Upādāna Paccayā Bhava – Two Types of Bhava

The “upādāna paccayā bhava” step in Paticca Samuppada plays a critical role when accumulating kamma and also at the moment of grasping a new rebirth. By being mindful, we can break that upādāna and avoid bad rebirths. It is also the basis of Ānapānasati/Satipaṭṭhāna.

June 10, 2023; revised January 22, 2024

Upādāna – Critical Step 

1. Taṇhā means “attachment to an ārammaṇa.” It is automatic based on one’s anusaya/gati. Once attached, “knowingly staying attached” to that ārammaṇa is upādāna.

  • As long as one has hidden defilements (anusaya) and the tendency to attach to specific sensory inputs (gati,) attachment to a particular ārammaṇa (taṇhā) is automatic and instantaneous. We don’t have CONSCIOUS control over that. It happens in the “purāna kamma” stage and must be stopped via the deeper version of Satipaṭṭhāna, i.e., via understanding “distorted saññā“; see “Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation.”
  • On the other hand, upādāna means “staying attached and responding to that ārammaṇa actively.” Within a few seconds, we become aware of that attachment. The initial attachment leads to mano sankhara (automatic), but then we start consciously generating vaci sankhara, which is when we become aware of the attachment. At that point, we have control over it. 

2. If we understand the harmful consequences of “staying attached,” we can willfully stop generating abhisankhara, i.e., stop generating immoral thoughts and actions. That means we can stop the upādāna process while in the middle of it. See “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.”

  • If we keep breaking the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step, that will gradually decrease taṇhā via the reduction of the corresponding gati.
  • In addition, if we start comprehending the Noble Truths (Paticca Samuppada), then we can start removing anusaya leading to the removal of taṇhā. See “Phassa paccayā Vēdanā….to Tanhā” and #8 in “Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World (with chart #6).”
Taṇhā Leads to Kamma Accumulation (Kamma Bhava) and Grasping Rebirth (Uppatti Bhava)

3. The “upādāna paccayā bhava” step plays a critical role in two cases:

Idappaccayātā PS during life: This is where “kamma bhava” (“kammic energy”) accumulation happens in the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step. At this step, the mind starts cultivating more abhisankhara with “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.” See “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.”

Idappaccayātā PS at the moment of grasping a birth in a new realm: This is where the mind grasps a new existence  (a “upapatti bhava“) at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment.  Here the step “upādāna paccayā bhava” happens within a javana citta grasping a new existence. That happens when the existing hadaya vatthu is dying. With the grasping of a new existence, kammic energy creates a new hadaya vatthu appropriate for the new bhava

  • Both involve “grasping new bhava:” The first is a “temporary bhava” that may last only minutes to hours. This leads to the generation of kammic energy that can bring future vipāka, including rebirth. It is called “kamma bhava.”
  • The second is a new existence (bhava) in a different realm. This is where that “stored/accumulated kammic energy” is grasped to give rise to a new existence. This is “uppatti bhava.”
Ārammaṇa – Initiates Taṇhā and Upādāna

4. All kamma accumulation — as well as grasping a new existence (bhava) — starts with an ārammaṇa or a sensory input. 

  • If the sensory input (ārammaṇa) is mind-pleasing, we attach to it with kāma rāga. If it is repulsive, we attach to it with patigha.
  • Both involve avijja, and sometimes avijja, by itself, can lead to attachment without kāma rāga or patigha. For example, one may conclude that cultivating (the anariya versions of) jhāna or samāpatti can be beneficial; those are based on rupa rāga and arupa rāga, craving existences in rupa and arupa Brahma realms, respectively.
  • All those processes start at the purāna kamma” stage; see #1 above.
Kamma Accumulation – Kamma Bhava

5. Kammic energies generated with abhisankhara are “deposited” in the viññāṇa dhātu. They are in three main categories: Kama bhava, rupa bhava, and arupa bhava

  • Āneñjābhisaṅkhāra (generated via the cultivation of anariya arupāvacara samāpatti) accumulates energies in the arupa bhava.
  • Puññābhisaṅkhāra (generated via the cultivation of anariya rupāvacara jhāna and puñña kamma) accumulate energies in the rupa bhava and higher realms of kāma bhava, respectively. 
  • Apuññābhisaṅkhāra (generated via the cultivation of apunna kamma) accumulates energies in the lower realms of the kāma bhava.
  • See “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra” for details.

6. These “kamma bhava” are the kamma bija or “dhammā” that we have discussed in “Rupa, Dhammā (Appaṭigha Rupa) and Nāmagotta (Memories) (with chart #14)” and “Where Are Memories Stored? – Viññāṇa Dhātu.”

  • Such kamma bija or “dhammā” automatically are sorted out into the three categories of kāma bhava, rupa bhava, and arupa bhava (and with sub-selections to specific realms) in viññāṇa dhātu.
Temporary “Births” in the “Kamma Bhava” Stage

7. While doing such kamma, one is “temporarily born” in an existence (bhava) corresponding to the kind of kamma.

  • For example, during rape, one would have the mindset of an animal; during that time, one acts more like an animal than a human. Only afterward may they realize the enormity of what was done. Kammic energy corresponding to that action is also likely to contribute toward a future birth in the animal realm, i.e., that energy can lead to rebirth as an animal in a future life. 
  • On the other extreme, while cultivating a jhāna, one would have the mindset of a Brahma. Furthermore, the kammic energy generated will be deposited in viññāṇa dhātu and will definitely lead to rebirth in a Brahma realm at the moment of death since it is an “ānantarika kamma;” see below.
Appropriate Kamma Bhava Becomes Upapatti Bhava at Cuti-Paṭisandhi 

8. At the cuti-paṭisandhi moment, an appropriate bhava selection happens automatically per the following rules.

  1. Kammic energies accumulated in the arupa bhava and rupa bhava are due to good “ānantarika kamma,” i.e., cultivation of arupa samāpatti and rupāvacara jhāna. Thus if a person had cultivated rupāvacara jhāna, he would be born in a rupāvacara Brahma realm. If he had also cultivated arupāvacara samāpatti, he would have been born in an arupāvacara Brahma realm. 
  2. Puñña kamma (not jhāna or samāpatti) can lead to rebirths in the higher realms of kāma loka (the human realm and the six Deva realms). 
  3. Apunna kamma (with apunnabhisankhara) accumulate kammic energies in the kāma bhava also, but they lead to rebirths in the four lowest realms. There are several ānantarika kamma.

9. The first category belongs to “good ānantarika kamma,” and they lead to rebirths in the appropriate Brahma realm without exception.

  • In category (iii), the strongest would be cultivating a “bad ānantarika kamma,” leading to rebirth in an apāya in the following life.
  • The BAD ānantarika kamma are five: killing one’s mother, killing one’s father, killing an Arahant, shedding the blood of a Buddha, and creating Saṅgha bhēda. These are listed in the following link in the Tipiṭaka: “Ñāṇakathā.”
  • Details can be found in  “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra” and “Ānantarika Kamma – Connection to Gandhabba.”
  • The mind is turned to a new sensory event with an ārammaṇa. In contrast, it is customary to say that a “sign of the pending rebirth realm” is brought to mind with a nimitta close to the cuti-paṭisandhi moment. Let us discuss that next.
Ārammaṇa Brings a Sensory Event During Life

10. During life, our mind shifts from one ārammaṇa to another rapidly.

Nimitta of a New Existence in the Rebirth Process

11. Strong kamma bija or “dhammā” bring rebirth in a new existence/realm at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment (with a nimitta.) 

  • A nimitta means a “sign” of the place of rebirth or a “re-enactment of a kamma done, or a prominent gati). For example, those about to grasp a rebirth in the niraya may see raging fires in the corresponding niraya. If it was a killing of a human, that past scene may come to his mind as a “kamma nimitta.” Finally, a “gati nimitta” is a scene of activity one habitually cultivated. For example, an alcoholic may see “getting drunk and being unable to walk.” That is a sign of an animal birth (animals walk on four legs.) 

12. Some details of how kamma bija (dhammā) brings vipāka (during life or while grasping a new rebirth) are discussed in “Anantara and Samanantara Paccayā.” In particular, when one attains the Sotapanna stage, the “samanantara” to bring rebirth in an apāya will not be there. That is why Ven. Angulimala was not reborn in an apāya even though he killed almost a thousand people.

  • In some cases, suitable conditions to bring “good vipāka” may be effective. In Asian countries, recordings of paritta (sutta recital) or Dhamma discourses are played.
Grasping a Nimitta at Cuti-Patisandhi Is Automatic

13. Grasping a new rebirth happens in the last citta vithi of the current life. It happens extremely fast, and we don’t have any control over it. We can summarize what happens as follows.

  • The strongest kamma vipāka (from those accumulated in viññāna dhātu) comes to mind. Suppose one committed an ānantarika kamma during the present life; that comes first and will be grasped without exception.
  • In other cases, the strongest of all existing kamma waiting to bear fruit comes to mind even before the last citta vithi. This process may start even a few days before the impending death. Let us consider an example to illustrate why this happens. Suppose a person has done many highly-immoral kammas, some even during this life. However, he has attained the Sotapanna stage in this life. So, all those kamma vipāka potent enough to bring rebirth in an apaya will be automatically rejected by the mind, one by one. If a kamma bija that can bring rebirth in a Deva realm comes next, that will be grasped; in this case, a “sign” of the Deva realm will come to mind, called a “kamma nimitta.” That kamma nimitta may keep coming to his mind until the moment of death. 

14. In the above example, suppose he did not have a strong enough kamma bija to bring rebirth in a Deva realm (the highest realm possible for a Sotapanna.) Then he will be reborn as a human again. In that last case, it is a gati nimitta because the rebirth is according to his “Sotapanna gati.” He could not be reborn in a lower realm.

  • The third type of nimitta is a “kamma,” meaning a specific kamma will re-create the scene of the past kamma in the mind of the dying person. For example, if he had killed someone during an argument, that complete scene would be re-created in his mind, like in a dream. If his mindset has not changed, his mind will go through the same actions as before (i.e., “upādāna” will occur); he will then grasp the corresponding rebirth in an apaya.
  • Thus, the three types of nimitta are: gati nimitta, kamma nimitta, and kamma.
Sequence of Removal of Upādāna

15. The correct order is diṭṭhi upādāna, kāma upādāna, sīlabbata upādāna, attavāda upādāna.

  • One enters the Noble Path by getting rid of diṭṭhi upādāna via comprehending the worldview of the Buddha. This can be done only via learning the correct Dhamma.
  • Then, one contemplates the dangers of kāma assāda and gets rid of kāma upādāna at the Anāgāmi stage.
  • An Anāgāmi has not removed “rupa rāga” and “arupa rāga.” Another way to say this is, “They still crave jhāna/samāpatti” OR “They still engage in “ways of anariya practices,” and that is called “sīlabbata upādāna.” 
  • Even after removing “rupa rāga” and “arupa rāga,” there are three more samyojana (māna, uddacca, avijjā) left in the mind of an Anāgāmi. Those are removed when avijja is fully removed by fully comprehending “Attato Samanupassati” – To View Something to be of Value.” That means the removal of attavāda upādāna.
  • All types start decreasing in strength at the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage.
Technical Point about the Nomenclature

16. There are four types of upādāna as stated in the “Upādāna Sutta (SN 45.173):”Diṭṭhi upādāna , kāma upādāna, sīlabbata upādāna, attavāda upādāna

  • However, the Tipiṭaka Commentary “Peṭakopadesa” names the four types of upādāna as: “Kāmāsavo kāmupādānaṁ, bhavāsavo bhavupādānaṁ, diṭṭhāsavo diṭṭhupādānaṁ, avijjāsavo attavādupādānaṁ, imehi catūhi upādānehi pañcakkhandhā
  • The other Tipiṭaka Commentary “Nettipakarana” provides a similar description: “Tattha kabaḷīkāre āhāre “asubhe subhan”ti vipallāso, phasse āhāre “dukkhe sukhan”ti vipallāso, viññāṇe āhāre “anicce niccan”ti vipallāso, manosañcetanāya āhāre “anattani attā”ti vipallāso. Paṭhame vipallāse ṭhito kāme upādiyati, idaṁ vuccati kāmupādānaṁdutiye vipallāse ṭhito anāgataṁ bhavaṁ upādiyati, idaṁ vuccati bhavupādānaṁ; tatiye vipallāse ṭhito saṁsārābhinandiniṁ diṭṭhiṁ upādiyati, idaṁ vuccati diṭṭhupādānaṁcatutthe vipallāse ṭhito attānaṁ kappiyaṁ upādiyati, idaṁ vuccati attavādupādānaṁ.”
  • Thus, instead of the sīlabbata upādāna, both Commentaries have bhava upādāna listed. They mean the same thing because, as explained in #15, it refers to the craving for existence in rupa bhava or arupa bhava. Those who cultivate anariya jhāna or anariya samāpatti do that because of their desire to be born in a Brhama realm; they follow certain moral conduct (sīla) with sīlabbata upādāna because they have the desire to be reborn with bhava upādāna.
  • Also, attavāda upādāna relates directly to the First Noble Truth, i.e., all suffering arises due to the ignorant idea (avijjā) that this world is fruitful (atta nature) and can provide happiness. Thus, one removes attavāda upādāna completely at the Arahant stage, when the anatta nature is fully comprehended.
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