Gati to Bhava to Jāti – Ours to Control

Revised November 15, 2018; January 25, 2024


One’s character (gati) determines one’s future births. The ability to figure that out is called the “nāmarūpa pariccēda ñāna.” See “Nāmarūpa Formation.”

1. We have discussed the background material in the previous two posts: “Namagotta, Bhava, Kamma Bīja, and Mano Loka (Mind Plane)” and “Gati and Bhava – Many Varieties“. Now I want to bring it all together and show that “bhava” is actually something that we create AND maintain on our own with the way we think, speak, and act with our ingrained habits (gati).

  • If you have not read the previous two posts, I highly encourage you to do so. It is essential to get the basic concepts right and rehash them in different (yet consistent!) ways so that the ideas sink in.
  • We will use those ideas and the Paṭicca samuppāda sequence to trace how we make “bhava” OURSELVES, which in turn give rise to jāti (births) not only in future lives but also during this life.
  • No one else, or even a “super being,” can either help or hurt you in the long run. One’s destiny is up to oneself. The Buddha said, “attā hi attanō nāthō, kō hi nāthō parōsiyā” or “One is indeed one’s refuge; how can others be a refuge to one?”. Even the Buddha could only teach the way.
What Are Gati?

2. “Gati” is a keyword in Buddha Dhamma. There is no perfect English translation, but habits, tendencies, and biases convey similar meanings. Gati has a deeper meaning because sometimes, one’s samsāric gati (habits and tendencies from previous lives) may lie dormant.

  • For example, a teenager may not have a “habit” of drinking, but after a few drinks, he may get “hooked” easier than others if he had a corresponding gati from past lives.
  • Also, I get messages from people who never even paid attention to “Buddhism” getting to samādhi (state of calmness) just by reading these posts; that is also a “gati” from past lives. They are likely to have been exposed to Buddha Dhamma in previous lives.
  • We often do inappropriate things (immoral abhisaṅkhāra) because we have a gati or tendency to do so. This is what is embedded in the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step most of the time. Our avijjā in such a case is not knowing that we have such gati or knowing about it but does not know why or how to get rid of it.
  • As I pointed out in “Sutta – Introduction,” “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” is just a condensed or “uddēsa” version. We need to analyze it (“niddesa” and “patiniddesa“) to get the idea, depending on the context.
  1. When we (repeatedly) do such abhisaṅkhāra (thoughts, speech, actions), we build up a viññāna for it. For example, if someone likes to watch porn, the more one does it, the more that “viññāna for watching porn” will grow. It will be in the subconscious, ready to “pop up.” In other words, that “gati” gets more established.
  • Then comes “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa,” i.e., it becomes easier to think about clips from previous views or fantasize about them. Here, nāmarūpa are the memories (mental pictures) of past activities or “blueprints” for future projects. It is important to realize that nāmarūpa for patisandhi viññāna will be somewhat different; see, “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda“.

4. Now, the next step is hard to resist: “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana. ” Here, salāyatana means not all six senses but the appropriate one(s) for the activity. They are cakkhāyatana (based on the eye) and manāyatana (mind).

  • It is important to realize that “āyatana” does not mean the sense faculty like the eye; it is instead “using the sense faculty for this purpose,” for doing abhisaṅkhāra (for watching porn and enjoying it, in this particular example). An Arahant has eyes and can see but will not use them as “āyatana” to “acquire ‘san.'”
  • Then comes, “salāyatana paccayā phasso“. Of course, here, it is not just “phassa” but “samphassa, ” i.e., generating “san” (according to one’s gati) in the process; see “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa. “
  • Because it is not just “phassa” but “samphassa“, then one generates feelings: “phassa paccayā vēdanā“. For example, an Arahant watching a porn movie will not generate any joyful feelings, because that would only involve “phassa” and NOT “samphassa“.

5. Now comes the last few steps. Because of the sukha vēdanā (in this particular example), one will get attached to it: “vēdanā paccayā taṇhā“; see, “Taṇhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.

  • And then, “taṇhā paccayā upādāna,” i.e., one grasps whole-heartedly because one really enjoys it, and would like to do it again. “Upadana” means one likes to keep it close.
  • Thus, one makes “bhava” for it; one plans to do it again, and it may become a “reality” or future existence at some point: “upādāna paccayā bhava.
Connection Between Gati, Bhava, and Jāti

6. As we can see, all this is happening in our minds. The bottom line is that we just keep thinking and doing things (also called cultivating saṅkhāra) that we have become “attached to” or we have formed “gati” for. Each time we go through this series of steps, we just make that “bhava” grow stronger.

  • Then, it becomes easier to be “born in that bhava,” i.e. jāti (pronounced “jāti“). Most people think “jāti” means rebirth; but it is not restricted to rebirth.
  • Just like one can be born in a certain realm (animal, human, etc) at death, one can be born in the “drunken state” when one has “bhava to get drunk”. If one makes a “bhava” to watch porn, then each time one does it, it becomes easier the next time to be “born in that bhava,” i.e., to watch again.
  • And it is easy to extend this to any other misdeed. If one forms a habit of drinking without control (i.e., “get drunk to the point that one cannot think clearly”), then each time one does it, one makes that bhava stronger; if not controlled, one day, one could be an alcoholic. And it does not stop in this life. If a strong bhava is formed, it can affect future births. In a new birth, one is born to a mother (and to a lesser extent father) with similar gati. Thus, an alcoholic in this life is LIKELY to be born to an alcoholic mother if the next birth is in the human realm.
  • It must be pointed out that “hateful bhava” for certain things or even for a certain person also can be carried from life to life. There are many mentions in the Tipiṭaka of how Devadatta clashed with the Buddha (or rather the Bodhisattva) in previous lives.
  • One’s physical body will change (most of the time drastically) from life to life, but one’s gati, āsāva, and bhava are carried from life to life; of course, those keep changing all the time, too, but significant changes happen when one is human with the most ability to change one’s destiny.

7. Thus, “bhava paccayā jāti” applies both in this life and also for future rebirths. This is the difference between “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda” and that for patisandhi to a new life: “Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • As explained in #6 above, one’s future births are due to one’s gati. The realization that one’s gati determines one’s future births — and the ability to figure out the bhava and jāti (jāthi) according to one’s gati — is called “nāmarūpa paricceda ñāna” or “nāmarūpa pariccēda ñāna.” This basically means “rūpa” are according to “nama” (literally, one’s body is according to one’s thinking).
What Are Āsāvās (Cravings)?

8. To make the final connection to Nibbāna, we see that one’s gati are intimately connected to one’s āsāvās (cravings). Just like gati, āsāvās are deep-seated and ingrained in one’s lifestream, and most can be traced back numerous lives in the past; see, “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi)“.

  • While there can be an infinite number of gati, there are four basic categories of āsāvās:  ditthāsāva, kāmāsāva, bhavāsāva, avijjāsāva; see below.
  • This logical connection is clearly shown in the Sammā Diṭṭhi sutta. It was Ven. Sariputta who delivered that sutta after being asked by the Buddha to explain “Sammā Diṭṭhi” to other bhikkhus on one occasion. He went through the steps of the Paṭicca samuppāda backward, and eventually, the bhikkhus asked, “Is there a cause for avijjā?”. He explained that, indeed, āsāvās contribute to avijjā and vice versa.
  • In fact, as we see in the Abhidhamma section, four of the eight “basic units of matter” in a suddhāshtaka arise due to avijjā and the other four due to taṇhā (which arise due to āsāva). Avijjā and taṇhā are called “bhava-mūla” for this reason.

9. One way to explain Nibbāna or “complete cooling down” is to say that it is attained by getting rid of all āsāvās. When following the Noble Eightfold Path, “āsavakkhaya” is achieved in steps.

  • At the Sōtapanna stage, the first component of āsāva or ditthāsāva (craving for various diṭṭhis or wrong worldviews) is removed. This all-important component of ditthāsāva is solely due to not knowing the true nature of this world of 31 realms: anicca, dukkha, and anatta. Most people carry certain diṭṭhis all their lives, most even coming from previous lives. The most prevalent diṭṭhi is the belief that there is no rebirth process.
  • When one truly comprehends that the consequences of immoral acts can be much harsher than we usually believe (birth in the apāyās), that itself removes the causes for rebirth in the apāyās.
Connection to the Four Stages of Nibbāna

10. A Sōtapanna would still have the other three āsāvās: kāmāsāva (craving for sense pleasures), bhavāsāva (craving for living somewhere in the 31 realms), and avijjāsāva (cravings due to not knowing anicca, dukkha, anatta fully).

  • Kāmāsāva is reduced at the Sakadāgāmi stage and is removed at the Anāgāmi stage.
  • Bhavāsāva and avijjāsāva are removed only at the Arahanthood.
  • Of course, all four āsāvās keep getting reduced at each stage of Nibbāna. Thus, a Sōtapanna, for example, would have reduced the other three āsāvās to some level.
  • It is also clear that comprehension of anicca, dukkha, and anatta gradually increases at each stage and is complete only at the Arahant stage.

11. It is nice to see the self-consistency and the fact that one can analyze a given situation in different ways.

  • One may have a Ph.D., or one may be able to recite the whole of the Tipiṭaka; yet one would not be even able to get to the Sōtapanna magga without comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta to some level.
  • Ditthāsava cannot be removed until one is well on the mundane eightfold path, because one’s mind needs to be cleared of the strongest defilements. As I keep saying, this is not about “book knowledge” but cleansing one’s mind.
  • Of course, ditthāsāva gives rise to various gati, and thus, removing such gati is the key to attacking ditthāsāva. The foremost is the tendency to “cling to a certain belief” and not even be willing to consider counterarguments.
  • If one has the diṭṭhi that there is no rebirth, one must carefully examine the evidence for and against.
  • Another is the refusal to believe anything “that cannot be proven” by a “scientific method.” Thus, just over 400 years ago, people looked around and asked, “Where are those infinite number of universes and infinite number of living beings that the Buddha was talking about?”. Even now, science is only aware of a minute fraction of our physical universe, not to mention pretty much nothing about the mind; see “Dhamma and Science” for details.

12. The bottom line is that whether one will be a human, a deva, or an animal in the next life will depend on what kind of gati we develop and NOT what we wish/pray for. Furthermore, one can become a Sōtapanna in this very life by cultivating the “gati of a Sōtapanna” or “Ariya gati“. The key is to develop Sammā Diṭṭhi by learning and comprehending Dhamma (the correct worldview).

Next, “Memory, Brain, Mind, Nama Loka, Kamma Bhava, Kamma Vipaka“, ……..

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