28 November 2014

Manomaya: Background to Mind-Made Bodies.

© British Museum
In considering the Buddhist afterlife one of the more obscure terms, amidst a plethora of obscure terms, is manomaya kāya or 'mind-made body'. In the book of her PhD dissertation, Sue Hamilton (1996) explains that manomaya is one of the most obscure terms in the Pali Canon (138). This partly because of intrinsic ambiguity and partly because the word is used ambiguously. Also, Non-Theravāda Ābhidharmika Buddhists employed the word in a quite different metaphysical framework. This first of three essays on manomaya kāya will examine the Vedic and Pali uses of the term manomaya as a prerequisite to trying to understand the subsequent use manomaya kāya in the context of the Buddhist afterlife. I'll use the framework employed by Hamilton, though I won't always use her exact analysis.

PED tells us that the word maya is an adjective meaning 'made of' or 'consisting of' or 'originating in' (probably from √ 'measure'). Thus the sense is similar to the metaphorical idiom "the measure of a man" in which we comment on "what a man is made of". It's related to the word māyā, which means 'to make, or create' (and later 'to make appear, illusion', 'to deceive'). The form maya is only used in Pali as the second member of a compound in the form x-maya where it generally means 'made of x' or 'consisting of x', though for example we'd translate aggimaya simply as 'fiery' (i.e. made of fire); sovaṇṇamaya 'golden'; dhūmamaya 'smoky' and so on.

Manas is also a polysemic word. It can mean virtually any phenomena that comes under the heading 'mental', from an individual thought, to the internal faculty of registering mental activity, to the entire apparatus of cognition, or mental activity generally. In some texts it even appears to substitute for hadaya. In Pali it is frequently used synonymously with, and indistinguishably from, citta, viññāṇa, and sometimes saññā; but later takes on the more fixed reference as the mental sense faculty (counterpart to the physical senses). As with all too many Buddhist technical terms, understanding any particular occurrence of manas in a text requires attention to the context.

Grammar Note: Textual Pali is uncomfortable with nouns ending in consonants that it inherits from earlier phases of the language. Thus the declensions of the word manas are a little confused. It's common to cite the word in the nominative singular, mano, as though it is an -a noun; and to see -a forms such as manena (instrumental singular). However it retains forms such as manaso, manasā and manasi (genitive, instrumental and locative singular) that reflect the form manas. Both forms of the instrumental singular occur, but manasā is more common in the suttas and manena in the later literature. Similarly for the genitive singular manaso/manassa. This suggests that as time went on Pali users saw manas more and more as mana.

We must be quite careful not to project modern ideas about the mind backwards in time and attribute them to the ancient Buddhists. Mind was not a function of the brain, but more likely of the heart (which we now know to be a slab of muscle for pumping blood). No distinction was made between thoughts and emotions (both were lumped into the category citta), but instead experience was understood as having physical (kāyika) and mental (cetasika) aspects depending on how they were presented to awareness, i.e. whether awareness arose in dependence on the five physical senses or the manas. Mind or consciousness was not a theatre of, or a container for, experience (see The 'Mind as Container' Metaphor). There was no resting-state consciousness waiting for sensory input, but instead we become aware of something when sense object and sense organ overlap and create the conditions for mental activity to arise (if any aspect of this set up is waiting for stimulus it is the organ itself, which is conceived of as being literally struck by sense impressions). The implication being that when there is no input, or, as in deep sleep, no viññāna to process the input, then we are not aware. Most importantly the ancient Buddhists focussed exclusively on cognition as a process rather than the mind as an entity. Where we are tempted to translate a Pali word as 'the mind', we'll find that 'mental activity' is almost always a better choice in the sense of more accurately conveying the understanding of the authors. There is no sense of having an organ 'the mind', which does the activity of thinking (as we conceptualise it now). 'The mind' precisely is the activity of thinking. Lastly as far as we can make out from their literature, the early Buddhists were not mind-body dualists, which is to say that, though they could make a distinction between mental and physical cognitions, they did not suppose the mind and body to be made of different stuff. To the extent they thought about ontology (which was seldom if ever) they seem to consider that phenomena were all of one kind no matter to which sense organ they presented themselves.

In other words, many if not most, of the fundamental metaphors we use for thinking about the mind would not have made sense to early Buddhists. They would not recognise our conception of the mind or consciousness. And this means that we struggle to see the mind from their point of view also.

According to Hamilton, the compound mano-maya can be analysed in at least three different ways:
  1. made of mental activity.
  2. made by mental activity,
  3. made in mental activity; originating in mental activity.
That is, we can read mano as being in genitive (manaso mayaṃ), instrumental (manasā mayaṃ) or locative (manasi mayaṃ) case respectively. The dative case clearly doesn't apply. I'd add the ablative case: made from mental activity (manasā mayaṃ). Options 2. and 3b. amount to much the same thing, but option 3a. is very unlikely because Pali seemingly lacks the metaphor THE MIND IS CONTAINER. As we will see in the next essay the manomaya kāya qua body is made from this body (kāyā in the ablative case) [by mental activity]. Thus the ablative case not applicable.

There is a contrast between 1. and 2. The ontological implications are quite distinct. If something is made of mental activity then that suggests that mental activity is a kind of stuff something can be made of. The implication is that this is a different stuff than the body is made of (especially in the context of manomaya kāya). On the other hand if something is made by, or made in, mental activity, then it does not imply a separate stuff. Hamilton emphasises that in schemes like the khandhas, the interest is not in what a human is, in terms of substances, but in only in terms of the structure of human experience. And even the elements (mahābhūta) from which we are made are defined experientially (e.g. earth is characterised by resistance, colour, etc). In the Aṅguttara Nikāya commentary we find this gloss of manomayamanena nibbattitaṃ "constructed by the mind" (Manorathapūraṇiyā 1.209) indicating that Buddhaghosa also understood the instrumental to apply. This means that we expect manomaya to mean "made by mental activity". Now we must look more closely at how it is used in practice to see if this is correct. 

Hamilton tackles the term in four contexts:
  1. Dhammapada 1 & 2.
  2. A single case of manomaya referring to manodhātu.
  3. As a synonym for the cosmological rūpadhātu, in which there is no ontological discontinuity between the body (rūpa) and the mind (arūpa).
  4. The idea of a manomaya kāya in meditation.
For the purposes of studying the Buddhist afterlife, it is the last two the mainly concern us, while and 4. will form part of a subsequent essay on manomaya kāya. However we need to establish the parameters of what is meant by manomaya.

1. In the case of Dhammapada my analysis, based as it is on Hamilton's second book (2000), is close in spirit to the analysis found in her first book (1996). The conclusion is that manomayā dhammā means that experiences are made by mental activity, or, in other words reliant on mental processes. Dhammas are mind-y or mind-ish. This is not Idealism because experiences are also reliant on sense objects, which do not depend on mental activity. The emphasis on mental activity is methodological, because freedom from automatic responses to sense objects comes from a disciplined mind. Hence mental activity takes precedence (mano pubbaṅgamā). The contrast is explicitly between manas and dhammā. We might see this as a contrast between sense faculty (indriya) and sense objects (ālambanā), but the focus of the first lines of both Dhp 1 & 2 seems to be on mental activity generally and experiences generally. The other two padas however, are not about having experiences, but about acting on them. Mano precedes dhammās, but it is the state of mind in which one acts that determine whether we subsequently experience sukha or dukkha (see also AN i.11). Hamilton argues that to translate manas as "mind" here is a mistake of reification. The sense is more like "thinking" as an action rather than mind an entity; or thinking that sets actions in motion. 

2. In the case of manomaya related to manodhātu Hamilton cites a verse from SN iv.71 (SN 35:94):
Papañca-saññā itarītarā narā,
Papañca-yantā upayanti saññino;
Mano-mayaṃ geha-sitañca sabbaṃ,
Panujja nekkhamma-sitaṃ irīyati.
Men with any perceptions of proliferation,
Approach the workings of proliferation connected with perception;
And dispelling everything mind-made connected with home;
They proceed to a life of renunciation.
Hamilton sees this as referring to "the fact that all saṃsāric phenomena are processed by the manodhātu" (143). That is, experience is conditioned by (maya) the mind (manas). My reading of pada b and my translation are somewhat different from Hamilton (and from Bodhi). I read papañca-yantā as "the workings or mechanisms (yanta) of proliferation (papañca)." In other words the verse suggests that once one begins to realise just how reactive mental activity is, one starts to lose interest in worldly things and wants more and more to follow up the insights, and this naturally leads to a renunciate lifestyle. Mano-maya is explicitly related "the home" (geha) as a metonym for all that is connected with ordinary daily life (with all its attachments). In other words here mental activity is responsible for proliferation and thus suffering.

This point warrants a brief digression. Experience is never "direct", despite the claims of some Buddhists. Experience is always a construct (e.g. of indriya, ālambana, and vijñāna); always mediated by mental activity; and only some aspects of experience are ever presented to awareness. Even in what we think of as integrated states such as jhāna, we stop experiencing the mundane sensual sensation (stop hearing the sounds around, stop experiencing our body) and become absorbed in the sensations associated with the object of meditation. What we are aware of is always partial, and always mediated by manas. Hamilton points out (143) that all experience, including experiences like insight, involves manas: "manodhātu is the door through which saṃsāra is subjectively experienced." And this is the reason experience is termed manomaya.

3.1 The Vedic Background

In order to establish a basis for relation between manomaya and the cosmological rūpadhātu (as distinct from the sensory experience of rūpa), Hamilton surveys various Vedic references to the power of the mind. For example in Ṛgveda X.129.4 desire is the first seed of mental activity. "The power of the mind originates in the process of thinking, or willing" (144). However, even in similar Upaniṣadic expressions the context is still ritual rather than ethical. "Desire" means the intense concentration of the sacrificer on the desired object of the sacrifice (very often a good afterlife). However, more of the power of the mind is associated with knowing: "Knowledge of a thing gives power over it, and the importance of knowledge underlies the sacrificial rationale: it is knowledge which gives the ritual actions their power" (145). 

The word manomaya itself occurs only once in Ṛgveda at RV 10.85.12 which describes the marriage of Sūryā (daughter of the Sun) and Soma: "Sūryā mounted a chariot made of thought as she went to her husband" (áno manasmáyaṃ sūryā́, ā́rohat prayatī́ pátim) [Doniger's translation]. As with all the Ṛgveda sūktas, what this means is open to interpretation. However there is another word manoratha, a chariot of the mind, which means 'a wish, a desire' especially one expressed indirectly. Along with Radich (2007: 225 - he cites a work in Japanese at this point) I think we can see this as the bride's enthusiasm to begin her sexual life with her husband. The Ṛgveda is unembarrassed about such things. 

In Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (BU) 4.4.5 we find the following passage reminiscent of Dhp 1-2:
sa vā ayam ātmā brahma vijñānamayo manomayo prāṇamayaś cakṣurmayaḥ śrotramayaḥ pṛthivīmaya āpomayo vāyumaya ākāśamayas tejomayo 'tejomayaḥ kāmamayo 'kāmamayaḥ krodhamayo 'krodhamayo dharmamayo 'dharmamayaḥ sarvamayaḥ |
The ātman is brahman: made of consciousness, made of mind, made of breath, made of the eye, made of ear, made of earth, made of water, made of wind, made of space, made of light, made of darkness, made of desire, made of non-desire, made of anger, made of non-anger, made of Dharma, made of non-Dharma, made of everything.
Note here the implication is very much "made of", but this is a passage from an Upaniṣad that is concerned with ontology, thus identical terms can take different meanings. The passage is part of a discussion of karma and rebirth which may well have influenced Buddhist ideas (BU 4.4). Hamilton notes that the first three items on the list (vijñānamaya, manomaya, and prāṇamaya) are taken up by the Taittirīya Upaniṣad (2.3) as an analysis of human existence. Breath makes up the bodily self; within this is a mind-made (manomaya) self; and within this again is a consciousness-made self (vijñānamaya). Hamilton sees this as evidence of existence on various levels of subtlety and density. While the Chāndogya Upaniṣad  (CU 6.5) speaks of three modes of existence: coarse (sthaviṣṭha), medium (madhyama) and subtlest (aṇiṣṭha). She says, "In corresponding to an intermediate subtle level of cosmological existence, manomaya therefore also corresponds to an intermediate stage on the path to liberation." (146)

Each more subtle mode seems to exist within the less subtle, suggesting concentric layers. Late Vedic existence, then, has three layers. There is an interesting difference in old and new Vedic views on the cosmos that Hamilton does not pick up on. The old Vedic cosmos was separated into earth, sky (literally 'between'), and heaven (pṛthivī, antarīkṣa, and svarga). These were layers of a flat universe one on top of the other, with fire-based rituals (yajña) providing a way of bridging the gap. The new Vedic cosmos of the Upaniṣads is radically different in its geometry. This universe originates at a singularity in the heart (likened to a cave) where ātman dwells. From this central point the universe expands out in all directions. Whereas old Vedic ritual homologies enabled the sacrificer to ensure ṛta (roughly 'harmony') in the cosmos by performing the appropriate actions in the ritual; the new Vedic ātman centred universe was identified with, and established on the basis of, brahman. The one who identified with ātman in themselves, not only identified with the whole cosmos (idaṃ sarvaṃ), but, through the magic of homology, they actually became the whole cosmos. In Ṛgveda 10.90 the universe is created by the carving up of the primordial man (Puruṣa) as a sacrificial victim. In the Upaniṣads the integrated individual becomes the whole cosmos. This meant that using fire rituals to bridge the layers was unnecessary, because actually being the whole cosmos, obviates the need for anything so crude. Hamilton emphasises that there are no ontological discontinuities in either the old three tiered or the new concentric cosmos. However the early Upaniṣadic accounts of this cosmos are not systematic or even consistent.

Explicit reference to a subtle body (liṅga śarīra or sūkṣma śarīra) is rare, in fact singular, in the early Upaniṣads, but common in later Upaniṣads and in the commentaries of Śaṅkara. "Śaṅkara clearly identifies the manomaya body with the subtle body" (148). The equivalent word/words do not occur in Pali, even in the commentaries. We'll have to return to the subject of possible cross pollination with non-Buddhist religious ideas about subtle bodies in the next essay.

Buddhists analyse a person into one rūpakkhandha (masses of form) and four arūpakkhandha (masses without form). However Hamilton is quick to emphasise that, again, this is not an ontological distinction, not indicative of substance dualism (despite what many Buddhists think). From the Buddhist point of view all of the khandhas are experiential and all have the same nature, i.e. they are all impermanent, disappointing and insubstantial (in the sense of not providing a suitable anchor point for self identification). Despite later trends in Buddhist thought, rūpa/arūpa is an epistemological rather than ontological statement. Both impermanence and dependent arising are specifically features of mental activity in early Buddhist texts. In this worldview, though we are certain about the conditioned nature of experience, we are still none the wiser as to the nature of objects or the nature of the mind. But, as Hamilton says, this doesn't matter because: "What the phenomena are, in the ultimate sense, is irrelevant to attaining liberating insight" (149). This limitation on the domain of application of Buddhist ideas in early Buddhism is vital to understanding the basic metaphysics of early Buddhism. The philosophical problems involved in trying to generalise this observation about mental activity as a Theory of Everything are huge.

Buddhists also divided the "world" into three (flat) layers: kāmadhātu, rūpadhātu and arūpadhātu. However Buddhists added a twist in creating homologies between cosmological and psychological experiences. Each layer corresponds both to a realm or collection of realms in which beings can be reborn and to levels or states of meditation. Beings born in the various sub-levels of the kāmadhātu have form (rūpa) and experience sensual desire; and this corresponds to everyday consciousness. In the singular rūpadhātu beings have form (though it's not yet clear what this means); this corresponds to first four 'rūpa' jhānas which are characterised by increasing integration (samādhi) of the mind and the falling away of mental activity leaving equanimity. Finally in the various levels of arūpadhātu, beings who are formless and corresponds to the second lot of four 'arūpa' jhānas.

In the Ariyapariyesana Sutta the Buddha remarks that attaining the ākiñcaññāyatana (the sphere of nothingness; aka the third arūpajhāna) only leads to ākiñcaññāyatanūpapatti which literally means "rebirth in the sphere of nothingness"; where the verbal noun upapatti is the word most often used in connection with action of being reborn. The main sense is probably that having attained the ākiñcaññāyatana all that results is coming and going between ordinary awareness and ākiñcaññāyatana. There is no permanent radical reorientation of the psyche that we would usually equate with nibbāna. However, there is a implication of literal rebirth in the arūpadhātu or formless realm which corresponds to the psychological state.

Although the levels are to some extent reified into actual rebirth destinations, and elaborated on in this vein by commentators, this model seems to have been used as a metaphor for spiritual progress with increasing levels of attainment, purity, subtlety, and integration. Still there is no ontological distinction between the levels, they represent milestones on a continuous spectrum of attainment. Hamilton is thus cautious about the reading of, say, rūpadhātu as a literal place of rebirth which would have stronger ontological implications. There is some tension here between what seems to be implied by the suttas and how later Buddhists read the suttas. At some point Buddhists (including Māhāyānikas) abandoned any ontological reticence they had about rebirth realms.

3.2 Manomaya in the Pāḷi Suttas.

The term manomaya, then, is already in use in late Vedic texts which pre-date Buddhism and might reasonable be thought to influence early Buddhists. In Pali it is used in a similar way in the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta (DN 9). Poṭṭhapāda asks the Buddha if self (attan) and mental activity (saññā) are the same thing or different. Asked in turn what kind of self (attan) he believes in Poṭṭhapāda (described as a paribbājaka), declares three successive kinds of self, each of which is criticised by the Buddha.
"Oḷārikaṃ kho ahaṃ, bhante, attānaṃ paccemi rūpiṃ cātumahābhūtikaṃ kabaḷīkārāhārabhakkhan" ti
I believe in a material self (oḷārika attan), Bhante, with form (rūpa), the four main elements and nourished by material food
"Manomayaṃ kho ahaṃ, bhante, attānaṃ paccemi sabbaṅgapaccaṅgiṃ ahīnindriyan" ti.
I believe in a mind-made self (manomaya attan) with a complete set of limbs and functioning senses.
"Arūpiṃ kho ahaṃ, bhante, attānaṃ paccemi saññāmayan" ti
I believe in a formless self (arūpin attan) made of mental activity.
In each case the Buddha responds that:
Evaṃ santaṃ kho te, poṭṭhapāda, aññāva saññā bhavissati añño attā.... atha imassa purisassa aññā ca saññā uppajjanti, aññā ca saññā nirujjhanti. Iminā kho etaṃ, poṭṭhapāda, pariyāyena veditabbaṃ yathā aññāva saññā bhavissati añño attā" ti.
That being so, Poṭṭhapāda, saññā would be one thing and attan another... then [given such a self] some mental activity would arise in a person, and some would cease. The situation would be understood this way: saññā is one thing and attan is another.
A couple of little notes. The word attan has several references: it can mean body (as it might do here). Hīnidriya, i.e. hīna-indriya, means 'defective senses'. In the compound saññāmaya we're not entirely sure what saññā means. It can mean 'name'; 'the mind' (i.e. mental activity) generally, and the mental activity of 'perception' (or apperception) specifically. Walsh translates 'perception', but I think the more general sense probably applies here and have translated appropriately.

The main point here is that however one conceives of the self in relation to the three modes of existence, the self and mental activity are not identical. The reason is obvious to Buddhist thinkers: mental activity arises and passes away and a self is said to be permanent. Nothing that arises and passes away can be the permanent self. Or, the immortal soul cannot be found in experience (and for Buddhists experience is the only source of knowledge). Indeed the preceding paragraph in the Poṭṭhapāda Sutta establishes that knowledge arises on the specific condition of saññā:
"saññā paṭhamaṃ uppajjati, pacchā ñāṇaṃ, saññuppādā ca pana ñāṇuppādo hotī" ti
Mental activity arises first, knowledge arises after; and from the arising of mental activity knowledge arises.
With that proviso this passage seems as though it might reflect a view similar to that in the Taittirīya Upaniṣad above, where manomaya attan reflects the Sanskrit manomaya ātman idea of a subtle body. But note that here the Buddha rejects the idea as irrelevant to his liberation project.

Later in the text (DN i.197-202) the Buddha acknowledges the three types of attan: here referred to as attapaṭilābha 'acquired self'. The commentary glosses attapaṭilābha = attabhāva and Hamilton associates each with a level of existence (and we can additionally relate these to the three levels of the cosmos):
  • oḷārika attapaṭilābha = kāmabhava ~ kāmadhātu
  • manomaya attapaṭilābha = rūpabhava ~ rūpadhātu
  • arūpa attapaṭilābha = arūpabhava ~ arūpadhātu
However in each case the Buddha is more concerned with the contradictions of identifying aspects of experience with the self, and with how to get rid of such an idea of self. One gets the sense here that the Buddha is taking his interlocutors beliefs on face value and then turning the conversation on its head by showing that there is nothing desirable about any form of existence; and what's more the Buddha's teaching can be used to end (pahāna) all forms of existence. Thus I think here that Hamilton dwells too much on the characteristics of the different types of attapaṭilābha. They might be someone's view, but they don't form part of the early Buddhist worldview.

The Brahmajāla Sutta (DN 1), in its parody of Brahmanical belief, talks about beings born in the ābhassaro brahmā world who are mind-made. They feed on rapture (pīti), are self-luminous (sayaṃpabho), move through the intermediate realm (antalikkha-caro) and are beautiful (subhaṭṭhāyin). In other words they fit the sort of paradigm of floaty, ethereal, disembodied beings, like angels. The same passage occurs in the Mahāvastu (I'll deal with this along with other non-Pali Buddhist sources). Though note that they move through the intermediate realm (Skt antarīkṣa) which in Vedic thought is between heaven (svarga or devaloka) and earth. Does this mean that they move freely between the two? In Buddhist cosmology Brahmā beings are usually higher than devas in the hierarchy, not lower. Certainly devas are frequently portrayed as visiting the Buddha, so perhaps this requires freedom of movement through the antarīkṣa?

As the text is a parody of the whole idea of a creator god, we should be cautious of taking this sequence too seriously as cosmology. The terminology appears to drawn from Vedic mythology. However later Buddhists seem to have lost the sense of these stories and reified them: the mythic Brahmā world of the Upaniṣads and Purāṇa texts, where it represents the goal of the religious life of the Brahmins, becomes a saṃsāric, but literal rebirth destination (gati) for Buddhists.

Another passage in the Majjhima Nikāya (MN i.410) uses manomaya with reference to devas. Here there is an argument over the existence of immaterial realms (āruppā). Āruppa here is a substantive in -ya from arūpa 'formless', and roughly means 'formlessness'. Strangely enough, here the Buddha claims not to be in a position to answer the question on the existence or not of an arūpa realm, which contrasts with other times when, for example, he apparently personally travels to Brahmā's realm. He argues that whether or not there is an āruppā, there is still the possibility of rebirth in the rūpadhātu:
ye te devā rūpino manomayā, apaṇṇakaṃ me tatrūpapatti bhavissati.
I might still be reborn amongst the those mind-made devas with form.
But the point of this discussion here is captured right at the end
So iti paṭisaṅkhāya rūpānaṃyeva nibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya paṭipanno hoti.
Considering that this is so, he practices being fed up with forms, turning away from forms, and the cessation of forms.
Again the point is not to affirm or deny rūpadhātu or manomaya devas, but to orient people who have such beliefs away from kāmadhātu. Presumably having a belief in heaven is being leveraged to focus believers away from sense pleasure towards more refined types of pleasure (such as jhāna). The same sutta contains a number of similar arguments. The disputes about ontology do not need to be resolved for someone to practice Buddhist methods, nor does successful attainment of the goal rely on resolving such disputes.

In this connection one also thinks of Nanda and the dove-footed nymphs (Ud 3.2). The Buddha's cousin Nanda had become a monk but was thinking of giving up the homeless life because he found it too difficult. When asked why he says that as he was leaving a lovely Śākya women had said to him, "hurry back noble son" (tuvaṭaṃ kho, ayyaputta, āgaccheyyāsī’ti). The memory of her was making celibacy and austerity painful for him. So the Buddha uses his magical powers to take Nanda to the heaven of the thirty-three devas (devesu tāvatiṃsesu). There he saw 500 celestial goddesses ((pañca accharāsatāni) with feet of doves (kakuṭapādāni). Having seen these heavenly beauties he reassessed his opinion of ordinary beautiful women and found he could continue to practice and the shift of his attention, though apparently (to his fellow bhikkhus) still on attachment to pleasure, soon resulted in his liberation from craving. The point of this story is the same. One way to become disenchanted with ordinary sense pleasures is to begin to experience the bliss of higher states of consciousness (jhāna). Having experienced the bliss which has a cosmological counterpart in the deva realms, one will find ordinary sense pleasures uninteresting.


As far we can see the word mano-maya means 'made by the mental activity' rather than 'made of/in or from mental activity'. In other words there is no suggestion of ontological dualism inherent in the phrase. This observation notwithstanding, many Buddhists have chosen to interpret manomaya as having a dualistic connotation because they are ideologically committed to ontological dualism. And having made that commitment it is almost impossible to argue with them, since no evidence is available or required for belief in an immaterial "mind" entity. Dualism is not susceptible to reasoned argument. It is far easier to explain the afterlife if one starts from a position of dualism. In previous essays I've looked at why people have a predilection for post-mortem continuity and at some reasons dualist beliefs are so prevalent. It's not that difficult to understand. It's easy to imagine where such beliefs come from and why they persist into our era when science seems to so dominant as a way of understanding the world. But it also means that the kind of metaphysical problems that emerge when trying to think about the afterlife are bound to emerge.

Mano-maya seems generally to apply to supernatural beings only (except in one case where it seems to refer to the mental process of proliferation or papañca). Especially it applies to devas, and often to the most refined kind of devas (thought there is some confusion over whether it applies to both rūpadhātu and arūpadhātu. And at least some of the early texts are not asserting the existence of such devas, or that form of existence, they are stipulating them for the sake of argument and using the idea of higher, divine pleasures as a way to help people detach themselves from lower, sensual pleasures. One of the most important stories (repeated in a number of suttas) is a clear parody of Brahmanical belief about how the universe began.

Buddhists took the idea that mental events (dhammā) are made by the mind (Dhp 1-2) with its lack of ontological connotation; combined them with existing cosmology and tried to turn it into a post-mortem ontology. And this leads us to the topic of the next essay which is the idea of a manomayakāya, a mind-made body.


Hamilton, Sue. (1996) Identity and Experience: The Constitution of the Human Being According to Early Buddhism. Luzac Oriental.
Hamilton, Sue. (2000) Early Buddhism : a new approach. The I of the beholder. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.
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.

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