Nirmanakaya - 3 physical manifestations of enlightenment


Nirmanakaya is the third Body of Enlightenment. We already discussed the Dharmakaya, the emptiness of enlightened mind, the source of all manifested world, and Sambhogakaya, the Body of Wisdom, the manifestation of enlightened qualities. And Nirmanakaya is another manifestation of dharmakaya - in physical form. Nirmana is a Sanskrit term which means to manifest in a form. Not each form would be Nirmanakaya, but the Body of Truth – a completely purified form which carries the essence of enlightenment, dharmakaya, and the highest wisdom. Often it refers to physical manifestations and acts of great enlightened teachers as Buddha Shakyamuni or Guru Rinpoche, but it can also refer to other blessed religious objects and artefacts that carry the enlightened essence.

In Tibetan Buddhism 3 kinds of Nirmanakaya forms are differentiated:

1. Zoye tulku means Nirmanakaya of artefacts, such as statues, stupas and other sacred artefacts that manifest and are venerated as religious objects.
2. Kye wai tulku means Nirmanakaya of birth and refers to highly evolved beings who continue to reincarnate in Nirmanakaya form for the benefit of others. This is why the tulkus are called tulkus.
3. chul ku tulku in the Nirmanakaya of the absolute. This means that the person has fully realized Buddhahood, and has attained full enlightenment.

An ordinary physical body is the product of karmic traces and dispositions. It has many imperfections and it is lacking in spontaneity and creativity. In Tibetan it is called Lu. Through the purification of one's body, speech, and mind, the physical body ceases to be a place of undesirable negative tendencies, excessive desires, and obsessions, and instead becomes the Nirmanakaya, a tool with extraordinary power to work with and benefit others.

The purified body in Tibetan is called Ku and it is the manifestation of the fully transformed body, free from the influence of deeply set karmic impressions. It is accompanied with many special marks and qualities of body, speech and mind.

The special qualities of the body are known as the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks.  For instance, the bodies of enlightened beings have a radiant glow and are free from old age and sickness.  They also have a subtle blue light called akanistha going up from the crown chakra and merging into the sky as well as special patterns of the wheel of Dharma on their palms.

They have sixty qualities of speech which most people do not have.  For example, when Buddha gave teachings, as soon as his voice was heard, it would give a soothing, relaxed, peaceful feeling.  At the same time, whatever words he spoke could be heard at once in many different languages.  Students from other lands would hear the Buddha's voice in their native tongues.  Also, his speech was not affected by distance.  An audience of hundreds or thousands had no problem hearing even though they were very far away.  Buddha's voice could reach to ten thousand students as clearly as to those sitting right in front of him.

The mind of realization has the three qualities of love, compassion and wisdom, as well as the ten powers and eight kinds of fearlessness.  Altogether there are thirty-two qualities of mind.  A Buddha has no obstruction to seeing the past, present or future.  Everything is clear to the eye of wisdom.  A Buddha's speech and body qualities are somewhat more obvious, but many people doubt such wisdom.  They think it cannot be exactly as it says in the sutras.  Even in Shakyamuni Buddha's time they investigated this.  They closely examined whether Buddha was totally enlightened and perfectly clear in relation to objects or not.

The second Nirmanakaya or birth emanation incarnates even in the animal and non-visible realms, using different names and forms, male or female as they are needed.  There are many Jataka stories of Buddha taking birth in animal worlds as a fish, a turtle, a bird, a monkey, a bear and a lion, as well as among humans and even in the god realms.  These are all birth emanations or tulkus.  They may or may not appear in the traditional way, wearing robes and all.  Tulkus may not even necessarily be recognized as Buddhas but in every case, they are born to remove obstacles and dualistic conceptions, to free sentient beings from ignorance and bring about the perfect understanding of primordial wisdom.

The third Nirmanakaya is called the artisan emanation.  These appear as objects of art and the artists who make them for the benefit of sentient beings.  Thangkas, statues and even music are some of the forms these emanations take.  Beautiful, inspired works of art which bring clarity, peace, joy and something special which seems to touch the heart centre are all known as artisan emanations. Any kind of art which provides temporary or ultimate help for sentient beings by awakening love and compassion is known as an artisan emanation.

It is said that a fully enlightened beings in Nirmanakaya are automatically impelled to work for the benefit of others. How does it happen? It is said that Buddha has overcome all dualistic notions, such as the distinction between the object of compassion and the compassionate one, yet if he or she sees sentient beings as objects of compassion, is he not still subjected to dualistic notions? There are no contradictions, because although the Buddha is aware of sentient beings as objects of compassion, this awareness does not give rise to conceptualization, and therefore compassion is not generated from dualistic thoughts.