The source of the Kagyu lineage, Vajradhara (Dorje Chang), is not a historical figure, but rather the manifestation of enlightenment itself. Within the Kagyu tradition, therefore, Dorje Chang is referred to as the Primordial Buddha, or the essence of all Buddhas, whose nature transcends the limitations of form, time, and place. In order to transmit the teachings that were to form the basis of the Kagyu lineage, however, Dorje Chang appeared to the great Indian master Tilopa.
The sacred form in which Dorje Chang manifested to Tilopa represents the three aspects or "bodies" of a fully enlightened Buddha: the dharmakaya, or dharma body, the sambhogakaya, or experience body, and the nirmanakaya, or emanation body. Each of the details of Dorje Chang's form reveals an aspect of enlightenment. For example, the color of Dorje Chang's body, like an azure sky, symbolizes the limitless, spacious quality of the awakened mind, which is called the dharmakaya. The celestial adornments, such as earrings, crown, and bracelets, represent the lucid clarity of the awakened mind, which is called the sambhogakaya. Dorje Chang's human form represents the nirmanakaya, the physical manifestation of an enlightened being as perceived by ordinary sentient beings.
The sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya, referred to as the form bodies of the Buddha, are the natural expression of the Buddha's impartial loving compassion for all beings. The myriad ways in which the buddha's compassion manifests are referred to as skillful means and include everything from the formal teachings of the Buddha to the living relationship between master and disciple. The bell and vajra Dorje Chang holds at the level of the heart represent the union of wisdom and skillful means. Although described individually, these three bodies of a Buddha are indivisible within the display of the enlightened mind, and represent the inherent potential of every living being.