Micchā Ditthi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage

May 6, 2017

1. The 10 types of micchā ditthi or wrong views must be removed before one can even start on the mundane Eightfold Path; see, “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty)“, which discusses that there are two Eightfold Paths: mundane and Noble.

  • It is only then one’s mind is able to see the “bigger picture” and one could comprehend the Three Characteristics or Tilakkhanana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) of this world of 31 realms.
  • Once one comprehends Tilakkhanana to some extentone becomes a Sōtapanna, gets in to the Noble Eightfold Path, and subsequently attains higher stages of Nibbāna.

2. But there are many people today who have at least some of the 10 types of micchā ditthi and believe that they are on the Noble Path. But it is clear from above that some may not even be on the mundane Path.

  • Those 10 types of micchā ditthi cannot be given up just by saying to oneself that one believes in them. One’s mind must be convinced of it, and that conviction comes by learning Dhamma, true nature of this world. 
  • In this post we focus on the para lōka and gandhabba, because many Theravadins incorrectly assume that gandhabba is a Mahayana concept.

3. The 10 types of micchā ditthi are listed in many suttas, including the Maha Cattarisaka Sutta and Pathama Niraya Sagga Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya: AN 10.211): “Natthi dinnaṃ, natthi yiṭṭhaṃ, natthi hutaṃ, natthi sukata­dukka­ṭā­naṃ kammānaṃ phalaṃ vipāko, natthi ayaṃ loko, natthi parō lōkō, natthi mātā, natthi pitā, natthi sattā opapātikā, natthi loke samaṇabrāhmaṇā sammaggatā sammāpaṭipannā ye imañca lōkaṃ parañca lōkaṃ sayaṃ abhiññā sacchikatvā pavedentī’ti“. Translated, the wrong views are:

  • Giving (dāna) has no merits
  • being grateful and responding in kind (for what others have done for oneself) has no merits
  • respecting and making offerings to those with higher virtues has no merits
  • what we enjoy/suffer in this life is not due to kamma vipāka but they “just happen”
  • this world does not exist
  • para lōka or the world of gandhabba does not exist
  • there is no special person as a mother
  • there is no special person as a father
  • there are no ōpapātika (instantaneous) births
  • there are no samana brahmana (basically Ariyas or yogis) with abhinna powers who can see  both this world (imanca lōkam) and para lōka (paranca lokam)

4. I have highlighted three types of micchā ditthi that are common (they are somewhat inter-related), but the one about the gandhabba is a micchā ditthi that even those who believe themselves to be “devout Buddhists” seem to have. They believe that the Buddha did not teach about gandhabba or the para lōka.

5. In many suttas, including Mahāsaccaka Sutta and Bodhirājakumāra Sutta the Buddha described how he saw human gandhabbas moving from one physical body to the next (in a single human bhava) with the Pubbenivāsānussati Ñāna on the night he attained the Buddhahood.

  • While Ariyas with jhānās can attain both the Pubbenivāsānussati Ñāna (about previous human rebirths) and the Cutūpapāda Ñāna (about past births in all realms), other yogis can mostly acquire only the first one, i.e., they can see only their previous human births. Note that this is related to the last type of micchā ditthi, i.e., to believe that no such Ariyas or yogis exist.
  •  In the sutta links above, the Pāli version is correct but English and Sinhala translations are not correct, because there is no distinction made between the Pubbenivāsānussati Ñāna and the Cutūpapāda Ñāna. With the first Ñāna, one can see previous human births and the with the second, one can see previous births in all 31 realms.
  • By the way, hereafter I will try to provide sutta references at the SuttaCentral site. They have not only the Pāli version, but also translations in different languages. However, it must be kept in mind that some translations are incorrect, as mentioned above and also with the translations of anicca and anatta.

6. We also need to realize that para lōka or the world of gandhabba (of both humans and animals) is NOT a separate realm.

  • In all other 29 realms, beings are born fully-formed instantaneously (ōpapātika) contrary to the 9th micchā ditthi on the list above. Those instantaneous births of course do not  involve a mother’s womb, and one bhava means just one jāti (birth). For example, a deva or a brahma is born once instantaneously and then death occurs only when the kammic energy for the bhava is exhausted (there are exceptions, but a gandhabba is not involved).
  • The difference in the human and animal realms is that those dense physical bodies have lifetimes much smaller than the kammic energies for the two bhava; see, “Gandhabba – Only in Human and Animal Realms“.
  • When a human or an animal dies — and if there is leftover kammic energy for the human or animal bhava — then a gandhabba comes out of the dead body and waits for suitable womb to be born (jāti) again in the same bhava (same realm).
  • Thus, contrary to the widespread belief, gandhabba is not an “antarabhava” (in between bhava; “antara” means “in between”), but rather is in the same bhavaThe confusion arises with not knowing the difference between bhava and jāti.

7. Until they find a suitable womb, those gandhabba are in “para lōka” or the netherworld, which co-exists with our world (but normally we cannot see those fine bodies of gandhabbas).

8. So, I hope one can understand the fact that one still has micchā ditthi if one adamantly rejects the concept of gandhabba, or the concept of opapathika births.

9. In order to get to the Sōtapanna stage, the first step is to make sure that one learns Dhamma and clear up any remaining doubts about those ten types of micchā ditthi.

  • When one gets rid of all ten micchā ditthi, then one is truly on the mundane Eightfold Path.
  • Then, at that point, one’s mind been cleansed to a stage where one can comprehend the Three Characteristics of Nature (Tilakkhana): anicca, dukkha, anatta. This is a deeper micchā ditthi, the second type described in the Maha Cattarisaka Sutta.
  • When one comprehends the Tilakkhana to some extent, one attains the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna. That is when one gets to the Lokottara (Noble) Eightfold Path.
  • Then, by following the Noble Eightfold Path one reaches the higher stages of Nibbāna, culminating at the Arahant stage.

10. The Path to Nibbāna has been covered for hundreds of years due to fact that the above steps have not been clear, and also the meanings of those key words, anicca, dukkha, anatta have been distorted.

  • That slow process of degradation of Buddha Dhamma took place over about 1500 years, but the most damage was done in the late 1800’s when the Europeans discovered the ancient Sanskrit and Pāli documents.
  • They first discovered Sanskrit Hindu Vedic literature in India (Buddhism had disappeared from India long before that), and later came across the Pāli Tipitaka in Sri Lanka, Burma, and other Asian countries.
  • The key problem arose when they ASSUMED that Sanskrit words “anitya” and “anathma” are the same as the Pāli words “anicca” and “anatta“. The Sanskrit words “anitya” and “anathma” do mean “impermanent’ and “no self”, but the Pāli words “anicca” and “anatta” have totally different meanings.

11. That historical background is fully explained in many posts at the “Historical Background” section. But at least read the posts starting with “Incorrect Theravada Interpretations – Historical Timeline“.

  • The correct meanings of anicca, dukkha, anatta have been discussed in the section, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“.

12. As for the instantaneous births, instances of such ōpapātika births occur in many suttas. For example, in the Maha Parinibbana Sutta, the Buddha told Ven. Ananda about ōpapātika births of many people who died in a certain village: “..Nandā, ānanda, bhikkhunī pañcannaṃ orambhāgiyānaṃ saṃyojanānaṃ parikkhayā opapātikā tattha parinibbāyinī anāvattidhammā tasmā lokā..”

  •  As I mentioned, the translations are available in several languages in the above SuttaCentral link for the sutta. For example, the above verse is translated to English as: “..The nun Nandā, Ānanda, through the complete destruction of the five lower fetters has arisen spontaneously in the Brahmā worlds, and will attain Final Emancipation there, without returning from that world..”.
  • In Sinhala as: “..ආනන්දය, නන්දා නම් භික්ෂුණිය පස් ආකාර ඔරම්භාගිය (සත්වයන් කාමලොකයෙහි රඳවන) සංයෝජනයන් නැතිකිරීම නිසා ඔපපාතිකව (බ්‍රහ්මලොකයෙහි) උපන්නීය. ඒ (බ්‍රහ්ම) ලොකයෙන් වෙනස් නොවන ස්වභාව ඇත්තේ එහිදීම පිරිනිවන් පාන්නීය..”.
  • However, please keep in mind that those SuttaCentral  translations also can have errors (as is the case at most online sites as well as books), as I pointed out in #5 above.
13. Finally, it must be noted that there may be people who attain magga phala, but had never even heard about gandhabba in this life. If one comprehends the Tilakkhana, that is all needed.
  • In such cases, they had not rejected the concept of a gandhabba. If someone explained the concept to them, they would accept it since they can see that it must be true.
  • However, if one has heard about the concept of a gandhabba (and para lōka), instantaneous births, existence of other realms, and the existence of Ariyas or yogis who have the abilities to see such realms as well as para lōka, and one rejects them as “nonsense”, that is micchā ditthi.
  • The only way to get rid of such micchā ditthi is to examine those concepts and convince oneself that those must be true.

14. In that process, it is also necessary that one lives a moral life staying away from dasa akusala as much as possible, as explained in the “Living Dhamma” section. It is important for anyone to experience the mental clarity (and the “peace of mind” or “niveema“) that comes with staying away from dasa akusala.

  • By the way, the strongest of the dasa akusala is micchā ditthi, which includes not only the 10 types, but also ignorance about Tilakkhana. This is why a Sōtapanna removes 99% or more of the defilements by getting rid of the BOTH types of micchā ditthi; see, “What is the only Akusala Removed by a Sōtapanna?“.
  • The first type of micchā ditthi is about the 10 types discussed in #3 above, which includes believing that nothing happens without a cause, bad causes (dasa akusala) lead to bad consequences, etc. The second type is about not knowing the true nature of this world of 31 realms, i.e., that it is not possible to maintain anything to one’s satisfaction (anicca), one is subjected to suffering because of that (dukkha), and thus one is truly helpless in this rebirth process (anatta).
  • However, it is difficult to “see” those Tilakkhana until one believes in that bigger picture — which includes the 31 realms and the rebirth process — where the existence of para lōka with gandhabbas is an important component.
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