Three Types of “Bodies” – Poṭṭhapāda Sutta (DN 9)

July 16, 2022

Living beings in the 31 realms generally possess one of “three types of bodies” (kāya), as the Buddha pointed out in the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta (DN 9.)

Atta versus Attapaṭilābha

1. During the time of the Buddha, many believed in a “soul-like entity” (ātma/ātman in Hinduism) associated with any person. Once a Brahmin named Poṭṭhapāda had a lengthy conversation with the Buddha about different kinds of living beings in this world.

  • The Buddha explained to him that, in general, there are three types of living beings categorized as having different “attapaṭilābha.” Still, none would have anything like a permanent “attā” or “an essence” that is indestructible. That discussion is in the “Poṭṭhapāda Sutta (DN 9).”
  • Buddha’s explanation is in section 2.2. Tayoattapaṭilābha. We will only focus on that in this post.
  • Note that the English translation in the link of “Tayoattapaṭilābha” is “Three Kinds of Reincarnation.” The word “reincarnation” may indicate “something like an attā that keeps coming back.” Thus, a better translation is “Three Kinds of Rebirth.”
Three Kinds of Rebirth – Tayoattapaṭilābha

2. Section 2.2. Tayoattapaṭilābha starts with the Buddha saying: “Tayo kho me, poṭṭhapāda, attapaṭilābhā—oḷāriko attapaṭilābho, manomayo attapaṭilābho, arūpo attapaṭilābho.” Tayo means “three.”

Then the Buddha briefly explained each category.

(i) oḷārika attapaṭilābha: Rūpī cātumahābhūtiko kabaḷīkārāhārabhakkho.

(ii) manomaya attapaṭilābha: Rūpī manomayo sabbaṅgapaccaṅgī ahīnindriyo.

(iii) arūpa attapaṭilābha: Arūpī saññāmayo.

3. The three types of “attapaṭilābha” are the possible rebirths with a solid body, a mind-made subtle body, and an “arupa body.”

  • A solid, heavy physical body like those of ours or animals belongs to the first category. Such a physical body arises due to the food we eat (kabaḷīkāra āhāra.) Such food, when broken down, is made of the four great elements (mahā bhūta or pathavi, āpo, tejo, and vāyo.) Most living beings in the kāma loka have such dense bodies. Devās in the six Deva realms also have this body type but are less dense than ours.
  • A mind-made subtle body has only the essential, kammically (i.e., mind-generated or manomayo) subtle rupa, i.e., hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa. Since this “collection” can take the shape of a figure, it is Rūpī. All rupāvacara Brahmas (in the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms) have this body type.
  • An arupa body has only one suddhāṭṭhaka, the smallest element in Buddha Dhamma (much smaller than an atom in modern science.) Thus it cannot take the “shape of a figure” and, therefore, “arupa.” It shouldn’t even be called a “body” in the sense of a “collection.” But, of course, it is the “seat of the mind” and thus can generate saññā, vedanā, etc., i.e., citta. Hence the description, “Arūpī saññāmayo.” All arupāvacara Brahmas in the four arupāvacara Brahma realms have such “bodies.”
Mind-Made Subtle Body Inside the First Category

4. The solid, heavy bodies of the first kind cannot arise without mind-made subtle bodies as the “seeds.” Furthermore, sensing the external world takes place in the “subtle bodies” made of the hadaya vatthu and a set of pasāda rupa.

  • As we have discussed, human/animal existences (i.e., attapaṭilābha) start with a rupi manomaya kāya at the paṭisandhi moment. That is the birth of a (human or animal) gandhabba. That gandhabba is pulled into a womb to merge with a zygote that will grow into a heavy physical body. See “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
  • A human/animal can experience taste, smell, and touch only when born with such a physical body. Still, those “sensors” or “hadaya vatthu/pasāda rupa” are in the gandhabba.
  • Thus within a human or animal existence, transitions between manomaya attapaṭilābha and oḷārika attapaṭilābha take place many times. That ends with the ending of the manomaya attapaṭilābha with the demise of the gandhabba.
NDE – Temporary Transition to the Gandhabba State

5. Near-Deat Experiences (NDE) provide concrete evidence for the process discussed in #4 above.

  • There have been many accounts of NDE in recent years. Physicians have also started keeping records of such cases. A collection of such studies is in the book “Consciousness Beyond Life” by Pim van Lommel (2010.)
  • The manomaya kāya of the gandhabba overlaps the dense physical body and “energizes it.” The six critical elements of hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa of a gandhabba overlap the physical heart. That is why the gandhabba comes out of the physical body during some heart operations.
  • That can also happen in critically-injured people who almost die. The gandhabba comes out of the physical body, as in the case of the death of the physical body. However, even after being declared dead, the gandhabba may “go back in,” and the patient recovers “miraculously.”
  • We have discussed such cases in “Out-of-Body Experience (OBE) and Manōmaya Kāya.
Descriptions of the “Gandhabba World” as “Heaven”

6. Thus, most NDE accounts are by those who had “close encounters with death.” They were either terminally ill or undergoing heart surgeries.

  • It is an indescribable relief to come out of a physical body filled with such suffering. Any physical pain one may have been experiencing would be gone instantly. No wonder many think they just visited a heavenly world! But they temporarily visited the “paraloka” of gandhabbas.
  • The same human temporarily visited the “paraloka” of gandhabbas. It is not a transition to a Deva realm or any other realm!
  • Some people report meeting previously-died close relatives or friends during NDE experiences. That is a possibility. Those deceased relatives may be still waiting for a suitable womb to be pulled into (of course, they would not know that.)
  • Therefore, SUBJECTIVE experiences described by many NDE subjects need to be “taken with a grain of salt” or skepticism. However, some OBJECTIVE experiences are undeniable. 
Concrete Facts from NDE Accounts

7. In almost all cases, it is clear that the person’s physical body was unresponsive and even declared dead by the physicians.

  • Yet, many provide solid evidence that they “saw” the heart operation or the emergency procedures taken by the physicians and nurses. They could see with their mind-made subtle body, i.e., gandhabba kāya. Thus, the first objective fact verified is the following. The physical body with a brain is NOT where vision takes place. “Seeing” takes place in hadaya vatthu, with the aid of the cakkhu pasāda rupa.
  • The second point is that they could travel at incredible speeds while in their gandhabba kāya. They could go through walls, ceilings, etc. As mentioned in #3 above, hadaya vatthu and pasāda rupa are much smaller than an atom in modern science. Going through solid objects is not a problem!
  • The following NDE experience provides those two critical pieces of evidence WITHOUT being contaminated by subjective experiences.
Woman Born-Blind Sees for the First Time

8. Sometimes, people are born with the cakkhu pasāda rūpa, but the optic nerve (or the physical eye itself) may be damaged. Thus, images of the external world do not reach the brain. As we know, the brain must process those visuals and transmit them to the gandhabba inside the physical body for it to be able to see.

  • Therefore, those people are blind only because their cakkhu pasāda rūpa is not getting a signal from the brain. But if the gandhabba can come out of the body, it can see directly. (Note that some others may be born without the cakkhu pasāda rūpa; they will never be able to see.)
  • The following videos illustrate this situation and verify the discussion in #7.


9. All five sensory faculties of a human are in the gandhabba or the manōmaya kāya. During the time when a gandhabba “resides” in a physical body, the brain first processes those signals, and then those signals arrive at the corresponding pasāda rūpa. Each pasāda rūpa transfers the signal to the hadaya vatthu, and it is the hadaya vatthu that really “sees,” “hears,” etc. See, for example, “How Do We See? – Role of the Gandhabba.”

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