Interpretation of the Tipiṭaka – Gandhabba Example

December 30, 2020; revised January 7, 2021 (added #11)

Interpretation of the Tipiṭaka

1. The following issues are both important and relevant.

  1. I need to make sure that I do not distort the teachings of the Buddha. That means I need to provide relevant CRITICAL passages in the Tipiṭaka when I discuss a subject.
  2. However, some details on deeper aspects are NOT discussed IN DETAIL in the Sutta Piṭaka of the Tipiṭaka. Those details come in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka and the 3 original commentaries in the Tipiṭaka. But still, it requires a jāti Sotapanna like Waharaka Thero to provide detailed explanations.
  3. Lastly, we are lucky to live in a time where more details, for example, about the brain, are available from modern science.  Further supporting evidence on related subjects is now widely available via the internet (an example is rebirth accounts.) A good example is the description of gandhabba (manomaya kāya.)

Depending on the topic, I have been using one or more of the above three to write posts. Let me explain by discussing my approach to write posts on the gandhabba (manomaya kāya,) where I utilized all three of the above.

Details on the Gandhabba Concept

2. Many details about the manomaya kāya (gandhabba) are not available in the Tipiṭaka.

  • Some of those details were in the Sinhala Atthakathā (early commentaries) that have been lost. However, even then, it is doubtful that some details regarding the brain could have been provided. Most of our knowledge about the brain is from modern science within the past 100 years or so.
  • The Buddha only mentioned the brain as part of the body’s 32 parts (Pāli word is matthaluṅga.) See “Dvattiṃsākāra.” I have not seen any details on the functions of the brain in the Tipiṭaka.
  • Only when a jāti Sotapanna like Waharaka Thero (who had attained the Sotapanna stage in a previous life) is born, we get to hear significant details. Furthermore, not all jāti Sotapannas can provide such details either. One needs to have Paṭisambhidā Ñāṇa to be able to grasp AND explain concepts in detail to others. Therefore, the first layer of details in my posts come from Waharaka Thero’s discourses.
  • The second layer is due to two sources: First, such clarifications can be backed by recent scientific findings. Secondly, many rebirth accounts, Near-Death Experiences, Out-of-Body Experiences, etc., are now available to anyone thanks to the internet. Both provide invaluable supporting material to this complex subject. Therefore, the second layer of details comes from those two additional resources.
  • As the Buddha advised in the “Araṇavibhaṅga Sutta (MN 139)“, the main task of a bhikkhu (or a lay disciple) is to explain in detail the ideas embedded in the Tipiṭaka without distorting key concepts.
Gandhabba (“Mental Body”) Is Primary, and the Physical Body Is Secondary

3. The role of the manomaya kāya is critical. The physical body is just a shell. It dies in about 100 years. As we discussed in the previous post, the manomaya kāya (gandhabba) may live for thousands of years in the human bhava. See, “Antarābhava Discussion in Kathāvatthu – Not Relevant to Gandhabba.”

  • A fly lives only a week or so, but that “fly bhava” (or the existence as a fly) may last many thousands or even millions of years. Therefore, a fly would have the gandhabba or the manomaya kāya during that whole time.
  • As we discussed, the specific term gandhabba is used mostly for the manomaya kāya of humans and animals. But living-beings in almost all of the 31 realms are born with a manomaya kāya (asañña realm only has a rupa kāya without the hadaya vatthu or the “seat of the mind.”) Brahmas in 20 realms have only the manomaya kāya.
  • Thus, the manomaya kāya (mental body) is primary, and the physical body is secondary.
Importance of the Commentaries

4. The Tipiṭaka was meant to be used with the commentaries. Also, knowledgeable bhikkhus or lay disciples were supposed to explain key concepts in detail. Pāli suttā are NOT supposed to be translated word-by-word.  see, “Sutta – Introduction. “

  • Most of the early Sinhala commentaries were burned down in the Anurādhapura era; see, “Incorrect Theravada Interpretations – Historical Timeline. “
  • Fortunately, three original commentaries provided by the Buddha’s main disciples (Ven. Sariputta, Ven. Kaccayaṃa, etc.) during the Buddha’s time had been included in the Tipiṭaka (in the Khuddhaka Nikāya) and have survived.
  • The current revival of pure Dhamma by a few Theros in Sri Lanka is partially due to their perusal of these three commentaries of PaṭisambhidāmaggaPeṭakopadesa, and Nettippakarana.
  • Even those three commentaries are somewhat condensed. Waharaka Thero was able to expand on those concepts in detail. He provided the basic model of the manomaya kāya (gandhabba) with hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa. The terms hadaya vatthu and pasāda rupa appear only briefly in the Tipiṭaka (mostly in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka.) I have expanded that model using current scientific findings on the brain.
Gandhabba Model – Role of the Brain

5. Waharaka Thero provided the basic model where the brain processes incoming information from the eyes, ears, etc., and passing those processed signals to hadaya vatthu via the complex manomaya kāya of the gandhabba.

  • Just as the brain is connected to the other parts of the physical body via the nervous system, gandhabba‘s body has a “ray-like” (or electromagnetic) system that connects essential elements like the brain hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupa. It can pass information generated in the brain to the hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupa.
  • That model is very much consistent with recent findings in science. I have referred to such recent findings in my posts. See, for example, “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body,” and the posts referred to there.
Brain Analyzing “Data Packets”

6. In several posts, I have utilized recent scientific findings on the brain to explain our sensory experience. I hope such explanations provide a way to visualize the sensory recognition process easier. Such posts include “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba” and “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”

  • Also, consistent evidence has been accumulating in several areas, including rebirth accounts, Near-Death Experiences (NDE), and Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE); see “Evidence for Rebirth,” “Origin of Life” and “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.”
  • Hopefully, both those developments will help more people to understand the teachings of the Buddha.
  • In the days of the Buddha, people accepted Buddha’s explanations without such detailed explanations. That society was vastly different from the “materialistic society” of today, where recent scientific and technological advances have given a dominant platform to “materialism.”
  • That is why many people have a deeply embedded wrong view that the “physical body” is all there is and that mental aspects (thoughts) arise in the brain.
Scientific Knowledge Is Limited

6. Even a few hundred years ago, science had many issues of conflict with Buddha Dhamma on even the “material world.” Of course, science is far behind in understanding  “mental aspects” like consciousness, feelings, perceptions, etc.

  • However, science has made much progress, and now several major inconsistencies have been resolved about the universe’s material aspects.
  • For example, just 400 years ago, “science” believed in the geocentric model of the universe. That the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the stars were embedded in a celestial sphere far above; see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocentric_model
  • Not only science, but all other major religions tried to attune their religions to this model at that time. Most religions still adhere to those concepts; see the same Wikipedia article above.
  • But 2500 years ago, the Buddha clearly described our Solar system as a “cakkavāla” or a planetary system. Not only that, but he also said there are uncountable such systems in the universe. He said that it is a waste of time to figure out the details about the universe.
  • Here is a video from Carl Sagan to get an idea of how vast our “detectable universe” is:

Scientific Knowledge Is Expanding

7. Through the years, and especially since the beginning of the 20th century, science has “re-discovered” some aspects of the Buddha’s wider world, including the existence of billions of galaxies, EACH OF WHICH contains billions of planetary systems like our Solar system.

  • But someone living in the 19th century likely to have ridiculed the idea of innumerable planetary systems (cakkavāla) and could have said, “where is the evidence from science?”. That aspect of Buddha Dhamma was not amenable to “science” at that time.
  • Just like that, many aspects of Buddha’s Dhamma are not amenable to science at the current time. But with time, more and more will be shown to be correct as science advances.
  • Those issues are discussed in “Buddhism – Consistencies with Science” and “Buddhism – Inconsistencies with Science.”
My Explanations of the Gandhabba Are Consistent With the Tipiṭaka

8. The detailed descriptions that I have provided on the workings of the gandhabba are not in the Tipiṭaka. The Buddha could not have provided such explanations when common people were not aware of the brain’s functions.

  • However, those descriptions are fully CONSISTENT with the contents in the Tipiṭaka. Furthermore, they are also consistent with current scientific knowledge.
  • Despite their intense efforts, scientists have reached an impasse in explaining how consciousness (and feelings like joy, sadness) can arise in the brain. See the previous post, “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba.” The pure materialistic model of science WILL NOT be able to explain such mental phenomena as consciousness, feelings, perceptions, etc.
  • The main point of that previous post was that such mental phenomena CANNOT arise without a mental body (or manomaya kāya or gandhabba.) It is a good idea to review the subsection “Brain and the Gandhabba” to understand the relationship between the brain and gandhabba fully. Other pertinent issues relevant to gandhabba discussed at “Antarābhava and Gandhabba.” This post is the third and final post in that subsection.
Summary

9. Interpretation of the Tipiṭaka requires more than translating suttā word-by-word (which is a very bad way to teach Buddha Dhamma.) One needs to explain concepts in a way that the audience can understand.

  • When one COMBINES information from both the Tipiṭaka AND other resources such as modern science, one can better understand certain difficult concepts.
  • That statement holds for many posts at this website, but particularly true in the sections “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach” and “Origin of Life.”

10. This post concludes the section on Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.The main point of the section was to illustrate that it is the manomaya kāya that is of utmost importance. In human and animal bhava, that manomaya kāya is given a special name gandhabba.

  • That manomaya kāya is just a trace of energy, but it can sustain a whole existence. Just as an oak seed has the blueprint for a huge oak tree, that trace of energy is all that is needed to sustain our dense physical bodies. See #5 of “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba.”
  • That manomaya kāya for any existence is CREATED by kammic energy produced in ONE’S OWN thoughts (citta.) That is why a sentient being exists ONLY as long as it has CRAVINGS for worldly things (kāma rāga, rupa rāga, arupa rāga). But those lives will only lead to much more suffering than any short-lived “pleasures.”
  • In upcoming posts, We will focus on the above bullet. It contains the essence of the Four Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda. Please read #10 repeatedly (and above mentioned posts) and see whether you can make some sense.
  • When one gets a bit of traction, one becomes a Sotapanna Anugāmi. After that, it is easier to build-up on that and be able to “see” the world as it really is. That is yathābhūta ñāṇa. It is worth the effort.

11. The series of posts in the current subsection “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach” will continue at “Understanding the Terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda” subsection.

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