Revised June 16, 2019; re-written May 29, 2021; revised June 6, 2023
An existence (bhava) can result in this life (kamma bhava) or future lives (upapatti bhava). Both types lead to more suffering in the end. Repetition of kamma bhava (i.e., engaging in similar activities) adds to kammic energies (kamma bija) that can fuel future upapatti bhava.
Kamma Bhava and Upapatti Bhava
1. In a previous post (“Nāmarūpa Paccayā Salāyatana“), we discussed how repeated immoral actions of a teenager could bring about a specific type of existence (bhava) during the current life. That is a “temporary existence” (in that example, as a drunkard/alcoholic). Still, it creates kammic energy that will remain as kamma bhava.
- We also discussed how such kamma bhava could get stronger with time and become strong enough to lead to a new existence at death. This is called a upapatti bhava.
- Therefore, there are two types of “bhava“: those that can bring about “experiences” during the current life (kamma bhava) and those that become strong enough to power a whole new existence (upapatti bhava).
- This is explained in the “Paṭiccasamuppāda vibhaṅga“: “Tattha katamo upādāna paccayā bhavo? Bhavo duvidhena—atthi kamma bhavo, atthi upapatti bhavo“, i.e., “What is upādāna paccayā bhavo? Two types of bhava – kamma bhava and upapatti bhava“.
- This is why the Buddha emphasized the importance of the Idapaccayātā Paṭicca Samuppāda. Avijjā is NOT there all the time. Any unwise action done at a given time is due to avijjā present AT THAT TIME. See, “Avijjā Sutta (AN 10.61)“: “Purimā, bhikkhave, koṭi na paññāyati avijjāya: ‘ito pubbe avijjā nāhosi, atha pacchā samabhavī’ti. Evañcetaṁ, bhikkhave, vuccati, atha ca pana paññāyati: ‘idappaccayā avijjā’ti.” Thus, avijjā may arise based on the conditions at a given time, mainly depending on the ārammaṇa (sensory input.)
- One’s actions (kamma) DURING a lifetime lead to the accumulation/growth of different types of “kammic energies;” strong ones will lead to rebirths. Of course, in some cases, a single immoral action (like killing a human) can lead to a bad rebirth.
Bhava as a “Seed”
2. Another way to look at the “bhava” concept is to treat it as a seed. As we discussed in the previous post when we act with ignorance (and greed or hate), that helps the growth of a kamma seed (kamma bhava.) With more related kamma done, that seed can grow and bring a new birth (jāti) in the future (with upapatti bhava.) This concept of a kamma seed is easier to comprehend.
- Just like an ordinary seed has the potential to give rise to a plant, a kamma seed (or a “bhava“) has the potential to bring about a “jāti” or a “birth,” either during this life or in preparing a new life.
- Of course, once the Arahanthood is attained, an Arahant will not grasp another bhava (since there is no upādāna.) Thus even if there could be many kamma seeds, they don’t get to “germinate.” Ven. Angulimals’s account is a good example. See “Account of Angulimāla – Many Insights to Buddha Dhamma.”
- I write it as jāti (the conventional “Tipiṭaka English”), but it is pronounced: “jāthi.” See “Tipiṭaka English” Convention Adopted by Early European Scholars – Part 1″
An Example from the Previous Post – Bhava and Jāti During a Life
3. Let us take the example of the teenager we discussed in the previous post, “Phassa paccayā Vēdanā….to Bhava“. Because of the influence of his friends, the teenager starts dealing and using drugs and gradually gets drawn into the gang to become a gang member, and eventually starts doing violent acts of beating and killing people.
- When he did the first beating, his friends probably encouraged or even forced him to do it. Let us suppose he did not have a saṃsāric habit of doing that violent act. So, when he did the first act, that energized a small kamma seed (or a “bhava.“)
4. The next time he did something similar, this initial kamma seed made it easier for him to do the second act. Once he did that, the seed got bigger, and the next time he may not need much encouragement, and so on. The more he does it, the more easily he can get into that “bhava,” i.e., the stronger the kamma seed becomes.
This is none other than many idapaccayātā PS cycles running that start with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” (doing immoral deeds due to avijjā) and lead to “upādāna paccayā bhava,” making the corresponding bhava (or kamma seed) strong.
- This is another way of expressing “habit (gati; pronounced “gathi”) formation” that I have discussed in many other posts. The more one does actions suitable for a specific “bhava,” the viññāna for similar behavior grows, and it is easier for one to be “born” in a corresponding state; this is “pati+ichcha,” leading to “sama+uppāda” as pointed out in the introductory post, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+” Sama+uppāda.”
- Thus, the more the teenager acts violently, the easier it becomes for him to be “born in that state,” i.e., easier/habitual for him to do similar acts.
- In other words, repeated saṅkhāra leads to strengthening the corresponding mindset or viññāna, and it propagates down the Paṭicca samuppāda series to make “kamma bhava.”
5. Now, let us consider when that kamma seed or “kamma bhava” gives rise to a “jāti” in idapaccayātā Paṭicca samuppāda. One day, his drug deal is sabotaged by a rival gang member, and he gets angry. He is easily “born” in that “animal-like violent state.” He starts beating up that guy. This is a “jāti” or “birth” in a violent existence.
- When the beating is almost done, that “jāti” is almost over with; it is at the “jarā” (decay) stage, and when it is done, that is the end or death (“maraṇa“) of that “jāti.”
- Thus when that episode is over, that temporary “jāti” of “a violent existence” is over.
- The rest of it, “sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa,” or many forms of suffering, comes later in that life or even in future births. The kamma seed that helped him do that act itself got even stronger.
6. That violent action now gives rise to another kamma seed.
- Now, if during that confrontation with the other rival gang member, he gets beaten up, then that is due to a kamma vipāka of that new kamma.
- In either case, that “birth” or ‘jāti” (the confrontation with the rival gang member) would give him only misery at the end: “sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa.”
- Many such idapaccayātā samuppāda cycles can operate during even a day, and he may be “born” repeatedly in that confrontational state. Some may be minor, like getting mad at his friends, but some could be violent. He has prepared the “bhava,” and he can get into “jāti” or be “born in that bhava” easily.
- Just like when a seed is made, it is easy to get that seed to germinate. Once we prepare a “bhava,” it is easy to be born in that type of existence.
7. Now, we can see that a “bhava” or a “kamma seed” is the potentiality for a particular kind of existence or a “state of mind” during the current life itself.
- He can easily transition to that “state of mind” (or bhava). For example, he may have a good time with his family and be in a “normal state of mind.” Then he gets a phone call from a fellow gang member asking for his help with the gang-related activity.
- He will instantly be transitioned to the “gang mentality” and be born a gang member. Then he will engage in whatever gang activity.
- But any birth (or jāti) will come to an end. When that activity is over, he may come home and be part of the typical family life.
- However, that “bad jāti” will ALWAYS lead to “jarā, maraṇa, soka, parideva, dukkha domanassa.” Even if that particular was successful and left there happily, that ACTIVITY will lead to suffering in the future. He had accumulated more kammic energy for that “bad bhava.”
8. But the important thing to remember is that “bhava paccaya jāti” does not mean he is guaranteed to be born in that state. He will likely be born in that state under suitable conditions, for example, upon urged by friends.
- But if he comes to his senses and realizes the perils of such actions, he can make an effort and slowly degrade the potency of that kamma seed. The first thing is to stop doing those more violent acts. If the teenager has enough determination and moral support from his family, he may get into the moral path.
- If he determines to change, it will be challenging in the beginning. It is like trying to stop a moving car. If the car has a lot of speed, it takes a considerable effort to stop. It is easier to stop a slowly moving car before it gains speed. In the same way, it is easier to revert if one realizes that one is on the wrong path early.
Same Example – Future Bhava and Jāti (via Upapatti PS)
9. If the teenager does not change his ways but only gets involved more and more with violent activities, then that kamma seed (or kamma bhava) will grow bigger and can become strong enough to energize a whole new existence (rebirth) or “upapatti bhava.” Or he can even make a single huge kamma seed by killing someone.
- We all likely have acquired several or even many such large bad kamma seeds (i.e., many bad “upapatti bhava“) suitable to yield rebirths in the lowest four realms; we have no way of finding out.
- Of course, we are also likely to have many good kamma seeds (i.e., many good “upapatti bhava“) suitable to yield rebirths in the higher realms.
No Control Over the Next Bhava (in Upapatti PS)
10. And we do not have any control over which “upapatti bhava” is selected at the end of the current bhava. The strongest with the most “upādāna” associated gets to the front automatically. The Buddha gave a simile to explain how this selection of a “upapatti bhava” or a strong kamma seed happens at the cuti-paṭisandhi transition at death.
- Imagine a barn that keeps the cows in for the night. All the cows are anxious to get out and roam around in the morning. But when the gate opens, it is the most muscular cow that has come to the front and is out of the gate when it is opened. The weaker ones don’t even try to be at the front.
- Just like that, it is the most potent “kamma seed” or a “paṭisandhi bhava” that wins at the cuti-paṭisandhi transition.
- Let us get back to the teenager that we discussed above. Suppose the kamma seed he nourished during this life as a violent person with “animal-like” behavior is the strongest one of all his accumulated kamma seeds. In that case, it will bring about an animal existence at the cuti-paṭisandhi transition.
11. A Buddha could analyze such a upapatti Paṭicca samuppāda cycle in finer detail to pinpoint exactly what type of animal it would be. This is because a Buddha can see not only a person’s whole history in the present life but going back to many eons; thus, he can see which kamma seed will bring the following existence and exactly which kind of “gati” are embedded in that kamma seed. We can only discuss the general trends, and here we have discussed only the main ideas of how these Paṭicca samuppāda cycles operate.
- Going back to the teenager, In this case, it is the upapatti Paṭicca samuppāda cycle that operates, and “bhava paccayā jāti” here leads to the birth in a new existence as an animal using that upapatti bhava.
Many Births Within a Upapatti Bhava – For Humans and Animals
12. Once born in such an animal existence, that animal will grow and then start old age (“jarā“) and eventually die (“maraṇa“).
- The kammic energy of that kamma seed may not deplete in just one birth (this applies only to humans and animals.)
- Since most animals have shorter lifetimes, only a fraction of that kammic energy is likely to have been spent. That animal will keep going through many similar births (“jāti“) until the energy of that kamma seed is spent. It is said that many animals keep coming back to the same life many hundreds of times.
13. This is the difference between “bhava” and “jāti.” Once one gets a new existence or “bhava,” one could have many births (“jāti“) in that existence until the energy of the kamma seed is spent. See “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
- Thus we can see that the last step of “jāti paccayā jarā, maraṇa, sōka, paridēva, dukkha, dōmanassa” will be with “him” for a long time to come. It is not just one birth but many that will correspond to that existence as that animal.
- In general, within the human “bhava,” one could be reborn many times before the energy of that “good kamma seed” is depleted. This is why some children can recall previous recent lives. However, it is tough to get another “human bhava“; see “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.”
- However, especially in Deva and Brahma realms, there is only one birth during that existence as a Deva or a Brahma.
Kamma Seeds Removed for Those With Magga Phala? – No
14. Before closing this section, let us discuss another critical point. We mentioned earlier that everyone had accumulated numerous good and bad kamma seeds strong enough to give rise to good and bad rebirths. Then the question arises: Does a person attain the Sōtapanna stage (i.e., make bad rebirths in the lowest four realms void) by eliminating all those bad kamma seeds?
- While it is possible to reduce the potency of kamma seeds and maybe even eliminate some, it may not be possible to remove all. The Ariya Metta Bhāvanā may remove many kamma seeds, as discussed in the “Bhavana (Meditation)” section, but there could be leftovers. It is said that the Buddha had 11 instances of bad kamma vipāka, including a back problem.
- Therefore, it is very likely that we all have many good and bad kamma seeds strong enough to energize many good and bad rebirths.
- What happens at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment involves the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in the upapatti Paṭicca samuppāda cycle. As we recall, this is the step responsible for energizing “upapatti bhava” to bring in a new existence.
- But this same step is involved in grasping the strongest “upapatti bhava” at the end of the current “bhava.” Suppose a person dies, and that was the last possible human birth for him/her. Then at the dying moment, he/she will willingly grasp something they crave, i.e., matching the dominant “gati” of him/her.
15. Let us consider the case of the violent teenager again. Suppose he continued his violent acts and built up a “upapatti bhava” suitable for a violent animal. Then at the dying moment, he could see in his mind (like in a dream) a rival gang member trying to “steal a drug deal”; he would also see a gun close by. By his instincts, he will get angry, grab the gun, and shoot that person. This is an example of a “gati nimitta.”
- That is the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step for the new existence. He has willingly grasped the mindset of an animal, and he will be born as an animal. His next thought-moment is in that animal that comes out of the dead body of the teenager as a “gandhabba” with an invisible fine body.
- This is described in detail in other posts; it needs more background material in “manomaya kaya” to understand the technical details, which is not critical here. However, now we can understand how a new existence is grasped at the end of a “bhava” in the upapatti Paṭicca samuppāda cycle.
16. Let us go back to how a Sōtapanna avoids such bad rebirths even if he/she has many bad kamma seeds. Suppose that Sōtapanna has the same kind of kamma seed as that teenager (it could be from a previous life) and that it is strong enough to come to the forefront of his/her mind at the dying moment.
- What happens is that a Sōtapanna will not grab the gun and shoot that person even if it is his/her worst enemy doing something that could make him/her mad. His/her mindset or “gati” has been permanently changed. Thus “upādāna paccayā bhava” step will not be executed for that kamma seed.
- In that case, now the next potent upapatti bhava will come to the forefront. That will also be rejected if that is also a bad one suitable for rebirth in the lowest four realms (apāyās.) Eventually, he/she will grasp a rebirth compatible with his/her “gati” at that dying moment, which for a Sōtapanna will never be the “gati” to be born in an apāya.
- That process happens automatically and very quickly. We do not have conscious control over it.
- Thus one’s rebirth will be determined by how one lives (and had lived previous lives). If one lived like an animal, one would be born an animal no matter how much one wishes for a “good birth.” As discussed above, the real danger is that we do not know how we lived our previous lives.
- This is why Paṭicca samuppāda means “pati + ichcha,” leading to “sama” + “uppāda,” or what one grasps willingly and habitually is what one that will operate automatically at the dying moment; see, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha”+” Sama+uppāda.”
Also, see “Bhava and Jāti Within a Lifetime – Example.”