The Sambhogakaya

January 11th 2009

Today, during first full day of long life empowerments, a few of us had an experience of time being slowed down. Someone asked me what time it was, thinking tea was about to start, but we’d only been in the shrine room barely more than an hour. Another person later said it was like being on the beach in the warm sun; the environment was incredibly light, peaceful and timeless. I had been saying the hundred-syllable Vajrasattva mantra during the empowerments and ended up doing four or four or five hundred more recitations than I expected. This was, of course, my subjective experience, but it definitely rated as odd. Maybe it was some strange result of mis-titling yesterday’s blog as December 10th.

Amitayus, the buddha of long life, is not like Buddha Shakyamuni who actually lived as a person. Amitayus is a sambhogakaya buddha. This means, to put it in a kind of shorthand, he is an embodiment of the joyful, radiant aspect of fully awakened mind. One of three aspects known as the three kayas or bodies of buddha. Kaya means body, and sambhoga means complete enjoyment. The other two bodies are the dharmakaya, which is connected to mind beyond reference point, mind’s empty essence; and the nirmanakaya or emanation body. This latter kaya refers to the compassionate manifestation of the interplay of the first two kayas in this world—a mind that is inexpressible together with its dynamic play and radiance will express itself as an emanation body as an act of compassion for those who haven’t realized this. The Tibetan word for nirmanakaya or emanation body is tulku, a word also used to indicate someone who is an intentional rebirth of a realized being. Shakyamuni Buddha and Padmasambhava are often called nirmanakaya buddhas. Tulku in colloquial buddhist English is often used to describe contemporary reincarnate teachers like His Eminence, the Sakyong and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Meditating on a sambhogakaya buddha brings one’s attention to the dynamic or energetic aspect of the mind of realization. Meditation on a dharmakaya or nirmanakaya buddha would familiarize the practitioner with other qualities. However, meditation on any one kaya of a buddha will include aspects of the two others. Such meditations are helpful to a practitioner because one gradually comes to have faith and later direct and stable realization that these all these qualities are part of one’s natural being. Technically speaking, the only ones who perceive the sambhogakaya are realized practitioners. This means practitioners who have a stable vision of emptiness, one of the most subtle and difficult topics presented in the buddhist teachings.

However, meditation on a sambhogakaya buddha combined with study and reflection on the meaning of the teachings will hasten one’s understanding and this can in turn lead to further progress in meditation. If one has an image for what it is like to perceive the radiance of the ultimate nature of mind and one spends time working that, eventually one will get to what the meditation is pointing to. This takes perseverance. If it were easy, we’d have world peace in a week. However, even a little meditation of this type, I am happy to report, is quite beneficial.

I’d like to add here, again, that these are difficult teachings to accomplish. Leaping into them without the help of a genuine teacher would be like driving blindfolded, to continue yesterday’s analogy. There are too many obstacles on the path. Blindly moving forward without guidance and ongoing feedback is dangerous.

The terma lineages we received today came to us from variety of tertons including Sangye Lingpa, Dorje Lingpa, Ratna Lingpa and Pema Lingpa. Lingpa is a common name among the tertons. This is a name that was first used by Padmasambhava. Lingpa means ‘sanctuary’ meaning that a terton is a sanctuary of peace and happiness for beings. These are four eight main Lingpas prophesized by Padmasambhava, but there are several more than that.

One terton not a Lingpa on the list for today was Thangthong Gyalpo, in my book one of the coolest Tibetan mahasiddhas, or greatly accomplished ones. The terma bestowed on us from him was the quite famous and often given short life practice of The Bestowal of the Splendor of Immortality. I received it a few years ago from one of the heads of the Sakya lineage and earlier from His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage. Thangtong Gyalpo’s practice is revered is because Thangtong Gyalpo, who became a doctor later in life and created new medicines for various diseases, lived to the age of 125. He is also known for building iron suspension bridges in Tibet. This was an amazing feat in the 14th and 15th centuries. Some of the bridges were still in use during the 20th century and may still be today. Remaining bits of iron from these bridges are kept as objects of devotion in the Tibetan community.

Comments are closed.