Embryo development and the arrival of gandhabba

"Tiṇṇaṃ kho pana, bhikkhave, sannipātā gabbhassāvakkanti hoti. Idhamātāpitaro ca sannipatitā honti, mātā ca na utunīhoti, gandhabbo ca na paccupaṭṭhito hoti, nevatāva gabbhassāvakkanti hoti"

Union of three things is required to the descent of the embryo takes place,

  1. Union of the mother and father
  2. The mother is in season
  3. Presence of gandhabba

According to modern science, observing and reasoning of first two things is possible. But it never discusses about non material part (nāma) of a being. I have done a review about embryo development of humans to figure it out the exact point for the presence of gandhabba. This is what I am going to discuss.

However, there is no solid evidence to suggest that union of these three happens at once, with fertilization. There are few facts to consider deciding the exact point: the arrival of gandhabba.

First thing to consider is what governs embryo development: is it completely materialistic or is it governed by non materialistic factors.

When we take an account of the teaching from Mahānidānasuttaṃ,
Viññāṇañca hi, ānanda, mātukucchismiṃ na okkamissatha, api nu khonāmarūpaṃ mātukucchismiṃ samuccissathā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”. “Viññāṇañca hi, ānanda, mātukucchismiṃ okkamitvā vokkamissatha, apinu kho nāmarūpaṃ itthattāyaabhinibbattissathā”ti? “No hetaṃ, bhante”.

which means,
How that is so, Ānanda, should be understood in this way: If consciousness were not to descend into the mother’s womb, would mentality-materiality take shape in the womb?”
“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

“If, after descending into the womb, consciousness were to depart, would mentality-materiality be generated into this present state of being?”
“Certainly not, venerable sir.”

With this evidence we can think the Viññāṇa (consciousness) should be there to develope nāmarūpa (mentality-materiality) and consciousness is a vital to development of embryo.

As we can see in kammasuttaṃ,
“And what, bhikkhus, is old kamma? The eye is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt. The ear is old kamma so on”
According to above sutta, all the senses (wholebody) arises from previous kamma. Then it is confirmed there should be a consciousness for the development of nāmarūpa which can be identified as the embryo in this case.

Second thing is, whether the arival takes place before the implant of the fetus in utrerus wall or is it possible even after.

As Indaka sutta explains,
There are few stages of embryo development,

  1. kalala: Apparently = “mud”, also used for an oily residuum, and the yolk of an egg. Probably a predifferentiated state. (blastocyst?)
  2. abbuda: Apparently = “tumour”.
  3. pesi: a lump of flesh, a piece of meat.
  4. ghana: A mass; interpreted by the dictionary here as a “swelling”[1].

In this case we are more concerned about the first stage. Ever since blessed one mentioned kalala stage, by the time of the zygote becomes kalala it has already gained gandhabba. This can be concluded using few references from attakata. Kalala remains for 7 days
(Sattāhaṃ kalalaṃ hoti).
As the explaination about kalala this is as smaller as a drop of oil on the tip of a hair dipped in oil and shook off 7 times. ( from specific animal who has softer hair) [2].
We cannot get down to a solid conclusion with above details however, in my opinion, this explaination equals with “morula” and “blastosyst” from modern embryology and kalala stage may be the blastosyst or morula.

There is a technique called embryo transfer refers to a step in the process of assisted reproduction in which embryos are placed into the uterus of a female with the intent to establish a pregnancy.

Some of the studies showed that blastocyst stage transfer is more effective than early (day 2 or 3) stage transfer in embryo transfer. The success rate increased from 31% to 32-41% with blastosyst stage embryo transfer [4]. With this evidance we can assume the arrival of gandhabba is more prone to blastosyst stage than ealy stages. However, since there are successful cases the gandhabba can arrive at early stages.
Note: In vitro arrival of gandhabba is possible

Third fact is twining and multiple pregnancies.
Twinning may originate from two zygotes (dizygotic, nonidentical, or fraternal) or from one zygote (monozygotic, identical).

In this case identical twinning should be take into account since this kind of twins are formed from single zygote.
Then this is a insidance where two consciousnesses placed in one embryo.
Is it possible? :smirk:

Since, there are conjoined people alive in the world. Yes, this is possible. Living conjoined life by BBC
When twinning occurs most of them develope into two separate children and in some cases rarely conjoined twins are formed.
CONJOINED TWINS: result of incomplete division of embryonic disk and are named by regions of attachment [3].

Since twinning forms two separate beings, there should be two different Viññāṇas. As already been explained, consciousness should be there to the development of embryo and it forms according to previous kamma. Then we can assume the differentiation and specification of an embryo could be controlled by previous kamma of each individual separately. Then we can an idea with differentiation of the embryo whether there are two different individuals developing. Splitting of the embryo indicates the presence of two consciousnesses. In the twinning we can clearly observe development of two individuals are simultaneous which lead us to think that they both come together.

Please note that differentiation should be spesific to each individual because it occurs with previous kamma.

However, splitting can be occur at several stages of embryo development.

  1. Morula (1-3d)
  2. Blastosyst (4-8d)
  3. Implanted blastosyst (8-13d)
  4. Formed embryonic disc (13-15d) [3].

With above imformation we can assume the arrival of gandhabba can be occur from zygote to embryonic disc which has a duration of about two weeks. It is kind of odd to think that the arrival of gandhabba and union of three facts from Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhayasutta would possibly be occur in a quiet a long duration (14-15d).


Presence of two consciousnesses in one body is possible.
There is no solid evidence to conclude kalala stage from indaka sutta is zygote or blastosyst.
Arrival of gandhabba can be occur at any stage of embryo development either before implant or after implant. (Can be the zygote or a later stage)

I would like to know your ideas about the conclusions and the topic:slightly_smiling_face:


  1. Bhante Sujato’s question in Q & A also on a related topic
    Anyone have some medical advice on embryonic development?
  2. Indakasuttavaṇṇanā
    Chattha Sangayana Tipitaka
  3. Twinning
    Chapter 30. Multiple Pregnancies - Review of Medical Embryology Book - LifeMap Discovery
  4. Glujovsky D, Blake D, Farquhar C, Bardach A. Cleavage stage versus blastocyst stage embryo transfer in assisted reproductive technology" Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 7.

Thanks, these are some interesting ideas, I hadn’t thought of the implications of twinning before.

Do you know anything about the medical reasons for why twinning occurs? Can it be induced? I am thinking that, if twinning can be induced, then it cannot be due to the presence of two consciousnesses.


Bhante @sujato, For my knowledge there is no such a method to induce twinning. However, there are methods to choose different male and female gametes where people can decide even the sex of the child in advanced embryo tranfer technologies.
Since, embryo transfer success rates are low, we can assume that might be due to non material factor (consciousness/ nama). Having long duration for the union, is important where the chance of a being to become a human is very low.

Bhikkhus, suppose a man would throw a yoke with a single hole into the great ocean, and there was a blind turtle which would come to the surface once every hundred years. What do you think, bhikkhus, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole?”

“If it would ever do so, venerable sir, it would be only after a very long time.”

“Sooner, I say, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole than the fool who has gone once to the nether world would regain the human state
(Yoke with a hole)

If the union was limited to fertilization there would have been extremely lower chance to occur.

Causes of monozygotic twins

  • A mutation in the mother’s RNA which may control embryogenesis in the first nine days.
  • The splitting of embryo is more of a random process then genetically governed one.
  • Genetic mutation which leads to rejection of one group of cells by the other.

Have you considered the case of planariae (non-parasitic flatworms of the Turbellaria class) which, once cut in half, become almost instantly two new beings?


Bhante, @sujato,
There are studies on assisted reproduction that reveals more prominent twinning occur in assisted reproduction. They say there is a small proportion of oocytes that might have an inborn propensity to undergo splitting upon fertilization leading to spontaneous monozygotic twinning.


This one is interesting, however it is really hard to suggest a michanism for non material part for this kind of cases.
I believe there should be a nervous system to become a conscious being, planariae also has a less developed nervous system.

In this case I think this is one type of jathi (birth) explained in bddhism as beings who has birth from moisture (Saṃsedaja).


I make sense of it as cutting in pieces only splits sufficiently complete structures for the dependent origination of bhava to take place.

These structures are sufficiently complete in the sense they contain enough elements of nama-rupa, salayatana, phassa, vedana, tanha and upadana for bhava to take place and eventuate in the virtually instant “birth” (out of moisture if you wish) of a new individual planaria organism.

All that, of course, supported by avijja-fueled momemntum in form of sankhara and vinnana.

But all this is just theoretical speculation from my side. To truly see this, that is what matters and a very different story altogether.


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I wander how fast the process is, of becoming complete organism. Is it only a rearrangement of cells or do they produce new cells at that rate?
Do you have any idea? References?

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Apparently, there is a time gap between you cut and see one of the halves moving (the one without eyes). The half with eyes should be seen behaving as an individual in a smaller time-frame.
Cells rearrange and form eyes as soon as possible and from that point the new individual is seen moving and eating.

That is what I got via inductive reasoning from what I have seen reported on the topic. I have never performed the experiment myself though.


The regeneration occurs with the use of its stem cells.
Stem cell division is controlled by surrounding microenvironment, called niche.
They are having outstanding cell signaling mechanisms to stem cell mediated regeneration. Freshwater planarians are capable of stem cell-mediated whole-body regeneration.


@ Amatabhani: this is quite a substantial contribution, and as such I’m relocating the thread to essays. I trust that is ok with you.


No problem @Gillian You can relocate…
Thank you!:slightly_smiling_face:


Hello Amata ,

Fyi that the gandhabba should not be regarded as the consciousness itself . And the namarupa should not be taken as the embryo either .
The problem here is the science and dhamma sort of not compatible as it seems .
Science appear inadequate in explaining mentality and confined to define and interpret something of materiality especially . Dhamma on the other hand is to end sufferings . Direction of both does not necessarily meet somewhere somehow .

Regards .

Hi @anon85245511,
Here gandhabba means reunited consciousness (patisandiViññāṇa) which is the first thought arose in the embryo.
Please check again that I did not mention nāmarūpa can be taken as embryo. There is no explain in he essay about nāmarūpa, to keep the essay short.
However, rūpa in this case is clearly the embryo which is developing governed by previous kamma of the being. The development process consists of a succession of mental and material (nāmarūpa).
It is not a problem to compare science and buddhism, Of cause science is inadequate in explaining metality, but that doesn’t mean that you should not compare. In my opinion, as long as you know the limitations there will not be a problem comparing.

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Hi Amata , it is not a problem to compare .

Actually , Gandhabba was not defined in the text . It is not the first thought arises in the embryo , however probably you could provide us with the references if any .

Rupa is not the embryo either .
As I said , namarupa has nothing to do with embryo as many mistaken .

I would like to know your explaination!
Then Ill explain my opinion, and it will take time ro find relevant references. However, I wonder why namarupa has nothing to do with embryo, I might be mistaken.
Please note that, I am a bit new to english discussions where I found it difficult finding suttas.

What is mentality-materiality (nama-rupa)? Feeling, perception, volition, contact and attention — these are called mentality. The four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements — these are called materiality.

What is consciousness? There are these six classes of consciousness: eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-consciousness, body-consciousness, mind-consciousness.

SN 12.2 & MN 9

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In Buddhism, the so-called “individual” including embryo, is represented by the term nāmarūpa or a psycho-physical unit, (mind-body, mentality-materiality or name and form) composed by the material factor (rūpa) and non-material factor (nāma). All living beings are composed of the aggregates of the mind and the body. In Buddhism, those who has functioning minds and bodies are considered as living beings. As long as consciousness is functioning, craving (tanhā) is there, which leads to rebirth, except within an enlightened one.
So lets discuss about nāmarūpa.
“Katamañca, bhikkhave, nāmarūpaṃ? Vedanā, saññā, cetanā, phasso, manasikāro -idaṃvuccati nāmaṃ. Cattāro ca mahābhūtā, catunnañca mahābhūtānaṃ upādāyarūpaṃ. Idaṃvuccati rūpaṃ. Iti idañca nāmaṃ, idañca rūpaṃ. Idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, nāmarūpaṃ.

And what, bhikkhus, is name-and-form? Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention: this is called name. The four great elements(Cattāro mahābhūtā) and the form derived from the four great elements(upādāyarūpaṃ): this is called form (rūpaṃ). Thus this name and this form are together called name-and-form.
(Sutracentral - Analysis of Dependent Origination)

In vibhaṅgasuttaṃ name and form (mentality-materiality) is explained where nāma contains Feeling(vedanā), perception(saññā), volition(cetanā) , contact(phasso), attention(manasikāro) and form (rūpaṃ) consists of the four great elements and the form derived from the four great elements.
When we consider a being in the world of the pleasures (kāmaloka), he consists of nāma and rūpa.
Ever since we don’t see any presence of four great elements in embryo other than the material part in it. It seems to be there is nothing wrong considering embryo (corporeal part) as the form.

Note: I don’t see any other way of making name and form in an embryo other than the process of development and the differentiation. There is no evidence to prove the process consists no consciousness according to EBTs.

“with name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases” (SN 12.1)

According to above sutta the six senses arises with name and form and when we again consider vibhaṅgasuttaṃ,

“Katamañca, bhikkhave, saḷāyatanaṃ? Cakkhāyatanaṃ, sotāyatanaṃ, ghānāyatanaṃ, jivhāyatanaṃ, kāyāyatanaṃ, manāyatanaṃ, idaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, saḷāyatanaṃ.
which can be translated to,
And what, bhikkhus, are the six sense bases? The eye base, the ear base, the nose base, the tongue base, the body base, the mind base. These are called the six sense bases.

As we can see the formation of six sense bases occurs with name and form, formation of the senses in the embryo also should be occurred in the same way. Now one might argue in a embryo, we could only find eye (Cakkhuṃ) not the eye base (Cakkhāyatanaṃ). Then we have to consider the definition of an āyatana.

From Abhidhamma,
Katamaṃ taṃ rūpaṃ cakkhāyatanaṃ? Yaṃ cakkhu catunnaṃmahābhūtānaṃ upādāya pasādoattabhāvapariyāpanno anidassano sappaṭigho, yena cakkhunā anidassanena sappaṭighenarūpaṃ sanidassanaṃ sappaṭighaṃ passi vāpassati vā passissati vā passe vā, cakkhuṃ petaṃcakkhāyatanaṃ petaṃ cakkhudhātu pesācakkhundriyaṃ petaṃ loko peso dvārā pesāsamuddo peso paṇḍaraṃ petaṃ khettaṃ petaṃvatthuṃ petaṃ nettaṃ petaṃ nayanaṃ petaṃorimaṃ tīraṃ petaṃ suñño gāmopeso – idaṃtaṃ rūpaṃ cakkhāyatanaṃ.

What is that form which is the sphere of vision?
The eye, that is to say the sentient organ, derived from the Great Phenomena, forming part of the nature of the self, invisible and reacting

— by which eye, invisible and reacting, one has seen, sees, will, or may see form that is visible and impingeing —

this that is sight,the sphere of sight,the element of vision,the faculty of vision,
this that is:
‘a world’,‘a door’,‘an ocean’,‘lucent’,‘a field’,‘a basis’,‘a guide’,‘guidance’,the ‘hither shore’,an ‘empty village’
— this is that form which constitutes the sphere of vision.(SS)

From this definition we can understand what is a cakkhāyatana? the eye, that is to say the sentient organ, derived from the Great Phenomena, so on.
In an embryo, all the bases or spheres are formed with the development process. At first place kāyāyatana may be there and with the time, other bases also appears.

Hope this much would be enough to understand how rupa forma in the embryo development process.
Note: we cannot find exact definitions and processes from the EBTs, in some cases we have to use relevant suttas and make explainations.
Best regards!

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If I’m not mistaken, bhante, certain fertility treatments for women who have difficulty conceiving can exponentially raise the chances of having twins, triplets, etc. The woman who got called the “Octomom” by the press a while back was on one such fertility treatment I believe.

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This is correct, but there is no intentional twinning reported(correction) @Coemgenu

There is no research articles on induced twinning in human, as I mentioned earlier. I have searched on google scholar to find out whether there are any studies on the topic.
Embryo transfer shows unusual tendencies of twinning and defects. Transferred embryos get splitted in to two or more embryos to form twins, but the exact reasons for the unusual twinning is yet to be found. There are several studies suggesting mechanisms.
But there was one study on induced twinning and they failed to establish the twin formation as reported by Hershenov (2006). However, there are some sucssesful cases reported on induced twinning in animals. Humans also show indirect evidance to induced twinning, if we are taking assisted reproduction as an induction where the act is still not intentional and twinning is unpredictable.

Since some studies on amimals were successful, there is a possibility of developing methods to induced twinning in human.

Read for more information:
ROSE KOCH-HERSHENOV (2006) Totipotency, Twinning, and Ensoulment at Fertilization, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 31:2, 139-164,
DOI: 10.1080/03605310600588673