Workshop 1: Myth-busting

Sadhu Bhante,

I would like to suggest as a topic (maybe already implicitly included in one of the above) the Sutras’ / Suttas’ concept of gandharva / gandhabba and its role in the process of rebirth and how, for example, this is or not preserved in the current actual Theravada views on the process of rebirth.

An interesting article on the subject is the one recently written by Jayarava in his blog:

With reverence and respect,


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We’ll talk more about this in later sessions. But the basic idea is that we have underlying forces or tendencies that direct our minds in certain directions, for good or for bad. If we act out on these, we create kamma. If we are mindful, and recognize attachments for what they are, we can act with wisdom and start to undo kamma.

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As always, Jayarava has an interesting and well-researched article. But, (again as always!) I can’t agree with all his conclusions. I find it especially strange that he says that there’s no Vedic connection between the Gandhabba and conception, when this is present in the Vedic quotes he gives. One of them says:

gandharvó apsú ápiyā ca yóṣāsā́
no nā́bhiḥ paramáṃ jāmí tán nau
The gandharva and the maiden in the waters,
Is our supreme origin, that is our relationship.

which connects the gandhabba with birth, jami, translated as “origin” here; but the fact that this is all with the maiden in the waters strongly suggests we are in the womb, and should translate as “birth” or perhaps “conception”. He then quotes:

pataṃgó vā́cam mánasā bibharti
tā́ṃ gandharvó avadad gárbhe antáḥ
The bird carries speech in its mind,
The gandharva spoke that inside the womb;

which makes this quite explicit. So it seems to me that the Buddhist use of the gandhabba in the context of rebirth—which is basically found in one passage, a passage that itself is said to be of Brahmanical origin—may be quite simply understood as an extension of this old Vedic usage. Really the only curious detail is why this animist notion came to be included in a teaching on dependent origination, instead of just speaking of “consciousness”, as normal.

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we’ll let you know when they are ready.

details are here:

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Sadhu Bhante,

I would like to suggest as an interesting topic:

How does the phenomena of regrowth of planariae (non-parasitic flatworms of the Turbellaria class) could be understood under the concept of kamma and rebirth?

“Very small pieces of the planarian, estimated to be as little as 1/279th of the organism it is cut from, can regenerate back into a complete organism over the course of a few weeks. (…) In fact, if the head of a planaria is cut in half down its centre, and each side retained on the organism, it is possible for the planaria to regenerate two heads and continue to live.”


“We then used this new system to train flatworms in an environmental familiarization protocol. We show that worms exhibit environmental familiarization, and that this memory persists for at least 14 days – long enough for the brain to regenerate. We further show that trained, decapitated planarians exhibit evidence of memory retrieval in a savings paradigm after regenerating a new head.”

Not only two (or more) completely new and independent sentient planariae seem to arise from the same body (cut in half or up to 250+ pieces) but also they seem to share some sort of memory acquired previously to being cut!

With reverence and respect,


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Dear Bhante,

What a great opportunity to learn about kamma and rebirth, sadhu sadhu sadhu!

I wonder if you are familiar with the Dhamma approach given by the Bhikkhu Vupasama and his teachings on karma of correlative conditioning?

The best vibes,


Ooo, good one! The teaching on karma and rebirth seems to be mainly centered around a “normal” sentient being context, and in borderline contexts, like this one, it’s not at all obvious what is going on. I’ll being seeing Ven Brahmali in a few days, and we’ll see if we can add this to the list.

I’m not, unfortunately. I’m a little aware of Ven Vupasama: he’s teaching Early Buddhism in Taiwan, right? With him, Ven Kukrit in Thailand, and Ven Gnanananda in Sri Lanka, it seems there’s a renaissance in Early Buddhism in the Buddhist world right now.

If you have any resources to share, this is the place to do it.

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We need a Early Buddhism revolution :smile: !!!

Sure do Bhante, there is almost nothing translated into english but this is what I found searching on the internet:

  • In there you can find the teachings of 1. relevant influencing versus karma and 2. karma of fatalism and karma of correlative conditioning


Audio material: Karma of fatalism versus and karma of Relevant Influencing (spoken in Chinese; translation in English)

Hope that helps :smile:

Hi Bhante,

I just wanted to thank you for offering this course. As a Mum of a 6 month old I find it difficult to travel to the nearest temple (which isn’t too close anyway!). I am so grateful for courses like this that offer online learning and the means to be in contact with others. I look forward to the course and “meeting” everyone here online :smile:


Very glad to have you on board! Sorry that it’s hard for you to attend a temple; actually, I have repeatedly raised the issue of child-care facilities in Buddhist centers so that mothers such as yourself can be supported to attend. I hope we can improve in this area!

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Dear Bhante,

many thanks to you and Ajahn Brahmali for offering this course! Also, “hi” to everyone :smile:!

Here a Myth, which is hopefully not busted: “With experience of Nibbaana Kamma is not ended entirely.”
(The Arahat only has let go of all desires/intentions - i.e. kamma - that would lead to a renewed existence. Kamma is only entirely extinguished/dissolved for that particular stream of consciousness at Parinibbaana. [Added later: I just realized that this deviates slightly from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s exposition, where he uses the term Kriyas for the actions of an Arahat. I think, I remember, however, that Ajahn Brahm once said, that an Arahat still produces kamma, because he still needs to do some planning - e.g. he needs to supply food to his body etc. which implies that he goes on almsround. So, he needs to have the “volition” to do so and make a “plan” to get up, grab his alms bolw, go to the village, etc… However, this kamma does not bind him to a new rebirth… I am looking forward to hear, what you make of it.] )
{ADDED ON 24.01.2015: Bhikkhu Anaalayo takes in his book “Satipatthaana - the direct path” p. 258 essentially the same position as Bhikkhu Bodhi, stating that the Arahat has “gone beyond karma”. “…as indicated in the Saman.aman.dikaa Sutta, they are spntaneously virtuous…” Maybe this point is still open to debate? It is also possible of course, that I just misunderstood what Ajahn Brahm meant. As I said, I thought I heard him mention this in one of his talks as a side note. Since it is difficult to discuss an issue which I may or may not have understood correctly from Ajahn Brahm, when he is not present himself, I could very well understand if you do not want to go into this side issue.
I just went back to MN 78, where the Buddha first talks about applying the scheme of the four noble truth to the training with respect to unwholesome and wholesome habits and unwholesome and wholesome intentions. I think, Bhikkhu Anaalayo refers to a passage at MN ii 27 - 11.: “where wholesome habits cease without remainder”, “And how does he practice the way to the cessation of wholesome habits”. It becomes clear from the ending of the Sutta that the Buddha refers to an Arahat. Hence, according to this Sutta even wholesome habits ceased in an Arahat . I am not sure if this implies that he does no generate Kamma anymore. It could also mean that he does everything fully mindful and not out of habit. Also, when talking about where unwholesome/wholesome intentions cease, the Sutta clearly relates to the Jhanas. Thus, the Sutta leaves the possibility open that an Arahat could still have neutral intentions (e.g. intention to drink some water) or wholesome intentions (e.g. intention to teach the Dhamma) when not immersed in Jhana meditation. In my understanding, this would imply that an Arahat could still accumulate kusala Kamma, because he still has intention and intention ‘is’ Kamma. :slight_smile: The realy mind blowing part of the Sutta to me is anyways, that one even has to see the cessation of wholesome habits ans intentions. This is to say, one has to understand the whole range of habits and intentions - just understanding the ‘bad side’ is not enough.}

Cheers, Robert

P.S.: Excuses for the not very clearly formulated question after your talk. I rather meant: “what is the experience of streamentry like?” and mingled that question with the following statement, which I thought I had understood from one of Ajahn Brahms talks (citing from memory):“The experience of the Jhanas involves letting go of the body and parts of the mind up to the point where even volition (4th khanda) ceases. […] At the experience of Nibbaana even consciousness ceases/stops [temporarily].” Maybe I just misunderstood what Ajahn Brahm said. Also, I always have problems to decide, which of the khandas fall away in which meditation stage - probably because I did not experience any high stages myself so far. Anyways, I am contented for now with your explanation that streamentry is temporarily seeing how it is to be without greed, hatred and delusion. This keeps it simple. Thanks! Also thanks for the refernce to your blog.

Dear Bhante,

Thank you for this course.

In regard to “in-between state” could you explain what sutta passages support this conclusion. Also what are the arguments given in late theravade text such as Kathavathu against this and how to they may not fit with early Buddhism. I am curious because I once mentioned about the possibility to a friend of “in between states” but he said it was refuted and gave some arguments which made me feel I need to know more clearly what the Buddha taught . I hope you will give all the related references for all these topics.

Also I have a question on right view which is sometimes explained as kamma and rebirth and at other times as insight in to four noble truths. Are these related?

With metta,

Dear Bhante and community,

when I was in Sydney to attend the first workshop, I mentioned a book I had read about a near death experience of a neurosurgeon. But I couldn’t remember the name. Here it is: Dr. med. Eben Alexander, “Proof of Heaven” (German translation: “Blick in die Ewigkeit”). The author describes a very extraordinary near death experience, and in the end, examines various hypotheses of scientific explanations of what he experienced, like “due to dysfunctional brain function”, “due to drugs” etc. - and comes to the conclusion that none of them is valid. So it has to be a “real” near death experience!

Another very interesting near death experience is described by Anita Moorjani in her book “Dying to be me” (German translation: “Heilung im Licht”).

With metta to everybody,

Dear Bhante,

I have another myth for you: “If you fully try to understand the workings of your Kamma, you will go nuts!”
(I think, the Buddha made this statement somewhere in the suttas using more apt wording. :slight_smile: )

With mettaa,

Here’s another topic: how merit relates to karma.

Just sticking to the question on kamma here, it seems like a problem of language, nothing more. An arahant does not do anything that would lead to another rebirth, so in that sense they make no new kamma. And that is the important thing, and the main way that kamma is used in the suttas. They do, however still have intention; they still make choices. These are however not motivated by craving connected with rebirth. Whether you call this “kamma” or not is really just a matter of definition. My understanding would be that this is not called kamma. In other words not all intention is kamma. The Abhidhamma captures this by using the related word kiriya instead of kamma.

This brings up one of the points in why the Buddha defined kamma as intention. It is not so that he could simply equate the two; it was to overcome a prevalent “myth” of the time, which held that by performing certain ritual acts you could go to heaven.

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Here’s an essay I wrote some time ago that addresses these questions. Hopefully it is helpful!

RebirthInbetweenState.pdf (158.4 KB)

And as to the relation between kamma and the four noble truths: everything the Buddha taught is part of the four noble truths, so yes, it is related. The teaching on kamma and rebirth mostly pertains to the second and thrid noble truths: what is it that we do that generates new rebirth, and how do we stop it.

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Thanks so much Maria. If someone could provide some internet links that give more details on these experiences that would be great. And I hope your trip back to Germany went well!