Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body

Revised April 20, 2016; Revised July 31, 2017

2. We actually have four types of bodies (kaya): aharaja, utuja, kammaja, cittaja. The aharaja kaya is the physical body. The other three are parts of our “mental body” which is also called the gandhabba.

  • First, here kaya is pronounced “kaya” not “käya“. “Kaya” means “body”. On the other hand, “Käya” means action or kriyä.
  • It is easy to visualize a “person” to be consisting of two overlapping bodies: The physical body that we see and the gandhabba with a very fine body that is “immersed in” or “overlapped with” the physical body”.
  • This gandhabba is described in the Tirokudda Sutta in the Khuddaka Nikaya, where it is called “tirokudda” or “tirokuddaya“, instead of gandhabba.
  • The physical body (karaja kaya) that we see is built mostly from aharaja rupa; starting with a single cell (zygote) in the womb, it takes in food from the mother. After birth, almost all of the growth is due to the food consumed.
  • The gandhabba consists of the other three kaya: kammaja, cittaja, utuja.
  • Under stressful conditions (or with abhinna powers), the misty gandhabba can come out of the physical body, and the physical body is no longer under the control of the gandhabba. But it is not dead because the jivitindriya that maintains life is still there.
  • Only at death, both the gandhabba and the jivitindriya leave, and the body becomes inert like a log.
  • Let us follow the time sequence of making a gandhabba and a physical body in a new bhava. This happens via several steps per Tipitaka: jati, sanjati, okkanthi, abhinibbanthi, khandhänan pätilabho, ayatanan pätilabho.

3. The basis of all other four kaya is the kammaja kaya; it arises from the kamma seed responsible that particular bhava or existence at the cuti-patisandhi moment. It has the vatthu dasaka (hadaya vatthu or the seat of mind), kaya dasaka (blueprint of the final human body), and the bhava dasaka (loosely translated as man/woman nature, but encompasses many other features related to one’s gati or bhava).

  • The formation of the kammaja kaya is called “jati” moment of birth.
  • Immediately, that kammaja kaya gives rise to a thought stream (cittaja kaya).
  • Both kammaja and cittaja kaya start producing fine rupa and immediately give rise to very fine physical form called the utuja kaya. At this stage, cakkhu, sota, ghana, and jivha dasaka are also formed. This is called the “sanjati” moment of birth.
  • This fine body with three kaya (kammaja, cittaja, utuja) is called a gandhabba. Since all three have their origin in the mind, the gandhabba is said to have a manomaya kaya. But soon it will acquire a fine physical body by inhaling aroma (gandha + abbha), thus the name gandhabba. Thus a gandhabba would have all four bodies (kammaja, cittaja, utuja, karaja).
  • The five sets of dasaka (kaya, cakkhu, sota, ghana, and jivha) arrange around the hadaya vatthu (vatthu dasaka) in the fine body of the gandhabba. This gandhabba may exist in that state for a long time waiting for a suitable womb.

4. When a suitable womb becomes available, this fine gandhabba collapses to the size smaller than a single cell, enters the womb, and merges with the single cell (zygote) formed by the union of mother and father. This moment of entering a womb is called the “okkanti moment” of birth.

  • The physical body (karaja kaya) arises from this single cell (zygote) that grows first by extracting food from the mother’s womb and then consuming regular food once born as a baby.
  • The physical body grows according to the “blueprint” in the fine body of the gandhabba and the fine body of the gandhabba expands with it, so that it overlaps the physical body. For example, there is a nervous system in the gandhabba that overlaps the physical nervous system.
  • The initial growth stage of the fetus inside the womb is called the “abhinibbanti stage” of birth.

5. Then the fetus inside the womb starts developing and forms the physical senses and the brain over many weeks. During this time, the physical sensory systems for the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, as well as the nervous system are developed. Furthermore, the brain develops too, with corresponding processing units to analyze signals from those five physical senses and also with the mana indriya (this unit has still not been identified in science, but I have some ideas that I will discuss later).

  • In Buddha Dhamma, the cakkhu indriya is NOT just eyes, but also includes the associated processing centers in the brain. Similarly for the other four indriya: sota, gandha, jivha, and kaya.
  • Signals generated in these five indriya are sent to the five pasada rupa located around the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) as described in “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)- Introduction“.
  • Once all six indriya are formed fully the “khandhänan pätilabho” stage of birth in complete.
  • When that baby is born (i.e., comes out of the womb), that physical body is able to use all six äyatana (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the mind) to fully interact with the external world. This is the final stage of the birth process: “äyatanan pätilabho”.

6. This sequences of events was discussed by Ven. Sariputta when he analyzed the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta in detail to the bhikkkhus in the Sacca Vibhanga Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 141): Katamā cāvuso, jāti? Yā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ tamhi tamhi sattanikāye jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho, ayaṃ vuccatāvuso: ‘jāti’.

  • For those who do not believe in the gandhabba state (i.e., a gandhabba), this point needs to be contemplated. This is only valid for sattanikāye jāti, which means only for the human and animal realms.
  • In other realms, different mechanisms (mainly opapatika births) may be valid; see, “Gandhabba – Only in Human and Animal Realms“.

7. in the post, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“, we mainly talked about the cittaja kaya, the stream of thoughts, and the physical body. We saw that, If an animal dies and is reborn a human:

  • The physical body in the animal realm is very different from that in the human realm.
  • The cittaja kaya or the stream of thoughts associated with the animal existence (bhava) is also very different from the cittaja kaya of the human existence (bhava). This is what is meant by “bhava paccaya jati” in the Paticca Samuppda: the birth is according to the bhava that latched on at the moment of death, i.e., “upadana paccaya bhavo“; see, “Akusala-Mula Paticca Samuppada“.

8. Thus it is clear that both the physical body and manomaya kaya make “quantum jumps” (instantaneous large change) when switching from one existence (say an animal) to another (say a human).

  • The kammaja kaya has all the kammic potentialities (kamma seeds) acquired up to any given time; see, “Sankhara, Kamma, Kamma Beeja, Kamma Vipaka“, and “Sansaric Habits and Asavas“. But one of those seeds becomes operative for the “new bhava“, and becomes the “bhavanga” for that life. The remaining kamma seeds all “tag along” in the new bhava, and one of those will rise to the next bhava or existence; same “gati” are in all seeds. Thus, whether an animal or a human, the new life will display somewhat similar habits (gati) and cravings (asavas).
  • This is why “no-self” was not approved or rejected by the Buddha: the new life is not the same as the old life but it is not completely different either, because those gati and asavas propagate (but they all keep changing too). And similarly, “self” is not approved or rejected.
  • A living being is a “lifestream” that changes even moment-to-moment based on cause and effect: paticca samuppada. Even though there is no “unchanging entity” such as a “soul”, the lifestream has its own characteristics (gati and asavas), which also keep evolving.

9. Thus it is helpful to visualize two bodies: the physical body and the manomaya kaya of the gandhabba.

  • The physical body is the “material form” consisting of the aharaja kaya. This is the body that we see.
  • gandhabba is the “mental body”, consisting of the cittaja kaya (stream of thoughts) and the kammaja kaya with the kamma seeds, habits (gati) and asavas (cravings); it also has some fine utuja rupa produced by kamma and citta. The monomaya kaya cannot be seen with a normal human eye.
  • At death, if that human bhava has more kammic energy left, the gandhabba just comes out of the dead physical body and waits for a new womb.
  • If kammic energy for the human bhava is exhausted, then a cuti-patisandhi transition takes place and the above discussed time sequence again runs through. A brand new gandhabba in a new bhava emerges from the dead body. For a technical analysis of this process, see, “Cuti-Patisandhi – An Abhidhamma Description“.

10. We can get an idea of the fineness of the manomaya kaya from the following comparison. The average human weighs about 70 kg (70,000g) and has a body volume about 70 L; Density of a typical fog (that we can barely see) is about 0.1 g per cubic meter. Thus the weight “of the fog of volume equivalent of a human body” is about 0.01g.

  • Thus a “human body made of fog” weighs only a tiny fraction of the normal human weight.
  • For another comparison, the weight of a mustard seed is about 0.002g.
  • A gandhabba would have a “misty body” like a human figure made of fog, but will be MUCH SMALLER weight; it is immeasurable small. A gandhabba collapses to the size of the zygote (a human cell) that is formed at conception, when it descends to a womb and takes hold of the zygote; see, “What does Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) say about Birth Control?“.
  • My late Noble teacher, Waharaka Thero, has seen how a gandhabba enters a womb. When getting closer to the mother, gandhabba rotates rapidly and loses all its body other than the hadaya vatthu, jivitindriya, and bhava dasaka, so it becomes much smaller than an atom in modern science (at the suddhashtaka level). The that tiny body (which would not be seen even by the most powerful microscope) is pulled into the womb through mother’s body and gets attached to the zygote in the womb. I heard him describe this in a desana.
  • So, a human body starts off basically with two cells from the mother and father (which make the zygote) and an even smaller gandhabba. Thus virtually all the weight of a human is gained from the nutrients, first from the mother’s body, and once comes out the womb from the food that it consumes.

11. We can easily see the role of the manomaya kaya with the actions by its two mental components:

  • Cittaja kaya is what we EXPERIENCE moment-to-moment. We see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think about concepts with thoughts: cakkhu, sota, gandha, rasa, pottabba, and mano vinnana.
  • Those thoughts NORMALLY depend on our habits (gati), asava (cravings), and kamma vipaka, all in the kammaja kaya; see, “What is Mind? How Do We Experience the Outside World?“.
  • If thoughts arise ONLY DUE TO our past kamma and the habits and cravings acquired through them, then kamma would be deterministic and we will be like robots (and that is the case for many beings, like animals). LUCKILY, we have the ability to THINK on our own (unlike animals), and to change our individual destinies.

12. That last sentence summarizes the message of the Buddha: Do not lose this opportunity to get out of this sansaric suffering when we have this precious human life, which will last only about 100 years. Even if we are reborn human, what guarantees are there that we will get to even listen or read about Buddha Dhamma?

13. Thus if anything is “transferred” from one existence to another those would be the “gati” and “asavas” of that lifestream; but they also keep evolving. If we do not act mindfully, if we let our mind to just “go with the flow”, then our actions will be determined by our sansaric habits. Then we will be only further strengthening such habits. This is why it is important to identify bad habits and get rid of them, and ALSO to cultivate good habits.

More on the Manomaya kaya at: “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE)“.

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

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