Quote from Aṅguttara Nikāya 4.125 Paṭhamamettāsutta:

Firstly, a person meditates spreading a heart full of love [...]

If they abide in that, are committed to it, and meditate on it often without losing it, when they die they’re reborn in the company of the gods of Brahmā’s Host. The lifespan of the gods of Brahma’s Host is one eon. An ordinary person stays there until the lifespan of those gods is spent, then they go to hell or the animal realm or the ghost realm. But a disciple of the Buddha stays there until the lifespan of those gods is spent, then they’re extinguished in that very life. This is the difference between an educated noble disciple and an uneducated ordinary person, that is, when there is a place of rebirth.

Why would an ordinary person, a worlding (puthujjano), go to hell after a lot of metta? I cannot believe this. My first guess was that this is probably meant to be a possibility, meaning lots of metta will not 100% prevent descending to lower realms forever. However, as I cannot read Pali, I compared other translations to modern languages, but none of them suggests the possibility. Instead they all seem to agree (at least by their grammar) on this direct chain of results:

(a lot of) Metta -> gods realm -> one of the lower realms

for a householder, at least. Disciples are better off. Grammatically, I fail to see any room left for interpretation as a possibility.

I must be misunderstanding something with this sutta. What is it? Wording, context, translatation, missing background?

Thanks for the answers so far. I understand your interpretation and I sympathize with it. But it seems I missed some explanation. Please let me try to clarify my question:

A puthujjano is one who has not overcome the ten fetters. If, with a lot of metta, such a person is reborn as deva in Brahma realm, then - according to my understanding of the words of this sutte - this person will be reborn to the lower realms. The text doesn't say the worldling "can go", or "could go", or "will go, if something else". The sutta, literally, states: "metta .. worldling ... brahma realm ... then hell".

This is against my intuition, which is that a worldling, after lots of metta, can be reborn as deva but still end up in a lower realm later for some reasons, e.g. if only concentration is highly developed, or for other karmic reasons. But the sutta does not suggest this result as possibility, only, but as direct result.

I would assume that the next rebirth could be elsewhere, too, if karma it favorable, if mindfulness, equanimity, whatever needed, have been developed. But the sutta does not mention any other factor, except: worldling (will go to hell) or disciple (will go to cessation).

My question is about the words of this sutta. Why do they go against this intuition. Blind guesses: Is it a translation error? Is Pali lacking forms like subjunctive, so pure possibility can't be expressed? Is this sutta a later addition to the canon? Did I miss context?

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    they dont practice in the upper realms. therefore all that remains is to go down after they finally die after what feels like an eternity. these ppls metta was incapable of preventing them from using their merit just for rebirth into pleasure. more sophisticated metta allows one to be reborn as a human or rarely in upper realms with connection to dharma. the truly hardcore direct their metta only to birth in places of complete degeneration to develop power then finally to help vast numbers when they finish.. these are called pratyekabuddhas and vastly outpace sravakas
    – bw tho
    Jul 18, 2021 at 18:17
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    If u are struggling understanding language of scripture, this link might help you: dhammatalks.net/Books5/… kind regards Jul 19, 2021 at 13:13
  • Thank you all so much again for answers. However, I'm sorry, but I feel that no answer addresses my main concern. The sutta may suffer from context, it may be due to inaccurate oral tradition, it may have been directed to simple men - but to me, this seems like guesses. Can it be clearly explained why the Sutta's words seems to say something so different from our intuitive understanding/interpretation of the issue? Is that even answerable? Should I maybe edit the question to make it clearer?
    – AleGra
    Jul 19, 2021 at 17:46
  • @AleGra - If we are to be sincere and scrupulous, one would need to reassess their intuition, and I mean fearlessly reassess. There might just be something very interesting on the other side of that blockade! Additionally, some suttas just don't ring well with us. I've read many suttas like this. I kick them by the wayside and move on.
    – user17652
    Jul 22, 2021 at 20:22

5 Answers 5


the birth in brahma realm is the result of the metta meditation. being there exhausts their positive force and since very typically they are not inclined to practice while there. then their circumstances are ripe for them to easily be swept up by their remaining unskilful tendencies and to which they have become deeply unaccustomed to ie. theyre easy prey due to unfamiliarity with them.

most of us have made no actual lasting progress on selflessness and so merit leaves us with an impression of being enduring much like how young humans are fearless and barely have concepts of being fragile or vulnerable, those in the upper realms often dont even have thoughts that its possible that they can die

  • excellent when saying "most of us [but not all of us] have made no actual lasting progress on selflessness". well spoken – Jul 19, 2021 at 13:14

Uncountable karma in even a minute, unstoppable and waiting forever for effecting as the resultant. Even they vanished immediately when arising. Their effects still possible to effect in the future proper situation.

In the dependent origination, there are uncountable past lives' intentions, Sangkhara, which still waiting to give their resultants.

There are more than trillion intentions per sec arising&vanishing now. There are 2 kinds of intentions, sleeping intentions and awaking intentions.

There are 10-17 times, or uncountable for the absorbing person, of awaking intentions arising and vanishing rapidly, then sleep a bit then awaking intentions arise again, looping entire life.

These 10-17 times of awaking intentions included 4-7 karma-intentions, PunnaAbihsangkhara, ApunnaBhisankha, AnanjaAbhisankhara.

In that 7 karma-intentions, 1st time will give resultant this life, 7th will give resultant next life. The 2nd to 6th time will give resultants beginning from the 3rd life after next life or waiting until they gave resultants already, or the death of Arahanta. (The arising karma already vanished, but the vanished karma are able to give the resultants even 10000000000th life later).

Uncountable karma in even a minute, unstoppable and waiting forever for effecting as the resultant.

So, even one enlightened as Arahanta, but the bad karma-intentions still able to give the bad resultant to that one.

However, the Arahanta doesn't care of the suffering feeling. And the most important point "Arahanta is going not to born by any karma-intentions anymore.

That's why the ordinary people who achieved the absorption in metta, still able to born in hell after the heaven life.

And that's why even the very good people should practice follow the Buddha. The only way to breakout of suffering is the professional enlightenment about 4 noble truth only.

  • There are more than trillion intentions per sec arising & vanishing now. - where can I find this, please.
    – user17652
    Jul 18, 2021 at 16:46
  • Page 154 bodhinanda.org/assets/bodhipedia/20210215/…
    – Bonn
    Jul 19, 2021 at 13:23
  • Thanks. Appreciated, but how can I cross-reference that with a sutta, so that it remains within the context of a teaching, and not removed from a teaching? Abhidhamma seems so dry and dessicated in that respect.
    – user17652
    Jul 22, 2021 at 20:10
  • It is able to do but don't try to reference because even I can do but the reader can't understand it without Sutta Pali skill and the very hard meditation skill to see the realities like Abhidhamma explaining Sutta. And then the practitioner can memorize Sutta and see the truth himself then nothing to describe. And if the reader can think science, which leading greedy, is advantage, that reader will think Abhidhamma, which leading meditation in more detail, is more advantage too.
    – Bonn
    Jul 23, 2021 at 4:16

Practicing metta correctly leads to rebirth in brahma realm, not to hell. What propels that brahma realm being to hell and animal realm after death, is not the practice of metta, but their previous karma. The sutta is not describing an absolute rule, it's just citing one possibility. For example, other suttas show beings who perform enormous meritorious karma have successive rebirths in many devas realms consecutively. The point of this sutta, is to show that for a skilled disciple of a buddha who is reborn in the Brahma realm, they are very likely to follow up that life with final nirvana at death, whereas a non Buddhist would be propelled to a future rebirth based on their accumulated past karmas, which is most likely to be a step down in rank (human, animals, hell, etc.) after their wholesome karma that led to that Brahma realm rebirth has been exhausted and not replenished with new wholesome karma.

The important general issue you're addressing, namely whether the pali source is actually this vague or imprecise in explanation of Dharma, is unfortunately fairly common. That is, the suttas being memorized teachings in an oral traditions, tend to be terse and not explicit and clear in all its implications when read in isolation. The full meaning has to be drawn out from reading many suttas in the entire collection and connecting the dots.


The key sentence in the section you shared is...

This is the difference between an educated noble disciple and an uneducated ordinary person, that is, when there is a place of rebirth.

The teaching gives a wider context surrounding puthujjana and aryas and what can be expected from the practice of metta regarding those two types of individuals.

The contention you seem to have is regarding the puthujjana's destination, having diligently practised metta throughout their entire life.

Quite simply, regardless of what a puthujjana practices or how diligently they practice, they are subject to the fortitude of samsara, subject to births in all their modalities, and therefore, subject to the experience of further pleasures and further suffering. One might say they arc up and down and hither and yon, through the hardened density of the apayas, and perhaps through other, more pleasurable abodes in accordance with their karma. This is because they have not realized a fruition.

In Theravada, the first fruition is stream-entry. Having realized the drawbacks that occur from identifying with the body, the mind then inclines towards practice. One can intuit the teachings with ease and relay those teachings to others (bodhicitta). More importantly, you leave the state of puthujjana and become an arya. So stream-entry is a big deal.

An arya has then become informed, educated, instructed, clued-up, smart. Like Venerable Kondanna, he becomes the one who knows. This leads the arya to births that were previously beyond his reach. Favourable births that lead him to liberation.

I don't know the background to this sutta, but it looks like the teaching was given to rouse the energy of simple-minded puthujjana's who could not fully grasp teachings that required deeper levels of discernment.

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    good answer. thank u Jul 19, 2021 at 13:04

A person has five spiritual faculties

  1. Judgement/discernment/wisdom
  2. Energy/persistence/striving/effort
  3. Concentration
  4. Faith/conviction
  5. Mindfulness

All beings have these faculties and they are in a constant flux as to their level of development.

When a person develops thoughts of good-will & fully penetrates that theme with discernment, his wisdom faculty will in that be brought to consummation and the mind will be inclined to extinguishment.

A person might develop the faculties to a high level and be born again a Deva but if the development isn't upheld & concluded there then always remains a potential to fall away due a lack of development and an exhaustion of merit that supported the favorable birth.

The human state is attained by good conduct and people fall away from that state due to lack a of it. The Brahma state is attained by good conduct and Brahma fall away from that state due to a lack of it.

Wrong view is that which leads to a bad rebirth. One can do a lot of good for wrong reasons and if these reasons are far enough from the truth then one's birth will be far away and in a bad destination when the immediate merit of past actions is exhausted.

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