Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body

June 10, 2016; revised January 24, 2020

Gandhabba Is The “Mental Body” of a Human

1. Physical bodies are just temporary shelters for the gandhabba.

Racial and Cultural Differences Are Meaningless

2. Thus, all racial and cultural divisions people fight daily are meaningless; those identities change as the gandhabba “switches physical bodies” from life to life. In principle, a Chinese may be born as a “black person” in Africa or as a “white person” in Europe in the next life. However, adjacent lives are generally in similar geographic locations because of the condition for matching “gati.” Still, in the following “human bhava” — which may come after billions of years — one’s gati would have changed drastically.

  • As more and more people start grasping the Buddha Dhamma, most of the violence in the world could reduce. Along that line, one who may be born into poverty in this life may be born a wealthy person in the very next life (if enough merits accrued), and vice versa. All these struggles we go through are only for an insignificantly short time in the scale of samsāra (cycle of rebirths) or compared to the duration of a single human bhava (which could last many hundreds of years). Thus it is wise to “invest in the long term.”
Sensory Faculties Are in Gandhabba

3. The physical body shields the gandhabba‘s sensory system, while the gandhabba is inside the physical body. The Gandhabba has all sensory faculties. But now those “external sensory signals” need to come through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mana indriya in the brain; see below.

  • When outside a physical body (and waiting for a suitable womb), the gandhabba cannot eat or physically touch tangible things because it does not have a “dense body.” But it can see and hear. Furthermore, it uses a very sophisticated sensory system (not light or sound waves) to see and hear, which we will discuss briefly below.
Difference Between Indriya and Āyatana

4. The Buddha analyzed the world in many different ways. Here we present another such analysis since it can provide different insights about the gandhabba.

  • We have six sense faculties (indriya or āyatana) to sense six different types of “matter” (rūpa) in our world. There is a subtle connection between our six sense faculties and the types of “matter” in our world. We will discuss this connection.
  • By the way, indriya and āyatana have different meanings. For example, eyes are indriya when we happen to see things. Still, they BECOME āyatana when used for pleasure, i.e., deliberately looking at mind-pleasing things to enjoy them. Only an Arahant uses his/her sense faculties always as indriya.
  • That is another way to define and analyze our world. Everything in our world belongs to the 12 āyatana. Sometimes they are called six ajjhatta āyatana (or internal āyatana or sense faculties) and six bahiddha āyatana (things in the external world that we sense).

5. These are listed in Pāli in #6 of the post, “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis,”. A simpler account is, “What are Rūpa? – Dhammā are Rūpa too!

  • We touch the densest material (phottabba) out there with our bodies (kāya).
  • Next, less dense are tasted (rasa) with our tongues (jivha).
  • We smell with the next less dense minute particles with smell (gandha) with our noses (ghāna).
  • Hearing uses vibrations propagating through the air (sadda) with our ears (sōta).
  • We see with the aid of photons propagating through space (varna) with our eyes (cakkhu).
  • Our consciousness arises via dhammā in the mind plane with our minds (mano).
Dhammā Are Just Energy

6. The last type of rūpa (dhammā) is not solid matter but just energy; see, “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis.”

  • Thus dhammā do not occupy space (ākāsa) and are in the mind plane or the mental world.
  • All the other five types of rūpa occupy space and are in the material world.
  • So rūpa cannot be translated as “matter.” See “Our Two Worlds: Material and Mental.” That is why sometimes it is better to use the Pāli words.
How Does a Gandhabba “See” While Inside a Physical Body?

7. It is actually through a complicated process that a gandhabba sees, hears, etc., while being inside a physical body (karaja kāya) such as ours. I have explained the basics in “Citta and Cetasika – How viññāṇa (Consciousness) Arises,” “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)- Introduction,” and many other posts.

  • However, it is much easier to grasp how a gandhabba sees and hears while being outside the physical body.  Even though most of us may not have had such “out-of-body experiences,” it can happen, especially during heart operations; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE).” Some people have a natural ability to do that on their own, as discussed in that post.
  • Thus, let us discuss how a stand-alone gandhabba sees and hears while being outside a physical body; this is simpler and provides us with some insights.
The Sensory Faculties In Gandhabba

8. The real sense faculties created with kammic energy at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment are in the kammaja kāya of the gandhabba. The subtle body of the gandhabba has three components, as we have discussed and will again discuss below. The sense faculties are all in the kammaja kāya. 

  • The kammaja kāya of the gandhabba has seven essential elements called dasaka, meaning entities with ten items (decads). They arise from suddhāṭṭhaka, which is composed of eight “items,” as we have discussed; see, “The Origin of Matter – Suddhashtaka.” Different types of dasaka are formed just by incorporating one mode of spin (bramana) and one mode of rotation (paribramana); see, “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“.
  • One added component gives rise to jivita rūpa (pronounced “jeevitha roopa”); this is likely to come from the spin (bramana) mode, but I cannot be sure. This jivita rūpa is in all these other types of dasaka because that is what “maintains life.” Thus different types of dasaka (see below) arise due to different modes of rotation (paribramana).

9. Now, we can list the different types of 7 dasaka (or decads) in the kammaja kāya of the gandhabba. 

  • Vatthu dasaka (mind; also called hadaya vatthu): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + hadaya rūpa
  • Kaya dasaka (body plan): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + kāya pasāda rūpa
  • Cakkhu dasaka (eye indriya): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + cakkhu pasāda rūpa
  • Sota dasaka (ear indriya): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + sōta pasāda rūpa
  • Ghana dasaka (nose indriya): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + ghāna pasāda rūpa
  • Jivha dasaka (tongue indriya): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + jivha pasāda rūpa
  • Bhava dasaka (bhava): suddhāṭṭhakajivita rūpa + itthi or purisa rūpa (determines female/male nature of the body)

Again, it is to be noted that jivita rūpaitthi and purisa rūpa, and the five pasāda rūpa are not “physical matter” but modes of energy in spin and vibration of suddhāṭṭhaka.

  • That is analogous to different electron orbitals giving rise to different types of molecules in chemistry.
Components of the Gandhabba or “Mental Body”

10. A gandhabba is born with those seven dasaka (i.e., kammaja kāya), and immediately the mind starts generating citta (thoughts), which are vipāka citta and, for the most part, in the bhavaṅga. Thus now the gandhabba has a cittaja kāya as well. Note that cittaja kāya is all MENTAL.

  • Almost at the same time, both the kammaja kāya and the cittaja kāya start producing more suddhāṭṭhaka giving rise to the utuja kāya. This utuja kāya is similar to the “aura” surrounding our bodies; in fact, that aura is part of our own (i.e., gandhabba‘s) utuja kāya. Some people claim to be able to see “body aura”; those with abhiññā powers can see them. Also, see “Ghost 1990 Movie – Good Depiction of Gandhabba Concept.”
  • Thus the best way to visualize a gandhabba is to imagine a human with just the “body aura” (without the physical body). Since kammaja kāya consists of only a few suddhāshtaka, and the cittaja kāya is just thoughts, something like an “aura body” is all a gandhabba has.
  • Right now, this subtle body of my gandhabba overlaps my own physical body. All parts of my physical body are in the subtle body of my gandhabba (which is a blueprint for my physical body).
  • While waiting for a physical body, this gandhabba can inhale scents from fruits, vegetables, etc., and acquire a subtle physical body (karaja kāya) too.  Then it expands to the grown size of a human. But of course, it is only an “energy body” that we cannot see.
  • Thus a free-standing gandhabba may have four types of “bodies”: kammaja kāya,  cittaja kāya, utuja kāya, and karaja kāya.
Gandhabba Outside the Physical Body

11. This gandhabba can see over vast distances and hear over large distances and travel instantly to remote destinations. Sight does not need light, and sound does not require vibrations in the air. It is equivalent to seeing and hearing with abhiññā powers. That is how those with abhiññā skills can see through walls and hear over vast distances; they have control over their gandhabba kāya or the manōmaya kāya.

12. When a gandhabba builds a physical body (inside a womb), those seven dasaka — each of which is the “size of a suddhāṭṭhaka” — determine all critical functions. Furthermore, gandhabba has the blueprint for that physical body.

  • The physical body (karaja kāya) of the human grows according to kāya dasaka and bhava dasaka but also takes into account the physical qualities of mother and father (eye and skin color, as well as size, are good examples).
  • When inside a physical body, the external signals that come to the physical body via eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body touches, are converted in the brain into the form that can be sensed by the five pasāda rūpa (they are the five dasaka with corresponding pasāda rūpa). This somewhat complicated process is discussed in “Citta and Cetasika – How viññāṇa (Consciousness) Arises,” “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)- Introduction,” among others.
Why Are Some Born With Deformed Body Parts?

13. The blueprint in the kammaja kāya of the gandhabba has all the details of physical organs as well. When the utuja kāya forms, it has this blueprint. Some people are born without limbs because past kamma vipāka is taken into account by the kammaja kāya.

  • Some are born with physical eyes but without the cakkhu pasāda in the kammaja kāya, so they will never be able to see; they are the ones who are born blind. Similarly, some are born deaf, and sometimes both. That is because the gandhabba in them does not have the cakkhu pasāda and sōta pasāda.
  • However, in some cases, the gandhabba may have the cakkhu pasāda, but during birth, the optical nerves in the brain may get damaged. In such cases, it may be possible to have vision restored.
Gandhabba Is The Blueprint For the Physical Body

14. It is, in fact, the gandhabba that controls the otherwise inert physical body. There is a carbon copy of all parts of the physical body (including the nervous system) in the fine utuja kāya of the gandhabba.

  • What is the mechanism used by the gandhabba to control the inert physical body? The easiest way to visualize this is to consider the following. If we put some iron dust on a piece of paper and move a magnet below the paper, we can see that those dust particles move along as one moves the magnet. If we move the magnet in a circle, dust particles move along that circle. In the same way, when the gandhabba moves its utuja kāya, the physical body follows that motion.
  • Thus, what the gandhabba does is similar to what the magnet does in the above analogy. But it is a bit more complicated because moving heavy body parts needs much more energy. That is where the physical nervous system comes into play. The brain, in synchronization with the mind (hadaya vatthu), sends signals to muscles to move. The energy to move those muscles comes from the food we eat.
  • Both the “magnetic nervous system” or the “ray system” of the gandhabba AND the physical nervous system based on the brain are needed to move the physical body.
Two Nervous Systems

15. Thus, there are two nervous systems in the body: one is the physical nervous system known to modern science. The other is the subtle nervous system (ray system) of the gandhabba.

  • When they go “out-of-sync,” our physical bodies start aching. Even in a perfectly healthy human, it is not possible to maintain a given posture for too long.
  • Kamma vipāka can shift the nervous system (ray system) of the gandhabba away from that of the physical body. The body’s muscles need to move to the new equilibrium position, causing us discomfort or even pain. 
  • We will discuss more important consequences experienced during meditation in future posts.
Physical Body Comes With  a Price

16. The physical body can impart various other forms of suffering as well. It can develop diseases such as cancer in various parts of the body; body parts can break or be injured.

  • The effects that we have discussed above may be the reason that we humans (and animals) have this complicated mechanism involving repeated births in a single bhava using a gandhabba and multiple physical bodies.
  • The Brahmā and even Devā do not suffer physical ailments; their subtle bodies can last longer and need not be “regenerated” via this mechanism, i.e., just one physical body for the gandhabba.
  • Another important aspect is that our physical brain slows down the generation of javana citta in a given time. The “signal processing” in the brain is much slower than the high-speed generation of cittā in the hadaya vatthu; seeCitta and Cetasika – How viññāṇa (Consciousness) Arises.”
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