44. The Buddha’s Three Bodies

Emptiness isn’t conceptual; it’s descriptive. It is experience unencumbered by you. It is felt, not thought.

If the feeling dimension is missed, practice can become very arid.

It was for this reason that, alongside the articulation of Emptiness, the Mahayana School developed the doctrine of the Three Bodies of the Buddha. Theravadan Buuddhism had two – the actual body of the historical Buddha [Nirmanakaya] and the Dharmakaya, the Truth Body, which is always there and which is identified with Reality. We picture reality sometimes as the myriad things, sometimes as the body of the Buddha.

Mahayana introduced the Bliss Body [Sambogakaya] which, I think, makes explicit the feeling dimension of Emptiness, and the feeling dimension of reality, of all things.

In the same way, the Pure Land sutras give descriptions of the Pure Land which are magical and enchanting – wish fulfilling trees, jewelled birds, and so on. Obviously, we aren’t meant to take this literally, but the descriptions evoke our feelings – delight, gratitude, grace.

This feeling and felt world is itself the body of the Buddha. The world itself has liberative force.