Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Nirmanakaya Mean?

Nirmanakaya is a term in Buddhism that translates as “body of transformations” and is typically described as the physical body — more specifically, the physical manifestation of a buddha. The word comes from the Sanskrit, nirmana, meaning “creation” or “transformation,” and kaya, which means “body.”

Nirmanakaya is one of the three bodies — or the trikaya — in Mahayana Buddhism, the other two being the non-physical dharmakaya (the absolute, or truth, body) and sambhogakaya (the body of divine enjoyment). They may also be considered three levels of buddhahood.


Yogapedia Explains Nirmanakaya

The concept of nirmanakaya varies a bit by tradition. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is considered the physical manifestation of enlightenment and presented in three ways:

  • A buddha who is born into the physical world, like Gautama Siddhartha, or, simply, the Buddha.
  • A tulku, or a reincarnation of a deceased master, like the Dalai Lama.
  • A person through whom enlightenment radiates, helping or inspiring others.

When his physical life ends, a nirmanakaya buddha can take the form of a sambhogakaya buddha.

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