Sexual Orientation – Effects of Kamma and Gati (Saṅkhāra)

January 14, 2017

This post will be helpful in not only clarifying Buddha’s teachings on sexual orientation, but also that there can be many varieties of saṅkhāra, viññāṇa, and corresponding bhava and jathi arising according to Paṭicca Samuppāda.

1.In this beginning-less rebirth process, it is likely that we all had switched between male or female many times, just as we are likely to have been born in most of the 31 realms in the past.

  • It is said that the Bodhisattva — before becoming Buddha Gotama — was a female when the pāramitā process  to become a Buddha was initiated.
  • However, once the pāramitā process progressed, and the Bodhisattva became a male, it never switched back to female.
  • Only a male can actually be a Buddha.

2. Whether one is male or female is predominantly determined by one’s saṅkhāra, and not due to a past kamma.

  • But in some cases, kamma could be the direct cause. For example, if one intentionally severed or mutilated another’s sexual organs, it is possible that one may be born without a sexual organ. Such a person is called a “napunsaka” in Sinhala (pandaka in Pāli), but I am not aware of a corresponding English word.
  • An eunuch is a person who is castrated, so that also could be due to a kamma vipāka of a past kamma.

3. Male/female distinction is there only in the kāma loka. In the brahma realms (higher 20 realms), there is no such distinction. Brahmā do not have dense physical bodies or sexual organs.

  • One is born in either the 16 rupa loka realms or the 4 arupa loka realms (brahma realms) because one has given up all desires for bodily pleasures, including sex, because one has seen the value of niramisa sukha (and jhānic pleasures) that can be achieved by giving up bodily pleasures.

4. One is born in kāma loka because one likes bodily pleasures, especially those associated with taste, smell, and sex. Of course, vision and sound that help satisfy those three bodily pleasures also come into play here.

  • One is born in human or deva realms in the kāma loka because one has done meritorious deeds (puñña kamma). There are female devas, who have attained those births because of their puñña kamma just like male devas. One is born a female deva, because one has cultivated “iththi saṅkhāra“; see #5 below.
  • One is born in the four apāya realms in the kāma loka because one has done immoral deeds (päpa kamma). Here the corresponding saṅkhāra are apuññābhi saṅkhāra.

5. One is born male or female due to whether one cultivates “purisa saṅkhāra” or “iththi saṅkhāra” by thinking, speaking, and doing things accordingly. One does not do either puñña abhisaṅkhāra or apuñña abhisaṅkhāra here.

  • Such saṅkhāra (kaya, vaci, and mano) are not necessarily meritorious (puññābhi saṅkhāra) or immoral (apuññābhi saṅkhāra). Those are in line with pure habits based on “purisa gati” and  “iththi gati“.
  • This can be compared to cultivating habits for playing a certain musical instrument. They are called “väsana keles“, keles that do not have good or bad kamma vipāka, but more like ingrained habits.

6. Purisa is the Pāli or Sinhala word for a male and the word comes from “piri” or “full”. A male is likely to give more (especially to the wife) than to take from the wife. Iththi is the Pāli (and old Sinhala) word for female, and means “ithiri” or “left over space to be filled”. For example, if a cup is full that is “piri“; if it is not full, it needs more to become full, it has “ithiri“.

  • So, a male is likely to willingly buy things for the wife, but does not care much about his appearance. Most wives expect gifts and sustenance.
  • However, these “purisa gati” and  “iththi gati” can have large variations. A male has more “purisa gati” than  “iththi gati“.  But we do see “alpha males” with close to 100% “purisa gati” as well as females with  very high “iththi gati“.
  • On the other hand, we also see females who like to act and dress more like males, and also males who like to act and dress more feminine. If they cultivate those gati more, a sex change is possible in future lives (in rare cases even in this life).

7. In most families, if one examines the wardrobes of the husband and wife, one is likely to find many more items in the wife’s wardrobe (in particular, the man may have a couple of pairs of shoes but the wife will have many!). Females wear much more jewellery too.

  • Furthermore, a female is more concerned about the appearance of her (and her husband). A guy usually grabs something to wear, but a woman is likely to pay much more attention. I know by experience that I have been “instructed politely” to change into something better many times when going out.
  • Thus females constantly think about theirs (and their spouses and children’s) appearance. This is not necessarily due to greed, but mainly due to sansaric habits.

8. Therefore, as far as attaining Nibbāna, it does not matter whether one is a male, female, or somewhere in between (with mixed gati).

  • One is born in the deva realms due to good kamma vipāka, and there are male and female devas, just like in the human and animal realms. The type of sex is not determined by kamma vipāka.
  • All brahma realms are “unisex“. They do not  have bhava dasaka, which determine the sex type. Brahmā do not have dense bodies to experience touch, taste of foods, or smells. They have very fine bodies with just the hadaya vatthu, kaya dasaka, cakkhu dasaka, and sota dasaka.
  • Therefore, a brahma “body” has only a few suddhashtaka, and is much much smaller than an atom in modern science. So, it is clear why sense pleasures are absent in brahma loka.

9. It is important to realize that there are moral gati due to puññābhisaṅkhāra (puñña abhisaṅkhāra), immoral gati due to apuññābhisaṅkhāra (apuñña abhisaṅkhāra), and “kammically neutral” gati due to saṅkhāra that are not abhisaṅkhāra.

  • While one is born in the human bhava, one would also have a “iththi bhava” (as a female) or “purisa bhava” (as a male).
  • Not only that, one could be born in an “angry bhava” for a given period of time that would be triggered by a sense event such as seeing an enemy — if one has cultivated angry gati by thinking, speaking, and acting with an angry mindset.
  • One could be born in a “greedy bhava” the same way. If we start acting mindfully to think, speak, and act with less greed, those greedy gati will reduce over time.
  • The more one thinks, speaks, and acts in a “female way”, one will be cultivating “female gati“; but these are not moral or immoral saṅkhāra as we discussed above.

10. In any of these cases, the more saṅkhāra one makes, one builds up the corresponding viññāṇa (saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa) and so on until it gets to strengthening upādāna and thus strengthening bhava (upādāna paccayā bhava).

  • Therefore, Paṭicca Samuppāda explains not only how bhava in the rebirth process, but also in bhava that last only for short periods of time, like getting into an “angry state of mind” or “angry bhava“.

11. Another possibility that may come into play in a transgender person (a person whose sex is changed during the lifetime) can be understood of one understands the role of the gandhabba (mental body) that dictates the functioning of the physical body. Gandhabba is not a Mahayaṃa concept:  “Gandhabba State – Evidence from Tipiṭaka“.

  • When a gandhabba goes into a womb, it is not firmly attached to the zygote (the cell formed by the union of the father and the mother) during the first several weeks.
  • Sometimes, the gandhabba just leaves the womb if it turns out to be not a good match with the parents. This is the reason for a miscarriage.
  • If a gandhabba leaves the womb within such a short time period, in some cases another gandhabba can enter the womb and take possession of the partially formed physical body that was abandoned by the previous gandhabba. Now, it may happen that the second gandhabba is of opposite sex.
  • For example, suppose the first gandhabba was a male and the second a female. So, this female is thus taking hold of a physical body that was taking shape to be a male and thus continue to form a male body. Once born as a male baby, and while growing the female character may start to convert the physical body to that of a female. This is what happens to a transgender person.

12. One is bound to the kāma loka because one has craving for bodily pleasures, whether it is tasting good food, watching movies, listening to music, smelling nice fragrances, or in engaging in sexual activities. If one does those activities without engaging in immoral activities, then the only harm done is to be eligible to be born in the kāma loka.

  • One cannot be freed from even the higher realms in the kāma loka (human and deva realms), if one has desires for such bodily pleasures. However, it becomes relevant only at the Anāgāmi stage. A Sotāpanna or a Sakadāgāmi has not given up desires for sensual pleasures.
  • I have not seen anything in the Tipiṭaka that distinguishes between sexual activities based on who the partners are. So, it seems to me that homosexual or bisexual activities are not that different from heterosexual activities as far as kammic consequences are concerned. They are all done to achieve bodily pleasures.
  • However, if one engages in any immoral activities — in particular breaking the five precepts — then one would be eligible to be born in the lowest four realms of the kāma loka, the apāyā.
  • I specifically made the comment on the homosexuality in answering a specific question by a reader. The main point is to make sure that any pleasurable activity at the expense of hurting someone will have bad consequences, and depending on the nature, could make one eligible to be born in the apāyā.

13. One way to understand the anicca nature is to take a good look at the transient nature of our physical body and that it can provide only temporary bodily pleasures, even though they are enjoyable.

  • The gandhabba is the more long-lasting entity; a human bhava can last many hundreds to many thousands of years; a physical body is a temporary shell used by the gandhabba for about 100 years.
  • The bodily pleasures that one experiences with this “physical shell” can last only part of that maximum 100 years. As one gets old, those pleasures go away, and there is no way to keep them the same.
  • On the other hand, the  jhānic pleasures — or at least niramisa sukha —  can be enjoyed even at old age, as long as one keeps steps to maintain the brain in good condition. The gandhabba — since it is trapped inside the physical body — needs the brain to in order to be mindful and to cultivate good vaci and mano saṅkhāra; this is what is emphasized in the earlier posts in this section, and analyzed in detail (for those who need to go deeper) in the Abhidhamma section.

14. Finally, it is important to emphasize the point that it will take a concerted effort to understand these concepts fully. The more one reads, the more one will understand. It is not possible to gain insight by reading a few posts. One has to spend time and read relevant posts in order to “fill in the gaps”.

  • A simple introduction to the concept of gadhabbaya is given in this section: “Our Mental Body – Gandhabba“.
  • A section is the Abhidhamma is devoted to the concept of gadhabbaya: Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)“. There are posts in other sections too, in relation to the material in those sections.
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