Cuti-Paṭisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description

Revised May 26, 2021; re-written September 7, 2022

Paṭisandhi Does Not Happen in a Womb

1. Many people believe that paṭisandhi, or the linking to a new life, happens in a womb (in human and animal realms). But that is not correct. Paṭisandhi citta is experienced in the next very citta after the cuti citta of the old life in the last citta vithi of the dying person.

2. Paṭisandhi (“paṭi” is to “bind,” and “sandhi” is a “joint” in Pāli or Sinhala.) Thus, paṭisandhi means joining a new life at the end of the old. That happens a thought-moment after the last citta of the current bhava.

  • If the subsequent life of a human is human or animal, then the gandhabba for that life comes out of that body at the end of that last citta vithi. Of course, the gandhabba has an invisible (subtle) body, which can be seen only by a person with abhiññā powers.
  • On the other hand, if a human bhava ends and Deva bhava start, a fully-formed Deva will appear in a Deva realm at the end of the last citta vithi of the human bhava.
  • The following analysis is technical and suitable only for those familiar with citta vithi processes in Abhidhamma. However, the conclusions are informative, so you may want to go through them. Citta vithi is discussed in “Citta Vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
Paṭisandhi Takes Place in the Last Citta Vithi of the Current Bhava

3. The last citta vithi of the old life with 17 citta run in the standard way: atita bhavaṅga, bhavaṅga calana, bhavaṅga upaccheda, pañcadvārāvajjana, cakkhu viññāṇa, sampaṭiccana, santirana, votthapana, and then javana sequence (7 javana citta) starts. After the fifth javana citta, there are two more javana citta left. The sixth is the cuti citta, and the seventh and last javana is the paṭisandhi citta.

  • In the last citta vithi, a previous kamma vipāka provides an ārammaṇa (thought object) associated with that kamma vipāka through one of the five sense doors: it usually is a visual or a sound associated with the new existence (bhava). Even though the person’s physical faculties may be weak, the person will see or hear very clearly whatever the nimitta presented by the kamma vipāka.
  • Then at the votthapana citta, the mind decides to act on that ārammaṇa based on the person’s gati. The person has no control over it. It is called “kammaja purejāta; cittaja paccejāta,” i.e., kamma vipāka comes first, and then accordingly, the javana citta flow grasping that new bhava:

“kammā vipāka vaḍḍhanti, vipāko kamma sambhavo

Tasmā punabbhovo hoti, evan loko pavattati

OR,

kamma lead to vipāka; (the ignorant being) attaches to ārammaṇa arising due to vipāka and does more kamma

Thus the cycle of rebirth repeats, and that is how the world exists.”

Vipāka Brings in Ārammaṇa

4. First, a vipāka brings in an ārammaṇa. An ignorant person gets involved and makes a new kamma, “kamma sambhava.” That “vipāko kamma sambhavo” process is initiated at the votthapana citta. The votthapana citta decides how to proceed with the ārammaṇa (object) from the kamma vipāka. A person typically is attached to that object via greed/hate/ignorance. That can lead to two effects:

  1.  generates new kamma in javana citta in regular citta vithi. See “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”
  2. grasps a new existence (bhava) in javana citta if it is the last citta vithi for that existence.
  • Thus “vipāko kamma sambhavo” starts with the first javana citta. Each subsequent javana strengthens via āsevana paccayā from the previous javana. Thus, after five javana-citta, kammic-energy is optimized. That holds for both above cases.
Last Citta Vithi for an Existence

5. The sixth javana-citta is the cuti citta, and the next paṭisandhi citta grasps the new bhava.

  • Cuti citta happens in the last citta vithi just after the actual cuti (death) because it is paccejāta to kammaja cuti event.
  • Linking to the next life happens at the 7th javana citta or the paṭisandhi citta. 
  • That last citta vithi marks the death of that old hadaya vatthu. A new hadaya vatthu arises at the paṭisandhi moment for the next manomaya kāya. That is a human gandhabba if the new one is a human bhava.
Kamma Vipāka Brings in a Specific Ārammaṇa 

6. The last citta vithi brings the kammic vipāka to energize the next bhava. If the mind grasps the ārammaṇa brought in by that vipāka citta, then javana citta will arise to power the new life:kamma vipāka vaḍḍhanti.” The “vipāko kamma sambhavo” happens at the votthapana citta, i.e., a decision is made on whether to accept that ārammaṇa. That decision depends on the level of avijjā (arising due to one’s gati and āsavā, as well as the ārammaṇa in question).

  • A Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle starts with an ārammaṇa coming in via one of the six sensory faculties. Thus a PS cycle starts at the “phassa paccayā vēdanā” step. See #12 of “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna” and  #7 of “Contact Between Āyatana Leads to Vipāka Viññāna.”
  • For example, at the death of Ven. Angulimala, kammic energy would have brought in an ārammaṇa that re-creates the killing of another human. If Angulimala still were a killer, his mind would have grasped that nimitta, which would have led to rebirth in niraya (hell.) However, since he became an Arahant, his mind would not grasp it. Ven. Angulimala did not grasp ANY ārammaṇa and thus was not reborn anywhere.
  • Thus, unless “phassa paccayā vēdanā” becomes “samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vēdanā,” PS will not proceed to the “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” step to grasp the new bhava. See “Dukkha Samudaya Starts With Samphassa-Jā-Vedanā.”
  • The above example illustrates the stopping of the Upapatti Paṭicca Samuppāda at the “phassa paccayā vēdanā” step in “Akusala-Mūla Upapatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • This “vipāka kamma sambhavo” starts with the first javana citta and builds up gradually up to the fifth javana citta. Now the sixth javana, cuti citta, had been determined from the beginning of the citta vithi. The seventh javana citta grasps the new existence (bhava.)
Last Citta Vithi

7. Now, let us look in detail at the last citta vithi of the old life. This citta vithi got started by the last bit of kammic energy from the old life, and it will run its course of 17 citta before it ends. It is like throwing a stone. The person throwing the stone would have released all the energy by the time the stone leaves his hand. But the stone will be traveling until all that energy is spent. In the same way, even though the kammic energy for the old life has ended, the last citta vithi will run its course of 17 citta, including the last two bhavaṅga citta after the seven javana citta.

  • Cuti or death is not a citta; it is the end of the kammic energy of the old life. Cuti (or the death of the old hadaya vatthu) happens just after initiating the last citta vithi, and the cuti citta is in the last citta vithi. Paṭisandhi is not a citta either.
  • Here the old bhavaṅga has ended too, but there are two bhavaṅga citta left in the last citta vithi. The new vatthu rupa cannot be formed until this last citta vithi runs its course. That is because as soon as one is formed, it will start its citta vithi, and no two vithi can be there simultaneously.
  • At the very end of that last citta vithi (after the last two bhavaṅga citta,) kammic energy creates the manomaya kaya for the new existence (bhava.)  Thus, paṭisandhi, or the arising of the new hadaya vatthu, happens just after that last citta vithi.
  • In other words, cuti happens at the beginning — and patisandhi at the end — of the last citta vithi. There is a “gap” of 17 citta in between.
  • Therefore, cuti/patisandhi are different from cuti citta/patisandhi citta. It is a subtle point. Don’t worry if you don’t understand that subtle point.
New Hadaya Vatthu Arises at the end of the Last Citta Vithi

8. When this last citta vithi ends, the old hadaya vatthu is dead, too; it had exhausted all its kammic power. The next citta vithi starts with a new hadaya vatthu of the new life powered by a new kamma bīja. The new hadaya vatthu is formed by the new kamma seed grasped at the 7th javana (the paṭisandhi citta), and the first citta vithi for the new life starts immediately.

  • If a human bhava ends and the next bhava is an animal, then that animal gandhabba comes out of that body at the end of that last citta vithi.
  • On the other hand, if a human bhava ends and Deva bhava start, a fully-formed Deva will appear in a Deva realm at the end of the last citta vithi of the human bhava.
  • Let us consider a specific example.
Human to Animal Bhava

9. If a human dies and the next life is an animal, that animal gandhabba out of the dead human body. It has the blueprint for the new physical body of that animal.

  • That animal gandhabba now has to wait for a suitable womb. It is not that gandhabba decides which womb is good; instead, when a womb that matches the gati of the gandhabba becomes available, gandhabba will be pulled into it by the kammic energy. That is true for humans and animals.
  • A single cell called zygote results when a sperm fertilizes an egg in a womb. But there is no life there until the gandhabba enters the womb and is incorporated with that zygote. Now the zygote becomes an embryo, then a fetus, and once out of the womb, grows into a full-size human or an animal according to that blueprint.
  • Science has been unable to explain how all the complex body parts of a human or animal develop, starting from a single cell. This is how it happens. The blueprint for all the complex body parts is in the gandhabba, not in that single cell; see “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
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