Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein

Revised May 7, 2016; October 25, 2018

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 paticca 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 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)“.

2. In rebirth stories, there is always a “time gap” between successive human births (jāti). They are separated 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 the human bhava had not been exhausted, and 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” is taken to be “birth”, then all those rebirth stories cannot be true.

3. 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.

4. 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 abhisankhāra; this mental power gets established in the “kamma bhava” as a kamma beeja (seed).

  • This is also why it is easy to make kamma beeja or kamma bhava based on our gati (habits/character). Each person likes certain kinds of things. So, we keeping strengthening existing kamma beeja/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“.

5. 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.
  • This is the “bhava paccayā jāti” step in paticca samuppāda (PS) cycles that operates during this life, leading him to get drunk many, many times.

6. On the other hand, someone who does not like to drink may even have an aversion for 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 unlikely 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 or the cause, bhava, is not there.

  • A person who has a really bad 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.

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

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

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

9. 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 the pavutti bhava described in the “Akusala-Mula Pavutti (or Pravutti) Paticca Samuppada“.

10. 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).

  • This is the real danger. At the dying moment one will be drawn (“upādāna“) to an environment that is compatible with ones 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 paticca samuppāda. This is the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step.
  • Thus an alcoholic (when reborn within the same human bhava) is prone to be born to 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 incessant torture. Depending on the nature of the bhava one could be born there to impart torture on others or to be subjected to torture.

11. 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 be acquire a “dog bhava“, and be born repeatedly a dog until that kammic energy is spent.
  • 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 Paticca Samuppada” and “Kusala-Mula Paticca Samuppada“.

12. A kamma beeja (seed) is also related to bhava; when one develops a habit (gati) by keep doing things related to it, that bhava or the kamma beeja 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 next bhava.
  • In that case, he may be born in the niraya repeatedly (many jāti) until the kammic energy for that kamma bhava is spent. This is an example of an uppatti kamma bhava.

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

  • We can go backwards 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), which in turn was due to tanhā (getting attached to drinking), which was due to feeling (i.e., he got to like the “drunk” feeling, the state of intoxication), which was due to (san)phassa or contact, salāyatana (using the six senses inappropriately), nāmarupa (associated visuals of names and activities), sankhāra (kāya, vaci, and manō sankhāra for that activity), and of course the starting point of avijja (ignorance of the consequences).

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

  • By contemplating on the adverse consequences of drinking, he could remove ignorance (avijjā), and make a firm decision to stop.
  • If he is mindful, whenever a thought about drinking comes to the mind, he can stop “wheeling around” (stopping manō/vaci sankhāra) and thus stopping multiple PS cycles; see, “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna“.

15. If one is able to 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 a strong habit for drinking (strong bhava), all needed could be the sight of a bottle of alcohol.

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

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

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