I thought I would also share it here (lightly adapted for this context), its rather interesting (I hope), and challenges a few dominant tropes concerning "Early Buddhism". The essay is addressed to a predominantly non-Mahāyāna audience, so there might be some redundant information in it.
(EDIT: This essay is a work in progress, all translation work should be taken as tentative.)
Dharmakāya, or 法身 (fǎ shēn), actually makes a few appearances in SA (there is one usage in DA). It appears in: SA 604 (no extant parallel), SA-2 196 (parallel: MN 72), & DA 2 (parallel: DN 16), as well as in a host of the individual Taishō sūtrāṇi that I haven't looked at yet.
That it appears in these places isn't necessarily marking these instances as Mahāyāna influence in the āgama in question as it would seem that belief in the dharmakāya predates "literary" Mahāyāna (i.e. Mahāyānasūtrāṇi). After all, all of the pre-Mahāyāna early sectarian Buddhist schools had some "stance" or another on dharmakāya, the Sarvāstivāda believed that the object of refuge was not the body or form of the Buddha, but instead, believed that the dharmakāya was the true unblemished, unperishing object of refuge, if this quote from the Mahāvibhāṣā is considered at all authoritative as to what exactly "Sarvāstivāda Right View" was concerning the true object of refuge:
Dhammakāya even appears (once) in the Pāli literature. So some sort of mention of a dharmakāya is definitely a shared feature of multiple Buddhist schools. Furthermore, it was an object of sectarian dissent, as different sects seemed to subtly disagree as to their specific interpretation of what dharmakāya was before the ascendence and triumph of Mahāyāna Trikāya Buddhology in India.Some people say that to take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in the body of the Tathāgata, which comprises head, neck, stomach, back, hands and feet. It is explained that the body, born of father and mother, is composed of defiled dharmas, and therefore is not a source of refuge. The refuge is the Buddha's fully accomplished qualities (aśaikṣadharmāḥ) which comprise bodhi and the dharmakāya.
What chiefly concerns us, rather than the emergence of trikāya in the Mahāyāna (as there are several threads here devoted to that already I imagine), is the presence and usage of dharmakāya, as word and concept, in EBTs and early sectarian literature (by this, I refer to, for instance, documents like the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma, etc).
I think it might be appropriate to start with this, SN 22.87:
Or this, the aforementioned instance of dhammakāya in the Pāli Canon, DN 27:Alaṃ, vakkali, kiṃ te iminā pūtikāyena diṭṭhena? Yo kho, vakkali, dhammaṃ passati so maṃ passati; yo maṃ passati so dhammaṃ passati. Dhammañhi, vakkali, passanto maṃ passati; maṃ passanto dhammaṃ passati.
Enough, Vakkali! What is there to see in this vile body? He who sees Dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; he who sees me sees Dhamma. Truly seeing Dhamma, one sees me; seeing me one sees Dhamma.
You can't imagine how hard it is to find a proper translation of this passage (I dare you to try to look for one!). Sectarian bias is very real. Suffice to say, although literalism is never the best idea, "dhammakāyo" is "dharmakāya" (dominant opinion in the EBT crowd is that this refers to "learning the teaching", that is, becoming the "collection/body of the teaching"), "dhammabhūto" is "[has] become [the] dharma" (I think), and those two compounds are repeated, with "brahma" in place of "dhamma".Yassa kho panassa, vāseṭṭha, tathāgate saddhā niviṭṭhā mūlajātā patiṭṭhitā daḷhā asaṃhāriyā samaṇena vā brāhmaṇena vā devena vā mārena vā brahmunā vā kenaci vā lokasmiṃ, tassetaṃ kallaṃ vacanāya: ‘bhagavatomhi putto oraso mukhato jāto dhammajo dhammanimmito dhammadāyādo’ti. Taṃ kissa hetu? Tathāgatassa hetaṃ, vāseṭṭha, adhivacanaṃ ‘dhammakāyo’ itipi, ‘brahmakāyo’ itipi, ‘dhammabhūto’ itipi, ‘brahmabhūto’ itipi.
Going back to the first quote, from SN 22.87 (which is an inferred, rather than explicit allusion to dharmakāya), this quote seems very much in-line with the dharmakāya as outlined by the Sarvāstivāda in the Mahāvibhāṣā. One could possibly conceivably argue that the seeds for some kind of conceptual polarity between the flesh-body of the Tathāgata (proto-nirmāṇakāya?) and the liberated and apparently deathless state(?) of the Buddha (proto-dharmakāya?) existed at a relatively earlier stage of historical Buddhism, as evidenced by that very same Sarvāstivādin quote.
Since dharmakāya is a point of divergence in many early schools, as well as between Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna Buddhism, looking at where dharmakāya pops up in EBTs is prudent, both for education into postulated "early" Buddhism, but also in understanding the historical context of early Buddhist sectarianism, as well as the rise of the Early Mahāyāna, I imagine. There are several threads out there about dhammakāya in the Pāli literature, written by individuals much more learned than I, freely available, but if I am able, I would like to attempt to add to that with focus on the āgamāḥ. I hope any mistakes I make will be corrected.
For the sake of introducing another perspective, Paul Williams, in his Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, in Volume II, which concerns itself with "The Early Buddhist Schools and Doctrinal History; Theravāda Doctrine" makes the assertion that:
(301-302)Students of Buddhist doctrine are generally agreed that the earliest theory of the bodies of the Buddha was a twofold one. The Buddha's physical form - his rūpakāya - was distinguished from the body of his doctrine - his dharmakāya [he cites his, but I do not have access to the full paper]. The one was the actual physical body with which the Buddha was born at Lumbīni, the other was, as Louis de la Vallée Poussin put it, the body of his doctrine, the collection of his teachings, his pravacanakāya.
Both of these bodies of the Buddha were thought of as being in some sense "visible." On the other hand, the rūpakāya was seen simply with the ordinary eye of flesh (maṁsacakṣu); on the other hand, to understand the Buddha's doctrine [he means _dharma_ here, we can assume] - specifically to maintain the disciplinary rules and to realize the four noble truths (i.e., to be enlightened) - was to "see the dharmakāya," a vision which involved the opening of one's eye of wisdom (prajñācakṣu).
With the death and parinirvāṇa of the Buddha, however, certain problems arose. The body of the Buddha's teachings - his dharmakāya - presented no difficulties, it was gathered together at the first Buddhist council where the sutta and vinaya were recited, and so was preserved and passed on to the community of monks. The Buddha's physical rūpakāya, however, passed away and was seen no more. Some groups, to be sure, identified the rūpakāya with the Buddha's relics and, as we shall see, there arose several ways in which, in some manner, it was thought possible still to have a vision of the Buddha's physical form. But inescapably the parinirvāṇa principally signified the dissolution of the Buddha's physical form, and even his relics, made over to the lay kings, were dispersed and eventually spread throughout the cosmos "like a mustard seed", so small as to be invisible.
Given this situation, at least two groups in early Buddhism appear to have chosen to identity the dharmakāya exclusively with the whole of the Buddha. First, there were certain elitist monks who, at least in some Pāli canonical texts, show little concern for the relics of the Buddha which they leave to the laity; instead, as inheritors of the Buddha's teachings, they claim that "he who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha." Second, in curious alliance with them perhaps, we find followers of the early Perfection of Wisdom school [prajñāpāramitā, he might be referring to Madhyamaka here]. Indeed in the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra those who would adhere to the Tathāgata through his form-body (rūpakāya) rather than through his dharma-body are labeled "foolish" and "ignorant," "for a Tathāgata cannot be seen from his form-body."
Along with such views, there arose in some circles a veritable denigration of the vision of the Buddha's physical body, even in his own lifetime. A story in the Karmavibhangopadeśa makes this clear: Two bhikṣus set out to visit the Buddha in Ayodhya, but in order to get there they have to cross a great forest. They walk and walk; thirst comes upon them. Finally they come across some water. One of the monks drinks, but the other declares that he will not violate the dharma and vinaya by partaking of nonfiltered water which contain life. And significantly, he adds: "The Dharma of the Buddha is his body; if I uphold the Dharma, I will see the Blessed One himself." As a result of his strict adherence to the rule, however, he dies of thirst and is reborn among the gods. His companion travels on and finally arrives in Ayodhya, where he is granted an audience with the Blessed One. There he finds that his friend, as a deity, has already arrived and had his vision of the Buddha's dharmakāya. But to him, because he drank unfiltered water, the Buddha shows only the body which he received from his parents (mātāpitṛsambhavam śārīram), that is, his physical rūpakāya. The Buddha adds in his explanation that although the monk "saw the body which I received from my parents, he did not see me."
This is just one academics opinion, and not an academic who necessarily studies and is informed by EBT and related scholarship. There are a lot of claims about early Buddhism and Theravāda being made. I should point out that current EBT orthodoxy rejects Williams's work (on the grounds that it applies to "later sectarian periods", not "Early Buddhism", take that claim how you will.)
Moving on to the actual discussion of the parallels, interestingly, none of the instances of 法身 are rendered directly into the English as "dharmakāya" or "the dharmakāya", in the English translations of the Pāli hosted at SuttaCentral, and this is for a simple reason: dhammakāya seems to never appear in the Pāli when 法身 appears in the Chinese āgama text. This is a very interesting feature.
It should be noted that SA & SA-2 are both Sarvāstivāda literature retrieved by Ven Fǎxiǎn from Sri Lanka between 337 & 422 AD from Abhayagirivihāra, which means that potentially, the Sarvāstivādins had possession of older Buddhavacana that already stressed dharmakāya a great deal more than Pāli literature at a rather early stage. It is possible that the translators artificially inserted 法身 into the text, but if they were going to do that, why not insert a complete trikāya into the EBTs? It is far more likely that Śrāvakayāna already believed in the dharmakāya of the Buddha, rather than current trends in thought in EBT studies, which frames dharmakāya as Mahāyāna innovation.
The DA instance of 法身 is Dharmaguptaka literature. The parallel, DN 16, mentions the body very frequently, but the word "dhammakāya" seems to not occur in it, based on my cursory search.
It is possible that 法身 is translating something other than dharmakāya from the projected Sanskrit or Prākrit original here, but that seems unlikely. In addition, my methodology for generating these statistics ("So and so appears X times here, this and that do not appear here") is via using SuttaCentral's search feature and Command+F, which is hardly an exhaustive methodology to say the least. If someone else wants to replicate this and see if they can produce any more accurate insights that is highly encouraged.
With this in mind I would like to try to look at the places listed at the start of this thread where 法身 can be found in the āgamāḥ:
SA 604 (no parallel): this is a very sprawling āgama full of verse-sections. Translating this whole thing would be quite beyond me at the moment, especially given that it lacks parallels!
It starts pretty standard:
The āgama appears, me not having looked through it exhaustively, to be a series of gāthā and verses in its entirety, given and spoken by different people. The specific gāthā that interests us is here, please forgive my tentativeness here, I promise my contributions will have more merit when there is a parallel available to use as a guide:如是我聞：
Like this I heard:
One time, Buddha dwelt [in] Rājagṛha [at] Karanda Venuvana.
At that time, [the] Bhagavān [in the?] early morning grasped [his] robe [and] held [his] alms-bowl, altogether [the] myriad monk saṃgha entered [the] city [to] beg [for] food, thus [this] gāthā's meaning (?) [was] explained:
The next section: 如大海之水， 牛跡所不容， 如是佛智海， 餘人不能持。is giving me a lot of trouble. It seems that if there is to be any instruction of detail to be found in this text, it is here, as there is a simile involving the ocean, a bull or ox, and the Buddha's wisdom, as well as an instruction to not grasp, it seems, does anyone have any ideas as to the end of this gāthā while I try to piece together what it could mean?「時，諸臣白王言：『何故於此布施供養皆悉勝前？』
Then, the statesman (it seems to indicate this statesman to be Śuddhodana??? This might be an oddity of one of the resources I consulted) said: "What reason, in this way, to give (dāna) support more than before?"
_Attempted clarification: Then, the statesman said "Why donate (more?)?"_
The King said: "Listen to what I say, [what I have?] in mind thus:
[The] Tathāgata's substantial body (rūpakāya?), the dharmakāya[:] characterized [as?] calm [and] peaceful,
Attempted clarification: The Tathāgata's rūpakāya (and?) dharmakāya (are?) characterized as calm and peaceful,
that knowledge enables(?) practice(?), therefore [perform?] pūjana (or dāna) more.
法燈常存 世， 滅此愚癡冥，
Dharma lamp/light constantly endures, destroy this ignorance (moha) profound (or: "destroy this hell of profound ignorance"?),
[still looking at this section, difficult vocabulary], therefore [perform?] pūjana (or dāna) more.
SA-2 196 (parallel: MN 72):"the conversion of Vacchagotta," as it were. He is famous for asking the Buddha the "hard questions" that so often vex those newly exposed to Buddhist teachings (and which reveal more profound underlying possibilities for future (mis)interpretation of Dharma post-"original Buddhism"), namely, "Does anattā mean there is no self?", "Is the world eternal?", and most importantly, because it largely conditions how to "consider" Nibbāna: "Does the Buddha persist after the death of his body?" Is the Buddha "awake"? We call him the "Awakened One".
The 法身 in question occurs near the end of the āgama, and the term is uttered by Vacchagotta in his praise and revelation of the Tathāgata and the Buddhadharma.
Here is the relevant ending of the sutta-parallel, beginning at the analogy of the tree and the town, wherein the term _dharmakāya_ is found in the āgama:
From the āgama:When this was said, the wanderer Vacchagotta said to the Blessed One: "Master Gotama, it is as if there were a great sala tree not far from a village or town: From inconstancy, its branches and leaves would wear away, its bark would wear away, its sapwood would wear away, so that on a later occasion—divested of branches, leaves, bark, & sapwood—it would stand as pure heartwood. In the same way, Master Gotama’s words are divested of branches, leaves, bark, & sapwood and stand as pure heartwood.
“Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or were to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama—through many lines of reasoning—made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life.”
Very interesting. As I was looking at the last line, I had it rendered at one point as something like:犢子即言：「譬如去於城邑聚落不遠，平博之處有娑羅林，
Vacchagotta promptly spoke: "Analogy thus[:] going to a settlement not far, calm [and] peaceful this place has a sāla tree grove/forest,
this sāla tree grove after one hundred millennium, [its] branches all fallen, only resolutely the seeds/nuts/fruits remain*** (or: "only resoluteness/chastity [is] true/actual"?).
You[,] here-and-now Gautama, [are] also as such, [has] stopped completely all kleśāḥ [and] fetters,
[has stopped] four retrograding demonic confusions, all entirely [has] destroyed all [of them], only solid true Dharmakāya remains***.
Gautama! [You?] should know my present causal preoccupations (lit. "karmic business" ???), will wish to return [to those preoccupations?].
***this character could be interpreted as "lives"
Then I had it like this:Gautama! One should know ātman [in the] here-and-now [that is] the conditioned, [one] will desire to return backward.
And I'm still not 100% as to what is being said in this last line. Oh dear...瞿曇！當知我今緣務，將欲還歸。」
Gautama! [One who?] should know ātman [in the] here-and-now [of] fated affairs (karma and causality?), will wish to return [here, to saṃsāra?].
緣務 is giving me the most trouble here. It seems to mean a business or preoccupation with pratyaya? Where does Vacchagotta return to?
DA 2 (parallel: DN 16, T 9): the nikāya parallel offers in-and-of-itself a wealth of possibilities to explore native Pāli contexts for the usage of _kāya_, as intersecting with [other threads here](https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/ka ... ntext/4216), some compounds including: kāyasaṅkhārā, kāye kāyānupassī (discussed recently [here](https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/ka ... -body/5605)), parakāye, gandhabbakāyaṃ, asurakāyā, tāvatiṃsakāyaṃ, & vassūpanāyikāya. Missing in our account of Pāli kāya-compounds is a convenient dhammakāyaṃ or dhammakāyassa to point the way to a parallel for the Chinese 法身 that occurs in the āgama.
Interestingly enough, 法身 is also missing from the independent Taishō sūtra T 9 (CBETA: T01n0009_001, pseudo-Dīrghāgama), though in it, 身 (kāya) shows up a comparable amount of times as to in the Pāli. A look at each of the contexts of 身 in T 9 will be a part of this essay project once the main sections discussing 法身 are finished.
More to come. If you think you have found errors in any translations here, please point them out. I am only an amatuer.