Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)- Introduction

Revised April 22, 2016

1. In most realms, beings are born full formed (opapathika births). But in the human and animal realms, first the blueprint of that life form arises at the cuti-patisandhi moment (as a manomaya kaya or a gandhabba), and once inside a womb the physical body starts growing.

  • Once born a gandhabba, It can possibly make many new physical bodies in a given bhava. For example, a “human bhava” may last many hundreds of years. But a human lives only about 80 years, so that “human gandhabba” can make many “human bodies” during the existence as a human; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“.
  • This is why in some cases of rebirth stories, there are resemblances of both mental and physical characteristics between the two lives.

2. Let us take the example of a being that was born many times as a cow making a transition to a human bhava at the end of the “cow bhava” (which is a very rare event).

  • As explained in the post, “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description“, the transition from a cow to a human occurs in the last citta vithi of the “cow life”. At the end of that citta vithi, a gandhabba in the form of a human comes out of the dead body of the cow; this is also called the gandhabba state. This gandhabba has a very fine body that cannot be seen, but it is a “blueprint” of the human body, except for the “gross physical features” that will be partially determined by the parents of the new life.
  • This gandhabba now awaits a suitable womb to be available. Of course the gandhabba cannot decide on a womb; rather, when a suitable womb becomes available (i.e., matching the “gathi” of the gandhabba), then it will be pulled into the womb by the kammic energy.
  • When a sperm fertilizes an egg in a womb, a single cell called a zygote results. 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 to a full-size human according to that blueprint in the gandhabba.
  • More details can be found at, see, “What does Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) say about Birth Control?“.

3. At the cow-human transition in the last citta vithi of the cow life, some very important changes occur in that lifestream. The concept of a lifestream, which is really a very basic introduction, is discussed at, “What Reincarnates? -Concept of a Lifestream“.

  • Of course the biggest change is that now the lifeform has a mind that is at the human level, not at the animal level; the baseline “consciousness level” has shifted. This is expressed in several ways in the manomaya kaya or the gandhabba.
  • At the cuti-patisandhi transition, the kammic energy creates three very fine rupa called vatthu dasaka, käya dasaka, and bhava dasaka. We will discuss these in detail later, but they basically correspond, respectively, to the mind door (or the mind), the blueprint for the human body, and dominant features including male or female character (it is not just the sex type, since rupi brahmas also have bhava dasaka, but are gender-neutral).
  • As the physical body grows, first inside the womb and then outside the womb, the fine body of the manomaya kaya expands with it when the physical body grows from the single cell. Thus overlapping the physical body that we see, there is a very fine body (manomaya kaya) of the gandhabba. gandhabba means the same as the manomaya kaya.
  • Therefore, the gandhabba is really like a “driver” driving or navigating the physical body; see, “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manomaya Kaya?“.

4. The fine body of the gandhabba or the manomaya kaya basically has all key components as the physical body, but in the form of very fine matter at the suddhashtaka level. The five physical sensory inputs of the gandhabba, together with the hadaya vatthu (mind door), are physically located close to the heart of the physical body; they are not inside the heart, but are sort of overlapping the heart.

This is why the gandhabba sometimes comes out of the physical body in traumatic situations like during heart operations; many such “out-of-body experiences” (OBE) have been reported; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)“.

  • The main thing to remember is that hadaya vatthu is the mind door, and it is surrounded by the five pasada rupa (cakkhu, sota, jivha, gandha, and kaya) which correspond respectively to the five physical senses of eye, ear, tongue, nose, and touch.
  • The Thus all six sense actions actually take place away from what modern science believe they take place. Physical eye, ear, nose, tongue are of course in the head (those are the physical sensors), and the sense of touch is sensed physically via the nervous system. There is also a “mana indriya” located inside the brain, where the mind inputs (dhamma) come in. Just like our vision process starts at the eyes, our “external thought inputs” come through the “mana indriya” in the brain; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!” and “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis“.

5. The physical body is really a “shell” that is controlled by the mind (hadaya vatthu). The physical body is there to be subjected to the kamma vipaka; this is especially true for animals, because they do not have much control what happens to them.

  • We humans, with the advanced mind, have the ability to avoid bad kamma vipaka and steer our lives in the direction we want to. We will get into those details later, but let us see how the gandhabba (or the mind associated with the hadaya vatthu) uses the physical body to experience the outside world and also to control the body movements.

6. The world is experienced through the physical body, and this basic interaction is slow compared to the fast pace of the citta. The sensory data are collected by the five physical senses of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body. Then they are transmitted to the brain via the central nervous system, which takes times of millisecond scale.

  • At the brain, data for a certain time interval (possibly around 10 milliseconds; see, “Citta and Cetasika – How Vinnana (Consciousness) Arises“) are processed and then converted to a format suitable for transmission to the five pasada rupa and the hadaya vatthu, via a fast “ray system” (called “kirana” in Pali or Sinhala).
  • Individual “packets of information” from each of the five senses are then transmitted to the corresponding pasada rupa and the located on the manomaya kaya, which overlaps the physical body; information from the mana indriya are sent to the hadaya vatthu.

7. For example, let us consider a “packet of data” sent from the physical eye to the brain. This information is processed by the brain, converted to a “ray system” and is transmitted to the cakkhu pasada. Now the cakkhu pasada vibrates and hits the hadaya vatthu that is located close to it (hadaya vatthu is surrounded by the five pasada rupa); this causes the hadaya vatthu to vibrate 17 times, much like a gong hit by an iron rod vibrating for a certain fixed number of times.

  • The 17 vibrations of the hadaya vatthu correspond to the 17 citta in a citta vithi. Such a citta vithi is called a pancadvaravajjana citta vithi because it is initiated by one of the five physical senses or pancadvara (“panca” or five + “dvara” or “door”).
  • Imagine a blade clamped at one edge and is hit by an object on the other edge; it vibrates for a certain FIXED number of times per second; that number is called frequency of vibration and is fixed for a given material. And one can see the blade vibrating. Pretty much the same thing happens when the hadaya vatthu vibrates when hit by one of the pasada rupa, and this “vibration” is called a hadaya rupa, which thus has a lifetime of 17 citta or thought moments. Thus the hadaya rupa is not a physical rupa but basically is a mode of vibration.
  • The misconception that any rupa has a lifetime of 17 thought moments arose because of not understanding that it is the hadaya rupa that has a lifetime of 17 thought moments.
  • In other words, this information packet is received and processed by the hadaya vatthu within those 17 citta. The information is fully received by the fourth citta (vibration) and then the rest of the citta in that citta vithi deal with this information. This “information processing” by the hadaya vatthu will not be completed until three more citta vithi run by the hadaya vatthu itself. Such citta vithi initiated by the mind itself is called a manodvara citta vithi, where manodvara means the “mind door”.
  • Information packets from the mana indriya are sent directly to the hadaya vatthu.

8. Thus we can see that there is a huge difference in time between the physical body acquiring senses data (time of the order of 10 milliseconds) and the mind processing that information within a billionth of a second using one pancadvaravajjana citta vithi and three manodvara citta vithi.

  • Even if the five senses keep sending data continuously, the mind is “just sitting there” most of the time. Let us examine this in a bit detail: Suppose the brain keep sending data from the eye non-stop; since each “packet” takes, say 10 milliseconds, then in a second there will be 100 “data packets” of vision coming in. If the brain is going at full speed, it can send at most 500 (=100×5) “data packets” from all 5 physical senses in a second. Then the mind will be spending less than a millionth of a second in processing all that data, since it takes less than a billionth of a second to process one “data packet” (from previous bullet).
  • During those gaps, the hadaya vathu also interacts (both ways) with the mana indriya. In particular, it gives instructions to the mana indriya on how to control the physical body in response to the sense inputs.
  • Thus most of the time the mind is just sitting there, and this is called the “bhavanga” state of the mind. In this state, the mind is actually taking the object that came to the mind at the patisandhi (rebirth) moment in that last citta vithi of the last life. Bhavanga (“bhava” + “anga” or associated) denotes that this state of the mind is characteristic of this new life, in the present case as a human. Just like the eye cannot see itself, the mind cannot see this “bhavanga, it is the present mind itself.

9. In the example that we started with, the “cow mind” has now switched over to a “human mind”, and that has the object taken at the patisandhi moment. This could be remembering a past kamma that led to this human life (for example, the new life may have started off with the image of a good deed done in a past life that came to the new mind at the patisandhi moment). But we do not become aware of what is in the bhavanga.

  • You may remember that there are times when one just stares blankly “out into the space”, and if someone asked “what were you thinking about?”, we would be hard-pressed to recall anything that we were thinking about. Here the mind was mostly in the bhavanga state; we are aware that we were alive, but did not have “actual thoughts” going through the mind.
  • In reality, even when we think we are fully engaged, the mind is mostly in the bhavanga state. As we discussed in a previous bullet, even if all five physical senses keep sending data about the outside world non-stop, the mind takes less than a millionth of a second to process those data coming in within a second!

10. However, the sixth sense or the mind (hadaya vatthu) itself is also initiating citta vithi either to process information from the five physical senses, or to “think about those senses inputs”. Furthermore, it also initiates citta vithi to get the physical body to speak and to do any kind of work; this information is relayed to the mana indriya, which in turn works with the brain to carry out those instructions.

  • For example, if the mind gets interested in a sound that the ear sent, it may direct the body to walk towards the source of that sound. To do this, it sends the instructions to the mana indriya in the brain via the same “ray system” almost instantaneously. The mana indriya then decodes that information — and working with other parts of the brain — sends instructions to the muscles in the legs (via the nervous system) to move. These bodily movements take time, because the mechanical motions are comparatively slow.
  • Speech is done in the same way: The mind sends the information to the brain and the brain gets the vocal chords to move to produce the sounds. Here is a short video showing how the muscle movements give rise to sounds:

11. Thus we can see that the brain is just a very fancy computer, carrying out the instructions given by the mind.

  • Now the questions arises, “Why is nature going through all this trouble to give us a physical body that is sort of cumbersome and slow?”. The main answer is that this is to impart kamma vipaka.
  • For example, a deva has a fine body that is not subject to aches and diseases as for humans; that was acquired by a good kamma vipaka. On the other hand, there are some petas (hungry ghosts) who have large bodies, but a very small mouth to impart suffering from hunger.
  • In the human realm, our individual bodies are “pre-designed” by kamma vipaka is impart varying degrees of suffering, and that is why some people are relatively healthy, while some have health problems. There are of course ways to reduce or even get rid of such problems by making suitable conditions (eating well, exercise, etc) for other good kamma vipaka to materialize.
  • We do not realize the constant stresses that we are subjected to (both physical and mental), until we begin to experience at least some kind of niramisa sukha achieved by “liberating the mind from the cumbersome body with its aches and pains”. When one gets to jhana, this is further enhanced, and at higher jhana one sees quite significant relief from “dissociating from the body”. And one makes big jump in attaining the Sotapanna stage, and of course the full release at the Arahant stage of Nibbana.

It is possible that I may not have clearly explained some concepts. If you send me a comment referring to the corresponding item number, I can try to clarify it. Also, when you read other posts in this section, things will become more clear. This basic description is critical if one is really serious about learning Abhidhamma.

Next, “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manomaya Kaya?“, ……..

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