Mental Body Versus the Physical Body

February 2, 2020; revised August 24, 2021; February 26, 2023

Essential Facts for this post

1. The mental body is far more critical than the physical body. Let me first summarize the relevant conclusions from the  “Origin of Life” section for this post.

  • The mind does not exist by itself. There must be at least a trace of matter for the mind to exist. That is a critical point in Buddha Dhamma that many people do not realize. The “seat of the mind” is called “hadaya vatthu.” It is unbelievably small and is created by kammic energy when a living-being grasps a new existence. In addition to hadaya vatthu, up to five “pasāda rūpa” are created by the kammic energy at that time.
  • That package, hadaya vatthu, and the set of pasāda rūpa is the “smallest unit of existence.” It is called the “manōmaya kāya” because the energy for its creation comes from the kammic energy based on a strong past kamma. See “Origin of Life – One Creates One’s Own Future Lives.”
  • In the 20 Brahma realms (out of 31 realms in this world), “manōmaya kāya” is all they have. They do not need a physical body with “flesh and blood” because those Brahmās do not experience taste, smell, or touch.
  • When a living being is born in the human realm, it is born with that “manōmaya kāya,” given the particular name of gandhabba. When a suitable womb with “matching gati” appears, that gandhabba is drawn into it and merges with the zygote. That “living zygote” first grows into a baby (by taking in food from the mother.). After birth, that baby grows into an adult with a body weighing a hundred plus pounds (or tens of kg.) Details in #4 are below.
  • Thus, it is clear that virtually all physical matter in the human body comes from food.
The Critical “Body” Is Not “Physical Body” But “Mental Body” (Manōmaya Kāya)

2. Therefore, in most realms below the Brahma realms, there is an “additional body,” the “physical body.”

  • That physical body is required ONLY to provide sensory inputs on tastes, smells, and touches.
  • In contrast to the physical body, the mental body has “something extra” that makes it ALIVE, as discussed below. It is quite clear that the “physical body” is secondary to the “mental body” (manōmaya kāya or the gandhabba.)
  • The mental body can perform the other functions (seeing and hearing) BETTER if not trapped inside the physical body.
  • The lady in the following video was born blind. She could not see only because there was something wrong with her PHYSICAL eyes, the optic nerve, or the visual cortex in the brain. Once the gandhabba (mental body) came out, she was able to see for the first time in her life:

    • In the previous post, “Origin of Life – One Creates One’s Own Future Lives,” I added another relevant video a day after that post was published. You may want to watch that video too. Both these videos present powerful evidence of the existence of gandhabba and why it is the “essence of a human.” The physical body is just a shell.
  • All mental activity occurs in the gandhabba or the mental body. However, without that physical body, we cannot taste, smell, or touch.
Relevance to Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā – Paṭi­kūla­ma­nasikā­ra ­Pabba

3. In the Mahā Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (DN 22,) the Buddha allocated several sections under the Kāyānupassanā section to discuss the physical human body.

  • The subsection on 1.4. Kāyānu­passa­nā­ Paṭi­kūla­ma­nasikā­ra ­Pabba describes the 32 parts of the human body. That title is incorrectly translated as “Applying the Mind to Repulsiveness of the Body.” That section shows that the physical body of a human is just a “collection of parts.”
  • The Buddha never emphasized the “repulsiveness” of anything. (He only emphasized the “unfruitfulness” of getting attached to “mind-pleasing” things in this world.)
  • If one starts contemplating that one’s body is repulsive (as many people mistakenly do,) that only leads to paṭigha (friction) in the mind. Such a mindset is not conducive to meditation.
Relevance to Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā – Dhātu­ma­nasikā­ra ­Pabba

4. The next subsection, 1.5. Kāyānu­passa­nā ­Dhātu­ma­nasikā­ra ­Pabba, points out that the physical body only has four great elements (pathavī dhātu, āpo dhātu, tejo dhātuvāyo dhātū.) Bodies of any other living beings are, as well as inert objects, also have the same four great elements. There is NOTHING in the PHYSICAL BODY of a human being that is different from an animal or an inert object.

  • In the language of modern science, all those have the same atoms and molecules.
  • There is nothing special about the composition of the human body. The basic unit of a living cell is the same for a human as an animal. See the video in #9 of the post, “Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin.” That post started the series of posts on “Origin of Life.” We will be referring back to those posts often.
  • If there is anything “special” in a human or animal body, that is the cell. We remember that a human physical body starts with just a single cell (zygote) and, of course, a gandhabba.  See “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception” and “Cloning and Gandhabba.”
  • By the way, plants have cells too. A tiny seed grows into a big tree because of cell division. However, only humans and animals have mental bodies that differentiate them from plants. Plants cannot think.
Relevance to Satipaṭṭhāna Bhāvanā – Nava­siva­thika ­Pabba

5. Then, the section 1.6. Kāyānu­passa­nā ­Nava­siva­thika ­Pabba is about contemplating what happens to that physical body after one dies.

  • Once the gandhabba or the manōmaya kāya leaves a dead physical body, that physical body is no different from a log of wood.
  • The manōmaya kāya keeps a physical body “alive” and “warm.” As soon as the gandhabba leaves for good, the physical body loses the “aliveness.” Our dog died several years ago, and I was shocked when I touched its dead body. It was cold and rigid, just like a piece of wood. The body warmth may be there for a little while because it takes some time to lose the body heat.
  • In the days of the Buddha, most dead bodies were taken deep into the forests and discarded. Then wild animals would come and eat those bodies; otherwise, they would start decaying and smelling bad. Then it will lose the flesh over time, leaving only the bones. Even those bones will degrade and become dust in the long term.
  • This Nava­siva­thika Bhāvanā needs to be done in that fashion to realize the unfruitfulness of getting overly attached to the physical body. Of course, we must keep it in good shape by eating healthy and exercising regularly. If the physical body becomes out-of-shape, that will lead to illnesses and discomfort. We must live a comfortable (not luxurious) life to progress on the Path.
The Uniqueness of the Mental Body (Manōmaya Kāya)

6. It helps to realize that one’s physical body cannot be taken as one’s essence.

  • Even the mental body does not have an essence since that also will be discarded when a new existence (bhava) is grasped.
  • However, the mental body is ESSENTIAL to make progress on the Path. The mental body of human existence is “hard to get,” Thus, we should utilize it now that we have that rare opportunity.
Why Is Mental Body Unique?

7. The mental body (gandhabba) is VERY DIFFERENT from the physical body. The mental body has a few of the smallest units of matter (suddhāṭṭhaka) TOGETHER with the essential elements of LIFE. Those ESSENTIAL elements are the hadaya vatthu and a set of five pasāda rūpa. Those are the only LIVE things in a human (or an animal.)

  • The hadaya vatthu is the “seat of the mind” where thoughts (citta) arise.
  • We experience the five physical sensory inputs with the five pasāda rūpa.
  • Those essential items (collectively called gandhabba) are created by kammic energy and sustain the human bhava
How the Mental Body Controls the Physical Body

8. A live physical body has a gandhabba (mental body) in it. In the post “Our Mental Body – Gandhabba,” we discussed a good analogy of how the mental body controls the physical body (see #8 in that post.)

  • That gandhabba consists of a UNIQUE set of seven items called “dasaka” or “packages of tens.” Those are listed in #9 of the post “Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body.” I often refer to six entities in many posts: hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rūpa.
  • Different types of dasaka are formed just by incorporating one mode of spin (bramana) and one mode of rotation (paribramana) to a suddhāṭṭhaka (smallest unit of matter.) That is how an inert suddhāṭṭhaka becomes ALIVE. When the kammic energy wears out, those motions stop, ending that existence (bhava.)
  • Details are in the two posts, “Our Mental Body – Gandhabba” and “Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body.” One can get a deeper understanding by reading those posts. It is good to have at least a general idea.
Kammic Energy creates the Mental Body.

9. In fact, as we have discussed, when ANY living-being grasps ANY new existence, a corresponding mental body is created by the kammic energy. That mental body matches the particular kamma that was responsible for the new existence (bhava.)

  • If that kamma was a pāpa kamma done with anger (say, the killing of a human), then the new bhava could be in a niraya (hell.) If that kamma was a puñña kamma done with compassion (say, taking care of an invalid or sick person), the new bhava could be in a Deva realm. See, “Kusala and Akusala Kamma, Puñña and Pāpa Kamma.”
  • Both of those two scenarios could be true of ANY person who is below the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage.
  • The point is that even if one did not kill a human in the CURRENT life, such crimes might have been committed in a previous life. We have no idea what we have done in our previous lives. That is the danger in the rebirth process.
Gandhabba (Mental Body) Is Unique to Human and Animal Realms

10. We started the series with five posts (“Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin” to “Cloning and Gandhabba” that laid the basic foundation of the Buddha’s description of life. As summarized in that first post, Buddha taught that there is no “traceable beginning” to life. That means each of us has existed (among the 31 realms of this world) “forever.”

  • The next four posts specifically dealt with life in the human realm. It is a bit complex because human life involves a physical body (collection of material body parts) in addition to the mental body (gandhabba) created by kammic energy. That same picture also holds for the animal realm.
  • Living beings in all other realms have “one integrated body.” For example, a Brahma only has a “body” similar to the human mental body (gandhabba.) Such a “body” is “mostly mental,” and the amount of matter is a million times smaller than in a mustard seed. Of course, it expands to the size of the human body while inside the human body (it is like an energy field.)
  • A Deva has a bit more dense “material body” but is still invisible. Again, it has no gandhabba-type, mental body.
  • Beings in the lower realms may have denser bodies but, again, do not have separate mental bodies.
  • We need to focus more on human life. Without the concept of gandhabba, we cannot explain the growth of a “human body” in the mother’s womb (starting with an inert single cell). That is why I published those four posts on gandhabba at the beginning of the series.

11. The mental body is much more important than the physical body for the following reasons.

  • The “essence of a human” is the mental body that has the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) and the five pasāda rūpa (that “sense” visuals, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches.) Those entities are what constitute “the mind.” The ONLY WAY those six entities are created is via our kammic energy in our thoughts (specifically javana cittā.)
  • The mental body (gandhabba) controls the physical body.
  • A physical body lives only about a hundred years, while the mental body (gandhabba) may last hundreds of years.
  • However, we also need a healthy physical body to live a healthy life. We especially need a healthy brain. The brain first processes all external sensory inputs.
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