The mechanism of gandhabba

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The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Jechbi » Fri Jan 16, 2009 5:05 am

First of all a big :thanks: to Peter, who pointed me toward these talks.

I'm curious if there is any concrete explanation of the mechanism of gandhabba, as described in talk No. 5. My understanding is that it's instantaneous, linking the last moment of death with the first moment of conception in the next rebirth. But it still seems kind of magical. What specifically would connect a death, say, in Alaska with a rebirth half a world a way in Brazil (to pick two random places)? Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi describes the process as being similar to passing a flame from one candle to another, but that's easier to envision, because the candles actually come into contact. How does the gandhabba accomplish contact with embryo?

I've heard it described as energy, like a flash of lightning, like the propogation of a wave, and so on. Those all seem to fall short, because I can envision all of those things. Is there a clearer way to understand how the gandhabba functions? Or is the question itself meaningless or incorrectly conceived?

Much thanks in advance.
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 16, 2009 5:35 am

Greetings Jechbi,

What is it that carries kamma that has been created previously in this life, through to today and beyond so that it can be the cause for vipaka? Something carries it forward, doesn't it? I believe the Abhidhamma system provides insight as to exactly how that works, and I suspect it's the same system of one moment conditioning the next, that constitutes the 'gandhabba' at the point of conventional death. I'm happy to be corrected though, because it's not something I generally concern myself with. It's worth noting though that the non-material aggregates needn't be bound by the laws that constrain materials... thus I don't think the geographical concerns you raise are a big problem.

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Retro. :)
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Will » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:08 am

Big question Jechbi. I too wonder about that.

It does not seem likely that rebirth from human to human could take place with no interval. That would mean a new Brazilian father, mother, gandhabba & karmic effect would all meet instantly at the death of the Alaskan. I know there are many deaths around the planet each day and also many conceptions occurring too. So while it could be mathematically possible for a death to always occur just at the time a conception is happening somewhere - that does not sit well with me. :shrug:
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:12 am

Greetings Will,

All that is required for the gandhabba is the conjunction of sperm and ovum... and this happens far more frequently than death.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Will » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:14 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Will,

All that is required for the gandhabba is the conjunction of sperm and ovum... and this happens far more frequently than death.

Metta,
Retro. :)


Not quite - the woman must be in her fertile period also.

Will have to look up some planetary death & birth rate stats.
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:18 am

Greetings Will,
Will wrote:Not quite - the woman must be in her fertile period also.

Biology mightn't be my strong point, but I would have thought that was a precondition for what I suggested above (unless you want to go down the test-tube route).

Will wrote:Will have to look up some planetary death & birth rate stats.

Plus abortions, miscarriages etc. Remember also different realms too... and the universe is a big place.

All this of course if quite interesting in and of itself, but its relevance to the challenge of overcoming dukkha is probably minimal so I wouldn't be too concerned about it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Will » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:28 am

World birth rate is about 20 @ 1000 and the death rate is about 10 @ 1000. So if every death must be matched by a birth, then why are there twice as many births as deaths? Or to turn it around - there must be twice as many mindless, continuum lacking, vipakaless, humanoids as regular, ordinary humans.

Time for bed and perchance to dream.
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:34 am

Greetings Will,

There are plenty of other beings in the realms of existence other than humans.

Nonetheless, I still think the entire exercise is unnecessary papanca.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Jechbi » Fri Jan 16, 2009 7:30 am

Thanks for the feedback, guys.

Hi Retro, this is a very good point:
retrofuturist wrote:All this of course if quite interesting in and of itself, but its relevance to the challenge of overcoming dukkha is probably minimal so I wouldn't be too concerned about it.

As is this:
retrofuturist wrote:... I still think the entire exercise is unnecessary papanca.

And for that reason I was reluctant to post. The truth is I don't lose any sleep over the question, and I don't expect to find a satisfactory answer, and that's okay. Still, I figure this is the best discussion board ever for asking this type of question. I understand that the only reasonable answer might be: "That's a question not worth asking." Yet at the same time, I figure there might be some pointers out there that would be helpful. Such as, for example, what you say here:
retrofuturist wrote:What is it that carries kamma that has been created previously in this life, through to today and beyond so that it can be the cause for vipaka? Something carries it forward, doesn't it? I believe the Abhidhamma system provides insight as to exactly how that works, and I suspect it's the same system of one moment conditioning the next, that constitutes the 'gandhabba' at the point of conventional death.
I have no doubt that it's the same system of one moment conditioning the next, but I think I can more or less envision how that occurs right here in this moment. This flow of process right here and now seems to be tangible. But I have never seen magical things happen, so it's difficult for me to envision the seemingly magical phenomenon of moment-to-moment conditioning leaping instantly across the globe, so that the kamma I create here finds fruition in another life.

Just because I can't envision it doesn't mean it isn't so, and I'm not arguing against rebirth or anything like that. But I was even talking about this with some family recently after a death, and I don't think I'm the only person who wonders sometimes about the mechanism of this process. Obviously it's not some kind of magic. The non-Buddhist (and probably child-like) notion of a "soul" floating around waiting to alight in the next lifetime provides a conceptual basis for envisioning rebirth, but I don't think that bears any similarity to what's meant by gandhabba either, although I've seen it described in those terms (roughly) elsewhere.

So sure, it's probably a better use of my time to sit for an extra ten minutes (or however long) instead of typing this and reading the responses and thinking about it, as if my concepts are going to make a huge difference in the long run. I get that. I guess I'm hoping that there's some useful pariyatti about this topic that might address my question in a more concrete way, though. If not, that's cool.

Metta
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 9:38 am

From my limited knowledge, I have gained the impression the gandhabba is a vague word found in a few places which scholars are not in agreement about. For example, it is found in MN 38 as follows:
Bhikkhus, the conception of an embryo in a womb takes place through the union of three things. Here, there is the union of the mother and father, but it is not the mother’s season and the gandhabba is not present - in this case there is no conception of an embryo in a womb. Here, there is the union of the mother and father and it is the mother’s season, but the gandhabba is not present - in this case too there is no conception of an embryo in a womb. But when there is the union of the mother and father and it is the mother’s season and the gandhabba is present, through the union of these three things the conception of an embryo in a womb takes place.

The mother then carries the embryo in her womb for nine or ten months with much anxiety, as a heavy burden. Then, at the end of nine or ten months, the mother gives birth with much anxiety, as a heavy burden. Then, when the child is born, she nourishes it with her own blood; for the mother’s breast-milk is called blood in the Noble One’s (ariya) training
.

In the book Practical Dependent Origination, I recalled Ajahn Buddhadasa explaining gandabba is merely sperm.

I have not seen Buddha provide any in-depth discussion on the gandabba. I have only seen it merely appears as a word in the suttas and nothing more.

With metta

Element
Last edited by Element on Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:29 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby gavesako » Fri Jan 16, 2009 9:51 am

I have recently spoken to a man who can clearly remember two of his past lives. One was in the human realm, the other one in a deva realm where everyone has refined bodies and was radiating metta to others. Then at the end of that existence, he felt himself being pulled back into the human realm, and he recognized it was his attachment that was pulling him there: he could see many couples in sexual union at the moment, and he went towards one of them... which became his mother and father.
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:37 am

Element wrote:From my limited knowledge, I have gained the impression the gandhabba is a vague word found in a few places which scholars are not in agreement about.

However, the word gandhabba is used throughout the suttas to describe a class of demi-gods, said to be celestial musicans. They also dwell in trees, flowers and inhabit the ocean.
On one occasion the Blessed One was traveling along the road between Ukkattha and Setabya and Dona the brahman was also traveling along the road between Ukkattha and Setabya. Dona the brahman saw, in the Blessed One's footprints, wheels with 1,000 spokes, together with rims and hubs, complete in all their features. On seeing them, the thought occurred to him, "How amazing! How astounding! These are not the footprints of a human being!"

Then the Blessed One, leaving the road, went to sit at the root of a certain tree — his legs crossed, his body erect, with mindfulness established to the fore. Then Dona, following the Blessed One's footprints, saw him sitting at the root of the tree: confident, inspiring confidence, his senses calmed, his mind calmed, having attained the utmost control & tranquility, tamed, guarded, his senses restrained, a naga. On seeing him, he went to him and said, "Master, are you a deva?"

"No, brahman, I am not a deva."

"Are you a gandhabba?"

"No..."

"... a yakkha?"

"No..."

"... a human being?"

"No, brahman, I am not a human being."

Then what sort of being are you?"

"Just like a red, blue, or white lotus — born in the water, grown in the water, rising up above the water — stands unsmeared by the water, in the same way I — born in the world, grown in the world, having overcome the world — live unsmeared by the world. Remember me, brahman, as 'awakened.'

"The fermentations by which I would go
to a deva-state,
or become a gandhabba in the sky,
or go to a yakkha-state & human-state:
Those have been destroyed by me,
ruined, their stems removed.
Like a blue lotus, rising up,
unsmeared by water,
unsmeared am I by the world,
and so, brahman,
I'm awake."


Dona Sutta
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:47 am

Element wrote:I have gained the impression the gandhabba is a vague word found in a few places which scholars are not in agreement about.

Dealing with the process of rebirth, the Buddha states that where there are three conditions combined together there a germ of human life is planted, that is, the mother's ovum, the father's sperm and the being-to-be born (gandhabba). According to the Nyanatiloka Mahathera, the gandhabba (skt. gantavya) is none other than kamma-vega (karma-energy), which is sent forth by a dying individual at the moment of his death. He said:
The dying individual, with his whole being convulsively clinging to life, at the very moment of his death, sends forth karmic energies, which, like a flash of lightning hit at a new mother's womb ready for conception. Thus the so-called primary cell arises (Nyanatiloka, 1964, pp. 2-3).

It may be noted that Theravada Buddhism denies that an indetermediate-state exists between death and birth. This being the case, Piyadassi Thera maintains that gandhabba is simply a term for the rebirth-linking consciousness (patisandhi-vinnana), rather than for a discarnate spirit of any kind (Piyadassi, 1972, p. 20). It can really be said that human beings are born from karma, while parents merely provide them with a material layer. It is, however, said that at the moment of conception karma conditions the initial consciousness or gandhabba which vitalizes the foetus (Narada, 1980, p. 400).

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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby gavesako » Fri Jan 16, 2009 12:02 pm

Here is part of an article by Ven. Analayo in which he compares the concept of gandhabba used in various Buddhist texts:

These passages make it clear that, though employing terms like
the gandhabba, the discussion of the three conditions for conception
does not involve any substantialist notion. In fact, the whole point
of the Assalayatana Sutta was, after all, the issue of caste. Even earlier
in the discussion the Buddha made use of Brahminical conceptions
in order to drive home his point. A particularly telling instance is
when, with a good dose of humour, he takes up the notion that
Brahmins are born from the mouth of Brahmā and wonders why
Brahmin women are seen to become pregnant, give birth and give
suck. Similar to this ironic comment on the belief that Brahmins
are born from Brahmā's mouth, the original intent of the Buddha's
reference to the gandhabba would just have had the intention to
adopt his presentation to the thought world of his audience by using
a loan word from Brahminical ideas about rebirth.
Thus the point introduced in this way in the Assalayatana Sutta is
simply that Brahminical conceptions of caste purity only take into
account the condition provided by the mother and father, assuming
that their caste identity sufficiently accounts for the caste identity
of the child. By employing Brahminical conceptions on the role of
the gandhabba in relation to conception, the Buddha was able to
point out an inconsistency in the Brahminical scheme, in as much
the caste affiliation of the being to be reborn could not be
determined. It may be from this original intent of the discussion of
the three conditions for conception in the Assalayatana Sutta that
references to this presentation in other discourses and later works
originated.
To employ already existing terms and ideas in order to express a
particular point is in fact a recurrent feature of the expositions
given by the Buddha in the early discourses. This appears to have
been particularly the case with Brahminical notions and ideas.
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby bodom » Fri Jan 16, 2009 1:57 pm

gavesako wrote:I have recently spoken to a man who can clearly remember two of his past lives. One was in the human realm, the other one in a deva realm where everyone has refined bodies and was radiating metta to others. Then at the end of that existence, he felt himself being pulled back into the human realm, and he recognized it was his attachment that was pulling him there: he could see many couples in sexual union at the moment, and he went towards one of them... which became his mother and father.


Wow that is really, really interesting to read.

:namaste:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Individual » Fri Jan 16, 2009 3:16 pm

Jechbi wrote:First of all a big :thanks: to Peter, who pointed me toward these talks.

I'm curious if there is any concrete explanation of the mechanism of gandhabba, as described in talk No. 5. My understanding is that it's instantaneous, linking the last moment of death with the first moment of conception in the next rebirth. But it still seems kind of magical. What specifically would connect a death, say, in Alaska with a rebirth half a world a way in Brazil (to pick two random places)? Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi describes the process as being similar to passing a flame from one candle to another, but that's easier to envision, because the candles actually come into contact. How does the gandhabba accomplish contact with embryo?

I've heard it described as energy, like a flash of lightning, like the propogation of a wave, and so on. Those all seem to fall short, because I can envision all of those things. Is there a clearer way to understand how the gandhabba functions? Or is the question itself meaningless or incorrectly conceived?

Much thanks in advance.
:namaste:

I think gandhabbas are best described by poems. Because in the absence of being able to enter the gandabbha realm by means of meditation, any explanation would merely be poetry.

Element wrote:In the book Practical Dependent Origination, I recalled Ajahn Buddhadasa explaining gandabba is merely sperm.

I have not seen Buddha provide any in-depth discussion on the gandabba. I have only seen it merely appears as a word in the suttas and nothing more.

It's a word that has a specific meaning in Indian mythology. And given the contexts in which it's used, it's seems pretty obvious it was an actual being (i.e., in DN 3, Vajrapani the Yakkha is literally flying around, speaking, and the Buddha and Ambattha both see him -- why should yakkhas be literal and not gandharbas, or is Vajrapani merely a metaphor too?). How is it that nature spirits, which are skilled at music and fly through the air, are a metaphor for sperm?

gavesako wrote:I have recently spoken to a man who can clearly remember two of his past lives. One was in the human realm, the other one in a deva realm where everyone has refined bodies and was radiating metta to others. Then at the end of that existence, he felt himself being pulled back into the human realm, and he recognized it was his attachment that was pulling him there: he could see many couples in sexual union at the moment, and he went towards one of them... which became his mother and father.

Given studies in psychology which demonstrate that the faculty of memory is just as creative as it is recollective and in the absence of any convincing anecdotal evidence of a person recollecting a past life beyond all doubt (that is, being independently verified, ruling out the imagination), I would be skeptical of such a claim. Meditation can develop a state of strong creativity, in which a person might conceivably create a false memory of a past life.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Jechbi » Fri Jan 16, 2009 5:07 pm

Thanks to all of you for your insights.

Ven. Gavesako,

The guy who remembered two past lives is really intesting, though I'm also inclined to wonder how accurate the memories are. But I don't discount it entirely.

Your other post also was intriguing, the one about how the Buddha's use of the term "gandhabba" might be just a skillful way of adopting the vocabulary and concepts already present in the culture at that time. If the idea of gandhabba was offered for political reasons to chip away at the caste system, that would explain a lot. In that case, the term "gandhabba" does seem to invite confusion if used in our day and age. And my question about the mechanism of rebirth still remains.

Thanks, Element, for tracking down the different uses of the the word.

Hi Individual,
Individual wrote:I think gandhabbas are best described by poems. Because in the absence of being able to enter the gandabbha realm by means of meditation, any explanation would merely be poetry.

If so, then there's probably no concrete answer to my question.
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Re: past life recall

Postby Will » Fri Jan 16, 2009 6:20 pm

gavesako wrote:I have recently spoken to a man who can clearly remember two of his past lives. One was in the human realm, the other one in a deva realm where everyone has refined bodies and was radiating metta to others. Then at the end of that existence, he felt himself being pulled back into the human realm, and he recognized it was his attachment that was pulling him there: he could see many couples in sexual union at the moment, and he went towards one of them... which became his mother and father.


Bhante, do you recall if this person said if the deva birth followed immediately after the human one? Did he mention an interval between them? Were these natural memories or dreams or hypnotic regression? Was the person a Theravadin or even a Buddhist?
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 8:43 pm

gavesako wrote:Here is part of an article by Ven. Analayo in which he compares the concept of gandhabba used in various Buddhist texts:

These passages make it clear that, though employing terms like
the gandhabba, the discussion of the three conditions for conception
does not involve any substantialist notion. In fact, the whole point
of the Assalayatana Sutta was, after all, the issue of caste.

Ven Gavesako

Which are the various texts?

To my knowledge, there is only MN 38, which I quoted.

Regarding the Assalayatana Sutta, where is this from? I have never seen it and cannot locate it.

With metta,

Element
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Postby Element » Fri Jan 16, 2009 8:47 pm

Individual wrote:Given studies in psychology which demonstrate that the faculty of memory is just as creative as it is recollective and in the absence of any convincing anecdotal evidence of a person recollecting a past life beyond all doubt (that is, being independently verified, ruling out the imagination), I would be skeptical of such a claim. Meditation can develop a state of strong creativity, in which a person might conceivably create a false memory of a past life.

In Buddhism, these experiences are called mental formations. The Buddha taught our life is composed of five aggregates or khandas and such mental formations arise from or are produced by the sankhara khanda. The Buddha recommended all khandas be regarded with right view: "This is not 'me', this is not 'mine', this is not 'myself'".
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