The Dharmakaya that I Know from Kalzang D Bhutia (A Winner in the DIRI Academic Contest 2021)

The Dharmakāya that I Know: The Sacred Habitat of Sikkim as the Dharmakāya

Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia, University of California, Los Angeles


For Buddhist communities living in Sikkim, a small Indian state in the eastern Himalayas, to know the mountains, valleys, and waterways of the landscape is to know the dharmakāya. There, Buddhist lineages influenced by Tibetan institutions have met with different Indigenous knowledge traditions to create a rich, complex system for understanding interspecies relationships between humans, nonhumans, and the sacred habitat that they inhabit. In this paper I discuss Sikkimese Buddhist systems of understanding and interpreting Sikkim’s terrain, and consider how Buddhist communities there continue to use traditions of sacred geography and ritual communication to sustain interspecies flourishing. Central to this flourishing is the cultivation of a way of seeing the sacred habitat as indivisible from the dharmakāya, the “Absolute Body” of the Buddha, or the ultimate empty nature of all things. Through reading and listening to the guidebooks held to have been left by Guru Rinpoche, participating in pilgrimage and ritual traditions, and exhibiting care for their sacred habitat in everyday life, human Sikkimese Buddhist communities understand their position as part of an interspecies matrix of connection. This interspecies matrix is situated in the sacred habitat that is Sikkim’s environment, and through contemplative work, all beings can know the dharmakāya, and may even transform into the dharmakāya themselves.



The Hidden Land of the Valley of Rice is in itself the same as a Copper-Coloured Mountain, a Potala, a Pure Land of Sukhāvatī

… It is the same as the dharmakāya. In Sikkim, you don’t need to wait for paradise until after you die; you are already here.

(Pemayangtse Dorje Lopen Chewang Rinzin Tagchungdarpa, personal communication, June 20, 2017).


For Buddhist communities living in Sikkim, a small Indian state in the eastern Himalayas, to know the mountains, valleys, and waterways is to know the dharmakāya. There, Buddhist lineages influenced by Tibetan institutions have met with different Indigenous knowledge traditions to create a rich, complex system for understanding interspecies relationships between humans, nonhumans, and the sacred habitat (Tibetan: gnas)1 that they inhabit. Historically, this system allowed for respect and reciprocity between different species, and was upheld by the government of Sikkim

1 In this article, Sanskrit terms will appear with diacritics. The first time a Classical Tibetan term is used I will include the English translation, or a transliteration based on local pronunciation, followed by a full transliteration using the widely accepted Wylie transliteration system in brackets. All translations are my own unless otherwise noted.


when it was a Buddhist kingdom presided over by a Buddhist monarch. In 1975, Sikkim became part of India, which led to significant change.

In this paper, I will discuss Sikkimese Buddhist systems of understanding and interpreting Sikkim’s terrain, and consider how Buddhist communities there continue to use traditions of sacred geography and ritual communication to sustain interspecies flourishing. Central to this flourishing is the cultivation of a way of seeing the sacred habitat as indivisible from the dharmakāya, the “Absolute Body” of the Buddha, or the ultimate empty nature of all things. This analysis is based on close readings of Classical Tibetan ritual texts; ethnographic research within Sikkim, carried out over almost three decades as part of my research as a student and then scholar in Buddhist studies and religious studies departments; and my own upbringing as a Sikkimese Buddhist educated as a lama. In my research, I have found that in popular traditions in Sikkim, it is often held that only Buddhas can recognise the dharmakāya due to their awakening to the ultimate nature of reality. Other beings without this awareness encounter reality differently. By cultivating the view of Sikkim’s landscape as a sacred habitat, Sikkimese Buddhist communities hold they can also be transformed and know the dharmakāya on a personal level.


The Dharmakāya in Sikkimese Vajrayāna Buddhism

The dharmakāya (Tibetan: chos sku) is often translated from Sanskrit as the “Body of Truth,” or “the Absolute Body.” It is one of three bodily manifestations of the Buddha (or, in Sanskrit, Trikāya) that is a doctrine used in Buddhist philosophy as a way to understand the nature of reality. Buddhist studies scholar Paul Harrison (1992) has written that “the Trikāya


doctrine of Buddhism, i.e., the doctrine that the Buddha has three ‘bodies,’ is notorious for its complexities” (p. 44). These complexities reflect the diversity of Buddhism as it has adapted over time to different cultural contexts, which has in turn led to the development of diverse ways to understand the Trikāya theory. For instance, Buddhist studies scholar Tomomichi Nitta (2002) has argued that in a Pāli canon context, the term dhammakāya (Pāli) appears in different contexts, but was consistently “used as a term that expressed the essence of the Buddha” (p. 478). Harrison (1992) has provided an overview of Mahāyāna perspectives on the Trikāya theory. He outlined how the dharmakāya (Sanskrit) is seen as “formless and imperishable, representing the identification of the Buddha with the truth he revealed, or with reality itself.” The other two bodies of the Buddha that make up the Trikāya doctrine are the nirmāṇakāya (Tibetan: sprul sku), translated as “apparitional body” or “transformation body,” which corresponds with the historical Buddha’s physical form; and the saṃbhogakāya (Tibetan: longs sku), the “body of bliss” or “enjoyment body” that is a “more exalted and splendid manifestation of the enlightened personality, still in the realm of form, but visible only to bodhisattvas, those of advanced spiritual capabilities” (p. 44).

For many Buddhist communities, the dharmakāya is not just an abstract philosophical concept, but instead is central to understanding Buddhist conceptions of reality, and in particular, is invoked to represent different interpretations of truth (relative and ultimate) and the possibilities for transformation that are at the core of Buddhist worldviews. Sikkimese Buddhism developed from lineages brought to Sikkim by Tibetans that met and synthesised with local traditions. In popular, oral traditions of Buddhism in Sikkim, the Trikāya are equated with specific Buddhas and Bodhisattvas:


-­‐ the dharmakāya manifests as Amitābha (Tibetan: ’Od dpag med), a

celestial Buddha that presides over the Western Pure Land of Sukhāvatī;

-­‐ the saṃbhogakāya manifests as Avalokiteśvara (Tibetan: Spyan rasgzigs), the Bodhisattva of compassion;

-­‐ the nirmāṇakāya manifests as Guru Rinpoche (Tibetan: Pad ma’byung gnas), the Tantric yogi who is credited with consolidating

Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century. He then traveled throughout the Himalayas before he went to the Copper-Coloured Mountain

(Tibetan: Zangs mdog dpal ri), where he is still held to reside. For the majority of Buddhists in Sikkim who do not reside in monasteries or carry out extensive ritual or meditation practice, Guru Rinpoche is the central Buddhist figure in their lives. He is held to be the Buddha of the Three Times (Tibetan: dus gsum sangs rgyas) that historically visited Sikkim. He is equivalent to Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara, but unlike these luminous figures, he can be seen by regular people, so prayers and rituals are often dedicated to him. However, Amitābha as the manifestation of the dharmakāya may also be accessed through intensive practice and eventual transformation into a Buddha, which may take many lives, or through Tantric Buddhist practice may be instantaneous. Many ethnic communities who practice Buddhism in Sikkim2 engage in practices intended to bring about this transformation that cultivate a view of Sikkim’s landscape as the

2 Sikkim is a multiethnic, multilingual state. Ethnic groups that practice Buddhism include Lepchas, Bhutias, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sherpas, Newars, and Tibetans. For more on the dynamics of ethnicity in Sikkim, see Chettri (2017).

Pure Land of Amitābha,3 and thereby, the dharmakāya. According to these popular traditions, a Buddhist who transforms their vision of the land does not need to wait until their next life to be reborn in a Pure Land; instead, recognition of the landscape as a Pure Land, or a maṇḍala (a cosmogram representing the palace of a deity) can bring about transformation in this life.

Knowing the Land as a Form of Contemplative Transformation

These popular traditions include rituals and meditation practices that provide contemplative guidance. Buddhist traditions across cultures transmit numerous contemplative practices that are intended to bring about transformation of Buddhist practitioners through mind training. In this article, I argue that learning how to interpret sacred geography in Sikkim is a form of mind training, and that engaging in this cultivation of these perspectives allows Sikkimese Buddhist communities the opportunity to know the dharmakāya by transforming their perspectives, and by doing so, themselves.

The transformative opportunities presented by human-landscape interactions have been noted in other cultural traditions. Geographer Yi-fu Tuan (1974) has referred to the “affective bond between people and place or setting” as topophilia. This topophilia manifests in different ways across space and time. For example, in his important work Wisdom Sits in Places,

3 A Pure Land is a celestial abode where a Buddha resides. Some Buddhist traditions hold that practitioners can be reborn in them if they pray to particular Buddhas during their lifetimes. For more on Pure Lands across Buddhist cultures, see Halkias and Payne (Eds.) (2019).

anthropologist Keith Basso (1996) discussed the ways that place names function as ethical guideposts and warnings for Western Apache communities. Christian studies scholar Douglas Burton-Christie (2009) brought together Basso with the work of landscape photographer Robert Adams to argue that “place-making” – defined by Basso as “retrospective world-building” – is a form of “ contemplative work” (p. 349). By drawing together geography, autobiography, and metaphor, he argued that placemaking allowed people to “see more” by providing “a way of seeing the world, a way of being in the world that allows us to cherish it with all the feeling we are capable of” (p. 353). Central to Burton-Christie’s argument is an analysis of the Christian mystic Thomas Merton’s description of his experience visiting Buddhist statues in Sri Lanka, where Merton had a spiritual breakthrough whereby he saw that “[t[he rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakāya – everything is emptiness and everything is compassion” (Merton quoted in Burton-Christie, 2009, p. 354).

Many Buddhist cultures also transmit rich traditions related to connections between humans and their environments, and embedded in these traditions are expectations about maintaining appropriate relationships between humans and other nonhuman agents present in different places. A vivid example of a South Asian system that has traveled with Buddhism as it has spread around the world is the concept of the maṇḍala. Maṇḍalas are cosmograms, representations of the universe depicted as patterns on flat surfaces and in paintings and artworks, as three-dimensional models, and in verbal instructions to bring order to shared religious and/or political universes through shared representations (Walcott, 2006, p.73). Across Buddhist cultures, many sacred sites are considered to be geographical maṇḍalas. Sikkim, in the eastern Himalayas, also has sacred geographies

that are considered to be maṇḍalas. Another more influential paradigm for interpreting landscape there is Sikkim’s status as a Hidden Land.

The Hidden Land of the Guru: Finding the Dharmakāya in the Sacred Geography of Sikkim

“Hidden Lands” (Tibetan: sbas yul) are regions that are held by Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist communities to have been identified by Guru Rinpoche as safe havens that could be discovered, or “opened,” in times of need for Buddhist communities, such during war or following disasters that led to forced migrations. Hidden Lands are found throughout the Himalayas, and were historically important areas of several contemporary nation states, including China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan.4 The extent to which these remain hidden in contemporary Buddhist communities is complex: some Buddhist communities believe that Hidden Lands are physical spaces, while others argue that they are metaphors for the transformation that takes place in individuals as a result of contemplative practices. Additionally, others believe that Hidden Lands can only be seen by those with appropriate spiritual accomplishment, and that therefore, even if someone is in a Hidden Land, if they are not spiritually prepared to understand it, they will remain ignorant (Samuel, 2020). Only Buddhist5 practitioners with karmic connections to Guru Rinpoche could reveal Hidden

For more on Hidden Lands, see Samuels, Garrett and McDougal (Eds.) (2020).

The Indigenous Bon tradition of Tibetan also holds there to be Hidden

Lands; discussions of these are beyond the scope of this article

Lands. These figures were known as Terton (Tibetan: gter ston), or Treasure revealers, who had visions that compelled them to travel to areas on the borders of Tibet to seek out new places to practice Buddhism. Once they had arrived, Tertons would then reveal Treasures, teachings left by Guru Rinpoche to be revealed when they were needed.

Sikkim was one of these Hidden Lands. In Classical Tibetan, Sikkim was referred to as the Hidden Land of the Valley of Rice (Tibetan: Sbas yul ‘bras mo ljongs or Sbas yul ’bras mo gshongs). The opening of this Hidden Land took place in successive waves, as Tertons traveled to Sikkim and revealed Treasures he had left in the landscape. The most famous of the Tertons in Sikkim is Lhatsun Namkhai Jikme (Lha btsun nam mkha’ ’jigs med, 1597-1650/1654). Lhatsun traveled to Sikkim in the 1640s, where he enthroned the first monarch of the Bhutia Namgyal dynasty that ruled Sikkim until 1975. From an early period, Buddhism and the state were connected (Arora, 2006; Balikci-Denjongpa. 2002; Mullard, 2011, Vandenhelsken, 2011).

These Treasures included objects and texts, including meditative instructions, ritual texts, and guidebooks (Tibetan: gnas yig) to the Hidden Land for future pilgrims. The first of these guidebooks dates from the fourteenth century, when Tibetan Terton Sangay Lingpa (Tibetan: Sangs rgyas gling pa, 1340-1396) revealed a guidebook outlining the benefits of practicing in the Hidden Land. Additional guidebooks appeared until the nineteenth century and were filled with materials on how to understand, interpret, and interact with the sacred habitat.6 Many of these have been published in Tshe ring (Ed.) (2008).

Interpreting and Interacting with the Hidden Land as the Dharmakāya

According to these guidebooks, the landscape of Sikkim, including its high mountainous peaks, roaring rivers, and green forests and valleys, are part of a sacred habitat that is filled with seen and unseen transdimensional residents. There is a hierarchy to these residents. At the top are Buddhas and bodhisattvas, beings who take rebirth to help all sentient beings. Below these is the mountain deity Kanchendzonga (also known as Mount Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain at 8,586m), who presides over Sikkim’s multispecies environment and protects the Hidden Land from negative forces. Kanchendzonga has a retinue of other mountain protectors around him, outlined in the Nesol (Tibetan: Gnas gsol, or Propitiation of the Sacred Habitat) text. The next class of beings are those of the foothills, and include the lords of the trees, or nyen (Tibetan: gnyan). The third class are the spirits of the valleys and waterways, which include aquatic spirits, or as they are known in Sanskrit, Nāga (Tibetan: klu). Throughout the foothills and valleys, there are numerous demons (Tibetan: bdud), spirits (Tibetan: mtshan) and gods (Tibetan: lha) that are associated with lakes, waterfalls, trees, rocks, and other geographical markers, as well as household hearths and individual human bodies. Many of these seen and unseen beings have been interpreted within Buddhist cosmology as dharma protectors (Tibetan: Chos skyong yul lha gzhi bdag) who have sworn oaths to Guru Rinpoche to protect the multispecies communities of Sikkim (Lha btsun, 1999). Other beings need to be attended to carefully through other forms of Indigenous ritual life. Both Buddhist and Indigenous traditions provide avenues for human residents to know the dharmakāya.

Reciprocity and Care as Transformation in the Hidden Land: Seeing and Knowing the Dharmakāya

Most human residents of Sikkim will never see the transdimensional co-residents present in Sikkim, but their influence is felt in everyday life. Weather patterns, crop growth, social harmony, and health are all held to be influenced by the dharma protectors and unseen forces who also reside in the sacred habitat. As a result, Sikkimese Buddhism contains a number of systems that help humans see and understand the Hidden Land around them. The learning of this interpretive framework takes place through several means, including: by reading the Terton’s guidebooks (or having the information in them transmitted orally); by visiting specific sacred places; and by participating in ritual life, and particularly the ritual of Nesol that is intended to propitiate the sacred habitat.

Interpreting Sacred Geographies from Terton’s Guidebooks

The first way that Buddhist communities learn to see the Hidden Land is by engaging with the descriptions provided by Tertons in their guidebooks. These descriptions provide visual reference points for readers to interpret specific geographical points around them. One example can be found in the guidebook discovered by Terton Rigzin Godemchen (Rig’dzin rgod ldem chen, 1337-1409), dated to the fourteenth century, where Tashiding, the central sacred site in west Sikkim, is described.

At Tashiding, there are four great pine trees that date from the time of Guru Rinpoche [on the top of the hill]. From that hilltop, you can see

many things very clearly, including the upper, middle, and lower regions of the Valley of Rice, and in all the cardinal directions. [When you see it from a higher point], the hill of Tashiding appears as a four-crossed vajra7 in [the centre of] a maṇḍala. This maṇḍala appears  to  be  is made from precious jewels. At the centre [of the maṇḍala], there is a self-arisen stone that looks like Guru Rinpoche along with King Trisong Detsen and Khenpo Bodhisattva.8 This palace [of Tashiding] is equal to Bodh Gaya in India, Wutaishan in China, the Riwo Potala, Pure Lands, and the Copper-Coloured Mountain of Guru Rinpoche (Rigdzin Godemchen in Tshe ring (Ed.), 2008, p. 284).

This description contains both metaphors to describe what places and objects look like (for example, the self-arisen stone), and also similes to draw comparison and connection between Tashiding and other important sacred sites. The broader message is that the landscape of Tashiding is full of sacred manifestations that can be accessed by cultivating a specific viewpoint.

Cultivating this viewpoint can be undertaken intentionally, through contemplation and visualisation as above. It can also be undertaken through particular activities at sacred sites. For example, in the guidebook by Lhatsun Gyurme Jigdel Tenzin Pawo (Lha btsun ’gyur med ’jigs bral bstan

 The symbol of the Vajra represents indestructability in Tantric Buddhism. 8 Three crucial figures that are held to have established Tantric Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century CE.

’dzin dpa’ bo, d.u.), described the sacred northern cave of Sikkim, Lhari Nyingpo, by drawing on an extract from a Treasure text.

The northern sacred site of Lhari Nyingpo is made up of many caves. There are three large caves facing to the east. The cave to the south is home to a self-arisen golden figure of the goddess dharmakāya Prajñāpāramitā. She is surrounded by bodhisattvas of the ten directions that are all self-arisen. In the cave there are also self-arisen paintings on the walls. If you arrive in this cave, if you make offerings there and performs rituals and prayers, Buddhism will flourish in Tibet (Lhatsun Gyurme Jigdel Tenzin Pawo in Tshe ring (Ed.), 2008, p. 357).


This extract discusses the many self-arisen images at Lhari Nyingpo. These self-arisen images are patterns seen on the rocks, and their resemblance to significant figures, such as Prajñāpāramitā are seen as auspicious. The ability to recognise these images is in itself a contemplative practice, and the guidebook provides the reader with instructions of who and what they may expect to see in order for them to prepare for this contemplative work. The guidebook also provides instructions for how to behave at the site, and recommends ritual practice. The connection that the guidebook makes between these ritual activities and Buddhism in Tibet is significant, as it reflects Sikkim’s historical connection with Tibet as a Hidden Land.

Interpreting Sacred Geographies during Pilgrimage

Guidebooks are helpful to set the scene for readers who may be imagining sacred sites. They can also act as actual instructions for pilgrims, visiting specific places. Pilgrimage to sacred places (Tibetan: gnas skor) is a widespread practice among Buddhist communities throughout the Himalayas. While India has long been a central focus for these activities due to its exalted position as the land of the Buddha, over the centuries since Buddhism was introduced in different Himalayan regions, local pilgrimage routes have developed (Huber, 1999 a and b). As a Hidden Land of Guru Rinpoche, Sikkim is part of a number of both trans-Himalayan and locally focused pilgrimage circuits. Many of the powerful sites in the sacred habitat of Sikkim are concentrated in western Sikkim, where Guru Rinpoche is held to have hidden many of his Treasures. As a result, the guidebooks contain detailed descriptions of western Sikkim’s sacred places. However, not all sacred places appear in the guidebooks, as it is believed that revelation of Treasures are still taking place in Sikkim.

One vivid example is the Dorje Phagmo Rock that was discovered by a retired local schoolteacher in 2015 in a cardamom field near Pelling, western Sikkim. The retired schoolteacher, Yab Kaila Bhutia, stated in an interview that he had dreamt of the rock, and been instructed to go and care for it by Dorje Phagmo (Tibetan: Rdo rje phag mo), a wrathful goddess. He had been aware of the rock in his field for many years, but it was only the dream that led him to recognise that it was capable of transmitting the blessings (Tibetan: byin rlabs) of Dorje Phagmo. He immediately cleared the field around the rock, and in the few years before his death in 2018, he built a shrine beside the rock and a pathway for pilgrims. Initially, only local villagers visited, intrigued that this rock that they had passed by for many years was actually a seat of Dorje Phagmo. To assist them in transforming

their understanding of the rock, Yab Kaila would guide pilgrims by pointing out its distinctive features. In this way, he acted as a caretaker of the sacred place, or nedak (Tibetan: gnas bdag). He was qualified to act in this way after his vision was transformed through his dream. This guidance in turn allowed pilgrims to transform their vision as well, and to know Dorje Phagmo as a manifestation of the dharmakāya by visiting this place. This point of tangible interaction, along with other similar sacred places, provide Sikkimese Buddhists with opportunities to access the visionscape of the dharmakāya through physically interacting with the sacred habitat.

Interpreting Sacred Geographies through Care for the Hidden Land

One of the most comprehensive systems for learning to see the dharmakāya is the ritual tradition known as the Nesol (Lha btsun, 1999). This ritual is held to have been revealed by the Treasure revealer Lhatsun Namkhai Jikme in the seventeenth century, and is offered regularly in Buddhist monasteries, temples and residential shrines throughout the ritual calendar. A major annual Nesol is held every year during the seventh lunar month as part of the Pang Lhabsol festival (Vandenhelsken 2011). The ritual propitiants are often lamas,9 but lay people also take part.

In the Nesol text, the landscape of Sikkim is propitiated through naming and propitiation of the beings resident in the sacred habitat. As discussed above, Kanchendzonga, the mountain deity, presides over this sacred habitat, and the Nesol rites are addressed to him and his retinue. After In Sikkim, most ritual and meditation specialists are non-celibate lamas, who are popularly referred to as ‘monks.’

outlining who lives in the sacred habitat, the Nesol specifically states how people should behave in recognition of the other unseen residents of Sikkim. In the ritual there are specific places where the humans offering the ritual prayer criticise human activity and apologise for inappropriate conduct (Lha btsun, 1999, p. 31). This apology also acts as an oath to care for the environment through keeping it clean. In historical and contemporary Sikkim, earthquakes, floods, landslides, illnesses and social disharmony were all regularly attributed to the displeasure of Kanchendzonga and his retinue of protector deities in response to environmental harm. The Nesol reminds humans to behave appropriately, and be aware that their actions may disturb their non-human co-inhabitants of the place.

In everyday life, these admonitions are followed through systems of ritual and informal care. Ritual care includes regular offerings of the Nesol, as well as other rituals, including consecration (Tibetan: rab gnas), that take place before undertakings that may be disruptive to the sacred habitat. On an informal basis, among Sikkimese Buddhists in western Sikkim who live in the foothills of Kanchendzonga there are warnings connected to appropriate behavior in specific locations. For example, in villages human residents are careful to dispose of their waste in sites that will not disrupt unseen coresidents. Streams and lakes are considered to be the residences of Nāga, aquatic spirits, who will bring illness to any human who dirties their water. When collecting firewood, people prefer to gather wood that has already fallen to the ground, instead of chopping down trees, to avoiding disturbing the spirits of the trees. Even in urban areas, Sikkimese communities across religious boundaries strive to avoid the accumulation of waste in streams. In 1998, the Government of Sikkim supported these efforts by banning singleuse plastics as part of a campaign to promote sustainability (Godfrey, 2019).

The forms of care that are inspired by the Nesol demonstrate another way for human Sikkimese Buddhist communities to transform their vision and understanding of the sacred habitat in which they live. Even if the dharmakāya seems elusive, the re-envisioning of elements of the land, and care in interaction with the land, provide communities with access to alternative perspectives. These perspectives break down interspecies barriers and allow people access to a new vision of their environment as a sacred habitat, and ultimately, as the dharmakāya.

Conclusion: Recognising the Dharmakāya in Ourselves

In Sikkim, local Buddhist and non-Buddhist communities have continued to draw on traditions of sacred geographies to honour the habitat in which they live. However, in recent decades they have been challenged by the entrance of a new way of seeing the land as a commodity-rich resource, where multiple megadams can be built and timber and minerals can be extracted as fuel for modernising India. Local communities have engaged in activism, drawing on concepts from the Nesol and Indigenous Lepcha cosmologies, to renew connections between humans and the environment and resist expansion and exploitation (Balikci, 2008; Gergan, 2017). This resistance is not an easy undertaking, as communities move away from their ancestral lands and encounter new ways of seeing the world.

According to guidebooks, all humans who are born in the sacred habitat of Sikkim are heroes and heroines with unique spiritual capabilities that will allow them to avoid rebirth in the lower realms (Tshe ring (Ed.), 2008). These special capabilities include the ability to comprehend their sacred habitat and transform their vision to see this habitat, and by extension, themselves, as the dharmakāya. While the prophetic statements in the guidebooks may appear idealistic, these guidebooks do provide a basis for the development of a local way to know the dharmakāya. Through reading and listening to the guidebooks left by Guru Rinpoche, participating in pilgrimage and ritual traditions, and exhibiting care for their sacred habitat in everyday life, human Sikkimese Buddhist communities understand their position as part of an interspecies matrix of connection. This interspecies matrix is situated in the sacred habitat, and through contemplative work, all beings can know the dharmakāya, and may even transform into the dharmakāya themselves.

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