Cuti-Paṭisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description

Paṭisandhi does not take place in a womb. It happens simultaneously with the time of the end of the previous existence (cuti; pronounced “chuthi.”) 

Revised May 26, 2021; re-written December 2, 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. The paṭisandhi (creation of a new hadaya vatthu) is an action by kammic energy at the end of the last citta vithi; it is not a citta as explained below.

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 existence (bhava.)

  • Let us consider an example. If the subsequent life of a human is that of an animal, then an animal gandhabba comes out of that human 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 a Deva (or Brahma) bhava start, a fully-formed Deva (or Brahma) will appear in a Deva (or Brahma) realm at the end of the last citta vithi of the human bhava. There is no separate “gandhabba state” in Deva (or Brahma) realms.
  • The following analysis is technical and suitable only for those familiar with citta vithi processes in Abhidhamma. However, the conclusions are informative, so it is beneficial for all to go through them. Citta vithi is discussed in “Citta Vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”
Paṭisandhi Takes Place After 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 (see #4 of “Citta Vīthi – Processing of Sense Inputs.”):

atita bhavaṅga (AB), bhavaṅga calana (BC), bhavaṅga upaccheda (BU), pañcadvārāvajjana (PD), cakkhu viññāṇa (CV), sampaṭiccana (Sam), santirana (San), votthapana (V), J J J J J J (Cuti) J (Paṭisandhi), T, T. 

  • That last citta vithi arises due to a previous kamma vipāka which brings an ārammaṇa (thought object) associated with that kamma vipāka through one of the five sense doors: Normally, it is a visual or a sound associated with the new existence (bhava).
  • 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, which happens in a split second.
  • After the fifth javana citta, there are two more javana citta are left. The sixth is the cuti citta, and the seventh and last javana is the paṭisandhi citta. Following the seven javana the last two Tadārammana (T) (or “registration”) cittās run and the last last citta vithi ends and the old hadaya vathu dies. 
  • Let us consider that process in detail.
Vipāka Brings in Ārammaṇa Triggering the Last Citta Vithi 

4. When close to end of an existence, a vipāka brings in an ārammaṇa based on the strongest kamma from the past. If that person still has “gati” to commit such a kamma, his mind will embrace that ārammaṇa and re-enact that same kamma. That is “kamma sambhava.”

  • That “vipāko kamma sambhavo” process is initiated at the votthapana citta. The votthapana citta decides how to proceed with the ārammaṇa from the kamma vipāka. 
  • Attachment to that particular ārammaṇa happens because that person still had that particular “gati” with which he committed that particular kamma in the past. See “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”
  • The attachment gets stronger with each javana citta and by the time the person has the “cuti citta” in the sixth javana, he has fully embraced that gati. Thus, in the next javana citta (paṭisandhi citta) the mind grasps that new gati. See the sequence of javana citta in #3 above.

5. For example, if that ārammaṇa re-constructs an old kamma (say, killing an enemy) that person will go through the same sequence (that led to the killing in the past) again in his mind. If his gati have not improved, his mind will automatically go through the same steps, “killing the person” as if in a dream. That mindset (gati) corresponds to a hell-being, and thus he will be instaneously born in a hell (niraya.)

Paṭisandhi Citta Is Not  Paṭisandhi

6. As we saw above, cuti citta and paṭisandhi citta are two javana citta in the last citta vithi of the current bhava. The paṭisandhi citta gets one to the mindset of the new bhava, and the mind firmly gets into that “gati.” Then in the last two “registration citta” (Tadārammana) that gati is firmly registered in the mind.

  • With the death of the old hadaya vatthu, kammic energy creates a new hadaya vatthu matching that registered “gati“. 
  • In the example of #5 above, it is a gati suitable for a “niraya being.”
  • Thus, transition to the new bhava takes place at the end of the last citta vithi with the creation of the new hadaya vatthu by kammic energy. That is the paṭisandhi.
  • Thus, paṭisandhi citta is different from paṭisandhi.
Operation of the Rebirth Cycle

7. Old kamma bring vipāka with various ārammaṇa. Mind gets attached to such ārammaṇa and engage in more kamma. That is why the rebirth cycle never ends, UNTIL one fully grasps that process and takes steps to stop attaching to such ārammaṇa.

“kammā vipāka vaḍḍhanti, vipāko kamma sambhavo

Tasmā punabbhovo hoti, evan loko pavattati

  • Kamma lead to vipāka; (ignorant people) attach to ārammaṇa arising due to vipāka and do more kamma (which in turn will bring more vipāka.) Thus the cycle of rebirth repeats, and that is how the world continues (for those people).”

8. The last citta vithi brings the kammic vipāka to energize the next bhava: “kamma vipāka vaḍḍhanti.” At the votthapana citta, i.e., a decision is made on whether to accept that ārammaṇa.

  • If the decision is made to grasp the ārammaṇa brought in by that vipāka citta, then javana citta will arise to power the new life:  That is “vipāko kamma sambhavo.” 
Last Citta Vithi and Paṭisandhi

9. The last citta vithi of the old life arises in the old hadaya vatthu and it will run its course of 17 cittās — including the last two Tadārammana or “registration” (T) cittās — after the seven javana cittās.

  • Cuti or death is not a citta; it is the death of the hadaya vatthu of the old life. Cuti (or the death of the old hadaya vatthu) happens immediately following the last citta vithi, and the cuti citta is in the last citta vithi. Paṭisandhi citta grasps the gati of the new bhava.
  • At the very end of that last citta vithi (after the last two Tadārammana cittās,) kammic energy creates the manomaya kaya for the new existence (bhava) based on the “gati” registered in the last two Tadārammana cittās.
  • Thus, paṭisandhi, or the arising of the new hadaya vatthu, happens just after that last citta vithi.
New Hadaya Vatthu Arises at the end of the Last Citta Vithi

10. 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 starts, 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

11. 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 (okkanti) 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.”
Stopping of Grasping a New Bhava

12. In the last citta vithi, a Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle operates 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 Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda at the “phassa paccayā vēdanā” step in “Akusala-Mūla Upapatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
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