Gandhabba (Mental Body) Separating from Physical Body in Jhāna

February 14, 2022

The “mental body” (gandhabba) may automatically come out of the physical body during near-death experiences (NDE.) A meditator (yogi) can willfully do that in the fourth jhāna.

Materialistic View of the Mind

1. The “brain is the mind” materialistic hypothesis CAN explain the fact that we can recall memories even when we are on the Moon; we carry the brain with us everywhere.

  1. Of course, that hypothesis cannot explain memories of past lives, because the brain could not have stored memories from past lives.
  2. It cannot explain NDEs experienced while the brain was inactive.
  3. It also cannot explain memory recall with such precision by some people. We will postpone that discussion to the next post.
Explanation in Buddha Dhamma

2. There are THREE key points:

(i) consciousness arises in the “mental body” (manomaya kāya or gandhabba), not in the brain. “Human life” is in the “mental body” and not in the “physical body.” The physical body is just a shell, energized by the mental body.

(ii) Memory records (nāmagotta) of ALL our past experiences are in viññāṇa dhātu. We can recall them from anywhere.

(III) While the mental body (gandhabba) is inside the physical body, memories come to the gandhabba via the brain. While outside the physical body, gandhabba can directly recall memories.

  •  “Mental body,” “manomaya kāya,” “gandhabba”, “gandhabba kāya” all mean the same. I will use them interchangeably.

3. Our nāma loka (viññāṇa dhātu) is VERY DIFFERENT from our rupa loka. Our manomaya kāya can access the memory records from anywhere. It is as if we are “carrying” all those records with us.

  • If the gandhabba is outside the physical body (as in NDE) memories can be directly accessed and are much clear. This is why many NDE subjects say “their life events flashed vividly in their minds.”
  • If the gandhabba is inside the physical body, then the brain plays a critical role in extracting memory records (nāmagotta) from the viññāṇa dhātu. When certain parts of the brain are damaged, the ability to recall memories — even from this life — stops.
  • In the case of NDEs, the gandhabba comes out of the physical body accidentally. It happens only on occasion.
  • However, there is a way to come out of the physical body with the mental body (gandhabba) willfully. Those who can cultivate (Ariya or anariya) jhāna can come out with the gandhabba kāya while in the jhāna.
Just Like a Sword Is Pulled Out of a Scabbard (or Sheath)

4. There are several suttas that describe pulling the gandhabba kāya out of the physical body at any time.

  • One must cultivate the fourth jhāna to the highest level to be able to do that. The “Sāmaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)” (among a few other suttas) describes the process step-by-step. One starts with abstaining from immoral deeds, abstain from excessive sensual pleasures, and starts cultivating jhāna one by one until getting to the fourth jhāna and then being able to get into that jhāna instantly.
  • The English translation gives enough details: Section “ Mind-Made Body” has the following description (I am slightly revising the translation in the above link):

“When their mind has become immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of defilements, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—they extend it and project it toward the “mental body” (manomayaṁ kāyaṁ). From this physical body, they (come out with) that “mental body”, complete in all its various faculties, not deficient in any faculty.”

  • Then three analogies are provided to get an idea of how that manomaya kāya or gandhabba kāya comes out of the physical body: (i) a person was pulling out a reed from its sheath or (ii) drawing a sword out from its scabbard, and (iii) a snake shedding its skin. The following youtube video makes the third process clear.

  • Of course, you can easily visualize a sword being pulled out of its sheath/scabbard. I am not sure how many people have seen the first analogy.
“Miracles” Performed With the Gandhabba Kāya

5. Once coming out with the manomaya kāya or gandhabba kāya the yogi can perform many types of “miracles.”

  • One of those “miracles” of course is to be able to see and hear without physical eyes and ears over long distances. They can see and hear much better than with the physical body. That is what is meant by “From this physical body, they (come out with) that “mental body”, complete in all its various faculties, not deficient in any faculty in the quoted verse in #4 above.
  • Another is the ability to go through solid objects like ceilings and walls. Some NDE accounts verify that too.

6. The critical point associated with that last ability is that the manomaya kāya or gandhabba kāya has only a trace of matter. It is a “body that cannot be seen.” It can go through walls, mountains, water, etc., as confirmed by some NDE accounts. 

  • For example, when a heart patient is having an NDE, they are floating above their physical body and no one in the room can see him/her.
  • Another special aspect of such a manomaya kāya is the ability to travel anywhere just by thinking. Several NDE accounts say they were able to get to distant places “instantly.”
  • For details on what other “miracles” are possible with a manomaya kāya, see “Pāṭihāriya (Supernormal Abilities) of a Buddha – Part I
Kammic Energy Creates the Manomaya Kāya

6. The most important thing to remember is that the manomaya kāya (gandhabba) is the essence of a human. It is created by kammic energy at the moment of grasping the human bhava

  • That gandhabba consists of just six suddhāṭṭhaka (hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa). But they are very special suddhāṭṭhaka WITH LIFE. That is the essence of a living being and it CAN NOT be created anyway other than by kammic energy. That is why Artificial Intelligence (AI) is NEVER going to be a reality.
  • Human bhava can last many thousands of years. As we know, these days a physical human body can last only around 100 years or less. The initiation of a physical body is the manomaya kāya being pulled into a suitable womb. It merges with the zygote cell in the womb and grows into a baby by taking in food from the mother. Once born, the baby grows by eating food. Thus, the physical body grows due to food intake, just like a seed growing to a tree.
Gandhabba/Para Loka Concept Is Critical to Understand!

7. That manomaya kāya or gandhabba will last for thousands of years until that kammic energy is exhausted. During that time, the gandhabba can be born in “this world” (i.e., with a physical body) many times. When in a physical body, it is in “this world” or “ayaṁ loka.” In between two consecutive lives with physical bodies, gandhabba is in the “other/nether world” or “para loka” and is invisible to us. 

  • Note that not believing in ayaṁ loka” and “para loka” are two of the ten types of micchā diṭṭhi that can lead to rebirths in the apāyās. See, “Paṭhama­ni­r­ayasa­g­ga Sutta (AN 10.211)
  • The following is the translation of the relevant verse: “They have the wrong view. Their perspective is distorted: “There’s no meaning in giving, sacrifice, or offerings. There’s no fruit or result of good and bad deeds. This world is not real. There’s no afterlife (para loka). There’s no obligation to mother and father. No beings are reborn spontaneously. And there’s no ascetic or brahmin who is well attained and practiced, and who describes this world and afterlife (para loka) after realizing it with their own insight. Someone with these ten qualities is cast down to hell. (Pāli verse in Ref. 1.)
  • Thus, it is critical to understand that our physical bodies are secondary and the manomaya kāya or gandhabba is primary. Also see, “Micchā Diṭṭhi, Gandhabba, and Sōtapanna Stage.”
Mental Body (Gandhabba) Is Primary!

8. Human existence (bhava) is NOT limited to one life with a physical human body.

  • Some children die very early, even within weeks. Are their human existences limited to a few weeks or even just a day? 
  • Human existence can last thousands of years. Within that time, there is a single human gandhabba. When one physical human body dies (in a few days to 100 or so years) that gandhabba comes out of the dead body. It will be pulled into another womb by kammic energy. While waiting for another womb, that gandhabba is not in “this world” but in “para loka.”
  • Thus, there can be many births (jāti) with a human body within a single human existence (bhava.) That is the “bhava paccayā jāti” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
  • At the end of the human bhava, that human gandhabba dies and that is the cuti-patisandhi moment, where a new existence (bhava) is grasped. It is very important to understand this relationship between bhava and jāti. See, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
Experiences of Yogis Are Superior to those With NDE

9. People with NDE are average humans with many defilements. Thus, even when they come out of the physical body with the gandhabba kāya their abilities are much less. They just experience the unbelievable “relief/lightness” of being outside the heavy and pain-ridden physical body. That is why many of them say they were “in heaven” during the NDE.

  • Those yogis who can come out of the physical body can stay in that state for long times. That is an optimum “jhānic sukha” discussed in suttas. But they need to successfully cultivate the fourth jhāna with SUPPRESSION of defilements (anariya yogis) or REMOVAL of defilements (at least at the Anāgāmi stage.)
  • Therefore, only those yogis will be able to perform other types of “miracles” discussed in Pāṭihāriya (Supernormal Abilities) of a Buddha – Part I.” 
  • One such miracle is to recall past lives.

10. Depending on how well the fourth jhāna is cultivated, they can recall many previous lives. The Buddha was able to look as far back as he wanted, and also could access the nāmagotta of other people. He provided accounts of the lives of many previous Buddhas in the “Mahāpadāna Sutta (DN 14).”

  • That is another indication that memories from past lives could not be in the brain of the current physical body.
  • During the time of the Buddha, people did not know much about the brain. So, the Tipiṭaka does not have an explanation of memory recall with the aid of the brain. However, we can put together a reasonable explanation; see “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory.”

1. Micchādiṭṭhiko hoti, viparītadassano: ‘natthi dinnaṁ, natthi yiṭṭhaṁ, natthi hutaṁ, natthi sukatadukkaṭānaṁ kammānaṁ phalaṁ vipāko, natthi ayaṁ loko, natthi paro loko, natthi mātā, natthi pitā, natthi sattā opapātikā, natthi loke samaṇabrāhmaṇā sammaggatā sammāpaṭipannā ye imañca lokaṁ parañca lokaṁ sayaṁ abhiññā sacchikatvā pavedentī’ti. Imehi kho, bhikkhave, dasahi dhammehi samannāgato yathābhataṁ nikkhitto evaṁ niraye.

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