Gandhabba (Manomaya Kāya)- Introduction

Revised April 22, 2016; revised February 16, 2021

Gandhabba Is the Essential “Seed” for the Physical Human Body

1. A human-being is born at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment first with just the “mental body.” That is the manomaya kāya or a gandhabba. Once that gandhabba “descends” to a womb, the physical body starts growing.

  • In most realms, beings are born fully formed (opapātika births). But in the human and animal realms, first, the blueprint of that life-form arises at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment.
  • Once born a gandhabba, It can 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 there are resemblances of both mental and physical characteristics between the two lives in rebirth stories.
An Example

2. Let us take the example of a being born many times as a cow making a transition to a human bhava at the end of the “cow bhava” (an infrequent 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 cow’s dead body. That gandhabba has a subtle 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. Instead, when a right womb becomes available (i.e., matching the “gati” of the gandhabba), 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 significant changes occur in that lifestream. The concept of a lifestream, which is really a very basic introduction, is discussed in “What Reincarnates? -Concept of a Lifestream“.

  • Of course, the most significant change is that now the lifeform has a mind at the human level, not at the animal level; the baseline “consciousness level” has shifted. This is expressed in several ways in the manomaya kāya of the gandhabba.
  • At the cuti-paṭisandhi transition, the kammic energy creates three very fine rupa called vatthu dasaka, kāya 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  Brahmā also have bhava dasaka, but are gender-neutral).
  • As the physical body grows, first inside the womb and then outside the womb, the subtle body of the manomaya kāya expands with it when the physical body grows from the single cell.  Thus overlapping the physical body that we see, there is a subtle body (manomaya kāya) of the gandhabba. gandhabba means the same as the manomaya kāya.
  • Therefore, the gandhabba is really like a “driver” driving or navigating the physical body; see, “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manomaya Kaya?“.
How Does the Gandhabba See and Hear Outside the Physical Body?

4. The subtle body of the gandhabba or the manomaya kāya has all key “sensing units” of hadaya vatthu (mind-door) surrounded by the five pasāda rupa (cakkhu, sota, jivhā, gandha, and kāya.) A  gandhabba is in the form of a very subtle matter at the suddhāṭṭhaka level. It is an invisible “energy body.” A physical body would be inert without a gandhabba inside.

  • The gandhabba, when outside the physical body, can experience the world without eyes, ears, etc. See #6 of, “Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.”
  • 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. It is surrounded by the five pasāda rupa (cakkhu, sota, jivhā, gandha, and kāya.) The pasāda rupa correspond to the five physical senses of the eye and ear tongue, nose, and touch.
Gandhabba Inside the Physical Body

5. The physical body is really a “shell” controlled by the mind (hadaya vatthu).

  • When a gandhabba is inside a physical body, “seeing” and “hearing” happens with the help of the physical eye and the physical ear. It is like being inside a military tank. One needs to use the sensors mounted on the tank to see and hear what is going on outside.
  • For details, see, Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.”

 6. The world is experienced through the physical body, and this 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. They are then transmitted to the brain via the central nervous system, which takes millisecond scale time.

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

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 pasāda. Now the cakkhu pasāda vibrates and hits the hadaya vatthu that is located close to it. (The five pasāda rupa surrounds the hadaya vatthu). 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 the 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 pasāda rupa, and this “vibration” is called a hadaya rupa, which thus has a lifetime of 17 citta or thought moments. Therefore the hadaya rupa is not physical 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 with 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 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. The mind will then 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. It also 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, which is called the “bhavaṅga” state of mind. In this state, the mind is actually taking the object that came to the mind at the paṭisandhi (rebirth) moment in that last citta vithi of the last life. Bhavaṅga (“bhava” + “anga” or associated) denotes that this state of 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 “bhavaṅga. It is the current state of mind itself.
The Bhavaṅga

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 paṭisandhi moment.  But we do not become aware of what is in the bhavaṅga.

  • You may remember that there are times when one 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 bhavaṅga 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 bhavaṅga 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!
The Mind Decides on Actions

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 “think about those senses inputs.” Furthermore, it also starts citta vithi to get the physical body to speak and do any work. That information is relayed to the mana indriya, which 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 that sound source. 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:
Brain Is Just a Fancy Computer That Follows Instructions by the Mind

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

  • Now the questions arise, “Why is nature going through all this trouble to give us a physical body that is cumbersome and slow?”. The main answer is that this is to impart kamma vipāka.
  • For example, a deva has a subtle body that is not subject to aches and diseases as humans acquired by a good kamma vipāka. On the other hand, there are some petas (hungry ghosts) who suffer from hunger. They have large bodies but tiny mouths.
  • In the human realm, our individual bodies are “pre-designed” by kamma vipāka 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 them. 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 jhāna, this is further enhanced, and at higher jhāna, one sees quite significant relief from “dissociating from the body.”  Then one makes a big jump in attaining the Sotāpanna 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 clarify it. Also, when you read other posts in this section, things will become more apparent. 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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