12 December 2014

Manomaya Kāya: Other Early Texts

Essay no.400.

For the Nikāyakāra (the authors of the Pali Nikāyas) it was devas in the rūpadhātu (or their meditative equivalents) who possessed bodies (kāya) made by the mind, or were a mind-made group (kāya). Devas were supernatural beings, but they had the advantage of being part of the existing mythology of Buddhism (and the Ganges Valley generally). Devas were already culturally contextualised. Devas think, speak and interact with beings in the manussaloka (often with the Buddha) and thus, by the Buddhist understanding, they need to be embodied, to have a body endowed with senses, to possess all of the skandhas. We've seen (Manomaya Kāya: Pali Texts) that the Pali words for this are "rūpiṃ... sabbaṅga-paccaṅgiṃ ahīnindriyaṃ".

The antarābhava appears to be a new category of existence outside the universally accepted threefold model of the cosmos consisting of: kāmadhātu, rūpadhātu and arūpadhātu. Nor is it one of the five (later six) rebirth destinations (gati; sugati/durgati). These facts lie at the heart of the arguments of the sects that reject antarābhava. Like devas, beings in the antarābhava are conceived of as having cognition and thus they must be embodied in some form. Buddhists who believed in an antarābhava seem to have adapted the existing idea of a deva with a manomaya kāya to help explain the mode of existence in that state. This new mode of existence, outside of other models like the dhātus or gatis, implied a new ontology.

This essay will survey some of the non-Pali early Buddhist texts to see what use Buddhists made of manomaya in conjunction with antarābhava.


One of the earliest references to this new ontology is in a Chinese translation of the Saṃyuktāgama (SĀ; the counterpart of the Pāḷi Samyuttanikāya). Lee ascribes this text to the Kāśyapīya Sect, which is "doctrinally close to the Sarvāstivāda". Bucknell (2011) tells is that SĀ is widely considered to have been translated in the period 435-443 CE from a Sanskrit Saṃyuktāgama brought to China from Sri Lanka". (Note there is another translation of the SĀ in Chinese)
"When a sentient being exhausts the life-force in the present life, they ride (乘)
on a mind-made body (意生身) to be reborn in another place." (Adapted from Lee 2014: 70, Chinese from Radich 246 n.543)
The Pali counterpart of this passage (SN 44.9; iv.400) is also interesting, though it does not mention manomaya kāya. As noted in Arguments For and Against Antarābhava, it forms an essential part of arguments by Sujato and Piya Tan for the existence of an antarābhava, since it says:
Yasmiṃ kho, vaccha, samaye imañca kāyaṃ nikkhipati, satto ca aññataraṃ kāyaṃ anupapanno hoti, tamahaṃ taṇhūpādānaṃ vadāmi.
With respect to that, Vaccha, at the time when the body is relinquished, and a being is not arisen in certain kāya, I call that fuelled by craving.
I discussed how we might understand this passage in context in my earlier essay on antarābhava. Vaccha is asking about people who are not reborn and I said:
"To then read the question about rebirth in temporal terms, as explaining a time gap between bodies (kāya) is to misunderstand the metaphor. The question, really, is about what drives a person (satta) from body to body."
The idea of a satta (Skt sattva) going from body to body is consistent with Brahmin eschatology and we guess from his name (Vaccha is a Brahmin clan name) and the drift of his questions that Vacchagotta is a Brahmin. I also noted that "taṇha is always the upādāna for bhava" and that it cannot be considered specific to this case. I noted that the idea of a gap between lives may well have been Vaccha's and the Buddha simply failed to dispute it. Vacchagotta frequently pesters the Buddha and other bhikkhus with questions about ontological issues: "is there a self?" or "does the tathāgata exist after death?" and so on. In SN 22.10 (the next sutta) the Buddha refuses to answer his questions about the existence of self because any answer would have confused the Brahmin. Often such questions are said to be avyākata 'without explanation', by which the Buddha seems to mean that they can't be answered with certainty, only with speculation and he doesn't speculate, but that in any case they are irrelevant to the task at hand (Cf Cūlamālunkya Sutta MN 63).

In the Saṃyuktāgama texts antarābhava is one of four modes of existence (caturbhava) (Lee 2014: 70):
  • rebirth (生有 = upapattibhava)
  • life (本有 = pūrvakālabhava)
  • death (死有 = maraṇabhava)
  • between (中有 = antarābhava)
Antarābhava here seems to be well developed as an idea and as a state of existence has the same status as life; with death and rebirth as transitions between states - but all four having the same label bhava. We see here the beginnings of the Tibetan system of six bardos (which adds the states of dreaming and meditation). The antarābhava is no longer only a transition phase between kāmadhātu and rūpadhātu, as we saw in the discussion of the antarāparinirvāyin (Arguments For and Against Antarābhava).

In the《阿毘達磨大毘婆沙論》or *Mahāvibhāṣā, an encyclopaedic and influential Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text which survives only in Chinese translation (T.27, no. 1545), we see, probably for the first time the equating of a number of terms: antarābhava, manomaya, gandharva and saṃbhavaiṣin (literally: 'one who seeks birth'). The Mahāvibhāṣā re-interprets manomaya to mean: "[beings in the antarābhava] are born complying with the mind" (Lee 2014: 74) and further to include "beings at the beginning of kalpas, all the beings of the intermediate existence (antarābhava), [the devas of] the pure form realm (rūpadhātu) and the formless realm (arūpadhātu), and the transformative bodies (*pariṇāma-kāya)." This seems to build on categories very like the ones we find in Pali. The category of pariṇāmakāya is obscure here, but taken up by some Mahāyāna texts. Vasubandhu, in his Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, continues the tradition of linking antarābhava, manomaya, gandharva and saṃbhavaiṣin.


The word manomaya occurs in some Sanskrit fragments of the Ekottarāgama (EĀ; Tripathi 1995) which is a counterpart of the Pali Aṅguttara Nikāya. Here EĀ proposes two kinds of manomaya kāya which depend on the conduct of the being, i.e. an ethicized version of the manomaya kāya in SĀ.
yo 'sau bhavati strī vā puruṣo vā duḥśīlaḥ pāpadharmāḥ kāyaduścaritena samanvāgato vāṅmanoduścaritena samanvāgatas tasya kāyasya bhedād ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayaḥ kāyo 'bhinirvartate tadyathā kṛṣṇasya kutapasya nirbhāsaḥ andhakāratamisrayā vā rātryā yeṣāṃ divyaṃ cakṣuḥ suviśuddhaṃ ta enaṃ paśyanti || EĀ 18.51 || 
That woman or man of bad conduct and evil-nature, endowed with bad behaviour of the body and bad behaviour of speech and mind, with the breaking up of the body [at death] they give rise to (abhinirvartate) a form, a mind-made body. It has the appearance of a black blanket or the blinding darkness of night, which they see with the purified divine eye.
yo 'sau bhavati strī vā puruṣo vā śīlavān kalyāṇaadharmāḥ kāyaduścaritena samanvāgato vāṅmanahsucaritena samanvāgatas tasya kāyasya bhedād ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayaḥ kāyo 'bhinirvartate tadyathā śuklasya paṭasya nirbhāsaḥ jyotsnāyā vā rātryā yeṣāṃ divyaṃ cakṣuḥ suviśuddhaṃ ta enaṃ paśyanti || EĀ 18.52 ||
That woman or man of ethics and good-nature, endowed with good behaviour of the body and good behaviour of speech and mind, with the breaking up of the body [at death] produce a form, a mind made body. It has the appearance of white cloth or a moonlit night, which they see with the purified divine eye.
This phrasing is both similar to and different from Pali counterparts. The image appears to be absent from the Pali. The closest we get is this:
So kāyena duccaritaṃ caritvā vācāya duccaritaṃ caritvā manasā duccaritaṃ caritvā, kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā apāyaṃ duggatiṃ vinipātaṃ nirayaṃ upapajjati.
So kāyena sucaritaṃ caritvā vācāya sucaritaṃ caritvā manasā sucaritaṃ caritvā, kāyassa bhedā paraṃ maraṇā sugatiṃ saggaṃ lokaṃ upapajjati. (SN i.93)
Having behaved badly with the body, behaved badly with the voice, and behaved badly with the mind, with the breaking up of the body after death, he goes to a bad destination, a state of suffering, reborn in hell.
Having behaved well with the body, behaved well with the voice, and behaved well with the mind, with the breaking up of the body after death, he goes to a good destination, reborn in heaven.
The idea of a dark and bright manomaya using much the same terminology (highlighted in bold) is reflected much later in Asaṅga's version of the antarābhava in his Bodhisattvabhūmi (Chapter 3.6; Cf Wayman 1974: 233)
dvābhyām ākārābhyāṃ tamaḥ-parāyaṇānām ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayo 'ntarābhavo nirvartate | tadyathā kṛṣṇasya kutapasya nirbhāsaḥ andhakāra-tamisrāyā vā rātryāḥ | tasmād durvarṇā ity ucyante | 
Because of the two modes [of action] thus a form which is mind-made in the interim state is produced filled with darkness, just like the appearance of a black blanket or the blinding darkness of night. Because of that they call it “inferior”. 
ye punardvābhyām ākārābhyāṃ jyotiḥ-parāyaṇās teṣām ayam evaṃ rūpo manomayo 'ntarābhavo nirvartate | tadyathā jyotsnayā rātryā vārāṇaseyakasya vā sampannasya vastrasya | tasmātsuvarṇā ityucyante | (Dutt 269 Wohihara ed 390-91)
Because of the two modes [of action] a form which mind-made in the interim state is produced which is filled with light, just like a moonlit night or excellent cloth that comes from Vārāṇasi. Therefore they call it “superior”. 
The context shows that this passage is also referring to duścarita and sucarita. One leads to a bad destination (durgati-gāmina) the other to a good destination (sugati-gāmina).

Mahāvastu & Lalitavistāra

This pair of texts, composed in Sanskrit, are often seen as transitional between early Buddhist and Mahāyāna texts. Sumi Lee doesn't go into these seminal texts or their use of manomaya kāya, perhaps because their treatment of manomaya kāya is similar to the Pali. In Sanskrit we do begin to see manomayakāya as a compound.

In the Mahāvastu (Mhv) there is a retelling of the beginning of a new epoch of the cosmos (cf DN i.17). The first beings to come into existence are self-luminous, move through the sky (antarīkṣa), are mind-made, feed on rapture, are in a state of bliss, and can move about as they wish. (svayaṃprabhāḥ antarīkṣacarā manomayā prītibhakṣāḥ sukhasthāyino yenakāmaṃgatāḥ Senart 1.338; cf. Jones 285-286). A little further on when these beings fall from this refined state due to greed, they lose the state of being a mind-made group (manomayakāyatā). Thus the usage in Mahāvastu closely reflects the Pali usage. Manomaya kāya refers to devas and is used in conjunction with this old parody of Brahmanical notions of cosmogony (which may have been hypostatised by this time).

The phrase manomaya is used just twice in the Lalitavistāra Sūtra (Lv). Firstly it is used in a gāthā:
atha khalu sunirmito devaputro rājānaṃ śuddhodanam upasaṃkramyaivam āha—manomayam ahaṃ śrīmadvaśma tad ratanāmayam |
bodhisattvasya pūjārtham upaneṣyāmi pārthiva || Lal_6.18 || [Vaidya 46]
Then indeed a beautifully formed divine child approached King Śuddhodanam and said:
I will offer a mind-made, glorious jewelled mansion;
As an act of worship of the bodhisattva, O King.
My translation here follows the Dharmachakra Translation Committee translation of the Tibetan in taking śrīmad-vaśma to mean "a glorious mansion". My dictionaries have no word vaśma[n]; it may be a hyper-Sanskritisation of vasman 'nest' (from √vas 'to dwell'). Here manomaya must mean 'made by the mind' in the sense of 'mental' or 'imaginary'. Compare ratanā-maya 'made of jewels' or 'jewelled'. Note that Bays translation obscures the presence of the word manomaya.

Secondly manomaya is once again used with reference to some devas, in this case devakanyā or the girls of the devas. They are described as divya-manomaya-ātmabhāva-pratilabdha (Vaidya 36) terms familiar from the discussion of manomaya especially DN i.197-202. The term attapaṭilābha 'acquired self' (Skt ātmapratilabdha) which Buddhaghosa glossed as attabhāva 'a state of self' (Skt ātmabhava) and the sutta describes as having three types: oḷārika, manomaya, and arūpa; with the second being associated with the rūpadhātu. So the Lv adjective means 'having the acquired state of self of a divinity' though what this means in practice is not clear. Thus in these transitional period texts we are not seeing an association with antarābhava or the afterlife at all.


One important point to make with respect to the antarābhava and manomaya kāya is that the Āgama texts reflect the view of the sect who preserved them and the Nikāya texts (largely) reflect the Theravāda view. My inclination is to explain this presence and absence as the addition of antarābhava to the texts of those who believed in it.  Of course, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility that the antarābhava has been retrospectively expunged from the Pali texts. This however suggests proactive editing on a much larger scale than I have ever encountered. It seems more likely that as time went on new ideas were added in, than that old ideas were expunged. Buddhist texts tend to be quite conservative of old ideas. Presumably some ideas were introduced and subsequently died out. For some of these we no doubt have stubs in the Canon - brief mentions with no follow up.

Our non-Pali witnesses further confuse the situation: the Chinese Āgama translations are from the 4th or 5th century CE and at least in the texts I've studied, section 5 of the Madhyāgama for example, show a higher degree of standardisation and homogenisation than the Pali texts. The Sanskrit translations are similar to the Pali texts, but also distinct in many ways, suggestive of long separation between Sanskrit- and Pali-using sects.

What we do know is that some lines of development across the spectrum of early Buddhist thought included references to a manomaya kāya in the antarābhava and others only mention manomaya kāya with respect to the psycho-cosmology of the deva realms. The development of the idea of manomaya kāya in Buddhism seems to go like this:
  • Devas in the rūpadhātu are a manomaya (ni)kāya (group).
  • Meditators in the fourth jhāna magically create (abhinir√mā) a manomaya kāya (body) which is rūpin (out-of-body experiences?)
  • Non-returners (anāgāmin) transitioning from the kāmadhātu to the rūpadhātu do so in a manomaya kāya (body).
  • The advent of antarābhava leads to all beings having (or "riding") a manomaya kāya in the interim between death and rebirth.
  • Antarābhava and manomayakāya are equated, along with gandharva.
In these early Buddhist texts there are two distinct metaphysics reflecting a binary split over the time interval between death and rebirth. The sole surviving representatives of those who claimed no interval, the Theravādins, dealt with this issue as part of their comprehensive response to the problems in the tradition, as part of their Abhidhamma: a stream of citta moments, connected in up to twenty-four ways (paccayatā), according to certain restrictions (niyama) making no initial ontological distinctions. In this and related schools manomaya kāya largely remains a description of beings in the rūpadhātu well into the common era. And this does not stop Theravādins on the ground believing in an interim state, or beings in an interim state, or subtle bodies.

On the other hand if one stipulates that it takes some appreciable time for rebirth to occur, then certain questions arise. In particular we want to know what form of existence one has between death and rebirth, since non-existence is nonsensical. The proposed explanation had to avoid the trap of eternalism by not being nicca, sukha, and attan, but it had to explain the connectivity and continuity (in karmic terms). Additionally, for most Buddhists, especially in the ancient world, it could not conflict with scripture. Proponents of antarābhava had to invent a whole new field of inquiry and vocabulary for it. The previous unrelated term manomaya formed part of this new metaphysics.

In the next essay in this series we'll look at some Mahāyāna sources to get a flavour of how the idea developed in those (many and various) milieus. A comprehensive survey is neither within my means or skill level, but by looking at some influential texts, Śāntideva's anthology of sūtra texts, Śikṣasamuccaya, and Vasubandu's Bhāṣya, we can at least get a sense of how some of the more prominent Buddhists of later periods viewed manomaya kāya.



Aurobindo (2004) The Upanishads: Kena and other Upanishads. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Dept.
Bucknell, Roderick S. (2011) ‘The Historical Relationship Between the Two Chinese Saṃyuktāgama Translations.’ Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal. 24:35-70.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee. (2013) The Play in Full: Lalitavistara. [Ārya-lalitavistara-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra] http://read.84000.co/browser/released/UT22084/046/UT22084-046-001.pdf
Jones, J J. (1949) The Mahāvastu. Vol. 1 Luzac. https://archive.org/stream/sacredbooksofbud16londuoft#page/286/mode/2up
Lee, Sumi. (2008) 'The Philosophical Meaning of Manomaya-kāya.' 2008 Korean Conference of Buddhist Studies. http://www.skb.or.kr/down/papers/129.pdf [pages not numbered]
Lee, Sumi. (2014) 'The Meaning of ‘Mind-made Body’ (S. manomaya-kāya, C. yisheng shen 意生身) in Buddhist Cosmological and Soteriological systems'. Buddhist Studies Review. 31(1): 65-90.
Radich, Michael David. (2007) The Somatics of Liberation: Ideas about Embodiment in Buddhism from Its Origins to the Fifth Century C.E. [PhD. Dissertation]. https://www.academia.edu.
Senart, Émile. (1897) Mahavastu-Avadana. 3 vols., Paris 1882-1897. http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/buddh/mhvastuu.htm
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro. (1930) Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. Routledge.
Tripathi, Chandra Bhal (1995) Ekottarāgama-Fragmente der Gilgit-Handschrift, Reinbek 1995 (Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, Monographie 2). http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/buddh/ekottaru.htm
Vaidya, P. L. (1963) Saddharmalaṅkāvatārasūtram. The Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning. Darbhanga.
Wayman, Alex (1974) 'The Intermediate-State Dispute in Buddhism' in Buddhists Studies in Honour of I. B. Horner. D Reidel: 227-239.
Related Posts with Thumbnails