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Buddhist cosmology of the Theravada school
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Theravada Buddhist cosmology describes the 31 planes of existence in which rebirth takes place. The order of the planes are found in various discourses of the Gautama Buddha in the Sutta Pitaka. For example, in the Saleyyaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha mentioned the planes above the human plane in ascending order. In several sūtras in the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha described the causes of rebirth in these planes in the same order. In Buddhism, the devas are not immortal gods that play a creative role in the cosmic process. They are simply elevated beings who had been reborn in the celestial planes as a result of their words, thoughts, and actions. Usually, they are just as much in bondage to delusion and desire as human beings, and as in need of guidance from the Enlightened One. The Buddha is the "teacher of devas and humans (satthadevamanussanam). The devas come to visit the Buddha in the night. The Devatasamyutta and the Devaputtasamyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya gives a record of their conversations. The devaputtas are young devas newly arisen in heavenly planes, and devatas are mature deities.
There are 10,000 crores(100 Billions)above solar systems in our Galaxy,There are 10,000 crores (100 Billions) above Galaxy's in our Universe. There are many Univerces in space. our 'Past Life'& Rebirth are also on other planets as Aliens. The data for the 31 planes of existence in samsara are compiled from the Majjhima Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya, Digha Nikaya, Khuddaka Nikaya, and others. The 31 planes of existence can be perceived by a Buddha's Divine eye (dibbacakkhu) and some of his awakened disciples through the development of jhana meditation. According to the suttas, a Buddha can access all these planes and know all his past lives as well as those of other beings.
In the Maha-Saccaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya of the Pali Canon, Gautama Buddha said:
When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of beings. I saw — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.' Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — I saw beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma.
In the Itivuttaka edition of the Khuddaka Nikaya, the Buddha told about his past lives:
Whenever the eon contracted I reached the "Plane of Streaming Radiance", and when he eon expanded I arose in an empty divine mansion. And there I was Brahma, the great Brahma, the unvanquished victor, the all-seeing, the all-powerful. Thirty-six times I was Sakka, ruler of the devas. And many hundreds of times I was a wheel-turning monarch, righteous, a king of righteousness, conqueror of the four regions of the earth, maintaining stability in the land, in possession of the seven treasures.
Causes for rebirth in various planes
The process by which sentient beings migrate from one state of existence to another is dependent on causes and conditions. The three causes are giving or charity, moral conduct, and meditation development. Rebirth in the Kama-loka depends on a person's moral conduct and practice of giving. Rebirth in the Rupa-loka and Arupa-loka also requires meditation development. Liberation from all rebirth requires wisdom in addition to moral conduct and meditation.
About the cycle of rebirth, Bhikkhu Bodhi, a scholar monk who translated numerous texts from the Pali Canon, wrote that beyond all planes of existence is the unconditioned Nibbana, the final goal of the Buddha's teaching:
A blissful heavenly rebirth, however, is not the final purpose for which the Buddha taught the Dhamma. At best it is only a temporary way station. The ultimate goal is the cessation of suffering, and the bliss of the heavens, no matter how blissful, is not the same as the cessation of suffering. According to the Buddha's teaching, all states of existence within the round of rebirths, even the heavens, are transient, unreliable, bound up with pain. Thus the ultimate aim of the Dhamma is nothing short of liberation, which means total release from the round of rebirth and death.
Liberation from rebirth
Liberation from the rounds of rebirth require more than just meditation achievement. It is necessary to apply Yoniso Manasikara after emerging from Samma Samadhi (1st to 4th Jhana) in order to arrive at a breakthrough by wisdom. The Udana shows that after emerging from the Jhanas, the Buddha directed his attention to the cause of dukkha and the way leading to its cessation. This process culminates in the discovery of Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Origination) and the Four Noble Truths.
When the seven days had come to a close, the Exalted One arose from the state of trance and in the first watch of the night, thoroughly thought out the chain of cause and effect, in direct order, thus; "If there is this (state), another (state) arises, by the arising of this (state), a (state) is produced, that is to say: "From Ignorance spring Fabrications, from Fabrications springs Consciousness, from Consciousness spring Mind and Material Form, from Mind and Material Form, the six Organs of Sense, from the six Organs of Sense, Contact, from Contact, Sensations, from Sensations, Desire, from Desire, Attachment, from Attachment, Becoming, from Becoming, Birth, from Birth spring Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair. Thus the whole mass of suffering originates".
"By the destruction of Ignorance, Fabrications are destroyed, by the destruction of Fabrications, Consciousness is destroyed, by the destruction of Consciousness, Mind and Material Form are destroyed, by the destruction of Mind and Material Form, the six Organs of Sense are destroyed, by the destruction of the six Organs of Sense, Contact is destroyed, by the destruction of Contact, Sensations are destroyed, by the destruction of Sensations, Desire is destroyed, by the destruction of Desire, Attachment is destroyed, by the destruction of Attachment, Becoming is destroyed, by the destruction of Becoming, Birth is destroyed, and by the destruction of Birth, Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief and Despair are destroyed. Thus the whole mass of suffering is brought to an end."
The 31 Planes of Existence
Arupa-Loka (Formless Realms)
The immaterial or formless sphere (arupa loka) includes four planes into which beings are born as a result of attaining the Four Formless Jhana arūpadhyānas. The inhabitants of these realms are possessed entirely of mind. Having no physical form or location, they are unable to hear Dhamma teachings. They achieve this by attaining the formless jhana levels in a previous life, and now enjoys the fruits (vipāka) of the good karma of that accomplishment for a period of time before rebirth in a lower plane again. They do not interact with the rest of the universe.
31 - Sphere of Neither Perception Nor Non Perception (nevasannanasannayatanupaga deva) The beings in this plane only have mind and no physical body. They are unable to hear Dhamma. In this sphere the formless beings do not engage in "perception". Uddaka Ramaputra's father reached this plane and thought that this is awakening. After having experienced this state the Buddha realized that it will eventually lead to further rebirth.
30 - Sphere of Nothingness (akincannayatanupaga deva) Rebirth in this plane is a result of attaining the third formless jhana in a previous life. This is considered a form of perception, though a very subtle one. This was the sphere reached by Āḷāra Kālāma, the Buddha's first teacher. Alara Kalama thought that it is the state of awakening or liberation.
29 - The Sphere of Infinite Consciousness (vinnanancayatanupaga deva) Rebirth in this plane is a result of attaining the second formless jhana. In this sphere formless beings dwell meditating on their consciousness (vijñāna) as infinitely pervasive.
28 - Sphere of Infinite Space (akasanancayatanupaga deva) Rebirth in this plane is a result of attaining the first formless jhana.
Rupa-Loka (Fine-Material World )
The fine material sphere (rupa-loka) consists of sixteen planes. Beings are reborn into these planes as a result of attaining the form of jhanas. The prevalent mode of experience here is meditative rather than sensory. They have bodies made of fine matter. The sixteen planes correspond to the attainment of the four jhanas. The devas of the rupa-loka have physical forms, but are sexless and passionless. Beings in the lower planes are not able to see beings in planes higher than theirs. The beings of the Form realm are not subject to the extremes of pleasure and pain, or governed by desires for things pleasing to the senses, as the beings of the Kāma-loka are. The bodies of Form realm beings do not have sexual distinctions. Like the beings of the Arupa-loka, the dwellers in the Rupa-loka have minds corresponding to the dhyānas (Pāli: jhānas). In their case it is the four lower jhanas or rūpadhyānas.
Related Sutta : Jhana Sutta from the Anguttara Nikaya
Pure Abodes (Suddhavasa)
The Pure Abodes, are distinct from the other worlds of the rupa-loka in that they do not house beings who have been born there through ordinary merit or meditative attainments. Birth in these five realms are a result of attaining the fruit of non-returning or Anagami, the third level of enlightenment. These Pure Abodes are accessible only to those who have destroyed the lower five fetters consist of self-view, sceptical doubt, clinging to rites and ceremonies, sense desires, and ill-will. They will destroy their remaining fetters of craving for fine material existence, craving for immaterial existence, conceit, restlessness and ignorance during their existence in the Pure Abodes. Those who take rebirth here are called "non-returners" because they do not return from that world, but attain final nibbana there without coming back. They guard and protect Buddhism on earth, and will pass into enlightenment as Arhats when they pass away from the Suddhavasa worlds. According to the Ayacana Sutta, among its inhabitants is Brahma Sahampati, who begs the Buddha to teach Dhamma to the world.
The five Pure Abodes are:
27 - Peerless Devas (Akanittha deva) World of devas "equal in rank". The highest of all the Rūpadhātu worlds, it is often used to refer to the highest extreme of the universe. The current Śakra will eventually be born there.
26 - Clear-Sighted (sudassi deva) The "clear-seeing" devas live in a world similar to and friendly with the Akaniṣṭha world.
25 - Beautiful devas (sudassa deva) The world of the "beautiful" devas is said to be the place of rebirth for five kinds of anāgāmins.
24 - Untroubled devas (atappa deva) The world of the "untroubled" devas, for whose company those of lower realms long.
23 - Devas not Falling Away (aviha deva) The world of the "not falling" devas, perhaps the most common destination for reborn Anāgāmins. Many achieve arhatship directly in this world, but some pass away and are reborn in sequentially higher worlds of the Pure Abodes until they are at last reborn in the Akaniṣṭha world. These are called in Pāli uddhaṃsotas, "those whose stream goes upward".
These two realms are a result of attaining the fourth jhana. They remain in the tranquil state attained in the 4th Jhana, and is characterized by equanimity (upekṣā).
22 - Unconscious beings (Asaññasatta) Realm of mindless beings who have only bodies without consciousness. Rebirth into this plane results from a meditative practice aimed at the suppression of consciousness. Those who take up this practice assume release from suffering can be achieved by attaining unconsciousness. However, when the life span in this realm ends, the beings pass away and are born in other planes where consciousness returns.
21 - Very Fruitful devas (vehapphala deva) In the Jhana Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya the Buddha said "The Vehapphala devas, monks, have a life-span of 500 eons. A run-of-the-mill person having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, goes to hell, to the animal womb, to the state of the hungry shades."
These three realms are a result of attaining the third jhana. The mental state of the devas of these worlds corresponds to the third jhana, and is characterized by a quiet joy (sukha). These devas have bodies that radiate a steady light.
20 - Devas of Refulgent Glory (subhakinna deva) The Buddha said, "The Subhakinha devas, monks, have a life-span of four eons. A run-of-the-mill person having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, goes to hell, to the animal womb, to the state of the hungry shades."
19 - Devas of Unbounded Glory (appamanasubha deva) The world of devas of "limitless beauty".
18 - Devas of Limited Glory (parittasubha deva) The world of devas of "limited beauty".
These three are a result of attaining the second jhana. The mental state of the devas of the Ābhāsvara worlds corresponds to the second dhyāna, and is characterized by delight (prīti) as well as joy (sukha).
17 - Devas of Streaming Radiance (abhassara deva) The Abhassara devas have a life-span of two eons. After that period they are reborn in a lower realm.
16 - Devas of Unbounded Radiance (appamanabha deva) The world of devas of "limitless light", a concept on which they meditate. Their lifespan is 4 mahākalpas.
15 - Devas of Limited Radiance (parittabha deva) The world of devas of "limited light". Their lifespan is 2 mahākalpas.
Main article: Brahma (Buddhism)
The mental state of the devas of the Brahmā worlds corresponds to the first jhana. Like all beings, the brahmas are still tied to the cycle of rebirth, though sometimes they forget this and imagine themselves to be immortal. The Buddha said "The devas of Brahma's retinue, monks, have a life-span of an eon. A run-of-the-mill person having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, goes to hell, to the animal womb, to the state of the hungry shades."
One way to rebirth in the brahma world is mastery over the first jhana. Another is through meditations on loving kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity. According to the Subha Sutta, the Brahmin Subha asked the Buddha to teach him how to be born in the world of Brahma. And the Buddha said to him:
Then young man, listen carefully I will tell.’ The young man agreed and the Blessed One said. The bhikkhu pervades one direction with thoughts of loving kindness, so too the second, the third, the fourth, above, below, across, in every respect, in all circumstances, the entire world, he pervades with the thought of loving kindness grown great and immeasurable without anger and ill will. Young man, when the release of the mind in loving kindness, is developed thus, none of the measured actions remain. Just as a clever drummer in no time would make known the message in the four directions. In the same manner, when the release of the mind in loving kindness, is developed thus, none of the measured actions remain. This is the method to be born with Brahma. Again the bhikkhu pervades one direction with the thought of compassion,…re…. with intrinsic joy,…re… with equanimity, so too the second, the third, the fourth, above, below, across, in every respect, in all circumstances, the entire world, he pervades with equanimity grown great and immeasurable without anger and ill will. Young man, when the release of the mind in equanimity, is developed thus, none of the measured actions remain. Just as a clever drummer in no time would make known the message in the four directions. In the same manner, when the release of the mind in equanimity is developed thus, none of the measured actions remain. This is the method to be born with Brahma.
14 - Great Brahmas (Maha brahma) One of this realm's most famous inhabitants is the Great Brahma, a deity whose delusion leads him to regard himself as the all-powerful, all-seeing creator of the Universe. According to the Brahmajāla Sutta, a Mahā brahmā is a being from the Ābhāsvara worlds who falls into a lower world through exhaustion of his merits and is reborn alone in the Brahma-world; forgetting his former existence, he imagines himself to have come into existence without cause.
Related Sutta: Kevaddha Sutta
13 - Ministers of Brahma (brahma-purohita deva) The "Ministers of Brahmā" are beings, also originally from the Ābhāsvara worlds, that are born as companions to Mahābrahmā after he has spent some time alone. Since they arise subsequent to his thought of a desire for companions, he believes himself to be their creator, and they likewise believe him to be their creator and lord.
12 - Retinue of Brahma (brahma-parisajja deva)– the "Councilors of Brahmā" or the devas "belonging to the assembly of Brahmā".
Kama-Loka (The Sense-Sphere realm)
Main article: Desire realm
Birth into these heavenly planes takes place as a result of giving and moral discipline. The Sense-Sphere Realm is the lowest of the three realms. The driving force within this realm is sensual desire. These devas enjoy aesthetic pleasures, long life, beauty, and certain powers. The heavenly planes are not reserved only for good Buddhists. Anyone who has led a wholesome life can be born in them. People who believe in an "eternal heaven" may carry their belief to the deva plane and take the long life span there to be an eternal existence. Only those who have known the Dhamma will realize that, as these planes are impermanent, some day these sentient beings will fall away from them and be reborn elsewhere. The devas can help people by inclining their minds to wholesome acts, and people can help the devas by inviting them to rejoice in their meritorious deeds.
Related Suttas: Saleyyaka Sutta, Dana Sutta
These devas live in four heavens that float in the air, leaving them free from contact with the strife of the lower world.
11 - Devas Wielding Power over the Creation of Others (Parinimmita-vasavattin deva) These devas enjoy sensual pleasures created by others for them. These devas do not create pleasing forms that they desire themselves, but their desires are fulfilled by the acts of other devas who wish for their favor. Mara, the personification of delusion and desire, lives here.
10 - Devas Delighting in Creation (Nimmanarati deva) These devas delight in the sense objects of their own creation. They are capable of changing appearance to please themselves. The lord of this world is Sunirmita (Pāli Sunimmita).
9 - Contented deva (Tusita deva) Tushita is the home of the contented gods, among whom the future Maitreya abides. Before his birth as Siddhartha, this is the realm where he dwells with other Bodhisattvas. His name was Śvetaketu (Pāli: Setaketu). While this Bodhisattva is the foremost of the dwellers in Tuṣita, the ruler of this world is Santuṣita (Pāli: Santusita).
8 - Yama devas These Yama devas live in the air, free of all difficulties.
The lower devas of the Kama-loka live on different parts of the mountain at the center of the world, Sumeru. They are even more passionate than the higher devas, and do not simply enjoy themselves but also engage in strife and fighting.
7 - Thirty-three gods (Tavatimsa deva) Beings that live on the peak of Sumeru are like the Olympian gods. Their ruler is Sakka or Śakra, a devotee of the Buddha. Sakka rules by righteousness, patience towards aggressors, and compassionate treatment of wrongdoers. Sakka and the devas honor sages and holy men. He earned his place as ruler of the devas by fulfilling seven vows which embody the standards of the virtuous householder while he was still a human being. The Buddha holds up Sakka's patience and forgiveness as a model for the bhikkhus. Many devas dwelling here live in mansions in the air. Besides the thirty-three devas, many other devas and supernatural beings dwell here, including the attendants of the devas and many apsarases (nymphs).
Related Suttas: Sakka-panha Sutta and the Sakka Samyutta (11th section of the Samyutta Nikaya) which also contains 25 short discourses connected with Sakka.
6 - Four Great Kings (catummaharajika deva) The world of the Four Great Kings includes the martial kings who guard the four quarters of the Earth. The chief of these kings is Vaisravana, but all are ultimately accountable to Sakra. Dhatarattha, king of the Eastern Direction, is lord of the gandhabbas. Virulha, king of the Southern Direction, is lord of the kumbandas. Virupakkha, king of the Western Direction, is lord of the nagas. Kuvera, who rules as king of the Northern Direction, is lord of the yakkhas. The devas who guide the Sun and Moon are also part of this world.
This is home to the four types of earthly demigod or nature-spirit: Gandhabba - the celestial musicians or fairies Yakkha - tree spirits of varying degrees of ethical purity. They are analogous to the goblins, trolls, ogres, and fairies of Western fairy tales. They inhabit remote areas such as forests, hills, and abandoned caves. Though living in misery they have the potential for awakening and can attain the path and fruits of the spiritual life.
Related Suttas: Yakkhasayutta of the Samyutta Nikaya.
According to the Atanatiya Sutta:
"There are non-humans who are fierce, violent, given to retaliation; those non-humans heed neither the (four) great kings, nor their ministers nor their attendants. They are called rebels against the (four) great kings. Even as in the kingdom of Magadha, the thieves heed neither the king of Magadha, nor the ministers, nor their attendants, and are called rebels against the king of Magadha, so there are non-humans who are fierce... (as before). They are called rebels against the (four) great kings."
Kumbhanda (dwarfs) Naga (dragons) Related Sutta: Maha-samya Sutta of the Digha Nikaya
probably also Garuda
Human Beings (manussa loka)
5 - Human (manussa loka) Birth in this plane results from giving and moral discipline of middling quality. This is the realm of moral choice where destiny can be guided. The Khana Sutta mentioned that this plane is a unique balance of pleasure and pain. It facilitates the development of virtue and wisdom to liberate oneself from the entire cycle or rebirths. For this reason rebirth as a human being is considered precious according to the Chiggala Sutta. In the Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta (The Shorter Analysis of Action), the Buddha taught that:
Killing others lead to short life if one becomes reborn in the human plane instead of the four lower States of Deprivation. By abandoning the very acts of killing and harming, one get to be reborn in a heavenly world. Alternatively, one get to be reborn in the human world being endowed with long life.
Injuring of others beings can lead to rebirth in the States of Deprivation. Alternatively, the person comes back in the human plane as someone very sickly. Non injuring of others lead to rebirth in good destination. Alternatively, one comes back to the human plane enjoying good health.
The same goes for the following:
Beautiful or Unattractive Human Rebirth depends on whether or not the person has an irritable character in this life.
Influential or Ordinary Human Rebirth depends on whether the person is envious of the gain and honor receive by others in this life.
Rich or Poor Human Rebirth depends on whether one is generous to others, such as providing the requisites of holy people, in this present life.
Related Suttas: Janussonin Sutta, Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta,
States of Deprivation (Apaya)
Rebirth into these planes results from unwholesome conduct. Beings reborn there have no moral sense and generally cannot create good kamma. However, when the unwholesome kamma that brought them to these planes is exhausted, some stored good kamma can bring them rebirth in some other plane. Only stream-enterers and other ariyans can be sure they will never again be born in these planes of misery.
Related sutta: Saleyyaka Sutta and The Vipaka Sutta
4 - Asura They are demons or "titans" that are engaged in endless conflict with each other. The Asuras are always fighting to regain their lost kingdom on the top of Mount Sumeru, but are unable to break the guard of the Four Great Kings. The Asuras are divided into many groups, and have no single ruler, but among their leaders are Vemacitrin (Pāli: Vepacitti) and Rāhu.
Related sutta: Rattana Sutta
3 - Hungry ghost (pretha loka) This is the realm where ghost and unhappy spirits wander in vain, hopelessly in search of sensual fulfillment.
Related sutta : Tirokudda Kanda from the Khuddakapatha
2 - Animal(tiracchana yoni) The animal realm includes animals, insects, fish, birds, worms, etc..
1 - Hell realms (niraya)
Main article: Naraka (Buddhism)
These are realms of extreme sufferings are mentioned in the Balapandita Sutta and the Devaduta Sutta.