Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra

December 27, 2021; revised December 28, 2021

Rebirths take place according to abhisaṅkhāra cultivated. That mechanism is explained in Akusala-mula Paticca Samuppāda.

Three Types of Abhisaṅkhāra Leading to Rebirth in the 31 Realms

1. As we have discussed, the 31 realms in this world (loka) are distributed among three levels: kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka.
Kāma loka has 11 realms: the four lowest realms (apāyās,) the human realm, and the six Deva realms.
Rupa loka consists of the sixteen rupāvacara Brahma realms.
Arupa loka has four arupāvacara Brahma realms.

2. Those three types of abhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths among the 31 realms as follows:

  • The worst type, apuññābhisaṅkhāra, lead to rebirths in the four lowest realms.
  • The next higher level of puññābhisaṅkhāra leads to rebirths in the higher seven realms in the kāma loka and the 16       realms in the rupa loka.
  • The best type of āneñjābhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths in the highest four realms of this world belonging to the arupa loka.
Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda Dictates the Rebirth Process

3. The Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda describes how rebirths (jāti) take place in this world starting with “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra” step.

As we discussed, saṅkhāra in the step “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” refers to “abhisaṅkhāra.” “Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga” explains the step “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” as, “Tattha katame avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā? Puññābhisaṅkhāro, apuññābhisaṅkhāro, āneñjābhisaṅkhāro.”

Translated: “What is meant by ‘avijjā paccayā saṅkhārā?’ That means puññābhisaṅkhāra, apuññābhisaṅkhāra, āneñjābhisaṅkhāra.” For details, see “Sankhāra – What It Really Means.”

  • Such abhisaṅkhāra can be kāya, vaci, or mano saṅkhāra that we discussed above. But only a part of kāya, vaci, and mano saṅkhāra are abhisaṅkhāra.
  • In other words, abhisaṅkhāra leads to kamma done with lobha, dosa, moha, and mundane versions of alobha, adosa, amoha.
  • They are akusala kamma or dasa akusala (three with the body, four with speech, and three with the mind). They can be kāya kamma, vaci kamma, and mano kamma. See, “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)
Apuññābhisaṅkhāra – Connection to Lobha, Dosa, moha

4. Apuññābhisaṅkhāra (“worst abhisaṅkhāra“) can lead to rebirths in the four lower realms (apāyās.) Such “bad abhisaṅkhāra“ arise due to lobha, dosa, moha (and other related cetasika like jealousy.)

  • Such apuññābhisaṅkhāra (“apuñña abhisaṅkhāra”) lead to apuñña kamma (or “pāpa kamma.“) That is the worst form of akusala kamma based on lobha (greed), dosa (hate/anger), moha (worst than avijjā).

5. “Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga” explains apuññābhisaṅkhāra as follows:Tattha katamo apuññābhisaṅkhāro? Akusalā cetanā kāmāvacarā—ayaṁ vuccati “apuññābhisaṅkhāro” OR “apuññābhisaṅkhāra are akusala cetanā associated with the kāma loka.”  

  • Akusala cetanā (ot intention of doing an akusala kamma) is in “akusala citta” or “defiled thoughts.”
Puññābhisaṅkhāra  and Āneñjābhisaṅkhāra – Connection to (Mundane) Alobha, Adosa, Amoha

6. Then there are two types of “good saṅkhāra” that lead to rebirths in the higher 27 realms. Those “relatively good”  abhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths in the “good realms” at or above the human realm. Those are puññābhisaṅkhāra  and āneñjābhisaṅkhāra. Those two categories arise based on the mundane versions of  alobha, adosa, moha (i.e., without comprehension of the Four Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda.)

  • Puñña kamma with puññābhisaṅkhāra can bring “good results” in this world, including rebirths in the human realm and the six Deva realms. Giving, moral living, and meditation come under puñña kamma; see, “Puñña Kamma – Dāna, Sīla, Bhāvanā.” Puññābhisaṅkhāra also includes cultivation of rupāvacara jhāna (first four jhāna) that lead to rebirths in the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms.
  • Āneñjābhisaṅkhāra comes into play in the cultivation of the four higher (arupāvacarajhānās that lead to rebirths in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms.
  • Akusala kamma is any kamma that keeps one in the rebirth process. Thus, puñña kamma done without comprehension of the Four Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paṭicca Samuppāda belong to akusala kamma. That is why puññābhisaṅkhāra and āneñjābhisaṅkhāra also arise due to avijjā.
Three Levels of Abhisaṅkhāra

7. Therefore, now we have an easy way to remember what types of abhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths among the 31 realms in this world. To summarize:

  • Worst form of akusala kamma are apuñña kamma or pāpa kamma. They are done with apuñña abhisaṅkhāra (apuññābhisaṅkhāra) and lead to the rebirths in the lowest four realms. Those four realms are collectively called apāyās and deliver the worst forms of suffering.
  • The next (higher) level of abhisaṅkhāra are puññā abhisankahara (puññābhisaṅkhāra.) Punna kamma (like giving to charity, taking care of parents/elders/bhikkhus, etc) lead to rebirths in the human realm and the six Deva realms. There is a higher level of puññābhisaṅkhāra that leads to rebirths in the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms; those involve the cultivation of rupāvacara jhāna. Thus, puññābhisaṅkhāra lead to rebirths in 23 realms.
  • The highest level of abhisaṅkhāra is āneñja abhisaṅkhāra (āneñjābhisaṅkhāra.)Those involved the cultivation of the four highest jhāna, the arupāvacara jhāna. They, of course, lead to rebirths in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms.

Thus we can now clearly see how the rebirth process takes place among the 31 realms according to the types of abhisaṅkhāra cultivated via “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” 

All Types of Abhisaṅkhāra Arise Due to Avijjā!

8. As explained in #1 above, all types of abhisaṅkhāra within the three categories arise due to avijjā. What is avijjā?

  • Paṭiccasamuppāda Vibhaṅga” explains avijjā as follows: “Tattha katamā avijjā? Dukkhe aññāṇaṁ, dukkhasamudaye aññāṇaṁ, dukkhanirodhe aññāṇaṁ, dukkhanirodhagāminiyā paṭipadāya aññāṇaṁayaṁ vuccati “avijjā”.

Translated: “What is avijjā? It is the ignorance of the Four Nobel Truths  or the absence of four types of knowledge (ñāṇa): absence of knowledge about the Truths on suffering (Dukkhe aññāṇaṁ), the origin of suffering (dukkha samudaye aññāṇaṁ), cessation of suffering (dukkha nirodhe aññāṇaṁ), and the way to reach the cessation of suffering (dukkha nirodha gāminiyā paṭipadāya aññāṇaṁ.)

  • As we saw above, starting with the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step in Akusala-mula PS different types of existences (bhava) and corresponding rebirths (jāti) arise among the 31 realms.
Connection to Tilakkhana and Paṭicca Samuppāda

9. The key here is to understand the First Noble Truth. In other words, instead of “dukkhe aññāṇaṁ” (not comprehending the Noble Truth on Suffering) to get to “dukkhe ñāṇaṁ” (knowledge of the Noble Truth on Suffering.)

  • What is dukkha (suffering)? It is not the relatively minor sufferings that we experience in this life. Most people are happy with their lives.
  • To understand the REAL suffering, one must understand the “wider worldview” seen by the Buddha upon his Enlightenment. He saw that most living beings are trapped in the four lowest realms for very long times. That is the suffering referred to by the Buddha!
  • Even though relatively reduced levels of suffering manifest in the higher realms at or above the human realm, ANY given sentient-being spends most time in the apāyās.
  • More details at, “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”
Apuññābhisaṅkhāra Done With Moha or Avijjā

10. The worst form of apuññābhisaṅkhāra is done with the worst form avijjā of moha. One may FREQUENTLY act with moha if one still has one or more of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi.

  • With the removal of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi the tendency to act with moha and generate apuññābhisaṅkhāra will be reduced.
  • But as long as one has not comprehended the Four Noble Truths/Tilakkhana/Paticca Samuppāda, one may act with avijjā and may generate abhisaṅkhāra of all three types.
  • As we saw above, Paticca Samuppāda clearly explains how different types of rebirths arise due to avijjā. That is why it is critical to understand that process.
Cultivation of Anariya Jhāna Done With Avijjā

11. We can clearly see now that the cultivation of all types of anariya jhāna is done with avijjā (anariya” means “non-Buddhist”). Such anariya jhāna are cultivated using anariya meditation techniques such as kasina mediation (using kasina objects) and breath meditation (which is NOT Ānapānasati meditation.) The sole purpose of such efforts is to attain such jhānās, and NOT Nibbāna. Cultivation of such jhāna leads to rebirths in the Brahma realms, as we saw above.

  • Any effort to seek a rebirth anywhere in the 31 realms is done with avijjā, because ANY such existence will have a finite lifetime.
  • When that existence in such Brahma realm comes to an end, rebirths in lower realms will take place, inevitably ending up in the apāyās. That is why such efforts will NOT lead to the ending of saṁsāric suffering.
  • The only way to stop future suffering is to stop the rebirth process.
  • Thus, we can see that another way to describe avijjā is as follows: As long as one has the mindset that “existence ANYWHERE among the 31 realms is beneficial,” one would have avijjā. That is why the cultivation of (anariya) jhāna is done with avijjā!

12. Note that Ariya jhāna is NOT cultivated with the goal of getting a rebirth in a Brahma realm. Ariya jhānās are realized automatically by some people with magga phala (if one has cultivated anariya jhānās in recent past lives.)

  • But some Arahants have cultivated Ariya jhāna deliberately and the Buddha had recommended that too. A good example is Ven. Moggalana. After the cultivation of such jhānās, he developed abhiññā powers. Then he frequently visited Deva and Brahma realms to teach Dhamma to those Devas and Brahmas.
  • By the way, there is a series of suttas that describe how Ven. Moggalana attained all jhānās in sequence. That series starts with the “Paṭhamajhānapañhā Sutta (SN 40.1).” Those who have questions about the terms vitakka/vicāra, avitakka/avicāra, and savitakka/savicāra should read that series of suttas.
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