Bhava and Punabbhava – Kammic Energy Giving Rise to Renewed Existence

March 28, 2021; revised March 29, 2021 (title of #5 is Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda.)

Bhava is kammic energy. When a vipāka due to that kammic energy is grasped (upādāna), that leads to a new existence (punabbhava.)

Summary of the Previous Post

1. Bhava is kammic energy created by the mind. It can power a new existence in kāma bhavarupa bhava, or arupa bhava. Those are three main types of bhava responsible for ALL births (jāti) in this world of 31 realms.

  • As humans, we can generate all three types of energies that CAN power a new existence in those three bhava. Depending on the details of kammic energies (i.e., specific kamma committed,) they CAN lead to births (jati) in the 4 apāyās, the human realm, and 6 Deva realms in kāma bhava, or in 16 Brahma realms in the rupa bhava or 4 Brahma realms in arupa bhava.
  • See, “Bhava – Kammic Energy That Can Power an Existence.”
Bhava and Punabbhava

2. Just because there are energies that CAN power a new existence, that second step of grasping (upādāna) a new existence (punabbhava) DOES NOT happen automatically. To be reborn in a new existence, bhava MUST become punabbhava (“puna” + “bhava,” where “puna” is “repeat/renewed.”) In other words, the mind must grasp (upādāna) that “stored energy” (bhava) to energize the next existence.

  • For example, Angulimala killed 999 people just before he met the Buddha. So, he had created a strong kammic energy that could have led to a birth in the niraya, the lowest realm. That kammic energy was there in a “niraya bhava” to support existence in a niraya.
  • To INITIATE that “niraya bhava,” his mind must latch onto that energy at the cuti-patisandhi moment at the end of the human bhava. However, he learned Dhamma and became an Arahant. Therefore, Ven. Angulimala’s mind had become purified and would not latch onto existence in the niraya.
  • In fact, since he had attained the Arahanthood, his mind would not latch onto ANY existence (bhava) in this world. He probably cultivated jhanas before his death, but birth in a Brahma realm was also not possible.
  • Thus, it is critical to understand the difference between bhava and punabbhava.
To Be Born in an Existence (Bhava)  It Must Be Grasped (Upādāna)

3. We all have done MANY of both good and bad kamma in this life and previous lives. At the end of the human bhava, one can bring a new existence (punabbhava.) For that to happen, the mind needs to go through the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda at the cuti-patisandhi moment.

  • However, depending on the “level of purity” of a given mind, it may not grasp certain types of bhava. For example, a Sotapanna‘s mind would not “grasp” (upādāna) a bhava in an apāya; such a bhava would not be compatible with the gati of a Sotapanna.
  • Similarly, an Anāgāmi‘s mind would not grasp even a human or a Deva bhava. Since Anāgāmi has “seen” the perils of births in kāma loka (kāma bhava), “renewed bhava” (punabbhava) in the kāma bhava WILL NOT happen.
  • The mind of an Arahant has seen the perils of ALL existences in this world. Thus, it would not grasp an existence in this world. At death, an Arahant will be released and will merge with Nibbāna.
  • Even an Arahant would have accumulated many types of bhava (kammic energies), especially in previous lives. However, none of them will lead to punabbhava or “renewed existence” since that mind would not grasp any existence in this world. That mind has realized that no existence is free of suffering.
If There Is No New Existence (Punabbhava), There Is No Rebirth (Jāti)

4. Now we can clearly see what the Buddha stated in his first sutta, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)“: “Ñāṇañca pana me dassanaṁ udapādi: ‘akuppā me vimutti, ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’” ti

Translated: “The knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘Unshakable is the liberation of my mind. This is my last birth. Now there is no more renewed existence.’”

  • There are many suttas with similar statements for Arahants. You can search for the verse “natthi dāni punabbhavo”  at Sutta Central Search. That phrase means, “now there is no more renewed existence.”
Upādāna Paccaya Bhava” Step in Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda 

5. We must understand many of the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda, depending on the context. I have pointed out many times that “viññāṇa” in the “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāṇa” is ALWAYS a kamma viññāṇa and NOT a vipāka viññāṇa (like cakkhu viññāṇa or “seeing.”)

  • In Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles that run DURING a lifetime (Idappaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda,) the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step leads to TWO effects. (1) It CREATES kammic energies (or bhava) that can manifest AT THAT TIME. One can get to that bhava temporarily and be “born” in that bhava temporarily. (2) Also, part of the kammic energy generated will be preserved as a kamma bīja in the viññāṇa plane.
  • For example, when someone gets into a fight, that angry mindset generates kammic energy in his/her javana citta. Part of that energy leads to a “temporary angry bhava” and, thus, a “temporary angry jati.” An onlooker can see the change in his/her body: face will transform to an “angry face.” Also, part of the kammic energy generated will either give rise to a new kamma bīja or strengthen an existing kamma bīja for a bhava in the apāyās. Of course, that will be a tiny kamma seed. If one kills a human, that kamma bīja (or bhava energy) will become much stronger and could become strong enough to bring in a punabbhava (new existence) in the apāyās.
  • The more he/she engages in similar actions throughout life (even without killing anyone), such kamma bīja (bhava) will grow and could contribute to punabbhava.
Upādāna Paccayā Punabbhava” Step in Uppatti  Paṭicca Samuppāda 

6. There are different types of Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles that run in different situations. A special type of Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle (Uppatti Paṭicca Samuppāda) operates at the moment when the kammic energy (or bhava energy) for the current bhava runs out.  That is when a new or “renewed existence” is grasped (upādāna.)

  • In this particular case, the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step becomes “upādāna paccayā punabbhava.
  • Therefore, in a Paṭicca Samuppāda cycle that runs at the cuti-patisandhi moment (at the end of the current existence), the step MUST BE interpreted as “upādāna paccayā punabbhava.”

7. Note that neither type of Paṭicca Samuppāda cycles operate for an Arahant, since the steps “taṇhā paccayā upādāna” OR “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” WILL NOT take place for an Arahant.

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