Gandhabba – Only in Human and Animal Realms

June 4, 2016

1. There are many posts on the important concept of gandhabba not only in this series, but scattered throughout the site, and especially in the section, “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)“. These posts discuss the details on how a living being goes through the rebirth process without having an unchanging “soul”, but still maintaining (ever-changing) personal characteristics or gathi.

  • It all started with a post on this basic concept over two years ago: “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream“.
  • While it is good to get an idea of the nature of all living beings in the 31 realms, it is not necessary to learn those in detail. I just want to provide a complete and inter-consistent picture per original teachings of the Buddha in this section.
  • However, the concept of the gandhabba is important in order to understand how we are reborn with physically different bodies multiple times in a single human existence (human bhava) which may last hundreds or thousands of years; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein“. Unlike devas and brahmas who are born just once, we live and die to be reborn human multiple times before switching to another realm.

2. We will first review two major aspects about the 31 realms and how to grasp some salient distinguishing features among different realms. Then we will discuss the concept of a gandhabba (which is applicable only to human and animal realms) in more detail.

3. The following chart shows the major features of what happens at the cuti-patisandhi moment (when a living being makes a transition from one bhava (existence) to another, say from being a human to a brahma.

Births in Different Realms

Click to open the pdf file: Births in Different Realms

  • Without an exception, at each and every such cuti-patisandhi moment, a new kammaja kaya is generated by the kammic energy fueling a new existence. This kammaja kaya ALWAYS has a hadaya vatthu, which is the seat of the mind (the quality of which depends on the realm).

4. Thus it is important to realize that the critical thing that happens at the cuti-patisandhi moment is the generation of the unbelievably small kammaja kaya which contains the blueprint for the new existence. At that point, the mechanism of “birth” can be roughly divided into three categories as shown in the chart.

  • The brahmas in the rupi and arupi realms (top 20 realms) are instantaneously born with very little else other than several suddhashtaka-size “material elements”. Their body features are discussed below, but the main feature here is that they are instantaneously born in those realms and live very long times there until death. Then another cuti-patisandhi moment takes that being to a new bhava.
  • The only difference in the 6 deva realms (in käma loka) compared to the brahmas is that they do have well-defined physical bodies (karaja kaya) like us. However, those bodies are much less dense, and we are not able to see them even if they stand right in front of us.
  • It is said that a deva is born with the body equivalent of a 16-year-old and their food is a drink called amurtha; they have all five sense faculties like us and are said to the optimum sense pleasures available in kama loka. They also live that one life until death and then switch to a new existence (bhava) at the cuti-patisandhi moment.
  • That completes the discussion on the green box to the right.

5. What happens in the green box to the left is a bit more complex, because each realm in the apayas (lowest four realms) is somewhat different. We will discuss the animal realm together with the human realm (middle box) below, so let us discuss briefly the lowest three realms indicated by the green box on the left.

  • The lowest is the niraya (hell), where beings are born with full dense bodies like ours instantaneously. They undergo ceaseless cutting, burning, and various other forms of torture and may die innumerable times, just to be reborn instantaneously. Only when the kammic energy for that existence is exhausted (normally after millions of years) that they encounter the next cuti-patisandhi moment.
  • Beings in the pretha (peta) realm also are born instantaneously and can have fine or dense bodies. The distinguishing feature there is suffering due to hunger.
  • Beings in the asura realm are beings with huge, very inactive bodies. They are also born instantaneously and live those miserable lives until the next cuti-patisandhi moment.

6. That brings us to the middle green box which represents the human and animal realms. A little bit more complicated process takes place here. Here also, a being with a very fine body is produced at the cuti-patisandhi moment just like in the rupa loka realms; it is called a gandhabba.

  • A gandhabbas has the basic thrija kaya of a rupi brahma: kammaja kaya, cittaja kaya, and utuja kaya, which we will discuss in detail below. In addition, a gandhabba may acquire a very fine karaja kaya (physical body) by inhaling aroma. Thus a gandhabba is more dense than a rupi brahma; it has a body more like that of a deva in density.
  • A gandhabba could be in that state for many years until a suitable womb becomes available, i.e., a womb (more precisely the mental state of the mother at that time) that matches the gathi of the gandhabba. The evolution of the gandhabba in the womb is discussed in, “What does Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism) say about Birth Control?“. Then it is born as a new baby, grows and eventually that physical body also dies. If there is more kammic energy left for the bhava, then the gandhabba leaves that dead body and waits for another womb. This process continues until the bhava energy is exhausted and then it goes through the cuti-patisandhi moment to receive a new bhava; see the chart above.
  • In addition to going into a womb, (in some animal species) gandhabba enters an egg inside a female animal. Upon growing to a full animal and death, gandhabba comes out and waits for another egg. It is the same procedure as above.

7. One of the main benefits of learning about the gandhabba is in helping remove the wrong view that “I am my physical body”.

  • In contrary, a physical body is a temporary shelter that the gandhabba uses to experience the much coveted “sense pleasures”, in particular smelling, eating, and touch (most of all sex). Unfortunately, a human body can last only about 100 years, and after 50-60 years it is in the “decay mode” and those sense pleasures diminish, and eventually that body dies.
  • Then the gandhabba comes out of that dead body and waits for a suitable womb. If and when it is pulled into a womb, the new physical body results is influenced also by the new parents and thus can be very different from the previous body. Even during this same “human bhava” our human bodies may look very different from one birth to another (as confirmed by rebirth stories).
  • Of course, the gandhabba does not stay the same either. The only things that can be called “personal” to that gandhabba are its gathi, and those evolve too.
  • That is basically a brief explanation of the above chart.

8. As we mentioned in #4 above, most lifeforms in the 31 realms have unbelievably tiny physical bodies. In fact, any individual being in the 16 rupa loka realms and the 4 arupa loka realms weighs less than a billionth of an atom! They may be visualized more as energy packets.

  • In case it was not clear from previous posts, we recall that an arupa loka brahma has a kammaja kaya consisting of just a vatthu dasaka.
  • Rupa loka brahmas have kaya dasaka and bhava dasaka in addition to vatthu dasaka, and two pasada rupa for seeing and hearing; thus their kammaja kaya has five suddhashtaka-size elements . A rupa loka brahma also has a cittaja kaya (thought stream) and a utuja kaya (very fine).
  • Thus any of these brahmas cannot be seen with the most sophisticated microscope we have today.
  • These details are discussed in, “Body Types in 31 Realms – Importance of Manomaya Kaya“. It must be noted that manomaya kaya, when referred to the human and animal realms, is the same as gandhabba.

9. Let us again summarize the make up of a kammaja kaya of a human gandhabba. It has a hadaya vatthu (consisting of a vatthu dasaka), bhava dasaka, and kaya dasaka, and four pasada rupa (cakkhu dasaka, sota dasaka, gandha dasaka, jivaha dasaka).

  • This kammaja kaya basically consists of 7 suddhashtaka in different bramana (spin) and paribramana (rotation) modes. That is how they become dasakas (units of ten or decads); see, “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“.
  • Six of these define the sense faculties of the gandhabba: vatthu dasaka is the mind, and kaya, cakkhu, sota, gandha, and jivaha dasaka) are the “fine senses” that correspond to body, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue in the physical body. gandhabba can interact with the external world directly via them when outside the physical body. It can smell and inhale aroma giving rise to a very fine physical body. However, that body is not solid enough to physically touch anything or to eat.
  • The seventh dasaka is bhava dasaka, which — together with the kaya dasaka — defines what kind of a physical body it will start building once inside a womb. For example, the sex is determined by the bhava dasaka, but that is not its only role.

10. As soon as the kammaja kaya is formed at the cuti-patisandhi moment, the mind becomes active and thoughts stream (cittaja kaya) starts; initial thoughts are just due to kamma vipaka, and the mind is mostly in the bhavanga state. Simultaneously, an utuja kaya is also formed by the suddhashtaka generated by both the kammaja kaya and cittaja kaya.

  • Thus immediately after the cuti-patisandhi moment, gandhabba has three “bodies” or thrija kaya. However, the cittaja kaya is all mental and both the kammaja kaya and utuja kaya are very fine, with much less combined “weight” compared to an atom in science.
  • Soon after this “initial formation”, the gandhabba can build a very fine physical body (karaja kaya) by inhaling aroma (from fruits, trees, etc). Still it is too fine to be seen with the naked eye, but some people (especially those with abhinna powers) can see some “sufficiently solidified” gandhabbas.

11. But this gandhabba is constantly under stress, because it is unable to enjoy the most coveted sense pleasures of normal humans: eating and sex. It can see people enjoying these sense pleasures and is very much frustrated not being able to acquire a “real physical body”. Some can stay in this state for many, many years if a suitable womb does not become available (animal gandhabbas are in the same situation).

  • In some cases they may spend the kammic energy for the human bhava and undergo another cuti-patisandhi moment without inheriting a human body. This is why one is indebted to one’s parents, no matter how bad they may be.

12. The story of the gandhabba gets more interesting (and complicated) after going through the first birth as a normal human and dying. The gandhabba that comes out of that dead body is of course different from the original gandhabba. Its kammaja kaya has changed due to whatever abhisankhara that the human cultivated. But the kammic energy for the human bhava does not change; if it had 1000 years worth of kammic energy at the cuti-patisandhi moment, that will deplete with time.

  • Of course, there is no cuti-patisandhi moment when a human dies with left over kammic energy. The death is the death of the physical body. The gandhabba just comes out of that dead body awaits a new womb; see the above chart. Thus all three components of the thrija kaya just continue after the “death of the human”.

13. Let us consider some important features of this gandhabba that comes out of that dead body after its birth as a human.

  • The kammaja kaya still has a copy of the previous physical body. However, when it starts a new physical body in the new womb, it takes some features from the new parents too (and also may reflect any strong kamma vipaka accrued in the previous life). Thus the new physical body is a trade-off between those three influences. It may keep some distinguishing features (birth marks or gun shot wounds, for example, as we have encountered in rebirth accounts), but will acquire new features also from the new parents (skin color, size, etc).
  • In fact, the gandhabba that comes of the dead body is just a “misty, fine version” of the person at death. Most times they come out with imprints of the clothes they were wearing at death, and will look just like that (in a ghostly, misty form) until going into a new womb. My teacher Thero has seen gandhabbas of people who died hundreds of years ago “wearing” those old costumes. Of course they are not real physical clothes.

14. Since the cittaja kaya also continues, their thought streams just continue. So, if someone dies in an accident, he may not realize that he is dead for a little while. If he died from a gun shot instantly, the gandhabba just comes out of and will be looking at the dead body trying to figure out what happened. He may wish to go home and finds himself instantly at home. And he will try to shout to others but of course they don’t hear. He may try to touch them, but he cannot. It is said that it takes seven days for a gandhabba to fully comprehend what happened and to resign to his/her new life.

  • This is also why children can recall their past life. But just like we start forgetting things from years ago, those children start forgetting about the previous life when they grow older. Furthermore, it is more harder to remember from the past life compared to this life.
  • Another point is that most such rebirth accounts are from people who died while young in accidents. Those who grow to old age, die, become a gandhabba, and reborn are not likely to remember their past life, because their minds were not as sharp at death.

Next in the series, “Body Types in 31 Realms – Importance of Manomaya Kaya“, ………..


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