Five Realms of Rebirth
What are the Five Realms?
For example, the Lohakumbhi (Iron Cauldron) hell of hot molten metal mentioned in the Dhammapada Commentary, where the four rich lads had to suffer for committing adultery, is said to be situated below the earth’s crust.
According to the Commentaries, there are eight major hells, namely:
a) Eight Major Hells
7) Mahatapana where beings are forced by fiery weapons to climb up a burning mountain until they fall down only to be strung up again on fiery iron bars, firmly held and unable to move while being roasted. Hence the name Mahatapana, the Extreme Roasting Hell.
Here, beings are attacked by blazing fires that rush incessantly from one side and strike at the opposite side. The heat is so terrible that it is said that even the bones melt there. Since there is no intermission of suffering here, it is called Avīci, the Hell without Intermission.
b) Minor Hells
The terrible sufferings of beings in these minor hells are described in the Devadūta Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya. Yet in all cases, the beings do not die but undergo the torture repeatedly so long as the evil kamma has not yet exhausted its results.
The minor hells are:
Born in the wild, smaller animals live in constant fear of being eaten up by larger animals that in turn are constantly being harassed or hunted to extinction by humans for sport or commercial purposes.
They suffer from heat and cold, flood and drought, and there is no one to tend to them when they are sick and wounded.
Domesticated animals fare no better:
Household pets would appear to have a relatively better life only if they have kind and understanding owners otherwise they would have to scavenge the streets for food and face the danger of being killed or injured by fast moving vehicles. Life is truly suffering for these creatures.
They live a life of misery, being subjected to incessant pain and suffering, lack of food and clothing, much like human dregs living in abject poverty. Thus they restlessly search for food here and there, hence the name Preta – those gone on and on.
In appearance they are generally described as extremely emaciated and have large heads with eyes and cheeks sunken, their faces darkened by long dishevelled hair. Their bodies have only skin, bones and tendons remaining, skeletons visible and rib-spaces sunken.
But this is not always the case:
Descriptions of Pretas and pretis (female ghosts) in the Samyutta and Petavatthu show that they come in various shapes and sizes depending on their past unwholesome kamma. In fact, the sightings of Pretas narrated in Samyutta took place in broad daylight!
ranged from a skeleton to a lump of flesh going through the air chased by vultures, crows and falcons pecking at them; or a man or woman bristling with sword-blades, arrows or spears that kept falling and piercing their bodies causing them to scream in pain as they go through the air.
one had a beautiful complexion but had worms in his putrid smelling mouth, another was ox-faced, another was red-eyed with fangs while others were emaciated with protruding veins and ribs, or with a body the size of a tree trunk and tongue sticking out of his parched throat.
There was even a preti who lived in a mansion enjoying celestial comfort by day and suffering at night − being devoured by a black dog, which cast her bones into a lotus pond and she regained her life each time as a result of kamma.
According to Milinda-Pañhā, there are 4 classes of Pretas:
a) Vantasikas who feed on what have been vomited by others.
d) Paradattupa-jivi who depend on what others offer for them:
Their mouths are as small as a needle’s eye and are situated on top of their heads so that they have to bend their heads downward whenever they want to eat or drink.
Being consumed by anger, these demons or angry ghosts like to attack one another with burning weapons of their own kammic productions and are thus tormented, such torment being the resultants of their past evil actions.
They are different from the asuras devas led by King Vepacitti who originally inhabited Tāvatiṁsa heaven but were defeated by Sakka, king of devas and driven to another part of the heavens. Vepacitti’s asuras are a class of devas and intermarry with devas.
By looking at the present human population, they think that there are many human beings on earth. By looking at the vastness of the heavens, they think that there are many inhabitants in the deva worlds.
However, if they observe the animal realm closely, they will realize that just the numbers of insects in a forest alone far exceed the human population. As for the deva worlds, it is said that although they are very extensive, the inhabitants are few.
Birth as a human is one of the five best opportunities that are difficult to obtain (dullabho), the other four being: encountering a Buddha; ordaining as a bhikkhu; attaining confidence in the Triple Gem; and hearing the True Dhamma (Doctrine).
But it does not mean that ordinary happiness is the reason why human existence is so fortunate. If this were so, the Buddha would have included the deva and brahma states where the celestial pleasures far surpass anything on earth.
Human existence is mentioned because it is the best state in which one can perform meritorious actions. This is not possible in the lower worlds because their inhabitants do not possess any good roots or they are in such pain that they cannot think of anything else.
In the heavens, there is so much pleasure to enjoy that their inhabitants find it difficult to appreciate the Truth of Suffering. Moreover, their lifespans are so long that it is difficult for them to understand impermanence (anicca).
Bodhisattvas prefer the human realm because they have the opportunity to develop the Requisites of Buddhahood (pāramīs) to the highest level. They are always born as human beings in their last birth where they attain Supreme Enlightenment and become Buddhas.
We are most fortunate to be human beings now because although the Buddha has passed into Parinibbāna, the Buddha Sasana is still available whereby we can hear the True Dhamma and attain confidence (saddha) even as lay folk. For those who become bhikkhus, they have obtained all the five best opportunities that are hard to come by.
The gods of the sensuous plane are called Devas while the gods of the higher non-sensuous planes are called Brahmas. There are 2 types of Brahma gods, namely: those who possess form (rūpa) and those who are formless (arūpa).
This is the next higher heaven where Sakka, king of gods reside. The original residents were the Asura devas but they were driven away by 33 new devas led by Sakka who did not want to share the kingdom with the Asuras who were addicted to drinking. Hence the name Tāvatiṁsa.
This is a realm of great happiness presided by the divine king Suyama or Yama. The Yama gods are different from the Yama Rajah of Hell who is a Vemanika-Preta, a deva for half a month and a Preta the other half-month.
6) Paranimmita-Vasavatti (Gods who control the creation of others):
The highest of the six sensuous heavens is Paranimmita-Vasavatti, the realm of gods who bring under their sway things created by others. Incidentally, the god Mara, well known for opposing the Buddha and Arahants, lives in this realm.
1) Three Planes of the First Jhāna:
Those who develop the first Jhāna to a normal extent are born in the first plane; those who have develop to a medium degree are born in the second plane; while those who have perfect control of the first Jhāna are born as Maha-brahmas.
2) Three Planes of the Second Jhāna:
In order of mastery of the second Jhāna, the brahmas of the second Jhānic planes are: Parittabha, the gods of minor lustre; Appamanabha, the gods of infinite lustre; and Abhassara, the gods of radiant lustre.
3) The Planes of the Third Jhāna:
In order of mastery of the third Jhāna, the brahmas of the third Jhānic planes are: Paritta- subha, the gods of minor aura; Appamana-subha, the gods of infinite aura; and Subha-kinha, the gods of steady aura.
4) Seven Planes of the Fourth Jhāna:
The planes of the fourth Jhāna are Vehapphala, the gods of great reward; Asanna-satta, the unconscious beings; and the five planes of Suddhavasa, the pure abodes where Anāgāmins or Non-Returners are reborn.
Beings, who, practise tranquillity meditation by passing beyond all form perceptions and attain Arūpa Jhāna or Formless States of Absorption are reborn in the formless realms possessing mind only and no material quality at all.
• Akasananca-bhūmi – Realm of Infinite Space
• Vinnanancayatana-bhūmi -- Realm of Infinite Consciousness
• Akincannayatana-bhūmi – Realm of Nothingness
• ’evanna-nasannayatana-bhūmi – Realm of Neither-Perception nor Non-Perception
How do we get the 31 states of existence?
If the asuras are considered as a separate state of existence, there are now
4 woeful states (hell, animal, ghost, asura),
7 happy sensuous states (human and 6 deva states),
16 form states (Form brahmas) and
4 formless states (Formless brahmas).
Total = 31 states of existence.
Some are short-lived like the case of the monk Tissa who was reborn as a flea on his new robe and expired after seven days or the case of Queen Mallikā who had to suffer seven days in hell due to an immoral deed but was reborn again as a celestial deva on account of her good kamma.
40,000 years at the time of Kakusandha Buddha,
30,000 years at the time of Konagamana Buddha,
20,000 years at the time of Kassapa Buddha and
80-100 years at the time of Gotama Buddha.
Although the earth-bound deities and degraded asuras both belong to the Cātumahārājika plane, they too do not have fixed lifespan.
c) Devas & Brahmas in celestial planes have fixed lifespan:
7. Lifespan of Celestial Devas
Cātumahārājika - 9 million human years / 500 Deva-years
Tāvatiṁsa - 36 million human years / 1000 Deva-years
Yama - 144 million human years / 2000 Deva-years
Tuṣita 576 million human years / 4000 Deva-years
Nimmarati - 2314 million human years / 8000 Deva-years
Paranimmita vasavatti - 9216 million human years / 16 000 Deva-years
A celestial day in Cātumahārājika is equivalent to 50 years on earth. So one year in Cātumahārājika is equivalent to 360 x 50 = 18 000 years on earth. Multiply this by 500 deva-years gives Cātumahārājika lifespan of 9 million human years.
According to the Texts, Lord Buddha preached the Higher Philosophy (Abhidhamma) to His mother in Tāvatiṁsa heaven continuously for three months without stopping. No human being would be able to listen to the whole sermon without a break.
But as 100 years on earth is just 1 day in Tāvatiṁsa, 3 months on earth is only 3.6 minutes in Tāvatiṁsa! To the gods, it would be a short discourse. They would have no difficulty listening attentively to it.