Four Types of Births in Buddhism
July 30, 2022 (revised #3, #11, #12 on Aug. 1, 2022)
Buddha explained that there are four types of births: jalābuja (womb), aṇḍaja (egg), saṁsedaja (chemical), and opapātika (spontaneous). However, the other three types depend on an opapātika birth first occurring at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment.
1. There are several suttas where the Buddha explained the four types of births: aṇḍaja, jalābuja, saṁsedaja, and opapātika. For example, in “Mahāsīhanāda Sutta (MN 12).” the Buddha explains, “Catasso kho imā, sāriputta, yoniyo—Aṇḍajā yoni, jalābujā yoni, saṁsedajā yoni, opapātikā yoni.” That means “Sāriputta, there are four kinds of births—Born from an egg, from a womb, from chemical composition, or spontaneously.“
- It is a good idea to read the English translation there, even if not perfect, to get an idea of not only the four types of birth but also about births in various realms, including the four lowest realms. One could start at, “Sāriputta, there are these four kinds of reproduction. What four?”
Spontaneous (Opapātika) Birth Is the “Seed” for the Other Three Types of Birth
2. Let us briefly discuss the four types of births listed above. As we will see below, the spontaneous or opapātika birth must occur first for the other three types to proceed (in situations where one or more of those three types come into play.) Those three types of births are predominant only in the human and animal realms.
- In the six Deva and 20 Brahma realms, only opapātika births take place. Devas and Brahmas are born in their “final form” spontaneously. They live their whole lives (ranging from millions to billions of years) in that form. Of course, they have subtle “energy bodies” that are invisible to us.
- When a human existence (bhava) is grasped at the paṭisandhi moment (after leaving previous existence in one of the 31 realms), kammic energy creates a gandhabba/manomaya kāya first via an opapātika birth. A gandhabba also has an invisible “energy body” (like Devas and Brahmas) with a hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa. That gandhabba MAY NOT be born with a physical body of a human (with a jalābuja birth) for years after that.
- As explained in the post, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein” a human gandhabba’s lifetime could be many thousands of years. That gandhabba may be born with a physical human body many times during that lifetime. Many “rebirth accounts” by children worldwide confirm that rebirths with human bodies happen with gaps of several years between consecutive births. Those are consecutive “womb-born” (jalābuja) births for a single human gandhabba. On the other hand, getting another human bhava is extremely rare; see “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
Births With Physical Human Bodies Are “Jalābuja” Births
3. Any birth among the 31 realms occurs due to a kamma vipāka. The first step is to be “born into a certain bhava,” for example, “human bhava” or Deva bhava. But there is a crucial difference between what happens next in those two cases.
- A fully-formed Deva is born with an opapātika birth and will live through the whole life in that Deva realm.
- Similarly, only the subtle (and invisible) manomaya kāya of a gandhabba is born when a human bhava is grasped with an opapātika birth. But that will be followed by a jalābuja birth at some point. That gandhabba is pulled into a mother’s womb when a “matching womb” becomes available. Then a human baby will be born with a physical body after nine months. Such a birth belongs to the “jalābuja” type of 31 above.
- A human with a physical body lives in “this world (ayaṁ loka),” and that same human in the absence of a physical body lives in the “other world (para loka).” Thus, until the end of the human bhava, many “back and forth” between the “two worlds” occur. See “Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body.”
- Let us summarize for clarity.
Devas/Brahmas Have Only Opapātika Births, Humans Have Opapātika and Jalābuja Births
4. Any Deva or a Brahma has only the opapātika birth (i.e., one jāti per bhava.)
- On the other hand, to be born with a physical human body like ours, there must be two stages. First, a human gandhabba is born in an opapātika birth (in the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.) Then that gandhabba gets into a mother’s womb and will be born a human baby nine months later. That second birth is a jalābuja birth or “birth from a womb” with “breaking out of the amniotic sac.” As mentioned above, there can be many jalābuja births for a human gandhabba. These are the “bhava paccayā jāti” in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
- That explains many rebirth accounts. The Buddha emphasized that it is extremely rare to be born human; see.”How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.” Does that mean there is a contradiction with rebirth accounts? No.
- It is extremely rare to be born in the human realm as a human gandhabba with an opapātika birth. But once becoming a human gandhabba, there can be many births with different physical bodies (jalābuja birth). A physical human body dies in about 100 years. But that is not the end of the human bhava. The human gandhabba comes out of the dead body and can be reborn with a different body. There was a good discussion on a fascinating rebirth account at the forum that could be informative: “Rebirth Account of Dorothy Eady.”
Animal Realm Has All Four Types of Births
5. For an animal, the first opapātika birth produces an animal gandhabba. Then, one of the remaining three modes can apply to give birth to an animal with a physical body that we can see.
- Some animal gandhabbas are born with physical bodies via womb-births (jalābujā) like humans. Some examples are monkeys, lions, deer, etc.
- Chicken, birds, etc., are born from an egg (aṇḍajā birth). Here, for example, a “chicken gandhabba” will be drawn into an egg growing inside a chicken. After the chicken lays eggs, those eggs will hatch, and chicks will come out.
- The last mode of saṁsedaja is rare for big animals and applies primarily to microscopic animals. Here the required “chemical base” for the gandhabba evolves naturally in rotten meat or leaves. This type of birth has not been confirmed by science yet.
- Note that in all those cases, a “seed” (manomaya kāya/gandhabba) must have been first produced by kammic energy, just like in the case of a human.
6. Let us discuss an animal’s birth for clarification.
- For example, a fly lives in a physical body only for a few weeks before dying. However, that “fly existence” (bhava) may last thousands/millions of years. When a fly dies, its manomaya kāya/gandhabba will come out and wait until getting into another “fly egg.” It will be reborn countless times as a fly with wings (of course, the “fly gandhabba” will be invisible, just like a “human gandhabba.”) That is an “egg-born” (aṇḍaja) birth.
- Many animals, especially small ones, have lifetimes much shorter than humans. But their “animal bhava” can be millions of years long. Regardless of which of the three types of births is followed by an opapātika birth of an animal, there will be many “births with physical bodies” for that “animal gandhabba.” That is why it is critical to understand that there can be many jātis within a bhava for humans and animals. See “Jāti – Different Types of Births.”
Current Confusion About “When a Baby Becomes Conscious/Human”
7. We see a lot of confusion these days about “when a baby can be called human”?
- These days in the US, there are many “theories/speculations” about when a baby becomes “fully conscious.” Then that evolves into arguments about “a baby not being human” up to a few days, a few months, or even at birth. Some even speculate that since a child cannot “think rationally” until at least a couple of years of age, they may not be “human.” That is ridiculous!
- With that argument, a person in sleep or under anesthesia can be categorized as a “non-person” because they are unconscious! That would mean killing a person while in sleep, under anesthesia, in a vegetative state due to brain damage, etc., would be legal!
- I have discussed situations where people in vegetative states fully recovered; see “Persistent Vegetative State – Buddhist View.” Further details in “Brain and the Gandhabba.”
8. A zygote in a womb becomes human as soon as a gandhabba merges with it!
- See “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception“
- It does not matter whether people can make ridiculous arguments like those in #7. Aborting a baby anytime after conception is a pānātipātā or “taking a life,” not just any life, but a human life!
The Physical Human Body Is Just a Shell – Gandhabba Makes It Alive
9. Recent accounts of Near-Death Experiences (NDE) show that human life is much more complex than many believe. A physical body without a gandhabba inside is lifeless.
- NDE accounts confirm that the physical body shows no sign of life (heartbeat, pulse, brain activity, etc.) for many minutes. The startling fact is that during that time, that person had been watching the whole situation from the ceiling of the hospital room!
- A gandhabba can see without “physical eyes” while outside a physical body. This critical point has been illustrated in the following video. The woman had never experienced vision (due to her physical eyes being damaged), and she could see for the first time in her life when she had an NDE. The ability to see goes away after the NDE experience once the gandhabba goes inside the physical body.
Scientific Consensus – Life Begins With a Zygote
9. Most scientists agree that human life begins at conception, i.e., fertilization or the “joining of an egg and a sperm” to produce a zygote.
- See, for example, “Embryonic Human Persons-2009” and “Personhood status of the human zygote,-2017.”
- That position is close to the Buddhist position.
- The only difference is that, in Buddha Dhamma, a human gandhabba must merge with a zygote for that zygote to become alive. A zygote by itself is inert, just like an egg or a sperm.
10. We don’t need scientific evidence to realize that a fetus inside a womb is alive. How can anyone watching the following videos say that a baby growing inside a womb is not alive?
- The following additional information may be helpful to some readers.
Javana Power in Kamma Viññāna Responsible for All Births
11. As discussed above, any type of birth starts with an opapātika birth. Furthermore, the subtle manomaya kāya produced by kammic energy is unimaginably “small.” We can consider an analogy to get an idea. If you take a drop of water and put it on a hot pan, it will vaporize instantly, and you will barely see a plume of water vapor. Now, imagine that drop of water to be a million-fold smaller. That is an analogy of the “size” of the manomaya kāya. That is why scientists cannot detect any change in the zygote when a gandhabba merges with a zygote at conception.
- When a baby grows inside a womb, food to grow the baby’s physical body comes from the mother through the umbilical cord. As that physical body grows, the manomaya kāya/gandhabba expands (like that plume of water vapor) to spread throughout the physical body.
- Several posts have explained that the all-important sensing elements (hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa) are in that invisible gandhabba kāya. See “Brain and the Gandhabba.”
12. It is a good idea to make the connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda as well.
- The uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda starts with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” and ends with “upādāna paccayā bhava” and “bhava paccayā jāti.” The “upādāna paccayā bhava” step is where a new opapātika birth takes place. (Then, the “bhava paccayā jāti” step leads to a jalābuja birth for a human; for an animal, it could be any of the aṇḍajā, jalābujā, or saṁsedaja birth, depending on the type of animal.)
- The steps “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra” through “(kamma)viññāna paccayā nāmarupa” steps MUST produce energy to create the manomaya kāya associated with the opapātika birth. That energy is the javana power in kamma viññāna! See “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.”
- It is, in fact, in the key step of “(kamma)viññāna paccayā nāmarupa” that the mind “combines nāma and rupa” to generate kammic energy for future salāyatana (i.e., sensing elements) in manomaya kāya of future opapātika births. That is a subtle point. See “Viññāna Paccayā Nāmarūpa.”