Gati and Bhava – Many Varieties

Revised February 27, 2019; July 16, 2022; September 10, 2002 (#11)

Humans have many gati (gati) or character qualities. These character qualities lead to one’s future existence (bhava). It is that important.

1. We see that there are three major “bhava” or existence corresponding to the three major levels of existence that the 31 realms can be divided into kāma bhava, rūpa bhava, and arūpa bhava.

  • Each can now be subdivided into the 31 realms; see “31 Realms of Existence“.
  • These living beings with kāma bhava live in kāma lōka: 4 apāyās, one human, and six deva realms. Those with rūpa bhava live in rūpa lōka made of 16 rūpavacara Brahma realms. Those with arūpa bhava live in the four arūpavacara Brahma realms in the arūpa lōka.

2. The following chart shows the division of the 11 kāma lōka realms into the four apāyās, the human realm, and six deva realms.

Click to open and print the above chart: “Bhava, Gathi, Kamma Beeja Chart.”

  • The human realm (or bhava) can now be subdivided into an infinite number of smaller subdivisions, corresponding to the vast number of varieties that “human gati” can give rise to: healthy/unhealthy, rich/poor, happy/angry, etc. as shown in the chart. Now we are getting into personal gati. We inherit most major ones (rich/poor, healthy/unhealthy, etc.) from the kamma bīja responsible for this birth.

3. Most human activities are associated with the enjoyment of sensual pleasures in the kāma lōka. Instead of enjoying jhānic pleasures like a few of us (see below), most of us normally enjoy sensual pleasures associated with the five physical senses.

  • We like to see eye-pleasing views, hear ear-pleasing sounds, taste tongue-pleasing flavors, smell nose-pleasing odors, and touch body-pleasing objects.
  • All five sense faculties are there only in the kāma lōka 
  • Rūpa lōka Brahmās do not have noses or tongues, and in arūpa lōka, there is only the mind.

4. When we are unable to satisfy some sense desires, we as humans tend to do immoral things to fulfill such sense desires; these are the apunnābhisaṅkhāra associated with strong “kamma patha” that will generate “bad kamma bīja” to bring about bad consequences or vipāka that could lead to rebirth in the lowest four realms of kāma lōka; see the previous post, “Namagotta, Bhava, Kamma Bīja, and Mano Loka (Mind Plane).”

  • For example, a married man, not satisfied with sex with his wife, may have sex with another woman or, even worse, with a child. His tendency to do that may even come from previous lives, or he may have slowly built up that “gati” over time, increasingly engaging in sexual activities outside the marriage. Either way, such acts are done by animals; they engage in sex without discrimination. Thus such activities will generate kamma bīja (or kamma bija) in the animal bhava; see the above chart.
  • Or, one may be engaging in fishing or hunting both for the pleasure of it or even to make a living. Either way, it is an “animal gati“; animals kill for food. Thus one is building up kamma seeds in animal bhava.

5. If one is greedy, one may build up kamma bīja appropriate for “hungry ghosts” in the preta lōka. If one is lazy and depends on others for their livelihood, one may build up kamma seeds in the asura bhava; see the chart. We can thus think about how the desire for sense pleasures can lead to the generation of “bad kamma bīja” in three of the four lowest realms.

  • “Bad kamma bīja” in the lowest realm of niraya (hell) are generated by strong hate or vyāpāda. As we have discussed, attachment to sense pleasures (greed) can turn to hate when someone else gets in the way. Most heinous crimes, including killing other humans, are done with a such strong hate.
  • As one follows the Path, one will gradually lose an animal, preta, asura, and niraya gati, and one day will attain the Sōtapanna stage.
  • Thus birth in the lowest realms of the kāma lōka is not just due to kāma rāga but strong versions of greed (lōbha) and hate (dōsa); see “Sorting out Some Key Pāli Terms (Tanha, Lobha, Dosa, Moha, etc.).”

6. If you think about it for a minute, you will realize that most of the abhisaṅkhāra that we do, are done targeting one or more of those sense-pleasing activities (and they are normally not even immoral, i.e., but they are still apunnābhisaṅkhāra, but with less kammic energy).  But these do not lead to births in the apāyās.

  • Since we crave those things, we are attached to those things, and according to “pati+ichcha” (or bonding with liking or desire), leading to “sama + uppāda” (births accordingly).
  • Thus the more we engage in these activities with zest (Arahant does some of these too but without any cravings), we make kamma bīja in the kāma bhava; we keep strengthening “kāma gati.”

7. On the other hand, some people get dissatisfied with the sensory pleasures and cultivate jhānās to enjoy “mind pleasures” either in the rūpa lōka or arūpa lōka.

  • Thus, those who have kāma rāga will generate kāma bhava;
  • Rūpa rāga and arūpa rāga (in #2 above) lead respectively to rūpa bhava and arūpa bhava.
  • Thus we can see how “bhava” are prepared and strengthened by habitually doing things one likes according to one’s gati.
  • Doing things involve kāya saṅkhāra; speaking and thinking about them involve vaci saṅkhāra. This is why saṅkhārā lead to a “defiled mindset” or viññāna, which in turn leads to the corresponding bhava via those steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda.

8. Thus, “bhava” is an energy that we build up ourselves through our actions. Even if someone does not like to be born a dog, if one keeps doing things normally done by dogs, then one is preparing bhava to be born in the “dog bhava.”

  • One time I heard over the radio on the news that a person was arrested for engaging in sex with a female dog. Even though he was still in the human realm, he got “born” in the “dog bhava” for a while. Since he willingly does that, he will likely be born a dog at death. This is a good example for both “pavutti kamma bhava” and “uppatti kamma bhava.”
  • This is also a good example of how one can become morally blind (kāmaccandha nivarana) when greed or lust rises to a high level.

9. One thing that should have become clear is that even if we do not do any immoral deeds, we are bound to be reborn in the kāma lōka (sense realms of the four apāyās and the human and Deva realms) as long as we crave sense pleasures. But such sensual cravings, by themselves, do not lead to birth in the apāyās; birth in the apāyās is due to apunnābhisaṅkhāra or immoral saṅkhāra (see #5 above).

  • As long as we like sense pleasures (and do not realize the dangers in them), we will have “kāma gati,” and thus we will have “kāma bhava,” i.e., we will keep generating both good and bad kamma bīja that belong to the kāma bhava.
  • So, what are the dangers of remaining in kāma lōka? Even though we may not do immoral deeds in this birth (because of our circumstances of being born in a good family, good country, etc.), we are bound to be reborn in a bad environment where we may have to do immoral deeds to survive. Then we will make kamma bīja suitable for rebirth in the apāyās.
  • We all likely already have such bad kamma bīja because we have no idea what kind of deeds we have done in our past lives.

10. The mundane way to escape from the kāma lōka is to cultivate anariya jhānās (either rūpa jhānās or arūpa jhānās) and seek rebirth in rūpa or arūpa lōka. But the problem is even then, we will not be “really free” from rebirth in the kāma lōka in the future. This is because after the kammic energy of that rūpa bhava or arūpa bhava is worn out, that anariya person will be reborn in kāma lōka again.

  • This is why the Buddha admonished the bhikkhus to strive hard to attain at least the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna. He said if we knew the dangers of rebirth in the kāma lōka, we would make haste like a person who will try to find a way to put out a fire that is engulfing oneself.
  • Some people think these are depressing thoughts. But the facts cannot be avoided by not thinking about them. When one realizes the true nature of this world and makes some progress to be free from that predicament, one will start feeling relieved and happy; this is the nirāmisa sukha of Nibbāna.

11. Generally, as we have referred to before, “bhava” means existence somewhere in “this world.” It is even better to say that “bhava” means the “potential for existence” somewhere “in this world of 31 realms”.

  • When someone cultivates “rūpa lōkajhānās, one generates a kammic energy in a kamma bīja that can lead to “existence in the rūpa lōka.” That means, even while in the human realm, he/she can get into a jhāna and “effectively live in the rūpa lōka” because that is what a being (a Brahma) in the rūpa lōka experiences; this is called “pavutti kamma bhava(NOT “kāma bhava,” which we will discuss below).
  • Furthermore, the more one practices that jhāna, the one makes that kamma bīja strong, and when one dies, one will be born in that rūpa lōka because that kamma bīja will be the one he/she will “upādāna” or grasp at the moment of death; this is “uppatti kamma bhava.” Note: If one loses the ability to get into (anariya) jhāna before death, they will not be grasping a Brahma birth. That happened to Devadatta.
  • Thus, that kamma bīja is said to be in “rūpa lōka bhava.”

12. Similarly, another person practicing arūpa jhānās will be cultivating a kamma bīja in “arūpa lōka bhava.” Furthermore, he/she is likely to display qualities or “gati” of an “arūpa Brahma” even while leading a human life.

  • Therefore, when one has a certain bhava, one has the potential to be born in that bhava for a short time during the current life (called pavutti kamma bhava) or to be born in that realm at death (uppatti kamma bhava). 

13. The strength of a kamma bīja comes from the javana of the citta while one is engaging in the activity. The worst consequences and strong kamma bīja are generated by a mind that enjoys the evil act. This is why the “sōmanassa sahagata diṭṭhi sampayutta citta” or the “thought (act) done with pleasure and with wrong views that arises automatically” is the strongest immoral citta.  Such a thought arises automatically when one has “gati” compatible with such acts.

  • For example, when one engages in unlawful and immoral sexual activities, the more one enjoys such acts and “gets used to such activities” by building up that habit or “gati.” The likelihood of such a thought arising automatically will be higher. Then one will have higher and higher levels of kāmaccandha (one of the five nivarana that covers the mind); thus, one will not think twice before committing such an act. The only way to break out of that vicious cycle is to contemplate the consequences (possible rebirth in the animal or worse realms) and commit to stopping such activities.
  • The danger in building up bad habits (gati) is that one could progressively get into worse habits. A teenager who starts drinking could start using drugs; that could lead to hanging out with even worse friends and getting into drug dealing or even killings. As we saw in the previous post, “Dhammō ha ve rakkhati dhammacāri” or “Dhamma will guide one in the direction of the type of dhamma one associates with” can work both ways, moral or immoral.

14. To break away from bad gati, one needs to decide not only to stop such bad activities but also to build up the opposite good gati and start heading in the right direction. We must follow the mundane Eightfold and Noble Eightfold Path in that sequence; see “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart.”

15. Also, it is impossible to grasp all this with a mind that is not purified. As I emphasized many times, what matters in making progress is not the “book knowledge” but cleansing the mind and grasping the key Dhamma concepts.

  • No matter how intelligent or educated, any person cannot grasp the dangers of the rebirth process UNTIL the mind is cleansed of defilements to a certain extent by both staying away from highly immoral acts AND learning Dhamma.

16. Some people worry about whether they can get rid of certain bad habits they have. They just try to suppress them quickly by sheer willpower. That does not work most of the time. One has to be patient and follow the Path while learning and grasping the key Dhamma concepts.

  • The Buddha gave the following example: When a farmer cultivates his plot, he just needs to make sure to provide enough water, get rid of weeds, fertilize, etc. There is no point in worrying about “when am I going to get the harvest?”. The crop will grow in time and bring a good harvest IF the necessary work is done.
  • In the same way, if one follows the Path by leading a moral life and learning Dhamma, one will be guided in the right direction. And just like the farmer could see that the crop is growing well, one will be able to experience the progress, but not the result in a single step.

17. In the previous post, “Namagotta, Bhava, Kamma Bīja, and Mano Loka (Mind Plane),” we discussed how both nama gotta, and kamma bīja (and bhava) are “located” in the mind plane. Nama gotta are just records without any embedded energy; when one thinks, speaks, and bodily acts, a trace of those thoughts, speech, and actions are recorded (like a tape) in the mind plane.

  • On the other hand, the kammic energies associated with those activities are also recorded in the mental plane as kamma bīja, and those have kammic energies associated with them. Those kamma bījā are in different “bins” or “categories” called bhava.

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