Types of Bodies in 31 Realms – Connection to Jhāna

December 12, 2018

1. Even before the Buddha, people had three different basic ideas about “the essence” of a living being and specifically a human.

  • Just like today, many people believed that the current physical body is all that is there. When one dies, that is the end of the story. One’s body would decompose and be absorbed to the Earth. Nothing at all will be left over, either physical or mental. The physical body is called “karaja kaya” in Buddha Dhamma.
  • However, there was another view that there is something that survives the physical death of the body. This is the same as the concept of a “soul” in major religions today. In Abrahamic religions today, it is believed that upon death, the soul will either go to heaven or hell and will forever remain there.
  • So, those are the two main views about “the essence” of a human being today.

2. However, at the time of the Buddha, those with the second view of a surviving “mental body” were split into two camps. In order to understand that, we need to remember that there were yōgis who were able to get into jhānās and also had some supernormal (abhiññā) powers.

  • There are three kinds of “pleasures”, as we discussed in the post, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Nirāmisa Sukha?“. Two of these are “mundane pleasures”, associated with the 31 realms of this world.
  • One is of course the “physical sense pleasures”: those associated with pictures, sounds, food, smells, and touches. That is what most humans experience. In fact, these are the pleasures associated with the 11 realms in the kāma lōka (four lowest realms, human realm, and the 6 deva realms).
  • The second are the jhānic pleasures, and those are of two varieties: rūpāvacara jhāna and arūpāvacara jhāna.

3. If one can cultivate jhānās, one can experience “jhānic pleasures”. Unlike the pleasures associated with the physical senses, jhānic pleasures are associated with less and less with the dense physical body as one gets to higher jhāna.

  • Of course, jhānic pleasures have nothing to do with seeing nice objects, hearing nice music, eating tasty foods, smelling nice odors, or physical touching.
  • In the first four jhānās, one just experiences fine bodily feelings (lightness in the body etc) as well as mental happiness. By the time one gets to the fourth jhāna, almost all “bodily sensations” fade out and only “rūpa” that is left is a “white soothing light”. So, by the fourth jhāna, one loses any awareness of one’s own physical body, i.e., the only “matter” one experiences is that of light.
  • We must remember that light is a rūpa in Buddha Dhamma, even though it is a “very fine rūpa“. In fact, in quantum mechanics, photons (light) and electrons (matter) are treated on the same footing.

4. The four rūpāvacara jhānās correspond to mental states of the rūpāvacara brahmas, i.e., those brahma in the rūpa lōka realms. Now we can see why those rūpāvacara brahmas do not have dense bodies.

  • They do not need dense bodies! Brhamas do not eat, smell nice fragrances, or engage in sex.
  • Those humans who can get to the fourth jhāna can cultivate the ability to separate the “brhama-like mental body” from the solid physical body. That means the “mental body” — called manōmaya kaya — can come out of the physical body.
  • This manōmaya kaya essentially has the seat of the mind (hadaya vatthu) and the five pasāda rūpa for sensing vision, sounds, smells, taste, and touch.
  • As we mentioned above, the physical body is called the karaja kaya.

5. The Buddha gave several analogies to describe this separation of the manōmaya kaya from the karaja kaya. In the Sāmañ­ña­phala ­Sutta (DN 2):

“..Seyyathā vā pana, mahārāja, puriso asiṃ kosiyā pavāheyya. Tassa evamassa: ‘ayaṃ asi, ayaṃ kosi, añño asi, aññā kosi, kosiyā tveva asi pavāḷho’ti. Seyyathā vā pana, mahārāja, puriso ahiṃ karaṇḍā uddhareyya. Tassa evamassa: ‘ayaṃ ahi, ayaṃ karaṇḍo. Añño ahi, añño karaṇḍo, karaṇḍā tveva ahi ubbhato’ti.”

  • Translated: “..suppose a man were to draw a sword out from its scabbard (sheath). He would think: “This is the sword; this is the scabbard. The sword is one thing, the scabbard another, but the sword has been drawn out from the scabbard”.  Or suppose a man were to pull a snake out from its old outer skin. He would think: “This is the snake; this is the old skin. The snake is one thing, the old skin another, but the snake has been pulled out from the old skin”.
  • Therefore, separating the manōmaya kaya from the karaja kaya is just like pulling out a sword from its sheath: sword is the “active element” and the sheath is like the karaja kaya. In the analogy: “A snake shedding its old skin”, snake is like the manōmaya kaya and old skin is like the karaja kaya“.
  • Manōmaya kaya is the “active or important element”.

6. The bodies of the rūpāvacara brahmas are very similar to the manōmaya kaya of those yōgis who can get to those rūpāvacara jhāna.

  • The only difference is that the manōmaya kaya of the rūpāvacara brahmas do not have the three pasāda rūpa for smelling, tasting, or touch.
  • Rupavacara brahama‘s fine bodies have just the hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) and two pasāda rūpa for seeing and hearing.
  • Of course, they do not need eyes. They see and hear using a different method. Seeing by those brahmas is similar to how we see dreams with our eyes closed.

7. This manōmaya kaya is the same one that enters the womb at conception.

  • We remember that a gandhabba has a manōmaya kaya as well as fine, misty-like body due to inhaling aroma. When a gandhabba enters a womb, this “extra bit of matter” is shed and only the manōmaya kaya (of the size of a few suddhāshtaka) enters the womb.
  • We also remember that these five pasāda rūpa are the actual sensing elements. When the manōmaya kaya is inside a physical body, they get the signals THROUGH the five physical senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the body. Those signals are analyzed by the brain and transmitted to the manōmaya kaya inside the physical body.
  • That can be compared to a human sitting inside a totally enclosed military tank seeing the outside with aid of cameras mounted on the body of the tank. This is discussed in “Our Mental Body – Gandhabba“.

8. When a yōgi cultivates the fourth jhāna and perfects it, he/she will be able to come out of the physical body or the karaja kaya at will.

  • Just like a rūpāvacara brahma, these yōgis who come out of the physical body with just the manōmaya kaya can “see” and “hear” over great distances.
  • Of course we have hard time imagining that. But it can be compared to what happens when we see a dream. There is no need for eyes or light to see dreams; we see dreams when it is pitch black at night with our eyes closed; we do not “see” dreams with our eyes.

9. In some stressful situations (like heart operations), the manōmaya kaya can separate from the physical body, and that is what is called the “out-of-body experience (OBE)”.

  • It also happens to some who had almost died, but “manage to come back to life”. These are also called Near-Death Experiences (NDE).
  • There are many books written on OBE and NDE.  “Consciousness Beyond Life”, by Pim van Lommel (2010) gives detailed accounts of case studies of OBE experienced by people undergoing heart operations.

10. This manōmaya kaya (with a hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rūpa) that can be separated from the karaja kaya was called “rupi manōmaya kaya” by those yōgis at the time of the Buddha.

It is called  “rupi manōmaya kaya” because it has all five pasāda rūpa and thus essentially has all five senses. Even though one cannot move solid objects with the fine body, one will be able to “touch”. Just like vision is not with physical eyes, all five “physical senses” are different than with physical body.

  • There is a second type of manōmaya kaya discussed by the Buddha in the Poṭṭha­pāda Sutta (DN 9).  This was called “arupi saññāmaya kaya”. We will discuss that in the next post. These bodies or “kaya” are associated with arūpāvacara brahmas (and thus arūpāvacara jhānās).
  • It could be a good idea to get refresh the memory on what is meant by saññā: “Saññā – What It Really Means”.
  • Basically, when one recognizes an object or understands a concept, then one has “an understanding” of what it is. That is what saññā is. So, an “arupi saññāmaya kaya” basically means a “body (almost) devoid of matter but has the ability to recognize/understand”.