Showing posts with label manomaya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label manomaya. Show all posts

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.

12 December 2014

Manomaya Kāya: Other Early Texts

Essay no.400.

For the Nikāyakāra (the authors of the Pali Nikāyas) it was devas in the rūpadhātu (or their meditative equivalents) who possessed bodies (kāya) made by the mind, or were a mind-made group (kāya). Devas were supernatural beings, but they had the advantage of being part of the existing mythology of Buddhism (and the Ganges Valley generally). Devas were already culturally contextualised. Devas think, speak and interact with beings in the manussaloka (often with the Buddha) and thus, by the Buddhist understanding, they need to be embodied, to have a body endowed with senses, to possess all of the skandhas. We've seen (Manomaya Kāya: Pali Texts) that the Pali words for this are "rūpiṃ... sabbaṅga-paccaṅgiṃ ahīnindriyaṃ".

The antarābhava appears to be a new category of existence outside the universally accepted threefold model of the cosmos consisting of: kāmadhātu, rūpadhātu and arūpadhātu. Nor is it one of the five (later six) rebirth destinations (gati; sugati/durgati). These facts lie at the heart of the arguments of the sects that reject antarābhava. Like devas, beings in the antarābhava are conceived of as having cognition and thus they must be embodied in some form. Buddhists who believed in an antarābhava seem to have adapted the existing idea of a deva with a manomaya kāya to help explain the mode of existence in that state. This new mode of existence, outside of other models like the dhātus or gatis, implied a new ontology.

This essay will survey some of the non-Pali early Buddhist texts to see what use Buddhists made of manomaya in conjunction with antarābhava.


One of the earliest references to this new ontology is in a Chinese translation of the Saṃyuktāgama (SĀ; the counterpart of the Pāḷi Samyuttanikāya). Lee ascribes this text to the Kāśyapīya Sect, which is "doctrinally close to the Sarvāstivāda". Bucknell (2011) tells is that SĀ is widely considered to have been translated in the period 435-443 CE from a Sanskrit Saṃyuktāgama brought to China from Sri Lanka". (Note there is another translation of the SĀ in Chinese)
"When a sentient being exhausts the life-force in the present life, they ride (乘)
on a mind-made body (意生身) to be reborn in another place." (Adapted from Lee 2014: 70, Chinese from Radich 246 n.543)
The Pali counterpart of this passage (SN 44.9; iv.400) is also interesting, though it does not mention manomaya kāya. As noted in Arguments For and Against Antarābhava, it forms an essential part of arguments by Sujato and Piya Tan for the existence of an antarābhava, since it says:
Yasmiṃ kho, vaccha, samaye imañca kāyaṃ nikkhipati, satto ca aññataraṃ kāyaṃ anupapanno hoti, tamahaṃ taṇhūpādānaṃ vadāmi.
With respect to that, Vaccha, at the time when the body is relinquished, and a being is not arisen in certain kāya, I call that fuelled by craving.
I discussed how we might understand this passage in context in my earlier essay on antarābhava. Vaccha is asking about people who are not reborn and I said:
"To then read the question about rebirth in temporal terms, as explaining a time gap between bodies (kāya) is to misunderstand the metaphor. The question, really, is about what drives a person (satta) from body to body."
The idea of a satta (Skt sattva) going from body to body is consistent with Brahmin eschatology and we guess from his name (Vaccha is a Brahmin clan name) and the drift of his questions that Vacchagotta is a Brahmin. I also noted that "taṇha is always the upādāna for bhava" and that it cannot be considered specific to this case. I noted that the idea of a gap between lives may well have been Vaccha's and the Buddha simply failed to dispute it. Vacchagotta frequently pesters the Buddha and other bhikkhus with questions about ontological issues: "is there a self?" or "does the tathāgata exist after death?" and so on. In SN 22.10 (the next sutta) the Buddha refuses to answer his questions about the existence of self because any answer would have confused the Brahmin. Often such questions are said to be avyākata 'without explanation', by which the Buddha seems to mean that they can't be answered with certainty, only with speculation and he doesn't speculate, but that in any case they are irrelevant to the task at hand (Cf Cūlamālunkya Sutta MN 63).

In the Saṃyuktāgama texts antarābhava is one of four modes of existence (caturbhava) (Lee 2014: 70):
  • rebirth (生有 = upapattibhava)
  • life (本有 = pūrvakālabhava)
  • death (死有 = maraṇabhava)
  • between (中有 = antarābhava)
Antarābhava here seems to be well developed as an idea and as a state of existence has the same status as life; with death and rebirth as transitions between states - but all four having the same label bhava. We see here the beginnings of the Tibetan system of six bardos (which adds the states of dreaming and meditation). The antarābhava is no longer only a transition phase between kāmadhātu and rūpadhātu, as we saw in the discussion of the antarāparinirvāyin (Arguments For and Against Antarābhava).

In the《阿毘達磨大毘婆沙論》or *Mahāvibhāṣā, an encyclopaedic and influential Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text which survives only in Chinese translation (T.27, no. 1545), we see, probably for the first time the equating of a number of terms: antarābhava, manomaya, gandharva and saṃbhavaiṣin (literally: 'one who seeks birth'). The Mahāvibhāṣā re-interprets manomaya to mean: "[beings in the antarābhava] are born complying with the mind" (Lee 2014: 74) and further to include "beings at the beginning of kalpas, all the beings of the intermediate existence (antarābhava), [the devas of] the pure form realm (rūpadhātu) and the formless realm (arūpadhātu), and the transformative bodies (*pariṇāma-kāya)." This seems to build on categories very like the ones we find in Pali. The category of pariṇāmakāya is obscure here, but taken up by some Mahāyāna texts. Vasubandhu, in his Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, continues the tradition of linking antarābhava, manomaya, gandharva and saṃbhavaiṣin.


The word manomaya occurs in some Sanskrit fragments of the Ekottarāgama (EĀ; Tripathi 1995) which is a counterpart of the Pali Aṅguttara Nikāya. Here EĀ proposes two kinds of manomaya kāya which depend on the conduct of the being, i.e. an ethicized version of the manomaya kāya in SĀ.
yo 'sau bhavati strī vā puruṣo vā duḥśīlaḥ pāpadharmāḥ kāyaduścaritena samanvāgato vāṅmanoduścaritena samanvāgatas tasya kāyasya bhedād ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayaḥ kāyo 'bhinirvartate tadyathā kṛṣṇasya kutapasya nirbhāsaḥ andhakāratamisrayā vā rātryā yeṣāṃ divyaṃ cakṣuḥ suviśuddhaṃ ta enaṃ paśyanti || EĀ 18.51 || 
That woman or man of bad conduct and evil-nature, endowed with bad behaviour of the body and bad behaviour of speech and mind, with the breaking up of the body [at death] they give rise to (abhinirvartate) a form, a mind-made body. It has the appearance of a black blanket or the blinding darkness of night, which they see with the purified divine eye.
yo 'sau bhavati strī vā puruṣo vā śīlavān kalyāṇaadharmāḥ kāyaduścaritena samanvāgato vāṅmanahsucaritena samanvāgatas tasya kāyasya bhedād ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayaḥ kāyo 'bhinirvartate tadyathā śuklasya paṭasya nirbhāsaḥ jyotsnāyā vā rātryā yeṣāṃ divyaṃ cakṣuḥ suviśuddhaṃ ta enaṃ paśyanti || EĀ 18.52 ||
That woman or man of ethics and good-nature, endowed with good behaviour of the body and good behaviour of speech and mind, with the breaking up of the body [at death] produce a form, a mind made body. It has the appearance of white cloth or a moonlit night, which they see with the purified divine eye.
This phrasing is both similar to and different from Pali counterparts. The image appears to be absent from the Pali. The closest we get is this:
So kāyena duccaritaṃ caritvā vācāya duccaritaṃ caritvā manasā duccaritaṃ caritvā, kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā apāyaṃ duggatiṃ vinipātaṃ nirayaṃ upapajjati.
So kāyena sucaritaṃ caritvā vācāya sucaritaṃ caritvā manasā sucaritaṃ caritvā, kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjati. (SN i.93)
Having behaved badly with the body, behaved badly with the voice, and behaved badly with the mind, with the breaking up of the body after death, he goes to a bad destination, a state of suffering, reborn in hell.
Having behaved well with the body, behaved well with the voice, and behaved well with the mind, with the breaking up of the body after death, he goes to a good destination, reborn in heaven.
The idea of a dark and bright manomaya using much the same terminology (highlighted in bold) is reflected much later in Asaṅga's version of the antarābhava in his Bodhisattvabhūmi (Chapter 3.6; Cf Wayman 1974: 233)
dvābhyām ākārābhyāṃ tamaḥ-parāyaṇānām ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayo 'ntarābhavo nirvartate | tadyathā kṛṣṇasya kutapasya nirbhāsaḥ andhakāra-tamisrāyā vā rātryāḥ | tasmād durvarṇā ity ucyante | 
Because of the two modes [of action] thus a form which is mind-made in the interim state is produced filled with darkness, just like the appearance of a black blanket or the blinding darkness of night. Because of that they call it “inferior”. 
ye punardvābhyām ākārābhyāṃ jyotiḥ-parāyaṇās teṣām ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayo 'ntarābhavo nirvartate | tadyathā jyotsnayā rātryā vārāṇaseyakasya vā sampannasya vastrasya | tasmātsuvarṇā ityucyante | (Dutt 269 Wohihara ed 390-91)
Because of the two modes [of action] a form which mind-made in the interim state is produced which is filled with light, just like a moonlit night or excellent cloth that comes from Vārāṇasi. Therefore they call it “superior”. 
The context shows that this passage is also referring to duścarita and sucarita. One leads to a bad destination (durgati-gāmina) the other to a good destination (sugati-gāmina).

Mahāvastu & Lalitavistāra

This pair of texts, composed in Sanskrit, are often seen as transitional between early Buddhist and Mahāyāna texts. Sumi Lee doesn't go into these seminal texts or their use of manomaya kāya, perhaps because their treatment of manomaya kāya is similar to the Pali. In Sanskrit we do begin to see manomayakāya as a compound.

In the Mahāvastu (Mhv) there is a retelling of the beginning of a new epoch of the cosmos (cf DN i.17). The first beings to come into existence are self-luminous, move through the sky (antarīkṣa), are mind-made, feed on rapture, are in a state of bliss, and can move about as they wish. (svayaṃprabhāḥ antarīkṣacarā manomayā prītibhakṣāḥ sukhasthāyino yenakāmaṃgatāḥ Senart 1.338; cf. Jones 285-286). A little further on when these beings fall from this refined state due to greed, they lose the state of being a mind-made group (manomayakāyatā). Thus the usage in Mahāvastu closely reflects the Pali usage. Manomaya kāya refers to devas and is used in conjunction with this old parody of Brahmanical notions of cosmogony (which may have been hypostatised by this time).

The phrase manomaya is used just twice in the Lalitavistāra Sūtra (Lv). Firstly it is used in a gāthā:
atha khalu sunirmito devaputro rājānaṃ śuddhodanam upasaṃkramyaivam āha—manomayam ahaṃ śrīmadvaśma tad ratanāmayam |
bodhisattvasya pūjārtham upaneṣyāmi pārthiva || Lal_6.18 || [Vaidya 46]
Then indeed a beautifully formed divine child approached King Śuddhodanam and said:
I will offer a mind-made, glorious jewelled mansion;
As an act of worship of the bodhisattva, O King.
My translation here follows the Dharmachakra Translation Committee translation of the Tibetan in taking śrīmad-vaśma to mean "a glorious mansion". My dictionaries have no word vaśma[n]; it may be a hyper-Sanskritisation of vasman 'nest' (from √vas 'to dwell'). Here manomaya must mean 'made by the mind' in the sense of 'mental' or 'imaginary'. Compare ratanā-maya 'made of jewels' or 'jewelled'. Note that Bays translation obscures the presence of the word manomaya.

Secondly manomaya is once again used with reference to some devas, in this case devakanyā or the girls of the devas. They are described as divya-manomaya-ātmabhāva-pratilabdha (Vaidya 36) terms familiar from the discussion of manomaya especially DN i.197-202. The term attapaṭilābha 'acquired self' (Skt ātmapratilabdha) which Buddhaghosa glossed as attabhāva 'a state of self' (Skt ātmabhava) and the sutta describes as having three types: oḷārika, manomaya, and arūpa; with the second being associated with the rūpadhātu. So the Lv adjective means 'having the acquired state of self of a divinity' though what this means in practice is not clear. Thus in these transitional period texts we are not seeing an association with antarābhava or the afterlife at all.


One important point to make with respect to the antarābhava and manomaya kāya is that the Āgama texts reflect the view of the sect who preserved them and the Nikāya texts (largely) reflect the Theravāda view. My inclination is to explain this presence and absence as the addition of antarābhava to the texts of those who believed in it.  Of course, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility that the antarābhava has been retrospectively expunged from the Pali texts. This however suggests proactive editing on a much larger scale than I have ever encountered. It seems more likely that as time went on new ideas were added in, than that old ideas were expunged. Buddhist texts tend to be quite conservative of old ideas. Presumably some ideas were introduced and subsequently died out. For some of these we no doubt have stubs in the Canon - brief mentions with no follow up.

Our non-Pali witnesses further confuse the situation: the Chinese Āgama translations are from the 4th or 5th century CE and at least in the texts I've studied, section 5 of the Madhyāgama for example, show a higher degree of standardisation and homogenisation than the Pali texts. The Sanskrit translations are similar to the Pali texts, but also distinct in many ways, suggestive of long separation between Sanskrit- and Pali-using sects.

What we do know is that some lines of development across the spectrum of early Buddhist thought included references to a manomaya kāya in the antarābhava and others only mention manomaya kāya with respect to the psycho-cosmology of the deva realms. The development of the idea of manomaya kāya in Buddhism 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 kāya in the interim between death and rebirth.
  • Antarābhava and manomayakāya are equated, along with gandharva.
In these early Buddhist texts there are two distinct metaphysics reflecting a binary split over the time interval between death and rebirth. The sole surviving representatives of those who claimed no interval, the Theravādins, dealt with this issue as part of their comprehensive response to the problems in the tradition, as part of their Abhidhamma: a stream of citta moments, connected in up to twenty-four ways (paccayatā), according to certain restrictions (niyama) making no initial ontological distinctions. In this and related schools manomaya kāya largely remains a description of beings in the rūpadhātu well into the common era. And this does not stop Theravādins on the ground believing in an interim state, or beings in an interim state, or subtle bodies.

On the other hand if one stipulates that it takes some appreciable time for rebirth to occur, then certain questions arise. In particular we want to know what form of existence one has between death and rebirth, since non-existence is nonsensical. The proposed explanation had to avoid the trap of eternalism by not being nicca, sukha, and attan, but it had to explain the connectivity and continuity (in karmic terms). Additionally, for most Buddhists, especially in the ancient world, it could not conflict with scripture. Proponents of antarābhava had to invent a whole new field of inquiry and vocabulary for it. The previous unrelated term manomaya formed part of this new metaphysics.

In the next essay in this series we'll look at some Mahāyāna sources to get a flavour of how the idea developed in those (many and various) milieus. A comprehensive survey is neither within my means or skill level, but by looking at some influential texts, Śāntideva's anthology of sūtra texts, Śikṣasamuccaya, and Vasubandu's Bhāṣya, we can at least get a sense of how some of the more prominent Buddhists of later periods viewed manomaya kāya.



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]
Jones, J J. (1949) The Mahāvastu. Vol. 1 Luzac.
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.
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.

05 December 2014

Manomaya Kāya: Pali Texts

My essay on the word manomaya outlined how the word was originally used to refer to something made by mental activity (as opposed to 'made of mental activity'). This essay and the next will look at the idea of a body that is made by the mind (mano-maya kāya). This kind of kāya has historically been linked both to the Buddha's nirmaṇakāya (see Radich 2007) and to existence in the antarābhava. It is the latter relationship that interests us here.

As we will see below, kāya is a polysemic word. It is often used to mean 'body', but the PED explains that this is an applied meaning. Literally kāya means 'a collection or group', and suggests that it most likely derives from a verb root √ci 'to heap up', though why or how is unclear. It might be via the perfect form, cikāya 'heaped', with loss of the reduplication. In Pali the body is a conglomeration of the four mahābhūtas or great elements (earth, water, heat, and wind = pṛthivī, āpo, tejas, and vāyu). A body made of these elements is referred to as rūpin 'having form'. The PED definition of kāya covers 5 columns, making it one of the longer entries. Sometimes the different senses are played upon by Pali authors, e.g. kāye kāyānupassī which means 'contemplating the body as a collection of factors.' Equally kāya can mean a group of bodies, or a class of beings, and this combined with manomaya is the most importance sense in the Pali Nikāyas (note: a ni-kāya is also a 'collection') .

Many writers, including some who primarily write about Pali sources, employ the two words manomaya kāya as one, i.e. manomayakāya or hyphenate, i.e. manomaya-kaya. In the Pali Nikāyas and Abhidhamma it is always two words: manomaya kāya. It is not until the 5th century CE commentarial texts that the two words are compounded as one in Pali, though some Sanskrit texts use the compound as well.

A curious feature of early Buddhist cosmology is that it contained homologies between states of meditation and rebirth destinations (drawn from Vedic myth) in what we might call a psycho-cosmology. In early Buddhist texts jhāna (the noun for a particular state of integration achieved in meditation) is sometimes equivalent to rebirth in a devaloka. The verb for entering a jhāna state and for being reborn is upapajjati and its derivatives (upapanno, upapatti). We can imagine that Buddhists sought similes and metaphors to enable discussion about meditative states that tend to defy (literal) words. We can see that these jhāna states characterised by bliss, expansiveness (combined with integration), egolessness, timelessness and light accorded with some Brahmanical accounts of heaven. And while some Buddhist references to Brahmanical cosmology are obviously critical (to the extent of satirising the beliefs, e.g. the Agañña Sutta or the Tevijjā Sutta) at other times Brahmin gods are straight forward protagonists in the narrative. Gombrich (2009) has argued that, in some cases at least, what starts off as parody or metaphor becomes hypostatized and accepted on face value: e.g. the idea of a brahmaloka and dwelling with Brahmā (brahmavihāra). In order to accept brahmaloka as a rebirth destination and incorporate it into the psycho-cosmology, Buddhists had to forget that early positive references to it were ironic. (Compare The Buddha and the Lost Metaphor)

The early Buddhist suttas as preserved, represent an event horizon. We can infer a little about the processes involved in the formation of the Canon and in the composition of the texts, and we can guess at the chronology, but we cannot validate these inferences by external sources. So little survives from that period that we know next to nothing and that's as good as it gets. With this caveat we must, as always in studying Buddhist ideas, start with the early texts and see what they tell us and what we can reasonably infer from it.

Pali Suttas

Michael Radich's PhD dissertation (2007) counts nine contexts relating to manomaya kāya in the Pali suttas (2007: 229). We will have to compress this list considerably for brevity's sake (his dissertation runs to 1500 pages!). Describing one of the fruits of the ascetic life (samaññaphala) the Buddha describes the various benefits of dwelling in the fourth jhāna. Amongst which:
DN i.77 So evaṃ samāhite citte parisuddhe pariyodāte anaṅgaṇe vigatūpakkilese mudubhūte kammaniye ṭhite āneñjappatte manomayaṃ kāyaṃ abhinimmānāya cittaṃ abhinīharati abhininnāmeti. So imamhā kāyā aññaṃ kāyaṃ abhinimmināti rūpiṃ manomayaṃ sabbaṅgapaccaṅgiṃ ahīnindriyaṃ.
So with mind integrated, purified and cleansed, unblemished, corruptionless, malleable, workable, firm, and steadfast, he turns his thought (citta) and applies it to the magical creation of a mind-made body. From this body he magically creates another body, possessing form, mind-made, complete in limbs and with functioning senses.
The word I am translating as "magical creates" is abhinimmināti (abhi-nir√mā). The underlying verb √ means 'measure, mark out', while both nir√mā and abhinir√mā have the sense of miraculous or magical creation; a creation by supernatural powers. This seems to be related to the word māya as well, which originally referred to the creative power of the devas, but came to mean something magically created and thus 'an illusion'. Elsewhere I've pointed out that in legend the Buddha's mother was called Māyā and that it probably meant creatrix. The creation of this kāya is followed by some similes which describe the result as like pulling a sword from a scabbard. The whole passage is repeated at DN i.209 (The Subha Sutta is largely made up of repetitions of passages from Samaññaphala Sutta) and again in the Mahasakuludāyi Sutta  (MN 77 where I translate somewhat more literally than has been the fashion):
MN ii.17 Puna caparaṃ, udāyi, akkhātā mayā sāvakānaṃ paṭipadā, yathāpaṭipannā me sāvakā imamhā kāyā aññaṃ kāyaṃ abhinimminanti rūpiṃ manomayaṃ sabbaṅgapaccaṅgiṃ ahīnindriyaṃ.
Furthermore, Udāyi, the practice of the disciples instructed by me, is such that practised, my disciples magically create from their body, another body, having form, made by the mind, with a complete set of limbs and functioning senses.
Seyyathāpi, udāyi, puriso muñjamhā īsikaṃ pabbāheyya; tassa evamassa – ‘ayaṃ muñjo, ayaṃ īsikā; añño muñjo, aññā īsikā; muñjamhātveva īsikā pabbāḷhā’ti.
Just as if, Udāyi, a man would remove a shaft from muñja grass. He would know this is the muñja, this is the shaft. Muñja is one thing, and the shaft is another. The shaft has been removed from the muñja. [See my article on arrow making materials in Pali]
Seyyathā vā panudāyi, puriso asiṃ kosiyā pabbāheyya; tassa evamassa – ‘ayaṃ asi, ayaṃ kosi; añño asi aññā kosi; kosiyātveva asi pabbāḷho’ti.
Or just as if a man were to remove a sword from its scabbard. He would know: this is the sword, this is scabbard. The sword is one and the scabbard another. The sword has been removed from the scabbard.
Seyyathā vā, panudāyi, puriso ahiṃ karaṇḍā uddhareyya; tassa evamassa – ‘ayaṃ ahi, ayaṃ karaṇḍo; añño ahi, añño karaṇḍo; karaṇḍātveva ahi ubbhato’ti.
Just a man would lift a snake from a basket. He would know: this is the snake, this is the basket. The snake is one, the basket is another. The snake has been lifted from the basket.
Snake charmer with cobra
in wicker basket on a train.
Maharashtra, 2003.
my photo.
The Chinese counterpart Madhyāgama 207 does not contain this passage. Note that karaṇḍa is a general word for a container, typically a small wicker basket. It doesn't mean 'skin' or 'slough' in any dictionary I have access to. Indeed the Critical Pali Dictionary says "the meaning 'slough' is erroneously assumed...". Practically, the idea of "pulling a snake from its slough" is deeply unlikely. Snakes do shed (or slough) their skins from time to time, but people don't go around pulling them out. People avoid handling snakes! The more likely word for a snake's skin is taca (Skt tvac). Indeed PED sv taca says "Of the cast-off skin of a snake: urago va jiṇṇaŋ tacaŋ jahāti". The 'slough' idea is a mistake based on the commentary which at MNA 3.263 says "karaṇḍa: this means the 'jacket' (or 'armour' = kañcuka) of a snake (ahi) rather than a basket [woven from] of bamboo" (Karaṇḍāti idampi ahikañcukassa nāmaṃ, na vilīvakaraṇḍakassa). The term ahikañcuka (armour of a snake) only occurs in the commentaries. Anyone who has been to India has probably seen a wandering snake charmer, with a snake in a small wicker basket.

The muñja grass and sword similes are cited in the Jain Sūtrakṛtāṅga 2.1 (Jacobi 1895: 340) or in Prakrit Sūyagaḍaṃga, along with a few similar images. The Sūtrakṛtāṅga is thought to date from the 2nd century CE (making it contemporary with Nāgārjuna) and according to Johannes Bronkhorst it shows considerable influence from Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma (2011: 131). The similes given in a discussion on whether the jīva or soul, which is the same as the ātman, and the body are different.
Those who maintain that the soul is something different from the body, do not see the following (objections):
'As a man draws a sword from the scabbard and shows it (you, saying): "Friend, this is the sword, and that is the scabbard," so nobody can draw (the soul from the body) and show it (you, saying): "Friend, this is the soul, and that is the body." 
The Sūtrakṛtāṅga warns against people who hold such views: "This murderer says: 'Kill, dig, slay, burn, cook, cut or break to pieces, destroy! Life ends here; there is no world beyond.' (Jacobi 340)

In the Pali example the other body (aññaṃ kāyaṃ) is made from this body (imamhā kāyā - the ablative case) and it has form (rūpin). In the description of manomaya, Sue Hamilton emphasised that manomaya is not intended to convey an ontological difference. Both the originating body and the created body are rūpin i.e. 'possess form'. This means that any body created by this process is accessible to the five senses (it can be seen, heard, touched etc). The idea of an immaterial "subtle body" which is made of different stuff seems not to be intended at any point in the Pali texts.

Another thing to note about the meditator creating a mind-made body is that they do not abandon their regular body. At no point do the texts say that someone who creates a mind-made body and leaves the kāmadhātu forever. Thus the creation of a mind-made body is, at best, like an out-of-body experience. I've previously discussed how OBEs might have been interpreted: Origin of the Idea of the Soul.

This sense of concentric layers, like Russian dolls, conveyed by the similes is reminiscent of the Upaniṣadic model of the universe centred on ātman. For example in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad:
tasmādvā etasmāt prāṇamayāt | anyo'ntara ātmā manomayaḥ | tenaiṣa pūrṇaḥ || 2.3 ||
Therefore, from this [self] made of breath, there is another self made of mind which fills it.
For the Upaniṣads there are more subtle selves within each self (anyo ātmā = añño attā) with brahman underlying all. We'll come back to this passage in more detail below.

As with the snake 'skin' there is another area in which we need to roll back some of the contemporary scholarship. Sometimes this creation of a new body is linked to the subsequent accomplishments such as the development of supernatural powers (iddhi) (Lee 2014:76, Radich 2007: 230-1). In the text however the two are not linked, they are two distinct benefits of fourth jhāna. In fact the section on manomaya kāya is definitely finished by the stock phrase before the discussion of iddhi begins.
Idampi kho, mahārāja, sandiṭṭhikaṃ sāmaññaphalaṃ purimehi sandiṭṭhikehi sāmaññaphalehi abhikkantatarañca paṇītatarañca. (DN i.77)
This too, Majesty, is a visible fruit of the ascetic life, more excellent and perfect that previous fruits of the ascetic life. 
Radich (232) argues that a manomaya kāya "constitutes a necessary precondition for [iddhis]", for example, the supernatural power of travelling to Brahmā's world "in the body'" (as he puts it) must refer to the manomaya kāya in the previous section. So at DN i.77 the Pāli reads:
Yāva brahmalokāpi kāyena vasaṃ vatteti. 
At will, he also goes as far as the realm of Brahmā with a body.
This is another fruit of the ascetic life and though it is presented sequentially, there is no explicit prerequisite except attaining the fourth jhāna. Elsewhere, as Radich (237-8) notes, we do find the Buddha recalling going to the Brahmāloka with a manomaya kāya.
Abhijānāmi khvāhaṃ, ānanda, iddhiyā manomayena kāyena brahmalokaṃ upasaṅkamitā ti. 
Ānanda I do recall, going to Brahmā's realm with a mind-made body using supernatural powers.
Radich however stops his reading at that point which is a mistake. Because the next statement that the Buddha makes is:
Abhijānāmi khvāhaṃ, ānanda, iminā cātumahābhūtikena kāyena iddhiyā brahmalokaṃ upasaṅkamitā ti. 
Ānanda, I do recall, going to Brahmā's realm with a body of the four major elements using supernatural powers.
In other words there is no need for the Buddha to assume a manomaya kāya to visit Brahmā's world, he can do it in his ordinary body composed of earth, water, heat and wind! This considerably weakens Radich's argument that supernatural powers require a manomaya kāya. As the Buddha says (SN v.282):
Acchariyā ceva, ānanda, tathāgatā acchariyadhammasamannāgatā ca, abbhutā ceva, ānanda, tathāgatā abbhutadhammasamannāgatā ca.
Ānanda the tathāgatas are awesome and endowed with awesomeness; the tathāgatas are amazing and endowed with amazingness.
This is also consistent with the Buddha's idea of "dwelling with Brahmā here and now" (brahmam etaṃ vihāraṃ idhamāhu) at the end of the Karaṇīya Metta Sutta. I follow Richard Gombrich (2009) in considering this part of a re-purposing of Vedic religious ideas (specifically worship of a creator god called Brahmā) for Buddhist ends. The peak experience of being full of mettā, karuṇā, muditā and upekkhā, is just like being in Brahmā's world (brahmavihāra) or just like (re)union with Brahmā (brahmasahavyata) as described by Brahmins. In the Tevijjā Sutta the Buddha asserts:
brahmānaṃ cāhaṃ, vāseṭṭha, pajānāmi brahmalokañca brahmalokagāminiñca paṭipadaṃ. 
I know Brahmā, Vāseṭṭha, and Brahmā's domain, and the way leading to Brahmā's domain.
In other words the Buddha is seen to assert that Heaven can literally be experienced here and now, that heaven really exists and he (the Buddha) knows the way to Heaven, but he does this without any commitment to the idea of "Heaven" as understood by theists. He uses the Brahmanical word but uses it with a private meaning without explaining to the audience that he is doing this. The context, and the metaphorical and didactic nature, of his remarks seems to have been lost however and later Buddhists simply took these words on face value. Despite clear satirical intent in mentions of the Brahmaloka and other Brahmin cosmological ideas, Buddhists understood there to be a place (in the sense of somewhere one would be (re)born) called brahmaloka and that the Buddha could go there at will. (See also A Parody of Vedic Belief)

This issue highlights the metaphysical problem of allowing supernatural agents and forces. Such things demand an explanation and we try to explain them, but natural explanations are insufficient, so we tend to do so using more supernatural agents or forces. Reductive explanations short-circuit this tendency to proliferation and bring the whole thing down to earth. However they tend to discount miracles rather than account for them and many religieux find this objectionable.

A more interesting and important occurrence of manomaya kāya is at AN iii.50, where a Vesālī layman called Ugga is very generous towards the Buddha. My translation here follows Bodhi (2012) for reasons that will become apparent.
Kālakato ca uggo gahapati vesāliko aññataraṃ manomayaṃ kāyaṃ upapajji.
And having died, the landlord Ugga was reborn amongst a group of the mind-made [devas].
Here as Bodhi notes (2012: 1727-8, n.1033) kāya is taken by Buddhaghosa to mean 'group' rather than personal body (this nuance seems to be lost on Radich and Lee). As noted before, 'group' is the literal meaning of kāya. The commentary on this passage says:
"Aññataraṃ manomayan" ti suddhāvāsesu ekaṃ jhānamanena nibbattaṃ devakāyaṃ.
"Something mind-made" [means] one group of devas (devakāya) in the pure abodes created by mental activity (manas) in jhāna.
The reading is confirmed at AN iii.348 "tusitaṃ kāyaṃ upapanno" (reborn in the Tusita group); and at AN iii.122. This raises an interesting possibility. We've seen in discussing manomaya that it is most often associated with the deva realms. The Aṅguttara Nikāya also has a version of the discussion with Udāyī we discussed above. In the Nirodha Sutta (AN 5.166, iii.192f) we discover a conflict in progress. Udāyī maintains that having been reborn amongst a group of the mind-made (aññataraṃ manomayaṃ kāyaṃ upapanno) that is it impossible to emerge from the cessation of mental activity and experience (saññāvedayitanirodhaṃ). In other words Udāyī is claiming that rebirth amongst the rūpa devas is tantamount to vimutti.
[Buddha] kaṃ pana tvaṃ, udāyi, manomayaṃ kāyaṃ paccesī ti?
               What then, would you call "manomaya kāya"?
[Udāyī]   Ye te, bhante, devā arūpino saññāmayā ti.
               Sir, those formless devas that consist [only] of mental activity.
[Buddha] Kiṃ nu kho tuyhaṃ, udāyi, bālassa abyattassa bhaṇitena!
               What are you saying, Udāyī, is foolish and ignorant!
So on face value (see Bodhi n.1161) Udāyī is confusing devas who are formless (arūpa) with devas who have form (rūpa), though more precisely he is mistaken about the significance of attaining the formless jhānas (or their cosmological equivalents) in which mental activity and perception ceases. Thus we might read Udāyī as one who practised the arūpāyatana (formless realms) just like the Buddha's former teachers Āḷāra Kālāma and Udaka Rāmaputta. He came into conflict with orthodox Buddhists who focussed on the jhānas. Perhaps at this point the two approaches to meditation were not entirely integrated into Buddhism? The AN narrative then drifts off into a side story about respecting elder monks (i.e. it loses the plot). But it makes it certain that manomaya kāya here is "a group of the mind-made devas".

At AN v.337 the Buddha instructs Nandiya on devānusati, the practice of reflecting on devas:
Seyyathāpi, nandiya, bhikkhu asamayavimutto karaṇīyaṃ attano na samanupassati katassa vā paticayaṃ; evamevaṃ kho, nandiya, yā tā devatā atikkammeva kabaḷīkārāhārabhakkhānaṃ devatānaṃ sahabyataṃ aññataraṃ manomayaṃ kāyaṃ upapannā, tā karaṇīyaṃ attano na samanupassanti katassa vā paticayaṃ.
Just as if, Nandiya, a Bhikkhu timelessly-liberated perceives nothing to be done for themselves or any need to add to what has been done. Just so, Nandiya, those devas who surpass the devas that eat solid food, reborn in companionship with a group of the mind-made, they perceive nothing to be done for themselves or need to add to what has been done.
And the Buddha recommends that Nandiya establish "this internal mindfulness" (ajjhattaṃ sati upaṭṭhāpetabbā). This idea is not without its problems. Firstly, Buddhist cosmology is unequivocal in treating devas as inhabiting saṃsāra and thus fundamentally unlike the liberated. If the devas mentioned consider themselves free, then they are, by definition, deluded. But the Buddha is still recommending this reflection as a positive quality. The other recollections or reflections involve the tathāgata, the Dhamma, kalyāṇa mittas, and one's own generosity, which are all unambiguously positive. So we must presume that these devas are also seen positively. These reflections are recommended once one has established faith, virtue, vigour, mindfulness, integration and understanding (saddhā, sīla, viriya, sati, samādhi & paññā). But still manomaya kāya is a group of devas, not the subtle body of an individual.

In a single (repeated) passage the Buddha assumes a manomaya kāya to teach a disciple (Theragāthā 901 = AN iv.160) :
mama saṅkappamaññāya satthā loke anuttaro manomayena kāyena iddhiyā upasaṅkami.
Comprehending the drift of my thoughts, the unsurpassed teacher in the world approached by magical power with a body made of mental activity.
For Radich, with his interest in precursors to the nirmaṇakāya (reflecting D T Suzuki's comments on the Laṅkavatara Sūtra - see next essay), this verse is especially interesting. We can simply note that as the Buddha was accomplished in jhāna and otherwise capable of any number of miracles, the mention of a manomaya kāya in this context is not as astonishing as he seems to find it. In fact here two we could read the Buddha as appearing with a retinue of mind-made devas.


To summarise, manomaya kāya most often means 'a group of the mind-made' with reference to a group of devas. Secondarily it can mean a fully-formed (sabbaṅgapaccaṅgiṃ) and functioning (ahīnindriyaṃ) body, visible to the senses (rūpin), that is created from one's body (kāyā: ablative case) by mental activity in the fourth jhāna. For Buddhists entering (upa√pad) jhāna is functionally equivalent to rebirth (upa√pad) in the homologous deva realm. Everything points to association of this phrase with devas in one way or another.

We can now confirm from Pali sources that manomaya does not mean that they consist of mental activity because their bodies are rūpin, i.e. possess rūpa, but that they are created by mental activity (as opposed to being born presumably). Hamilton emphasises that the difference in bodies made by mental activity is a matter of varying density of form and that no distinct ontology seems to be implied in the Pali texts when the word manomaya is used. 

We might called the mixing of psychological (meditative states) and cosmological (rebirth realms) in the Buddhist worldview "psycho-cosmology". In the Buddhist psycho-cosmology there is no strong distinction between jhāna and a devaloka. While some Buddhist hypostatize this relationship and treat the devalokas as literal realms of rebirth, it's possible that the relationship was more abstract or metaphorical in the past. And this is the context within which manomaya is mainly used.

Clearly the cosmological ideas of devas and Heaven derive from the Vedic tradition, but they underwent a series of transformations. In the received tradition we find manomaya kāya associated with the antarābhava and the gandharva in explaining the transition from one life to another. Having looked into the history of the various ideas, we can see that this conjunction is far from being intuitive. The Pali texts show no sign of it, so having surveyed them we must look beyond the Theravāda tradition to the traditions which accepted an antarābhava, because it is precisely where the antarābhava requires explanation that we find other more marginal terms (like manomaya and gandharva) being co-opted into larger narratives of the afterlife.


Aurobindo (2004) The Upanishads: Kena and other Upanishads. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Dept. 
Bronkhorst, Johannes. (2011) Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism. Brill.  
Bucknell, Roderick S. (2011) ‘The Historical Relationship Between the Two Chinese Saṃyuktāgama Translations.’ Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal. 24:35-70.
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.
Jacobi, Hermann. (1895) Jaina Sutras, Part II (Sacred Books of the East, 45). 
Radich, Michael David. (2007) The Somatics of Liberation: Ideas about Embodiment in Buddhism from Its Origins to the Fifth Century C.E. [PhD. Dissertation].

28 November 2014

Manomaya: Background to Mind-Made Bodies.

© British Museum
In considering the Buddhist afterlife one of the more obscure terms, amidst a plethora of obscure terms, is manomaya kāya or 'mind-made body'. In the book of her PhD dissertation, Sue Hamilton (1996) explains that manomaya is one of the most obscure terms in the Pali Canon (138). This partly because of intrinsic ambiguity and partly because the word is used ambiguously. Also, Non-Theravāda Ābhidharmika Buddhists employed the word in a quite different metaphysical framework. This first of three essays on manomaya kāya will examine the Vedic and Pali uses of the term manomaya as a prerequisite to trying to understand the subsequent use manomaya kāya in the context of the Buddhist afterlife. I'll use the framework employed by Hamilton, though I won't always use her exact analysis.

PED tells us that the word maya is an adjective meaning 'made of' or 'consisting of' or 'originating in' (probably from √ 'measure'). Thus the sense is similar to the metaphorical idiom "the measure of a man" in which we comment on "what a man is made of". It's related to the word māyā, which means 'to make, or create' (and later 'to make appear, illusion', 'to deceive'). The form maya is only used in Pali as the second member of a compound in the form x-maya where it generally means 'made of x' or 'consisting of x', though for example we'd translate aggimaya simply as 'fiery' (i.e. made of fire); sovaṇṇamaya 'golden'; dhūmamaya 'smoky' and so on.

Manas is also a polysemic word. It can mean virtually any phenomena that comes under the heading 'mental', from an individual thought, to the internal faculty of registering mental activity, to the entire apparatus of cognition, or mental activity generally. In some texts it even appears to substitute for hadaya. In Pali it is frequently used synonymously with, and indistinguishably from, citta, viññāṇa, and sometimes saññā; but later takes on the more fixed reference as the mental sense faculty (counterpart to the physical senses). As with all too many Buddhist technical terms, understanding any particular occurrence of manas in a text requires attention to the context.

Grammar Note: Textual Pali is uncomfortable with nouns ending in consonants that it inherits from earlier phases of the language. Thus the declensions of the word manas are a little confused. It's common to cite the word in the nominative singular, mano, as though it is an -a noun; and to see -a forms such as manena (instrumental singular). However it retains forms such as manaso, manasā and manasi (genitive, instrumental and locative singular) that reflect the form manas. Both forms of the instrumental singular occur, but manasā is more common in the suttas and manena in the later literature. Similarly for the genitive singular manaso/manassa. This suggests that as time went on Pali users saw manas more and more as mana.

We must be quite careful not to project modern ideas about the mind backwards in time and attribute them to the ancient Buddhists. Mind was not a function of the brain, but more likely of the heart (which we now know to be a slab of muscle for pumping blood). No distinction was made between thoughts and emotions (both were lumped into the category citta), but instead experience was understood as having physical (kāyika) and mental (cetasika) aspects depending on how they were presented to awareness, i.e. whether awareness arose in dependence on the five physical senses or the manas. Mind or consciousness was not a theatre of, or a container for, experience (see The 'Mind as Container' Metaphor). There was no resting-state consciousness waiting for sensory input, but instead we become aware of something when sense object and sense organ overlap and create the conditions for mental activity to arise (if any aspect of this set up is waiting for stimulus it is the organ itself, which is conceived of as being literally struck by sense impressions). The implication being that when there is no input, or, as in deep sleep, no viññāna to process the input, then we are not aware. Most importantly the ancient Buddhists focussed exclusively on cognition as a process rather than the mind as an entity. Where we are tempted to translate a Pali word as 'the mind', we'll find that 'mental activity' is almost always a better choice in the sense of more accurately conveying the understanding of the authors. There is no sense of having an organ 'the mind', which does the activity of thinking (as we conceptualise it now). 'The mind' precisely is the activity of thinking. Lastly as far as we can make out from their literature, the early Buddhists were not mind-body dualists, which is to say that, though they could make a distinction between mental and physical cognitions, they did not suppose the mind and body to be made of different stuff. To the extent they thought about ontology (which was seldom if ever) they seem to consider that phenomena were all of one kind no matter to which sense organ they presented themselves.

In other words, many if not most, of the fundamental metaphors we use for thinking about the mind would not have made sense to early Buddhists. They would not recognise our conception of the mind or consciousness. And this means that we struggle to see the mind from their point of view also.

According to Hamilton, the compound mano-maya can be analysed in at least three different ways:
  1. made of mental activity.
  2. made by mental activity,
  3. made in mental activity; originating in mental activity.
That is, we can read mano as being in genitive (manaso mayaṃ), instrumental (manasā mayaṃ) or locative (manasi mayaṃ) case respectively. The dative case clearly doesn't apply. I'd add the ablative case: made from mental activity (manasā mayaṃ). Options 2. and 3b. amount to much the same thing, but option 3a. is very unlikely because Pali seemingly lacks the metaphor THE MIND IS CONTAINER. As we will see in the next essay the manomaya kāya qua body is made from this body (kāyā in the ablative case) [by mental activity]. Thus the ablative case not applicable.

There is a contrast between 1. and 2. The ontological implications are quite distinct. If something is made of mental activity then that suggests that mental activity is a kind of stuff something can be made of. The implication is that this is a different stuff than the body is made of (especially in the context of manomaya kāya). On the other hand if something is made by, or made in, mental activity, then it does not imply a separate stuff. Hamilton emphasises that in schemes like the khandhas, the interest is not in what a human is, in terms of substances, but in only in terms of the structure of human experience. And even the elements (mahābhūta) from which we are made are defined experientially (e.g. earth is characterised by resistance, colour, etc). In the Aṅguttara Nikāya commentary we find this gloss of manomayamanena nibbattitaṃ "constructed by the mind" (Manorathapūraṇiyā 1.209) indicating that Buddhaghosa also understood the instrumental to apply. This means that we expect manomaya to mean "made by mental activity". Now we must look more closely at how it is used in practice to see if this is correct. 

Hamilton tackles the term in four contexts:
  1. Dhammapada 1 & 2.
  2. A single case of manomaya referring to manodhātu.
  3. As a synonym for the cosmological rūpadhātu, in which there is no ontological discontinuity between the body (rūpa) and the mind (arūpa).
  4. The idea of a manomaya kāya in meditation.
For the purposes of studying the Buddhist afterlife, it is the last two the mainly concern us, while and 4. will form part of a subsequent essay on manomaya kāya. However we need to establish the parameters of what is meant by manomaya.

1. In the case of Dhammapada my analysis, based as it is on Hamilton's second book (2000), is close in spirit to the analysis found in her first book (1996). The conclusion is that manomayā dhammā means that experiences are made by mental activity, or, in other words reliant on mental processes. Dhammas are mind-y or mind-ish. This is not Idealism because experiences are also reliant on sense objects, which do not depend on mental activity. The emphasis on mental activity is methodological, because freedom from automatic responses to sense objects comes from a disciplined mind. Hence mental activity takes precedence (mano pubbaṅgamā). The contrast is explicitly between manas and dhammā. We might see this as a contrast between sense faculty (indriya) and sense objects (ālambanā), but the focus of the first lines of both Dhp 1 & 2 seems to be on mental activity generally and experiences generally. The other two padas however, are not about having experiences, but about acting on them. Mano precedes dhammās, but it is the state of mind in which one acts that determine whether we subsequently experience sukha or dukkha (see also AN i.11). Hamilton argues that to translate manas as "mind" here is a mistake of reification. The sense is more like "thinking" as an action rather than mind an entity; or thinking that sets actions in motion. 

2. In the case of manomaya related to manodhātu Hamilton cites a verse from SN iv.71 (SN 35:94):
Papañca-saññā itarītarā narā,
Papañca-yantā upayanti saññino;
Mano-mayaṃ geha-sitañca sabbaṃ,
Panujja nekkhamma-sitaṃ irīyati.
Men with any perceptions of proliferation,
Approach the workings of proliferation connected with perception;
And dispelling everything mind-made connected with home;
They proceed to a life of renunciation.
Hamilton sees this as referring to "the fact that all saṃsāric phenomena are processed by the manodhātu" (143). That is, experience is conditioned by (maya) the mind (manas). My reading of pada b and my translation are somewhat different from Hamilton (and from Bodhi). I read papañca-yantā as "the workings or mechanisms (yanta) of proliferation (papañca)." In other words the verse suggests that once one begins to realise just how reactive mental activity is, one starts to lose interest in worldly things and wants more and more to follow up the insights, and this naturally leads to a renunciate lifestyle. Mano-maya is explicitly related "the home" (geha) as a metonym for all that is connected with ordinary daily life (with all its attachments). In other words here mental activity is responsible for proliferation and thus suffering.

This point warrants a brief digression. Experience is never "direct", despite the claims of some Buddhists. Experience is always a construct (e.g. of indriya, ālambana, and vijñāna); always mediated by mental activity; and only some aspects of experience are ever presented to awareness. Even in what we think of as integrated states such as jhāna, we stop experiencing the mundane sensual sensation (stop hearing the sounds around, stop experiencing our body) and become absorbed in the sensations associated with the object of meditation. What we are aware of is always partial, and always mediated by manas. Hamilton points out (143) that all experience, including experiences like insight, involves manas: "manodhātu is the door through which saṃsāra is subjectively experienced." And this is the reason experience is termed manomaya.

3.1 The Vedic Background

In order to establish a basis for relation between manomaya and the cosmological rūpadhātu (as distinct from the sensory experience of rūpa), Hamilton surveys various Vedic references to the power of the mind. For example in Ṛgveda X.129.4 desire is the first seed of mental activity. "The power of the mind originates in the process of thinking, or willing" (144). However, even in similar Upaniṣadic expressions the context is still ritual rather than ethical. "Desire" means the intense concentration of the sacrificer on the desired object of the sacrifice (very often a good afterlife). However, more of the power of the mind is associated with knowing: "Knowledge of a thing gives power over it, and the importance of knowledge underlies the sacrificial rationale: it is knowledge which gives the ritual actions their power" (145). 

The word manomaya itself occurs only once in Ṛgveda at RV 10.85.12 which describes the marriage of Sūryā (daughter of the Sun) and Soma: "Sūryā mounted a chariot made of thought as she went to her husband" (áno manasmáyaṃ sūryā́, ā́rohat prayatī́ pátim) [Doniger's translation]. As with all the Ṛgveda sūktas, what this means is open to interpretation. However there is another word manoratha, a chariot of the mind, which means 'a wish, a desire' especially one expressed indirectly. Along with Radich (2007: 225 - he cites a work in Japanese at this point) I think we can see this as the bride's enthusiasm to begin her sexual life with her husband. The Ṛgveda is unembarrassed about such things. 

In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (BU) 4.4.5 we find the following passage reminiscent of Dhp 1-2:
sa vā ayam ātmā brahma vijñānamayo manomayo prāṇamayaś cakṣurmayaḥ śrotramayaḥ pṛthivīmaya āpomayo vāyumaya ākāśamayas tejomayo 'tejomayaḥ kāmamayo 'kāmamayaḥ krodhamayo 'krodhamayo dharmamayo 'dharmamayaḥ sarvamayaḥ |
The ātman is brahman: made of consciousness, made of mind, made of breath, made of the eye, made of ear, made of earth, made of water, made of wind, made of space, made of light, made of darkness, made of desire, made of non-desire, made of anger, made of non-anger, made of Dharma, made of non-Dharma, made of everything.
Note here the implication is very much "made of", but this is a passage from an Upaniṣad that is concerned with ontology, thus identical terms can take different meanings. The passage is part of a discussion of karma and rebirth which may well have influenced Buddhist ideas (BU 4.4). Hamilton notes that the first three items on the list (vijñānamaya, manomaya, and prāṇamaya) are taken up by the Taittirīya Upaniṣad (2.3) as an analysis of human existence. Breath makes up the bodily self; within this is a mind-made (manomaya) self; and within this again is a consciousness-made self (vijñānamaya). Hamilton sees this as evidence of existence on various levels of subtlety and density. While the Chāndogya Upaniṣad  (CU 6.5) speaks of three modes of existence: coarse (sthaviṣṭha), medium (madhyama) and subtlest (aṇiṣṭha). She says, "In corresponding to an intermediate subtle level of cosmological existence, manomaya therefore also corresponds to an intermediate stage on the path to liberation." (146)

Each more subtle mode seems to exist within the less subtle, suggesting concentric layers. Late Vedic existence, then, has three layers. There is an interesting difference in old and new Vedic views on the cosmos that Hamilton does not pick up on. The old Vedic cosmos was separated into earth, sky (literally 'between'), and heaven (pṛthivī, antarīkṣa, and svarga). These were layers of a flat universe one on top of the other, with fire-based rituals (yajña) providing a way of bridging the gap. The new Vedic cosmos of the Upaniṣads is radically different in its geometry. This universe originates at a singularity in the heart (likened to a cave) where ātman dwells. From this central point the universe expands out in all directions. Whereas old Vedic ritual homologies enabled the sacrificer to ensure ṛta (roughly 'harmony') in the cosmos by performing the appropriate actions in the ritual; the new Vedic ātman centred universe was identified with, and established on the basis of, brahman. The one who identified with ātman in themselves, not only identified with the whole cosmos (idaṃ sarvaṃ), but, through the magic of homology, they actually became the whole cosmos. In Ṛgveda 10.90 the universe is created by the carving up of the primordial man (Puruṣa) as a sacrificial victim. In the Upaniṣads the integrated individual becomes the whole cosmos. This meant that using fire rituals to bridge the layers was unnecessary, because actually being the whole cosmos, obviates the need for anything so crude. Hamilton emphasises that there are no ontological discontinuities in either the old three tiered or the new concentric cosmos. However the early Upaniṣadic accounts of this cosmos are not systematic or even consistent.

Explicit reference to a subtle body (liṅga śarīra or sūkṣma śarīra) is rare, in fact singular, in the early Upaniṣads, but common in later Upaniṣads and in the commentaries of Śaṅkara. "Śaṅkara clearly identifies the manomaya body with the subtle body" (148). The equivalent word/words do not occur in Pali, even in the commentaries. We'll have to return to the subject of possible cross pollination with non-Buddhist religious ideas about subtle bodies in the next essay.

Buddhists analyse a person into one rūpakkhandha (masses of form) and four arūpakkhandha (masses without form). However Hamilton is quick to emphasise that, again, this is not an ontological distinction, not indicative of substance dualism (despite what many Buddhists think). From the Buddhist point of view all of the khandhas are experiential and all have the same nature, i.e. they are all impermanent, disappointing and insubstantial (in the sense of not providing a suitable anchor point for self identification). Despite later trends in Buddhist thought, rūpa/arūpa is an epistemological rather than ontological statement. Both impermanence and dependent arising are specifically features of mental activity in early Buddhist texts. In this worldview, though we are certain about the conditioned nature of experience, we are still none the wiser as to the nature of objects or the nature of the mind. But, as Hamilton says, this doesn't matter because: "What the phenomena are, in the ultimate sense, is irrelevant to attaining liberating insight" (149). This limitation on the domain of application of Buddhist ideas in early Buddhism is vital to understanding the basic metaphysics of early Buddhism. The philosophical problems involved in trying to generalise this observation about mental activity as a Theory of Everything are huge.

Buddhists also divided the "world" into three (flat) layers: kāmadhātu, rūpadhātu and arūpadhātu. However Buddhists added a twist in creating homologies between cosmological and psychological experiences. Each layer corresponds both to a realm or collection of realms in which beings can be reborn and to levels or states of meditation. Beings born in the various sub-levels of the kāmadhātu have form (rūpa) and experience sensual desire; and this corresponds to everyday consciousness. In the singular rūpadhātu beings have form (though it's not yet clear what this means); this corresponds to first four 'rūpa' jhānas which are characterised by increasing integration (samādhi) of the mind and the falling away of mental activity leaving equanimity. Finally in the various levels of arūpadhātu, beings who are formless and corresponds to the second lot of four 'arūpa' jhānas.

In the Ariyapariyesana Sutta the Buddha remarks that attaining the ākiñcaññāyatana (the sphere of nothingness; aka the third arūpajhāna) only leads to ākiñcaññāyatanūpapatti which literally means "rebirth in the sphere of nothingness"; where the verbal noun upapatti is the word most often used in connection with action of being reborn. The main sense is probably that having attained the ākiñcaññāyatana all that results is coming and going between ordinary awareness and ākiñcaññāyatana. There is no permanent radical reorientation of the psyche that we would usually equate with nibbāna. However, there is a implication of literal rebirth in the arūpadhātu or formless realm which corresponds to the psychological state.

Although the levels are to some extent reified into actual rebirth destinations, and elaborated on in this vein by commentators, this model seems to have been used as a metaphor for spiritual progress with increasing levels of attainment, purity, subtlety, and integration. Still there is no ontological distinction between the levels, they represent milestones on a continuous spectrum of attainment. Hamilton is thus cautious about the reading of, say, rūpadhātu as a literal place of rebirth which would have stronger ontological implications. There is some tension here between what seems to be implied by the suttas and how later Buddhists read the suttas. At some point Buddhists (including Māhāyānikas) abandoned any ontological reticence they had about rebirth realms.

3.2 Manomaya in the Pāḷi Suttas.

The term manomaya, then, is already in use in late Vedic texts which pre-date Buddhism and might reasonable be thought to influence early Buddhists. In Pali it is used in a similar way in the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta (DN 9). Poṭṭhapāda asks the Buddha if self (attan) and mental activity (saññā) are the same thing or different. Asked in turn what kind of self (attan) he believes in Poṭṭhapāda (described as a paribbājaka), declares three successive kinds of self, each of which is criticised by the Buddha.
"Oḷārikaṃ kho ahaṃ, bhante, attānaṃ paccemi rūpiṃ cātumahābhūtikaṃ kabaḷīkārāhārabhakkhan" ti
I believe in a material self (oḷārika attan), Bhante, with form (rūpa), the four main elements and nourished by material food
"Manomayaṃ kho ahaṃ, bhante, attānaṃ paccemi sabbaṅgapaccaṅgiṃ ahīnindriyan" ti.
I believe in a mind-made self (manomaya attan) with a complete set of limbs and functioning senses.
"Arūpiṃ kho ahaṃ, bhante, attānaṃ paccemi saññāmayan" ti
I believe in a formless self (arūpin attan) made of mental activity.
In each case the Buddha responds that:
Evaṃ santaṃ kho te, poṭṭhapāda, aññāva saññā bhavissati añño attā.... atha imassa purisassa aññā ca saññā uppajjanti, aññā ca saññā nirujjhanti. Iminā kho etaṃ, poṭṭhapāda, pariyāyena veditabbaṃ yathā aññāva saññā bhavissati añño attā" ti.
That being so, Poṭṭhapāda, saññā would be one thing and attan another... then [given such a self] some mental activity would arise in a person, and some would cease. The situation would be understood this way: saññā is one thing and attan is another.
A couple of little notes. The word attan has several references: it can mean body (as it might do here). Hīnidriya, i.e. hīna-indriya, means 'defective senses'. In the compound saññāmaya we're not entirely sure what saññā means. It can mean 'name'; 'the mind' (i.e. mental activity) generally, and the mental activity of 'perception' (or apperception) specifically. Walsh translates 'perception', but I think the more general sense probably applies here and have translated appropriately.

The main point here is that however one conceives of the self in relation to the three modes of existence, the self and mental activity are not identical. The reason is obvious to Buddhist thinkers: mental activity arises and passes away and a self is said to be permanent. Nothing that arises and passes away can be the permanent self. Or, the immortal soul cannot be found in experience (and for Buddhists experience is the only source of knowledge). Indeed the preceding paragraph in the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta establishes that knowledge arises on the specific condition of saññā:
"saññā paṭhamaṃ uppajjati, pacchā ñāṇaṃ, saññuppādā ca pana ñāṇuppādo hotī" ti
Mental activity arises first, knowledge arises after; and from the arising of mental activity knowledge arises.
With that proviso this passage seems as though it might reflect a view similar to that in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad above, where manomaya attan reflects the Sanskrit manomaya ātman idea of a subtle body. But note that here the Buddha rejects the idea as irrelevant to his liberation project.

Later in the text (DN i.197-202) the Buddha acknowledges the three types of attan: here referred to as attapaṭilābha 'acquired self'. The commentary glosses attapaṭilābha = attabhāva and Hamilton associates each with a level of existence (and we can additionally relate these to the three levels of the cosmos):
  • oḷārika attapaṭilābha = kāmabhava ~ kāmadhātu
  • manomaya attapaṭilābha = rūpabhava ~ rūpadhātu
  • arūpa attapaṭilābha = arūpabhava ~ arūpadhātu
However in each case the Buddha is more concerned with the contradictions of identifying aspects of experience with the self, and with how to get rid of such an idea of self. One gets the sense here that the Buddha is taking his interlocutors beliefs on face value and then turning the conversation on its head by showing that there is nothing desirable about any form of existence; and what's more the Buddha's teaching can be used to end (pahāna) all forms of existence. Thus I think here that Hamilton dwells too much on the characteristics of the different types of attapaṭilābha. They might be someone's view, but they don't form part of the early Buddhist worldview.

The Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1), in its parody of Brahmanical belief, talks about beings born in the ābhassaro brahmā world who are mind-made. They feed on rapture (pīti), are self-luminous (sayaṃpabho), move through the intermediate realm (antalikkha-caro) and are beautiful (subhaṭṭhāyin). In other words they fit the sort of paradigm of floaty, ethereal, disembodied beings, like angels. The same passage occurs in the Mahāvastu (I'll deal with this along with other non-Pali Buddhist sources). Though note that they move through the intermediate realm (Skt antarīkṣa) which in Vedic thought is between heaven (svarga or devaloka) and earth. Does this mean that they move freely between the two? In Buddhist cosmology Brahmā beings are usually higher than devas in the hierarchy, not lower. Certainly devas are frequently portrayed as visiting the Buddha, so perhaps this requires freedom of movement through the antarīkṣa?

As the text is a parody of the whole idea of a creator god, we should be cautious of taking this sequence too seriously as cosmology. The terminology appears to drawn from Vedic mythology. However later Buddhists seem to have lost the sense of these stories and reified them: the mythic Brahmā world of the Upaniṣads and Purāṇa texts, where it represents the goal of the religious life of the Brahmins, becomes a saṃsāric, but literal rebirth destination (gati) for Buddhists.

Another passage in the Majjhima Nikāya (MN i.410) uses manomaya with reference to devas. Here there is an argument over the existence of immaterial realms (āruppā). Āruppa here is a substantive in -ya from arūpa 'formless', and roughly means 'formlessness'. Strangely enough, here the Buddha claims not to be in a position to answer the question on the existence or not of an arūpa realm, which contrasts with other times when, for example, he apparently personally travels to Brahmā's realm. He argues that whether or not there is an āruppā, there is still the possibility of rebirth in the rūpadhātu:
ye te devā rūpino manomayā, apaṇṇakaṃ me tatrūpapatti bhavissati.
I might still be reborn amongst the those mind-made devas with form.
But the point of this discussion here is captured right at the end
So iti paṭisaṅkhāya rūpānaṃyeva nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya paṭipanno hoti.
Considering that this is so, he practices being fed up with forms, turning away from forms, and the cessation of forms.
Again the point is not to affirm or deny rūpadhātu or manomaya devas, but to orient people who have such beliefs away from kāmadhātu. Presumably having a belief in heaven is being leveraged to focus believers away from sense pleasure towards more refined types of pleasure (such as jhāna). The same sutta contains a number of similar arguments. The disputes about ontology do not need to be resolved for someone to practice Buddhist methods, nor does successful attainment of the goal rely on resolving such disputes.

In this connection one also thinks of Nanda and the dove-footed nymphs (Ud 3.2). The Buddha's cousin Nanda had become a monk but was thinking of giving up the homeless life because he found it too difficult. When asked why he says that as he was leaving a lovely Śākya women had said to him, "hurry back noble son" (tuvaṭaṃ kho, ayyaputta, āgaccheyyāsī’ti). The memory of her was making celibacy and austerity painful for him. So the Buddha uses his magical powers to take Nanda to the heaven of the thirty-three devas (devesu tāvatiṃsesu). There he saw 500 celestial goddesses ((pañca accharāsatāni) with feet of doves (kakuṭapādāni). Having seen these heavenly beauties he reassessed his opinion of ordinary beautiful women and found he could continue to practice and the shift of his attention, though apparently (to his fellow bhikkhus) still on attachment to pleasure, soon resulted in his liberation from craving. The point of this story is the same. One way to become disenchanted with ordinary sense pleasures is to begin to experience the bliss of higher states of consciousness (jhāna). Having experienced the bliss which has a cosmological counterpart in the deva realms, one will find ordinary sense pleasures uninteresting.


As far we can see the word mano-maya means 'made by the mental activity' rather than 'made of/in or from mental activity'. In other words there is no suggestion of ontological dualism inherent in the phrase. This observation notwithstanding, many Buddhists have chosen to interpret manomaya as having a dualistic connotation because they are ideologically committed to ontological dualism. And having made that commitment it is almost impossible to argue with them, since no evidence is available or required for belief in an immaterial "mind" entity. Dualism is not susceptible to reasoned argument. It is far easier to explain the afterlife if one starts from a position of dualism. In previous essays I've looked at why people have a predilection for post-mortem continuity and at some reasons dualist beliefs are so prevalent. It's not that difficult to understand. It's easy to imagine where such beliefs come from and why they persist into our era when science seems to so dominant as a way of understanding the world. But it also means that the kind of metaphysical problems that emerge when trying to think about the afterlife are bound to emerge.

Mano-maya seems generally to apply to supernatural beings only (except in one case where it seems to refer to the mental process of proliferation or papañca). Especially it applies to devas, and often to the most refined kind of devas (thought there is some confusion over whether it applies to both rūpadhātu and arūpadhātu. And at least some of the early texts are not asserting the existence of such devas, or that form of existence, they are stipulating them for the sake of argument and using the idea of higher, divine pleasures as a way to help people detach themselves from lower, sensual pleasures. One of the most important stories (repeated in a number of suttas) is a clear parody of Brahmanical belief about how the universe began.

Buddhists took the idea that mental events (dhammā) are made by the mind (Dhp 1-2) with its lack of ontological connotation; combined them with existing cosmology and tried to turn it into a post-mortem ontology. And this leads us to the topic of the next essay which is the idea of a manomayakāya, a mind-made body.


Hamilton, Sue. (1996) Identity and Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being According to Early Buddhism. Luzac Oriental.
Hamilton, Sue. (2000) Early Buddhism : a new approach. The I of the beholder. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.
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.