Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body

Revised April 20, 2016; July 31, 2017; September 6, 2019; March 14, 2021


1. Manōmaya kāya means a “mental body.” We should not perceive the “mental body” in the same way as the physical body ours. The mental body is mostly energy than matter. It is called a “body” more in the sense of a “collection,” as in a “body of water” or a “body of evidence.”

  • The Pāli term for a physical body is āhāraja kāya or karaja kāya.
  • The mental body or “manōmaya kāya” is also called gandhabba kāya or simply gandhabba. The manōmaya kāya is made of three parts called utuja, kammaja, cittaja.

2. Therefore, we have four types of bodies (kāya): āhāraja, utuja, kammaja, cittaja. The āhāraja kāya is the physical body. The other three are parts of our “mental body,” the gandhabba.

  • It is easy to visualize a “person” to be consisting of two overlapping bodies. Those are the physical body that we see and the gandhabba with a light body (it is not a body in a sense we are used to but more like a “misty ghost”). The fine body of the gandhabba “overlaps” the physical body.
  • The gandhabba makes the physical body “alive.” Without it, the physical body is like a piece of wood and is inert. If you touch a dead body, you will feel the difference compared to touching a live person.
  • A dead body is comparable to a metal wire without a current flowing through it. When a current flows through the wire, it becomes “energized.”
  • In the Tirokudda Sutta in the Khuddaka Nikāya, gandhabba is called a “tirōkudda,”

3. The physical body (karaja kāya) that we see is built from the food we eat (āhāraja kāya). Starting with a single cell (zygote) in the womb, it grows by taking in food from the mother.

  • The gandhabba consists of the other three kāyakammaja, cittaja, utuja.
  • Under stressful conditions (or with abhiññā 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.
Kammaja Kāya is Primary

4. Let us follow the time sequence of how a gandhabba evolves to acquire a physical body (in human and animal realms only.) That happens via several steps per Tipiṭaka: “jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho“. See, “Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2)“.

The basis of all the other four kāya is the kammaja kāya; it arises from the kamma seed responsible for that particular bhava or existence at the cuti-patisandhi moment.

  • A kammaja kāya has three components called “dasaka” or “ten units.” Those ten units are eight suddhāṭṭhaka and modes of rotation and spin. The three components are vatthu dasaka (hadaya vatthu or the seat of mind), kāya dasaka (blueprint of the final human body), and bhava dasaka. The latter is loosely translated as man/woman nature, but it encompasses many other features related to one’s gati or bhava).
  • More details at “The Origin of Matter – Suddhātthaka” and “Gandhabba – Only in Human and Animal Realms.”
  • The formation of the kammaja kāya is called the “jāti” moment of birth.

5. Immediately following its birth, kammaja kāya gives rise to a thought stream (cittaja kāya).

  • Both kammaja and cittaja kāya start producing fine rupa and immediately give rise to a very light physical form called the utuja kāya. At this stage, cakkhu, sota, ghana, and jivha dasaka are also present. That is called the “sanjāti” moment of birth.
  • This subtle body with three kāya (kammaja, cittaja, utuja) is a gandhabba. Since all three types of kāya have their origin in mind, the gandhabba is a “mind-made body” or a manōmaya kāya. But soon, it will acquire a faint physical body by inhaling aroma (gandha + abba), thus the name gandhabba. Thereforegandhabba would have all four “bodies” (kammaja, cittaja, utuja, karaja).
  • The five sets of dasaka (kāya, cakkhu, sota, ghana, and jivha) arrange around the hadaya vatthu (vatthu dasaka) in the subtle or “misty” body of the gandhabba. This gandhabba may exist in that state for a long time, waiting for a suitable womb.
  • That manōmaya kāya or the gandhabba will now have to wait for a suitable womb to enter. That could take months or years.
Gandhabba Descending to a Womb

6. When a suitable womb becomes available, this fine gandhabba enters the uterus. At that time, it collapses to a size smaller than a single cell 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 kāya) results from that single cell (zygote). It 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 subtle body of the gandhabba. The subtle 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 overlays the physical nervous system.
  • The initial growth stage of the fetus inside the womb is the “abhinibbatti stage” of birth.

7. Then, the fetus inside the womb starts developing and forms the physical senses and the brain over many weeks. During this time, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and nervous system grow. Furthermore, the brain develops too. It will have processing units to analyze signals from those five physical senses.

  • In Buddha Dhamma, the cakkhu indriya is NOT just eyes but also includes the brain’s associated processing centers. Similarly, for the other four indriya: sota, gandha, jivha, and kāya.
  • Signals generated in these five indriya get to the five pasāda rupa located around the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) as described in “Gandhabba (Manōmaya Kāya)- Introduction.”
  • The “khandhānan pātilābho” stage of birth is complete with the formation of all six sense faculties.
  • When that baby is born (i.e., comes out of the womb), that physical body can use all six āyatana (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and the mind) to interact with the external world fully. That is the final stage of the birth process: “āyatanan pātilābho.”
  • A better description of āyatana at “Contact Between Āyatana Leads to Vipāka Viññāna.”

8. Ven. Sariputta discussed that sequence of events when he analyzed the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta in detail to the bhikkhus in the Sacca Vibhanga Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 141): Katamā cāvuso, jāti? Yā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ tamhi tamhi sattanikāye jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho, ayaṃ vuccatāvuso: ‘jāti.’

  • Those who do not believe in the gandhabba state (i.e., a gandhabba) need to contemplate that point. The gandhabba state is there only in human and animal realms.
  • At death, if that human bhava has more kammic energy left, the gandhabba 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 occurs, and the above-discussed time sequence is repeated. 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.”
The Manōmaya Kāya

9. We can get an idea of the fineness of the manōmaya kāya from the following comparison. The average human weighs about 70 kg (70,000g) and has a body volume of about 70 L; the Density of a typical fog (that we can barely see) is approximately 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 average 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. Sexual intercourse between a man and woman creates a zygote (a human cell) in the womb. Then a gandhabba descends to the uterus 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). That tiny body (which would not be seen even by the most powerful microscope) is pulled into the womb through the 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 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 comes from the nutrients. First from the mother’s body, and once comes out the womb by eating food.

10. We can easily see the role of the manōmaya kāya with the actions by its three components:

  • Kammaja kāya is the most important. It is the blueprint for that existence (bhava). It has the blueprint of the physical body too.
  • Cittaja kāya 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 viññāṇa.
  • Those thoughts NORMALLY depend on our habits (gati), asava (cravings), and kamma vipāka, all in the kammaja kāya; 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 can THINK on our own (unlike animals) and change our destinies.

11. That last sentence summarizes the message of the Buddha. Please do not lose this opportunity to get out of this Saṃsāric suffering when we have this precious human life, which will last only about 100 years.

  • Even if we are reborn humans, what guarantees will we have to listen or read about Buddha Dhamma?

12. If anything is “transferred” from one existence (bhava) to another, those would be the “gati” and “āsavā” of that life-stream. But they also keep evolving. If we do not act mindfully, we let our mind to “go with the flow.” Then our actions will be determined by our Saṃsāric habits. That would only further strengthen such habits. That is why it is essential to identify bad habits, get rid of them, and cultivate good habits.

Living Beings in Other Realms Have Different “Bodies” and Different Manōmaya Kāya

13. The above description is valid for humans and animals. In Brahma realms, there are only manōmaya kāya and no physical body. There are physical bodies In deva realms, but those are much less dense than human bodies.

14. in the post, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“, we mainly talked about the cittaja kāya, 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 kāya, or the stream of thoughts associated with the animal existence (bhava), is also very different from the cittaja kāya of the human existence (bhava). That is what is meant by “bhava paccayā jāti” in the Paṭicca Samuppda: the birth is according to the bhava that latched on at the moment of death, i.e., “upādāna paccayā bhavo“; see, “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

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

  • The kammaja kāya has all the kammic potentialities (kamma seeds) acquired up to any given time; see, “Saṅkhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bīja, Kamma Vipaka,” and “Saṃsāric Habits and Āsavas.” But one of those seeds becomes operative for the “new bhava” and becomes the “bhavaṅga” 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; the same “gati” are in all seeds. Thus, whether an animal or a human, the new life will display somewhat similar habits (gati) and cravings (āsavā).
  • That 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 āsavā propagate (but they all keep changing too). And similarly, the Buddha neither approved nor rejected the idea of a “self.”
  • A living being is a “life-stream” that changes even moment-to-moment based on cause and effect: Paṭicca Samuppāda. Even though there is no “unchanging entity” such as a “soul,” the life-stream has its characteristics (gati and āsavā), which also keep evolving.

More on the Manōmaya kāya at: “Manōmaya Kāya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE).”

Next, “Ghost in the Machine – Synonym for the Manōmaya Kāya?“, ………..

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