What is Bhava (becoming)?

So I’m reading a study guide (Into the Stream by Ven Thanissaro) and realized that I don’t actually understand what is meant by the word bhava, Ven Thanissaro translates this as becoming but I’ve also seen through searching the forum that it can also be translated as existence. In the classical depiction of dependent co-arising bhava leads to birth. When reading another thread I was linked to this sutta: SuttaCentral

Which translates becoming as Continuation and describes it in terms of places of birth/realms. What I don’t really understand here is how bhava makes sense as a thing that follows on from craving and leads to birth. Like it almost makes more sense to me that it goes craving to death, without this step of bhava.

Q: What is bhava, how does it arise in dependence on craving and how does it lead to birth?


Have a look at SN12.2:

"And what is continued existence?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, bhavo?

There are these three states of existence.
Tayome, bhikkhave, bhavā—

Existence in the sensual realm, the realm of luminous form, and the formless realm.
kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo.

This is called continued existence.
Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, bhavo."

I tend to take dependent origination as a foundational working hypothesis for awakening. It is not necessarily an exhaustive ontological model for defining the universe and all things in it.

It is inviting us to turn inward and confirm for ourselves how within us the lack of direct and complete understanding of the four Noble truths and its associated enobbling take - avijja in short - sustains and perpetuates this whole mass of suffering the process of rebirth and all the nasty things that happen in between comes to be and can be brought to an end, cessation.

This nasty process is above all impersonal and natural. And the good news is that the causation if its cessation operates under the same rules.

Hence, as important as it is to turn one’s mind to how the Buddha described this process in its suffering causing and perpetuating form, it is important to investigate and see for oneself the suffering ceasing process he rediscovered.

This suffering extinguishing version of dependent origination is beautifully presented in two key suttas: AN10.2 and SN12.23 both of which can be found in SuttaCentral:



Yes, it’s not very intuitive. The Indian languages are peculiar in that terms can mean static and dynamic concepts at the same time. The Sanskrit bhāva for example can mean ‘being’ and ‘arising’. In my mind Pali bhava in Dependent Origination means ‘restart’ or ‘conception’ or ‘seed-power’. Obviously these are not literal translations but conceptual crutches. Somaratne nicely translates as ‘self-continuity’.


It goes without saying that the venerable Sariputta said that seeing Dependent Origination is seeing the Dhamma.

In DO, because there is this, that is; because this arises, that arises.

When I consider the 12 links of Dependent Origination, backwards and forwards, I see bhava as the necessary “vehicle,” the lynchpin between clinging and rebirth, between rebirth and clinging. I know that the term “vehicle” isn’t perfect, but for lack of a better term, there it is.

When there is clinging, there arises a desire to become something to be reborn in order to continue. When there is rebirth, there arises a desire to become something that can give rise to clinging.

When I am alive and unawakened, I’m still stuck in samsara and subject to rebirth. There is ignorance, the cycle of samsara and all of the trappings that go with perpetuating my reaching for that which is going to keep me in the loop of birth, death and rebirth.

When this body takes its last breath, there is a compulsion to become, to take another ignorant attempt at finally getting what I think I want/need.

In one direction of DO, it’s the clinging to the subject of my ignorance that arises the wish to become again and that propels another round. In the other direction, it’s after rebirth happens that there needs to be a desire to become something that’s going to perpetuate the clinging.


Pali Term: Bhava

maybe this link can help…


The basic meaning of bhava is “existence” or “life”. “Becoming” is an incorrect translation, as bhava is a countable noun, eg. a stream-enterer “does not take an eighth existence”, i.e. they are only reborn seven times at most.

In its straightforward usage, bhava means “existence” or “life” in the sense of “in my past life I was Cleopatra”. But it has a more philosophical sense: we exist now, and will continue to exist in the future. So there is a continuity of “existence” which manifests as particular “lives”.

“Craving for existence” is not “craving to become”, it means “craving to continue, to survive, to be”, especially, the craving to be reborn in future lives. It can be a conscious wish or an unconscious attachment.

Modern interpreters often overlook the close connection between bhava and rebirth, so I chose to emphasize this connection in my translations.


Okay, so lemme try and put this information together:
In SN 12.23 linked by @Gabriel_L there’s this:

I say that rebirth has a vital condition.
Jātimpāhaṃ, bhikkhave, saupanisaṃ vadāmi, no anupanisaṃ.
And what is it?
Kā ca, bhikkhave, jātiyā upanisā?
You should say: ‘Continued existence.’
‘Bhavo’tissa vacanīyaṃ.

So I find this interesting in that a prerequisite for rebirth is bhava, where other suttas say that a prerequisite for bhava is rebirth (see below). I’m reminded of the house of cards analogy that each side mutually requires the other in order to stand up.

So this is interesting considering the above that Bhava is also talked about as locations/planes/containers of rebirth, places that birth is taken in. You can’t take birth without a place for the birth, you don’t have a place for births without births to put in it.

@LucasOliveira In reading the thread you linked Ven Boddhi says this:

In the formula of dependent origination [bhava] is understood to mean both (i) the active side of life that produces rebirth into a particular mode of sentient existence, in other words rebirth-producing kamma; and (ii) the mode of sentient existence that results from such activity…
bhava is concrete individual existence in one or another of the three realms. [From here and [here]( KaccanagottaSutta.htm#_edn2)]

This seems to square well with the two meanings Ven Bodhi describes above.

In another comment on that same thread someone has an excerpt from Ven Thanissaro:

Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes:
"The Buddha had a word for this experience of an identity inhabiting a world defined around a specific desire. He called it bhava , which is related to the verb bhavati , to “be,” or to “become.” He was especially interested in bhava as process — how it comes about, and how it can be ended. So “becoming” is probably a better English rendering for the term than “being” or “existence,” especially as it follows on doing, rather than existing as a prior metaphysical absolute or ground. In other words, it’s not the source from which we come; it’s something produced by the activity of our minds.

Emphasis mine. This makes sense in terms of bhava and rebirth being mutually dependent on one another.

The “stream” of existence that connects prior, current and future lives then? Maintained by our craving/clinging/etc.etc., a necessary part of taking rebirth is having a thing that takes that birth again. Kind of like how in order for a river to extend itself further it needs water flowing through it?


Is that so? I can’t recall this, can you give us a citation?

But yes, in DO many things are mutually conditioning. Bhava is more general, the ongoing process of continued existence, whereas jāti is specifically a birth into a new life.

The antarabhava or “in-between state” is something like this, a kind of no-man’s land between lives.

Yep, exactly. The point, philosophically, is of continuation: we feel that somehow “I” will continue to be in the next life, the next bhava, but in fact it is an ongoing process of the bhava we experience now, always changing and conditioned. “Lives” are just nodes in the stream of bhava.


I just check the suttas I thought this was from and had that backwards, I’ve only seen Craving > Bhava > Birth, my bad. Another analogy might be that a stream full of water (craving) needs a place to flow into (bhava) to continue its existence/extension (rebirth), without water the river would cease to flow anywhere and eventually dry up without any replenishment.

I think I feel resolved in understanding more what is meant by bhava and its function in DO.


There are also a few suttas with punabbhava, i.e. ‘again-bhava’. Eg in SN 12.38 & SN 12.64 we have mini-DOs in the form of
sankhara - punabbhava - jātijarāmaraṇa

I haven’t done a full analysis, but punabbhava might be a legit synonym for the DO bhava - which would mean that the ‘again’-aspect would be baked in the DO bhava


Antara , is this something valid ? So the moment of death for A and rebirth as B , there is a gap , were that state kind of “vacuum” ?

Fyi, in Tibetan buddhism this gap is also called Bardo:


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Some nice links on the topic in the thread! I’ve found bhava to be a rather vague term.

If one gives credence to the three lives theory of Dependent Origination (DO) (seems one reasonable enough way of approaching things to me), there appears to be a certain correspondence between sankhara (DO step 2) and bhava, the earlier being past kamma (where ignorance regarding the four noble truths led to the DO chain not being cut, leading to one’s current birth) and the later (bhava) being more related to currently active kamma that may lead to future birth.

I suppose bhava is also the root of bhavana or cultivation. The metaphor of a seed planted in the ground has come to mind regarding bhava. Perhaps bhava might correspond to selecting a seed, deciding where to plant it, and watering and preparing the ground around it. Sankhara has the dual meaning of being both the process of fabrication and also what is fabricated. I suspect bhava also may have something of this dual nature. As well as cultivating this “seed”, it would seem to also refer to the produced seed itself (the embryonic sense-sphere/fine-material/formless being). I suppose jati is distinguished as being the point when the seed actually finally takes root and sprouts (too late at that point to move it to another nicer garden or stop it sprouting).


In paṭiccasamuppāda there are two similar terms: bhava and jāti. Literally bhava means birth where jāti has the same meaning. However these are two different terms. The Buddha explains the term bhava in AN3.76 about the term bhava(see also AN3.77).

Bhava means the formation of kamma to experience the result(vipāka).The formation of kamma to result a rebirth in a kāmaloka is called kāmabhava. Similarly rūpa and arūpa bhava. When there is upādāna there is the formation of kamma to experience the kammavipāka. Therefore the birth occurs accordingly. When there is bhava to be born in kāmaloka they will be reborn in a kāmaloka.

bhavapaccayā jāti
Continued existence is a condition for rebirth

When there is continued existence there is a birth. If there is no continued existence there is no (re)birth.

If bhava is the seedling;

So, Ānanda, deeds are the field, consciousness is the seed, and craving is the moisture.
Iti kho, ānanda, kammaṃ khettaṃ, viññāṇaṃ bījaṃ, taṇhā sneho.
The consciousness of sentient beings—hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving—is established in a lower realm. That’s how there is rebirth into a new state of existence in the future.
Avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ hīnāya dhātuyā viññāṇaṃ patiṭṭhitaṃ evaṃ āyatiṃ punabbhavābhinibbatti hoti. (AN 3.76)


In a sense, impermanence means that existence is always a becoming, these words are synonyms.

Bhava as Bhante Sujato has said is life. It can be life in any of the three worlds - Sensual, Form or formless. Whatever intentional actions performed in any life generate the potential for rebirth because of the potential for consequences inherent in intentional actions. It is like getting Apples if an Apple tree is planted.
Bhava or life therefore is a work in progress. It is dynamic and never static. That is why someone like Angulimala could realize Nibbana although he had committed murders.
With Metta

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Tattha katamo upādānapaccayā bhavo? Bhavo duvidhena -atthi kammabhavo, atthi upapattibhavo. Tatta katamo kammabhavo? Puññābhisaṅkhāro, apuññābhisaṅkhāro, āneñjābhisaṅkhāro -ayaṃ vuccati “Kammabhavo”. Sabbampi bhavagāmikammaṃ kammabhavo.
Tattha katamo upapattibhavo? Kāmabhavo, rūpabhavo, arūpabhavo, saññābhavo, asaññābhavo, nevasaññānāsaññābhavo, ekavokārabhavo, catuvokārabhavo, pañcavokārabhavo -ayaṃ vuccati “Upapattibhavo”. Iti ayañca kammabhavo, ayañca upapattibhavo. Ayaṃ vuccati “upādānapaccayā bhavo”.

Definition of Continuation

Herein, what is ‘with attachment as condition: continuation?’

Continuation is two-fold: there is continuation through (intentional) deeds, there is continuation through rebirth.

Herein, what is ‘continuation through (intentional) deeds?’

(There is) a meritorious (volitional) process, a demeritorious (volitional) process, an impertubable (volitional) process.

This is said to be ‘continuation through (intentional) deeds’.

All (intentional) deeds leading to continuation is continuation from (intentional) deeds.

Herein, what is ‘continuation through rebirth?’

(There is) continuation in the sense-world spheres, continuation in the form-world spheres, continuation in the formless-world spheres, continuation with perception, continuation without perception, continuation with neither-perception-nor-non-perception, continuation with one constituent, continuation with four constituents, continuation with five constituents.

This is said to be ‘continuation through rebirth’.

Thus, this is continuation through (intentional) deeds, this is continuation through rebirth.

This is said to be ‘with attachment as condition: continuation’(Ven.Anandajoti).
Note: Continuation = bhava


I thought here only for ebt !?

I don’t understand your comment? :man_shrugging:

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No ? Isnt here at suttacentral one is not allowed to post mahayana or vajrayana material afaik .