Here is a collection of excerpts on dharmakāya I assembled some time ago. I wasn't going to post it because it is somewhat overkill, but so far in this thread the definition of dharmakāya has been a bit vague, and the following does help address some of the questions in the original post. Hopefully it helps someone:
Dharmakāya ultimately represents a lack of an intrinsic, or essential nature, specifically the mind's ultimate lack of substantiality, from the Ārya-trikāya-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra:
- Son of a good family, meaning of the dharmakāya of the tathāgatas is the absence of intrinsic nature, like space.
What is an absence of intrinsic nature? It is emptiness:
- By what reasoning can it be shown that sentient beings have Buddhanature? Because all sentient beings are pervaded by the emptiness of dharmakāya... 'all sentient beings are pervaded by the emptiness of dharmakāya' means that the ultimate Buddhahood is dharmakāya, dharmakāya is all-pervading emptiness, and emptiness pervades all sentient beings.
Thus we can see that dharmakāya can be said to be synonymous with emptiness, however the dharmakāya is specifically the total realization of emptiness at the time of the result which dawns due to the accumulation of wisdom, which is why Gampopa states clearly that "ultimate buddhahood is dharmakāya". In this respect we come to understand that buddhanature [tathāgatagarbha], dharmakāya and emptiness are not different, and that dharmakāya is released from the obscuring factors that render it "tathāgatagarbha" once the total realization of emptiness occurs, as delineated in the Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda-sūtra:
- In that respect, the dharmakāya of the tathāgatagarbha is definitely released from the sheath of afflictions. Bhagavān, the so called 'tathāgatagarbha' is tathāgata's wisdom of emptiness that cannot be seen by śravakas and pratyekabuddhas.
Huang bo elaborates on the synonymous nature of dharmakāya and emptiness:
- Emptiness is the Buddha's dharmakāya, just as the dharmakāya is emptiness. People's usual understanding is that the dharmakāya pervades emptiness, and that it is contained in emptiness. However, this is erroneous, for we should understand that the dharmakāya is emptiness and that emptiness is the dharmakāya.
If one thinks that emptiness is an entity and that this emptiness is separate from the dharmakāya or that there is a dharmakāya outside of emptiness, one is holding a wrong view. In the complete absence of views about emptiness, the true dharmakāya appears. Emptiness and dharmakāya are not different. The most important thing is your empty, cognizant mind. Its natural emptiness is dharmakāya, also called empty essence.
continues on the synonymity of these principles:
- Whoever seeks the dharmatā of phenomena, seeks emptiness. Whoever seeks emptiness, cannot be debated by anyone. Whoever cannot be debated by anyone, abides in the Dharma of a śramaṇa. However abides in the Dharma of a śramaṇa, they do not abide anywhere; whoever does not abide anywhere, they are uncontaminated with regard to objects. Whoever is uncontaminated with regard to objects, they are without faults. Whoever is without faults, they are the dharmakāya; whoever is the dharmakāya, they are a Tathāgata; whoever is the Tathāgata, they is said to be nondual; whoever is nondual, they do not abandon samsara and do not accomplish nirvana; in other words, they are shown to be totally free of all concepts. Bhagavan, this is the Dharmasaṃgīti.
Jamgon Kongtrul continues:
- The concluding practice is the conviction that the ordinary mind that was from the beginning the unity of clarity and emptiness is itself the naturally arising three kayas - its emptiness is dharmakāya.
As does Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche:
- The great state of dharmakāya is space-like emptiness. The expression arising out of the state of primordial purity is a spontaneous presence which includes the two form kayas - saṃbhogakāya and nirmāṇakāya. ... What that means is our essence, which is a primordially pure emptiness, is dharmakāya.
And Sakya Pandita:
- The body of wisdom is adorned with thirty-two major marks and eighty minor marks, and is the saṃbhogakāya. The nature of that existing as emptiness is the dharmakāya.
For these reasons, the notion that dharmakāya is an independently established, monolithic pleroma is an untenable position. Dharmakāya has no foundation, root or basis, as Jigme Lingpa elaborates:
- I myself argue 'To comprehend the meaning of the non-arising baseless, rootless dharmakāya, although reaching and the way of reaching this present conclusion "Since I have no thesis, I alone am without a fault", as in the Prasanga Madhyamaka system, is not established by an intellectual consideration such as a belief to which one adheres, but is reached by seeing the meaning of ultimate reality of the natural great completion.'
The Kun tu bzang po thugs kyi me long
continues in this theme:
- This meaningful supreme wisdom kāya, ultimate, natureless [rang bzhin med], the state of the nonarising dharmakāya, the lamp of the teachings, the great light of the dharmakāya manifests to persons who are in accord with the meaning.
Therefore we should understand that the dharmakāya and the three kāyas in general, lack the self-nature that would be required to be an established ontological entity that could be synonymous with the Brahman of Vedanta, as communicated in the Platform Sutra:
- As to the three bodies [kāyas], the pure dharmakāya is your nature, the perfect and complete saṃbhogakāya is your wisdom, and the thousand billion nirmāṇakāyas are your practices (i.e., saṃskāra, “mental activities”). To speak of the three bodies apart from the fundamental nature is called ‘having the bodies but being without wisdom.’ If you are enlightened to [the fact that] the three bodies have no self-natures [svabhāva], then you will understand the bodhi of the four wisdoms.
The essential nature [svabhāva] of dharmakāya is essencelessness or naturelessness [niḥsvabhāva], for truly established, i.e., "existent" svabhāvas are impossibilities. From Ārya Nāgārjuna:
- Svabhāva is by definition the subject of contradictory ascriptions. If it exists, it must belong to an existent entity, which means that it must be conditioned, dependent on other entities, and possessed of causes. But a svabhāva is by definition unconditioned, not dependent on other entities, and not caused. Thus the existence of a svabhāva is impossible.
Chokyi Dragpa states clearly that dharmakāya is empty of any essence:
- Empty in essence, expansive like space and free from the limits of conceptual elaboration, is the dharmakāya.
The Rig pa rang shar
proclaims the same:
- The essence of the dharmakāya is empty.
This means that the conflation of dharmakāya with something like the Brahman of Vedanta, a transpersonal, ontological, truly established ultimate, is unwarranted and misguided. The great Buddhist adept Bhāviveka, addresses this misconception in many of his expositions. This excerpt from his Tarkajvala
is especially pertinent:
- If it is asked what is difference between this dharmakāya and the paramātma [bdag pa dam pa] (synonymous with Brahman) asserted in such ways as nonconceptual, permanent and unchanging, that [paramātma] they explain as subtle because it possesses the quality of subtly, is explained as gross because it possesses the quality of grossness, as unique because it possess the quality of uniqueness and as pervading near and far because it goes everywhere. The dharmakāya on the other hand is neither subtle nor gross, is not unique, is not near and is not far because it is not a possessor of said qualities and because it does not exist in a place.
Thus we see that the misconception that dharmakāya is an entity-like "possessor" of the qualities it entails is a mistaken view.
Dharmakāya is not an entity at all, as Sthiramati explains, entities in general are untenable:
- The Buddha is the dharmakāya. Since the dharmakāya is emptiness, because there are not only no imputable personal entities in emptiness, there are also no imputable phenomenal entities, there are therefore no entities at all.
Dharmakāya should be understood as a quality, and not an entity, and it is for this reason that dharmakāya cannot be said to be one or many:
- For 'not one, not many...' and so on, one and many means one and many i.e., both are nondual. Many means plural. Conventionally speaking 'I prostate' to that which is the dharmakāya, neither one nor many. If it is asked 'For what reason do we say though it is not one, it is also not many?' Due to that, since it is said 'non-arisen from the beginning', that which never arose from the beginning cannot have a phase of being one or many; like space, its nature is completely uninterrupted. Since all phenomena arise in the same way, therefore, what arises where? That which becomes a form of diversity is not seen by anyone, i.e. just as grains of rice arise from rice seed, likewise, whatever arises from emptiness is not permanent nor annihilated. Why? Free of all concepts, the victors see that to be empty and illusory.
- Siddha Nāgārjuna
Now, one may object, and state that the synonymous status of dharmakāya and emptiness would render dharmakāya an inert void, but this is also incorrect. As we can see from the Rig pa rang shar
, emptiness is always accompanied with wisdom (i.e., pristine consciousness):
- Since there is no cause for buddhahood in the beginning, in the end it cannot be created through a condition. Emptiness possesses a core of wisdom.
And the Kālacakra Root Tantra
states the same:
- Wisdom is merged into emptiness: uniform in taste, unchanging and permanent.
For this reason we should not associate dharmakāya with emptiness alone, but come to know that dharmakāya possesses a core of wisdom or pristine consciousness [jñāna], which is why dharmakāya and jñānakāya both representing buddhahood, are synonyms. Per Malcolm The Amnāyamañjarī
, a commentary on the Saṃputa Tantra
- The kāya of pristine consciousness [jñāna] is the dharmakāya.