The mechanism of gandhabba

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Individual
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Individual »

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.
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Jechbi
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Jechbi »

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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But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Nicholas Weeks
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Re: past life recall

Post by Nicholas Weeks »

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?
Dhamma is against the stream of common thought, deep, subtle, difficult, delicate, unseen by passion’s slaves cloaked in the murk of ignorance. Vipassī Buddha
Element

Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Element »

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
Element

Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Element »

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'".
Element

Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Element »

From SN 31.1:
At Savatthi. "Bhikkhus, I will teach you about the devas (gods) of the gandhabba order. Listen to that...."

"And what, bhikkhus, are the devas of the gandhabba order? There are, bhikkhus, devas dwelling in the fragrant roots, devas dwelling in the fragrant heartwood, devas dwelling in the fragrant softwood, devas dwelling in fragrant leaves, devas dwelling in fragrant flowers, devas dwelling in fragrant fruits, devas dwelling in fragrant sap and devas dwelling in fragrant scents."

"These bhikkhus are called the devas of the gandhabba order."
Commentary by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
The gandhabbas are associated with fragrant substances, no doubt because the word is based on the stem gandha, meaning scent.
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Dhammanando »

Element wrote:Regarding the Assalayatana Sutta, where is this from? I have never seen it and cannot locate it.
MN. 93
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
Element

Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Element »

From SN 31.13, Gandhabbasamyutta:
He has heard: 'The devas who dwell in fragrant roots are long-lived, beautiful and abound in happiness'. He thinks: 'Oh, with the breakup of the body, after death, may I be reborn in the company of the devas who dwell in fragrant roots!'
Image
He gives food, he gives drink, he gives clothing, he gives a vehicle, he gives a garland, he gives a fragrance, he gives an unguent (massage oil), he gives a bed, he gives a dwelling and he gives a lamp.
Image
Then, with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of the devas who dwell in fragrant roots.
Image
Element

Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Element »

Dhammanando wrote:MN. 93
Thank you.
[The Buddha] 'Do you good sirs, know, how the descent of an embryo comes about?’

‘Good sir, we know how the descent of an embryo comes about. Here, there is the union of the mother and father and the mother is in season and the gandhabba is present. Thus the descent of an embryo comes about through the union of these three things.'

‘Then good sirs, do you know, whether for sure whether that gandhabba is a noble or a brahmin or a merchant or a worker?'

‘Good one, we do not know for sure , whether whether that gandhabba is a noble or a brahmin or a merchant or a worker.’

‘That being so, sirs, then what are you?'

‘That being so sir, we do not know what we are.'

‘Assalaayana, the seven Brahmin sages, questioned, studied together and asked for reasons on their view about the purity of birth, could not explain. Here you, questioned by me, were studying together and I, asking for reasons about the purity of birth, you could not explain.'

MN 93 (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
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Re: past life recall

Post by gavesako »

Will wrote: 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?
This person comes from a Muslim background. He had these recollections since he was very young and his parents did not know what he was talking about. They were simply memories of another life. He was not sure how long ago the first life was, but he thought it must have been somewhere in Asia because he was a small boy tending water buffaloes. If there was another life (lives) between that one and the deva life, he also was not sure.
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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stuka
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

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Element wrote:
[The Buddha] 'Do you good sirs, know, how the descent of an embryo comes about?’

‘Good sir, we know how the descent of an embryo comes about. Here, there is the union of the mother and father and the mother is in season and the gandhabba is present. Thus the descent of an embryo comes about through the union of these three things.'

MN 93 (Bhikkhu Bodhi)
There is the union of mother and father, the mother is in season, meaning that she is ovulating. A viable egg drops from the ovary, is fertilized, and attaches to the uterine wall. Basic mammalian reproduction, folks.

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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

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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.
Buddha-Dhamma Buddhadasa Archives

[AS 498] Niddesa 10, #44

44. Genuine Pubbenivasanusattinyana or Recollection of Past Dwellings (not-eternalism)

Bhikkhus, any group of Samanas or Brahmins when recollecting pubbenivasa (previous dwellings), naturally recollect such previous dwellings in diverse numbers; in doing so,
all of those Samanas and Brahmins recollect the five upadana-khandhas or any one of the five upadana-khandhas. What are these five? The five are …

Bhikkhus, when they recollect, they naturally recollect rupa (form) as "in the distant past we had a rupa like this."

Bhikkhus, when they recollect, they naturally recollect vedana (feeling) as "in the distant past we had vedana like this."

Bhikkhus, when they recollect, they naturally recollect sanya (recognition, perception) as "in the distant past we had sanya like this."

Bhikkhus, when they recollect, they naturally recollect sankhara (concocting, thinking, emotions) as "in the distant past we had sankhara like this."

Bhikkhus, when they recollect, they naturally recollect vinyana as "in the distant past we had a vinyana like this."


Bhikkhus, why do they speak of rupa? Bhikkhus, this nature naturally disintegrates (ruppati, vexed, oppressed), for this reason it is called "rupa." Why does it disintegrate? It disintegrates due to cold, due to heat, due to hunger, due to thirst, and due to the contacts of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and crawling animals. This nature naturally disintegrates, for this reason it is called "rupa."

Bhikkhus, why do they speak of vedana? Bhikkhus, this nature is felt (vedayati), for this reason it is called "vedana." What does it feel? It feels pleasure, pain, and neither-pain-nor-pleasure. Bhikkhus, this nature feels, for this reason it is called "vedana."

Bhikkhus, why do they speak of sanya? Bhikkhus, this nature naturally recognizes (sanjanati, perceives), for this reason it is called "sanya." What does it recognize? It recognizes green, yellow, red, and white. Bhikkhus, this nature naturally recognizes, for this reason it is called "sanya."

Bhikkhus, why do they speak of sankhara? Bhikkhus, this nature naturally concocts concocted things (abhisankharonti), for this reason it is called "sankhara." What does it concoct? It concocts rupa as something concocted with "formness," it concocts vedana as something concocted with "feelingness," it concocts sanya as something concocted with "recognition-ness," it concocts sankhara as something concocted with "concoctingness," it concocts vinyana as something concocted with "cognition-ness." Bhikkhus, this nature naturally concocts concocted things, for this reason it is called "sankhara."

Bhikkhus, why do they speak of vinyana? Bhikkhus, this nature naturally cognizes (vijanati), for this reason it is called "vinyana." What does it cognize? It cognizes sourness, bitterness, spiciness, sweetness, astringency, non-astringency, saltiness, and non-saltiness. Bhikkhus, this nature naturally cognizes, for this reason it is called "vinyana."

Bhikkhus, in these five khandha, the well trained noble disciple naturally investigates until seeing clearly that "Right now, I am devoured by rupa (form); even in the past, I was devoured by rupa, just as I am devoured by present rupa right now. If I indulge in future rupa, I will be devoured by rupa even in the distant future, just as I am devoured by present rupa right now." When this noble disciple investigates and clearly sees in this way, she doesn’t dwell on past rupa, doesn’t seek pleasure in future rupa, and practices for disenchantment with, the fading away of, and the quenching of present rupa.

(The Buddha then discussed vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana in exactly the same terms.)

Bhikkhus, how do you consider the following statements? Is rupa permanent or impermanent?

"Impermanent, Venerable Sir."

If something is impermanent, is it dukkha or sukha?

"It’s dukkha, Venerable Sir."

Something that is impermanent, dukkha, and naturally changes all the time, is it fitting to contemplate it as "this is mine," "this is me," or "this is my atta (self)"?

"One shouldn’t think that way, Venerable Sir."

(The Buddha then covered vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana in exactly the same terms.)

Bhikkhus, for these reasons in this matter, any rupa whether past, future, or present; whether internal or external, coarse or refined, crude or subtle, distant or near; all these rupa should be seen with right wisdom according to reality that "this isn’t mine, this isn’t me, this isn’t my self."

(The Buddha then covered vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana in exactly the same terms.)

Bhikkhus, we speak of this noble disciple as "she shrinks and doesn’t build up," as "she throws away and doesn’t cling," as "she scatters and doesn’t pile up," and as "she makes die out and doesn’t make flare up."

This noble disciple shrinks and doesn’t build up what? She shrinks and doesn’t build up rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana.

This noble disciple throws away and doesn’t cling to what? She throws away and doesn’t cling to rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana.

This noble disciple scatters and doesn’t pile up what? She scatters and doesn’t pile up rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana.

This noble disciple makes die out and doesn’t make flare up what? She makes die out and doesn’t make flare up rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana.

Bhikkhus, the well trained noble disciple when seeing in this way, is naturally disenchanted with rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana. When disenchanted, naturally becomes dispassionate. Because of this dispassion, he is liberated. When liberated, he naturally has the insight that liberation has occurred. This noble disciple clearly knows that "birth is ended, the brahmacariya is fulfilled, the duties to be done are completed, and no further duties for the sake of liberation remain."

Bhikkhus, we speak of this bhikkhu as "she doesn’t build up, doesn’t shrink, but having shrunk, dwells there"; as "she doesn’t cling, doesn’t throw away, but having thrown away, dwells there"; as "she doesn’t pile up, doesn’t scatter, but having scattered, dwells there"; and as "she doesn’t make flare up, doesn’t make die out, but having made die out, dwells there."

This noble disciple doesn’t build up, doesn’t shrink, but having shrunk what, dwells there? She doesn’t build up, doesn’t shrink, but having shrunk rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana, dwells there.

This noble disciple doesn’t cling to, doesn’t throw away, but having thrown away what, dwells there? She doesn’t cling to, doesn’t throw away, but having thrown away rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana, dwells there.

This noble doesn’t pile up, doesn’t scatter, but having scattered what, dwells there? She doesn’t pile up, doesn’t scatter, but having scattered rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana, dwells there.

This noble disciple doesn’t make flare up, doesn’t make die out, but having made what die out, dwells there? She doesn’t make flare up, doesn’t make die out, but having made rupa, vedana, sanya, sankhara, and vinyana die out, dwells there.

Bhikkhus, all the devas, together with Indra, Brahma, and Pajapati bow to the bhikkhu who is liberated in this way. Coming from afar they say:

Noble Thoroughbred, Supreme One, we bow in honor of you because there is no way that we can comprehend what you have realized dwelling therein."


[Tan Ajarn's comment: Students should note that this sense of pubbenivasanusattinyana isn’t in conflict with the Great Standards of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta (sutte osaretabbam vinaye sandassetabbam), and has none of the hints of sassataditthi (eternalism) that appear in the usual explanations of the Three Vijja. Please ponder this with especial care.]

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Jechbi
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Jechbi »

Hi Stuka,
stuka wrote:
Element wrote:
[The Buddha] 'Do you good sirs, know, how the descent of an embryo comes about?’

‘Good sir, we know how the descent of an embryo comes about. Here, there is the union of the mother and father and the mother is in season and the gandhabba is present. Thus the descent of an embryo comes about through the union of these three things.'
There is the union of mother and father, the mother is in season, meaning that she is ovulating. A viable egg drops from the ovary, is fertilized, and attaches to the uterine wall. Basic mammalian reproduction, folks.
So are you saying that "gandhabba" is just another word for "viable egg"?
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
Individual
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Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Individual »

Jechbi wrote:So are you saying that "gandhabba" is just another word for "viable egg"?
I hope not.

In AN 4.36, gandabbhas are said to be "in the sky". Neither sperm nor ovum are floating around in the air. In DN 20, of the Four Heavenly Kings, Dhatarattha, King of the East, is identified as "Chief of the Gandhabbas". This means king of the sperm\ovum? In DN 32, an army of various beings, including Gandabbas, surounded and protected the Buddha, and also saluted him. How was the Buddha surrounded by sperm\ovum, protected by it, and saluted by it? How did sperm\ovum sit down, speak to him, or announce their name and lineage? :lol:
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
Element

Re: The mechanism of gandhabba

Post by Element »

Individual wrote:
Jechbi wrote:So are you saying that "gandhabba" is just another word for "viable egg"?
At Savatthi. "Bhikkhus, I will teach you about the devas (gods) of the gandhabba order. Listen to that...."

"And what, bhikkhus, are the devas of the gandhabba order? There are, bhikkhus, devas dwelling in the fragrant roots, devas dwelling in the fragrant heartwood, devas dwelling in the fragrant softwood, devas dwelling in fragrant leaves, devas dwelling in fragrant flowers, devas dwelling in fragrant fruits, devas dwelling in fragrant sap and devas dwelling in fragrant scents."

"These bhikkhus are called the devas of the gandhabba order."
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