Bhava doesn't mean 'becoming'

Thanks also. Since you asked if we agree, to summarize, I still think the link upādāna > bhava is solely about rebirth. In the suttas I see no real precedence to understand it in any other way. I do of course agree that upādāna also happens in this life, that it involves a sense of self, and that it is informative of our attachments and possible future rebirth. But when together with craving it results in bhava , then it no longer refers to a process that happens within this life. Then it’s “the craving that leads to a next life (punabbhava)” of the second noble truth.

That’s bhāva with a long ā, not bhava, which has a short a. So it’s not the same word as in Dependent Arising. It’s understandable. I made the same mix-up myself, I belief (although in a somewhat more questionable context) but couldn’t edit my post anymore.

But that is not in line with the Buddha’s use and definition of “birth”.

“And what, bhikkhus, is birth? The birth of the various beings into the various orders of beings, their being born, descent into the womb, production, the manifestation of the aggregates, the obtaining of the sense bases. This is called birth.” (SN12.2)

"It was said: ‘With birth as condition there is aging and death.’ How that is so, Ānanda, should be understood in this way: If there were absolutely and utterly no birth of any kind anywhere—that is, of gods into the state of gods, of celestials into the state of celestials, of spirits, demons, human beings, quadrupeds, winged creatures, and reptiles, each into their own state—if there were no birth of beings of any sort into any state, then, in the complete absence of birth, with the cessation of birth, would aging and death be discerned?”

"Certainly not, venerable sir.” (DN15)

The sutta is not really a definition of bhava, as we discussed before in this thread. Bhante Sujato explained what he meant with his translation of “defined”. The text explains, as Kaccayanagotta pointed out, how rebirth happens, and to what extent beings can be reborn (can have bhava).

And what happens when consciousness “gets involved with” the aggregates (or “is attracted to them”) is rebirth, the sutta says. It’s rebirth that makes “consciousness remain” (or “continue to exist”) after death. This “growing” is a reference to the seed simile; a seed which grows into a plant. The general ideas can be conveyed more clearly, I belief, with a translation along these lines:

Consciousness would continue to exist [after death] if it is attracted to form. Founded on form, planted in form, and sprinkled with enjoyment, it would develop, sprout, and mature. [Same for other aggregates.] Someone might say he will describe a development, sprouting, and maturation of consciousness—its departing and arriving, its passing on and rebirth—apart from form, feeling, perception, and will. But that is not possible. (SN22.53)

The words “passing on and rebirth” (or “passing away and reappearing”) always mean death and birth. “Departing and arriving” are often euphemisms for dying and rebirth too, as is the case here. This is also what is meant with “development, sprouting, and maturation”, which is somewhat cryptic, because it metaphorically describes the process of rebirth. The metaphor is that of the seed of consciousness, as is much clearer in the following text, SN22.54. Consciousness “growing” into a new life is like a seed that grows into a new plant. It is the same metaphor as AN3.76. The word “planted” (or “established”) also refers to this, as does “sprinkle”. Because enjoyment is like the water sprinkled on the seed, as SN22.54 clarifies. This is the same as AN3.76 saying “craving is the moisture”.

The sentence “consciousness would continue to exist” (tiṭṭhamānaṃ tiṭṭheyya) itself already refers to rebirth. It occurs also in SN35.235 where it clearly refers to this. The words are seemingly also a reference to the “stations” (ṭhiti) of consciousness, which we discussed before here are all about rebirth too. (AN7.44)

SN12.38 mentions the continuation of consciousness too:

Mendicants, what you intend, what you prepare, and what you have a tendency towards, that is a foundation for the continuation (ṭhitiyā) of consciousness [after death]. If there is a foundation, there will be a support for the planting of consciousness. If consciousness is planted, it will sprout, and then continued existence in a future life is produced.

We have here the metaphor of the seed again implied with the words “planted” and “sprout”. And it results in “continued existence (bhava) in a future life”, i.e. rebirth. And that is what the continuation of consciousness refers to.

All these texts are not talking about a “continuation of consciousness” in this life, because that continuation does not rely on attachments and tendencies. Even the Buddha’s consciousness continued in this life, so that is not relevant here. It’s about the continuation (“or remaining”) of consciousness after death.

None of this gives a precedence for understanding bhava as a sense of self. Instead, bhava is about rebirth in all these texts. This is why Snp5.5 (though somewhat cryptical in verse) says:

“If you dispel enjoyment of and adherence to
whatever you are aware of,
above, below, and in between across,
consciousness won’t continue (tiṭṭhe) in any state of existence (bhava).”

An understanding of kamma and rebirth, by the way, is not “easier”, nor “starting on the path”, nor a matter of “conviction”. The Buddha’s insights that lead to his enlightenment he said were centered around exactly those two things: kamma and rebirth. It is rebirth that causes suffering, as the second noble truth says, so it is no surprise Dependent Arising is all about it too.

By the way, as a general reply, I found out the ideas of bhava of the Arthaviniscaya Sutra (Arv5) are in line with the Pali suttas, as I understand them. Because its explanation of the twelve factors defines bhava as existence in the three realms and then further subdivides it into human existence, animal existence, the various deva worlds, and so on.

So this early Sarvastivadin definition (supposedly) of bhava differs from the Theravada commentaries, which is interesting. Because it shows the Theravada’s ideas of a dual “bhava” (of “kammabhava” and “upapattibhava”) were not shared by all traditions. Since the Arthaviniscaya Sutta is more in line with the suttas on bhava, I think it shows an earlier development, and the Theravada’s one being later.


We’re not going to resolve all debates on this subject, but I rejoice in everyone’s joy in the Dhamma and in their stamina for these contemplations and discussions. I wish everyone here a very happy and meaningful New Year.
Whether the self that enters 2023 is a different person from the self of 2022, or whether 2023 is just a brief milestone in this rare and precious rebirth, may we blessed with every wisdom and good fortune.


As I understand bhava and bhāva, they both derive from the root √bhū “to be, to become”; bhava is from the present indicative stem while bhāva is from the causative stem.

So etymologically, bhava ought to be a noun meaning “being” or, as explained above, “existence, life”. And bhāva a noun meaning “causing to be”, “making become” and therefore “cultivating” (as in mettābhāvana “cultivating friendliness”).

Punar is “back, home, to go back; again; restore”, i.e. it has the sense of completing a cycle; we might say that punarbhava means “reliving”. And reliving consists of repeated rebirth and redeath.

This doesn’t account for usage and as Wittgenstein almost said: “meaning is use”. Ancient Indian Buddhists often used words in non-etymological senses, e.g. vedanā (from the causative of the root √vid “know”) so we Buddhists have to be especially careful about the etymological fallacy.

But we have the usage above. Bhava means “life, existence”.

I agree that rebirth is completely integral to early Buddhist thought. It appears to be a background assumption of cultures (plural) in the Ganga Valley around the time of the second urbanisation (with a few weirdos who did not believe, probably for ideological reasons). If we want to understand how they thought, we need to foreground rebirth/redeath and keep in mind that rebirth was never seen as a form of immortality, it was seen as the situation from which we needed to be liberated. The cry in every temple across India at that time was “make it stop!” And of course, some of them believed that they had made it stop. “This is my last rebirth” was a common phrase to attribute to the awakened.



Rebirth is, of course, part of the setting during that time and environment, but not part of the teaching which is knowable for one self here and now.

Notice the Buddha doesn’t tell Udayin he must believe in rebirth to progress in the Buddha Dhamma

Well sir, I can’t even recall with features and details what I’ve undergone in this incarnation. How should I possibly recollect my many kinds of past lives with features and details, like the Buddha? For I can’t even see a mud-goblin right now. How should I possibly, with clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, see sentient beings passing away and being reborn, like the Buddha? But then the Buddha told me, ‘Nevertheless, Udāyī, leave aside the past and the future. I shall teach you the Dhamma:

“When this exists, that is; due to the arising of this, that arises. When this doesn’t exist, that is not; due to the cessation of this, that ceases.”’

  • MN 79

Just like he tells the Kalamas not to go by tradition or superstition but by the 3 poisons arising in their experience.

So rebirth regardless if true or not, or prevalent as a common belief during that time, is irrelevant to the hard to see and easily misunderstood true dhamma that the Buddha didn’t even want to teach but was convinced by Brahma Sahampati to teach. The Buddha, like the dhamma he taught, went against the grain, not with the grain, so popular belief at that time is irrelevant.


Can I consider hell and heaven as - dreams or hallucinations after drugs, possibly after Dimethyltryptamine (produced in our body)? Referring to the sutta, in which heaven was defined as delightful to all the senses, and hell aroused aversions to all the senses. Everyone probably remembers a dream that was delightful to the senses, or one that was abhorrent - or at least I do. Then, of course, applying to the position of a skeptic and a pre-gnostic person, can I confidently hold this as my view and continue calling myself a Buddhist?

For all we know, during that time there was DMT everywhere in the air, as there’s been studies that show that the middle east had plenty of Acacia Nilotica (high DMT releasing) trees that are rare today, maybe India was the same. Eitherway, it’s not really relevant to the Buddha Dhamma what your mind dreams or hallucinates.

It really doesn’t matter what you call yourself, or if you wear robes, or light candles or smoke DMT or whatever. What matters is that you see directly how the 3 poisons, driven by identity view delusion, result in unwholesome manifestations which produce craving which results in more discontent and snowballs into a cycle of more craving and more suffering, i.e. scratching an itch which forms into a rash, which if you continue to scratch will result in an infection and loss of limbs, and putting an end to that cycle. This is the core dhamma, everything else is ritualistic fluff.


Well, I realized later on that a lot of what I meant could be said in a different way. For instance, seeing that the aggregates are taken up to exist in this realm would technically mean past upādāna manifesting in upādāna in the beginning of life → bhava in the present. This can be observed in the present though as a principle and this is what I was pointing to; I also agree that bhava is the continued existence produced from the other thinks. I just think the principle of all the links can be seen in the present even when it involves inferences about past/future lives. Another principle is the structural aspect: so long as there is upādāna, we see that we are fettered to bhava (continued existence/life); that doesn’t mean bhava is actually manifesting yet though.


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I just wanted to jump in and say: this is not the case.

In fact, all throughout the Brahmanas, rebirth on a cosmic scale (micro and macro) is precisely how reality as a whole manifests its immortality. Even back to the RgVeda, ‘deathlessness’ was not permanent after some initial periods; one wins space in heaven, sustained by ritual/food, and eventually is rained back to join family and continue the cycle. This was not something to escape. Even in the early Upanisads, for instance BĀU, we see a distinction between painful rebirth (ants and insects being reborn without end), vs. immortal rebirth (the pitryāna) where one understands the principle of the Veda underlying it as a necessary manifestation of the monistic reality to continue its immortality; in other words, knowledge makes one immortal in the same process. In some passages, there was still not much judgement over which was better: escape into the unmanifest aspect without rebirth, or immortality via knowledge of reality/rebirth/heaven.

So rebirth → a cycle of endless suffering to escape from was an idea that evolved over a long time and gradually. In the Brahmanical tradition at least, it seems to have evolved due to influence from the sramanas and evolving contemplative philosophy which took into account the unmanifest aspect.



I opened another thread for this discussion about rebirth beliefs in society at the Buddha’s time:


Hello, venerables! :pray:

I’ve been contemplating bhava more recently, and I just wanted to add some of my thoughts on this issue that may bridge the gap. I may be repeating what you two were already saying/thinking, and if this is so I apologize. I didn’t see it explicitly in your messages though, and some ideas have come together for me recently.

@Brahmali often talks about how craving is about the future and projecting ourselves into the future. And is this not precisely what ‘taṇhā ponobbhavikā’ means? It is craving that projects us into continued existence, where we then experience the first noble truth: jāti, jarāmarana, etc. just as in the normal sequence of dependent arising.

I think that bhava is precisely this future projection that results from upādāna: we appropriate the aggregates and identify with them. As such, at death we continue to ‘grasp’ or take up/feed off of experience (due to craving) and we project our self-continuity by continuing to exist (bhava). Existing, consciousness stations itself according to kamma and eventually incarnates with a particular jāti (still part of this ‘existence’ that is sustained by āhāra/upādāna).

This provides a clear progression from tanhā to upādāna to bhava and resulting in jāti and jarāmaranasokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā. It also agrees with our general sensibilities about craving that is ‘ponobbhavikā’: namely, that it is all about projecting our self-continuity into the future. Bhava is simply the actual manifestation of this. This allows us to contemplate bhava distinctly from jāti while also maintaining the fact that bhava in the suttas is, IMO, clearly continued existence or a life as opposed to a current-life process of kamma.

SN 12.32 is an example of this. Ven. Sāriputta says he knows that rebirth has ended because its source, bhava, has ended. By knowing that there will be no continued existence (because there is no ‘taking up’ to fuel the continuation), he knows rebirth cannot occur.

I know this also relates to the antarābhava some which @Brahmali was originally not super fond of for bhava. But I’d like to emphasize a couple points as a half-summary:

  1. Bhava is here not limited to the in-between state, but simply begins with it in a very organic way and includes jāti, etc.
  2. This rendering of bhava is still very much applicable to more mundane contemplations, as it is the ontological result of our craving which projects us into the future and drives us to keep existing.
  3. This also provides a more clear connection with upādāna, and later jāti for several reasons. Upādāna is related to the cause for continuation of existence after death and to āhāra several times. It is also related to the acquisition of our identity / ‘what we are,’ which is precisely what we want to cling to and project into the future. This then allows jāti to be a smooth transition from upādāna, in that our bhava is the continuation and establishment of consciousness due to ‘taking up’ which will then evolve with birth/incarnation.

I hope this was meaningful/helpful in some way. I also think this is what @Sujato must be getting at with ‘continued existence,’ which we all seem to agree with (though I may be incorrect).


Yes. Awakening makes dependent origination cease. Ignorance ceases, and so all the other links cannot arise again. Awakening however can’t erase the past, and in the past there was Ignorance. When there was ignorance, there was kamma and with kamma this life. A lot of people seem to get stuck on this.

Possibly but my impression is dictionaries are not EBTs and dictionaries are heavily skewed towards sectarian interpretation rather than strict etymology. I think if the contextual use of the relevant word is examined in every sutta it is found, we can start to come to understand the meaning of the word. Regardless, the dictionary above says the word “abhinibbatti” can mean “becoming”, “birth” & “rebirth”. The problem I see with this, as previously mentioned, is “birth” will be the condition for “birth” or “rebirth” will be the condition for “rebirth”. This is not logical to me; that the same thing is the condition for the same thing. I guess it was previously mentioned:

  • AN 3.76 seems to equate “bhava” with “patiṭṭhita” (consciousness “established” in a type of element) & “kamma maturing” (“vepakkañca kammaṁ”)

  • SN 12.2 & DN 15 seem to equate “jati” with a “class of beings” (“sattanikaye”) such as humans, godly, ghosts, animals, etc.

It seems “bhava” is the maturing of kamma (action) that conditions the type/class of “jati”. :dizzy:

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