Distorted Saññā Arises in Every Adult but Not in a Newborn

Distorted saññā (and, therefore, defiled thoughts) do not arise in a newborn, per the “Mahāmālukya Sutta (MN 64.)” By looking into that, we can learn about the mechanism that gives rise to “distorted saññā” and the connection between the gandhabba and the physical body.

January 5, 2024


1. We have been discussing the critical concept of “distorted saññā” (or “distorted perceptions about sensory inputs”) in the new section “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”

  • As we have discussed, there is no inherent “sweetness” in sugar or any “delicious meal.” Similarly, our perceptions of “pleasing music” or “attractive people” are “mind-made” due to “distorted saññā.” See #5, #6 of “Vedanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways.”
  • Our minds attach to such “mind-pleasing” sensory inputs and try to get more of them. That is when we start engaging in actions, speech, and thoughts to “get more of them” and generate “defiled thoughts” (dasa akusala.) 
  • The problem is that our actions, speech, and thoughts are based on kāya, vaci, and mano saṅkhāra, giving rise to suffering in the future. Those saṅkhāra lead to the dasa akusala (three with actions, four with speech, and three with the mind). See relevant posts in “Search Results for dasa akusala.”
  • That is what happens at the “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra” step in Paṭicca Samuppāda.
Importance of Understanding “Person = Mental Body (Gandhabba) + Physical Body”

2. I think a big “mental block” exists in many people’s minds to look at the gandhabba as an alien entity. You are your “mental body,” and the physical body is secondary. Your thoughts (cittās) arise in your mental body. Once outside the physical body, the mental body can see, hear, and think independently; of course, it cannot taste, smell, or touch.

  • It has been driven into our mind that our physical body (or the brain) creates thoughts. But the physical body is just a “shell” that becomes useless once the mental body (gandhabba) comes out of it.
  • As we have discussed, a human bhava (existence) may last many thousands of years. It is that “mental body” that lasts through that whole time.
  • Your essence is not your physical body or the brain but your mental body (gandhabba.)  However, the physical body and the brain play significant roles, while the mental body is inside the physical body.
Mutual Interactions Between Mental Body and Physical Body

3. The issue is understanding how the gandhabba (mental body) trapped inside the physical body receives sensory inputs from the external world. That must be understood before understanding how gandhabba recognizes things in the external world (saññā).

So, the first step is: How does the gandhabba receive information about the external world? How does it see someone standing in front of the physical body?


  1. Gandbabba consists of only a hadaya vatthu (seat of the mind) and five pasada rupa (cakkhu, sota, ghāna, jivhā, kāya.
  2. If the gandhabba is OUTSIDE the physical body (as in out-of-body experiences OBE/NDE), it can see and hear by itself. Here, seeing and hearing happen via mechanisms we don’t understand.
  3. But when the gandhabba is INSIDE the physical body, it is completely shielded from the external world. Take just vision first. To see something, the physical eyes must work. And that light signal must be transmitted to the brain via optical nerves and processed by the brain. The brain MUST pass that information to the gandhabba (by a mechanism we don’t fully understand.)
  4. Sometimes, during accidents or due to other medical reasons, one of those three components (physical eyes, optical nerves, brain function) may permanently or temporarily stop.
  5. If the brain function stops (temporarily), the patient cannot see, hear, or respond in any way. 

4. That is what happened to the woman in the following video. She temporarily lost brain function.


  1. In most such cases, the patient recovers brain function after a while, and that would be the end of the story. However, the patient’s gandhabba came out of her body in the above case.
  2. The woman’s gandhabba may have come out of the paralyzed body at some point. It was in the room when Dr. Greyson came and followed him to the other room where her friend was. The gandhabba was watching and listening to the conversation between her friend and Dr. Greyson.
  3. Once medical treatment restored her brain function, she could recall the conversation and tell Dr. Greyson about it in great detail. She not only heard but also saw the full details. That is why she noticed the stain on Dr. Greyson’s tie!
  4. So, she was able to see with her gandhabba body. Can there be any doubts about that?
  5. The gandhabba coming out of the physical body is not a common occurrence.  However, he mentioned (maybe in another video) that about 10% of all people have experienced such an OBE. It is more common when patients undergo heart operations because the hadaya vatthu in the mental body overlaps the heart in the physical body.
Seeing While Gandhabba Being Outside and Inside a Physical Body

5. The following figure explains how the gandhabba sees while being outside and inside a physical body.

Download/Print:Gandhabba and the Physical Body -1


a. While being OUTSIDE the physical body, the gandhabba sees using a different mechanism that does not involve light. 

  • It is possible that the brain converts the image received from the eyes (via the optic nerve) to a type of signal used by the gandhabba while being OUTSIDE.

b. A gandhabba (while being INSIDE the physical body) will also not see if the eyes are damaged, even if the brain works. 

c. The point is that while INSIDE the physical body, a gandhabba CAN NOT see on its own. It also cannot hear, smell, etc., if the brain is not functioning.

  • That is also true for recalling memories “stored” in the external world (in viññāna dhātu). They also need to come through the brain. Therefore, a gandhabba is totally isolated from the world while INSIDE a physical body. The brain plays a critical role. See “Memory Recall for Gandhabba in a Human Body.” It is a good idea to read this post. It talks about how the brain uses a transmitter and a receiver to exchange information with viññāna dhātu (bullet #4). We will use that in the next step.
  • That also happens while we are sleeping. The brain goes into an inactive mode while sleeping. But the gandhabba never goes to sleep. Yet, if it does not get a signal from the brain, it cannot experience anything.
Why Doesn’t a Newborn Have Any Perceptions, Let alone “Incorrect Views”?

6. Now, let us look into the following statement of the Buddha in the “Mahāmālukya Sutta (MN 64)“: “A baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘sakkāya,’ so how could ‘sakkāya diṭṭhi‘ possibly arise in her?

  • Here, ‘sakkāya’ means to “crave worldly pleasures.” Thus, ‘sakkāya’ means the same as “pañca upādānakkhandha (conventionally translated as “grasping five aggregates.”)
  • In the recent posts mentioned in #1 above, we noted the fact that our cravings for sensual pleasures arise based on the “distorted saññā” (or “distorted perceptions about sensory inputs.”)
  • So, why doesn’t a newborn get that “distorted saññā” about sensory inputs?

7. As emphasized above, the baby’s thoughts arise in the mental body, specifically at the “seat of the mind” or “hadaya vatthu.”

  • But sensory signals can come to the hadaya vatthu ONLY via the brain! A newborn does not have a developed brain. 
  • A baby’s brain grows very little while in the womb. After being born (i.e., after coming out of the womb), it takes about seven years for the brain to develop and fully understand the external world.
  • The following short video explains that.

8. Also, neural connections must grow in the brain to RECOGNIZE a given sensory signal. For example, a newborn does not know anything about “mother,” “milk,” toys,” etc. She would not perceive ANYTHING in the external world.

  • As the baby grows, it will first recognize her Mom, Dad, family, a milk bottle, etc. That happens in the first few weeks.
  • That baby is NOT just the physical body nor just the mental body. Those two must work together to give the baby her identity and function.
A Baby or an Adult is the Combination of Gandhabba and Physical Body

9. The following figure shows why a “baby” or a “grown adult” is the COMBINATION of the mental body (gandhabba) and the physical body.

Download/Print:Gandhabba and the Physical Body -2

  • A human gandhabba may live for many thousand of years. During that time, it can be born with many different physical bodies.
  • The gandhabba is fully shielded from the outside world by the physical body. That way, gandhabba‘s experience is limited to only those sensory inputs that can come via the physical body. Being trapped in a physical body is a consequence of one’s craving to enjoy “close contact” like tastes, smells, and touch (sex.) But that limits the capabilities for seeing and hearing.
  • gandhabba can see and hear at long distances if it comes out of the physical body; it can also travel far by merely thinking about where to go.
Formation of Neural Networks in the Brain Requires for Recognition (Saññā)

10. A newborn (just born) has not seen anything yet and, thus, has no idea about her milk bottle. With time, she gets used to seeing it, and neural connections are made in her brain to identify it (see the above figure.) She understands that it has her food. In the same way, neural networks will be established in her brain (which keeps growing) to identify Mom, Dad, and others in the family, her toys, etc.

  • Until the brain grows to its full development and most neural connections are established, the baby’s understanding (or perception or saññā)
    about the external world will not be complete.
  • Until the ability to recognize/identify a specific item (saññā) is established, the baby cannot form a like or dislike for it.
  • See “Saññā – What It Really Means.

11. First, the baby will identify the Mom and start bonding with her. That is the first type of “rāga” or attachment in this world. With time, the baby will start attaching to more things. In the same way, if she does not like a specific food, she may form a dislike (paṭigha) for it.

  • That is why the Buddha said a newborn has no idea about diṭṭhi, defilements, etc.
  • Of course, the gandhabba inside the physical body of the baby has all saṁyojana and anusaya intact (unless it is a jāti Sotapanna.) But they must be triggered by a sensory event for defilements (rāga, dosadiṭṭhi, etc.) to “come to the surface.”
  • See “Pañcupādānakkhandha – Arises With an Ārammaṇa.”
For Defilements to Arise, Saṁyojana/Anusaya Must be Triggered

12. For saṁyojana or anusaya, etc., to be triggered (and to initiate kamma or pañcupādānakkhandha or sakkāya accumulation,) the baby must first recognize things (saññā) and form a like or dislike for them.

  • Even when the brain is fully formed around seven years of age, strong kāma rāga (of a sexual nature) will not arise in a child. That saññā will grow over time. In other words, a strong kama raga of a sexual nature is not likely to be triggered in a seven-year-old, even though they will have the kāma rāga anusaya/saṁyojana intact.
“Distorted  Saññā” Is Based on Gati

13. The “distorted  saññā” is “built-in” to our mental AND physical bodies by kammic energy (via Paṭicca Samuppāda.) That is why it is hard to confirm that it is indeed a “mirage” or a “trick,” as the Buddha emphasized in the “Pheṇapiṇḍūpa Sutta (SN 22.95).”

  • Human gati differs vastly from those of animals, and within the animal realm, there is a wide variety of gati.
  • This is a more profound point connected to gati cultivated as a human. For example, those born as pigs accumulated the kammic energy to “be born a pig” by engaging in lowly and “morally rotten” deeds when they were human. Thus, they are reborn as pigs “to like rotten things.” See #5 and #6 of “Vedanā (Feelings) Arise in Two Ways.”

14. The “old physical body” that Arahant lives with still plays a critical role in bringing the “distorted saññā” even to the mind of an Arahant (if not in a samāpatti.) 

  • However, Arahant’s hadaya vatthu has eliminated all anusaya and saṁyojana. Thus, Arahant‘s mind would not attach to that “distorted saññā” presented by the physical body (or the brain.)
  • Another way to say the above: “Arahant‘s (and also Anāgami‘s) mind gets to the “ma dhātu” stage but not to “kāma bhava.”
  • See #3 and #4 of “Upaya and Upādāna – Two Stages of Attachment.”
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