Bhava doesn't mean 'becoming'

But where exactly did the Buddha literally explain in DO there is the birth of the self? In the definition of “jati” in SN 12.2 or MN 9, the word 'self" is not even mentioned. :saluting_face:

MN 9 explains DO starts with an asava (impulse) of sensuality, becoming &/or ignorance. ‘Becoming’ here seems to logically refer to a past becoming re-emerging. Any becoming must include craving. Therefore, DO, according to MN 9, seems to start with some type of craving-like impulse.

For example, if we take a Secular Western approach, a new born baby has a few primary needs or impulses, such as the desire to eat food and the desire to be physically comforted. While these impulses obviously arise from ignorance, surely they are a starting point of DO, similar to as described in MN 9.

In other words, contrary to your book, it seems a young child is not generating names of forms which then somehow is creating craving without any inherent underlying instinctual sensual impulse. In reality, it seems the baby has forms of sensual impulses & craving prior to its ability to name any forms. Thus, as previously suggested, your books view of ‘nama-rupa’ seems based on Theistic ideologies where a God (per the Bible) or Devata (per the Upanishads) starts to name the forms it creates via its random will.

But the Buddha did not teach like this. The Buddha taught there are “asava” co-joined with “ignorance”. For example, fish do not have sexual desires towards human females. But human males have sexual desires towards human females, not because they name the form of a female, but because there is a biological programming causing these desires to arise towards human females but not towards female fish. :slightly_smiling_face:


This is an important point and I think it’s related to what has been discussed and debated on D&D several times.

One view appears to be that while still living and while the khandhas are still present, an arahant is utterly free of all dukkha. Clearly, the “second arrow” as in SN36.6 is extinguished and “mental stress” is not present. However, physical pain is still experienced due to the presence of the khandhas. But some view this as not being dukkha.

However, others, including several Venerables, offer a view that until the khandhas have completely ceased, as in parinibbāna, some dukkha remains, i.e. like physical pain, (even without clinging, identification, or aversion). So only parinibbāna, after the death of an arahant, is the utter and complete cessation of dukkha, with no possibility of any form of suffering. Not even an itch. :slightly_smiling_face: Such as in Iti44.
Same with bhava. It does not fully cease during a life, but can only fully cease with parinibbāna. In this way, there’s no contradiction.

With respect and heartfelt best wishes :pray:


This whole ‘debate’ seems like two camps talking past each other.

In brief:

  1. Physical pain doesn’t make the arahant suffer.
  2. The arahant experiences physical pain, which is suffering.

These are not two compatible positions to put against one another. Physical pain itself is dukkha—what else would it be? But that doesn’t mean it causes any form of suffering for the arahant. In order for it to do so, there must be clinging / identification with that which is dukkha. This is clear all throughout the khandha samyutta: the cessation of clinging and identification frees one from reckoning in terms of that which was clung to. This includes dukkha, in fact, it’s precisely the point of the teaching. That of course does not mean physical pain magically disappears. It still occurs, it just no longer pertains to the arahant.

So these are not contradictory, and I fail to see how any debate about it is anything other than people not listening to one another.

On a related note, this is like the “is the arahant in samsāra?” debate. Any reading of MN 1 should make it clear that to say “X is in/on/with/etc. Y” is just self-view and/or an instance of conceit. The arahant cannot be reckoned in terms of or identified with anything in samsara anymore—unlike the non-arahant—and so to assign them such an identification is not true to their experience. And yet obviously nobody reasonable who is authentically sticking to the suttas is claiming that the aggregates magically fall out of samsara into another dimension or that the arahant exists in some mystical nibbana-land at the same time. People do claim this of course, but it’s clearly wrong to many people on each “camp.” The arahant being within samsāra is true as a designation of the aggregates. But as the Buddha said: the arahant is deep and profound like the ocean, hard to fathom, for not being found within any of the aggregates.



With respect, you appear to be taking a strong stand on what is “hard to fathom” and whether dukkha, in some form, applies or not.

It’s true that much here depends on understanding of the suttas, what they’re pointing to, and the “definitions” people are using for dukkha and arahant. Neither of which can be precisely defined. So imo that’s what’s contributing to the controversy.

While endless speculations about this and arguments over who “is right” are not productive, reasonable engagement to clarify points of controversy can be helpful – we see how each viewpoint affects the practices and the degree of Right View for ourselves and other practitioners. So exchanges like this imo can help to clarify aspects of the teachings.
I mean, this whole topic has been about the “meaning” of bhava, with a number of different viewpoints exchanged, even amongst the Venerables. To good purpose!

These positions are not the only way of looking into this issue.
Drop the “arahant” and we can have just: “physical pain is suffering.” That’s all. Just that. And until the khandhas fully cease, pain is pain, pain is dukkha, and it all utterly ceases only with parinibbāna.

Same with bhava, as discussed in prior posts here. Before death, bhava is still present even after arahanthood, (as per several of the earlier posts).
And since existence is suffering SN 36.11, SN 12.1 and other suttas, and extinguishment (parinibbana) is bliss, AN9.34, how we view these aspects of the teachings can affect one’s practice.

But, yes, at some point these discussions can go around and around…so, hopefully, a middle way is found. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hi kaccayanagotta,

The different positions come from a different understanding of DO. The people who take DO to be speaking of the process of the physical birth of a child, forget that it is through cognition that the event of child-birth is known as such, and one can never contradict this. So DO is not replacing the biological evolution of humans through metabolism and cell division, for a magical tale of ignorance as something floating around creating physical bodies out of thin air. Instead, DO explains how the process of cognition leads to the appropriation of that what is cognized as child-birth to be that of the self, and how this leads to suffering.

So the one camp is believing this magical tale through which they experience live as inherently suffering, and believe this to be the teaching of the Buddha. They try to convince the other camp that experiencing life as suffering is actually what the buddha meant with ‘liberation from suffering’, in order to support their belief.

The other camp is trying to explain the first camp that life doesn’t need to be experienced as suffering, when one understands DO as a process of cognition, and sabbe dhamma anatta, because it leads to liberation from suffering in the here-and-now.

So this is not really a serious debate, and you are right that people are just not listening to each other. For the second camp, there is no need to listen to the first camp, because they have already understood anatta, and they see that the arguments of the first camp are not supported by the suttas, besides that those in the first camp are, instead of liberated from suffering, experiencing life in its entirety as suffering.

For the first camp, there is no need to listen to the second camp, because they want to stick to their beliefs no matter what? They take the commentaries as an authority instead of their own experience? They have invested too much in their role playing act? They are too conceited? Ashamed to admit that they are wrong? Don’t want to give up their power position? Don’t want to give up their reputation? I don’t know the answer to this, as I am not in the first camp.

Warm regards,


@Jasudho @kaccayanagotta

To me dukkha in the first noble truth is psychological. For example, how can death be stressful if death isn’t experienced? As Epicurus says “Death is nothing to us. When we exist, death is not; and when death exists, we are not”, in short death can’t be experienced. Even in Buddhism, the aggregates die and experience ends, so one can experience dying but not death itself. “Death” only exists as a concept, and cannot actually be directly known for oneself, because the faculty of “knowing” is not functional at that point.

So the issue of death, aging, illness, etc… is psychological not physical. This is especially emphasized at the end of the first noble truth.

The first noble truth:

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress:[1] Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

So in my opinion, physical pain and parinibbana is irrelevant. The issue is craving for a self and the psychological outcomes of it.


The above seems incorrect. It seems the Buddha was not bound to the sensual bhava because it seems sensual bhava is a state of mind.

Also, I have never read the term “sensual realm” (“kamaloka”) in the EBTs. Possibly you could offer a quote for me. I have already read about human, godly, ghost, animal & hell realm.

Note: This matter is unrelated to denial of “rebirth”. “Jati” is there to accommodate ‘rebirth’; as has been held for 100s of years by Buddhists. For example, it seems explicitly clear in DN 15 that the various human, godly, animal realms, etc, are included in “jati”.

Again, the above seems contrary to Dhamma principles. These ideas seem to completely ignore the transcendent (lokuttara) state of Noble Ones.

“Bhava” obviously does not mean a “lifetime existence”. The suttas refer to “bhava” as an “asava”. An “asava” is a mental defilement.

It seems to not be “some” translations but merely one translation. AN 3.67 does not seem to refer to “rebirth”.

The word “abhinibbati” seems to simply means “production”, as found in MN 93 about “producing” heat from fire. Thus, in the context of AN 3.67, new becoming is “produced”. In the context of SN 12.2, new jati is “produced”. “Abhinibbati” seems to be neither a synonym for “bhava” or “jati”; just as “bhava” seems not a synonym for “jati”.

To conclude, again, your ideas may lead to a sabotaging of Dhamma practice. “Bhava” seems to mean “mental becoming” or “mental existence”, regardless of whether a Buddhist believes in rebirth or not. It is the state of mental becoming that determines the “jati” of human, godly, ghost, animal or hell. If practitioners ignore bhava; ignoring what states their mind are commonly or predominantly “established” in, then it seems they won’t be above to determine their future state. :no_mouth:


Thanks for sharing.

In the suttas, the “psychological” is not so differentiated as it has become in modern times, (especially after Descartes and the subsequent mind-body problem).
Certainly, as you wrote, craving generates existence, (re)birth, etc. → dukkha.

But, as we know, consciousness depends on nāmarūpa and vice versa. So form including, but not limited to, kāya (body) is intrinsic to all states of human existence. There is no merely “the psychological.”

Also, the Buddha sums up dukkha with the last part of the quote you posted:

Here again, this of course includes form along with the other khandhas.
Since form is intrinsic to human existence and since pain in the kāya is perceived, felt, and cognized through the other aggregates (even when there is no grasping or identification with them), it seems reasonable to consider the possibility that such pain is dukkha in and of itself regardless of “psychological states” – until all the aggregates cease completely, (parinibbāna).

We’ll know when we get there, so to speak… :slightly_smiling_face:


There is one further important issue about bhava, namely, its relation to jāti, “rebirth”. To my mind, it is here that we find the most important evidence for its meaning.

I am not entirely sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that jāti happens at physical birth, not at conception or at some point in between? In which case bhava could refer to the period in the womb? Or do you mean that bhava refers to the intermediate existence (antarabhava) that occurs after death but prior to rebirth? Or perhaps you mean both? I find either of these suggestions problematic for the following reasons.

I cannot see that the references you provide show that jāti refers to physical birth. On the contrary, an expression such as the “manifestation of the aggregates” must refer to an earlier point in the womb, when a foetus becomes sentient. The same is true of the “acquisition of the sense fields”. It seems to me that jāti must refer to the first arising of consciousness in a foetus.

Further, not all beings go through a period in the womb. In most realms of existence, beings are reborn spontaneously. If bhava meant the period in the womb, these beings would not experience the 10th factor of dependent origination (DO). This seems highly unlikely.

As for bhava referring to an intermediate existence, this too is problematic. The idea of an antarabhava is quite marginal in the suttas, and no doubt this is a major reason why it became so controversial for later generations. It does not make any sense to me that such a minor teaching should be the explanation of an important idea such as bhava, especially in the context of DO.

A further problem is that it is not even clear that all beings go through a period of intermediate existence. It seems possible, for instance, that someone about to be reborn in jhāna realm, enters the jhāna during the dying process, and that the rebirth then happens as a consequence of this. In these cases, there seems to be no room for an antarabhava.

For bhava to have a clear function in dependent origination, it makes much more sense to me to regard it as reflecting a mainstream Buddhist idea such as kamma and rebirth, which is exactly what we find in the definitions at AN3.76 and AN3.77. In this view, bhava is the kamma you produce as a result of your existing in a certain way, with the consequent corresponding rebirth. In fact, on this interpretation, bhava is not really about rebirth at all, since this part of the DO sequence is taken care of by jāti. Still, bhava can be said to imply a particular future rebirth.

What do you think?

It needs to be understood as the āsava (the defilement) of desire for existence. Such shorthands are to be expected in language.


Thank you Ajahn however your explanation above seems unsubstantiated & secular. For example, AN 7.11 literally refers to “desire for becoming” (“bhavarāgā”). My understanding of the Dhamma is it is “well spoken by the Blessed One”. It would be a great danger to me if I accepted your ideas above the EBTs. I offered my opinion in my previous post the ideas of @Sunyo are very risky to me. “Bhava” seems to obviously mean a mental state of “establishment” (“patiṭṭhita”; AN 3.76), such as getting attached to & established in this discussion by taking it very seriously, thus risking the snake downfall in MN 22. As stated, @Sunyo seems to be proposing a 4-lifetime explanation of Dependent Origination; which contradicts the cause & effect principle of Dependent Origination, i.e., “rebirth/bhava” cannot be the condition/cause for “rebirth/jati”. There seems no such thing as a “sensual realm (kamaloka)” in the EBTs. The EBTs seem to refer to various types of sensual pleasures such as “human” & “divine” (MN 75); also possibly “animal” (AN 2.9). Thus while mostly “Noble”, a returner occasionally returns to sensuality (Iti 96) due to that fetter. Whenever a returner returns to sensual craving (such as a bhikkhu delighting in a certain delicious food), this seems to be kamabhava. This seems to be the orthodox Buddhist view about “bhava”. Kind regards :pray:t2:


Hello Sunyo. The above may possibly refer to an 8th, i.e., 11th fetter. Therefore, the subject matter may not so straightforward, particularly given this obscure verse is only found once in an obscure outpost of the EBTs.

These suttas give the impression of being late. In other words, a “human bhava” is not an option in the teaching of Dependent Origination. Regardless, there are teachings in the EBTs that give the impression of aligning the “human state” with ethical conduct (such as SN 56.47; AN 6.39). Therefore, it seems possible “human kamma” can lead to a “human jati”. However, this type of kamma seems “transcendent” ('lokuttara"; per MN 117) thus excluded from the three ignorant bhava of dependent origination.

I think a clear limitation of lokuttara Dependent Origination is it is so focused on dukkha that it may not accommodate the later lokiya extrapolations of later Buddhists.

Venerable. Were you referring to the text below?

When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in the company of the gods of pure radiance.
So kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā parisuddhābhānaṁ devānaṁ sahabyataṁ upapajjati.
These are the four kinds of rebirth in a future life.
Imā kho, gahapati, catasso bhavūpapattiyo.

Since “rebirth” is from “ūpapatti”, it seems we cannot know for sure what “bhava” means here. I hope you recall when you said “bhava” in Dhp 238 was merely a verb form. “Bhavūpapattiyo” seems found only once in the EBTs, therefore, similar to Snp 2.1, reliance on this to explain “bhava” in hundreds of standard suttas seems tenuous & perilous; sort of grasping at straws.

Venerable. I am not sure which paragraph you are referring to however DN 30 says repeatedly:

Yampi, bhikkhave, tathāgato purimaṁ jātiṁ purimaṁ bhavaṁ purimaṁ niketaṁ pubbe manussabhūto samāno

In some past lives, past existences, past abodes the Realized One was reborn [existed; samāno] as a human being.

It seems the words above cannot be synonymous. I already mentioned, as did Ajahn Brahmali, per AN 3.76, that “bhava” involves “kamma”; and “human kamma” per SN 56.47 seems to be virtuous kamma. Therefore, in all of the many cases in DN 30, when the Buddha was in a previous life (jati), it seems his associated previous “bhava” or “kamma” was virtuous. Therefore, it seems in DN 30 the term “purimaṁ bhavaṁ” refers to a “previous mode of behaviour”.

I think the above is sufficient to show the probable lack of “nuance” when generalizing “bhava” means “a rebirth/lifetime”. It seems “bhava” is “bhava” & “jati” is “jati”. I personally doubt it is beneficial muddying the waters here by inventing a 4-lifetime-DO. Kind regards. :pray:t2:

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It doesn’t “literally” mean this. It only means this if you have decided beforehand that bhava means “becoming”.

Fair enough! I certainly don’t want to endanger you. You are right of course that we need to be careful how we relate to the Dhamma. Still, ideas that may seem dangerous or hard to grasp initially, may on reflection start to make sense later on. I would suggest you hold you ideas lightly and see how they evolve. You may find that what seems dangerous now, actually seems liberating down the track.

Ideas such as “craving/desire for becoming” make no sense to me. Becoming is a process of change, and we are then saying that we desire this process. It seems clear to me, however, that we do not desire processes but future outcomes, future states of being. I don’t know about you, but this is what I see when I introspect.

It’s known as kāmāvacara in the suttas.


I can crave to become a world traveler, visiting New York & Paris. I can crave to become rich & famous.


Right. Yet what you are craving is to be rich and famous, not the process of getting there. You are craving for the result, not the path. In other words, you are craving for a particular kind of existence, not the becoming. Anyway, that seems to me to be the natural use of these words. Also, as Ven. Sunyo has pointed out, the idea of becoming is often used to undermine the inclusion of rebirth in DO.

Much metta.


“Becoming” points to the temporary nature of the resultant state of “existence”. “Becoming” is an excellent term describing the illusory constructed state of deluded mental “existence”.

Keep in mind SN 12.15 says “existence” (“atthita”) is a wrong view; that the right view is understanding arising & cessation.

Possibly however I already posted my disagreement with the above:

  1. It seems the Visuddhimagga focused on “becoming” as “bhava”.
  2. It seems the anti-rebirth Thai monk Buddhadasa often used the translation of “existence” for “bhava”.
  3. It seems to make no difference to the orthodox Buddhist viewpoint; which includes “kamma-bhava”.
  4. @Sunyo seems to be inventing a four-lifetime model of DO. :slightly_smiling_face:
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Hello again! First, may I ask, why the silly questions? If we treat each other as equally intelligent beings, it makes for a more civil and enjoyable discussion. :slight_smile:

Anyway, see the reference I gave, DN30, which says the Buddha came from the Tusita heaven to a human bhava. This is not talking about a mind state, for sure. So yes, he was born in the human realm (which is part of the sensual realm), and he had a human body (and human bhava) till he died.

Both the verb and noun are used in other contexts as well. But the thing with context is: we have to actually consider it. :wink: Your quote has no connection with Dependent Arising or bhava. It’s another context altogether, about starting fires. But the suttas I mentioned are about DA. And here these words are about rebirth. I mean, abhinibbati (the noun) is part of the definition of birth, and in DN15 it is used for the embryo arising in the womb. It could hardly be any clearer, I would say.

I didn’t say bhava is rebirth. The part you quoted doesn’t even have the word bhava but punabbhava, which is not exactly the same word. The idea is that a continuation of existence (bhava) after death leads to another birth. As a whole this process is also called punabbhava, which basically means “again life/existence”.

I’m not sure what this has to do with the topic. But in short, I agree with the commentary on SN12.15. Atthitā is the idea of externalism,. it’s about eternal existence. Compare the sutta with SN12.17 which specifically says Dependent Arising is the middle way between eternalism and annihilation, which is the same middle way this sutta mentions.

:question: I’m very confused by all this. Of course I don’t know what everybody throughout all of time has written, which is why I specifically said “generally”. I was also under the impression that Ven. Buddhadasa wrote in Thai, not English. And what does he have to do with the Visuddhimagga? If anyone departs from the Visuddhimagga it was him, not me. Anyway, I’m not concerned with what Buddhadasa said, but by what the Buddha said. :slight_smile:

Too many questions in the following posts for me to all reply to. I’ll just say one reference was wrong, I meant AN3.76 not AN3.67.

Because the fact that you’re saying I may be sabotaging Dhamma practice makes me uninclined to go into your posts any further. Again, I was hoping for a more civil debate. But this discussion has unfortunately already given rise to some wrong speech of the type “I am practicing correctly; you are practicing wrongly.” The type the Buddha said we should avoid.


Hey Ajahn,

At the very least you are saying there is also some sort of bhava devoid of kammic processes, then? But if bhava in Dependent Arising primarily meant some karmic activity, then the cessation of that type of bhava would happen in this life, and arahants would no longer have it. It’s a bit artificial to divide bhava into two types, one that applies to an arahant, and one that does not. Nothing in the suttas really suggests this. They just say bhava ceases at parinibbāna. (Iti44)

And how would the no-kamma bhava of the arahants fall in the explanation given in AN3.76-77, if bhava there includes kamma, as you suggest? Arahants don’t make kamma, so their bhava isn’t included in this sutta, then? In my opinion, their bhava is included, because they live in one of the three realms mentioned. It’s simply the bhava that started when they took rebirth as a result of kamma (and craving) in the past life.

When bhava is actually (kind of) defined, the definition is indeed simpler, and exactly that of life in different realms. But that happens not here, but in suttas such as SN12.2: “And what, bhikkhus, is existence? There are these three kinds of existence: sense-sphere existence, form-sphere existence, formless-sphere existence. This is called existence.”

I don’t think AN3.76-77 are definitions. For starters, they would be much more clumsy and longwinded than the usual definitions we see in the suttas. :slight_smile: I suppose it hinges on the word kittāvatā. Ven. @Sujato translates it as, “How is continued existence defined”. But “defined” often this is not the idea of the word, if ever. (Edit: It depends on how we interpret ‘defined’. Venerable Sujato responded here, and made me change my mind somewhat about kittāvata. I still don’t think it is a definition as I initially interpreted it. But my suggestion below of “how” was going too far the other way. I left my post unchanged, though, because my general thoughts remain the same.)

Take SN12.51 for example: "When a bhikkhu is making a thorough investigation, in what way (kittāvatā) should he thoroughly investigate for the utterly complete destruction of suffering?” Or let’s say “how should he thoroughly investigate?” Now let’s consider AN3.76 with this in mind. I adopted Venerable Bodhi’s translation, but with ‘how’ for kittāvata instead of his ‘in what way’.

“Bhante, it is said: ‘existence, existence.’ How (kittāvatā), Bhante, is there (hoti) existence (bhava)?”

In other words, how does existence happen? How does it come about?

The verb hoti is already awkward for a asking for a definition of a word, which is otherwise done with nominal phrases (without a verb) and using katama, such as Katamo ca, bhikkhave, bhavo? (SN12.2) Or one with the ‘vuccati’: ‘Arahattaṃ, arahattan’ti, āvuso sāriputta, vuccati. Katamaṃ nu kho, āvuso, arahattan”ti? (SN38.2) (Also, questions with the ‘bla, bla, āvūsu, vuccati’ are far from always definitions. See e.g. SN22.21: “Sir, they speak of ‘cessation’. The cessation of what things does this refer to?”.) So, to me hoti asks about how bhava comes to be (or ‘becomes’), which is not an uncommon use ofhoti. And the answer that follows is in line with this, not in line with a definition. So continuing the sutta:

“If, Ananda, there were no kamma ripening in the sensory realm, would sense-sphere existence be discerned?”

We can also translate the verb paññāyetha as “would … occur”, like Ven. Sujato. That’s the implication of the verb in other contexts too. It connects better with the question, “how does existence happen?” The idea is that existence can’t occur without kamma of a past life ripening in the next life. Without kamma that leads to rebirth in the sensory realm, no-one would be born there, and there would be no existence (bhava) there. The text continues:

“No, Bhante.”

“Thus, Ananda, for beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving, kamma is the field, consciousness the seed, and craving the moisture for their consciousness to be established in an inferior realm. In this way there is the production of renewed existence in the future.

The Buddha’s answer to Ananda’s question, “how is there existence?”, ends with, “in this way there is the production of renewed existence (punabbhava) in the future.” This is not a definition, but indeed an answer to how existence comes about—an answer very much in line with all the other discourses. (Unlike the idea of bhava = kamma, which we don’t find anywhere else.) The Buddha answers that bhava (or “renewed existence”, punabbhava) is produced by craving and kamma of the past life. Consciousness being established in a realm refers to rebirth too; it’s consciousness moving on from one life to the next.

This idea of bhava meaning just existence, not kamma, aligns with all the references I started this topic with. For example, MN127 mentions “rebirth in a bhava” (bhavūpapattiyo), which it then explains happens after death, not while alive. Also take AN4.131, bhavapaṭilābhiyāni saṁyojanāni ‘fetters for getting an(other) existence’, which to me makes little sense as “the fetter for getting kamma” or however that would be interpreted in light of the commentary’s idea of kammabhava. This is the sutta on the “in between” lives, which also indicates the bhava one is “fettered to” is that which happens after death, not something that happens while alive. And so forth; see the references I have given when you have the time.

And talking about bhavataṇhā. I would make almost the exact same point you made before, which was good: We crave existence, not some sort of kammic processes within existence, or whatever. And rebirth is the core idea here too, since bhavataṇhā is a form of taṇhā ponobbhavika, ‘craving that leads to rebirth’. Bhavataṇhā is craving for continued existence after death, not craving for something in this life.

I really think the idea of bhava including kamma fits none of the uses of the word bhava in the suttas. It’s the craving and upādāna that are the kammic processes, not the bhava you crave for or take up (upādāna). The idea of bhava in the suttas is much more simple and natural than that of the commentaries. It just means existence as we would use the term in English, not some sort of karmic activity. Bhava is something passive in the suttas, not something active. To include in bhava activities done in this life (kamma) actually has many of the same problems I see with “becoming”, since it’s a movement towards a one-lifetime interpretations of Dependent Arising. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was exactly these kinds of commentarial ideas that initially gave rise to the translation “becoming”. Like in Ñaṇamoli’s tl. of the Visuddhimagga, where it is translated ‘becoming’. But in the commentaries that translation works a tad bit better than in the suttas, because it is exactly this context of kammabhava where ‘existence’ doesn’t really work as well, if you ask me.)

I know this interpretation removes some of the daily-life applicability of how you’ve explained DA before. But then DA is an explanation of the second noble truth, which is the craving that leads to rebirth (taṇhā ponobbhavika), not any ordinary type of craving. The craving in DA is for all intends and purposes also taṇhā ponobbhavika, and therefore the bhava that follows craving refers to a next life too, just like in the noble truth. The links of DA from craving till existence present the same idea as the second noble truth, but it uses bhava instead of punabbhava. A minor difference, really, ‘existence’ versus ‘again existence’. The word ‘again’ is effectively implied by context in DA, since bhava there leads to birth.

See also Snp3.12:

Upādānapaccayā bhavo,
Bhūto dukkhaṃ nigacchati;
Jātassa maraṇaṃ hoti,
Eso dukkhassa sambhavo.

Dependent on taking up, there is continued existence.
Having come to be [in the next life], you undergo suffering.
Being born, you will die.
That is how suffering comes to be.

The word bhūta also often refers to birth. Here bhava is best taken as referring to this “coming to be”, i.e. it means continuing to exist after death. It’s again not about kammic processes.

Or consider MN75:

And [when you become a stream enterer] you will think: I have long been tricked, cheated, and deceived by this mind. For what I have been taking up [at rebirth] was just form, feeling, perception, will, and consciousness. And dependent on that taking up of mine, there was continued existence.

The aggregates “start” at birth, which is here effectively equated to bhava. The taking up of the five aggregates results in continued existence after death. Not in some kamma activity.


Yes, exactly! That’s what the suttas say. Bhava and dukkha cease only after this life. :smiley: Iti44 says exactly that, that bhava only ceases at parinibbāna:

What has nothing [of the khandhas] left over [i.e. parinibbāna] pertains to what follows this life, where all states of existence (bhava) cease. (Iti44)

While alive you can’t escape from all that has dependently arisen. Because even if enlightened, you still have the five khandhas, and the five khandhas are dependently arisen through rebirth at the start of life:

"Form, Ananda, is impermanent, constructed, dependently arisen […] [Same for other khandhas.] (SN22.21)

The khandhas and suffering only end at death:

[Sāriputta:] “Then, Venerable Yamaka, how would you answer if people asked you what has become of enlightened mendicants after their body broke down, after death?”

“Venerable, if people asked me that, I would answer: ‘Form, feeling, perception, will, and consciousness are impermanent. What is impermanent is suffering. What is suffering has ceased, has passed away.’”

“Very good, Venerable Yamaka!” (SN22.85)

Enlightened ones don’t have craving and ignorance, sure. But they still have the five khandhas, still have sense contact, still have feelings, still have to die, still have suffering. They still have existence (bhava) too, as I’ve shown in the opening post. The Buddha even specifically said that being an arahant is a type of bhava! And the other things I mentioned (contact, feelings, suffering) are all also specifically said in the suttas to apply to enlightened beings still. So I don’t see how this idea would be “not compatible”.

In fact, it’s exactly because enlightened existence is also still suffering, that you can let go of desire for it. That’s how bhavataṇhā can cease, if you see even the life of an enlightened being as suffering. If you don’t think it’s suffering, you will always crave for it in a subtle way.


I don’t know how to phrase it much clearer than I already did, Ajahn. To be born you need to continue to exist after death. I thought that would be self-explanatory.

It doesn’t really matter whether we define jati as entry in the womb or physical birth. It can probably mean both depending on context. (In MN43 jātaṃ at least refers to physical birth.) The point is, if we take up (upādāna) the aggregates at death, this leads to more existence after death, which will result in birth at some point.

Hence the difference between bhava and punabbhava is small. What the noble truth says (craving that leads to “again existence” or rebirth, which I think you agree means after death) is effectively the same as craving > taking up (or “fuel”) > existence in Dependent Arising.

This is also the use of upādāna in SN44.9:

"And, Master Gotama, when a being has laid down this body but has not yet been reborn in another body, what does Master Gotama declare to be its fuel on that occasion?”

"When, Vaccha, a being has laid down this body but has not yet been reborn in another body, I declare that it is fuelled by craving. For on that occasion craving is its fuel (upādāna).”

About the in-between state, first of all I also don’t think the time in the womb is part of this. The in-between would happen before that already, when one moves from one body to the next. I agree the pragmatic implications of this state are minor. But I’m not limiting bhava to it, so this concern can be dropped. Bhava also continues after birth. Everybody who exists has bhava. I’m including the in-between in bhava, but not limiting it to it.

But talking about rare suttas, can you refer any other suttas than AN3.76-77 to support your ideas? Because if you are right, then that idea is also very rarely found in the suttas, I would say. And how does it work with the normal definitions of bhava in say SN12.2? How is kamma involved there?

With this I disagree, as I hopefully explained properly in my earlier post. If not, let me know. I think seeing it purely as ‘existence’ also gives it a very important function. In fact, that gives it a function. Because the function of kamma is effectively already fulfilled by craving and upādāna, which are the active forces. Bhava is the “passive” outcome of this. And this is functional in Dependent Arising, first because it is existence that beings actually crave for, not birth. Also, it is easier to imagine how craving after death would result in continued existence, compared to imagining how it would lead to birth, say in a womb.

Thanks for a kind exchange, that’s my primary thought. :slightly_smiling_face: At least I learn how the commentaries may have arrived at some of their ideas, because to me it still seems very unintuitive and not in line with common uses of the word bhava. And it misses the connection with the second noble truth.

Also, as a final note, I don’t see how or why bhava, a word that means “to be”, essentially, would be used to convey ideas of “to do” (kamma).


Kittāvatā literally means “to what extent”, or more idiomatically “how is it defined”.

In SN 12.51 the question is:

Kittāvatā nu kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu parivīmaṁsamāno parivīmaṁseyya sabbaso sammā dukkhakkhayāya


To what extent, mendicants, would an inquiring bhikkhu inquire for the complete ending of suffering?

The question is not “how do they inquire?” It is, “how do you define the level of inquiry that is sufficient for the complete ending of suffering?” In other words, “Of those mendicants who are inquiring, how do you define one who is inquiring for the end of suffering?”

I’m sure I could phrase the translation better, but that’s what the sense is.