Antarābhava – No Connection to Gandhabba

December 11, 2020; revised December 12, 2020 (#7 revised and #8 added)

 Antarābhava – Need to Understand the Terminology

 1. Antarābhava is not a concept in Buddha Dhamma. Antarābhava (“antara” + “bhava“) means “in-between bhava.” There are no such “gaps” between the two existences (bhava.) It was a heretical view that existed even before the formal emergence of Mahāyāna.

  • Some current Theravadins have the misconception that the gandhabba state (mental body or manomaya kāya) is the same as antarābhava, and thus needs to be rejected.
  • However, the gandhabba state encompasses the whole of the “human bhava,” within which there are many rebirths with physical human bodies.
  • I will use two rebirth accounts to clarify the terminology and this hugely misunderstood issue.
Rebirth Account of Jeffrey Keene

2.  General John Gordon died in the Civil War. He was reborn as Jeffrey Keene in recent years.

  • They are two “human bodies” that resulted from the same gandhabba (mental body or manomaya kāya). Those two births (as General Gordon and Jeffrey Keene) are within the same “human bhava.”
  • When General Gordon died, the mental body (gandhabba) came out of that dead body. Then, that gandhabba was in the “paraloka” waiting for a suitable womb.
  • Many years later, gandhabba was pulled into Jeffrey Keene’s mother’s womb, which is how he was born (jāti) with that physical body.
  • Therefore, General Gordon and Jeffrey Keene are in the same “lifestream.” They belong to the “same human bhava.”
  • This clearly explains the position of the Buddha about rebirth. Jeffrey Keene is NOT the same as General Gordon. However, Jeffrey Keene’s life is irrevocably connected to General Gordon’s. Therefore, it is also NOT correct to say there is no connection between them.
  • It is the same HUMAN mental body (gandhabba) that was reborn (jāti) with physical human bodies twice (as General Gordon and Jeffrey Kean).

3. A few more observations may be helpful.

  • Even though the physical bodies of General Gordon and Jeffrey Keene were remarkably close, that does not happen all the time. Parents’ physical features (their DNA) also contribute to the physical features of any child.
  • There is a significant time gap between those two lives. It is possible that there could have been more births with physical bodies in between.
  • The time gap between successive lives can vary hugely. In some cases, there may be only days or months, but more typically, there are gaps of several years.
  • The gandhabba does not have the choice of “selecting a womb.” When a zygote is created in the womb of a woman following sexual intercourse, a gandhabba matching the parents’ general gati is pulled into the womb. See “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
Rebirth Account of James Leininger

4. The relevant points are noted below.

@ beginning: The narrator asks: “Could we come back as someone else”?

  • It is not “someone else” that comes back or is reborn. It is the same lifestream with a different appearance (physically.) Those successive births (jāti) are within the same human bhava. In other words, it is the same “lifestream.” See, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream.”

@ 0.3 minutes: James Houston, Jr. was shot down over the Pacific Ocean on March 3, 1945. James Leininger was born some 60 years later and started talking about “getting shot by the Japanese.”

@ 3:20 minutes: The narrator says, “Dead can be reborn.”

  • That is not the right way to describe the situation. It is the same lifestream that is reborn with a different physical body!

@ 4 minutes: Usually, a child’s memories of a previous life fade away around 7-8 years.

@ 5 minutes: James Leininger’s account of getting shot.

@ 7:30 minutes: James Leininger provided the name of a friend from his previous life, Jack Larson, and correctly said that his plane took off from the ship “Natoma.” This is STRONG evidence.

@ 8:20 minutes: He describes himself as James 3 because, in his previous life, he was James Houston, Jr (i.e., James 2).

@ 10:40 minutes: The dad, Bruce Leininger, says that he thinks his son returned because “he had something to finish.”

  • No. We all come back. We can come back in human form and also in other forms corresponding to any of the 31 realms.

@ 10:55 minutes: Comments of Anne Barron, sister of James Houston, Jr.

@ 11:30 minutes: Comments of Prof. Kurtz, who does not believe in rebirth, says the account of James Leininger (a two-year-old) is made up. It is, of course, up to each person to make that decision. There are many more rebirth accounts and other types of evidence, such as Near-Death Experiences and Out-of-the Body Experiences; see “Evidence for Rebirth.”

Are Those Successive Births in Different Bhava?

5. The above two accounts allow us to clarify the concepts of human bhava and human jāti.

  • Those questioning the gandhabba state must answer the following questions: “Are James Houston and James Leininger in two different bhava?
  • If they answer “yes,” the following must be true: Between those two human bhava, that lifestream must have been in a different bhava, such as animal bhava or Deva bhava.
  • However, the Buddha clearly stated getting a human bhava is extremely difficult. There could be millions or even billions of years between successive human bhava. See “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
  • Therefore, it is clear that those two successive births (jāti) are within the same human bhava. Further details at “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
The “Antarābhava” Issue Raised at the Third Buddhist Council Was a Different Issue

6. The concept of an antarābhava was discussed and rejected at the Third Buddhist Council. It is documented in the Kathāvatthu section of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka.

  • There was no discussion on gandhabba regarding that issue. I will discuss that in detail in the next post, “Antarābhava Discussion in Kathāvatthu – Not Relevant to Gandhabba.”
  • Therefore, it is a critical error to identify the gandhabba state as an antarābhava. Rather, the gandhabba state encompasses a whole human bhava.
Insights on “Self” and “No-Self” Issue

7. This is also a good opportunity to get insights into the “Self” and “No-Self” Issues.

  • Is James Leininger the SAME as James Houston? Of course not. They lived very different lives and did not look the same either. Is Jeffrey Keene the same as General Gordon in #2 above? Even though there were some physical resemblances, they were very different and lived different lives. As we can see clearly, the physical bodies of those two individuals are entirely different. James Houston’s physical body had disintegrated a long time ago. At some point in the future, that “lifestream” may be born a Deva, Brahma, animal, etc. No ESSENCE propagates from life to life, especially from bhava-to-bhava. A Deva bhava is vastly different from a human bhava or animal bhavaThat is why the Buddha rejected the idea of an unchanging “self” or “soul.”
  • However, there is obviously a STRONG CONNECTION between the two lives in each of those cases. There would be no James Leininger if there were no James Houston. James Leininger is a descendant of that same “lifestream.” As we can see clearly, the physical bodies of those two individuals are entirely different. James Houston’s physical body had disintegrated a long time ago. However, there is an UNBROKEN connection in the mental body. In fact, James Leininger must have inherited SOME of the mental characteristics– such as anusaya — of James Houston (there would have been some changes in the intervening time.) Thus, the Buddha rejected the idea of “no-self” as well. As long as the saṃsāric process exists, an unbroken (mental) lineage exists between any two stages within that lifestream.
Nothing In This World is Worthwhile to be Taken as “Mine”

8. The real issue is whether there is anything in this world that is worthwhile to be “taken to be mine.” Immoral actions with such vision/perception can create kammic energies leading to “bad bhava,” such as animal bhava. That is what we need to be concerned with. That is what the Buddha stated in his very first discourse, “saṃkhittena pañcu­pādā­nak­khan­dhā dukkhāOR “in brief, the origin of suffering is the craving for the five aggregates of rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, viññāna (pancupādānakkhandha).”

  • Even though human bhava is much longer than 100 years, living beings spend most of their time in other existences (bhava) with unimaginable suffering because of not seeing that “big picture” of the long rebirth process that spans not only human bhava but much worse bhava.
  • When the human bhava ends and a “bad bhava” (for example, an animal bhava) is grasped, that animal is NOT the preceding human. But it has a “cause and effect connection” to the previous human bhava. When in animal bhava, for example, that animal cannot even think about these issues; but it still has the perception of “me and mine.” But that animal is totally helpless. That is anatta nature! This is the outcome of having the wrong view of “‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self.’” That is the meaning of the Pāli verse,  “etaṃ mama, esohamasmi, eso me attā’” ti.
  • That change of bhava happens at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment, at the end of the human bhava. There could be many “deaths” of human bodies before that. For example, General Gordon and Jeffrey Keene in #2 above were just two births (jāti) within a single human existence (bhava.) That is the difference between bhava and jāti in this context. See “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
  • These are complex issues. The key is to get some traction, and then it will become easier.
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