A Manual of Abhidhamma

by Nārada Thera | 80,494 words | ISBN-13: 9789380336510

In the Abhidhammattha Sangaha there is a brief exposition of the Law of Dependent Origination, followed by a descriptive account of the Causal Relations that finds no parallel in any other philosophy. Edited in the original Pali Text with English Translation and Explanatory Notes by Narada Maha Thera....

Four Planes of Life


§ 1.

Vīthicittavasen' evam pavattiyam udīrito
Pavattisangaho nāma sandhiyam'dāni vuccati.

§ 2.

Catasso bhūmiyo, Catubbidhā patisandhi, Cattāri kammāni, Catuddhā maranuppatti c'āti vīthimuttasangahe cattāri catukkāni veditabbāni.

Tattha apāyabhūmi, kāmasugatibhūmi, rūpāvacarabhūmi, arūpāvacarabhūmi c'āti catasso bhūmiyo nāma.

Tāsu Nirayo, Tiracchānayoni, Pettivisayo, Asurakāyo c'āti apāyabhūmi catubbidhā hoti.

Manussā, Cātummahārājikā, Tāvatimsā, Yāmā, Tusitā, Nimmānarati, Paranimmitavasavattī c'āti Kāmasugati bhūmi sattavidhā hoti.

Sā pan'āyam ekādasavidhā' pi kāmāvacarabhūmicc' eva sankham gacchati.

Brahmapārisajjā, Brahmapurohitā, Mahābrahmā c'āti pathamajjhānabhūmi.
Parittābhā, Appamānābhā, ābhassarā c'āti dutiyajjhānabhūmi.
Parittasubhā, Appamānasubhā, Subhakinnā c'āti tatiyajjhānabhūmi.
Vehapphalā, Asaññasattā, Suddhāvāsā c'āti catutthajjhānabhūmī'ti Rūpāvacarabhūmi solasavidha hoti.
Avihā, Atappā, Sudassī, Suddassā, Akanitthā c'āti Suddhāvāsabhūmi pañcavidhā hoti.

ākāsānañcāyatanabhūmi, Viññānañcāyatanabhūmi, ākiñcaññāyatanabhūmi, n' evasaññā Nāsaññāyatanabhūmi cāti Arūpabhūmi catubbidhā hoti.

§ 3.

Puthujjanā na labbhanti suddhāvāsesu sabbathā
Sotāpannā ca sakadāgāmino c'āpi puggalā.
Ariyā n'opalabbhanti asaññāpāyabhūmisu
Sesatthānesu labbhanti Ariyā'nariyā pi ca.

Idam' ettha Bhūmi-Catukkam.




Thus, according to thought-processes, the life's course (extending from birth to decease) has been explained. Now the summary of the procedure at rebirth will be told.


In the summary of process-freed consciousness, four sets of four should be understood as follows:

  1. four planes of life (1);
  2. four modes of rebirth;
  3. four kinds of actions;
  4. fourfold advent of death.

Of these, the four planes of life are:

  1. Unhappy plane (2);
  2. Sensuous blissful plane (3);
  3. Rūpavācara plane (4);
  4. Arūpavācara plane (5).

Among these the Unhappy plane is fourfold - namely,

  1. Woeful State (6),
  2. Animal Kingdom (7),
  3. Peta Sphere (8),
  4. the Host of Asuras (9).

The Sensuous blissful plane is sevenfold-namely,

  1. Human Realm ( 10),
  2. the Realm of the Four Kings (11),
  3. the Realm of the Thirty-three gods (12),
  4. the Realm of the Yāma gods (13),
  5. the Delightful Realm (14),
  6. the Realm of the gods who rejoice in (their own) creations (15), 
  7. the Realm of the gods who lord over the creations of others (16).

These eleven kinds of sphere constitute the Kāmāvacara plane.

The Rūpavācara plane is sixteen fold - namely,

  1. the first jhāna plane, to wit,
    1. the Realm of Brahma's Retinue,
    2. the Realm of Brahma's Ministers,
    3. the Mahā Brahmā Realm (17);
  2. the second jhāna plane, to wit,
    1. the Realm of Minor Lustre,
    2. the Realm of Infinite Lustre, and
    3. the Realm of Radiant Lustre;
  3. the third jhāna plane, to wit,
    1. the Realm of Minor Aura,
    2. the Realm of Infinite Aura, and
    3. the Realm of Steady Aura;
  4. the fourth jhāna plane, to wit,
    1. the Realm of Great Reward,
    2. the Realm of Mindless Beings (18), and
    3. the Pure Abodes (19).

The Pure Abodes are fivefold-namely,

  1. the Durable Realm,
  2. the Serene Realm,
  3. the Beautiful Realm,
  4. the Clear-sighted Realm, and
  5. the Highest Realm.

The Arūpāvacara plane (20) is fourfold-namely,

  1. the Realm of Infinite Space,
  2. the Realm of Infinite Consciousness.
  3. the Realm of Nothingness,
  4. the Realm of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.

§ 3. In the Pure Abodes no worldlings, Stream-Winners (See p. *.), or Once-Returners are born in any way.

The Ariyas (those who have attained the four stages of Sainthood, all worldings are called Non-Ariyas) are not born in mindless Realms and Woeful States. In other planes are born both Ariyas and Non-Ariyas.

Herein these are the fourfold planes.



1. Bhūmi. derived from bhu, to be, lit., means a place where beings exist.

According to Buddhism the earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable world, and humans are not the only living beings, Infinite are world systems and so are living beings. Nor is "the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth" "By traversing one cannot reach the end of the world," says the Buddha.


2. Apāya = apa + aya. That which is devoid of happiness is apāya. It is viewed both as a mental state and as a place.

3. States where sense-pleasures abound. See p. *.

4. and 5. See p. *.

6. Niraya = ni + aya; devoid of happiness. According to Buddhism there are several woeful states where beings atone for their evil kamma. They are not eternal hells where beings are subject to endless suffering. Upon the exhaustion of the evil Kamma there is a possibility for beings born in such states to be reborn in good states as the result of their past good actions.

7. Tiracchāna = tiro, across; acchāna, going. Animals are so called because as a rule quadrupeds walk horizontally. Buddhist belief is that beings are born as animals on account of evil Kamma. There is, however, the possibility for animals to be born as human beings. Strictly speaking, it should be said that an animal may manifest itself in the form of a human being, or vice versa, just as an electric current can be manifested in the forms of light, heat, and motion successively - one not necessarily being evolved from the other. An animal may be born in a blissful state as a result of the good Kamma accumulated in the past. There are at times certain animals, particularly dogs and cats, who live a more comfortable life than even human beings. It is also due to their past good Kamma.

It is one's Kamma that determines the nature of one's material form, which varies according to the skill or unskilfulness of one's actions. And this again depends entirely on the evolution of one's understanding of reality.

8. Peta = pa + ita; lit., departed beings, or (those) absolutely devoid of happiness. They are not disembodied spirits or ghosts. Although they possess material forms, generally they are invisible to the physical eye. They have no plane of their own, but live in forests, dirty surroundings, etc.

9. Asura - lit., those who do not sport or those who do not shine. These Asuras should be distinguished from another class of Asuras who are opposed to Devas, and who live in the Tāvatimsa plane (see note 12).

10. Manussa - lit., those who have an uplifted or developed mind (mano ussannam etesam). Its Sanskrit equivalent is Manushya, which means the sons of Manu. They are so called because they became civilized after Manu the seer.

The human realm is a mixture of both pain and happiness. Bodhisattas prefer the human realm, as they get a better opportunity to serve the world and perfect the requisites for Buddha hood. Buddhas are always born as human beings.

11. Cātummahārājika - This is the lowest of the heavenly realms where the four Guardian Deities reside with their followers.

12. Tāvatimsa - lit., thirty-three. Sakka, the king of the gods, resides in this celestial plane. The origin of the name is attributed to a story which states that thirty-three selfless volunteers led by Magha, having performed charitable deeds, were born in this heavenly realm.

13. Yāma - derived from yam, to destroy. That which destroys pain is yāma.

14. Tusita - lit., happy-dwellers. Traditional belief is that the future Bodhisatta dwells at present in this celestial plane, awaiting the right opportunity to be born as a human being and become a Buddha.

15. Nimmānarati - Those who delight in the created mansions.

16. Paranimmitavasavatti - lit., those who bring under their sway things created by others.

These are the six Celestial planes - all temporary blissful abodes - where beings are supposed to live happily enjoying fleeting pleasures of sense. Superior to these Sensuous planes are the Brahma realms where beings delight in jhānic bliss, achieved by renouncing sense-desires.

17. These are the three Brahma realms where beings who have developed the first jhāna are born. The lowest of these three is Brahma Pārisajja, which, literally, means "Those who are born amongst the attendants of Mahā-Brahmas." The second is Brahma Purohita which means Brahma's Ministers. The highest of the first three is Mahā Brahmā. It is so called because these beings exceed others in happiness, beauty and age-limit, owing to the intrinsic merit of their mental development.

Those who develop the first jhāna to a normal extent are born in the first plane; those who have developed to a medium degree are born in the second; and those who have perfect control of the first jhāna are born amongst the Mahā Brahmas in the third plane. The three divisions of the other jhānic planes should be similarly understood.

18. Asasññasatta - This is supposed to be a plane where beings are born without a consciousness. Here only a material flux exists, normally both mind and matter are inseparable. By the power of meditation it is possible, at times, to separate matter from mind as in this particular case. When Arahat attains the Nirodha Samāpatti, his consciousness ceases to exist temporarily. Such a state is almost inconceivable to us. But there may be many inconceivable things which are actual facts.

19. Suddhāvāsa - Only Anāgāmis and Arahats are found in these planes. Those who attain Anāgāmi in other planes are born in these Pure Abodes. Later, they attain Arahatship and live in those planes till their life-term is over.

20. See p. *. All these four are immaterial planes.

It should be remarked that the Buddha did not attempt to expound any cosmological theory.

The essence of the Buddha's teaching is not affected by the existence or non-existence of these planes. No one is bound to believe anything if it does not appeal to his reason. Nor is it right to reject anything just because it cannot be conceived by one's limited knowledge.

Footnotes and references:


"There are about 1,000,000 planetary systems in the Milky Way in which life exists." See Fred Hoyle, The Nature of the Universe, pp. 87-89.

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