Āhāra (Food) in Udayavaya Ñāna

Āhāra in Buddhism (Buddha Dhamma) refers to “mental food” and not “physical food.” 

March 19, 2016; revised October 19, 2023; March 2, 2024

1. The first part of the Udayavaya Ñāna involves the causes for the arising of saṅkhata (and hence, the arising of pañcupādānakkhandha). Out of the five main factors (avijjā, taṇhā, kamma, āhāra, and nibbatti lakkhana), we discussed the nibbatti lakkhana in the previous post of the series.

  • Many posts on the site discuss the first three factors, so we will now discuss the remaining factor, āhāra (food), which is both a cause and a condition for the arising of pañcupādānakkhandha.
  • Note that “kāya” can mean several different things, generally “a collection of entities.” Here, it refers to the mental body (gandhabba) and the physical body (karaja kāya.)

2. When we think of āhāra (food in both Pāli and Sinhala), we automatically think about the food we consume to stay alive.  However, it is clear from the previous posts that a physical body is just a shell “controlled” by a gandhabba. There are many other posts on gandhabba in the “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya)” section. Here is a summary of some concepts discussed there:

  • The physical body (karaja kāya) is what people usually associate with perceiving a “me.” But we have a “manōmaya kāya” (or “gandhabba“), which is more important.
  • In a way, the physical body is just a shell that we use for about 100 years or so and discard at death; the gandhabba leaves that dead body and waits for a suitable womb to make another physical body if there is kammic energy left in the human bhava.
  • The foods for the origin (not the maintenance) of the physical body are called kabaḷīkāra āhāra. There are cravings for “sensual pleasures” or kāma rāga. Since such physical bodies arise only in kāma loka, once one loses craving for kabaḷīkāra āhāra, rebirths in kāma loka will be stopped as in the case of an Anāgāmi
  • Other three “mental foods” (phassa āhāra, manō sancētanā āhāra, and viññāna āhāra.) can give rise to all births.

3. A given kammaja kāya was created at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment by a powerful previous kamma, and its energy gets depleted with time. For example, if a particular human bhava came into existence with enough kammic energy to support human life for 1000 years, that energy will be slowly spent over 1000 years. In other words, kammaja kāya does not need additional energy, i.e., āhāra.

  • The “Kāya Sutta (SN 46.2)” explains that all types of “kāya” in all realms arise due to defilements.
  • Therefore, all four types of āhāra lead to rebirths in kāma loka.
  • Rebirths in all other realms (rupāvacara and arupāvacara Brahma realms) are based on phassa āhāra, manō sancētanā āhāra, and viññāna āhāra.

4. Craving kabaḷīkāra āhāra means one is hoping for rebirth in the kāma lōka to enjoy them; see “How Perceived Pleasures (Assāda) lead to Dukkha.”

  • Thus, the stronger the craving is, the harder it is to “escape from the kāma lōkas.”
  • This is a good example of how (abhi)saṅkhāra or strong cravings/hopes/desires lead to corresponding bhava and, thus, corresponding births (jāti).
  • In Paṭicca samuppāda, “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” is followed by “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna“, and leads to “upādāna paccayā bhava” and “bhava paccayā jāti“. Thus, generating (abhi)saṅkhāra for kabaḷīkāra āhāra leads to rebirths in the kāma lōka, but most times in unexpected ways, as we discuss below.

5. One NEEDS to consume physical food to provide one’s body with the nutrients it needs to live a healthy life. However, if one craves tasty foods, that generates kabaḷīkāra āhāra and can become a CAUSE for the arising (udaya) of future births in the kāma lōka.

  • This is why it is NOT the actual consumption of tasty foods that contributes to making “kāma bhava.” It is the greed for tasty foods (kāma āsvāda); see the section on “Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction.”
  • The level of greed involved can manifest as “gati,” leading to various rebirths.

6. Excessive greed for food matches the “gati” of prētha beings. Thus, when one cultivates such greedy (abhi)saṅkhāra, it leads to corresponding “prētha bhava” and thus “prētha jāti” in the future.

  • When encountering delicious food, some people lose any sense of decency. The greediness shows, and when eating such a meal, some display “animal-like” behavior, spilling food and getting it all over their face. That is a display of “greedy animal-like” saṅkhāra. When they cultivate such saṅkhāra, the corresponding birth could be a pig.
  • Some people do not like to share such food and like to keep others away from enjoying such meals. That could cultivate saṅkhāra of a “vicious dog.” We see such dogs all the time; they growl when another dog comes even close to their food.

7. Once one gets the basic idea, it is easy to see various kinds of prētha and animal saṅkhāra can be cultivated even without realizing it. They can lead to future births corresponding to such “gati.”

8. There are “good births” in the kāma lōka, too: the human and dēva realms. Bhava (and birth) in those realms also are according to one’s (abhi)saṅkhāra, which are generated according to one’s dominant gati.

  • Those who cultivate the human and dēva saṅkhāra like to enjoy sensory pleasures but are not excessively greedy. They don’t have the mentality of “may all good things come to me, AND not to others.” They are content with what they get and willingly share the excess with others.
  • One is not released from the kāma lōka until one’s cravings for sense pleasures completely go away when one comprehends not only the futility of such sensory pleasures but also the possible dangers.

9. At an even deeper level, the tendency to generate such extreme greed disappears AUTOMATICALLY when one starts comprehending the “anicca nature.” It is not possible to achieve and maintain pleasurable worldly things as one desires.

  • And this change in the mindset and corresponding personal behavior may not reverse in a short time. But as one learns Dhamma, one can see the change over time: Sometimes in a few weeks or even several months.
  • The Buddha compared this “gradual transition” to the growth of a tree or a plant. One cannot see the change in the growth of a plant day by day; there is no point in checking it every day to see whether one can see the growth. But if one takes care of the plant by providing nutrients and keeping the weeds away, one can see the growth over a few weeks or months. And then, one day, we can reap the benefits of all that work when the plant blossoms and provides the flowers/fruits.

10. Therefore, the key is to LEARN Dhamma and comprehend it by contemplating it, which is MEDITATION. But it is critical to learn the correct Dhamma.

  • An excellent example of the wrong way to meditate is what many people do with the patikūla manasikara bhavana. Many translate “patikūla” as “pilikul” in Sinhala, which means “to be rejected because it is repulsive”. They meditate on contemplating the repulsiveness of the body (sweat, urine, and feces generated by the body) and also the fact that once one chews on even the most delicious food, it becomes “vomit.”
  • But the Buddha did not advise that. Just as we should not desire extreme sense pleasures, we should not be repulsed by the things mentioned in the above paragraph. They both generate taṇhā, in the first instant by attachment (craving) and in the second by aversion (paṭigha). The neutral mindset (upekkha) comes from understanding the true nature of things.

11. Now we can see that the connection of kabaḷīkāra āhāra in the udayavaya ñāṇa has two facets:

  • One plays a role in caring for the physical body inherited due to past causes. Not being mindful of what we eat can lead to harmful consequences for the body we already have. If we are mindful, we can make that body work optimally to achieve our mundane and transcendental goals. And, of course, if the physical body does not get enough physical foodit will die.
  • The other is to be aware of the role kabaḷīkāra āhāra plays in generating physical bodies for us in future births via generating (abhi)saṅkhāra related to pleasurable foods. One can permanently stop generating future physical bodies (nirodha or “nir” + “udā“) by getting rid of the “upādāna” or craving for kabaḷīkāra āhāra. 
  • One can become an Anāgāmi (i.e., stop rebirths in the kāma lōka) by comprehending the true nature of kabaḷīkāra āhāra. Then, one loses the craving for sensory pleasures in the kāma lōka. But such a mindset is unfathomable for an average human who only sees the immediate sense of satisfaction. Furthermore, such a mindset CANNOT be achieved by sheer willpower; it has to be through understanding the anicca nature of kāma lōka.

Next in the series, “Udayavaya Ñāna – Importance of the Cittaja Kaya.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email