts. I do this by reviewing existing translations, exploring the definition of the word dhamma, the grammatical structure of the compound dhammakāya and the context of the passage in which the word dhammakāya occurs. Next, I produce several instances from the early Pali Buddhist texts which would illuminate the meaning of the word dhammakāya. I conclude that dhammakāya is synonymous with nibbana.


The Dharmakāya / Dhammakāya That I Know

Tumhe khvattha, vāseṭṭha, nānājaccā nānānāmā nānāgottā nānākulā agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitā. ‘Ke tumhe’ti—puṭṭhā samānā ‘samaṇā sakyaputtiyāmhā’ti—paṭijānātha. Yassa kho panassa, vāseṭṭha, tathāgate saddhā niviṭṭhā mūlajātā patiṭṭhitā daḷhā asaṃhāriyā samaṇena vā brāhmaṇena vā devena vā mārena vā brahmunā vā kenaci vā lokasmiṃ, tassetaṃ kallaṃ vacanāya: ‘bhagavatomhi putto oraso mukhato jāto dhammajo dhammanimmito dhammadāyādo’ti. Taṃ kissa hetu? Tathāgatassa hetaṃ, vāseṭṭha, adhivacanaṃ ‘dhammakāyo’ itipi, ‘brahmakāyo’ itipi, ‘dhammabhūto’ itipi, ‘brahmabhūto’ itipi.


‘Vāseṭṭha, all of you, though of different birth, name, clan. and family, who have gone forth from the household life into homelessness, if you are asked who you are, should reply: “We are ascetics, followers of the Sakyan. He whose faith in the Tathāgata is settled, rooted, established, solid, unshakeable by any ascetic or Brahmin, any deva or mara or Brahmā or anyone in the world, can truly say: “I am a true son of Blessed Lord, born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, an heir of Dhamma.” Why is that? Because, Vāseṭṭha, this designates the Tathagata: “The Body of Dhamma”, that is, “The Body of Brahmā “, or “Become Dhamma”, that is, “Become Brahmā” (Walshe, 1995, p. 409)


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word was made flesh (John 1:1,14). This forms the basis of the doctrine of incarnation in Christianity. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” During the ensuing generations, there was a wide spectrum


in Christian thinking about the relationship between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; encompassing Trinitarian and Nontrinitarian doctrines with the use of concepts such as hypostasis, consubstantiality, physis and ousia.

Similarly, the Indian Buddhists pondered over the nature of the Buddha after his mahāparinibbāṇa. The early Mahāyāna Buddhists formulated an elaborated two-body theory, contrasting the Buddha’s dharmakāya with his rūpakāya, and finally culminated in the doctrine of trikāya (three bodies) of the Indian Vijñānavāda Buddhists. The three kāyas are svabhāvikakāya, nirmāṇakāya and sambhogakāya. Svabhāvikakāya (essence-body) corresponds to the dharmakāya. The nirmāṇakāya (emanation-body) refers to the form in which the Buddha is manifested within the world, while sambhogakāya (enjoyment-body) is the form in which the Buddhas reside within the Buddha fields. This triple Buddha bodies is also described as synonymous with the dharmakaya, equivalent to Buddhahood. Dutt (1929), Nagao (1973), Hanson (1980), Habito (1986), Harrison (1992), Makransky (1997) and Xing (2005) discussed the history and development of this in their works.

In the early post-canonical Pali Texts (Milinda Pañha, Aṭṭhakathā texts and Visuddhimagga), dhammakāya is identified as the collection of dhamma, the qualities of the Buddha, the ninefold supramundane dhamma, the noble truths, and as something seen with the supramundane eye –that is nibbāna.


As collection of the dhamma:

Evameva kho, mahārāja, bhagavā anupādisesāya nibbānadhātuyā parinibbuto atthaṅgato, na sakkā bhagavā nidassetuṃ ‘idha vā idha vā’ti, dhammakāyena pana kho, mahārāja, sakkā bhagavā nidassetuṃ. Dhammo hi, mahārāja, bhagavatā desito”ti. (Milindapanha 3:5:10)

Even so, great king, the Blessed One has passed away in the element of nibbāna with no substrate left, it is not possible to point to the Blessed One that he is here or there. But, great king, it is possible to point to the Blessed One by means of the body of the Dhamma. For the Dhamma, great king, was preached by the Blessed One.


As qualities of the Buddha:

sabbākāraparisuddha-sīlakkhandhādi-guṇaratanasamiddha-dhammakāyo. (Visuddhimagga, Anussatikammaṭṭhānaniddeso, Maraṇassatikathā)

who has the body of dhamma enriched with treasured qualities such as the aggregate of virtue and so on, made pure in every way.

dasabala-catuvesārajja-cha-asādhāraṇa-ñāṇa-aṭṭhārasāveṇika buddhadhammādi acinteyyā parimeyya dhamma-kāya-sampatti (Itivuttakaatthakatha, Nidānavaṇṇanā)


the inconceivable and immeasurable dhamma-body consisting the ten powers, four confidences, six special knowledges and eighteen distinctive qualities of the Buddha.

As ninefold supramundane dhamma:

Navavidho hi lokuttaradhammo tathāgatassa kāyo nāma. (Sāratthappakāsinī, ii, 314)


The ninefold supramundane dhamma are indeed the body of the Tathāgata.


Tenevāha ‘‘dhammañhi so, bhikkhave, bhikkhu na passati, dhammaṃ apassanto na maṃ passatī’’ti. Tattha dhammo nāma navavidho lokuttaradhammo. (Itivuttaka-atthakatha: Itivuttaka 92, Saṅghāṭikaṇṇa Sutta)

Thus he [the Buddha] said, “Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu does not see the dhamma. Not seeing the dhamma, he does not see me.” In regard to that, the ninefold supramundane dhamma is called ‘the dhamma.’


As noble truths:

Ariyasaccadassanena hi bhagavato dhammakāyo diṭṭho nāma hoti. (Udanaatthakatha, Ud 5.6, Sona Sutta)

By seeing the noble truths, the dhammakaya of the Blessed One is seen.


As something seen with the supramundane eye:

Tattha yasmā dhaniyo saputtadāro bhagavato ariyamaggapaṭivedhena dhammakāyaṃ disvā, lokuttaracakkhunā rūpakāyaṃ disvā, lokiyacakkhunā saddhāpaṭilābhaṃ labhi. (Paramatthajotikā II [Suttanipāta-aṭṭhakathā]: Sn 1.2, Dhaniya Sutta)


Here, since Dhaniya, and his wife and children, had seen the Blessed One’s Dhamma body with the world-transcending eye [of wisdom] by penetrating


it with the noble path, and had seen his form body with the mundane eye, they acquired faith. (Bodhi, 2017, p.395)


The conception of kāya in the Pali Aṭṭhakathā is discussed by Endo (1997). The Aṭṭhakathā texts –attributed to Buddhaghosa and Dhammapāla, speak of the rūpakāya, and the dhammakāya of the Buddha. Although the term rūpakāya refers to the physical excellences of the Buddha for both, Dhammapāla expands Buddhaghosa’s characterization of rūpakāya. Dhammakāya, however, is viewed somewhat differently. Buddhaghosa interpreted it as the sum total of the Buddha’s teaching, whereas Dhammapāla tends to view it as the sum total of spiritual attainments of the Buddha.


The evolution of conceptions of the Buddha bodies in the Theravada tradition is further discussed by Reynolds (1997). He described two basic distinctions about the two bodies of the Buddha. The conception of two bodies pertaining to the legacies of the Buddha –the Buddha as founder of Buddhism, and relics, stupa and image as rūpakāya, and dhammakāya as scripture – must be distinguished from the conception of a more soteriological import –the Buddha as the model, and dhamma as path and realization. Within the soteriological area, a further differentiation must be made between the orthodox perspective and the less orthodox, yogic strands of the tradition. In the former, the dhammakāya manifest attainments which are directly relevant to the disciples whose goal is to become arahants; whereas in the latter, the dhammakāya manifest attainments which are relevant to disciples whose goal is to achieve a status indistinguishable from Buddhahood itself. Collins (2014), however, argued against the idea that rūpakāya is a term referring to relics and images of a Buddha after his parinibbāna; it only refers either to any human body, or to the Buddha’s body while alive. He also pointed out that dhammakāya is actually instantiated through time, and argued that


objects such as relic, images and amulets function the same way as writing and speech-event.


In the Apadāna, the word dhammakāya appeared three times. Although Apadāna is part of the Khuddaka Nikāya, it one of the last books added to the canon (von Hinüber, 1996, p. 61), categorized in the later stratum (Abeynayake, 1984, p. 113). In the Paccekabuddhaapadānaṃ, the Paccekabuddhas are described as bahudhammakāyā (verse 52), which can be translated as “having many dhamma-bodies” or “having many bodies of truth”. Venerable Atthasandassaka praised Padmuttara Buddha with the phrase dhammakāyañca dīpentaṃ (dhammabody made-clear) in Atthasandassakattheraapadānaṃ, verse 4; while Mahāpajāpati refers to her own dhammakāyo (dhamma-body) in Mahāpajāpatigotamītherīapadānaṃ, verse 32. As Apadāna is a collection of autobiographical poems, it might be difficult to construct any meaningful interpretation.


Now, let’s come back to the passage cited at the inception of this article, extracted from the Aggañña Sutta, the twenty-seventh sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya. Its importance cannot be overemphasized because the term dhammakāya found in this passage is the sole occurrence in the entire corpus of the Pali suttas. The evolution of this single solitary mention into the doctrine of trikāya in Mahayana, and the later development in the Theravada tradition –the Yogāvacara tradition or Tantric Theravada (Southern Esoteric Buddhism), is undeniably just as interesting and intriguing as Christology and the Christian Triadology. The intent of this discussion, however, is to explore the meaning and concept of this term using materials from the early Pali Buddhist texts, and the Pali language.


Translation, Context & Meaning

Here, the relevant text in Pali and several translations are provided:

Tathāgatassa hetaṃ, vāseṭṭha, adhivacanaṃ ‘dhammakāyo’ itipi, ‘brahmakāyo’ itipi, ‘dhammabhūto’ itipi, ‘brahmabhūto’ itipi.


Because, Vāseṭṭha, these are names tantamount to Tathāgata: Belonging to the Norm, and again, belonging to the highest, and again, one with the Norm, and again, one with the Highest. (Davids & Davids, 1921, p.81)

Because, Vasettha, this designates the Tathagata: “The Body of Dhamma”, that is, “The Body of Brahma”, or “Become Dhamma”, that is, “Become Brahma” (Walshe, 1995, p.409)

For the Buddha is designated “Dhamma-bodied, Brahma-bodied, become Dhamma, become Brahma. (Gombrich, 1992, p.165)

(Because) these are epithets of the Tathāgata: “he who has Dhamma for a body”, “who has the best body”, “who is Dhamma”, “who is the best”. (Collins, 1993, p.341)

These translations, however, left us wanting. To get a better picture, we would need to explore the words, ‘dhamma’, ‘kāya’, and well as the compound itself, dhammakāya.



What is dhamma? The word dhamma is a polysemous term. The simplest expression, and particularly relevant to our discussion here, would be the teachings of the Buddha, as found in the Dhammānussati (Recollection of the Dhamma) or Dhamma Vandana (Salutation of the Dhamma):


svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī’ti (AN 11:11)


The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, applicable, to be personally experienced by the wise. (Bodhi, 2012, p.1565)


The word dhamma could also mean ‘truth’, as in the Four Noble Truths, which essentially is the teachings of the Buddha. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56:11), we read that the Buddha claimed to have awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment only when he has the thorough knowledge and vision of these Four Noble Truths as they really are (yathābhūtaṃ ñāṇadassanaṃ):


“So long, bhikkhus, as my knowledge and vision of these Four Noble Truths as they really are in their three phases and twelve aspects was not thoroughly purified in this way, I did not claim to have awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment in this world with its devas, Mara, and Brahma, in this generation with its ascetics and brahmins, its devas and humans. But when my knowledge and vision of these Four Noble Truths as they really are in their three phases and twelve aspects was thoroughly purified in


this way, then I claimed to have awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment in this world with its devas, Mara, and Brahma, in this generation with its ascetics and brahmins, its devas and humans. The knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘Unshakable is the liberation of my mind. This is my last birth. Now there is no more renewed existence.’”


In other words, it conveys the meaning of the ‘truth’ realized by the practice of the Buddhist path. This is succinctly expressed in the stock phrase:


diṭṭhadhammo pattadhammo viditadhammo pariyogāḷhadhammo tiṇṇaviciki ccho vigatakathaṃkatho vesārajjappatto aparappaccayo satthusāsane (AN 8:21, Paṭhamaugga Sutta)


I saw the Dhamma, attained the Dhamma, understood the Dhamma, fathomed the Dhamma, crossed over doubt, got rid of bewilderment, attained self- confidence, and became independent of others in the teaching of the Teacher. (Bodhi, 2012, p. 1148 )

In the Asankhata-samyutta, truth (sacca) is listed (SN 43:15) as a synonym for nibbāna.



Kāya carries the meaning of group, heap, collection, corpus, assembly, category and body. It is synonymous with the English body –body of literature, government body, student body, and human body. One relevant example would be the rūpakāya (physical or material body), which is contrasted with nāmakāya


(mental body, mind). Another interesting phrase is manomaya kāya (mind-made body), which is described thus:

And out of this body he produces another body, having a form, mind-made, complete in all its limbs and faculties. (Walshe, 1995 p. 104)


The manomaya kāya is produced or generated by the practice of meditation or jhāna. In the subsequent passage, the text speaks of the supernormal power: “being one, he becomes many – being many, he becomes one”. While Mahayana consider manomaya kāya as nirmāṇakāya, it is not difficult to imagine that this could be the precursor of sambhogakāya.



The word dhammakāya is a compound. Two classes of compounds are relevant here: tappurisa and bahubbīhi.


In tappurisa compounds, the first member is associated with the second member by a direct relation. This could be accusative, instrumental, dative, genitive, ablative, or locative. The English example ‘madhouse’ illustrates the dative case, ‘for the mad’. ‘Grasshopper’ illustrates the locative case, ‘in the grass’. The Pali rajaputto (son of a king) illustrate the genitive case, ‘of a king’. Grammarians call it dependent determinate compounds. As a tappurisa compound, dhammakāya would means ‘the collection of the dhamma’, or ‘The Body of Dhamma’ (Walshe, 1995, p.409).


Bahubbīhi compounds function as adjectives. They always refer to something outside the compounds. Thus, it is necessary to ascertain to who or to what the compound pertains. In English, they can be rendered by the suffix -ed or having, being. Some grammarians call them ‘relative compounds’, others call them ‘possessive compounds’, ‘attributive compounds’ or ‘exocentric compounds’. As a bahubbīhi compound, dhammakāya would means ‘having dhamma’, ‘being dhamma’, ‘dhamma-bodied’ (Gombrich, 1992, p.165), or ‘he who has Dhamma for a body’ (Collins, 1993, p.341)


It appears that Walshe (1995) translate dhammakāya as a tappurisa compound, while Gombrich (1992) and Collins (1993) translate it as a bahubbīhi compound.

Here’s the relevant passage from Sumaṅgalavilāsinī, the Commentary of Digha Nikaya:

kasmā tathāgato ‘‘dhammakāyo’’ti vutto? Tathāgato hi tepiṭakaṃ buddhavacanaṃ hadayena cintetvā vācāya abhinīhari. Tenassa kāyo dhammamayattā dhammova. Iti dhammo kāyo assāti dhammakāyo.

Why is the Tathāgata said to have a dhamma-body (dhammakāya)? Because the Tathāgata conceived the Buddha-word, that is the three pitakas in his heart and expresses it through speech. Therefore, his body is dhamma, made of dhamma. Thus, he whose body is dhamma is called ‘dhammakāya’.




In DN 27, the Buddha said:

He whose faith in the Tathāgata is settled, rooted, established, solid, unshakeable by any ascetic or Brahmin, any deva or mara or Brahmā or anyone in the world, can truly say: “I am a true son of Blessed Lord, born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, an heir of Dhamma.” (Walshe, 1995, p.409)

This echoes playfully, word for word, the Brahmins claim:

the Brahmins are the true children of Brahmā, born from his mouth, born of Brahma, created by Brahma, heirs of Brahma. (Walshe, 1995, p.407)


Clearly, the Buddha is drawing a parallel between the Brahmins and ‘sons of the Sakyan’, equating himself with the dhamma.


Elsewhere, the phrase ‘bhagavato putto oraso mukhato jāto dhammajo dhammanimmito dhammadāyādo’ –true son of Blessed Lord, born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, an heir of Dhamma –is used to describe Venerable Sāriputta and Venerable Mahākassapa (MN 111, Anupada Sutta; SN 16:11, Cīvara Sutta).


DN 27, then, listed ‘dhammakāya’, ‘brahmakāya’, ‘dhammabhūta’ and ‘brahmabhūta’ as designations for the Tathāgata. The compound dhammabhūta is unambigously an adjective, describing the Tathāgata as dhamma itself, equating the Tathāgata with dhamma. It follows, and only sensible, that dhammakāya would also functions as an adjective here. Effectively, the four designations are all adjectives.


We could further appreciate the word dhammabhūta in MN 133:

So hāvuso, bhagavā jānaṃ jānāti, passaṃ passati, cakkhubhūto ñāṇabhūto dhammabhūto brahmabhūto vattā pavattā atthassa ninnetā amatassa dātā dhammassāmī tathāgato.


For knowing, the Blessed One knows; seeing, he sees; he is vision, he is knowledge, he is the Dhamma, he is the holy one; he is the sayer, the proclaimer, the elucidator of meaning, the giver of the Deathless, the lord of the Dhamma, the Tathagata. (Bodhi & Nanamoli, 1995, p.1046)

Early Pali Buddhist Texts: Shedding Light on Dhammakāya

In the following discussion, we will look at several passages from the early Pali Buddhist Texts that could shed light on the word dhammakāya.


Vakkali Sutta (SN 22:87)


The word dhammakāya could be further elucidated with a passage from the Saṃyutta Nikāya:

Alaṃ, vakkali, kiṃ te iminā pūtikāyena diṭṭhena? Yo kho, vakkali, dhammaṃ passati so maṃ passati; yo maṃ passati so dhammaṃ passati. Dhammañhi, vakkali, passanto maṃ passati;

maṃ passanto dhammaṃ passati.

Enough, Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body? One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one who sees me sees the Dhamma. For in seeing the Dhamma, Vakkali, one sees me; and in seeing me, one sees the Dhamma. (Bodhi, 2000, p.939)


The Commentary, Sāratthappakāsinī, explains:

Yo kho, vakkali, dhammanti idha bhagavā ‘‘dhammakāyo kho, mahārāja, tathāgato’’ti vuttaṃ dhammakāyataṃ dasseti. Navavidho hi lokuttaradhammo tathāgatassa kāyo nāma.


Here the Blessed One shows (himself as) the Dhamma-body, as stated in the passage, “The Tathāgata, great king, is the Dhamma-body.” For the ninefold supramundane Dhamma is called the Tathāgata’s body. (Bodhi, 2000, p.1081)


The statement cited by Sāratthappakāsinī has not been traced anywhere in the Pali suttas. Bhikkhu Bodhi thinks that it may be misquoting the passage in DN 27, cited in the beginning of this essay. Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that the Commentary is associating this passage with dhammakāya.


Bhikkhu Bodhi proceeds to explains second clause:


Though the second clause seems to be saying that simply by seeing the Buddha’s body one sees the Dhamma, the meaning is surely that in order to really see the Buddha one should see the Dhamma, the truth to which he awakened. (Bodhi, 2000, p.1081)


It is quite apparent that the word dhamma here could not be referring to the collection of the Dhamma or the Buddha’s teachings -–scripture, but rather the truth realized by the practice of the Buddha’s teachings. Here’s another passage that would similarly highlight this:

Vuttaṃ kho panetaṃ bhagavata: “yo paṭiccasamuppādaṃ passati so dhammaṃ passati; yo dhammaṃ passati so paṭiccasamuppādaṃ passatī”ti. (MN 28)


Now this has been said by the Blessed One:


“One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.” (Bodhi & Nanamoli, 1995, p.777)


Dhamma Eye

In the Buddha’s first discourse after his awakening, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56:11, Mahāvagga I.6), it says:

Imasmiñca pana veyyākaraṇasmiṃ bhaññamāne āyasmato koṇḍaññassa virajaṃ vītamalaṃ dhammacakkhuṃ udapādi:

“yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamman”ti.


And while this discourse was being spoken, there arose in the Venerable Kondañña the dust-free, stainless vision of the Dhamma: “Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.” (Bodhi,2000, p.1846)


Particularly relevant here is the word dhammacakkhu, which literally means Dhamma Eye. It would not be too difficult to link the eye to the body; the eye is an organ of the body used for sight. The phrase dhammacakkhupaṭilābho –gaining the Dhamma Eye, signifies the attainment of stream-entry (see SN 13 – Abhisamaya-samyutta, Dhammapada 178, AN 3:88 –Dutiyasikkhāsutta). If Dhamma Eye signifies the stream entry, Dhamma Body could signify the ocean – arahantship (see SN 55.5, Dutiyasāriputta Sutta; AN 8.19, Pahārāda Sutta).

Dhammapada 259

Another text that could be associated with dhammakāya would be Dhammapada 259:


Na tāvatā dhammadharo, yāvatā bahu bhāsati; Yo ca appampi sutvāna, dhammaṃ kāyena passati; Sa ve dhammadharo hoti, yo dhammaṃ nappamajjati.


One does not embody the dhamma by talking a lot;

Having heard even a little, but sees the dhamma with the body;

One embodies the dhamma, not neglecting the dhamma.

The Pali word dhara means ‘hold’, ‘know’, ‘bear’, ‘carry’, effectively, ‘vessel’, thus dhammadaro would means ‘holds the dhamma’, ‘knows the dhamma’, ‘bears the dhamma’, or ‘vessel of the dhamma’. In this context, the word, ‘embody’ seems to capture the meaning eloquently.


The phrase dhammaṃ kāyena passati (sees the dhamma with the body) is particularly relevant to our discussion here. It is not too difficult to notice and appreciate the semblance of the phrase with the word dhammakāya. Some translators have rendered kāyena as ‘personally’ (Gnanananda, p.25), ‘directly’ (Buddharakhita, 1985, p.27), ‘for himself’ (Anandajoti, B., 2017, p.102; Carter & Palihawadana, 2000, p.46), or even ‘mentally’ (Narada, 1940, p.211). Although not wrong, these translations dilute the imagery. The Pali texts use other terms such as


‘attanāva jāneyyātha’, ‘abhijānāti’, or ‘abhiññāya’ to indicate that, instead. Here, the term kāyena connotes more than just direct and personal experience, but conveys a somatic aspect as well.


Other translators seem to quite capture this: ‘sees the law bodily’ (Mueller, 1881, p.64), ‘observes the teaching with his body’ (Wallis, 2007, p.55), ‘experiences the Dhamma with his body’ (Roebuck, 2010, p.51) and ‘perceives the Dhamma with one’s own body’ (Fronsdal, 2006, p.63).

amataṃ dhātuṃ kāyena phusitvā

Tasmātihāvuso, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ: dhammayogā samānā jhāyīnaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ vaṇṇaṃ bhāsissāmā’ti. Evañhi vo, āvuso, sikkhitabbaṃ. Taṃ kissa hetu? Acchariyā hete, āvuso, puggalā dullabhā lokasmiṃ, ye amataṃ dhātuṃ kāyena phusitvā viharanti.


“Therefore, friends, you should train yourselves thus: ‘Those of us who are Dhamma specialists will praise those bhikkhus who are meditators.’


Thus should you train yourselves. For what reason? Because, friends, these persons are astounding and rare in the world who dwell having touched the deathless element with the body.” (Bodhi, 2012, p.918-919)

The phrase amataṃ dhātuṃ kāyena phusitvā is particularly interesting, as it evokes a relationship with the body: touching the deathless element with the body. The deathless element refers to nibbana.


He turns his mind away from those states and directs it towards the deathless element thus: “This is the peaceful, this is the sublime, that is, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all attachments, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna. (MN 64: Mahamalunkyaputta Sutta; Nanamoli & Bodhi, 1995, p. 540)


Another sutta (Kāyasakkhī Sutta, AN 9.43) mention about touching with the body (kāyena phusitvā) the four jhanas, the dimension of infinite space, the dimension of infinite consciousness, the dimension of nothingness, the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception and the cessation of perception and feeling. Sattadhātu Sutta (SN 14.11) refers to the element of the cessation of perception and feeling as the attainment of cessation (nirodhasamāpatti).


Here, I would argue that when our body touch the deathless element, we become the deathless element, we become dhamma —which technically means Unbecome, Unbeing. The suffix –un denotes reversal of an action or state; or removal from, release, deprivation. This is best appreciated in the context of Satta Sutta (SN 23.2):


Sitting to one side, the Venerable Rādha said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, it is said, ‘a being, a being.’ In what way, venerable sir, is one called a being?” “One is stuck, Rādha, tightly stuck, in desire, lust, delight, and craving for form; therefore one is called a being. One is stuck, tightly stuck, in desire, lust, delight, and craving for feeling … for perception … for volitional formations … for consciousness; therefore one is called a being. (Bodhi, 2009, p. 985)


Incidentally, nibbana is elsewhere described as ‘unbecome’, abhūta (Udāna 8.3, Tatiyanibbānapaṭisaṃyutta Sutta).


khayogadha, amatogadha, nibbānogadha


Vītataṇhā anādānā


satta buddhā khayogadhā


yehāyaṃ desito dhammo


dhammabhūtehi tādibhi. (Theragāthā 491)


Free from craving, without grasping, The seven Buddhas merged into destruction, They taught the Dhamma,


Having become Dhamma, venerable.


Another word that could shed more light on the word dhammakāya is khayogadha. We have seen in DN 27 that the words dhammabhūta, and dhammakāya, are used to designate the Buddha. The word khayogadha is a compound, derived from khaya and ogadha. Khaya means destruction, extinction, or ending; as in āsavānaṃ khayā (destruction of taints), or khayā rāgassa, dosassa, mohassa (destruction of lust, hate, delusion). Ogadha means immersed, merging into, diving or plunging into. It is synonymous with amatogadha (merging into deathless), and nibbānogadha (merging into nibbana). It is also probably interesting to mention that the arahant is described as brahmabhūtā (SN 22.76, Arahanta Sutta), a term which also appears together with dhammakāya at DN 27.




“Embodiment of truth” seems to be the best translation of dhammakāya, – quite literal, accurate, and yet eloquent. Embodiment connotes the representation or expression of something in a tangible or visible form. The Buddha, unequivocally, is the representation of dhamma, of ‘truth’. He is the truth, he is the prime.


Vāseṭṭha, these designate the Tathāgata: ‘the embodiment of truth’, ‘the embodiment of prime’, ‘one who is the truth’, ‘one who is the prime’.


Perhaps what Mahāpajāpatī told the Buddha would best conclude this discussion:


Ahaṃ sugata te mātā, tvañca vīra pitā mama; Saddhammasukhada nātha, tayi jātāmhi gotama.

Saṃvaddhitoyaṃ sugata, rūpakāyo mayā tava; Anindito dhammakāyo, mama saṃvaddhito tayā. Muhuttaṃ taṇhāsamaṇaṃ, khīraṃ tvaṃ pāyito mayā; Tayāhaṃ santamaccantaṃ, dhammakhīrañhi pāyitā.

O Sublime One, I am your mother, and you, O Hero, are my father.

O Giver of the Happiness of the True Doctrine; O Protector, I am born in you, O Gotama.

O Sublime One, this physical body of yours was raised by me. This blameless body of the Doctrine of mine was raised by you.

For a short period I gave you milk to drink to assuage your thirst. You gave me the milk of the Doctrine to drink, peace for all time. (Pruitt, 1998, p.188)

This, however, is from the Commentary (Therīgāthā-aṭṭhakathā) of the Therīgāthā (Mahāpajāpatigotamītherīgāthā), which also appears in the Apadana (Therīapadānapāḷi, Mahāpajāpatigotamītherīapadānaṃ).


The word dhammakāya only appeared once in the entire collection of the Pali suttas. However, several mentions in the early Pali Buddhist Texts —(i) dhammaṃ passati –seeing dhamma, (ii) dhammacakkha –dhamma eye, (iii) dhammaṃ kāyena passati –seeing dhamma with the body, (iv) amataṃ dhātuṃ kāyena phusitvā –touching the deathless with the body, and (v) khayogadha –merging into destruction, as well as the context of DN 27 have enabled us to comprehend its meaning and significance. Nibbāna and dhamma, as we have seen, are synonymous with truth (sacca). Dhamma is also seen to be associated with the body (kaya) by its touching of the deathless element, nibbana. Thus, the dhammakāya that I know is the personification of the teachings of the Buddha, and the embodiment of nibbāna, having seen and touched with the body.




Abeynayake, O. (1984). A Textual and Historical Analysis of the Khuddaka Nikāya. Colombo: Tisara Press.


Anandajoti, B. (2017) Dhammapada: Dhamma Verses. Retrieved from


Buddharakkhita, A. (1985) The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.


Bodhi, B. (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.


Bodhi, B. (2012). The Numerical Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.


Bodhi, B. (2017). The Suttanipāta: An Ancient Collection of the Buddha’s Discourses Together With Its Commentaries. Boston: Wisdom Publications.


Bodhi, B. & Nanamoli, B. (1995). The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.


Carter, J. R. & Palihawadana, M. (2000). The Dhammapada. New York: Oxford University Press.


Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka Version 4.0 (CST4) (1995). Vipassana Research Institute. Retrieved from


Collin, S. (1993). The Discourse on What is Primary (Aggañña-sutta). An Annotated Translation. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 21, 301-393.


Collins, S. (2014). Reflections on the Dichotomy Rūpakāya/Dhammakāya. Contemporary Buddhism, 15 (2), 259-273.


Davids, T.W. & Davids, C.A.F. (1921). Dialogues of the Buddha: Translated From the Pali of the Digha Nikaya, Part III. London: Oxford University Press.


Dutt, N. (1929). The Doctrine of Kaya in Hinayana and Mahayana. The Indian Historical Quarterly, 5 (3), 518-546.


Endo, T. (1997). Buddha in Theravada Buddhism: A Study of the Concept of Buddha in the Pali Commentaries. Dehiwala: Buddhist Cultural Centre.


Fronsdal, G. (2006). The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations. Boston: Shambhala Publications.


Gnanananda , K. (2016). What Does the Buddha Really Teach? Dhammapada. Polgahawela: Mahamegha Publication.


Gombrich, R. (1992). The Buddha’s Book of Genesis? Indo-Iranian Journal, 35, 159–178.


Habito, R. L.F. (1986). The Trikāya Doctrine in Buddhism. Buddhist-Christian Studies, 6, 52-62


Hanson, M.V. (1980) The Trikāya : A Study of the Buddhology of the Early Vijñānavāda School of Indian Buddhism (Unpublished PhD thesis). The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


Harrison, P. (1992). Is the Dharma-Kaya the Real “Phantom Body” Of the Buddha? The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 15 (1), 44-76.


von Hinüber, O. (1996). A Handbook of Pāli Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.


Makransky, J. J. (1997) Buddhahood Embodied : Sources of Controversy in India and Tibet. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Müller, F.M. (1881) The Dhammapada: A Collection of Verses. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Nagao, G. (1973). On The Theory of Buddha-Body. Eastern Buddhist, 6 (1), 25- 33.


Narada (1940) Dhammapada: Text and Translation. Calcutta: Maha Bodhi Society of India.


Pruitt, W. (1998). The Commentary on the Verses of the Therīs. Oxford: Pali Text Society.


Reynolds, F. E. (1997) The Several Bodies of Buddha: Reflections on a Neglected Aspect of Theravada Tradition. History of Religions, 16 (4), 374-389


Valerie Roebuck, V. (2010) The Dhammapada. London: Penguin.


Wallis, G. (2007). The Dhammapada: Verses On the Way. New York: The Modern Library.


Walshe, M. (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.


Xing, G. (2005). The Concept of the Buddha: Its Evolution from Early Buddhism to the Trikaya Theory. London: RoutledgeCurzo


ClientThe Car Rental Co
SkillsPhotography / Media Production

Project Title

Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean. A small river named Duden flows by their place and supplies it with the necessary regelialia. It is a paradisematic country, in which roasted parts of sentences fly into your mouth.