Gati (Habits/Character) Determine Births – Saṃsappanīya Sutta

April 11, 2020; revised April 12, 2020 (#1, #3, #5)

Gati (Habits/Character) is a key concept

1. Gati (Habits/Character) is a key concept that has been hidden for hundreds of years, just like the true meanings of anicca and anatta. I just did a search for the keyword “gati” on Tipiṭaka at the Sutta Central and came up with “515 results for gati.” At the end of the post, I will discuss one sutta as an example, which describes how one with “crooked gati” is a candidate to be “reborn crooked.”

Five Main Types of Gati

2. The Buddha explained that there are five main types of gati. The Gati Sutta (AN 9.68)Pañcimā, bhikkhave, gatiyo. Katamā pañca? Nirayo, tiracchānayoni, pettivisayo, manussā, devā—imā kho, bhikkhave, pañca gatiyo. Imāsaṃ kho, bhikkhave, pañcannaṃ gatīnaṃ pahānāya … pe … ime cattāro satipaṭṭhānā bhāvetabbā”ti.”

Translated: “Bhikkhus, there are five character qualities (gati). What five? (Those belonging to) hell, the animal realm, the ghost realm, humans (manussā), and Devā. To eliminate those five types of gati, you should cultivate Satipaṭṭhānā.”

  • In the Saṅgīti Sutta (DN 33)Pañca gatiyo—nirayo, tiracchānayoni, pettivisayo, manussā, devā.” 
  • By the way, Saṅgīti Sutta provides definitions of many key Pāli words.
  • It is to be noted that all six Deva and 26 Brahma realms are included in the Deva category in many suttā, including the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. See #7 of, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – Introduction.”
Good Realms Are Sugati and Bad Realms Are Duggati

6. There are several suttā that discuss various types of behaviors that lead to good and bad rebirths. Those with “good gati” tend to reborn in “realms with good gati” or “sugati” (“sukha” + “gati.”) On the other hand, those with “bad gati” tend to reborn in “realms with bad gati” or “duggati” (“dukkha” + “gati.”)

7. The last verse of the “Vīṇopama Sutta (35.246)” is informative: “Evameva kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu rūpaṃ samanvesati yāvatā rūpassa gati, vedanaṃ samanvesati yāvatā vedanāya gati, saññaṃ samanvesati yāvatā saññāya gati, saṅkhāre samanvesati yāvatā saṅkhārānaṃ gati, viññāṇaṃ samanvesati yāvatā viññāṇassa gati. Tassa rūpaṃ samanvesato yāvatā rūpassa gati, vedanaṃ samanvesato … pe … saññaṃ … saṅkhāre … viññāṇaṃ samanvesato yāvatā viññāṇassa gati. Yampissa taṃ hoti ahanti vā mamanti vā asmīti vā tampi tassa na hotī”ti.”

Translated: “So too, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu investigates a rupa to see the connection to gati in that rupa, he investigates feelings to see the connection to gati in those feelings, he investigates a perception to see the connection to gati in that perception, he investigates saṅkhāra to see the connection to gati in that saṅkhāra, he investigates viññāṇa to see the connection to gati in that viññāṇa. Through those investigations, whatever notions of ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am’ had occurred to him before no longer occur to him.”

  • The Buddha described a living being as a “collection” of the five aggregates: rupa, vedana, sanna, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa.  A living-being, in any of the 31 realms, arises due to a certain paṭisandhi viññāṇa cultivated with a certain gati.
  • What this deep sutta is saying that when one understands the Paṭicca Samuppāda process, one would be able to “see” how various types of gati lead to corresponding rebirths.
  • Now we will discuss the Saṃsappanīya Sutta which explains how a human can be reborn a “creeping creature” like a snake.
Saṃsappanīya Sutta (AN 10.216)

8. In this sutta, the Buddha has explained that one who engages in dasa akusala has “bad gati” or “dugati” or “crooked/bad character.” Such people are eligible for rebirth in “bad realms” or “duggati.”

  • Similarly, one who abstains from dasa akusala has “good gati” or “sugati” or “straight/good character.” Such people are eligible for rebirth in “good realms” or “sugati.

I am going to skip some standard verses and translate (explain) the critical verses to provide the essence.

  • Bhikkhus, I will explain to you how creeping, crooked creatures like snakes are born in this world.”
“Crooked Kamma” Done With “Crooked Gati” Lead to “Crooked Births”

9. “And what, bhikkhus, is that explanation of the Dhamma on creeping creatures? Bhikkhus, living-beings are the owners of their kamma, the heirs of their kamma. They have kamma as their origin, kamma as their bondage, bound to their kamma. Whatever kamma they do, good or bad, they will inherit the corresponding vipāka.

  • In the following, the numbers refer to each of the dasa akusala.

(1) “Consider someone who destroys life. He is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. He is crooked in bodily actions, speech, and thoughts. His bodily kamma, verbal kamma, mental kamma are all crooked. His gati is crooked and his rebirth is crookedjimhā gati, jimhupapatti, where “jimhā” is “crooked” and “jimhupapatti” is “jimhā” + “upapatti“).

  • For one with a crooked gati and rebirth, I say, there is one of two destinations: either the exclusively painful hells or a species of creeping animal. And what are the species of creeping animals? The snake, the scorpion, the centipede, the mongoose, the cat, the mouse, and the owl, or any other animals that creep away when they see people.
  • Thus a being is reborn from a being, meaning one is reborn through one’s deeds. When one has been reborn, one makes more (defiled) sensory contacts (to be born again.) It is in this way, I say, that beings are the heirs of their own kamma.

(2) “Similarly, someone takes what is not given … (3) … engages in sexual misconduct … (4) … speaks falsehood … (5) … speaks divisively … (6) … speaks harshly … (7) … indulges in idle chatter … (8) … is full of greed … (9) … has a mind of ill will and intentions of hate … (10) … holds the ten types of micchā ditthi.  He creeps along by body, speech, and mind. His bodily kamma is crooked … His gati crooked and his rebirth is crooked….

  • Thus a being is reborn from a being, meaning one is reborn through one’s deeds. When one has been reborn, one makes more (defiled) sensory contacts (to be born again.) It is in this way, I say, that beings are the heirs of their own kamma.
“Straight Kamma” Done With “Straight/Honest Gati” Lead to “Good Births”

10. “Bhikkhus, beings are the owners of their kamma, the heirs of their kamma. They have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort. Whatever kamma they do, good or bad, they are its heirs.

(1) “Consider someone who has abandoned the destruction of life. With the weapons laid aside, conscientious and kindly, he dwells compassionate toward all living beings. He does not engage in crooked bodily actions, speech, and thoughts. His bodily kamma, verbal kamma, mental kamma are all straight. His gati are straight and his rebirth is straight (good.)

  • For one with a straight gati and rebirth, I say, there is straight gati (uju gati; where “uju” means “straight”) and births (ujupapatti). They have rebirths in either pleasurable heavens or eminent families, such as those of affluent householders, families that are rich, with great wealth and property, abundant gold and silver, abundant treasures and belongings, abundant wealth and grain.
  • Thus a being is reborn from a being, meaning one is reborn through one’s deeds. When one has been reborn, one makes more (defiled) sensory contacts (to be born again.) It is in this way, I say, that beings are the heirs of their own kamma.

(2) “Having abandoned the taking of what is not given, someone abstains from taking what is not given … (3) … abstains from sexual misconduct … (4) … abstains from false speech … (5) … abstains from divisive speech … (6) … abstains from harsh speech … (7) … abstains from idle chatter … (8) … is without longing … (9) … is of goodwill … (10) … holds correct views. He does not creep along by body, speech, and mind. His bodily kamma is straight … His gati are straight and his rebirth is straight….

  • Thus a being is reborn from a being, meaning one is reborn through one’s deeds. When one has been reborn, one makes more (defiled) sensory contacts (to be born again.) It is in this way, I say, that beings are the heirs of their own kamma.

Bhikkhus, beings are the owners of their kamma, the heirs of their kamma. They have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort; whatever kamma they do, good or bad, they are its heirs.

11. Again, it is necessary to understand the posts, “Kamma, Saṅkhāra, and Abhisaṅkhāra” and “Kamma are Done with Sankhāra – Types of Sankhāra.”

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