Gandhabba in a Human Body – an Analogy

September 11, 2020; revised December 31, 2023

 Gandhabba in a Human Body Senses Differently Than When Outside

 1. The six critical entities in the gandhabba (hadaya vatthu and the five pasāda rupa of cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhākāya) are responsible for the amazing feats of cognition. See “Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis,”

  • As we have discussed, a gandhabba has only a trace of matter and is invisible. It is essentially an invisible “mental body.”
  • When outside the physical body, a gandhabba can hear and see by itself without having eyes and ears like us. This idea of a living being without a physical body like ours is hard to imagine. But Brahmā in the higher 20 realms have such “invisible bodies.”
  • Of course, a Brahma or a gandhabba cannot taste, smell, or touch since they do not have “dense solid bodies.”
  • But when trapped inside a physical body, a gandhabba can experience all five sensory inputs. However, now the gandhabba depends on the brain to receive those sensory inputs.
  • One way to get the basic idea is to look at the following analogy. This analogy works ONLY for the five physical senses.
A Soldier in a Totally-Enclosed Military Tank

2. Visualize a soldier operating a fully enclosed military tank. I do not even know whether such “totally-enclosed” military vehicles exist. But one can visualize it. Consider a tank (that is essentially a big metal box) without a single window. It has video cameras and microphones mounted on it to capture the scenes and sounds. It also has guns mounted on it that can shoot heavy artillery shells over long distances.

  • Let us also assume that the tank’s movement is fully automated, i.e., the soldier cannot drive it manually.
  • There is a sophisticated computer system that controls all those activities. But the soldier decides where to go, what to shoot at, etc.
  • Now, suppose the computer system breaks down completely. The soldier is fully alive, but he is incapable of knowing what is happening outside. He is also incapable of moving the tank or firing its guns. To someone looking from the outside, the tank appears “lifeless.” It is no different from a nearby rock.
A Gandhabba inside a Physical Body

3. Similarly, a gandhabba trapped inside a physical body cannot see, hear, taste, smell, or touch anything without the aid of the brain.

  • The physical body, just like the military tank, cannot “sense anything.” But it has a set of five “instruments” to interact with the external world (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and body).
  • The brain, analogous to the onboard computer in the military tank, controls those body parts per its gandhabba‘s instructions. It performs two types of tasks. (1) Process external signals coming through those five sensory instruments (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and body) and pass them to the gandhabba inside. (2) It also carries out the instructions by the gandhabba to control those body parts. Thus, the gandhabba controls body movements with the aid of the brain.
  • In the case of extensive brain damage, the gandhabba cannot get any information from outside the body. It will also be unable to speak or move body parts because the brain accomplishes those tasks.
  • That is why a “brain-dead person” in a “vegetative state” shows no sign of life, as we will discuss.
How Can a Gandhabba Move a Heavy Physical Body?

4. Again, the “tank analogy” is helpful. The soldier does not have the energy to move the tank. That energy comes from the fuel in the tank. Therefore, the tank will become “lifeless” if fuel runs out. The computer system will also not have the power to run.

  • The physical body, just like the tank, cannot move without energy. That energy comes from the food that the human eats.
  • Furthermore, the brain also needs energy to operate. That energy also comes from the food.
  • It turns out that the brain consumes roughly 25% of the energy produced by food digestion. That gives an idea of the immense workload on the brain. It has to process all the information coming in through the five senses AND carry out other bodily actions.
  • That is why “brain-dead people” don’t show any sign of life. However, the gandhabba inside is fully alive, now trapped in a useless physical body.
More Comparisons Of the Two Cases

5. More bodily actions can be visualized that way. For example, gandhabba cannot throw a stone. But gandhabba in a human body can get the physical body to throw a stone (with the help of the brain.) It takes a lot of energy to throw a stone. But that energy does NOT come from the gandhabba. that comes from the food consumed by the physical body.

  • Correspondingly, the soldier cannot throw the heavy artillery. But he/she can set up the computer to aim and fire the guns. The energy to propel heavy projectiles comes from the fuel in the military tank.
  • If the computer breaks down, the soldier will be helpless and will not be able to see or hear what is happening outside. Furthermore, he/she will not be able to move the tank or shoot artillery shells. That is just like a “brain-dead person” in a vegetative state (see below.)
Why Can’t the Gandhabba “See-Through” the Physical Body?

6. If a gandhabba outside a human body can travel through walls and see/hear through walls, why can it not see and hear without the physical eyes and ears while being inside the physical body?

  • That is a manifestation of kammic energy dictated by the purpose of the physical body. The physical body arises to provide a way for the gandhabba to experience close contacts (of taste, smell, and touch.) That NECESSITATES its entrapment inside the physical body.
  • Again, the military tank analogy is helpful. The soldier can see and hear without the aid of tank-mounted equipment when he is outside the tank. But while INSIDE the tank, he CANNOT see outside without using the equipment. In the same way, the gandhabba is TOTALLY shielded from the external world once inside the physical body.

7. There is another aspect of why a gandhabba in a human body becomes isolated. Kammic influences block the gandhabba from “seeing through the physical body.” That is a mechanism to make the physical body subject to kamma vipāka.

  • Some people incur brain damage due to kamma vipāka. Being trapped inside one’s own body and not being able to communicate with others is unimaginably harsh, as we will see below.
  • In general, “being trapped inside a heavy body” is one mechanism for humans to “pay for the privilege” of having a physical body to enjoy sense pleasures. Without exception, those who have had out-of-body experiences describe a joyful feeling of “lightness.”
What Happens if the Computer System (Brain) Malfunctions?

8. There are two possible scenarios in each of the cases. Let us consider the tank analogy first.

  • a) If part of the onboard computer-controlled circuitry malfunctions, the soldier may be able to do only specific tasks. For example, suppose the circuitry that controls automated driving and the guns malfunctions. Then, he would be unable to do anything with the tank (either to move it or to fire the guns.) But he may still be capable of seeing and hearing what is happening outside.
  • b) If the computer completely breaks down, the soldier will be completely isolated. He will not see or hear what is happening outside, in addition to being unable to do anything with the tank.

9. In the case of a gandhabba in a human body, the above two scenarios are analogous to two possible situations for a person in a vegetative state.

  • a) If only certain areas of the brain circuitry are damaged (especially the brain stem), that person may be able to see and hear but may be incapable of moving body parts to respond to them.
  • b) If the brain is totally damaged, that person may not see or hear and be unable to move the physical body. That is a “brain-dead person” or a person in a “vegetative state.”
  • Yet, the gandhabba inside is alive and well in both cases, just like the soldier in the tank with a failed computer system.
  • The case of a person in a “vegetative state” is discussed in detail in “Persistent Vegetative State – Buddhist View.”
How Does A Gandhabba See/Hear When Outside a Physical Body?

10. Another possible question is: “How does the gandhabba see and hear when outside the human body?”

  • Mainly humans and animals that communicate via speech (and bodily gestures). Living beings in other realms communicate in a different way that has not been described well.
  • But we know that Brahma Sahampati came to see the Buddha just after Buddha’s Enlightenment and “communicated” with the Buddha. Brahmas don’t have dense physical bodies with mouths or brains to talk like us. 

11. That mode of communication is similar to one’s experience with dreams. In a dream, we do not “hear” what others say in the same way when we hear speech normally, i.e., through the ears. In a dream, we perceive what they are saying. We perceive saññā.

  • We also do not “see dreams” with our eyes, which are closed while we sleep.
  • Here, we need to remember that the “real sensing elements” are not the physical eyes, ears, etc., but the five pasāda rupacakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, and kāya. See “Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis.
The Blind Woman Who Could See With an Out-of-Body Experience

12. The following real-life account provides a good understanding of the workings of the gandhabba in a human body versus outside.

  • In some cases, people are born with the cakkhu pasāda rūpa in good condition, but the optic nerve (or the physical eye itself) may be damaged. In that case, they cannot see because the brain is not getting a signal from the eyes.
  • But if the gandhabba can come out of the body, it can see by itself. The following video clearly illustrates this situation.

13. Note that she had “never seen anything” in her life. It seems that either her physical eyes or the optic nerve/visual cortex in the brain had been damaged at birth. But the cakkhu pasāda rūpa was fully functional. That is why she could see when her gandhabba came out of her body. (She came out of the physical body with her manomaya kaya or her gandhabba; that is what an Out-of-Body Experience means.)

  • However, in other cases, one may be born blind because one may not be born with the cakkhu pasāda rūpa. In that case, even if the gandhabba comes out of the body, it would not be able to see because of the absence of the cakkhu pasāda rūpa.
  • All five sensory faculties are in the gandhabba or the manōmaya kāya. The brain must process those signals before sending them to the corresponding pasāda rūpa. Then that pasāda rūpa transfers the signal to the hadaya vatthu, and it is the hadaya vatthu that really “sees,” “hears,” etc. See “Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis.

All posts on gandhabba and the brain in this subsection: “Brain and the Gandhabba.” I highly recommend reading all those posts.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email