I wanted to share some understanding of the Trikaya teaching of Esoteric Buddhism. There are three levels, the Dharmakaya, Shambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. The Dharmakaya is the realm of pure principles that permeate all of space and time. The law of karma would be a pure principle. This is an energy presence that permeates the universe and unites causes and effects with each other on all levels of materiality, including the level of mental intention and emotional feeling. It is an impersonal principle which applies equally to all sentient beings. It is like the law of gravity. If you walk off a building, you will fall and break your leg. There is no personal deity pulling you down and breaking your leg, just the operation of an impersonal law.
Buddhism has sometimes been considered atheistic or agnostic when it comes to a personal god. Buddhism has contained many different beliefs about the existence of dieties and about the existence of a supreme monotheistic diety. But the general orientation of Buddhism has been to believe in an impersonal Dharmakaya which permeates all of life and which regulates life through a system of principles or laws which impartially activate when the right conditions are met. Even though this Dharmakaya is impersonal, not having an ego personality, it is not merely impersonal on the level of feeling. It is infused with a feeling of very warm compassion which radiates to all sentient beings and which nourishes them to the degree that each is open to receiving. This love is unconditional in the sense that it has no prejudice about who should or should not receive it. This love is also nonviolent in the sense that it will never force itself to enter into anyone and heal them without conscious permission. There is a radical respect for the free choice of all sentient beings behind this love. It also wants to give all manner of good things to everyone, to bless everyone with prosperity, health, long life, and happiness, and to bless everyone with evolution into a light being. This wish operates according to law in the sense that it cannot play favorites. If someone prays that god have their football team win a game and someone else prays that the rival team wins, the Dharmakaya will not answer either prayer. What is wished for needs to bless all people equally. The Dharmakaya may or may not have one team or another win that football game, however, depending on what outcome most serves the highest good of all concerned.
When the Buddha was meditating deeply on to supreme perfect enlightenment, he was reported to have seen the realm of the gods and goddesses. He saw that they were still beings subject to the law of karma and that they were not the creators of the universe. They had a subtle arrogance about who they were and sometimes fed on worship. He saw, with his third eye, that many of them would, when their good karma was exhausted, fall into rebirth as a human, animal, demon, hungry ghost, or asura. He saw, too, that many of them did not see a need to meditate into supreme perfect enlightenment, since they felt that they had already arrived at the highest state of consciousness.
The Five Buddha Mandala is a representation of the five main energies of the Dharmakaya. It is similar to the Trinity of Christianity, except instead of three there are five. The earlier version apparently also had three principles that were love, creativity, and wisdom (add purity/innocence/conscience and empowerment/impartiality/manifesting to get five). Every good quality is really within the Dharmakaya. There is no quality in the universe that is truly evil. What appears to be negative, hostile, and cruel is a confused afflicted energy born of ignorance. Through wisdom, acceptance, and love we can transform all confused afflicted energies into their enlightened and noble aspect.
If I were to translate the Trikaya into theistic terms, my sense is that Buddhists would be Pantheists or Panentheists. The Dharmakaya is the invisible regulating power of the universe, the Shambhogakaya would be the psychological level, and the Nirmanakaya would be the physical level. The Buddhists do not believe that a creator god can exist that stands apart from creation and runs it long distance. The Dharmakaya is part of the totality of the universe and regulates the universe by being part of it. This way of seeing life eventually allows the entire universe to be seen as a manifestation of the Divine.
The Shambhogakaya is roughly equivalent to the Bardo or Dreamtime, the intermediate space that sentient beings travel through between lifetimes. It is also the place we go to when we have lucid dreams. Many Tibetan Buddhist practices are based on using Dreamtime to get liberated. For instance, when you visualize a Cosmic Bodhisattva and Cosmic Dakini in the yabyum position making love to each other, feel yourself as both of them (or one of them), and then dissolve their bodies into light, you will feel enlightenment. There is a deep spiritual and psychological reason why this works. Feeling enlightenment and being enlightened are not quite the same, though, but feeling enlightenment will help one to become enlightened. The difference is subtle. For instance, you can visualize "2+2=4" and feel the truth of this equation, but knowing "2+2=4" is deeper and more permanent. If a person does the Shambhogakaya visualizations regularly, as part of his or her practice, then at some point the knowing will flash across consciousness and enlightenment will happen. When this happens, one has a conscious connection to the Dharmakaya.
There is a problem with believing in a personal monotheistic supreme god or goddess, because such a ruler would be directly responsible for all the pain all sentient beings experience. If you assume that god is a giant talking personality with infinite power, present everywhere, knowing everything, and who is wishing well on everyone, you have what philosophers call "the problem of evil". If god is all powerful and good, then why does he or she not stop all the evil from happening. If we get angry because someone just stood there while someone got raped, then how do we feel about a god who was also there and not stopping the rape? With the human bystander, we can understand that he or she felt too weak, too afraid, too emotionally closed down, or too confused to do something, but a god who supposedly has all the noble qualities within him or her would not have this excuse. When you have a personal god, then all the stuff that happens becomes ugly and becomes his or her responsibility. At the very least, he or she is allowing it to happen.
An impersonal principle is like gravity. It is not malicious when it merely pulls someone down and causes them pain. It is not waiting in ambush to pull someone down when they are close to the edge of a building. It is merely being itself. If we are conscious of the law, know how it works, then we can avoid falling by respecting how it works.
There is another law or principle in the Dharmakaya which is called "Divine Grace" or "Tariki". This principle does not violate the law of karma but does transcend it. This is similar to how airplanes seem to defy the law of gravity and fly across the sky. My sense is that Christianity, through the teaching of Jesus, through the parables, and through the story of the crucifixion and resurrection were trying to express an intuitive understanding of Divine Grace and Unconditional Love. My sense is that the Dogmas of Fundamentalist Christianity failed to correctly intuit this principle and attached itself to false teachings that confused, negated, and clouded the central message of Jesus. For instance, the idea of Eternal Hell is false to a pure understanding of Divine Grace. Even if, because of karma, people ended up in a hellish rebirth (which is very possible and which you can see such rebirths even on Earth), you would have infinite chances of repentance of the karmaic deeds responsible and purification of the karma through Divine Grace. It is because of Divine Grace that we have the assurance that every sentient being, even demons, will eventually become enlightened, and we have the assurance that Earth will eventually become a Pure Land or part of Heaven. There is no time when a person who is in sorrow cannot open up, let him or her be fully healed, and be uplifted step by step into a higher and happier state until they reach the supreme bliss of perfect enlightenment.
The Nirmanakaya is the actual physical body of a Buddha or Dakini. The phrase in the New Testament (John 1:14) of the "Word made flesh" is a good expression for the Nirmanakaya. It is clear from the chapter as a whole that the Word is a creative principle and is about Divine Grace. When we meditate deeply and fully enough, we become "the principle expressed in our life and in our bodies". The very cells of our bodies change into the likeness of this principle. This is why the Five Buddha mandala has a Bodhisattva interlocked with a Dakini in yabyum mudra. The Bodhisattva is the wisdom principle and the Dakini is the associated element. The wisdom and the element are always together and feeling their unity is enlightenment. In the Amida Buddha mandala, the wisdom principle is Divine Grace, Conscience, and Pure Perception and the element is Fire, Purification, and Karma Burning. One feeling that is the unity of the two is the feeling of remorse. This is where we regret all our unloving thoughts, emotions, and actions. We regret them, because we realize that any moment spend not loving anyone and everyone is time lost in a meaningless life. We regret living out all those unloving karmaic dramas. Through conscience, remorse, and karma burning, the very seeds of all the karmaic tendancies that are stored away in the subconscious mind are wiped out. The sign of this accomplishment is forgiveness of all sentient beings for everything that they have done. We have no more anger towards any of them for anything that they have done. We realize that they are still under karma and have pity for them that they will still need to suffer for the unresolved karma. There is a Buddhist saying that goes, "You are not punished for your sins, but by them."
This understanding shows a basic difference between some versions of Christian teachings and the core understanding of the grace of Amida Buddha. Christianity took the legal metaphors of Saint Paul too literally, and felt that when you accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior that you immediately go under a new legal contract that guarantees a reservation in heaven when you die and which negates the previous sentence to roast in the fires of eternal hell that everyone on Earth is doomed to unless they do take this clause. But in Buddhism, the karmas are stored in the subconscious minds as latent tendencies which are activated by sense experiences. For instance, an alcoholic may not be feeling conscious craving for alcohol, but suddenly feels the urge to drink when he or she sees someone drinking a can of beer. The urge to drink was stored in a subconscious mental seed impression until activated by a sensory experience to seeing the can of beer. When this impulse is acted upon, then it leads to the karma of alcoholism aka getting drunk, puking, and having a headache the next day, and the secondary effects of losing the respect and love of family and friends who are alienated by the exaggerated anger states, emotional manipulations, and betrayals of trust that emerge from the alcoholic consciousness, even the tertiary effects of accelerated aging and premature death, and even the fifth level effects of rebirth into the demon realm (the demon realm is characterized by endless warfare where demons are fighting demons in anger, everyone believing they are right and the others wrong).
My feeling is that there was a karma burning practice called "the Holy Breath" that got wrongly translated as the third person of the Christian Trinity (the Holy Spirit) and that to "pray continuously in the breath" and "keep on yielding to the breath and you will continue to be saved" were indications of a "process of salvation" that reached the end when you had received "the crown". One church in the New Testament was urged to keep pressing on until they have received the crown (of glory aka enlightenment aka crown chakra opening up) when the another was admonished to "hold fast to the crown". It showed that merely being Christians did not give one the crown. The Greek language of the New Testament has the Aorist tense which is near equivalent to the progressive tense in English. It used to describe a process, rather than a final state. Saint Paul uses it in regard to salvation. He does talk about a "mystery" in his letters to Corinth where he describes flesh (cells) differing in glory (energy) and associates this with the Holy Breath which was powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead. He also talked about if Jesus was not raised from the dead that "our faith is in vain". It is interesting that fundamentalist Christianity does not really need the resurrection. It is the crucifixion that "pays the price for the sins". The resurrection is at best a proof of the importance of the crucifixion and is not really needed. But Saint Paul sees the resurrection is so important that if it did not happen then his faith would be worthless. Why? Because it shows Divine Grace and the Holy Breath burning away so much karma that even death is conquered in the physical body and the cells radiate a different energy as a result. The resurrection thus becomes a scientific demonstration of the attainment of a light body. It becomes the "basis of faith" in the same way that the atomic bomb blowing up proved E=MC2.
So when a Buddhist sees that fundamentalist Christians still have a load of samskaras and yet believing that they are completely saved, it seems like a delusion. The samskaras are going to activate in the bardo and be experienced as possibly terrifying hallucinations, just as they now activate in dreams and sometimes nightmares. In waking life, they activate as temptations to action and cause the general life condition that we live. The born again experience, if real, is the "earnest of the holy breath", a kind of down payment that promises the house in heaven will eventually be ours, but it still requires "dying daily" to our karmaic tendencies, forgiving others, and letting ourselves be fully healed. It is materialistic to think that heaven is merely a place you can go and be happy. This is just as much an illusion as thinking relocating to a paradise resort is going to solve all your problems. For instance, if an entire Christian family dies and goes to heaven, lives in a beautiful house in heaven, then they are pretty much going to have whatever problems and challenges they had on Earth. The Buddha once said that "karma is in the interdependence" (interactions between people). Unless these tendencies are purified here, relocating to a heaven world will not wipe away all sorrow.
In the Pure Land teachings, if you chant to Amida Buddha just ten times, you will get into the Pure Land, but if you have a lot of strong adverse karmas, you are kept in a Lotus bubble (warp containment field) and are not allowed to interact with the other participants of Sukhavati. You will spend the next 500 years in this bubble until all your tendencies are purified. It is like a special womb that holds you until you are ready. The number 500 is probably not literal, 100 is a number for completion and 5 is the number for the five senses. It symbolizes complete purification of the five senses so that nothing we see, hear, taste, smell, or touch activates a karmaic samskara. Paradoxically, when the energy burns away all the samskara, this may play out as dreams of being on Earth that are so vivid that you might feel you are here. The difference is that you might have a "dream" of a Bodhisattva or Dakini occasionally opening the Lotus bubble to see how you are doing.
The Trikaya Buddhist teachings are integral to Vajrayana Buddhism and Amritayana Buddhism. They are part of the philosophical and psychological structure which is behind the meditation practices. They are also integral to Tanran Reiki, because the visualization of the symbols and why they work is related to Dreamtime or the Shambhogakaya. They conduct the energies of the Dharmakaya so that we can be healed in our mind, heart, and body (nirmanakaya). Each symbol is a lens for Divine Grace to bless us with specific healings. It is possible to open up to Divine Grace and generically be healed of everything, to be healed just be visualization of love as light into our bodies. But the different lens are different permissions for Divine Grace to manifest within. This is why one symbol heals our "inner child", another symbol is for "soul retrieval", another symbol is for "genetic purification", another symbol for "family healing", etc. Just as white sunlight has a rainbow spectrum within it, so do the Reiki symbols embody different aspects of Divine Grace. They work in Dreamtime. Yet the Dakini in the yabyum means the very elements of our body (nirmanakaya) are affected. The process is not real unless we experience "tumo" the heat of the purifying fire of hreeh in our bodies. Otherwise faith becomes an abstract mental belief rather than a living reality that we experience. The Dakini is the initiator and activator of the Divine Grace as a felt experience.
One note is that usually the word "Nirmanakaya" only refers to the physical body of a fully enlightened being. I have used the word "nirmanakaya" with a small "n" to refer to our physical bodies before supreme perfect enlightenment.