Body Types in 31 Realms – Importance of Manomaya Kaya

Published before October 23, 2015. Revised May 31, 2016

1. In the post, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“, we briefly discussed the 31 realms of existence. Except for the realms reserved for the Anagamis, we all have existed in all other realms in our deep past; see, “Sansaric Time Scale, Buddhist Cosmology, and the Big Bang Theory” to get an idea about the length of the rebirth process.

  • It is helpful to have some idea about the types of physical bodies in different realms, especially to get an idea about the concept of a “manomaya kaya“, and to realize how our physical bodies are really a liability to us.
  • Furthermore, it will also help us understand how our physical body, and specifically the brain in it, can help us get release from the suffering-filled rebirth process.
  • This material could be new to most. One may need to read through slowly and refer back to other sections for clarification. It is important to understand the basics before it becomes possible to understand the role played by the brain.

2. A rough rule is that the bodies are dense in the lower realms and lighter and fine in the higher realms, even though there are exceptions (some petas have fine bodies, for example).

  • In the lowest realm of the niraya (hell), beings have dense bodies that can be subjected to various forms of torture.
  • We can see that the bodies in the human and animal realms are dense. In the deva realm (consisting of 6 deva worlds), the bodies are fine and a normal human cannot see them even if a deva is standing right in front. However, people with abhinna powers can see them.
  • Therefore, we can say that beings in the kamaloka in general have dense bodies and all five physical senses eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and physical touch. But the bodies in the deva realm (and for some petas) are much less dense than in the other realms. Even the devas have all six sense faculties (including the mind) even though the bodies are less dense.

3. Next higher are the realms in the rupa loka. Here the beings (called rupi brahmas or brahmas with fine bodies) have only three sense faculties of eyes, ears, and the mind (only two physical senses of eyes and ears). Their bodies are much less dense than even those of the devas. And even devas are unable to see the fine bodies of the “rupa brahmas“, i.e., those brahmas in the rupa lokas.

  • Then, in the highest realms belonging to the arupa loka, there are “arupa brahmas” who have only the mind (hadaya vatthu), and none of the five physical sense faculties. The term “arupi brahma” or “brahma without a physical body” came from ancient yogis who could not “see” the very fine matter (hadaya vatthu) associated with such brahmas.

4. With this background in mind, now we can look at how Abhidhamma describes the formation of different body types in various realms.

  • The “arupi brahmas” in the arupa realms have only the “hadaya vatthu, which is the base of the mind; it has what is called a “vatthu dasaka“, which effectively is of the same size as the smallest material unit in Buddha Dhamma, called a “suddhashtaka”; it is called a “vatthu dasaka” (where a dasaka is “ten units”) because of spin/rotation (“bramana“/”paribramana“) of the  “suddhashtaka”. By the way, modes of rotation and spin were introduced by the Buddha 2500 years ago.
  •  We will discuss that later, but a hadaya vatthu is much, much smaller than an atom in modern science. This is why it is thought (erroneously) that there is no matter in arupa lokas. There is matter, but it is insignificantly small. The Buddha said that vinnana cannot exist without a pancakkhandha, and the pancakkhandha in the arupa loka has a rupa component, even though negligibly small.
  • The hadaya vatthu of an arupi brahma is formed by the kammic energy giving rise to that existence; it is formed at the moment of birth of that brahma.
  • All living beings have the hadaya vatthu, because all have minds.

5. For brahmas in the rupa loka,  three units of matter are formed by kammic energy at the moment of birthbecause it has three units of matter such an initial “body” formed at the moment of patisandhi is called a “thrija kaya“.  The three units are kammaja kaya, cittaja kaya, and the utuja kaya. The utuja kaya is a very fine physical body, and those “rupi brahmas” can “see” and “hear”.

  • Those rupi brahmas have a kammaja kaya consisting of kaya dasaka, vatthu dasaka, bhava dasaka, and also two pasada rupa for seeing and hearing: cakkhu pasada and sota pasada. These pasada rupa are also essentially suddhashtaka, with different modes of spin/rotation (“bramana“/”paribramana“).
  • Even though “kaya” is translated as “body”, the only “physical body” of a rupi brahma is the “utuja kaya“. Thus a “kaya” does not mean a “physical body”.
  • The physical bodies (utuja kaya) of those rupi brahmas are much finer compared to those of the devas, and thus devas cannot see those rupi brahmas just like we cannot see the devas.
  • The brahmas (and also devas) can “see” without the aid of light and “hear” without the having air to transmit sound waves; their “physical bodies” do not have “eyes” and “ears” like ours. Thus they can “see” and “hear” over great distances. And they can be anywhere they wish within a short time.
  • The closest analogy of how their “vision” works is how we “see” dreams; we don’t need eyes to see dreams. The brahmas just “see” (perceive may be a better word). These things will become clear in the future, as we get into details.

6. A basic rule of thumb is that beings in lower realms, in general, cannot see the beings in the higher realms; humans of course have the capability to develop abhinna powers and “see” those beings in higher realms.

  • In the kamaloka, the highest realms are of course the deva realms. Devas are also born instantaneously (opapatika births) just like the two kinds of brahmas. However, devas have a fourth types of a body called the “karaja kaya“, which is like of our physical body. And just like us they need to consume food (“amurtha“) regularly to sustain their “karaja kaya” which is also called the “aharaja kaya” since it requires food (“ahara“) for sustenance.
  • Thus devas have “four bodies” or “chatuja kaya“, i.e., the four bodies of “kammaja kaya“, cittaja kaya, utuja kaya, and the “karaja kaya”.are collectively called a “chatuja kaya“.
  • But devas (and brahmas) do not get sick. They just die and disappear when the kammic energy for that existence runs out.

7. When humans and animals are first “born” into that existence, they are also instantly formed in a form close to that of a deva, but with finer bodies than devas; this is the gandhabba state (or the gandhabba state) that we have talked about in previous essays; see, “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya) – Introduction” and follow-up posts.

  • For example, if a man dies and if he still has kammic energy for the “human bhava” left, then he will be reborn as human; otherwise, he will latch onto another “bhava” depending on his past strong kamma vipaka. For example, his next “bhava“could be as a deer.
  • If he is reborn a human, a “human gandhabba” will emerge form the dead body; if he is to be born a deer, then a “deer gandhabba” will emerge from the dead body.

8. The body of a human or animal gandhabba is also a “chatuja kaya” like that of a deva; but it is finer than the body of a deva. A gandhabba can only inhale odours (“gandha” + “abba“) as food, and thus the name. A gandhabba is so “diffused” and fine that it can enter the womb through mother’s solid body and collapses to the size of the zygote in the womb, taking hold of it as its “base”; see, “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya) – Introduction“.

  • Just like brahmas or devas, a gandhabba can “see” and “hear” over great distances. A gandhabba does not have a solid body to support physical eyes or ears. (Of course we have hard time imagining that. But it can be compared to what happens when we see a dream. There is no need for light to see dreams; we see dreams when it is pitch black at night; we do not “see” dreams with our eyes).
  • Even though one could think that it would be nice to be a gandhabba, a human gandhabba is in perpetual stress (agony may be a better word). A gandhabba cannot enjoy any kind of “contact” sense pleasure since the body is so fine; cannot taste food, or grasp anything. Most of all, a gandhabba suffers mentally because he/she can “see” normal humans “enjoying life” eating tasty foods, enjoying sex, etc.
  • Of course, brahmas and devas can also “see” humans engaging in those activities (if they want to), but they do not have any liking (upadana) for such “coarse pleasures”. Their mental state is much higher, just like a human who has developed abhinna powers.  They are actually said to be repulsed by human bodies. Just like we do not “miss out” on the activities of worms, they are not interested in human activities. It all depends on the mindset associated with the particular bhava.
  • But a gandhabba has received the human or animal “bhava” because he/she very much DESIRES “coarse sense pleasures”: “upadana paccaya bhava“.

9. When a human (or animal) gandhabba is finally pulled into a suitable womb, it merges with the zygote that was recently formed by the union of mother and father; see, “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya) – Introduction“.

  • Now it has “acquired” a base for his/her physical body, and the gandhabba grows first inside the womb and then is “born” to be on his/her own.
  • The “real human” now has the dense body that he/she wanted so much to have.

10. Thus we can see that we get these solid, dense bodies BECAUSE that is what we so eagerly desired. As long as we have craving for these “coarse sense pleasures” we will be born in the kamaloka. Even though the devas are also in the kamaloka, their desires are not as “coarse”. They do not need to “tightly grab things” to get the enjoyment.

  • Brahmas in rupa loka are even further removed from “coarse sense pleasures”; they do not have a desire for tastes, smells, or body touches. Seeing and hearing is enough for them.
  • Brahmas in arupa loka do not even have a desire for sights and sounds. Mind pleasures are enough for them, and the presence of matter is minimal in the arupa loka.

11. What we do not realize is that having “dense body” also leads to various ailments, and also subject to decay as it gets old.

  • Furthermore, now the ability to “see” and “hear” over great distances is gone. Now the gandhabba is trapped inside a heavy, solid, body shell and has to “see” and “hear” through the “physical doors” that are attached to that body. That is the sacrifice made to be able to have the “grabbing experience”, to be able to enjoy coarse foods and sexual pleasures, etc.
  • The Buddha called the physical body (“karaja kaya” or “aharaja kaya“) a “cave” or a “shell” that a gandhabba uses temporarily. It has a certain lifetime and during that time it grows, decays, and finally dies. Then the gandhabba needs to find another body. Especially in the kama loka, we just build a “new shell” when the old one dies, but also spend a lot of time as a frustrated gandhabba waiting for a suitable womb to start building a new body.
  • Thus it should be clear now that it is only the “physical body” that decays and finally dies; a human gandhabba will keep evolving and will find a “new body” similar to the old one IF the kammic energy for that bhava is not exhausted. Otherwise, the human gandhabba will just disappear (like a deva or brahma does at death), and a new animal gandhabba will emerge if the new bhava is that of an animal; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“.
  • Thus we can see now that even for the humans and animals, “the basis” is a fine body of a gandhabba that has a fine body like a rupi brahma (and less dense than the body of a deva). The “solid body” starts growing inside the mother’s womb and continues after the “birth” as a baby by eating food.

12. The nature uses this physical body or the “shell” to impart kamma vipaka as well. We need to constantly clean this body all the time, and also need to take care of vital body parts. These are part of the “physical suffering” that we do not think twice about.

  • And of course, we can come down with not only minor colds and headaches, but also major ailments like heart problems or cancer; this is also part of the “physical suffering”. Both kinds of “physical suffering” arise due to the physical body.
  • However, these hardships are “masked” by our sense of “anticipated future happiness” by acquiring such and such “pleasurable things”.
  • When some of those “hopes and dreams” do not materialize, we get severely distraught. Most of the suicides are committed under such circumstances, and this “mental suffering” could be worse than the “physical suffering” discussed above. It helps to read about WHY even famous, rich people commit suicide; that is also a form of meditation. We need to understand how suffering arises, in order to feel the full impact and be motivated to stop FUTURE suffering from arising.

13. However, the main goal of this essay is to point out the true nature of the physical body. Even though we are enamored (especially at young age) about the appearance of our bodies, as we get old we can see and experience the suffering that we endure because of this temporary “shell” that we value so much. It is there only for about 100 years, and then we will move onto another one; this is what we have been doing for countless aeons.

14. The other point, which is even more important, is the special nature of the human body that has a well-developed brain; see, “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body“. That is what makes a human life special, because that is what allows us to understand the message of the Buddha and be able to get release from the suffering-filled round of rebirth.

  • How the bodies of the hell beings are prepared by kammic energy to just impart kamma vipaka (they are unable to do abhisankhara, especially punnabhisankhara) Iis discussed in “Does the Hell (Niraya) Exist?.

Next in the series: Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body




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