Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein
Bhava and jāti are related but are different concepts. Bhava is of two types: kamma bhava and uppatti bhava. There can be many jāti (births) within a uppatti bhava.
Revised May 7, 2016; October 25, 2018; January 18, 2020; May 28, 2022; re-written August 12, 2022
1. In both Pāli and Sinhala, jāti means birth. Bhava means “තිබෙන බව” in Sinhala, or “existence.”
- There are two types of bhava: kamma bhava and uppatti bhava. Kamma bhava is “potential for existence.” Uppatti bhava is one’s current existence.
- Various types of kamma bhava are created via akusala-mula Paṭicca samuppāda. At the patisandhi moment of grasping a new existence, one of those kamma bhava becomes uppatti bhava.
- When one gets a “human existence” or a human bhava, that can last thousands of years. Within that uppatti bhava, one can be born (jāti) with a physical human body many times.
- By the way, jāti is pronounced “jāthi” with “th” sound as in “three.” There is a universally-adopted convention of writing Pali words with English letters to keep the sentences short. In another example, “uppatti” is pronounced, “uppaththi.” See Ref. 1 for details.
- First, let us clarify “bhava.”
What Is Kamma Bhava?
2. Here, “bha” means “establish.” When we act with a defiled mind, we create kammic energies that lead to future existence (bhava.) That simple statement embeds the essence of Buddha Dhamma: “Manōpubbangamā Dhammā..”
- When we have strong feelings about something, we generate deep desires/cravings. Those are potent abhisaṅkhāra; they create kammic energies or kamma bīja (seeds.) Those are different names for “kamma bhava.“
- For example, craving tasty food may lead to immoral thoughts/actions. If one does not have enough money, one may resort to stealing, possibly leading to violence. Such immoral actions lead to the generation of kamma bīja (or kamma bhava.)
- Therefore, the generation of kamma bīja (or kamma bhava) happens based on our gati (habits/character). Each person likes certain kinds of experiences/activities.
Kamma Bija, Kamma Bhava, and Gati
3. When one develops a habit (gati) by repeatedly doing related things, that bhava or the kamma bīja gets stronger. It leads to the creation of kamma bhava via “taṇhā paccayā upādāna, upādāna paccayā bhava.”
- Thus, one who started stealing may cultivate a habit of doing it. Each time they steal, kammic energy is added to that associated kamma bīja or kamma bhava.
- An innocent child may not have any desire to drink alcohol. But growing into a teenager, he may start drinking under the influence of friends. If he starts liking that experience, he will repeatedly engage in drinking and will start building up a “drunkard bhava.” That is a “kamma bhava” built up with a new habit (gati) of drinking.
Kamma Bhava Becomes Uppatti Bhava
4. All kammic energies accumulate in the kamma bhava. Some kamma bhava can get strong enough to become “uppatti bhava,” leading to rebirth in a “good existence” (Deva, Brahma) or a “bad existence” (animal, peta, etc.).
- At the cuti-paṭisandhi moment (grasping a new bhava), the strongest kamma bhava available becomes “uppatti bhava,“ leading to the new existence.
- At the cuti moment, one will be presented with an ārammaṇa compatible with that bhava. For example, suppose one had killed an enemy and thus created a kamma bhava suitable to bring a niraya birth. Then at the cuti (dying) moment, one may visualize that same past scenario where the enemy was confronted.
- If one attaches willingly to that ārammaṇa (i.e., upādāna), a similar niraya bhava will result: i.e., pati+ichcha leading to sama+uppāda or Paṭicca Samuppāda. That is the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in grasping a new uppatti bhava. However, if that person had attained a magga phala, they would not have upādāna for such an ārammaṇa. That is why anyone above the Sotapanna Anugāmi will not be reborn in an apāya.
5. Note that the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step comes BOTH in creating a kamma bhava (in #3 above) and grasping one of those as uppatti bhava (in #4 above.) Let us consider a few examples.
- One who enjoys torturing animals/humans is creating a kamma bhava with those actions. They may be born in niraya (hell), where constant torture occurs via grasping that as a uppatti bhava at a paṭisandhi moment. That is an example of kamma bhava contributing to a uppatti bhava. In that case, he may be born in the niraya repeatedly (many jāti) until the kammic energy for that niraya bhava wears out.
- An alcoholic contributes to the kamma bhava by habitually drinking and acting like an animal. That can lead to creating a kamma bhava compatible with animal existence. Thus, they could grasp that kammic energy as a uppatti bhava in a future paṭisandhi moment and be born an animal. For example, one who behaves like a dog after getting drunk (displaying inappropriate sexual acts, threatening others, etc.) may cultivate the disgraceful qualities of a dog and may acquire a “dog bhava.”
Good Habits Lead to Good Bhava
6. All the above is valid for “good bhava” or “good habits,” too.
- Thus, one with the compassionate qualities of a Deva (i.e., deva bhava) could acquire “Deva bhava” and be born a deva. One who has cultivated jhāna may acquire “Brahma bhava” and be born a Brahma.
- (Note that Deva and Brahma bhava each have only one jāti. Once born in the final form with an opapātika birth, they live until the end of bhava. There is no “gandhabba state” as is the case for humans and animals.)
- It is the universal principle of “paṭi+ichcha sama+uppāda” working to yield an existence similar to the actions one willingly engages in. See “Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
7. To cultivate a good or bad bhava, one must frequently engage in corresponding activities.
- It is easy to see from the above discussion why it is essential to instill good habits in children and break any bad habits as they grow. It is much easier to stop forming “bad” bhava or habits (gati) in the early stages; once a habit/addiction takes hold, it becomes harder to lose.
- Also, see “How Character (Gati) Leads to Bhava and Jathi.“
- Modern science agrees with that too. According to modern science, repeated actions will strengthen the neural connections in the brain for that habit; see, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“).
Human Bhava Is Rare – But Many Human Jati (Births) Occur Within a Human Bhava
8. Human bhava is hard to get; see “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
- However, a human bhava or a human existence can last thousands of years. A human birth (jāti) with a human body lasts only about 100 years. Therefore, within a human bhava, there can be MANY births with a human body or jāti.
- In between births with physical human bodies, a human lives as a gandhabba (with just the mental body) in the nether world or para lōka. This para lōka co-exists with our human lōka, but we cannot see those gandhabbā without physical bodies. For details, see “Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body,” “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception,” and “Cloning and Gandhabba.”
- A good visualization of gandhabba is in “Ghost 1990 Movie – Good Depiction of Gandhabba Concept.” It is an “energy field” that we cannot see.
9. In rebirth stories, there is always a “time gap” between successive human births (jāti). They separate by many years or at least a few years. Between those successive lives, that lifestream lives as a gandhabba, 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 human bhava may not be exhausted. In that case, the gandhabba just came out of the dead body and waited for another womb to enter.
- The Buddha has described that it is extremely difficult to get a human existence (bhava); see “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.” If “bhava” means “birth,” then all those rebirth stories cannot be true.
A Sōtapanna May Have Many jāti, But Only Seven Bhava
10. As a Noble Person moves up in magga phala, less kamma bhava (i.e., accumulated kammic energy) will be able to contribute to uppatti bhava. There will be no uppatti bhava at the Arahant stage since an Arahant will not have any more uppatti. Even though the kamma bhava for that Arahant will still be there, it will not become a uppatti bhava.
- From the Ratana Sutta; “..Na te bhavaṃ aṭṭhamamādiyanti” means, “(A Sōtapanna) will not be born in an eighth bhava.” But there could be many rebirths within those seven bhava.
- For example, King Bimbisāra, a Sotāpanna, died and had 14 rebirths; see “Janavasabha Sutta (DN 18)“.
A Physical Human Body Versus Manōmaya Kāya (Gandhabba)
11. According to the Tipiṭaka, a full-fledged human appears via a series of steps: “jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho.” See “Vibhaṅga Sutta (SN 12.2)” and “Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body.”
- Here, jāti is the paṭisandhi moment, when the kammaja kāya (with hadaya vatthu and pasāda rupa) for the new bhava appears in a thought-moment. Moments later, that kammaja kāya is augmented by the cittaja kāya, meaning citta will start arising. Then kammaja kāya and cittaja kāya start generating suddhāṭṭhaka-size matter giving rise to the utuja kāya (aura,) and a manōmaya kāya (gandhabba) results. That is the sañjāti moment.
- When that gandhabba goes into a suitable womb, that is the okkanti moment. In many suttā, that is described as the “viññāṇa of a boy or a girl descending into a womb.” Note that by the time descending into a womb, the sex is already determined.
- The following steps describe the evolvement of the human baby inside the womb to end up with the fully-formed six āyatana.
- There is no place in the Tipiṭaka that says paṭisandhi happens in a womb. Rather it says, “…gandhabba okkanti hoti“. That may happen even after the birth of the gandhabba.
12. All relevant posts at “Gati, Bhava, and Jāti.”