Published before October 23, 2015; revised May 31, 2016; major revision Dec. 1, 2018
1. There are three main categories that the 31 realms can be divided into: kāma lōka, rūpa lōka, and arūpa lōka.
- Living beings in the kāma lōka are in 11 realms: four lowest realms (apāyās), human realm and six dēvā realms.
- Rūpa lōka has 16 rūpāvacara brahma realms. A “rūpāvacara brahma” means a brahma in the rūpa lōka.
- Arūpa lōka has 4 arūpāvacara brahma realms.
2. Different sets of sense faculties are associated with beings in those three types of “lōka”.
- Those in the arūpa lōka have just the mind. Therefore, the only rūpa (or matter) associated with an arūpi brahma is the hadaya vatthu, which is of the size of the smallest unit of matter in Buddha Dhamma called a suddhāshtaka.
- That suddhāshtaka is much smaller than an atom in modern science. So, we cannot see these beings. It is important to note that cannot even see many microscopic beings that live among us, like those in drinking water. Just because we cannot see them, it does mean they do not exist.
3. Those in the rūpa lōka have just sense faculties: eyes, ears, and the mind.
- But the eyes and ears are not solid and tangible things like the physical eyes and ears that we or the animals have.
- Seeing and hearing for those rūpāvacara Brahmā happen with the aid of cakkhu and sota pasāda rūpa. Each of those two are also of the size of a suddhāshtaka.
- Therefore, even for a rūpāvacara brahma, the whole “body” is made of basically three suddhāshtaka, unimaginably small. This collection of hadaya vatthu and the two pasāda rūpa is called the manōmaya kaya of that brahma.
- An arūpāvacara brahma has a manōmaya kaya that has only a hadaya vatthu.
- Therefore, even with the aid of the most sophisticated microscope it will be impossible see any of Brahmā in those 20 realms.
4. In fact ALL BEINGS have the basic sense faculties of the size of a suddhāshtaka each. The basic sensing unit for a kāmāvacara being has six units for seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touch, and thinking.
- Any kāmāvacara being (including humans, animals, and dēvās) has a “fine body” with those unseen five sense faculties called “pasāda rūpa”: cakkhu pasāda rūpa for seeing, sota pasāda rūpa for hearing, ghana pasāda rūpa for tasting, jivhā pasāda rūpa for smelling, kāya pasāda rūpa for touching.
- These five sets of pasāda rūpa and the hadaya vatthu make up the “mental body” or “manōmaya kaya” of a kāmāvacara living being.
- It is easy to see that a rūpāvacara brahma has a manōmaya kaya with just two pasāda rūpa (for seeing and hearing) and a hadaya vatthu for thinking. An arūpāvacara brahma has just the hadaya vatthu for the mind.
5. The physical (solid) eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body of a kāmāvacara being (human or animal) just act as “sensing equipment” to collect external signals.
- Then the brain processes those signals and send to the manōmaya kaya that is inside this solid body. I will explain this in the next post.
- This is why even for humans, the essence is in the manōmaya kaya. The solid body is just an inert shell that is “powered by” the manōmaya kaya. When the manōmaya kaya comes out at death, the physical body becomes inert just like a log of wood.
6. This “manōmaya kaya” is the one that takes hold of the zygote in a womb at conception. That zygote is made by the union of the mother and father; see, “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception“.
- A gandhabba that descends to the womb originally has a bit more denser body than this manōmaya kaya. In addition to the “manōmaya kaya”, it has a “material body” too, but that is still too fine to be seen by us. When the gandhabba enters the womb, that “material body” is shed and only the “very fine manōmaya kāya” combines with the zygote.
- As discussed in that post, that zygote is the cell formed by the union of the mother and father and is well understood in modern science. Of course the modern science is not aware of the manōmaya kāya of the gandhabba that merges with the zygote.
- In fact, scientists do not know how that zygote becomes a “new life”, a brand new living being.
- Gandhabba is discussed at: “Mental Body – Gandhabba“.
7. Now that zygote with the manōmaya kaya, starts diving into more and more new cells. The energy needed for making those new cells comes from the mother (i.e., from the food eaten by the mother).
- That initial single cell grows to a baby of the size that comes out of the womb after nine months. Now, we can see that the critical manōmaya kaya — with those basic sensing faculties – is negligibly small compared to that baby.
- Of course once outside the womb, the baby grows by eating food and eventually grows to an adult. Virtually all solid matter in an adult is just lifeless matter. This is why a person can lose one-third or even half of the body mass, and still remain the “same person”.
8. Therefore, there is not much in the heavy solid body that really defines that “person”. All the key aspects are in the mental body or the manōmaya kaya.
- That solid body is made alive by the manōmaya kaya with the hadaya vatthu and the five pasāda rūpa. Hard to believe but that is what happens.
- At the death of the physical body, that manōmaya kaya comes out. When it comes out, it also has a very fine “physical type” body that resembles the body of the person that just dies. That combined fine body is really “ghost-like” and can be seen by even some people. That is what is called gandhabba and it now waits for another suitable body to enter, if there more kammic energy for the “human bhava” is left.
9. For Brahmā in the rupa loka, three units of matter are formed by kammic energy at the moment of birth; because 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 Brahmā” can “see” and “hear”.
- Those rupi Brahmā 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“); see, “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“.
- 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”.
10. The physical bodies (utuja kaya) of those rupi Brahmā are much finer compared to those of the devas, and thus devas cannot see those rupi Brahmā just like we cannot see the devas.
- The Brahmā (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 Brahmā just “see” (perceive may be a better word). These things will become clear in the future, as we get into details.
11. 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 abhiññā powers and “see” those beings in higher realms.
- In the kāmaloka, the highest realms are of course the deva realms. Devas are also born instantaneously (opapatika births) just like the two kinds of Brahmā. 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 Brahmā) do not get sick. They just die and disappear when the kammic energy for that existence runs out.
12. When humans and animals are first “born” into that existence, they are also instantly formed in a form close to that of a brahma. This is the manōmaya kaya generated by kammic energy at the cuti-patisandhi moment.
- That manōmaya kaya is condensed into 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 vipāka. 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.
13. 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.
- Just like Brahmā 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.
14. Of course, Brahmā and devas can also “see” humans engaging in those activities (if they want to), but they do not have any liking (upādāna) for such “coarse pleasures”. Their mental state is much higher, just like a human who has developed abhiññā 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”: “upādāna paccayā bhava“.
15. 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 kāmaloka. Even though the devas are also in the kāmaloka, their desires are not as “coarse”. They do not need to “tightly grab things” to get the enjoyment.
- Brahmā 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.
- Brahmā 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.
16. 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 kāma 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.
17. 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.
18. The nature uses this physical body or the “shell” to impart kamma vipāka 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”.
19. 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.
- 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.
20. 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 vipāka (they are unable to do abhisaṅkhāra, especially puññābhisaṅkhāra) Iis discussed in “Does the Hell (Niraya) Exist?.
Next in the series: Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body