31 planes of existence

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Realms of existence

  1. Purgatory (Hells, but impermanent, not eternal)
  2. Asuras (jealous beings)
  3. Ghosts
  4. Animals
  5. Humans
  6. Higher Beings (the six planes within sense world, consisting of angels or impermanent gods)

The above lists a summary of the Buddha’s cosmology. All are closely interdependent as beings progress through the various realms of existence.

In addition to the six major levels of the planes of existence listed above, there are 16 planes of heavenly beings outside the sense world (the world of Form) and another 4 planes of heavenly beings in the Formless world (without body) for a total of 31 planes of existence. In the planes of existence we can see our close connection to animals. This is from the re-birth process and the fact that animals, like humans suffer from emotions, selfish cravings, and other pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Darwin’s theory of evolution is completely compatible with Buddhism.

The 31 planes of existence

Lifespan listed is in our earth years, for the devas their celestial days and years are different from our concepts of time, similar to how different planets and solar systems have different number of hours in a day, year, etc.

I. The Sensuous World (kama-loka)

States of deprivation (apaya)

No. Realm Pali Life-span Cause of rebirth here
1 Purgatory niriya varies unwholesome actions, murdering parents or arahant, injuring arahant, creating schism
2 Asuras asura varies unwholesome actions
3 Hungry ghosts peta loka varies unwholesome actions, lack of virtue
4 Animals tiracchana yoni varies unwholesome actions, behaving like an animal

Happy Destinations (sugati)

Numbers 5 – 11 are in the realm of the sense world, can experience sense pleasures and displeasures, mostly pleasure for the devas (impermanent gods or angels).

No. Realm Pali Life-span Cause of rebirth here
5 Humans manussa loka varies, approx. 10 to 120 years development of virtue, wisdom, stream-entry guarantees rebirth as human or deva
6 Devas of the Four Great Kings catumaharajika deva 9 million years wholesome actions, virtue, generosity, wisdom
7 The 33 gods tavatimsa deva 36 million years wholesome actions, virtue, generosity, wisdom
8 Yama devas yama deva 144 million years wholesome actions, virtue, generosity, wisdom
9 Contented devas tusita deva 576 million years wholesome actions, virtue, generosity, wisdom
10 Devas delighting in creation nimmanarati deva 2.3 billion years wholesome actions, virtue, generosity, wisdom
11 Devas wielding power over others’ creations paranimmita-vasavatti deva 9.2 billion years wholesome actions, virtue, generosity, wisdom

II. The Fine-Material World (rupa-loka)

Numbers 12 – 27 are in the realm of form. There is a subtle body and these deva realms are superior to those in the sense realm. One attains rebirth to these planes based on kamma and spiritual attainments.

No. Realm Pali Life-span Cause of rebirth here
12 Retinue of Brahma brahma-parisajja deva one-third of an aeon proficiency in first jhana, minor degree
13 Ministers of Brahma brahma-purohita deva half an aeon proficiency in first jhana, medium degree
14 Great Brahmas Maha brahma one aeon proficiency in first jhana, highest degree
15 Devas of limited radiance parittabha deva 2 aeons proficiency in second jhana, minor degree
16 Devas of unbounded radiance appamanabha deva 4 aeons proficiency in second jhana, medium degree
17 Devas of streaming radiance abhassara deva 8 aeons proficiency in second jhana, highest degree
18 Devas of limited glory parittasubha deva 16 aeons proficiency in third jhana, minor degree
19 Devas of unbounded glory appamanasubha deva 32 aeons proficiency in third jhana, medium degree
20 Devas of refulgent glory subhakinna deva 64 aeons proficiency in third jhana, highest degree
21 Very fruitful devas vehapphala deva 500 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana
22 Unconscious beings asaññasatta 500 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana

Realms 23 to 27 are the Pure Abodes (suddhavasa), which are accessible only to non-returners (anagami) and arahants. Beings who become non-returners in other planes are reborn here, where they attain arahantship. Among its inhabitants is Brahma Sahampati, who begs the Buddha to teach Dhamma to the world (Samyutta Nikaya 6.1).

No. Realm Pali Life-span Cause of rebirth here
23 Devas not falling away aviha deva 1,000 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana
24 Untroubled devas atappa deva 2,000 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana
25 Beautiful, clearly visible devas sudassa deva 4,000 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana
26 Clear-sighted devas sudassi deva 8,000 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana
27 Peerless devas akanittha deva 16,000 aeons proficiency in fourth jhana

III. The Immaterial World (arupa-loka)

Numbers 28 – 31 are in the realm of the formless. This means there is no body of any kind. There is just a type of consciousness, conventional existence as we know it, but without a body. The life spans are very long in the formless realm and one attains to these levels by the formless jhanas these planes are named after, jhanas or realms 5 to 8. Numbers 28- 31 are not necessarily the best places to be. At these levels, one cannot hear the Dhamma from a Buddha or arahant on earth or any other planet.

The best destinations are the pure abodes at numbers 23 – 27 which are deva realms for non-returners. Rebirth to these planes means that enlightenment will be attained while at one of these planes of existence.

No. Realm Pali Life-span Cause of rebirth here
28 Sphere of Infinity of Space akasanañcayatanupaga deva 20,000 aeons proficiency in fifth jhana (the first formless jhana)
29 Sphere of Infinity of Consciousness viññanañcayatanupaga deva 40,000 aeons proficiency in sixth jhana (the second formless jhana)
30 Sphere of No-thingness akiñcaññayatanupaga deva 60,000 aeons proficiency in seventh jhana (the third formless jhana)
31 Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception nevasaññanasaññayatanupaga 84,000 aeons proficiency in eighth jhana (the fourth formless jhana)

References

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