Tin Htut, Sheffield,UK
11th March 2000

        Most people may not believe in life after-death, as other forms of existence are not proven with hard evidence. As far as our senses are concerned we can perceive only living creatures that are made up of carbon based matter particles. Animal kingdom, ranging from microscopic organisms to human beings can be perceived either with our five senses or with the aid of microscopes. Since they are constructed with carbon based molecules they are visible as light reflects on these particles. However, if living beings are constructed with other matter particles that do not contain carbon or any light reflective material their existence may not be easily detected by our senses or equipment. Nevertheless, we could not rule out their existence just because we did not detect them with our conventional methods. There are a lot of things that science cannot verify although most people believe that they exist.

        According to the Buddhist philosophy there are altogether 31 forms of existence, out of which, we only know mankind and animals. At least three other forms of coexistence have been described on this planet. They are coined in Pali terms as Peta or ghosts, Asura or demons and fallen angels, and Niraya or hell beings. These forms of sentient beings together with animals are collectively classified as the Apaya or Kamaduggati-bhumi, the nether worlds of existence (Level 4 in the chart). It is the lowest group of existence in the round of rebirths, which is called Samsara. The sentient beings that belong to this group dwell miserably in secluded places away from humans. They usually live on trees, in forests, mountains, plains and lakes, but may associate with human dwellings sometimes. In such cases they may live in attics or other secluded places. These beings can enjoy sensual pleasures to some extent, but at most of the time they have to endure various types of suffering.

        Each of these coexistence has different grades and forms. We do not normally feel their presence, but they can be detected if one has the ability to perceive their presence. They are thought to have an unconventional body that is composed of matter particles, which are different from us. They reproduce by means of instantaneous rebirth that is known as Upapatika in Pali. They are often hungry and live on food that has been discarded. Some Petas have been described as in a state of starvation, but they survive without food for an extensive period, which is the result of their meanness in the past. They can pass through solid walls, float in the air and can live inside the earth at extreme conditions. The sentient beings of Apaya (nether world) do not have a fixed life span. They have to survive according to the Kamma of the past, but some may benefit from the sharing of merit by humans, which can shorten their suffering.

        According to the literature there are eight types of hell beings that dwell inside the earth at different depths. We can gather that hell is in the depths of the earth from the well- documented accounts during the lifetime of the Buddha. In the fifth glorious victory of the Buddha over his opponents, it was described how Cinca Manavika who tried to accuse the Buddha of her fake pregnancy was exposed of her conspiracy. Later on she was engulfed by flames and sank into the earth to be reborn in Avici Hell. Likewise, it was described that Devadatta who tried to assassinate the Buddha three times, but hurt him instead and had caused a bleeding from the Buddha’s toe was engulfed by the earth near a pond and was dragged towards the Avici, the deepest and most severe state of hell. He died in the process and was reborn in Hell for these evil deeds as well as for attempting to split the Order by luring some newly ordained Bhikkhus to follow with him. These accounts have clearly associated Hell with Earth, but not with any other celestial abode. One may doubt about how the hell beings survive inside the earth, but they are constructed with different type of material that we do not know and we cannot compare with our own situations.

        Hell is described as an existence of total suffering that is devoid of happiness. The hell beings can survive extreme conditions inside the earth and are said to be in various degrees of torture for the crime that they have committed while they were humans. (1-4) The Hell will last until the Dooms day of the earth and those beings who still have to suffer in hell after the destruction of the earth will be transferred to another place that survive the destruction.

        The next group in the classification of existences is the realms of Kamasugati-bhumi or the sensuous and blissful planes (Level 3 in the chart). It constitutes of six planes of gods and angels (Deva) and the human realm (Mannusa). The abodes of the six heavenly realms are in space, but the realm of Catumaharajika (II.A6.26) or earthly Devas is believed to coexist with us on this planet. It is the lowest of the heavenly realms and constitutes of deities and angels with various degrees of power and capabilities. The four Great Deva Kings rule this world in the four directions of the earth. The beings of this realm have a life span of 500 heavenly years, which is equivalent to about nine million earth years.

        The other five heavenly abodes are Tavatimsa, the realm of gods and goddesses ruled by 33 Gods of which King Sakka is the head, the realm of King Yama, the realm of Tusita (III.A3.23) where the next would-be Buddha resides, the realm of Nimmanarati and the realm of Paranimmita-vasavati. Each heavenly realm has many occupants governed by the respective kings. A thousand females Devas accompany a male Deva (god or angel). It has been described that they could enjoy sensual pleasures and suffered no pain, but they would have to die at a certain age. The occupants of Paranimmita, (III.A1.21) the highest of these realms, can survive for over nine billion earth years. When they are about to die it is said that the aura of their body fades and they just disappear without leaving any traces at death. They can be reborn in lower planes and even in the Apaya if they do evil deeds.

        During the times of the Buddha, the exalted one explained his disciples that a sow who was feeding in the dirt had been a Brahma in her past existence. The Brahma passed away when his Kamma ceased and was reborn as a human. Next, she was reborn as a sow after she had committed a bad deed in her life as a human. A human can take rebirth in the realms of Devas and Brahmas if one has done enough good deeds, has kept the five precepts (refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, telling lies, taking intoxicants) and has practised meditation to cleanse the mind.

         Rupa-bhumi, the plane of Brahma Gods with extra-fine body (Level 2 in the chart) and Arupa-bhumi, the plane of Brahma Gods without a body (Level 1 in the chart) can be reached only by practising meditation and keeping ten precepts. According to the description one needs to attain special mental absorptions or Jhana to be reborn in the planes of Brahma, which are eight in total. The Brahmas have renounced all sensual pleasures and are near perfection except for the belief in Atta or the eternal soul and the attachment to an eternal rebirth. The Brahmas do not have sensual pleasures including sex, and do not require food for sustenance of life, but they live on bliss as their nourishment. They have a very long life span, which is uncountable by earthly years. (1-4)

        The Brahmas are the highest form of existence in the Samsara and the top Brahma realm Nevasanna-nasannayatana-bhumi (I.1) has a longevity equivalent to that of 84000 universes (Maha-kappa). An Antara-kappa is said to be equal to a complete human evolution cycle where the longevity of humans improves from 10 years to an indefinite period and then degrades back to ten years. A human evolution cycle can not be measured exactly in terms of earth years as it depends upon the progress of the human race in terms of morality and in science. One Asankheyya, which is equivalent to 64 such evolution cycles, is therefore regarded as an indefinite period. However, in describing the longevity of Brahmas, a period equivalent to four Asankheyyas, which is an arbitrary term called a Maha kappa is used. (3) This Buddhist cosmological term is translated into a modern scientific interpretation as a period equivalent to the age of a complete cycle of a universe, from the Big Bang to another Big Bang, that is from the beginning to the end.

        One cannot imagine the time span of these universe-cycles exactly and may therefore regard the existence of Brahmas as eternal. However, it has been described that these Brahmas also have to die at a certain date and will be reborn at a lower plane. This fact has been unfolded in the glorious victory of the Buddha upon Baka Brahma who considered that he was eternal. The Brahmas are not untouchables, but they are in a near-perfect existence which, is the resultant of the excellent deeds that they have performed in their previous existence as humans. They are reborn as Brahmas due to the attainment of Jhana. It has been explained that the natural law of Dhamma, the cause and effect still applies to these Brahma Gods. Where there is an action, there is a reaction and where there is a cause, there will be an effect. The Brahmas cannot escape death, which is the effect of a cause, “Rebirth.” Where there is a rebirth, there will surely be a death, which will come at a certain period. All sentient beings have to take rebirth and die subsequently in the round of existences indefinitely until the causes for rebirth have been abolished. The main causes for rebirth are Avijja, the lack of supra-mundane wisdom of the Noble Truths, Sankhara, the volitional responses, Tanha, the cravings, Uppada, the attachments and Kammabhava, the volitional actions and deeds.

        A human can be reborn as an animal as well as in any other existence depending upon the life one has led. This phenomenon is explained vividly during the times of the Buddha and also in the recent times. (5-7) The followers of some faiths who have developed supra-mundane powers for observing these existences can verify this round of rebirths and deaths or the Samsara. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, to mention a few, have different interpretations for the Samsara. However, the Samsara with the thirty-one existences and four levels is explained fully and only in the Buddhist faith. It is mentioned in the Tipitaka texts (Sutta, Vinaya & Abhidhamma) and is explained fully in the Jamai texts. Escape from rebirth in the Samsara is the ultimate objective of Buddhism as rebirth is considered as a potential suffering in this faith.


(The Round of Endless Rebirths and Deaths)

  • I. ARUPA-BHUMI (the plane of formlessness)
  • II. RUPA-BHUMI (the plane of Brahma Gods with extra-fine body)
  • III. KAMASUGATI-BHUMI (the plane of sensuous and blissful states)
  • IV. APAYA or KAMADUGGATI-BHUMI (the nether world of existences)

        I. ARUPA-BHUMI. This plane consists of four existences of Brahmas who have no physical body, but have a mind and they can create a physical body if they want to get themselves seen. Rebirth in these existences can only be achieved by intense Samatha meditation and have reached Jhanas or mental accomplishments during their life as humans. They do not have a faculty to perceive Dhamma and therefore they are non-returnees and can never become enlightened nor attain Nibbana.

        I.1 Nevasanna-nasannayatana bhumi. The realm of neither perception nor non-perception, the summit of all existences. They can live a life span that is equivalent to that of 84000 Maha kappa or universes. Udaka, the ascetic who was the second teacher abandoned by the Buddha in his search for the Four Noble Truths was reborn in this Brahma realm after dying on the night before the Buddha decided to teach the Dhamma.(3) Reaching the eighth Jhana of Samatha meditation can only attain this highest existence.

        I.2. Akincannayatana bhumi. The realm based on nothingness. These Brahmas can live for a life span of 60000 Maha kappa or universes. The teacher of the recluse encountered first by the Buddha in his quest for the truth was the ascetic, Alara. He was the first person searched by the Buddha to reveal his discovery after he decided to teach, but Alara passed away seven days earlier and was found to be reborn in this Brahma realm. (3) The seventh Jhana of the Samatha practice can only reach this attainment.

        I.3. Vinnanancayatana bhumi, the realm of infinite consciousness. These Brahmas can survive for the lifetime of 40000 universes (Maha kappa). Those who have practised Samatha meditation as humans and have reached the sixth Jhana can be reborn in this realm.

        I.4. Akasanancayatana bhumi, the realm of infinite space. These Brahmas have a life span equivalent to that of 20000 universes. The fifth Jhana of the Samatha meditation can attain this existence.

        II. RUPA BHUMI, the heavenly abodes of Brahmas who have a physical body, but does not enjoy sensual pleasures. There are altogether 16 realms of Rupa Brahmas divided into four categories according to the status of Jhana achievements. These Brahmas have faculties to perceive Dhamma and can become enlightened if they come to know the Dhamma.

        II.A. Fourth Jhana Planes. The first five abodes in this category are called Suddhavasa or the heavens of purity and only the enlightened ones of Anagami stage are reborn in these planes.

        II.A1.5. Akanittha, the supreme heaven where Arahats and Anagams who have a mature Manyi-indriya reside before releasing the final existence and enter Anupadhisata nibbana. The Brahmas of this realm can live up to the life span of 16000 universes before releasing the final existence.

        II.A2.6. Sudassi, the clear-sighted heaven where the Anagams with a mature Samadhi-indriya reside. The Brahmas of this realm can live up to the life span of 8000 universes before releasing the final existence.

        II.A3.7. Sudassa, the beautiful heaven where the Anagams with a mature Sati-indriya reside. The Brahmas of this realm can live up to the life span of 4000 universes before releasing the final existence.

        II.A4.8. Atappa, the serene heaven where the Anagams with a mature Viri-indriya reside. The Brahmas of this realm can live up to the life span of 2000 universes before releasing the final existence.

        II.A5.9. Aviha, the durable heaven where the Anagams with a mature Saddha-indriya reside. The Brahmas of this realm can live up to the life span of 1000 universes before releasing the final existence.

        II.A6.10. Asanna-satta, the heaven of Brahmas with just a body and without any mental aggregate resides. These Brahmas regarded that the mind was the main source for corruption and had strive to annihilate the mind while practising Samatha meditation as a human. The Brahmas of this realm can live up to the life span of 500 universes.

        II.A7.11Vehapphala, the heaven of gods and Ariyas of great reward. This realm is shared between Brahmas who have practised Samatha and Vipassana meditation during their life as humans. Those Brahmas who have practised Samatha only can be reborn into lower realms after dying, but those who have practised Vipassana and have attained the Ariya stage can be reborn in this realm again or a higher realm. The famous Ledi Sayadaw was believed to be reborn in this realm by some followers. (7) The Brahmas of this realm can live up to a period of the life span of 500 universes.

        II.B. Third Jhana Planes. These abodes harbour Brahmas who have a body with aura as the characteristic. There are three planes in this category.

        II.B1.12. Subha-kinha, the heaven of gods full of steady aura. They can live up to the life span of 64 universes.

        II.B2.13. Appamana-subha, the heaven of gods of infinite aura. They can live up to the life span of 32 universes.

        II.B3.14. Paritta-subha, the heaven of gods with minor aura. They can live up to the life span of 16 universes.

        II.C. Second Jhana Planes. The Brahmas of these abodes have a body with different degrees of lustre.

        II.C1.15. Abhassara, the heaven of radiant gods. They can live up to the life span of 8 universes.

        II.C2.16. Appamanabha, the heaven of gods with infinite lustre. They can live up to the life span of 4 universes.

        II.C3.17. Parittabha, the heaven of gods with minor lustre. They can live up to the life span of 2 universes.

        II.D. First Jhana Planes. The Brahmas of these abodes are the lowest grade of the Brahma loka. They have a huge body measuring 12 Yojanas (about 96 miles) and have internal organs as ourselves except for the genitalia although they have an appearance of a male. They are well organised and have a head in every thousand Brahmas. The Chief of Maha Brahmas is called Harita and has 100000 followers.

        II.D1.18. Maha Brahma, the heaven of the great Brahma Gods. They can live up to the life span of one Asankheyya, an indefinite period equivalent to 64 Antara kappas or human evolution cycles.

        II.D2.19. Brahma Purohita, a heaven of the Brahma ministers. They can live up to the life span of a half of one Asankheyya.

        II.D3.20. Brahma Parisajja, a heaven of a retinue of Brahmas. They can live up to the life span of a third of one Asankheyya.

        III. KAMMASUGATI-BHUMI, the sensuous and blissful existences

        This existence consists of the six heavenly abodes of Devas or gods and goddess or angels, the abode of humans and animals, and that of the other three nether existences. All beings of these existences enjoy sensual pleasures and suffer bodily pain and inconveniences. However, the proportion of pain and pleasure is very much different from one abode to the other depending upon the grade. Devas have more pleasure than pain, whilst animals and beings of the nether existences have more pain than pleasure. Humans have a well-balanced sensuality between pain and pleasure, but the hell beings have only pain and without any sensual pleasure.

        III.A. The Six Deva realms

        III.A1.21. Paranimmita-vasavati, the heaven of the gods. Here, the Deva Gods have a wielding power. Mara or the devil, the most powerful of all Devas and the legendary opposition to the Buddha is considered to be from this realm. They can live up to a life span of 16000 years, which is equivalent to over 9.2 billion earthly years.

        III.A2.22. Nimmanarati, the realm of Deva gods who can create objects and mansions for sensual enjoyment. They can live up to a life span of 8000 years, which is equivalent to > 2.3 billion Earthly years.

        III.A3.23. Tusita, the delightful realm for Devas with happiness and contentment. This is the heaven where the next would-be Buddha (Metteya) resides before taking a rebirth as a human. The Devas of this realm can live up to a life span of 4000 years, which is equivalent to 576 million earthly years.

        III.A4.24. Yama, the heaven of blissful existence. The King Yama (Rama) rules this realm with great happiness. The Devas of this realm can live up to a life span of 2000 years, which is equivalent to 144 million earthly years.

        III.A5.25. Tavatimsa, the heaven of the 33 Devas. The king of this realm is known as Saka who resides in the Vejayanta Palace and rules the kingdom with his 33 followers. It was in this heaven that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma, the philosophical and psychological text of the Buddhist Tipitaka to the Devas for a period, which was equivalent to three earthly months. The Devas of this realm can live up to a life span of 1000 years, which is equivalent to 36 million earthly years.

        III.A6.26. Catumaharajika, the kingdom of the four Great Deva Kings. They are also known as the guardian deities who watched over the Buddha’s Sasana. They dwell in the four directions of the earth; East (Dhatarattha), West (Virupakkha), North (Vessavana) and South (Virulhaka). They can live up to a life span of 500 years, which is equivalent to 9 million earthly years.

        III.B Manussa, Human realm

        III.B.27. Manussa, the human realm. This is a materialistic and spiritualistic abode where a mixture of pain and pleasure co-exists. It is the place where people can choose the destiny by leading a good or a bad life, and a testing ground for many faiths. Unlike most of the other existences, humans do not remember the past life and is therefore the best place to develop a self-supportive wisdom. Buddhas of the past and of the future would appear in this human world to rediscover the Four Noble Truths and save many sentient beings from suffering.

        IV. KAMADUGATI-BHUMI, the abode of profound suffering. It is also known as Apaya or the nether existences.

        IV.A.28. Asura, the demon world. Asura, literally means those beings that do not shine or do not have a sporting spirit. They are regarded as the fallen angels who have power, but use it for a bad purpose and are allied to Mara, the devil.

        IV.B.29. Peta, the world of spirits and ghosts who have a characteristic of meanness and attachment. They have different forms and shapes, but misery, delusion and hunger are the constant features found in this existence.

        IV.C.30. Tiracchana, the world of animals. They have more pain and less pleasure, and survival of the fittest is the only rule in this existence.

        IV.D.31. Niraya, the Hell. It is the existence of continuous suffering and without any pleasure. There are eight grades of Hell where the torture and suffering varies. According to the severity of the punishment they are classified as Sanjiva hell, Kalasutta, Sanghata, Roruva, Maharoruva, Tapana, Mahatapana and Avici hells. They are all believed to be in the different layers of the earth.


        Antara kappa=1 human evolution cycle starting from a longevity of 10 years to an indefinite period and then degrades back to 10 years again

        Asankheyya=64 Antara kappa or human evolution cycles

        Maha kappa=4 Asankheyyas or the age of a universe from its beginning to its end


  1. How to Live as a Good Buddhist (in Burmese), DPPS publication 1991: p241-253
  2. Four Planes of Existence (Bhumi), Website.
  3. The Essence of Four Great Religions (in Burmese). Nyo Thaung.Yangon 1996. (20/96) p155-238
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path and its factors explained. Ledi Sayadaw. The Wheel Publication No. 245/246/247, 1985; p31-38
  5. A Period Between the Two Buddhas, Tin Htut, Discussion, Website
  6. Stories of Rebirth and Reincarnation, Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw, Website
  7. Arahats and Extra-ordinary Ascetics of the Present Era in Burma (in Burmese). Dhammacariya U Htay Hlaing. Yangon 1993; 667/92(6): p279-331


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