Bhava and Jati – States of Existence and Births Therein

Revised May 7, 2016

There is much confusion about the terms “bhava” and “jati” (pronounced “jäthi“). But that does not need to be the case. Here we will clarify these two important terms in the paticca samuppada (PS) cycles.

1. First, from the Ratana Sutta; “..Na te bhavaṃ aṭṭhamamādiyanti“, means, “(A Sotapanna) will not be born in an eighth bhava“. Then, from Paticca Samuppada, it is “bhava paccaya jati” or “existence gives rise to birth”.

  • When one gets a “human existence (bhava)”, one could be born (jati) as a human many times.  In between adjacent human births, the lifestream is in the gandhabbaya state; see, “Gandhabbaya (Manomaya Kaya)- Introduction“.
  • In rebirth stories, there is always a “time gap” between successive human births (jati). They are always separated by several years or at least few years. In between those successive lives, that lifestream lives as a gandhabbaya, without a physical body.
  • In most rebirth stories, the previous human life was terminated unexpectedly, like in an accident or a killing. Therefore, the kammic energy for the human bhava had not been exhausted, and the gandhabbaya just came out of the dead body and waited for another womb to enter.
  • Furthermore, the Buddha has described how difficult it is to get a human existence; see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm“. If “bhava” is taken to be “birth”, then all those rebirth stories cannot be true.

2. In both Pali and Sinhala, jäti means birth; bhava means “thibena bava” in Sinhala, or an state of existence.

  • Also, “bha” means “establish”.  When we have strong feelings about something, say we like something and thoughts “wheel around” in our mind about how to get it, that is very potent abhisankhara; this mental power gets established in the “kamma bhava” as a kamma beeja (seed).
  • This is also why it is easy to make kamma beeja or kamma bhava based on our gathi (habits/character). Each person likes certain kinds of things. So, we keeping strengthening existing kamma beeja/kamma bhava, which, if strong enough, can lead to a rebirth with such “gathi” or “bhava“, because that is what is “gets attached to” or ‘likely to grasp” or “upadana“.

3. Let us take some examples.

  • An alcoholic drinks habitually, and thus people refer to him as a drunkard. He has a drinking habit (gathi) and a craving (asava) for it. But he is not in a state of intoxication all the time, only when he is drunk, i.e., only when he is born in that “jati“.  The mindset of liking for a state of intoxication is the “bhava” corresponding to his “gathi” (habit); he has that gathi or bhava and thus he can be “born” (jati) in that state easily. This is the “bhava paccaya jati” step in paticca samuppada (PS) cycles that operates during this life, leading him to get drunk many, many times.
  • On the other hand, someone who does not like to drink may even have an aversion for drinking alcohol. That person does not have “gathi” or “bhava” for intoxication and thus it is unlikely that he will be “born” in that state; thus it is unlikely that he will get drunk, or “be born” in that condition. The “bhava paccaya jati” step in the PS cycle does not happen here, because the condition or the cause, bhava, is not there.
  • A person who has a really bad temper has a “gathi” or “bhava” for that, and thus may be born in that, i.e., may flare up with the slightest provocation. Another may have a less strong “bhava“, and a third person who is very calm may have only a trace of that “bhava“. The stronger the “bhava“, the easier it is to be born (jati) in that “bhava“.
  • Similarly, a person who may have excess greed will have a “gathi” or “bhava” for that. And such a “greedy bhava” may have focused areas: some are greedy for food, some for power, some for fame, money, etc.

4. Bhava is intimately connected to gathi (habits). One “builds up” a given bhava by engaging activities that cultivates that bhava; this happens via repeated paticca samuppada cycles during a given life.

5. The above examples describe how “pavutti kamma bhava” are made, i.e., how one prepares a certain bhava in this life via engaging in relevant sankhara or kamma repeatedly. An alcoholic does this via mano, vaci, and kaya sankhara: he thinks about such activities (mano sankhara), plans them (vaci sankhara, i.e., engages in vitakka and vicara that are focused on drinking activities), and then physically engages in such activities (kaya sankhara). The more he does those, the stronger the “drinking bhava” or “drinking habit” becomes.

  • Someone who has cultivated such a kamma bhava for drinking can be easily born in that state (getting drunk) many times DURING a life time.
  • Let us take another example. A child gains pleasure by torturing a cat or a dog. If this habit is not stopped, he may start gaining pleasure by torturing humans too. The “pati+ichcha sama+uppada” cycle will take him to an extreme if not disrupted early enough. He will build a habit for doing it (i.e., born in that state) many times during the same lifetime.
  • The above two are examples of the pavutti bhava described in the “Akusala-Mula Pavutti (or Pravutti) Paticca Samuppada“.

6. Such kamma bhava can get strong enough to become “uppatti kamma bhava“. This is the real danger. At the dying moment one will be drawn (“upädana“) to an environment that is compatible with ones prominent habits (gathi) or bhava.

  • Because one got attached willingly (i.e., upädana), a similar bhava will result: i.e., pati+ichcha leading to sama+uppada or paticca samuppada. This is the “upädana paccaya bhava” step.
  • Thus an alcoholic is prone to be born to family where the father or mother (or both) are alcoholics. That is the most suitable environment for his upädana and  bhava.
  • One who enjoys torturing animals/humans may be born in niraya (hell) where there is incessant torture. Depending on the nature of the bhava one could be born there to impart torture on others or to be subjected to torture.
  • One who has benevolent qualities of a deva (i.e., deva bhava) could acquire “deva bhava” and be born a deva; one who has cultivated compassion for other beings (i.e., brahma bhava) may acquire “brahma bhava” and be born a brahma. Similarly, one who has developed disgraceful qualities of a dog may be acquire a “dog bhava“, and be born repeatedly a dog until that kammic energy is spent.
  • It is the universal principle of “pati+ichcha sama+uppada” working to yield an existence that is similar to the actions that one willingly engaged in; see, “Akusala-Mula Paticca Samuppada” and “Kusala-Mula Paticca Samuppada“.

7. A kamma beeja (seed) is also related to bhava; when one develops a habit (gathi) by keep doing things related to it, that bhava or the kamma beeja gets stronger. It leads to “bhava paccaya jati” under suitable conditions many times during this life itself.

  • An alcoholic with a kamma bhava for intoxication can be easily “born” (jati) in a state of intoxication; all needed is a suggestion by friend, or even the sight of a bar. This is an example of a pavutti kamma bhava. He is likely to be  born in a “state of drunkenness” during this lifetime.

8. In the case of the person who developed a bhava for torturing other living beings may have that kamma seed being the one selected for next bhava upon death from a bhava that had exhausted all its kammic energy.

  • In that case, he may be born in the niraya repeatedly (many jati) until the kammic energy for that kamma bhava is spent. This is an example of an uppatti kamma bhava.

9.  Thus it becomes clear that one needs to look at the root cause for having certain habits or behavior patterns. We can go backwards in the PS to find the causes. To be born in a drunken state, one needs to have a bhava of an alcoholic; that bhava was conditioned via upadana (willing and forceful embracing), which in turn was due to tanha (getting attached to drinking), which was due to feeling (i.e., he got to like the “drunk” feeling, the state of intoxication), which was due to (san)phassa or contact, salayatana (using the six senses inappropriately), namarupa (associated visuals of names and activities), sankhara (kaya, vaci, and mano sankhara for that activity), and of course the starting point of avijja (ignorance of the consequences).  By examining these steps, we can see that the whole cycle can be stopped at any place:

  • By contemplating on the adverse consequences of drinking, he could remove ignorance, and make a firm decision to stop.
  • If he is mindful, whenever a thought about drinking comes to the mind, he can stop “wheeling around” (stopping mano/vaci sankhara) and thus stopping multiple PS cycles.
  • The less he goes through such PS cycles, the weaker the vinnana or the mindset for drinking will get.
  • Then he will make less and less associated namarupa, less salayatana, less contacts, and thus experience less of that feeling. This will further propagate to less tanha, upadana, bhava or habit formation, and thus will be less likely to be “born” in that state.

10. If one is able to get rid of that drinking habit (gathi), one would have removed that bhava. Then it is unlikely that one will be born (jati) in that intoxicated state.

  • The “trigger level” needed to generate a birth will be higher if the bhava (or habit) is not strong.  Someone who has not had an alcoholic drink may be reluctant to have one.
  • When one has a strong habit for drinking (strong bhava), all needed could be the sight of a bottle of alcohol.

11. All above is valid for “good bhava” or “good habits” too. In order to cultivate that bhava, one needs to be engaged in as many PS cycles as possible. The more the cycle gets repeated, the stronger each step becomes (the neural connections in the brain for that habit will strengthen, in term of modern science; see, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“).

  • It is easy to see from the above discussion why it is important to instill good habits in children and also to break any bad habits that they start developing. It is much more easier to stop forming a bhava or habit (gathi) at early stages; once the habit takes hold, it becomes harder to remove. And that is true for adults too.

12. I hope that I was able to covey the distinction between bhava and jati. For example, if an animal has exhausted kammic energy of that “animal bhava”, and if it has a dominant kamma seed suitable for a human, it may come to forefront at the dying moment. Then, the animal to human transition (cuti-patisandhi) takes place in the last citta vithi of the animal.

  • Now this new “human bhava” may have enough kammic energy for many human births, say, 1000 years worth. In that case, this “human bhava” will last for 1000 years unless he commits a very strong kamma, good or bad.  So, he could have 10 consecutive births (jati) in the human realm each lasting 100 years. At the end of his first jati, the last citta vithi will not have a cuit-patisandhi transition; the gandhabbaya will come out of the dead body and will seek a new human womb to enter; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Physical Body“.
  • It is not easy to find a suitable womb right away, so the gandhabbaya may have to wait a frustratingly long time, some time many years, before a suitable womb becomes available. This is why there is a gap between consecutive lives in most rebirth accounts.

13. There are several key words associated with “bhava“.

  • A person who is working to eliminate “bhava” and attain Nibbana is a “Bhauddhaya“; see, “A Buddhist or a Bhauddhaya?“.
  • Bhikkhu” has a similar meaning: “bhava” + “khaya“. Normally the word “bhikkhu” is a stronger word, and is used to indicate a “dedicated Bhauddhaya“. Nowadays, “bhikkhu” is used exclusively for Buddhist monks who have given up the “householder life”.
  • A “Buddha” is someone who has removed “bhava“. This can be done via three ways as described in “Saddharma Pundika Sutra (Lotus Sutra) – A Focused Analysis“.

Also see, “How Character (Gathi) Leads to Bhava and Jathi“, …….

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