Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)- Introduction

Revised April 22, 2016

1. In most realms, beings are born fully formed (opapatika births). But in the human and animal realms, first the blueprint of that life form arises at the cuti-patisandhi moment. That is the manomaya kaya or a gandhabba. Once that gandhabba “descends” to 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 body lives only about 80 years. Therefore a “human gandhabba” can make many “human bodies” during 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).

  • The transition from a cow to a human occurs in the last citta vithi of the “cow life”. See, “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description.” At the end of that citta vithi, a human gandhabba comes out of the dead body of the cow. That gandhabba has a very fine body that cannot be seen, but it is a “blueprint” of the human body. But the “gross physical features” 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 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. However, it is in the form of a very fine matter at the suddhashtaka level. It is an invisible “energy body.”

  • The gandhabba, when outside the physical body can experience the world without eyes, ears, etc. The gandhabba sometimes comes out of the physical body in traumatic situations like during heart operations. Then it can see doctors operating on its own physical body! 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.
  • Thus all six sense actions actually take place away from what modern science believes 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 over what happens to them.

  • We humans have an advanced mind. We have the ability to avoid bad kamma vipaka and steer our lives in the direction we want to. Let us see how the gandhabba 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 time 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. (The hadaya vatthu is surrounded by the five pasada rupa). That 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 cittā. 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 pancadvara 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 keeps 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 the previous bullet).
  • During those gaps, the hadaya vatthu 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 sensory 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.” It has the object taken 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 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, it takes very little time for the mind to process data. 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 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, it can direct the body to walk towards the source of that sound. To do this, it sends instructions to the mana indriya in the brain via the same “ray system” 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. Those 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 cords 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 arise, “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 suffer from hunger. They have large bodies, but very small mouths.
  • In the human realm, our individual bodies are “pre-designed” by kamma vipaka to impart varying degrees of suffering. That is why some people are relatively healthy, while others have health problems. There are of course ways to reduce or even get rid of such problems. One could make suitable conditions (eating well, exercise, etc) for a healthy body.
  • We do not realize the constant stresses that we are subjected to (both physical and mental) because we are used to it. By living a moral life, we can begin to experience the niramisa sukha achieved by “liberating the mind from burdensome thoughts”.  When one gets to jhana, this is further enhanced, and at higher jhana one sees quite significant relief from “dissociating from the body”.  Then one makes a big jump in attaining the Sotapanna stage.

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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