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The concept of dharmakāya in the Tathāgatagarbha doctrine
Chaisit Suwanvarangkul

Last modified: 2015-10-23


The concept of dharmakāya is an important concept for Buddhist thought. There have been many different interpretations of the meaning of the term dharmakāya. Most scholars (Guan Xing 2004, Zimmermann 2002, et al.) have focused exclusively on Mahāyāna texts in their discussion of the nature of the dharmakāya. However recent scholarship (Chanida 2007, Urkasame 2012) has shown that the term dharmakāya is also important for Theravāda Buddhism.

In this paper I will explore the concept of dharmakāya and its relationship with the Tathāgatagarbha doctrine in texts from various traditions, namely the Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra, the Aṅgulimālīya sūtra, the Dīrgha Āgama, Saṃyukta Āgama and Egottara Āgama, the Pāli Canon, such as Dīgha nikāya, Khuddaka nikāya.

Despite the geographical, sectarian and doctrinal differences that separate these texts, I will show that they have a common link in their portrayal of the dharmakāya as something inseparable from Buddha nature. Like nirvāṇa, the dharmakāya is seen as static or unchanging, something that is accessible in the tenth or final stage of the bodhisattva training. The dharmakāya is described as a positive term for that which like the Buddha, possesses all merit, infinite merit, inconceivable merit and ultimate pure unchanging merit: the ultimate true self-nature.


dharmakāya, Tathāgatagarbha, Buddha Nature