Bhava – Kammic Energy That Can Power an Existence

March 21, 2021; revised March 27, 2021

Bhava is kammic energy created by the mind. It can power a new existence in kāma bhava, rupa bhava, or arupa bhava. The word Buddha means “to stop bhava” (bhava + uddha.)

Grasping a Bhava (Kammic Energy) Leads to Jati (Birth) in That Bhava

1. There are different types of jāti or births. See, “Jāti – Different Types of Births.”

  • Nothing can arise without a cause and without sufficient energy. Any birth can arise only if there is an energy that can sustain that birth. Different types of energy can sustain different types of births.
  • Three main types of bhava refer to kammic energies that can sustain existences in the kāma loka, rupa loka, or arupa loka. The Buddha explained that to Ven. Ananda in the “Paṭhamabhava Sutta (AN 3.76).” Venerable Ananda asked the Buddha “Bhante, they speak of this thing called ‘bhava’. How is bhava defined?
  • As we know, all 31 realms in this world can be divided into three categories: 11 realms in kāma loka, 16 realms in rupa loka, and 4 realms in arupa loka. See, “31 Realms Associated with the Earth.”
  • Existences in those three are supported by kāma bhava, rupa bhava, and arupa bhava. They are three different types of energies created by the mind, as we will see below.
Kāma Bhava Required for Births in Kāma Loka

2. The Buddha explained kāma bhava as follows: “Kāmadhātuvepakkañca, ānanda, kammaṁ nābhavissa, api nu kho kāmabhavo paññāyethā”ti?

Translated: “If, Ānanda, a kammic energy established in the sensual plane (kāmadhātuvepakkañca or kāma dhātuve pakkañca) is not entered (nābhavissa or na abhavissa), can an existence in a sensual realm (kāma bhavo) come about?”

  • Venerable Ananda replied that it would not be possible.  To be born in any of the 11 realms in the kāma loka, such an appropriate type of energy must be cultivated and then grasped to “start that birth in kāma loka.”
  • Of course, there are different varieties of kammic energy powering the 11 realms in kāma loka.
  • But they all have one thing in common: craving sensory experiences associated with all five six senses, and in particular, the five physical senses. Thus the term pañca kāma or “five types of kāma“.
  • Note that Devas in the 6 Deva realms have less dense bodies than humans. But they still have dense enough bodies to experience all five physical sensory inputs.
Rupa Bhava Required for Births in the Rupa Loka

3. In the same way as above, the Buddha explained rupa bhava: “Rūpadhātuvepakkañca, ānanda, kammaṁ nābhavissa, api nu kho rūpabhavo paññāyethā”ti?

Translated: If, Ānanda, a kammic energy established in the rupa plane (rupadhātuvepakkañca or rupa dhātuve pakkañca) is not entered (nābhavissa or na abhavissa), can an existence in the rupa plane (rupa bhavo) come about?” No.

  • Therefore, one must have cultivated the necessary type of energy to grasp a birth in one of the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms in rupa lokaSuch energies are created with rupāvacara jhāna.
  • To cultivate rupāvacara jhāna, one MUST give up cravings for the strongest of the pañca kāma, i.e., those sensory experiences associated with a physical body. Those are smell, taste, and physical touch. 
  • That is why rupāvacara Brahmas do not have physical bodiesThose Brahmas are satisfied with just sights and sounds.
  • There is no need for a physical body if smell, taste, and body touches are not needed. A rupāvacara Brahma has only a manomaya kāya or a “mental body.”
  • As we have seen human gandhabbas can still see and hear after coming out of the physical body. A physical body with eyes and ears is not necessary to see and hear. Only the cakkhu and sota pasāda rupa (in the manomaya kāya) are required for seeing and hearing. See, “Mental Body Versus the Physical Body.”
Arupa Bhava Required for Births in the Arupa Loka

4. As can be expected, the Buddha explained arupa bhava as follows: “Arūpadhātuvepakkañca, ānanda, kammaṁ nābhavissa, api nu kho arūpabhavo paññāyethā”ti? 

Translated: If, Ānanda, a kammic energy established in the arupa plane (arupaadhātuvepakkañca or arupa dhātuve pakkañca) is not entered (nābhavissa or na abhavissa), can an existence in the arupa plane (arupa bhavo) come about?” No.

  • Therefore, one must have cultivated the necessary energy associated with the arupa bhava to grasp a birth in one of the 16 arupāvacara Brahma realms in arupa lokaSuch energies are created with arupāvacara jhāna.
  • To cultivate arupāvacara jhāna, one MUST give up cravings for all of the pañca kāma.  That is why arupāvacara Brahmas do not have any pasāda rupa. It has only hadaya vatthu in the manomaya kāya. They can not even see or hear. They can only think.
  • Thus the only “matter” in rupāvacara Brahma realms are the suddhāṭṭhaka in the hadaya vatthu of those Brahmas.
  • We notice a trend from the above summary. Let us discuss that now.
“Level of Suffering” Decreases With “Decreasing Matter”

5. In general, “Level of Suffering” Decreases With “Decreasing Matter.” We see that sensory experiences with all six senses are available only in the 11 realms of the kāma loka. That is where most suffering is too! While the Deva realms with “less dense bodies” have optimum sensory pleasures with all six senses, the four lowest realms (apāyās) have the most suffering. The human realm in the middle has both pleasures and suffering.

  • Of course, pañca kāma pleasures are available only in kāma loka. They include body touches, tastes, smells, as well as with sights and sounds. The first three types REQUIRE dense bodies to have “close contacts.” But there is a “price to pay” as we will discuss below.
  • Furthermore, those who cultivate rupāvacara jhāna (Ariya or anariya) can see that “jhānic pleasures” are much better and longer-lasting than “pañca kāma pleasures.”
  • The rupāvacara jhāna are the first four jhāna. If one keeps going up to higher jhāna, they can see that the higher four arupāvacara jhāna are better than the rupāvacara jhāna.
  • That is why it is easier for those who have cultivated jhāna to see that there is stress associated with “sensory contacts.” The closer the contact is, the stronger the stress level.
  • However, there are some exceptions to this “rule.” While that trend holds well for the realms above the human realm, there are exceptions in the four lowest realms. In particular, some petas (hungry ghosts) have subtle (not dense) bodies.
Increasing “Cooling Down” With Decreasing Sensory Contacts

6. In the long-run, having more faculties for sensory experiences has “built-in” suffering much more than any pleasures. Having the ability to smell, taste and touch requires a dense physical body. Such a physical body comes with bodily pains, diseases, and can be subjected to injuries. Such drawbacks are minimum in Deva realms where those bodies have the least density. But in other realms in the kāma loka, such sufferings can be unbearable, especially in the apāyās

  • Those who cultivate such rupāvacara jhāna can experience this “relief” in this life itself. As one progresses towards higher rupāvacara jhāna, the physical body is felt less and less. In the fourth jhāna, one does not feel the physical body at all. Furthermore, those who cultivate such rupāvacara jhāna are invariably born in rupāvacara Brahma realms at the death of the present human body.
  • When one transcends the fourth jhāna and gets into the higher jhānās, one will start seeing that even rupāvacara jhāna are stressful. The relief becomes even higher as one proceeds to the highest arupāvacara jhāna. At the highest arupāvacara jhāna, one just feels that one is alive and the stress level is at the minimum. However, one with anariya jhāna cannot go beyond that and stop that remaining stress, because one still has anusaya (latent defilements.) Furthermore, one with anusaya can be reborn even in the apāyās in future lives. This is why anariya jhānās are useless in the end. See, “Samādhi, Jhāna, Magga Phala – Introduction.”
  • But an Arahant who can attain the highest jhāna can “stop life altogether” and get into “nirodha samāpatti.” That can last up to 7 days, and one can “experience full Nibbāna” during that time. But that is not an experience in this world that can be described with the vedana cetasika. We have no idea of what that would be like.
Parinibbāna Is Where There Is No Suffering

7. Not even a trace of stress –let alone any suffering — is left when an Arahant attains Parinibbāna at death. All three planes of existence (kāma bhava, rupa bhava, arupa bhava) are absent in Parinibbāna!

  • This is why “this world of 31 realms” and Parinibbāna are mutually exclusive. One can exist ONLY in either “this world” OR in “full Nibbāna” (Parinibbāna.)
  • Note that even an Arahant lives in “this world” until death, and is subject to suffering due to kamma vipāka. Even the Buddha had some ailments and Ven. Moggallana was beaten to death.
  • Therefore, even an Arahant is subjected to suffering as long as living in “this world of 31 realms.” Thus Nibbāna is not complete until the death of the Arahant.
Summary

8. Bhava is kammic energy created by the mind. In the above, we discussed three main types of bhava responsible for ALL births (jāti) in this world of 31 realms.

  • As we can see, the required kammic energy is created by the mind itself. That is quite clear in the cases of rupa bhava and arupa bhava where the corresponding jhāna cittā produce that energy.
  • Energies associated with kāma bhava are also produced in javana citta. Such javana cittā arise when we are engaged in a strong kamma. For example, javana energy to fuel a birth in the niraya or hell (the lowest realm) is produced in the mind of the murderer while doing that killing.
  • That is how different types of bhava are related to different types of kamma. Cultivating jhāna is a type of kamma too.
  • The word Buddha means “to stop bhava” (bhavauddha.) Only a Buddha can figure out how to stop grasping various types of bhava (kammic energies) that we have accumulated, and thus to stop any and all future suffering. That is why “Buddha” is a shared title for all the Buddhās.

All posts in this subsection at “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”

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