Mathomathis would like present an article on Life in the Womb: Conception and Gestation in Buddhist Scripture and Classical Indian Medical Literature By Author: Robert Kritzer. Before proceeding further, make sure to complete the previous article: Life in the Womb | Conception and Gestation in Buddhist Scripture | 101


The Garbhāvakrāntisūtra is a rather long sūtra that includes an account of the mechanism of rebirth. The account begins before conception, when the being about to be reborn is in the intermediate state (antarābhava). The text is best known for its week-by-week description of the development of the fetus, but it also details the ills to which the newly born being is subject. There are several extant versions of the sūtra. The earliest is a translation by Dharmaraksa titled Pao-t’ai ching (Taishō edition, Buddhist canon [T.], 317), dated 281 or 303. A translation by Bodhiruci titled Fo wei a-nan shuo ch’u-t’ai hui (T. 310 n. 13), dated 703–713, is found in the Ratnakūtasūtra. I-ching also translated the sūtra, and his translation (dated 710) can be found in two different places, in the Ratnakūtasūtra (T. 310 n. 14), titled Fo shuo ju-t’ai-tsang hui), and in the Mūlasarvāstivādavinayaksudrakavastu, titled Ju-mu-t’ai ching (T. 1451: 251a14–262a19). I-ching’s version is much longer than Dharmaraksa’s or Bodhiruci’s. It consists of three parts:

(1) An account of the instruction of Nanda;
(2) An account of conception and gestation that generally corresponds with Bodhiruci’s version, followed by various teachings related to suffering and how to overcome it;
(3) An account of Nanda’s previous lives. There is no extant Sanskrit for the portion of the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya in which the sūtra is found, but there is a ninth-century Tibetan translation. The other Tibetan translations of the sūtra are from the Chinese translations, not from a Sanskrit original.

Life In Womb - Mathomathis

The Carakasamhitā:- The Carakasamhitā is the earliest of the Indian medical texts that Kenneth Zysk calls “the classical compilations,” which also include the Suśrutasamhitā, the Ashtanga Hridaya samhita, and the Astāngasamgraha. As is the case with Indian Buddhist texts, it is difficult to establish the dates of Indian medical texts. According to Zysk, the Carakasamhitā and the Suśrutasamhitā probably date from a few centuries before or after the beginning of the common era, whereas the Astāngahrdayasamhitā and the Astāngasamgraha are from around the seventh century, with the Astāngahrdayasamhitā probably being slightly older. Clearly, the authors of Indian medical texts share a certain pool of knowledge with authors of religious texts, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. Author in the following article is primarily concerned with the different emphases and the uses to which this knowledge is put in the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra, which includes the most prominent Buddhist treatment of the subject of conception and gestation, and the Carakasamhitā, which author have chosen as a representative of the classical medical tradition.

Conception:- Since both the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra and the Carakasamhitā presuppose a belief in rebirth related to, if not directly resulting from, karma, it is not surprising that their accounts of conception are generally quite similar. According to both texts, the mother must be at the proper time of her menstrual cycle, and her reproductive organs must be healthy. Naturally, the father and mother must have sex. Finally, the entity that will be reborn as the new baby must be present in the form of the intermediate being (antarābhava) at the time of intercourse; this is crucial if moral continuity is to be preserved from one lifetime to the next. Not surprisingly, given the different purposes of the two texts, there are also some differences. The Garbhāvakrāntisūtra specifies that the parents must have a defiled thought,” that is to say, a lustful thought. This reflects the Buddhist conviction that desire, because it leads to rebirth, is essentially defiling and is, as the second Noble Truth implies, the cause of suffering. Like the non-Buddhist religious texts discussed above, the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra describes the rebirth process in detail, not as a disinterested explanation of the facts of life, but for the sake of arousing or confirming disgust in samsāra. Its audience was probably the meditating monk.

The Carakasamhitā, on the other hand, is not addressed to monks, and it passes no moral judgment on socially acceptable sexual activity. Rather, its aim is to encourage a successful pregnancy and a healthy birth. In addition to instructions regarding the best position for intercourse, the sensibilities of both partners are taken into account. The couple is recommended to wear white clothes and garlands, to have pleasant dispositions, and to have sexual desire for one another. They should be stimulated, ready for intercourse, and well fed, and their bed should be sweet smelling and comfortable. For a week after intercourse, the woman is to be pampered with various soothing and nutritious drinks, all white in color, and all of her surroundings should be white. She should have a large white bull or a decorated horse to look at, morning and evening. She should be told pleasant stories and look upon men and women of agreeable form, speech, and behaviour as well as other pleasant sense-objects. Far from evoking disgust, these passages emphasize the pleasantness of the process, and the frequent mention of the color white suggests purity, not defilement.

The other obvious difference is that the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra refers to the about to-be-reborn being as antarābhava, or intermediate being. The Carakasamhitā, on the other hand, calls it the “soul” (jīva), the same word that is used in the Brahmanical and Jaina texts mentioned earlier. Despite the difference in terminology, the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra and the Carakasamhitā agree that something in addition to the material contributions of the father and mother is required for conception to occur. Thus, in both these systems, which take rebirth for granted, a conscious entity accompanied by previously accumulated karma seems to be necessary for the mixture of semen and blood to become animated. After the explanation of the conditions for entering the womb, the Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya version of the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra (but not the version translated by Dharmaraksa) describes some features of the antarābhava. The Carakasamhitā similarly includes a description of the jīva as it is being reborn. Next, the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra discusses the arrival of a woman’s period of fertility each month and explains the connection between a woman’s condition and the duration of her period of fertility. Some women take three days to become fertile, others five days or half a month or a month, while others become fertile only after a long time depending on conditions. If a woman does not have much power, if she undergoes a lot of suffering and misfortune, if she is ugly, or if she does not have pleasant food and drink, her period of fertility, even though it arrives, will quickly stop, just as water, when it is sprinkled on parched earth, quickly dries up. If she is powerful, always receives pleasure, has an elegant appearance, and gets pleasant food and drink, her period of fertility does not quickly stop, just as water, when it is sprinkled on moist earth, does not quickly dry up. While a number of other medical texts have various views regarding the duration of the period of fertility, the Carakasamhitā seems to be silent about this.

The Garbhāvakrāntisūtra then enumerates the reasons why a woman might fail to conceive. If the seed of either the mother or father is not emitted, or if either partner is impure, conception will not occur. Next follows a long list of graphically described “faults” of the vagina that can prevent conception from occurring. The first three are diseases caused by imbalances in the three humors, wind, bile, and phlegm. In their sections on gynecology, the medical texts similarly classify the diseases of the vagina according to the three humors. Other faults mentioned by the sūtra include diseases characterized by obstruction due to blood and, perhaps, fat, conditions such as being overweight or applying medicine, and a disease that resembles an ant’s waist (perhaps by making the vagina very narrow at some point). Still other faults are identified by the appearance of the vagina: like a camel’s mouth, like a tree with many roots, like a plough head, like a cart, like a cane stalk, like a tree leaf, like the hair on barley. Furthermore, the uterus may be too deep at the bottom or too deep at the top. It may bleed or drip water. It may be always open, like a crow’s mouth. Its dimensions may be uneven in all directions. It may have raised and depressed areas. Finally, it may harbor worms that eat putrefied filth.

Although a few of these conditions may correspond more or less closely with the diseases of the vagina described in the medical texts, most of them do not. The medical texts formally name the disorders and explain their causes and symptoms. The sūtra, on the other hand, generally goes no further than the fanciful similes listed above. The language used to describe these “faults” resembles that used in a description of the vagina in a passage found later in the sūtra: “that hole, which is a wound on the body that has arisen from the maturation of past karma, very nauseating like a toilet, foul-smelling, a dungeon, heaped up with filth, home of many thousands of types of worms, always dripping, continually in need of being cleaned, vile, always putrid with semen, blood, filth, and pus, thoroughly putrefied, slimy, covered with a perforated skin, frightful to behold.” This is the language of two traditional Buddhist meditations, the meditation on unpleasant things and the meditation on the body, both of which are intended to arouse feelings of disgust and thereby remove attachment to the body. After enumerating the faults of the vagina, the sūtra states that if the parents are exalted and the antarābhava is low, or vice versa, conception cannot occur. There is no further explanation, but the meaning seems to be that an antarābhava will not be reborn in a family whose karma is strikingly different from its own. Furthermore, even if the parents and the antarābhava are all exalted or are all low, conception still will not occur if the parents have not amassed the appropriate karma to have a child, or if the antarābhava has not amassed the appropriate karma to be born to the parents, and thus the antarābhava does not have the appropriate thought of hatred toward the father and lust toward the mother or lust toward the father and hatred toward the mother.

The medical texts do not subscribe to this Buddhist oedipal theory. Instead, sex differences are explained by the predominance of semen or blood in the fetus; the jīva, unlike the antarābhava, has no gender. However, the Carakasamhitā shares the same general model of the necessary conditions for conception, and it devotes a chapter to a defense of the Sage Ātreya’s position that the fetus is produced by a combination of factors: father, mother, self, suitability, nutrients, and mind. If any of these is not present, conception will not take place. This notion that a number of different causes need to come together for conception to occur seems quite similar to the Buddhist account. Furthermore, the Carakasamhitā specifically mentions the importance of the parents’ karma in producing the fetus. It also attributes to the jīva a number of factors, including birth in a certain species and a given life span, both of which Buddhist texts consider to be the result of karma. The sūtra next explains how the antarābhava enters the womb. If the mother’s uterus is clean, the antarābhava is present, the faults mentioned above are absent, and the parents and the antarābhava all have the appropriate karma, then conception can take place. First, the antarābhava has the misguided thoughts of lust for the parent of the opposite sex and hatred for the parent of the same sex mentioned above. Next, it has the false idea that it is very cold, that there is wind, rain, clouds, and fog, and that it hears the sound of a great, clamoring crowd. Thereupon, according to its past karma, the antarābhava imagines that it is escaping into one of ten types of shelters, ranging from very elegant to very primitive. With one of these mistaken notions, it thus enters the womb. Since the medical texts are not concerned with the spiritual development of the jīva, it is not surprising that no corresponding passages can be found in them.

Finally, before the week-by-week account of the fetus, the sūtra contains an elaborate description of the composition of the earliest stage of the new life, the kalala. This is said to be neither the same as nor different from the semen and blood of the parents; rather, the body of the kalala is formed on the basis of the semen and blood but with the cooperation of various causes and conditions. There follows a long series of similes, all of which stress that the material elements of the new being arise because of the confluence of causes and conditions. These elements are the necessary constituents of the embryo, and their functions are described: earth contributes hardness; water, wetness; fire, hotness; and wind, fluidity. If there is earth without water, the kalala will dry up and fall apart, like a handful of dry flour or ashes. In similar fashion, the sūtra describes what will happen if various combinations of the other elements are absent. It is only because of past karma that the elements are able to perform their functions and that the embryo can grow properly. The same subject is treated in the Carakasamhitā, where the embryo is defined as the combination of the semen, blood, and self in the womb; this is further analyzed in terms of the elements, which are said to be the base of consciousness and to produce the various parts and features of the body. The large number of similes in the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra and the imagery employed are quite different from the matter-of-fact discussion in the Carakasamhitā of the same biological phenomena and causal principles. Although it would be misleading to say that the Carakasamhitā is totally unconcerned with religion or philosophy, its section on embryology consists largely of what Mitchell Weiss has described as “detailed directives for promoting fertility and the birth of a healthy, intelligent male child” and a presentation of the medical knowledge on which these directives are based. The sūtra, on the other hand, appears to be an extended meditation on one aspect of the first Noble Truth of suffering (duh․khasatya), namely the suffering of birth, and the summary of the first part of the sūtra, before the week-by-week account of gestation, declares that the essential nature of the birth process is suffering:

Nanda, I do not extol the production of a new existence even a little bit; nor do I extol the production of a new existence for even a moment. Why? The production of a new existence is suffering. For example, even a little [bit of] vomit stinks. In the same way, Nanda, the production of a new existence, even a little bit, even for a moment, is suffering. Therefore, Nanda, whatever comprises birth, [namely] the arising of matter, its subsistence, its growth, and its emergence, the arising, subsistence, growth, and emergence of feeling, conceptualization, conditioning forces, and consciousness, [all that] is suffering. Subsistence is illness. Growth is old age and death. Therefore, Nanda, what contentment is there for one who is in the mother’s womb wishing for existence?