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Various suttas mention various 'planes' or 'levels' or 'realms' of existence; for example:

The Thirty-one Planes of Existence

Scattered throughout the suttas are references to as many as thirty-one distinct "planes" or "realms" of existence into which beings can be reborn during their long wandering through samsara. These range from the extraordinarily grim and painful hell realms all the way up to the most exquisitely refined and blissful heaven realms. Existence in every realm is temporary; in Buddhist cosmology there is no eternal heaven or hell. [etc.]

The realms of existence are customarily divided into three distinct "worlds" (loka), listed here in descending order of refinement:

  • The Immaterial World (arupa-loka). Consists of four realms that are accessible to those who pass away while meditating in the formless jhanas.

  • The Fine-Material World (rupa-loka). Consists of sixteen realms [etc.]

  • The Sensuous World (kama-loka). Consists of eleven realms [etc.]

The information on this page was assembled from a variety of sources. In the interests of economizing space I have not attributed each fact to its respective source.

I don't want to ask for a precise list, but how or what should I understanding these realms are?

I have heard several versions now of what "levels of existence" are:

  • Some say it is like physical, or is it mental (psychological), biomes in this universe?
  • Others say it is other universes or even other dimensions?
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My understanding of "levels of existence" is that they are mind states.For example when i'm happy i am residing in the deva realms and when i'm sad or angry in the lower realms.These mind states keep changing and fluctuating all the time it never lasts.As for real physical places I think the only way to find out for certain is through meditation.

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  • Thank you.. This raise other questions of course. For example from a psychological point of view "Anger" is not a "bad" emotion; when applied in the right situations, it can save your life. If something exist, then there is a reason for it to exist. From a cosmological point of view, we can hope the Hadron collider can provide us with some answers soon. :) – Peter Holmgren Mar 29 '15 at 20:57
  • "Applying" emotions are not part of Buddhist practice. In buddhism we have the 5 aggregates, in here the 2. aggregate of sensations. They are all impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self. Buddhists train in meditation to let go of the aggregates since they are clinging. One trains to renunciate. There is no control over any of the aggregates and thinking that one has control is called Avija, Ignorance caused by not being able to see reality "clearly" and thereby one thinks that reality is controllable. By practicing insight meditation one will see that reality is ungovernable and oppressing. – user2424 Apr 2 '15 at 16:11
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OP: I have heard several versions now of what "levels of existence" are...

The Buddha was quite explicit with the literal meaning of hell and other realms. The common stock phrase "on the break-up of the body, after death, he/she reappears in the plane of [deprivation/happiness/..]" was mentioned frequently in many suttas. Some realms are "physical" like animal's or human's, other are purely mental like those devas' Formless realms.

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Like Orion says they are mind states as well. This is why if someone is acting like X most of the time, which is a behavior of Y realm, then they will most likely go to that realm. So, yes, according to Hinduism and many other traditions and cultures, this is not your only incarnation, but just one of countless from the past and many more in the future.

The magnificence of Buddhism is that it is beyond all these realms because every single one of them is temporary (on different time scales). No matter how enjoyable and how pleasureable, when one's karma for that realm runs out, one will drop or rise according to the new karma generated.

The goal of Buddhism is to transcend them all and become someone who doesn't bob up and down uncontrollably according to one's whims and karmas, forced into this and that rebirth.

This means to become a bodhisattva: someone who has mastered the incarnation process including the creation of karma and for the sake of all beings incarnates in order to teach and guide beings.

Although this effect is quite grand, the cause for this effect ("ending birth-and-death") is quite simple: follow the Four Noble Truths on its mundane and super-mundane levels.

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