4 modes of rebirth in DN28

Dear friends and Venerables,
Can someone please help me understand the the ‘four modes of rebirth’ in DN28? Specifically, what ‘descends into the womb knowing/unknowing, stays there knowing/unknowning, leaves unknowing/knowing’ is all about.

What is known/unknown?

As I understand it you don’t know your previous level of liberation.

Thank you kindly.


I think it refers to being aware of the process. It seems that if your mindfulness has been strongly developed you can retain some awareness of the actual time of rebirth.

Having said which, it seems to me that this is a generalization based on the story of the Bodhisattva’s birth. I’m not sure how literally to take it.

But it doesn’t seem improbable that a highly developed meditator should retain such awareness; and there are some anecdotes that seem to confirm it.


It is found in MN 123, along with a lot of other myths re the bodhisattva’s birth:

“Venerable sir I have heard these words from the Blessed One himself and you acknowledged them. "Ānanda, the one aspiring enlightenment, disappeared from the gods of happiness, and descended into the mother’s womb with mindful awareness. "

Perhaps the last line in MN123 is the most important one!:

“Venerable sir, that to the Thus Gone One knowing feelings, arise, persist and fade, knowing perceptions, arise, persist and fade, knowing thoughts, arise, persist and fade. Venerable sir, this I bear as something wonderful and surprising of the Blessed One.”

with metta


From DN 28:

That there are four modes in descension, thus:—
One descends into the mother’s womb unknowing, abides there unknowing, departs thence unknowing.
This is the first mode.
Next, one descends into the mother’s womb knowingly, but persists there unknowing and departs thence unknowing.
This is the second mode.
Again, one descends and persists knowing, but departs unknowing.
This is the third mode.
Again, one descends into the mother’s womb, knowing, persists there knowing and departs thence knowing.
This is the fourth mode of descension.

Per the Comy.'s explanation:

The four modes of conception refer to:
(1) the ordinary worldling,
(2) to the 80 great elders,
(3) to the two chief disciples, to pacceka-buddhas and bodhisattas, and
(4) to the all-knowing Bodhisattas (ie. those in their last rebirth, just before becoming the Buddha) (DA 3:885 f).

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So it’s just 4 realms of birth?

No, it’s still just the same human realm, but due to different levels of cultivation, the level of awareness coming into and out of the mother’s womb is different between run-of-the-mills versus noble ones.