Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein

Revised May 7, 2016; October 25, 2018; January 18, 2020; May 28, 2022 (added #13)

Bhava and Jāti – Two Different Things

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

  • By the way, jāti is pronounced “jāthi” with “th” sound as in “three.”

1. In both Pāli and Sinhala, jāti means birth; bhava means “තිබෙන බව” in Sinhala, or “existence.”

  • When one gets a “human existence” or a human bhava, that can last thousand of years. Within that time, one can be born (jāti) with a physical human body many times.
  • When one gets a human existence at a cuti-patisandhi moment, what is formed first is a “mental body” with a mind-base (hadaya vatthu), and a set of pasāda rupa. That “mental body” is called a gandhabba.
  • When the gandhabba comes out either at the death of the physical body or in an “out-of-body experience” (OBE), the physical body becomes inert; see, “Manomaya Kaya and Out-of-Body Experience (OBE).”
  • Details are available in two subsections: “Mental Body – Gandhabba” and “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya).”
Human Bhava Is Rare

2. Human bhava is hard to get, see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”

3. 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. In 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.
  • 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” means “birth,” then all those rebirth stories cannot be true.
A Sōtapanna May Have Many jāti, But Only Seven Bhava

4. 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.

What Does Bhava Mean?

5. 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 abhisaṅkhāra; this mental power gets established in the “kamma bhava” as a kamma bīja (seed).

  • That is also why it is easy to make kamma bīja or kamma bhava based on our gati (habits/character). Each person likes certain kinds of things. So, we keep strengthening existing kamma bīja/kamma bhava, which, if strong enough, can lead to a rebirth with such “gati” or “bhava,” because that is what is “gets attached to” or ‘likely to grasp” or “upādāna.”
Bhava and Gati – Examples

6. Let us take some examples.

  • An alcoholic drinks habitually, and thus people refer to him as a drunkard. He has a drinking habit (gati) and a craving (āsava) 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 “jāti.”  The mindset of liking for a state of intoxication is the “bhava” corresponding to his “gati” (habit); he has that gati or bhava, and thus, he can be “born” (jāti) in that state easily.
  • That is the “bhava paccayā jāti” step in Paṭicca samuppāda (PS) cycles that operate during this life, leading him to get drunk many, many times.

7. On the other hand, someone who does not like to drink may even have an aversion to drinking alcohol. That person does not have “gati” or “bhava” for intoxication, and thus it is unlikely that he will be “born” in that state. Therefore, it is doubtful that he will get drunk or “be born” in that condition. The “bhava paccayā jāti” step in the PS cycle does not happen here, because the condition (bhava), is not there.

  • A person who has a nasty temper has a “gati” 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 “angry bhava,” and a third person who is very calm may have only a trace of that “angry bhava.” The stronger the “bhava,” the easier it is to be born (jāti) in that “bhava.”
  • Similarly, a person who may have excess greed will have a “gati” 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.
Bhava and Gati – Related

8. Bhava is intimately related to gati (habits/character). One “builds up” a given bhava by engaging activities that cultivate that bhava; this happens via repeated Paṭicca samuppāda cycles during a given life.

Habits Build Gati 

9. The above examples describe how “pavutti kamma bhava” are made, i.e., how one prepares a particular bhava in this life via engaging in relevant saṅkhāra or kamma repeatedly.

  • An alcoholic does this via manō, vaci, and kāya saṅkhāra: such thoughts (manō saṅkhāra) come to his mind often. Then he consciously thinks about such activities and speaks about them (vaci saṅkhāra), i.e., engages in vitakka and vicāra focused on drinking activities). Of course, he will also physically engage in such activities with kāya saṅkhāra.
  • 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 appropriately born in that state (getting drunk) many times, DURING a lifetime.

10. Let us take another example. A child may enjoy 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+uppāda” 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.
  • Those two are examples of effects during a lifetime described in the “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
Kamma Bhava Becomes Uppatti Bhava

11. Such 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.).

  • That is the real danger. At the dying moment, one will be drawn (“upādāna“) to an environment that is compatible with one’s prominent habits (gati) or bhava.
  • Because one got attached willingly (i.e., upādāna), a similar bhava will result: i.e., pati+ichcha leading to sama+uppāda or Paṭicca samuppāda. That is the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step.
  • An alcoholic is likely to be born to a family where the father or mother (or both) are alcoholics. That is the most suitable environment for his upādāna and bhava.
  • One who enjoys torturing animals/humans may be born in niraya (hell) where there is constant torture. Depending on the nature of the bhava, one could be born there to impart torture on others or to be subjected to torture.

12. On the other hand, 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 acquire a “dog bhava,” and be born repeatedly a dog until that kammic energy wears out.
  • It is the universal principle of “pati+ichcha sama+uppāda” working to yield an existence that is similar to the actions that one willingly engaged in; see, “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda” and “Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
Difference Between Kamma Bhava and Uppatti Bhava

13. All kammic energies accumulate in the kamma bhava. Just like any other energy, it will fade away with time, even though that will take billions of years. But, of course, new kammic energies are being accrued as old energies fade.

  • It is at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment (grasping a new bhava) that part of the kammic energy in kamma bhava becomes “uppatti bhava” leading to the new existence.
  • 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. At the Arahant stage, there will be no uppatti bhava, since an Arahant will not have any more uppatti. Even though the kamma bhava for that Arahant will be still there, it will not become a uppatti bhava.
Kamma Bija, Bhava, and Gati

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

  • 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 the next bhava.
  • In that case, he may be born in the niraya repeatedly (many jāti) until the kammic energy for that kamma bhava wears out. That is an example of kamma bhava contributing to a uppatti bhava.

15.  Thus it becomes clear that one needs to look at the root cause for having certain habits or behavior patterns.

  • We can go backward 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 upādāna (willing and forceful embracing.) Upādāna, in turn, was due to taṇhā (getting attached to drinking.) That was due to feeling (i.e., he got to like the “drunk” feeling, the state of intoxication.) Feelings arose due to (san)phassa or contact with salāyatana (use of the six senses inappropriately.) Then salāyatana arose due to nāmarupa (associated visuals of people and activities), which in turn were due to saṅkhāra (kāya, vaci, and manō saṅkhāra for that activity.) Of course, the starting point of avijjā (ignorance of the consequences).
Connection to Avijjā and Tanhā

16. By examining these steps, we can see that the whole cycle can be stopped primarily in two places.

17. If one can get rid of that drinking habit (gati), one would have removed that bhava. Then it is unlikely that one will be born (jāti) 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 an ingrained habit of drinking (strong bhava), all needed could be the sight of a bottle of alcohol.
Good Habits Lead to Good Bhava

18. All the above is valid for “good bhava” or “good habits,” too. 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 terms 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 essential to instill good habits in children and also to break any bad habits that they start developing. It is much easier to stop forming a bhava or habit (gati) at the early stages; once the habit takes hold, it becomes harder to remove. And that is true for adults too.

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

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