Are the heavens and hells in karamdhatu meant to be physical places? I was looking at the abhidharmakośa-bhāsya, and Vasabandhu lists 20 places: 8 hells; 6 heavens; pretas; animals; physical world; and the circle of wind (I'm fairly sure the last one is also a "place" -- sthana). You might think that these are all physical because e.g. animals live among us, but just as the desert is the place of some hell beings (not being included in the main hells, due to not being created through the "force of the actions of beings"), animals primarily live in the "Great Ocean". So I reckon that the heavens and hells are not physical, even-though rebirth there inlcludes all five skandhas, descriptions of suffering there refers to bodies, etc..

Am I right, and if so does that mean they lack the organs of the eye etc.?

I am asking not because I want to underplay the suffering of hell beings etc. (avici is worse than the desert) but because I'm interested in whether suffering is different there insofar as bodhisattvas, when unmoved by their own suffering in hell, might be better off than they are with the vicissitudes of physical suffering in this human place.

3 Answers 3


This is answer is based on my interpretation of DN 27.

All the lokas are in one cakkaval. that means all 31 lokas are attached to our solar system. but in galaxy there are millions of cakkaval.

all beings of kama loka(including pret,deva,gadhabba ), and rupa brahma loka can be physically located. there may or may not be regions.

beings of arupa bhrahma lokas can not be physically located but they are neither away from all of us i.e all being of this solar system.

Hoti kho so, vāseṭṭha, samayo yaṃ kadāci karahaci dīghassa addhuno accayena ayaṃ loko saṃvaṭṭati. Saṃvaṭṭamāne loke yebhuyyena sattā ābhassarasaṃvattanikā honti.

When earth is destroyed or depopulated all being goes back to ābhassara loka in given solar system. and after millions of year when new earth is formed or the same earth is worth living they gradually come down as physical beings.


The hells through the lower level heavens are all physical, and the "physical world", bhajanaloka, refers to the world of things ready-to-hand, which only includes the human realm.

Perhaps this emphasis is similar to how Vasubandhhu differentiates the places you can be reborn, from being reborn.


The Pali Suttas have suttas describing the various realms as physical places (e.g. MN 130 & MN 37 although both sound like physical phenomena on earth) and have other suttas describing the realms as here & now mental states. What an individual person believes depends on their inherent virtue of honesty & truthfulness. Religion has a tendency to attract ignoble people who choose believe ideas they have no evidence for (refer to AN 8.67). Examples of suttas with a here & now description of the five/six realms are:

  • SN 35.135 & SN 56.43, which desribe heaven & hell at the six sense bases.

  • Iti 106, which describes parents of children as 'gods'.

  • AN 4.53, which desribes a moral husband or wife as a 'god'.

  • AN 4.190, which describes a monk attained to jhana as a 'god'.

  • SN 56.47, which describes the human state as virtuous conduct & wisdom.

  • AN 10.93, which describes worldly talk as 'animal' talk.

  • AN 2.9, which describes sexual promiscuity as animallike behaviour.

  • AN 6.39, which appears to literally correlate the realms with mental states.

  • Iti 93, which describes four lower realms (demons, ghosts, animals & hell) as comprised of people.

  • i didn't downvote you, but i wasn't meaning to ask whether we can be reborn in hell, but how hell differs from fire and physical torment that occurs to humans
    – user25078
    Commented Apr 28 at 12:30

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