Jāti – Different Types of Births

March 14, 2021; revised March 15, 2021

Before understanding Paṭicca Samuppāda, we need to understand the 11 terms there. One critical word is jāti. There are different meanings of the word jāti, depending on the context.

Three Main Meanings of Jāti

1. The commonly-used meaning of jāti is “birth” as in the birth with a human body. We celebrate “birthdays” based on the day someone was born in this life. As we see below, Buddha Dhamma has two other (different) meanings depending on the context.

  • In the Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda, jāti means the birth in a new realm among the 31 realms. For example, a living-being can be born as a human, animal, Deva, Brahma, etc. that is a birth in that existence. See, “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
  • On the other hand, in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda, one can be “born” in countless “states” during a given lifetime. See, #3 below.
  • The above TWO are the main meanings of “jāti” in Buddha Dhamma. After understanding the concepts, one would be able to use the same term appropriate for a given situation.
  • Note that jāti is pronounced “jāthi” with “th” sound as in “three.” See, “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1.”
“Birth of a Baby” as Jāti Needs to Understood as the Mundane Version

2. The mundane meaning of “birth” as the birth of a human (or animal) baby is all we can “see” with our limited worldview.

  • It takes a Buddha to comprehend the real nature of this complex world.
  • The other two possible meanings of “jāti” require a basic understanding of the “wider world view”.
  • That means possible births among 31 realms in a rebirth process. But it DOES NOT mean the “re-appearing” of a soul (as in Abrahamic religions) or a ātman (as in Hinduism.)
“Births” During a Lifetime – One Important Type of Jāti

3. This type of jāti happens during a lifetime. For example, one can become angry and be “born” in an “angry bhava” and “angry jāti” for a short time. An hour later, one may learn of a big promotion and become very happy. At that time, one is “born” in a “happy jāti.”

  • Even before understanding births (jāti) in the rebirth process, it is important to understand how such temporary jāti arise. The Buddha discussed that in many suttas. See, for example, “Avijjā Sutta (AN 10.61).” This sutta explains that one must associate “good people” and cultivate good habits and be mindful of one’s actions. That way one is likely to be “born in good jāti” during a lifetime. That is the basis for guaranteeing good rebirths in the rebirth process (saṃsāra.)
  • See, “Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda” for details on “temporary jāti.”
The Primary Meaning of Jāti – Birth in One of the 31 Realms

4. In the “Saccavibhaṅga Sutta (MN 141),” Ven. Sariputta explains in a bit more detail the material in the “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11).“ That sutta states: “Katamā cāvuso, jāti? Yā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ tamhi tamhi sattanikāye jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho, ayaṃ vuccatāvuso: ‘jāti’.”

Translated: “What is jāti? It is the birth of beings in the various realms with one or more of the following stages: jāti sañjāti okkanti abhinibbatti khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho. This is called birth.

Births in the Brahma and Deva Realms Have Only the First step – Jāti

5. For opapatika (instantaneous) births in the Deva and Brahma realms, jāti is the ONLY stage involved. A Brahma or a Deva is born instantaneously complete with “all parts of the body.”

  • Here the “body” refers to the mental body and the physical body composed of the four great elements. Of course, the physical bodies of Brahmas only have a few units of suddhāṭṭhaka. Devas have more “solid bodies” but are still not visible to us.
  • More details at “Manomaya Kaya (Gandhabba) and the Physical Body.”
Humans and Animals Have Other Additional Stages of “Birth”

6. Humans and animals have those other four stages as follows. Let us describe a human birth.

(i) A human is first “born” with just 3 sets of suddhāṭṭhaka (vatthu dasaka, kaya dasaka, and bhava dasaka.) This happens at the jāti stage.

(ii) Within a split second, 4 more dasaka (4 pasada rupa of cakkhu, sota, ghana, and jivha) are incorporated, leading to the sañjāti stage. This is the same as the gandhabba state. That gandhabba then stays for the duration of the human existence (bhava.)  It is periodically pulled into a womb by kammic energy to be “born with a physical body.”

(iii) When pulled into a womb, the gandhabba merges with a zygote and that is the okkanti state.

(iv) Then that embryo grows in the womb in the abhinibbatti stage.

(v) When all body parts are formed that is the khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo stage and a baby then comes out of the womb. That last stage is what we commonly call a “birth.”

(vi) The sensory faculties start working as āyatana after the baby is born. This is the last āyatanānaṃ paṭilābho stage.

Repeated “Births” Within Human and Animal Bhava

7. When that physical body dies, that is not necessarily the end of the “human bhava.” That gandhabba comes out of the dead body and waits for another womb. We also call this “repeated jāti” within that same human bhava. See, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.” Per our discussion above, “jāti” in that post refer to the mundane meaning – which is the same as khandhānaṃ pātubhāvo stage in #6 above. Thus, we need to be able to understand the meaning of a word appropriate for the situation.

  • When the kammic energy for the human bhava (human existence) is depleted, that gandhabba dies and that is the end of human bhava. Then it can grasp a new existence as a Deva, Brahma, an animal, etc.
  • Therefore, we can see that a human can be in the ‘human bhava” as a human gandhabba for many thousands of years. The same holds for animals. A fly lives with a visible “fly body” only for several days, but that “fly bhava” can last thousands of years. That is the “repeated births” within a given bhava.  There are many more details that can be found by searching for posts on gandhabba; type the word “gandhabba” in the “Search” box on the top right.
There Are Other Types of Jāti Too!

8. When one gets deeper into Buddha Dhamma, one can see that everything in this world is “born” due to causes and effects, i.e., Paṭicca Samuppāda. For example, a tree is born out of a seed. A car is “born” in a factory. All those can be described by Paṭicca Samuppāda.

  • The Buddha explained this to Vāseṭṭha in the “Vāseṭṭha Sutta (MN 98).” The English translation there is good enough to get the idea: “With Vāseṭṭha.” However, there is no need to get into those aspects at the beginning.
  • However, in that sutta, the Buddha told Vāseṭṭha that humans are the same as a species. But they can be “born” in various “gati” according to their actions. For example, one who steals is “born” a thief. In another example, the Buddha says, “I don’t call someone a brahmin (of high caste) based on the mother or womb they came from.” Furthermore, even an immoral person can change to be “born a moral person of good character.”
  • Those are also “types of jāti.” 
Jātidhammā Different From Jāti

9. It is to be noted that jātidhammā means something different from jāti.

  • As explained in the “Saccavibhaṅga Sutta (MN 141),” Jātidhammā are dhammā responsible for jāti. Similarly, jarādhammā, byādhidhammā, sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsadhammā are dhammā responsible for old age, disease, and all other sufferings associated with jāti: sorrow (soka), lamentation (parideva), suffering (dukkha), misery (domanassa), and despair (upāyāsa).
  • A fairly good English translation at: “Discourse on The Analysis of the Truths.”
Summary

10. The term jāti (birth) needs to be understood in the context of a given situation.

  • When someone says, “I was born 30 years ago” that refers to his/her birth with the present physical body. That person would not know when he/she was first “born” in the human realm. Thus we normally refer to birth as “to be born with a human body.” We say the same about an animal, like “this dog was born 10 years ago.”
  • However, in Buddhist terminology, birth (jāti) refers to two main types discussed above: the first happens many times during a given lifetime.
  • The second type of jāti is the moment of appearance in any given realm. A living-being could be born a Deva, Brahma, human, animal, etc.
  • After the Parinibbāna (death) of an Arahant, birth (jāti) in any of the 31 realms of this world will not take place. In the “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)” the Buddha stated, “ayamantimā jāti” or “this is my last birth.” At Parinibbāna (merging with Nibbāna), suffering stops without a trace.
  • As long as there is a jāti, it ALWAYS ends up in death. That is why all Paṭicca samuppāda cycles end up with decay (jarā) and death (marana.) Even the kusala-mula version of Paṭicca Samuppāda ends up with just “jāti paccayā jarā maraṇaṃ.” See, “Kusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
    Thus, even a Noble Person on the way to Nibbāna will encounter death. Of course, death is stopped at Parinibbāna.
  • The akusala-mula version of Paṭicca Samuppāda has “jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti.”  That has other types of suffering as well. See, “Akusala-Mūla Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
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