May 6, 2017; Revised September 24, 2019; May 26, 2021
Two Eightfold Paths
1. There are two Eightfold Paths: mundane and Noble. See, “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).“
- First, one starts on the mundane Eightfold Path by removing the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi or wrong views.
- Only then one’s mind can see the “bigger picture,” and one could comprehend the Three Characteristics or Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) of this world of 31 realms. When one starts comprehending Tilakkhana, one starts on the Noble Eightfold Path.
- Once one comprehends Tilakkhanana to some extent, one becomes a Sōtapanna. Subsequently, one can attain higher stages of Nibbāna.
2. But there are many people today who have at least some of the 10 types of micchā diṭṭhi 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.
- Just by saying to oneself that one believes in them, one cannot get rid of the 10 types of micchā diṭṭhi. One must be convinced of it, and that conviction comes by learning Dhamma, the true nature of this world.
- This post focuses on the para lōka and gandhabba because many Theravadins incorrectly assume that gandhabba is a Mahāyāna concept.
The Ten Types of Micchā Diṭṭhi (Wrong Views)
3. The 10 types of micchā diṭṭhi are listed in many suttā, including the Maha Cattarisaka Sutta and Pathama Niraya Sagga Sutta (Anguttara Nikāya: 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
- We enjoy/suffer in this life 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
- no special person as a father
- there are no ōpapātika (instantaneous) births
- there are no Samana brahmana (basically Ariyā or yogis) with abhiññā powers who can see both this world (imanca lōkam) and para lōka (paranca lokam)
Micchā Diṭṭhi (Wrong Views) About the Gandhabba
4. I have highlighted three types of micchā diṭṭhi that are common. They are somewhat interrelated. But the one about the gandhabba is a common micchā diṭṭhi. Even those who believe themselves to be “devout Buddhists” seem to have that wrong view. They believe that the Buddha did not teach about gandhabba or the para lōka.
- There is Tirokuṭṭa petavatthu in the Petavatthu in the Khuddaka Nikāya (KN). This has been translated to English (not very good), but one can get the idea: Tirokudda Kanda: Hungry Shades Outside the Walls.
- The following verse in “15. Mogharājamāṇavapucchāniddesa” of “Cūḷaniddesa” of the Tipiṭaka clearly states that para loka is part of the “manussa loka” or the “human world:” “Ayaṁ loko paro lokoti. Ayaṁ lokoti manussaloko. Paro lokoti manussalokaṁ ṭhapetvā sabbo paro lokoti—ayaṁ loko paro loko.”
- Also, see “Antarabhava and gandhabba.”
5. In many suttā, including Mahāsaccaka Sutta and Bodhirājakumāra Sutta, the Buddha described how he saw human gandhabbā 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 Ariyā 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 diṭṭhi, i.e., to believe that no such Ariyā or yogis exist.
- In the sutta links above, the Pāli version is correct. Still, 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 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, we must keep in mind that some translations are incorrect, as mentioned above, and with the translations of anicca and anatta.
Gandhabba is a Human Without a Human Body
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 diṭṭhi 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. That Brahma dies only once.
- 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 a suitable womb to be born (jāti) again in the same bhava (same realm).
- Thus, contrary to the widespread belief, gandhabba is not an “antarābhava” (in between bhava; “antara” means “in-between”), but rather is in the same bhava. The confusion arises with not knowing the difference between bhava and jāti.
Gandhabba Lives in Para Lōka
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 gandhabbā).
- This is why one has micchā diṭṭhi if one does not believe in the gandhabba concept (natthi parō lōkō in #3 above.)
- Thus a human may be reborn many times before switching to another existence (deva, Brahma, animal, preta, etc.).
- This is why rebirth stories are common. It is the “human bhava” that is extremely hard to get, as the Buddha explained. But once in the human bhava, one could be born many times as human; see, “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
- The difference between bhava and jāti is explained in “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
8. So, I hope one can understand that one still has micchā diṭṭhi if one adamantly rejects the concept of gandhabba or the concept of opapatika births.
- If one has any one of the ten micchā diṭṭhi, one is not yet on even the mundane Eightfold Path; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and the post referred to in that chart, “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“.
- The Buddha discussed this clearly in the “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).”
It is a Step-by-Step Process
9. 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 diṭṭhi.
- When one gets rid of all ten micchā diṭṭhi, one is truly on the mundane Eightfold Path.
- At that point, one’s mind has been cleansed to a stage where one can comprehend deeper Dhamma concepts. In particular, the Three Characteristics of Nature (Tilakkhana): anicca, dukkha, anatta. This is a deeper micchā diṭṭhi, 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 because the above steps have not been clear. Furthermore, the meanings of those keywords, anicca, dukkha, anatta, have been distorted.
- That slow process of degradation of Buddha Dhamma took place over about 1500 years. In the late 1800s, when the Europeans discovered the ancient Sanskrit and Pāli documents, they did more damage.
- They first discovered Sanskrit Hindu Vedic literature in India (Buddhism had disappeared from India long before). They later came across the Pāli Tipiṭaka in Sri Lanka, Burma, and other Asian countries.
- The key problem arose when they ASSUMED that Sanskrit words “anitya” and “anātma” are the same as the Pāli words “anicca” and “anatta.” The Sanskrit words “anitya” and “anātma” do mean “impermanent’ and “no-self,” but the Pāli words “anicca” and “anatta” have totally different meanings. See, “Misinterpretation of Anicca and Anatta by Early European Scholars.”
11. That historical background is fully explained in many posts in 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 instantaneous births, instances of such ōpapātika births occur in many suttā. 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 into English as “…The nun Nandā, Ānanda, through the destruction of the five lower fetters have 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 and books), as I pointed out in #5 above.
Grasping the Real Nature
- 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 hears those explanations and rejects them as “nonsense,” that is micchā diṭṭhi. Those are the concept of a gandhabba (and para lōka), instantaneous births, the existence of other realms, and the existence of Ariyā or yogis who have the ability to see such realms as well as para lōka.
- The only way to get rid of such micchā diṭṭhi is to examine those concepts and convince oneself that they 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. Anyone needs 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 diṭṭhi, 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 diṭṭhi; see, “What is the only Akusala Removed by a Sōtapanna?“.
- The first type of micchā diṭṭhi 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. 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. That includes the 31 realms and the rebirth process, and the concept of para lōka with gandhabbā.