What is bhava and how is it related to up upādāna?

OK. So now I think I understand (ho ho ho :wink: ) that bhava refers to the 31 realms of existence:

“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." sn12.2

Thanks @Martin for this reference from a related thread

So that makes sense in terms of jāti (birth). How can one be (re)born if there is no realm of existence into which to be reborn? So I’m cool with that.

But how does upādāna condition bhava?

‘clinging’ (or ‘taking up like fuel is taken up when a candle burns’ depending on ones understanding), is defined in the same sutta as:

“And what, bhikkhus, is clinging? There are these four kinds of clinging: clinging to sensual pleasures, clinging to views, clinging to rules and vows, clinging to a doctrine of self. This is called clinging.

Is the suggestion here that the whole of existence is created mentally by the action of taking up: sense pleasures, views, rules to live by and misunderstanding that there is a Self?

Is there a sutta that explains the mechanism in more detail?

Many thanks for reading.


It’s exactly what the compiler(s) of Arthaviniscaya Sutra of Sarvastivada think because the text explained bhava as realms of existence too:

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Upadana causes bhava. There are some suttas saying by shifting attachment, and there is karmic ability, that people are born in particular states. SuttaCentral

“If, Ānanda, there were no deeds to result in the sensual realm, would continued existence in the sensual realm still come about?” “No, sir.” SuttaCentral

The idea that bhava is mental is right, but there is a corresponding kāma, rupa and arupa planes and aren’t dreamt up. The physical realm isn’t rejected.


Depending on your level of Upadana the level of Bhava is determined.
For instance an Arahants do not have any Upadana hence there is no Bhava.
Arupavacara beings have the self view (Mana) hence they are not Arahants.
People who are born on Kamavacara realms have all of the clinging.
But consider Sotapanna. He will be reborn maximum seven times as they have eliminated clinging to rules and vows and self view.
Anagamis (eliminated to clinging to sensual pleasures) have their own special place for rebirth.

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There is an another possibility. When there is a ‘being’ to be reborn there is rebirth. A ‘being’ as in defined by the following.

A being,’ lord. ‘A being,’ it’s said. To what extent is one said to be ‘a being’?”
“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for form, Rādha: when one is caught up [satta] there, tied up [visatta] there, one is said to be ‘a being [satta].’
“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for feeling… perception… fabrications…
“Any desire, passion, delight, or craving for consciousness, Rādha: when one is caught up there, tied up there, one is said to be ‘a being.’

An Arahant is said to have destroyed bhava. But they still live and teach the dhamma to others until their parinibbana.


A detailed discussion on this topic in Dhamma Wheel.


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Thank you all - very useful. I think that it is going to take some time to digest all of this.

Very good. Thank you.

Might we say that the physical realm isn’t rejected, but it is not independent of the mental?

Many thanks. I wonder if you have a reference for where it is said that the Arahant has destroyed Bhava?

The way that I currently understand it, continuing the ‘Buddha as a doctor’ analogy: It’s like we have a bacterial infections that is spewing toxins into the body, the Arahant has taken the antibiotics (eightfold path) and all the bacteria are dead (job done, no more kamma), but there are still toxins floating around the body until parinibbana. Once born, one is always subject to death.

If the Arahant has destroyed Bhava, then my current understanding is in error.

I dont have any thing on my notes right now. It will take some time to search the suttas. I will get back to you. In the mean time the following sutta also point to that.

This was said by the Lord…
“Bhikkhus, held by two kinds of views, some devas and
human beings hold back and some overreach; only those with vision see.
“And how, bhikkhus, do some hold back? Devas and humans enjoy being, delight in being, are satisfied with being. When Dhamma is taught to them for the cessation of being, their minds do not enter into it or acquire confidence in it or settle upon it or become resolved upon it. Thus, bhikkhus, do some hold back.
“How, bhikkhus, do some overreach? Now some are troubled, ashamed, and disgusted by this very same being and they rejoice in (the idea of) non-being, asserting: ‘In as much as this self, good sirs, when the body perishes at death, is annihilated and destroyed and does not exist after death—this is peaceful, this is excellent, this is reality!’ Thus, bhikkhus, do some overreach.
“How, bhikkhus, do those with vision see? Herein a bhikkhu sees what has come to be as having come to be. Having seen it thus, he practises the course for turning away, for dispassion, for the cessation of what has come to be. Thus, bhikkhus, do those with vision see.”
Having seen what has come to be
As having come to be,
Passing beyond what has come to be,
They are released in accordance with truth
By exhausting the craving for being.
When a bhikkhu has fully understood
That which has come to be as such,
Free from craving to be this or that,
By the extinction of what has come to be
He comes no more to renewal of being.
This too is the meaning of what was said by the Lord, so I heard.

PS: here bhava is translated as being.

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Observe the mimosa pudica in the two following videos. Observe its behaviour! In the first it responds positively to the touch of sunlight, in the second negatively to that of human flesh:

This behaviour of the plant, and the echo of which you can easily discern pervading every human inclination, may be regarded as a very basic, primitive form of “upadana”; and it acquires physiological and emotional dimensions with more complex forms of life such as animals, and with human, abstract and conceptual dimensions as well (someone expresses an “idea” to which you respond with love or hate). Upadana is thus substantiating your experiences like that; the natural situation where you get stimulated by what you experience, and respond to it spontaneously, automatically, habitually, independently from self-awareness and self-regulation, just like that plant, inclining to what you like, repelling away from what you don’t like.

Bhava arises out of that. Each time you act in this way, not just physically or verbally, but also mentally, through emotional and conceptual habitual responses, you reinforce or give a further push to all these behavioural habits. Thus they become more established, more deeply rooted, digging deeper and deeper into the foundations of the heart simply through the repetition of behaviour. These behavioural habits can thus gain such momentum throughout one’s life to the extent that they may become chronic to the consciousness, hard to change even if one wanted to be free of them, and then, even death won’t stop them! Just as they reinforce themselves through one’s own oblivious and conditioned life, they carry on further beyond death into another life, and they continue to reinforce themselves there, with no counter force to stop them, and so on, endlessly. Hence the connection with subsequent rebirth in various different realms which correspond to the nature and qualities of one’s heart by the time of death. This is a condition of samsaric existence.

The Buddha taught that human, unlike the plant above, or other animals, can become aware of those habitual, engrained behavioural tendencies, and can understand their ramifications and consequences on both the psychological and cosmological levels, and that through this awareness he can practise in such a way as to become alienated from them, dispassionate about them, non-reactionary to them, so that they find no psychological foundation upon which to sustain their roots, but gradually grow weaker and weaker, unsubstantiated, all the way up to their total and final cessation. Precisely that, is nibbana or Buddhist salvation, the end of bhava, bhava-nirodha. May it be the reward of all beings, unless they have other plans!!