Showing posts with label Vasubandhu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vasubandhu. Show all posts

27 March 2015

Further Problems in Karma Theory: Continuity and Discontinuity.

Vasubandhu 世親 (via IEP)
Emerging from early attempts at systematisation of Buddhism, sectarian Buddhists, especially those who developed Abhidharma, continued to think carefully about the theories they had inherited they discovered more and more problems. In my recent essays I've discussed a number of problems that these Buddhists inherited and some of the different approaches to the problems.

The picture that we have of Buddhist history was heavily skewed by the destruction of Buddhism in India with the lost of the larger proportion of Buddhist texts. For example we presume there was a Canon of early writings in Sanskrit and one in Gāndhārī and we have lost the bulk of both of them. This sometimes means that we know only a little about the various sects and what we think we know is often from polemics written by their opponents (who were far from scrupulous in representing each other). One result is that we can mistakenly see historical Buddhism as more homogeneous than it in fact was. It's common for modern writers on Buddhism to minimise the heterogeneity of early Buddhism and emphasise the commonality rather than the disputes. I'm interested in exploring just how disparate Buddhist sects were from each other. In some cases the disagreements were extreme. 

The quirks of history can also mean that a text that includes polemic like Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośabhāṣya can be over-represented in discussions of sectarian Buddhism, or treated as an authoritative account of some long dead sect, simply because it survives in Sanskrit. The Bhāṣya only records one side of a multi-sided argument, and where we do have  more than one side, as for some of the disputes recorded in the Theravāda Kathāvatthu, they often disagree on details. However with care we can get some idea of the issues that Buddhists disputed amongst themselves and some of the parameters of these disputes. Chief amongst these issues was karma. I've already shown that early Buddhist karma theory was incoherent, in the sense that it did not work with pratītyasamutpāda: I've characterised this as the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance. This is not simply my conclusion, it was also the conclusion of one of the founding fathers of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Nāgārjuna in his magnum opus, Mūlamadhyamakārikā (see MMK Chp 17).

In this essay we will see once again that the preconceived metaphysical commitments that Buddhists bring to the dispute circumscribe how the respond to the challenges. Although some authors make a great deal of the Vinaya convention that a schism or sanghabheda is technically a dispute over interpretation of Vinaya, it's clear that doctrinal disputes also caused divisions amongst Buddhists. 

Continuity Problem

Most Buddhist sects agreed that experience consists of a series of mental events (citta) with associated mental concomitants (cetasika). A particular problem is that in the succession of cittas it's hypothetically possible that a kuśala citta might follow akuśala citta or vice versa. One of the important features of karma theory is that results are appropriate to actions. Having good follow directly from evil or vice versa seems on face value to contradict this. Thus it is generally forbidden, axiomatically, for a kuśala citta to follow an akuśala citta and vice versa. Different sects proposed different solutions to this problem.

In order to deal with this problem the Theravādins stipulated that two cittas which are different with respect to kuśala/akuśala cannot directly follow each other. As well as kuśala and akuśala the Theravādins acknowledged that some cittas were indeterminate (avyākṛta). These are cittas that are not associated directly with karma (action) but are either a vipāka (a result from a previous karma) or completely independent of karma (kiriya-citta). The latter category includes some mental states in an arahant such as any accompanied by with two or three of arāga, adveṣa or amoha; and functions such as āvajjana or advertence (turning towards) a sense object. So between two cittas which are different (kuśala/akuśala) a bhavaṅgacitta must intervene. 

Jaini (1959) notes that the Sautrāntikas reject the Theravāda solution because it makes no more sense for a kuśalacitta to be followed by an avyākṛtacitta, because how would an avyākṛtacitta act as a condition for an akuśalacitta? Axiomatically, like must follow like. Indeterminacy is only a fudge, not a solution to this problem. The axiom in fact prevents change, and since we perceive change, the axiom itself must be flawed. And the flaw comes because it is trying to extent continuity beyond the present moment to account for karma. 

Discontinuity Problem

Another problem that concerned later Buddhists is a problem of discontinuity. In the early Buddhist texts there is a state of attainment called 'cessation of mental activity and experience' (sañña-vedayita-nirodha). This state is said, in the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta, to occur after one has master all the jhānas and the arūpāyatanas (sometimes called the arūpajhānas). Not a great deal is said about this state, but if all experience has ceased then it would appear that there is an interruption in the flow of mental events.

In the two essays on Action at a Temporal Distance I covered the basic Theravāda and Sarvāstivāda responses to the problem. The former proposed a series of very short lived cittas which acted as conditions for the next, in up to 24 distinct ways (the 24 paccayas). And they filled the gap between sense-based experiences with the bhavaṅgacitta - a kind of resting state mental activity, the object of which is set at the beginning of one's life by the death moment mental activity (cuticitta) in the dying being and the subsequent relinking mental activity (paṭisandhicitta) in the new being. So a definite discontinuity would be impossible in the Theravāda view.

The Sarvāstivāda response to Action at a Temporal Distance was to propose that if the present vipāka was conditioned by a karma in the past, then the karma must still exist (in some sense) in the past. And if we expect a present karma to have a vipāka in the future then the present karma must still exist (in some sense) in the future. What 'exists' (asti) means here is uncertain, except that we need the karma to be capable of acting as a condition. Karma here explicitly implies the mental activity that motivates the action (cetanā) and thus is used almost synonymously with citta or dharma. If the dharma exists now, in the past and in the future, then it always exists (sarva-asti) hence the name of this sect is sarva-asti-vāda or 'the doctrine of always existing'.

Hence, despite creating two completely distinct metaphysics to explain karma, neither can allow for any kind of discontinuity. A discontinuity in the mental life of the being contradicts the worldview or belief system. And yet on face value sañña-vedayita-nirodha constitutes a discontinuity. And in bridging that conceptual discontinuity, Buddhists seem to be trapped in one or both of two fallacies: they end up creating a continuity with eternalist overtones; or the solution is not internally consistent. In fact there seems to be no way to connect impermanent conditions with effects that manifest long after the conditions have ceased without introducing some incoherence. Either we can have experience arising and passing away in the moment, or we can have actions connected to consequences, but not both. 


Anacker, Stefan (1972) 'Vasubandhu's Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa and the problem of the highest meditations.' Philosophy East & West. 22(3): 247-258.
Jaini, Padmanabh. (1959) 'The Sautrāntika Theory of Bīja.' BSOAS 22(2): 236-249.

19 December 2014

Manomayakāya: Mahāyāna Sources

Ba - the soul in the form of a bird
with a human head from Egypt.
This last section of my long essay on manomaya kāya (in four parts) looks at some Mahāyāna texts. The literature is far too massive for me to attempt a comprehensive survey. The idea here is to get an outline from some well known sūtras (the sūtras likely to be cited in modern discussions on rebirth). Vasubandhu gives us some idea of the range of views in his milieu (5th century Gandhāra), likewise Śāntideva's anthology of sūtras gives us an idea of what was important in his sect at that place and time (8th century Bihar). Following this thread is important because it fed into an account of karma and rebirth that became standard across the Mahāyāna world.


The Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra is widely thought to be the earliest of the Prajñāpāramitā texts along with a verse version (Ratnaguṇasamcayagāthā). It was probably composed before the common era. Recently a manuscript turned up in Afghanistan that was carbon dated to the first century CE. In the Aṣṭa there's a single reference to manomaya in Chapter 2The God Śakra, aka the Vedic god Indra, decides to conjure up some flowers (puṣpāṇy abhinirmāya) to scatter over Subhūti who has been talking to him about the Prajñāpāramitā. Subhūti thinks:
yāni śakreṇa devānām indreṇābhyavakīrṇāni, manomayāny etāni puṣpāṇīti
These flowers scattered about by Śakra, Lord of the Devas, are mind-made.
As in Pāḷi, the meaning must be 'made by the mind', if for no other reason than they are external to Śakra's mind. In this case, at least in the context of the story, they are not imaginary, but conjured up (abhi-nir√mā), consistent with what we saw last week in the Mahāvastu and Lalitavistara. We know that the authors of the Aṣṭa were opponents of the Sarvāstivāda in other matters, so it's possible that they also rejected the antarābhava and the associated metaphysics which dragged in terms like manomaya. The term antarābhava does not occur in the Aṣṭa or in the expanded Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra.

However from this text we get the useful information that the Aṣṭakāra thought that the process leading to something mano-maya could be conveyed by the verb abhi-nir√mā. This allows us to get a fix on what kind of process we are talking about. I'll return to this in my conclusions.


Again we find a single use of manomaya in Chapter 8 this sūtra. This description pertains to the future buddha-field (buddhakṣetra) of the disciple Pūrṇa. That buddha-field will be flat, filled with precious things; gods will live close to the earth and will meet with men; women and evil will be banished (apagata) and:

sarve ca te sattvā aupapādukā bhaviṣyanti brahmacāriṇo manomayair ātmabhāvaiḥ svayaṃprabhā ṛddhimanto vaihāyasaṃ-gamā vīryavantaḥ smṛtimantaḥ prajñāvantaḥ suvarṇavarṇaiḥ samucchrayair dvātriṃśadbhir-mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇaiḥ samalaṃkṛta-vigrahāḥ (Vaidya 129)
And all these beings will be self-produced, by the self-radiant, mind-made, self-nature of religious disciples endowed with magical powers, going through the air, vigour, mindfulness, understanding, beauty, and highly ornamented, magnificently with the thirty-two marks of the mahāpuruṣa.
This ideal world (apparently imagined by celibate male monks) is obviously related to the Pali ideas in the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) and the Manāsakuludāyi Sutta (MN 77). Being mind-made is part of an idealised picture of the world. The devas, while still, perhaps, not ontologically different from human beings, represent a refined form of being: less material, and thus more pure (there is a touch of Vitalism about this worldview). The author obviously thought that men and gods being able to meet would be a good thing.

Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra

The Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (Vaidya 1963) has three kinds of manomayakāya in Chapter 3. The Laṅka is something of a jumbled mess composed in a very dense, jargonistic and elaborate literary Sanskrit that is very difficult to translate (and more than likely corrupt in many places). What's more, it's very difficult to match D. T. Suzuki's translation to the Sanskrit text (he may well have followed the Chinese in places). Suzuki himself notes the difficulties that the Chinese translators had in interpreting long agglutinated words (1932: 118 n.1). All in all the Laṅka is not an attractive prospect, but it did have a lot of influence in Zen Buddhism.

Suzuki, bizarrely chooses "will body" to translate manomaya. This has no connection to either how the term is used more generally or to the etymology. I found several faults in Suzuki's translation (that would take considerable time and space to explain, so I will leave that for now, but might make it a separate essay). If one knows that Red Pine renders the Chinese translations of manomaya kāya even more bizarrely as "projection body" (for reasons that escape me) then one can locate the counterparts in his translation (167-8), which are somewhat more comprehensible though one is unsure at what cost to the original text. My tentative translation of the relevant passage follows:
Chapter 3, Section LVII (cf. Suzuki p.118-9)
The Bhagavan said: Mahāmati the body that is made by the mind is of three kinds. What three kinds?
  1. made by the mind that attains the bliss of samādhi;
  2. made by the mind through awaking to the intrinsic nature of dharmas;
  3. made by the mind whose actions and volitions are inherent to that class.
The yogins understand because they comprehend the characteristics of higher and higher bhumis from the first.
With respect to that, Mahāmati, what is a body which is made by the mind that attains the bliss of samādhi? It is in the 3rd, 4th and 5th bhūmis. By dwelling apart from the diversity of his own mind, there is no activity of a mind which attains the bliss of samādhi characterised by cognition of the waves of activity of ocean of thought, because, with his own mind (manas) he comprehends arising and passing away in the visible sphere as his own thoughts (svacitta) [so] it is called “a body that is made by the mind”.
What is the body that is made by the mind through awaking to the intrinsic nature of dharmas? There, in the eight bhūmi, by awakening through investigation to vanishing dharmas as illusions, etc, [the yogins] attain the illusion-simile samādhi of turning around in the basis (āśraya) of thought, and attain other important samādhis. The body whose flowering is the direct knowledge of subduing the single characteristic; which is swift as thought; appearing like an illusion, a dream or a reflection;  resembling a true reality though unreal; supplied with limbs of all kinds; a follower of the maṇḍala of the societies of all the Buddha-fields; because of having understood the intrinsic nature of dharmas is called ‘mind-made’. 
Now, what is the body made by the mind whose actions and volitions are inherent to that class of beings.  It is because of awakening to the characteristic of bliss of one’s own realisation (pratyātmādhigama) of the Dharma of all buddhas that is it called ‘made by the mind whose actions and volitions are inherent to that class of beings’. Mahāmati you should do yoga with respect to the awakening by the investigation of these three characteristics of the body.
The first type of manomaya kāya (attained in samādhi) is also described by an isolated paragraph (obviously out of context) in Chapter 2 (Section XXX) which, for the first and only time that I am aware of, explicitly links the possession of the manomaya kāya with the exercise of the ṛddhi or supernatural powers (though not quite the same as the standard list that we see in the Pāli suttas).

While I find fault with Suzuki's translation and have attempted my own translation, I don't claim to have made better sense of the text, indeed the text barely makes sense. Reading the Laṅka is like reading English prose from which all the prepositions and most of the verbs have been stripped out, leaving a string of nouns with no indication of how they relate to each other. Unless one knows in advance what it will say, understanding it by reading it as Sanskrit literature is an exercise in frustration. On the other hand Suzuki is clearly reading ideas into the text that do not belong there. The most egregious example is when he reads "when he thus recognises the non-existence of the external world, which is no more than his own mind" into a passage that ought to say "because, with his own mind he comprehends arising and passing away in the visible sphere as his own thoughts." Suzuki replaces the metaphysical reticence of the text (in line with Nāgārjuna and the Kātyāyana Sūtra) with his own hardcore Idealism. 

What the text seems to get at is that mind-made bodies are or can be produced at three stages. In samādhi, up to the fifth bhūmi where the bodhisattva perfects samādhi. At the 8th bhūmi where they experience cittāśraya-parāvṛtta 'reversal or disappearance of the basis of thoughts', the point at which their state is irreversible. It is said to be equivalent to being an arhat (but this is a redefinition of arhat which doesn't correspond to how the word was used in earlier texts; it is more like stream-entry in fact). The Laṅka doesn't associate the last kāya with a bhūmi but implies that it accords with the 10th bhūmi at which point the bodhisattva's mere existence benefits all beings.

There's no apparent history to this idea of three manomayakāya, and no subsequent connection to other texts. Suzuki (1930: 208 ff) wants to relate it to the trikāya doctrine, though this is a stretch, given how it fits with the bodhisattva bhūmi model. It doesn't seem to be developed beyond this point either.


The Śikṣasamuccaya is a compendium of sūtra readings compiled by Śāntideva in about the 8th century as a guide to Buddhism. Many of the sūtras cited have been lost in their Indic languages and survive only in translation (if at all). The Śikṣa is a useful snapshot of what Buddhist texts were important in Bihar in about the 8th century, the more so since not long afterwards Buddhism was transmitted to Tibet from this region.

Manomayakāya is mentioned once in the first chapter on the perfection of giving as a part of a transference of merit practice:
sarvasatvā 'śrāntāklānta-sarvalokadhātugamanā bhavantu |
aviśrāmyamāna-manomayakāya-pratilabdhāḥ |
May all beings enter all worlds and realms unwearied and not tired,
having acquired a mind-made body that doesn't need to rest.
[NB I have slightly amended the Sanskrit given by DSBC as the compound must be aśranta-aklānta- "not-tired and not weary" rather than śranta-aklānta "tired and not weary"] 
This short quote suggests that all beings (sarvasatvā) can expect to have a manomaya-kāya as they go (gamana) to a new world (loka) or realm (dhātu) which is suggestive of the Saṃyuktāgama version (see Manomaya Kāya: Other Early Texts) of the antarābhava. However, antarābhava is not mentioned at all. The paucity of our terms here is suggestive, that Śāntideva also rejected an antarābhava through his association with Prajñāpāramitā, though arguments from absence are weak.

Other Sūtras

The later part of Sumi Lee's 2014 article, which has underpinned this whole series of essays on manomaya kāya, focuses on the Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra and texts which draw on it for inspiration. The Śrīmālā forms the template for a number of later texts and describes the manomaya kāya as the three types of bodies of arhatspratyekabudhas and vaśitaprāpta bodhisattvas (this does not tally with the threefold model in the Laṅka). Lere also mentions that the Gandhavyūha Sūtra mentions ten types of manomaya kāya (2014: 75).

Both the Śrīmālā and the Laṅka propose that the three types of being with mind-made bodies undergo a special type of death known as 'inconceivable transformative death' (acintya-pāriṇāmikī-cyuti or -pāriṇāma-) which is distinct from ordinary or discontinuous death (pariccheda-cyuti). In this worldview the three, though high up in the hierarchy of being, still have a specific type of defilement (entrenched ignorance or avidyāvāsa-bhūmi) that forces them to be embodied, if only in a manomaya kāya.

Various śāstra texts take up this idea and develop it. I don't propose to go into these developments in depth as they lead further and further away from the early tradition and into speculative metaphysics (see Lee 2014).

Manomaya does not appear to occur in the Sukhāvativyūha Sūtras or the Vimalanikīrtinirdeśa.


One of the most influential works on how we see the history of Buddhist ideas is the Abhidharmakośa-bhāṣya by Vasubandhu, probably composed in the 4th century CE. The Bhāṣya is the prose auto-commentary on the verse Abhidharmakośa (Kośa). It is frequently cited as a source on the views of schools like the Sarvastivādins, and Vasubandhu was certainly on the side of those who believed in an antarābhava (though it seems he sometimes dissents from mainstream Sarvāstivāda views and favours a Sautrāntika view). Vasubandhu's arguments about the antarābhava warrant their own treatment, but he does make mention of the manomaya kāya on several occasions that we can look at here.

In the commentary on Kośa kārikā 2.44e: nirodhākhyādito nṛṣu, Vasubandhu, in answer to a quibble of the Vaibhāṣikas, cites a version of the same Udāyi Sūtra (the snake and basket simile) we've already cited in Manomaya Kāya: Pali Texts. The argument is over one can fall from the attainment of cessation (nirodhasamāpatti). 

Vasubandu says:
anyathā hi udāyisūtraṃ virudhyeta | ihāyuṣmanto bhikṣuḥ śīlasaṃpannaśca bhavati samādhisaṃpannaśca prajñāsaṃpannaśca | so 'bhīkṣṇaṃ saṃjñāvedayita-nirodhaṃ samāpadyate ca vyuttiṣṭhate "cāsti caitat sthānam" iti yathābhūtaṃ prajānāti | sa na haiva dṛṣṭa eva dharme pratipattye vājñām ārāgayati nāpi maraṇakālasamaye bhedāc ca kāyasyātikramya devān kavaḍīkārāhāra-bhakṣān anyatarasmin divye manomaye kāya upapadyate | sa tatropapanno 'bhīkṣṇaṃ saṃjñāveditanirodhaṃ samāpadyate ca vyuttiṣṭahate cāsti caitat sthānamiti yathābhūtaṃ prajānātīti | [p. 072 - there are minor errors in the Gretil text at the time of writing.] 
Opposition contradicts the Udāyi Sūtra. [Which says] "Here friend, a bhikṣu accomplished in the threefold way of ethics, meditation and understanding. He realistically considers that it is possible to repeatedly attain and abandon the cessation of perception and sensation. But if he does not also attain understanding in this very life, nor even at the time of death, [then] with the breaking up of the body, he arises in a divine mind-made group who have transcended eating solid food, and there, he realistically considers that is is possible to repeated enter and leave the cessation of mental activity and experience."
My translation here is much more literal than the one found in Prudent (1988). Then a line later:
atra hi divyo manomayaḥ kāyo rūpāvacara ukto bhagavatā | [072] 
For here, the Bhagavan said, the rūpāvacara devas are a mind-made group. 
Again Pruden is very different here. The idea that kāya can also mean 'a group' [of devas] seems not to occur to him. The Sanskrit also differs from the Majjhima Nikāya version of the story. The parallel is found in the Aṅguttara Nikāya version. Here Sāriputta says to Udāyin:
idhāvuso, bhikkhu sīlasampanno samādhisampanno paññāsampanno saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpajjeyyapi vuṭṭhaheyyapi – atthetaṃ ṭhānaṃ. No ce diṭṭheva dhamme aññaṃ ārādheyya, atikkammeva kabaḷiṃkārāhārabhakkhānaṃ devānaṃ sahabyataṃ aññataraṃ manomayaṃ kāyaṃ upapanno saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ samāpajjeyyāpi vuṭṭhaheyyāpi – atthetaṃ ṭhānan ti. (AN iii.192 etc). 
Here, friends, it is possible that a bhikkhu accomplished in the threefold way of ethics, meditation and understanding, might enter and emerge from the cessation of mental activity and experience. But if he does not attain knowledge (aññā ārādheyya) in this life (ditthēva dhamme), [then] reborn amongst a certain mind-made group of devas who have transcended eating solid food, it is possible that he will attain and abandon the cessation of the cessation of mental activity and experience.
The two passages are very similar, one of the main differences is present verbs in Sanskrit (he attains and abandons) as opposed to optatives in Pali (he might attain and abandon). Note that Pali ārādheyya becomes "strangely distorted to ārāgayati" in Buddhist Sanskrit (PED sv. ārādheti). This means that vājñāmārāgayati is the same as Pali aññaṃ ārādheyya, i.e. vā ājñām ārāgayati (with the vā looking quite out of place). Without knowing this the Sanskrit is difficult to interpret. Also the idiom diṭṭhēva dhamme (Skt. dṛṣṭa eva dharme) means 'in this life', but is literally 'whose nature is visible'. It is the last statement that Udāyī (wrongly) disagrees with.

Later we have this passage relating to Kośa 3.40:
bhūtā hi tāvatsattvā upapannā iti vijñāyante | atha saṃbhavaiṣiṇaḥ katame |
It's understood that 'those who exist' (bhūtā) means beings (sattva) who have been reborn (upapanna). But what is the meaning of 'one seeking birth' (saṃbhavaiṣiṇaḥ)? 
manomayaḥ saṃbhavaiṣī gandharvaś cāntarābhavaḥ nirvṛttiś ca ||  Kośa 3.40 ||
It means mind-made, a birth seeker, gandharva, in-between realm and arising . 
In the Bhāṣya commentary on this Vasubandhu says:
sa eva manonirjātatvāt manomaya uktaḥ / śukraśoṇitādikaṃ kiñcid bāhyam anupādāya bhāvāt / [153]
It is called mind-made because of the state of coming forth (nirjāta) from the mind only; [and] because is exists without including anything exterior like semen (śukra),  or blood (śoṇita) etc,
In other words the normal physical processes of sexual reproduction, as understood in 5th century Buddhist India, are not involved in the production manomaya kāya. Only the manas is involved. Vasubandhu also cites a Sanskrit counterpart of a familiar phrase from the Pali which describes devas, with some elaborations. It is sūtra uktaṃ 'said in a sūtra':
"te bhavanti rūpiṇo manomayāḥ sarvāṅgapratyaṅgopetā āvikalā ahīnendriyāḥ śubhāvarṇasthāyinaḥ svayaṃprabhā vihāyasaṃgamāḥ prītibhakṣaḥ prītyāhārā dīrghāyuṣo dīrghamadhvānaṃ tiṣṭhantī"ti /  [186|22-186|24]
They exist and remain with form, mind-made, with all their limbs, not crippled, with functioning senses, having a beautiful colour, self-radiant,  they eat rapture and their food is rapture, and live a long time and breath sweetly for a long time.
Note that feeding on rapture (prīti-bhakṣa) contradicts the idea that beings in the antarābhava as gandharvas feed on odours (gandha), an idea that Vasubandhu comments on. I'll deal with this in a subsequent essay on the gandharva.

For Vasubandhu manomaya kāya refers first to a group of devas; and second to existence in the antarābhava. However he raises an interesting counterpoint to the insistence that manomayakāya is rūpin 'has form' or 'is material' by denying any association with the physical elements of reproduction. This complication turns out to be quite involved and is the main topic of Kritzer (2000). I'm planning a further exploration of arguments about antarābhava, especially from the point of view of the Mahāvibhāṣa (a Sarvāstivādin almanac)  and will try to include some comments on this subject in that essay.


Asaṅga is said to have been half brother to Vasubandhu and with him a co-founder of the Yogācara sect. However unlike Vasubandhu, Asaṅga is associated with the Mahīśāsaka sect, one of those which, according to Wayman (1974), rejected the idea of an antarābhava. I mentioned in the previous essay (Manomaya Kāya: Other Early Texts) that Asaṅga's Bodhisattvabhūmi took up the idea of bright and dark manomaya which we found first in the Ekottarāgama. In his Yogācarabhūmi (I 20.9-13) he clearly accepts antarābhava (as a result of conversion?):
tasya punaḥ paryāyā antarābhava ity ucyate maraṇabhavotpattibhavayor antarāle prādurbhāvāt | gandharva ity ucyate gamanād gandhena puṣṭitaś ca | manomaya ity ucyate tannisritya manasa upapatty-āyatana-gamanatayā | śarīragatyā ca punar nālambanagatyā | (Wayman 1974: 238 n.30)
There is another way of putting it. 'Inbetween-state' is said because it appears in the space between (antara-ala) the death state (maraṇa-bhava) and the rebirth state (utpatti-bhava). We say 'gandharva' because it proceeds and grows by odours (gandha). It is called 'made of mind' because relying on itself, the manas goes to the sphere of rebirth and the body-function is not the former object of perception.


There is an early Tantric myth which claims that , prior to becoming a Buddha, Siddhārtha ascended to Akaniṣṭha heaven in a manomayakāya in order to receive abhiseka. Ferdinand & Wayman (1978). For example in the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha (ca 700 CE), Śākyamuni, while still a bodhisattva of the tenth stage, went in his manomayakāya to Akaniṣṭha, the abode of Vairocana (Almogi 2009: 78). Akaniṣṭha becomes the place where all Buddha's go to become enlightened. The idea that Buddhas have to go to Akaniṣṭha to become awakened occurs already in the Laṅka:

kāmadhātau tathārūpye na vai buddho vibudhyate |
rūpadhātvakaniṣṭheṣu vītarāgeṣu budhyate || 10.774 || 
The awakened is not awakened in the sense-realm or the formless realm;
He is awakened amongst the desireless [devas] of Akaniṣṭha in the form-realm. 
However this verse sits in a jumble of unrelated verses and it's not clear what the context is, or how this was understood and used by the author(s). It may be that this is a comment on the kind of practices that one can/may do: rūpa being associated with dhyāna and arūpa with the arūpāyatanas.


The divide that we see in early Buddhism with respect to antarābhava and how this influences the understanding of manomayakāya, is still visible in Mahāyāna texts. Quite a few of the Mahāyāna texts that are popular in modern Buddhism appear to take manomaya to be part of the psycho-cosmology: it relates devas and meditators in heavenly states. The main line of development of the antarābhava idea (and manomayakāya as the form we take there) is associated with Yogācara śāstra literature, rather than with sūtras.

As pointed out in the previous essay, the development of the idea of manomaya kāya seems to go like this:
  • Devas in the rūpadhātu are a manomaya (ni)kāya (group).
  • Meditators in the fourth jhāna magically create (abhinir√mā) a manomaya kāya (body) which is rūpin (out-of-body experiences?)
  • Non-returners (anāgāmin) transitioning from the kāmadhātu to the rūpadhātu do so in a manomaya kāya (body).
  • The advent of antarābhava leads to all beings having (or "riding") a manomaya kāyain the interim between death and rebirth.
  • Antarābhava and manomayakāya are equated, along with gandharva.
As Mahāyāna Buddhists continued to develop their ideas, over centuries, a number of other innovations were proposed, e.g. an ethicized manomayakāya (bright and dark) or the three varieties in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, but most of these do not seem to have had much influence outside their own milieu.

In this survey we got a tiny glimpse into the problem of what is meant by manomayakāya. An object that is made by the mind (-maya) is one that is created by the process of abhi-nir√mā. This root in Pali takes the (3rd person singular) form: abhinimmināti; however it can be conjugated several ways in Sanskrit: abhinirmiṇoti (5th class) -mimīte (3rd class ātmanepada) -mimāti (3rd class parasmaipada). According to PED it means to create or fashion, by means of magic. The Critical Pali Dictionary (sv. abhi-nimmināti) qualifies this as "to create (mostly by magic)." In his Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary, Edgerton makes a distinction between abhinirmiṇoti and nirmiṇoti suggesting that magic is a feature only of the latter. However in his examples he does associate magic with the present passive participle abhinirmimīyantaṃ "being magically created". Monier-Williams only lists the past participle and his entry merely reads "made, created". The word appears not to be listed in Apte.

Despite the suggestion of magical creation, the kāya that is made by the mind is not ontologically distinguished from caturmahābhūtamaya kāya (a body made of the four major elements). This is an important point for other arguments about Buddhist philosophy. Even the Buddhists who adopted this idea of a manomaya kāya and developed it did not succumb to ontological dualism. The point here is that the identification of the Buddhist manomaya kāya with the Hindu 'subtle body' (liṅga śarīra or sūkṣma śarīra) is a mistake precisely because the Hindu subtle body is explicitly made from different stuff than the material body, despite Hindus using the term manomaya in their doctrine of subtle bodies, they mean something different by it. It shows the dangers of carelessly adopting the terminology of popular culture. The manomaya kāya is never referred to as sūkṣma 'subtle' (or 'tiny, fine, thin, intangible' etc). In short there is no entity in Buddhism that is comparable to the Hindu subtle body as transmigrating entity.

Those sects which accept the antarābhava seem to have employed the existing idea of manomaya and particularly a kāya qua body that is mind-made, to try explain the state of being in the interim between death and rebirth. Buddhists already treated life as the interval between birth and death so there is a certain symmetry to this view, which might have had aesthetic appeal. Despite the mutually exclusive conclusions they come to, Buddhist groups were open to, or even actively casting about for, metaphysical ideas to help them create a coherent system of thought from the tradition they received. This intellectual effort went on for a millennia at least. 

In the previous essays I've mentioned another related concept drawn from Vedic religion, i.e. the gandharva. A complete description of the Buddhist afterlife requires that we try to understand the gandharva. Some Buddhist traditions unite the three concepts of antarābhavamanomaya kāya and gandharva in the sense that a being in the antarābhava is a gandharva with a manomaya kāya. Thus the next essay in this series will look at the gandharva.


Other essays on manomaya kāya:


Almogi, Orna (2009) Rong-zom-pa’s Discourses on Buddhology: A Study of Various Conceptions of Buddhahood in Indian Sources with Special Reference to the Controversy Surrounding the Existence of Gnosis (jñāna: ye shes) as Presented by the Eleventh-Century Tibetan Scholar Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po. [Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series XXIV] Tokyo, The International Institute for Buddhist Studies of The International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies.
Aurobindo (2004) The Upanishads: Kena and other Upanishads. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Dept.
Bucknell, Roderick S. (2011) ‘The Historical Relationship Between the Two Chinese Saṃyuktāgama Translations.’ Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal. 24:35-70.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee. (2013) The Play in Full: Lalitavistara. [Ārya-lalitavistara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra]
Ferdinand D. Lessing and Alex Wayman, trans. Introduction to the Buddhist Tantric Systems. (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass., 1978), pp. 26-27. 
Jones, J J. (1949) The Mahāvastu. Vol. 1 Luzac.
Kritzer, Robert. 'Rūpa and the antarābhava.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 28:235-272. 
Lee, Sumi. (2008) 'The Philosophical Meaning of Manomaya-kāya.' 2008 Korean Conference of Buddhist Studies. [pages not numbered]
Lee, Sumi. (2014) 'The Meaning of ‘Mind-made Body’ (S. manomaya-kāya, C. yisheng shen 意生身) in Buddhist Cosmological and Soteriological systems'. Buddhist Studies Review. 31(1): 65-90.
Pruden, Leo M, trans. (1988). Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam. [English translation from the French by Louis de La Vallée Poussin]. Asian Humanities Press.
Radich, Michael David. (2007) The Somatics of Liberation: Ideas about Embodiment in Buddhism from Its Origins to the Fifth Century C.E. [PhD. Dissertation].
Senart, Émile. (1897) Mahavastu-Avadana. 3 vols., Paris 1882-1897.
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. (1930) Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. Routledge.
Tripathi, Chandra Bhal (1995) Ekottarāgama-Fragmente der Gilgit-Handschrift, Reinbek 1995 (Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, Monographie 2).
Vaidya, P. L. (1963) Saddharmalaṅkāvatārasūtram. The Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning. Darbhanga.
Wayman, Alex (1974) 'The Intermediate-State Dispute in Buddhism' in Buddhists Studies in Honour of I. B. Horner. D Reidel: 227-239.