4

And How the buddha know all of these things. I suppose he knew from meditation until enlighten? So it is possible that just by mediation alone one can know about other realm of existence.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sagga/loka.html

4

Here's my personal interpretation.

A belief in hell, devas, and rebirth preceded (existed before) Buddhism and the Buddha. So when the Buddha was born, lived, and taught, people (non-Buddhists) already had a belief in hell, devas, rebirth, etc.

According to the page you referenced (see also Wikipedia's Buddhist cosmology of the Theravada school) there isn't any one source e.g. a single sutta which identifies the 31 planes ... instead commentators have collected the 31 planes from several sources.

For example one of the suttas, which mentions the arupa-loka, is the Saleyyaka Sutta (MN 41). This starts as follows:

  1. The brahman householders of Sala went to the Blessed One; etc.

  2. When they were seated, they said to the Blessed One: "Master Gotama, what is the reason, what is the condition, why some beings here, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in states of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell; and what is the reason, what is the condition, why some beings here, on the dissolution of the body, after death, reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world?"

In other words, the brahman householders open the discussion by asking, "Why are some people reborn in hell and some in heaven?"

Note that the question assumes/presumes the existence of heaven and hell.

In reply, the Buddha teaches them Dhamma: he defines or gives examples of good and bad bodily conduct, verbal conduct, mental conduct.

Incidentally, the sutta's message ends by saying that "deliverance here and now" is also possible (and is implicitly better than a heavenly rebirth):

  1. "If a householder who observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct, should wish: 'Oh, that by realization myself with direct knowledge, I may here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of the heart and the deliverance by wisdom that are taint-free with exhaustion of taints!' it is possible that, by realization himself with direct knowledge, he may here and now enter upon and abide in the deliverance of the heart and the deliverance by wisdom that are taint-free with exhaustion of taints. Why is that? Because he observes conduct in accordance with the Dhamma, righteous conduct."

My personal opinion is that the purpose or intent of this sutta, is not to teach us about the various kinds of Gods (though it does list various kinds), rather it is to teach examples of good and bad conduct, and teach that each person's future (destination) depends on their conduct. Whether or not that's really the "sutta's intent", that's what I get out of it when I read it using my personal set of biases.

I see it as being similar to verse 393 of the Dhammapada, i.e. the Buddha uses the existing belief and vocubulary (e.g. the word "brahmin"), he redefines those words, and he reuses their language and belief-system to speak to people (who have pre-existing beliefs).

In other words I think that people of his day believed in rebirth, heaven, and hell, and he used that as a "hook" to tell them about good conduct, e.g. to say that their destination depended on their own behaviour.

I think you can see other examples where the Buddha selects his message to match the audience. When talking to a lay audience, for example, he talked about the six directions; when talking to monks, he talked about renunciation -- different messages to suit different audiences.


I think that a belief in or a doctrine of rebirth is tightly integrated into the Pali canon, for example a literal interpretation of the Four stages of enlightenment including "once-returner" and "non-returner" presume rebirth and rebirth in heaven.

IMO trying to remove a belief in "planes of existence" from Theravada might be like trying to remove a belief in "heaven" from Christianity i.e. it's not easy or a natural way to interpret the scripture.


One way to answer this is to say that, inline with the reasoning I gave in this answer, it might be useful to behave as if the realms exist, i.e. behave as if our conduct has future consequence.


Also, so far as I know, an orthodox answer from a Theravadin (i.e. a type of answer that I have seen from other users on this site) might be that you should practice to perfect yourself and your spiritual abilities until you can know/see the truth for yourself.

1

There is a major principle in original Buddhism that the Dhamma (true reality) is experienced in the here-&-now (sanditthiko); has immediate results (akaliko); invites inspection (ehipassiko); leads to peace (opanayiko); & verified by the observant for themselves (paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi).

MN 38 states disciples of the Buddha should not even believe what the Buddha has spoken but to only believe what is experienced for oneself.

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, 'The Teacher is our respected mentor. We speak thus out of respect for the Teacher'?"

"No, lord."

"Knowing thus and seeing thus, would you say, 'The Contemplative says this. We speak thus in line with the Contemplative's words'?"

"No, lord."

"Is it the case that you speak simply in line with what you have known, seen, & understood for yourselves?"

"Yes, lord."

"Good, monks. You have been guided by me in this Dhamma which is to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the observant for themselves".

MN 38

There are scriptures where the planes of existence are metaphors so you need to decide for yourself whether 'heaven', 'hell', 'animal behaviour', 'hungry ghosts' & 'humane beings' are metaphors or not.

Below are quotes that use the term 'animal' obviously as a metaphor:

Monks, these two bright qualities guard the world. Which two? Conscience & concern. If these two bright qualities did not guard the world, there would be no recognition of 'mother' here, no recognition of 'mother's sister,' 'uncle's wife,' 'teacher's wife,' or 'wife of those who deserve respect.' The world would be immersed in promiscuity, like rams with goats, roosters with pigs, or dogs with jackals. But because these two bright qualities guard the world, there is recognition of 'mother,' 'mother's sister,' 'uncle's wife,' 'teacher's wife' & 'wife of those who deserve respect.'

Lokapala Sutta

~~~

  1. I heard thus. At one time the Blessed One was living in the monastery offered by Anāthapiṇḍika in Jeta's grove in Sāvatthi.

  2. Then a certain monk approached the Blessed One, worshipped, and sat on a side.

  3. Sitting, that monk said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, how is it that a certain serpent [snake], born from a womb, observing the full moon observances, would even give up his body?”

  4. “Here, monk, to a certain serpent born from a womb it occurs: `Earlier we acted in two ways by body, speech, and mind, and after death were born with the serpents born from a womb.'

  5. “`Today we develop the right conduct by body, speech, and mind. In this manner we go to a good state, go to heaven after death.'

  6. “`Therefore at this time we develop the right conduct by body speech and mind.'

  7. “Monk, this is the reason that a certain serpent, born from a womb, observing the full moon observances, would even give up his body.”

Nāga Saṃyutta

~~~

So too, bhikkhus, those beings are few who, when they pass away from the animal realm, are reborn among human beings. But those beings are more numerous who, when they pass away from the animal realm, are reborn in hell.

For what reason? Because bhikkhus, they have not seen the Four Noble Truths. What four? The noble truth of suffering, the noble truth of the origin of suffering, the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.

SN 56.121 (no link)

~~~

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Now at that time a large number of monks, after the meal, on returning from their alms round, had gathered at the meeting hall and were engaged in many kinds of animal topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.

AN 10.70

Watching this whole video carefully about how Angulimala becomes an animal (murderer) then become a human being again (after being reformed by the Buddha) may also help: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBkprM2JJQk


For the 'heavenly realms', MN 1 is useful. MN 1 describes the 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th meditative absorptions (jhana) as various heavenly or godly states.

The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.

"He perceives water as water... fire as fire... wind as wind ... beings as beings... gods as gods...Pajapati as Pajapati...Brahma as Brahma... the luminous gods as luminous gods... the gods of refulgent glory as gods of refulgent glory... the gods of abundant fruit as the gods of abundant fruit... the Conqueror as the Conqueror ... the dimension of the infinitude of space as the dimension of the infinitude of space... the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness as the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness... the dimension of nothingness as the dimension of nothingness... the dimension of neither-perception-nor-non-perception as the dimension of neither-perception-nor-non-perception ... the seen as the seen... the heard as the heard... the sensed as the sensed... the cognized as the cognized ... singleness as singleness... multiplicity as multiplicity ... the All as the All ...

"He perceives Nibbana as Nibbana. Perceiving Nibbana as Nibbana, he conceives things about Nibbana, he conceives things in Nibbana, he conceives things coming out of Nibbana, he conceives Nibbanaas 'mine,' he delights in Nibbana. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.

In MN 79, the jhanas are also described as a "world" ("loka") of pleasant feelings. Here, the word "world" is used to described a mental state, similar to many suttas such as SN 12.44 & AN 4.45, which refer to the "world of suffering".

Kiṃ panudāyi, atthi ekantasukho loko, atthi ākāravatī paṭipadā ekantasukhassa lokassa sacchikiriyāyā

Udayi, is there a world of only pleasantness? Is there a course of actions to realise that world of only pleasantness?

Here, Udayi, the bhikkhu secluded from sensual desires and thoughts of demerit abides in the first jhana: Overcoming thoughts and thought processs and the mind in one point internally appeased, without thoughts and thought processes abides in the second jhana. Again with equanimuity to joy and detachment, feeling pleasant with the body too, abides in the third jhana. To this the noble ones say abiding in pleasantness with equanimity. Udayi, this is the course of actions, for realising the world of only pleasant feelings (ekantasukhassa lokassa).

In MN 75, is discussed the Buddha's former life in the palace before he was monk. Here, the words "divine sensual pleasures" are used to describe the luxurious sensual pleasures of the rich & wealthy. Obviously, the heaven mentioned here (which was also understood by the non-Buddhist questioner) is not a heaven gained from doing good charitable deeds but a heaven of luxurious sensual pleasures:

Māgandiya, formerly when I lived the home life, I enjoyed myself, provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure: with forms cognizable by the eye…with sounds cognizable by the ear…with odours cognizable by the nose…with flavours cognizable by the tongue…with tangibles cognizable by the body that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likeable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust. I had three palaces, one for the rainy season, one for the winter, and one for the summer. I lived in the rains’ palace for the four months of the rainy season, enjoying myself with musicians, none of whom were men, and I did not go down to the lower palace.

“On a later occasion, having understood as they actually are the origin, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of sensual pleasures, I abandoned craving for sensual pleasures, I removed fever for sensual pleasures, and I abide without thirst, with a mind inwardly at peace. I see other beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures being devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, burning with fever for sensual pleasures, indulging in sensual pleasures, and I do not envy them, nor do I delight therein. Why is that? Because there is, Māgandiya, a delight [i.e. meditative jhana] apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses even divine bliss. Since I take delight in that, I do not envy what is inferior, nor do I delight therein.

“Suppose, Māgandiya, a householder or a householder’s son was rich, with great wealth and property, and being provided and endowed with the five cords of sensual pleasure, he might enjoy himself with forms cognizable by the eye…with sounds cognizable by the ear…with odours cognizable by the nose…with flavours cognizable by the tongue…with tangibles cognizable by the body that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likeable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust. Having conducted himself well in body, speech, and mind, on the dissolution of the body, after death, he might reappear in a happy destination, in the heavenly world in the retinue of the gods of the Thirty-three; and there, surrounded by a group of nymphs in the Nandana Grove, he would enjoy himself, provided and endowed with the five cords of divine sensual pleasure. Suppose he saw a householder or a householder’s son enjoying himself, provided and endowed with the five cords of human sensual pleasure. What do you think, Māgandiya? Would that young god surrounded by the group of nymphs in the Nandana Grove, enjoying himself, provided and endowed with the five cords of divine sensual pleasure, envy the householder or the householder’s son for the five cords of human sensual pleasure or would he be enticed by human sensual pleasures?”

“No, Master Gotama. Why not? Because divine sensual pleasures are more excellent and sublime than human sensual pleasures.”

In MN 37, Sakka, ruler of the Gods, lives in an actual palace, with rooms & many young sexy young women. If the godly realm here was a literal 'heaven' (in the clouds), why would there be a palace, with rooms?

Good sir Moggallana, it once happened that war broke our between the gods and the titans. In that war the gods won and the titans were defeated. When I had won that war and returned from it as a conqueror, I had the Vejayanta Palace Built. Good sir Moggallana, the Vejayanta Palace has a hundred towers, and each tower has seven hundred upper chambers, and each tower has seven nymphs and each nymph has seven maids. Would you like to see the loveliness of the Vejayanta Palace, good sir Moggallana?"

In SN 11.5, the 'democrat' gods (deva) & 'totalitarian' titans (asura) have a debate about how to rule people. The gods suggest patience & the titans suggest punishment. If gods is a heavenly place & the titans is hellish state of deprivation, how could the gods & titans have a debate with eachother about ruling the world of ordinary people?

Obviously, the 'gods' here refers to benevolent rulers & the 'titans' refer to tyrannical rulers of the human world who engaged in ideological & often military battle with eachother.


In summary, the word 'human' ('manussa') in Pali literally means to be 'high minded'. Therefore, it does not refer to 'people' ('puggalo') but to a state of mind.

When the scripture states: "there is this world & the other worlds", the term "this world" refers to the high virtuous human state of mind when having an audience with a Buddha or noble being. (It does not refer to the planet Earth).

MN 12 distinguishes between types of physical birth & forms of spontaneous mental birth:

  1. "Sariputta, there are these four kinds of generation. What are the four? Egg-born generation, womb-born generation, moisture-born generation and spontaneous generation.

  2. "What is egg-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out of the shell of an egg; this is called egg-born generation. What is womb-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out from the caul; this is called womb-born generation. What is moisture-born generation? There are these beings born in a rotten fish, in a rotten corpse, in rotten dough, in a cesspit, or in a sewer; this is called moisture-born generation. What is spontaneous generation? There are gods and denizens of hell and certain human beings and some beings in the lower worlds; this is called spontaneous generation. These are the four kinds of generation.

  • I believe you have misinterpreted MN 38. The meaning of the passage is that, for one who has seen the truth of something for oneself, one need not rely on or point to another as their source of knowledge. There seems to be no implication that disciples shouldn't believe what a Buddha says. – Adamokkha Jul 9 '16 at 12:58
  • 1
    You wrote, "There are scriptures where the planes of existence are metaphors"; but this could be a better answer if you were able to expand on that phrase. Which are the scriptures where the planes of existence are metaphors, and how do we know that they're metaphors in those scriptures? Is it only that animals are sometimes used as metaphors, that there are some animals-as--metaphor in some scriptures? Is there any evidence for whether heaven, hell, devas, etc., are "real" or "metaphorical"? – ChrisW Jul 9 '16 at 16:33
  • Thank you Chris but I am not exactly sure what you are asking? In AN 10.70, the term 'animal talk' is literally used to describe the worldly behaviour of monks. In SN 56.121, it is literally said an animal can 'realise' the 4 noble truths therefore this would be ludicrous if a dog, chicken, fish or worm could realise the 4 noble truth to gain a human rebirth. The Nāga Saṃyutta states a 'snake' is observing the Buddhist Uposatha & aspiring to do good karma. These suttas cannot be more self-evident & straightforward that the word 'animal' refers to conscienceless & immoral behaviour of people. – Dhammadhatu Jul 9 '16 at 21:05
  • I guess I was asking, because: a) metaphors involving animals are not uncommon b) but that might not prove that the "realm" is a metaphor c) and maybe the "animal realm", for one, is real -- i.e. there really are animals? I guess I was asking: are the planes metaphors? All the planes, including heaven and hell? Saying "There are scriptures where the planes are metaphors" is a strong claim, I hoped you would identify at least one of those scriptures. You later added a reference to MN 1, so thanks! With that example (of a scripture) it's easier to understand the claim (that there are metaphors). – ChrisW Jul 9 '16 at 21:59
  • Adamokkha. I have not misinterpreted anything. The Buddha is only a guide. His words are to be initially trusted, investigated & realised. If any words in any scripture cannot be realised, they can be rejected. . – Dhammadhatu Jul 9 '16 at 22:00
1

Are the planes of existence real or metaphor? They are both.

  • Maybe you could elaborate a bit on why they are both. – Lanka Jul 11 '16 at 10:28
0

There are six worlds, in it-self it makes one, then you have seven worlds... Those six worlds are combined in three different ways*:

  • One and Two and Three | Four and Five and Six
  • One and Two | Three and Four | Five and Six
  • One and Four| Two and Five | Three and Six

We now have fifteen "worlds", which can be either male or female: So we double and get thirty The whole of it together makes one more.

*According to the I Ching scholars.

0

Here is how I see this:

First off let's not forget the definition of 'World/Loka'. Refer to Rohitassa Sutta or Loka Sutta

"I will teach you the origination of the world & the ending of the world. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said: "And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world.....

In short, 'world' is relative to one's six sense experience. And six sense(Salayathana) bases are made out of past karma(cause) and the experience based on those senses are vipaka(effect). So the 31 planes of existence is nothing but 31 levels of sense base experiences.

This is can be further explained if we analyze the availability of senses in Kama Loka, Rupa Loka and Arupa Loka:

Loka     Senses
Kama     Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body, Mind
Rupa     Eye, Ear, Mind
Arupa    Mind

Also, this is evident as attaining to Rupa Jhana will result a birth in Rupa Bhrama world and attaining Arupa Jhana will result a birth in Arupa worlds. So 31 planes of existence is 31 levels of deceived karmic experience. For example, If a being is deceived to the 6 sense bases; that's called Kama loka.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.