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I read the following on the internet:

Birth as a human is extremely rare the majority of humans most likely came from hellish worlds, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts prior to this human existence.....

Is it true or false according to the Pali suttas?

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Teacher of the Devas:

In the round of samsara it is extremely rare to rise above the realms of woe, where the way out of suffering cannot be followed, and a human birth is even more favorable to awakening than birth in the realm of the gods.

Given that human life, because of its possibility for awakening, is even higher in terms of value to that of the devas, it would seem surprising in my opinion that the majority of humans come from lower realms where virtuous karma is very difficult to generate.

The majority of humans, from a relative viewpoint, have had greater karma than the majority of sentient beings: The Nakhasikha Sutta says:

"In the same way, monks, few are the beings reborn among human beings. Far more are those reborn elsewhere [...]"

Hence, even seemingly unfortunate individuals of the human realm have had a very fortunate rebirth, wherever they came from.

Also, there is a certain futility in speculating about karma, I believe, and the Buddha has somewhat suggested this in the Acintita Sutta:

"There are these four unconjecturables that are not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about them. Which four? [...] The [precise working out of the] results of kamma [...]"

Because rebirths may take different paths, and an individual may be reborn in the lower realms from lifetimes in the heavenly realms, or vice versa, there seems to be little meaning as to what realms human beings come from: they come from samsara. If a human being comes from the lower realm when they have spent infinite eons in every other realms, only a minute perspective would make their last rebirth significant; seeing the vastness of samsaric life, any specific rebirth is meaningless in the whole. My take is that such a minute analysis was what was reprimanded by the Buddha. Only a vast perspective gives a right impression.

I mean, is there a meaning to a person reincarnating from heavenly realms to the hellish realms to a human birth, different from the hellish realms to the heavenly realms to a human birth? I don't see any.

Now, relative to your exact question, 'Is the majority of humans from lower realms', there is the notion of different periods of time such as anatarakalpas, where different levels of fortune and virtue appears among human beings. If fortunate karma is different across time periods for humans, how could the same phenomenon of rebirth explain this? Do low points of human civilization and high points with the presence of Dhamma involve the same process of rebirth? Difficult to say. I think that Maitraya's time involving eighty-thousand years of life and the subsequent period where humans live ten much worse years may not have the same level of karmic fortune.

All this to say that these considerations -- even without including the perspective of selflessness of phenomena -- suggest that the question is a difficult one.

Hope this helps!

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That quote is from me, let me explain in more detail where I got that idea from.

The Buddha posits five destinations:

"Sariputta, there are these five destinations. What are the five? Hell, the animal realm, the realm of ghosts, human beings and devas." (MN 12)

In the Pansu Suttas it's stated it nearly never happens that after death a human or deva is reborn as a human:

"Then the Blessed One, picking up a little bit of dust with the tip of his fingernail, said to the monks, "What do you think, monks? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the great earth?"

"The great earth is far greater, lord. The little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail is next to nothing. It doesn't even count. It's no comparison. It's not even a fraction, this little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail, when compared with the great earth.

"In the same way, monks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn among human beings. Far more are the beings who, on passing away from the human realm, are reborn in hell, the animal realm, the realm of ghosts.

....

"In the same way, monks, few are the beings who, on passing away from the deva realm, are reborn among human beings. Far more are the beings who, on passing away from the deva realm, are reborn in hell... in the animal realm... in the realm of ghosts." (Pansu Suttas, SN 56.102-113)

So this clearly implies that the majority of humans came from hellish worlds, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts if it rarely ever happens that a human or deva after death is reborn as a human....but other suttas state that it's also rare for those in lower realms to take birth as a human well so I'm not sure but the past existence prior to this human existence would be one of the five (hell, the animal realm, realm of ghosts, human, deva).

I guess it could change from time to time when things become better on Earth perhaps more beings from deva realms will take birth as humans.

This is very different from the more popular media portrayal of Buddhist rebirth which the media seems to think means "rebirth only as a human over and over again" which had been debunked many times in the Pali suttas...the majority of people in general including people perceived as good still go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts after death...birth as a human is extremely rare and almost never happens.

One of the Noble truths is acknowledging that there is suffering or pain rather than denying it whereas other religions try to deny that suffering exists saying things like "it always works out in the end, it's always a happy story, happy ending, nothing can wrong, there's no such thing as suffering or pain, everyone goes to heaven".

It's also mentioned that the ascetics who practice painful austerities actually came from hellish worlds or a lower destination and were violent or murderers in the past:

"That being the case, those in the world who are murderers, bloody-handed doers of what is cruel, when they are later reborn among human beings, go forth with the Niganthas.'" (MN 14)

How many people do you encounter who are virtuous, kind-hearted, and even when mistreated still treat others well? Very very few do I encounter.

“Bhikkhus, even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw, he who gave rise to a mind of hate towards them would not be carrying out my teaching.” (MN 21)

When someone hates others or generates painful feelings even if it's perceived as rational it still generates bad kamma leading downward towards hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts.

It seems more than likely that the majority of people will go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts after death unless perhaps the entire world's kamma has changed for the better which it seems it still hasn't yet since the life expectancy if you control for the infant mortality rate is still like the same since Gautama Buddha's time...but maybe in the future things will change.

  • This above reference to SN 56.102-113 appears wrong & illogical. SN 56.102-113 says because of not realising the Four Noble Truths, which includes having wrong view about the Dhamma, the majority who at one time were "human" (which means "morally righteous but not enlightened") will experience the dukkha (the unpleasant experiences called "hell" - refer to SN 35.135). Pansu Suttas, SN 56.102-113 does not appear to say those hell beings will be reincarnated later as "humans". In fact, SN 56.47 says it is very difficult for a person who falls into the lower realms to regain the human state, – Dhammadhatu Oct 14 at 20:56
  • Pansu Suttas does say that the majority of humans after death go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts. It's true that it's rare for beings in both the lower and higher realms to gain a human birth but it's also mentioned that even some arahants like Moggallana came from a hellish world prior to his human existence...since the world we exist in isn't all happy and life expectancy is around the same as Gautama Buddha's time it seems implied that the majority of human beings came from hellish worlds, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts but I guess not directly stated – MischievousSage Oct 27 at 23:49
  • each Pansu sutta says the majority of beings, regardless of which realm they psychologically mostly dwell in, goes to hell, however, each Panchu Sutta says a minority in each realm, DUE TO REALISING THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS, comes back as human. Obviously the "animals", for example, becoming human, are similar to Angulimala rather than dogs & cats realising the noble truths – Dhammadhatu Oct 28 at 3:32
  • Yes but it still says that the majority of humans after death go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts that was my point it's not clearly stated where the majority of humans come from prior to this existence but it's been stated many times that long-lived means "a hundred years or a little longer" which is the same as modern times so the world's kamma hasn't improved yet some scientists think that in the future humans will live 1,000+ years but that hasn't happened yet...either way I don't want to debate anymore until I achieve arahantship and six higher knowledges or come close – MischievousSage Oct 29 at 21:53
  • Its not about reincarnation, for god's sake. It says animals can realise the four noble truths. The word "paccājāyanti" does not necessarily mean reincarnation. – Dhammadhatu Oct 30 at 2:55

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