Buddhist cosmology can be divided into two related kinds_
_spatial cosmology, which describes the arrangement of the various worlds within the universe
The vertical (or cakravāla) cosmology_
describes the arrangement of worlds in a vertical pattern, some being higher and some lower.
The universe exists of many worlds (lokāḥ) – one might say “planes/realms” – stacked one upon the next in layers.
Each world corresponds to a mental state or a state of being. A world is not, however, a location so much as it is the beings which compose it; it is sustained by their karma and if the beings in a world all die or disappear, the world disappears too. Likewise, a world comes into existence when the first being is born into it. The physical separation is not so important as the difference in mental state; humans and animals, though they partially share the same physical environments, still belong to different worlds because their minds perceive and react to those environments differently.
The vertical cosmology is divided into thirty-one planes of existence and the planes into three realms, or dhātus, each corresponding to a different type of mentality.
These three (Tridhātu) are:
_Formless Realm (Ārūpyadhātu)
_would have no place in a purely physical cosmology, as none of the beings inhabiting it has either shape or location; and correspondingly, the realm has no location either. This realm belongs to those devas who attained and remained in the Four Formless Absorptions (catuḥ-samāpatti) of the arūpadhyānas in a previous life, and now enjoys the fruits (vipāka) of the good karma of that accomplishment. Bodhisattvas, however, are never born in the Ārūpyadhātu even when they have attained the arūpadhyānas.
There are four types of Ārūpyadhātu devas, corresponding to the four types of arūpadhyānas:
Arupa Bhumi (Arupachara Brahmalokas or Immaterial/Formless Brahma Realms)
Naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana or Nevasaññānāsaññāyatana_
“Sphere of neither perception nor non-perception”. In this sphere the formless beings have gone beyond a mere negation of perception and have attained a liminal state where they do not engage in “perception” (saṃjñā, recognition of particulars by their marks) but are not wholly unconscious.
Ākiṃcanyāyatana or Ākiñcaññāyatana_
“Sphere of Nothingness” (literally “lacking anything”). In this sphere formless beings dwell contemplating upon the thought that “there is no thing”. This is considered a form of perception, though a very subtle one.
Vijñānānantyāyatana or Viññāṇānañcāyatana or Viññāṇañcāyatana_
“Sphere of Infinite Consciousness”. In this sphere formless beings dwell meditating on their consciousness (vijñāna) as infinitely pervasive.
Ākāśānantyāyatana or Ākāsānañcāyatana_
“Sphere of Infinite Space”. In this sphere formless beings dwell meditating upon space or extension (ākāśa) as infinitely pervasive. Highest plane of pure abodes.
_Rūpadhātu (16 Realms)
_Form Realm (Rūpadhātu)
“Form realm” is, as the name implies, the first of the physical realms; its inhabitants all have a location and bodies of a sort, though those bodies are composed of a subtle substance which is of itself invisible to the inhabitants of the Kāmadhātu. According to the Janavasabha Sutta, when a brahma (a being from the Brahma-world of the Rūpadhātu) wishes to visit a deva of the Trāyastriṃśa heaven (in the Kāmadhātu), he has to assume a “grosser form” in order to be visible to them.
The beings of the Form realm are not subject to the extremes of pleasure and pain, or governed by desires for things pleasing to the senses, as the beings of the Kāmadhātu are. The bodies of Form realm beings do not have sexual distinctions.
The Śuddhāvāsa worlds, or “Pure Abodes”_
Are distinct from the other worlds of the Rūpadhātu in that they do not house beings who have been born there through ordinary merit or meditative attainments, but only those Anāgāmins (“Non-returners”) who are already on the path to Arhat-hood and who will attain enlightenment directly from the Śuddhāvāsa worlds without being reborn in a lower plane.
Akaniṣṭha or Akaniṭṭha_
World of devas “equal in rank” (literally: having no one as the youngest). The highest of all the Rūpadhātu worlds, it is often used to refer to the highest extreme of the universe. The current Śakra will eventually be born there.
Sudarśana or Sudassī_
The “clear-seeing” devas live in a world similar to and friendly with the Akaniṣṭha world.
Sudṛśa or Sudassa_
The world of the “beautiful” devas are said to be the place of rebirth for five kinds of anāgāmins.
Atapa or Atappa_
The world of the “untroubled” devas, whose company those of lower realms wish for.
Avṛha or Aviha_
The world of the “not falling” devas, perhaps the most common destination for reborn Anāgāmins. Many achieve arhatship directly in this world, but some pass away and are reborn in sequentially higher worlds of the Pure Abodes until they are at last reborn in the Akaniṣṭha world.
The mental state of the devas of the Bṛhatphala worlds corresponds to the fourth dhyāna, and is characterized by equanimity (upekṣā). The Bṛhatphala worlds form the upper limit to the destruction of the universe by wind at the end of a mahākalpa, that is, they are spared such destruction.
“Unconscious beings”, devas who have attained a high dhyāna (similar to that of the Formless Realm), and, wishing to avoid the perils of perception, have achieved a state of non-perception in which they endure for a time. After a while, however, perception arises again and they fall into a lower state.
Bṛhatphala or Vehapphala_
Devas “having great fruit”. Some Anāgāmins are reborn here.
The world of the devas who are the “offspring of merit”.
The world of the “cloudless” devas.
The mental state of the devas of the Śubhakṛtsna worlds corresponds to the third dhyāna, and is characterized by a quiet joy (sukha). These devas have bodies that radiate a steady light. The Śubhakṛtsna worlds form the upper limit to the destruction of the universe by water at the end of a mahākalpa that is, the flood of water does not rise high enough to reach them.
Śubhakṛtsna or Subhakiṇṇa / Subhakiṇha_
The world of devas of “total beauty”. 64 mahākalpas is the interval between destructions of the universe by wind, including the Śubhakṛtsna worlds.
Apramāṇaśubha or Appamāṇasubha
The world of devas of “limitless beauty”. They possess “faith, virtue, learning, munificence and wisdom”.
Parīttaśubha or Parittasubha
The world of devas of “limited beauty”.
The mental state of the devas of the Ābhāsvara worlds corresponds to the second dhyāna, and is characterized by delight (prīti) as well as joy (sukha); the Ābhāsvara devas are said to shout aloud in their joy, crying aho sukham! (“Oh joy!”). These devas have bodies that emit flashing rays of light like lightning. They are said to have similar bodies (to each other) but diverse perceptions.
The Ābhāsvara worlds form the upper limit to the destruction of the universe by fire at the end of a mahākalpa, that is, the column of fire does not rise high enough to reach them. After the destruction of the world, at the beginning of the vivartakalpa, the worlds are first populated by beings reborn from the Ābhāsvara worlds.
Ābhāsvara or Ābhassara_
The world of devas “possessing splendor”. Eight mahākalpas is the interval between destructions of the universe by water, which includes the Ābhāsvara worlds.
Apramāṇābha or Appamāṇābha_
The world of devas of “limitless light”, a concept on which they meditate.
Parīttābha or Parittābha_
The world of devas of “limited light”.
The mental state of the devas of the Brahmā worlds corresponds to the first dhyāna, and is characterized by observation (vitarka) and reflection (vicāra) as well as delight (prīti) and joy (sukha). The Brahmā worlds, together with the other lower worlds of the universe, are destroyed by fire at the end of a mahākalpa.
The world of “Great Brahmā”, believed by many to be the creator of the world, and having as his titles “Brahmā, Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.” According to the Brahmajāla Sutta (DN.1), a Mahābrahmā is a being from the Ābhāsvara worlds who falls into a lower world through exhaustion of his merits and is reborn alone in the Brahma-world; forgetting his former existence, he imagines himself to have come into existence without cause. Note that even such a high-ranking deity has no intrinsic knowledge of the worlds above his own.
The “Ministers of Brahmā” are beings, also originally from the Ābhāsvara worlds, that are born as companions to Mahābrahmā after he has spent some time alone. Since they arise subsequent to his thought of a desire for companions, he believes himself to be their creator, and they likewise believe him to be their creator and lord. If they are later reborn in a lower world, and come to recall some part of their last existence, they teach the doctrine of Brahmā as creator as a revealed truth.
Brahmapāriṣadya or Brahmapārisajja_
The “Councilors of Brahmā” or the devas “belonging to the assembly of Brahmā”. They are also called Brahmakāyika, but this name can be used for any of the inhabitants of the Brahma-worlds.
_Desire Realm (Kāmadhātu)
The beings born here differ in degree of happiness, but they are all, other than Anāgāmi, Arhat and Buddhas, under the domination of Māra and are bound by sensual desire, which causes them suffering.
The following four worlds are bounded planes which float in the air above the top of Mount Sumeru. Although all of the worlds inhabited by devas are sometimes called “heavens”, in the western sense of the word the term best applies to the four worlds listed below:
Parinirmita-vaśavartin or Paranimmita-vasavatti_
The heaven of devas “with power over (others’) creations”. These devas do not create pleasing forms that they desire for themselves, but their desires are fulfilled by the acts of other devas who wish for their favor. The ruler of this world is called Vaśavartin (Pāli: Vasavatti), who has longer life, greater beauty, more power and happiness and more delightful sense-objects than the other devas of his world. This world is also the home of the devaputra (being of divine race) called Māra, who endeavors to keep all beings of the Kāmadhātu in the grip of sensual pleasures.
Nirmāṇarati or Nimmānaratī_
The world of devas “delighting in their creations”. The devas of this world are capable of making any appearance to please themselves. The lord of this world is called Sunirmita (Pāli Sunimmita); his wife is the rebirth of Visākhā, formerly the chief of the upāsikās (female lay devotees) of the Buddha.
Tuṣita or Tusita_
The world of the “joyful” devas. This world is best known for being the world in which a Bodhisattva lives before being reborn in the world of humans.
Sometimes called the “heaven without fighting”, because it is the lowest of the heavens to be physically separated from the tumults of the earthly world. These devas live in the air, free of all difficulties. Its ruler is the deva Suyāma.
Worlds of Sumeru_
The world-mountain of Sumeru is an immense, strangely shaped peak which arises in the center of the world, and around which the Sun and Moon revolve. Its base rests in a vast ocean, and it is surrounded by several rings of lesser mountain ranges and oceans. The three worlds listed below are all located on, or around, Sumeru: the Trāyastriṃśadevas live on its peak, the Cāturmahārājikakāyika devas live on its slopes, and the Asuras live in the ocean at its base. Sumeru and its surrounding oceans and mountains are the home not just of these deities, but also vast assemblies of beings of popular mythology who only rarely intrude on the human world.
Trāyastriṃśa or Tāvatiṃsa_
The world “of the Thirty-three (devas)” is a wide flat space on the top of Mount Sumeru, filled with the gardens and palaces of the devas. Its ruler is Śakra devānām indra, “Śakra, lord of the devas”. Besides the eponymous Thirty-three devas, many other devas and supernatural beings dwell here, including the attendants of the devas and many apsarases (nymphs).
Cāturmahārājikakāyika or Cātummahārājika_
The world “of the Four Great Kings” is found on the lower slopes of Mount Sumeru, though some of its inhabitants live in the air around the mountain. Its rulers are the four Great Kings of the name, Virūḍhaka, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Virūpākṣa, and their leader Vaiśravaṇa. The devas who guide the Sun and Moon are also considered part of this world, as are the retinues of the four kings, composed of Kumbhāṇḍas (dwarfs), Gandharvas (fairies), Nāgas (dragons) and Yakṣas (goblins).
The world of the Asuras is the space at the foot of Mount Sumeru, much of which is a deep ocean. It is not the Asuras’ original home, but the place they found themselves after they were hurled, drunken, from Trāyastriṃśa where they had formerly lived. The Asuras are always fighting to regain their lost kingdom on the top of Mount Sumeru, but are unable to break the guard of the Four Great Kings.
This is the world of humans and human-like beings who live on the surface of the earth. The mountain-rings that engird Sumeru are surrounded by a vast ocean, which fills most of the world. The ocean is in turn surrounded by a circular mountain wall called Cakravāḍa which marks the horizontal limit of the world. In this ocean there are four continents which are, relatively speaking, small islands in it. Because of the immenseness of the ocean, they cannot be reached from each other by ordinary sailing vessels, although in the past, when the cakravartin kings ruled, communication between the continents was possible by means of the treasure called the cakraratna which a cakravartin and his retinue could use to fly through the air between the continents.
The four continents are:
Jambudvīpa or Jambudīpa_
is located in the south and is the dwelling of ordinary human beings. It is said to be shaped “like a cart”, or rather a blunt-nosed triangle with the point facing south. The continent takes its name from a giant Jambu tree (Syzygium cumini), 100 yojanas tall, which grows in the middle of the continent. Every continent has one of these giant trees. All Buddhas appear in Jambudvīpa. The people here are five to six feet tall.
Pūrvavideha or Pubbavideha_
is located in the east, and is shaped like a semicircle with the flat side pointing westward Its tree is the acacia. The people here are about 12 feet (3.7 m) tall and they live for 250 years.
Aparagodānīya or Aparagoyāna_
is located in the west, and is shaped like a circle with a circumference of about 7,500 yojanas (Sarvāstivāda tradition). The tree of this continent is a giant Kadamba tree. The human inhabitants of this continent do not live in houses but sleep on the ground. They are about 24 feet (7.3 m) tall and they live for 500 years.
is located in the north, and is shaped like a square. It has a perimter of 8,000 yojanas, being 2,000 yojanas on each side. This continent’s tree is called akalpavṛkṣa or kalpa-tree, because it lasts for the entire kalpa. The inhabitants of Uttarakuru are said to be extraordinarily wealthy. They do not need to labor for a living, as their food grows by itself, and they have no private property. They have cities built in the air. They are about 48 feet (15 m) tall and live for 1,000 years, and they are under the protection of Vaiśravaṇa.
Tiryagyoni-loka or Tiracchāna-yoni_
This world comprises all members of the animal kingdom that are capable of feeling suffering, regardless of size.
Pretaloka or Petaloka_
The pretas, or “hungry ghosts”, are mostly dwellers on earth, though due to their mental state they perceive it very differently from humans. They live for the most part in desert and waste places.
Naraka or Niraya_is the name given to one of the worlds of greatest suffering, usually translated into English as “hell” or “purgatory”. As with the other realms, a being is born into one of these worlds as a result of his karma, and resides there for a finite length of time until his karma has achieved its full result, after which he will be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of an earlier karma that had not yet ripened. The mentality of a being in the hells corresponds to states of extreme fear and helpless anguish in humans.
Physically, Naraka is thought of as a series of layers extending below Jambudvīpa into the earth. There are several schemes for counting these Narakas and enumerating their torments. One of the more common is that of the Eight Cold Narakas and Eight Hot Narakas.
Arbuda – the “blister” Naraka
Nirarbuda – the “burst blister” Naraka
Aṭaṭa – the Naraka of shivering
Hahava – the Naraka of lamentation
Huhuva – the Naraka of chattering teeth
Each lifetime in these Narakas is twenty times the length of the one before it.
Sañjīva – the “reviving” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 162*1010 years long.
Kālasūtra – the “black thread” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 1296*1010 years long.
Saṃghāta – the “crushing” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 10,368*1010 years long.
Raurava – the “screaming” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 82,944*1010 years long.
Mahāraurava – the “great screaming” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 663,552*1010 years long.
Tapana – the “heating” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 5,308,416*1010 years long.
Pratāpana – the “great heating” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 42,467,328*1010 years long.
Avīci – the “uninterrupted” Naraka. Life in this Naraka is 339,738,624*1010 years long.
The horizontal (sahasra) cosmology_
Describes how the worlds are grouped horizontally. According to Buddha, the universe is infinite in time and space.
The four heavens of the Kamadhatu, as mentioned, occupy a limited space no bigger than the top of Mount Sumeru. The three Brahma worlds, however, stretch out as far as the mountain wall of Cakravada, filling the entire sky. This whole group of worlds, from Mahabrahma down to the foundations of water, constitutes a single world system. It corresponds to the extent of the universe that is destroyed by fire at the end of one mahakalpa.
Above Mahabrahma are the Abhasvara worlds. These are not only higher but also wider in extent; they cover 1,000 separate world systems, each with its own Sumeru, Cakravada, Sun, Moon, and four continents. This system of 1,000 worlds is called a sahasra cudika lokadhatu, or “small chiliocosm”. It corresponds to the extent of the universe that is destroyed by water at the end of 8 mahakalpas.
Above the Abhasvara worlds are the Subhakrtsna worlds, which cover 1,000 chiliocosms, or 1,000,000 world systems. This larger system is called a dvisahasra madhyama lokadhatu, or “medium dichiliocosm”. It corresponds to the extent of the universe that is destroyed by wind at the end of 64 mahakalpas.
Likewise, above the Subhakrtsna worlds, the Suddhavasa and Brhatphala worlds cover 1,000 dichiliocosms, or 1,000,000,000 world systems. This largest grouping is called a trisahasra mahasahasra lokadhatu or “great trichiliocosm”.
_temporal cosmology, which describes how those worlds come into existence, and how they pass away
it assumes an infinite span of time and is cyclical. This does not mean that the same events occur in identical form with each cycle, but merely that, as with the cycles of day and night or summer and winter, certain natural events occur over and over to give some structure to time.
The basic unit of time measurement is the mahākalpa or “Great Eon”.
The length of this time in human years is never defined exactly, but it is meant to be very long, to be measured in billions of years if not longer.
A mahākalpa is divided into four kalpas or “eons” _each distinguished from the others by the stage of evolution of the universe during that kalpa.
Each one of these kalpas is divided into twenty antarakalpas each of about the same length. For the Saṃvartasthāyikalpa this division is merely nominal, as nothing changes from one antarakalpa to the next; but for the other three kalpas it marks an interior cycle within the kalpa
The four kalpas are:
Vivartakalpa “Eon of evolution” – during this kalpa the universe comes into existence.
The Vivartakalpa begins with the arising of the primordial wind, which begins the process of building up the structures of the universe that had been destroyed at the end of the last mahākalpa. As the extent of the destruction can vary, the nature of this evolution can vary as well, but it always takes the form of beings from a higher world being born into a lower world. The example of a Mahābrahmā being the rebirth of a deceased Ābhāsvara deva is just one instance of this, which continues throughout the Vivartakalpa until all the worlds are filled from the Brahmaloka down to Naraka. During the Vivartakalpa the first humans appear; they are not like present-day humans, but are beings shining in their own light, capable of moving through the air without mechanical aid, living for a very long time, and not requiring sustenance; they are more like a type of lower deity than present-day humans are.
Over time, they acquire a taste for physical nutriment, and as they consume it, their bodies become heavier and more like human bodies; they lose their ability to shine, and begin to acquire differences in their appearance, and their length of life decreases. They differentiate into two sexes and begin to become sexually active. Then greed, theft and violence arise among them, and they establish social distinctions and government and elect a king to rule them, called Mahāsammata, “the great appointed one”. Some of them begin to hunt and eat the flesh of animals, which have by now come into existence.
Vivartasthāyikalpa “Eon of evolution-duration” – during this kalpa the universe remains in existence in a steady state.
The Vivartasthāyikalpa begins when the first being is born into Naraka, thus filling the entire universe with beings. During the first antarakalpa of this eon, human lives are declining from a vast but unspecified number of years (but at least several tens of thousands of years) toward the modern lifespan of less than 100 years. At the beginning of the antarakalpa, people are still generally happy. They live under the rule of a universal monarch or “wheel-turning king”cakravartin who conquer. The Mahāsudassana-sutta (DN.17) tells of the life of a cakravartin king. The seventh of this line of cakravartins broke with the traditions of his forefathers, refusing to abdicate his position at a certain age, pass the throne on to his son, and enter the life of a śramaṇa. As a result of his subsequent misrule, poverty increased; as a result of poverty, theft began; as a result of theft, capital punishment was instituted; and as a result of this contempt for life, murders and other crimes became rampant.
While with each generation other crimes and evils increased: lying, greed, hatred, sexual misconduct, disrespect for elders.
Our present time is taken to be toward the end of the first antarakalpa of this Vivartasthāyikalpa, when the lifespan is less than 100 years, after the life of Śākyamuni Buddha who lived to the age of 80.
The remainder of the antarakalpa is prophesied to be miserable: lifespans will continue to decrease, and all the evil tendencies of the past will reach their ultimate in destructiveness. People will live no longer than ten years, and will marry at five; foods will be poor and tasteless; no form of morality will be acknowledged. The most contemptuous and hateful people will become the rulers. Incest will be rampant. Hatred between people, even members of the same family, will grow until people think of each other as hunters do of their prey.
Eventually a great war will ensue, in which the most hostile and aggressive will arm themselves and go out to kill each other. The less aggressive will hide in forests and other secret places while the war rages. This war marks the end of the first antarakalpa.
At the end of the war, the survivors will emerge from their hiding places and repent their evil habits. As they begin to do good, their lifespan increases, and the health and welfare of the human race will also increase with it. During his reign, the current bodhisattva in the Tuṣita heaven will descend and be reborn under the name of Ajita. He will enter the life of a śramaṇa and will gain perfect enlightenment as a Buddha; and he will then be known by the name of Maitreya.
After Maitreya’s time, the world will again worsen, and the lifespan will gradually decrease from 80,000 years to 10 years again, each antarakalpa being separated from the next by devastating war, with peaks of high civilization and morality in the middle. After the 19th antarakalpa, the lifespan will increase to 80,000 and then not decrease, because the Vivartasthāyikalpa will have come to an end
Saṃvartakalpa “Eon of dissolution” – during this kalpa the universe dissolves.
The Saṃvartakalpa begins when beings cease to be born in Naraka. This cessation of birth then proceeds in reverse order up the vertical cosmology, i.e., pretas then cease to be born, then animals, then humans, and so on up to the realms of the deities.
When these worlds as far as the Brahmaloka are devoid of inhabitants, a great fire consumes the entire physical structure of the world. It burns all the worlds below the Ābhāsvara worlds. When they are destroyed, the Saṃvartasthāyikalpa begins.
Saṃvartasthāyikalpa “Eon of dissolution-duration” – during this kalpa the universe remains in a state of emptiness.
There is nothing to say about the Saṃvartasthāyikalpa, since nothing happens in it below the Ābhāsvara worlds. It ends when the primordial wind begins to blow and build the structure of the worlds up again.
The destruction by fire is the normal type of destruction that occurs at the end of the Saṃvartakalpa. But every eighth mahākalpa, after seven destructions by fire, there is a destruction by water. This is more devastating, as it eliminates not just the Brahma worlds but also the Ābhāsvara worlds.
Every sixty-fourth mahākalpa, after 56 destructions by fire and 7 destructions by water, there is a destruction by wind. This is the most devastating of all, as it also destroys theŚubhakṛtsna worlds. The higher worlds are never destroyed.
Are part of the belief of some forms of Buddhism that there are ten conditions of life which sentient beings are subject to, and which they experience from moment to moment.
The ten spiritual realms are part of Buddhist cosmology and consist of four higher realms and six lower realms. Some schools of Buddhism see them as being external, ten different planes of existence beings can be born into, whilst others see them as states of mind that can be shifted between due to external and internal influences. The following is a description of the ten realms as mental states.
Is a condition of total claustrophobic aggression, in which one perceives no freedom of action and has very little life-force (physical or mental energy). One feels totally trapped by one’s circumstances, the being is dominated by anger, hatred and frustrated rage and, in extreme cases, the urge to destroy oneself and everything else. It is a very difficult realm to escape from, since the condition tends to be self-perpetuating, with intense suffering and aggression feeding each other (one’s sojourn in Hell is described as being measured in kalpas). Paradoxically, although this state is characterized by claustrophobia, there is an obsession with filling up any space which may present itself, since the space itself is perceived as being threatening. The desire not to fall into this condition is a powerful incentive for people to make efforts to rise above this state in daily life.
This condition is comparable to the Buddhist world of Naraka.
Is a condition characterized by possessiveness and insatiable desires which govern one’s actions, for food, power, wealth, fame, pleasure and so on. In this state one is tormented by relentless craving and the inability, even when the desire is achieved, to enjoy its fruition. This realm is characterized by a total lack of willpower and the disregard of all things except the fulfillment of desires.
This condition is comparable to the Buddhist world of the Pretas (Hungry Ghosts).
Is a condition in which one is governed by instinct, in which one has no sense of morality and lives only for the present moment. In this state one won’t hesitate to prey on weaker beings for personal gain, and will try to attract the attentions of stronger beings in order to side with them. This realm is characterized by the total lack of good judgment and reason.
This condition is comparable to the Buddhist world of Animals.
Arrogance (or anger)_
Is the condition in which one is dominated by the selfish ego, competitiveness, paranoid jealousy and the need to be superior in all things, being they mundane or spiritual. Though potentially virtuous, the experiencer is a slave to his/her delusions, considering ones ego and beliefs as more important than – and superior to – others. This realm is characterized by viewing other beings as potential threats. Still, the rest of the experience in this realm is generally quite pleasant as compared to the human realm.
This condition is comparable to the Buddhist world of the Asuras or ‘half-gods’.
Humanity (or passionate idealism)_
Humanity is the state in which the discriminating awareness and the thinking mind are most highly developed. It is characterized by ambitious passion for abstract ideals and role models, and is unique among the lower realms in providing both the potential means and the motivation to transcend suffering. It is also characterized by shortness of life, in comparison to the Deva and Asura realms, and by being extremely rare in occurrence, without refuge in the Dharma.
This condition is comparable to the Buddhist world of Humans.
Heaven (or rapture)_
Heaven is the condition of pleasure, when one’s desires are fulfilled and one experiences short-lived but intense feelings of joy. Unlike the true happiness of Buddhahood, however, this state is temporary and, like Humanity, easily disrupted by even a slight change of circumstances. One will inevitably descend to a lower realm once the joy dies away. This realm is characterized by not feeling negative emotions and being less vulnerable to external influences than the lower realms.
This condition is comparable to the Buddhist world of the Devas or ‘gods’.
The majority of sentient beings spend most of their time moving between these six conditions of life, from Hell to Rapture, governed by their reactions to external influences and therefore highly vulnerable to all of the six lower realms, the experiencer’s emotional state is totally controlled by externals. Indeed his/her entire identity is based on externals.
Four higher (noble) realms_
In traditional Mahayana Buddhist cosmology, the four higher realms are four of the ten spiritual realms.
The four higher worlds are characterized by the belief that humans need to make an effort to reveal themselves from within their lives.
Is a condition in which one seeks some skill, lasting truth or self-improvement through the teachings of others. To access this realm, the experiencer must first develop the desire to gain wisdom and insight into the true nature of all things, free from delusion. This realm is characterized by the seeking of truth and wisdom through external sources, e.g. other people and pre-recorded information (usually texts).
This condition is comparable to the state of the Śrāvakabuddha.
Realization (or absorption)_
Is a state in which one discovers a partial truth through one’s own observations, efforts and concentration. Usually to access this realm the experiencer must first have decided external sources are inferior to internal sources, e.g. his/her own mind. This realm is characterized by the seeking of truth and wisdom through direct internal perception.
This condition is comparable to the state of the Pratyekabuddha.
The two above realms are collectively known as ‘the two vehicles’. Even though these realms are based upon the desire to increase wisdom and insight, ego is still present, as these desires are primarily self-oriented.
Is a condition in which one not only aspires for personal enlightenment but also devotes oneself to relieving the sufferings of others through compassionate and truly altruistic actions, e.g. helping others. This realm is characterized by the feeling that happiness achieved through the benefit of others is superior to happiness achieved through the benefit of only the self.
This condition is that of a Bodhisattva.
Is the highest of the Ten Worlds, a condition of pure, indestructible happiness which is not dependent on one’s circumstances. The experiencer is totally free from all delusion, suffering and anger. It is a condition of perfect and absolute freedom, characterized by boundless wisdom, courage, compassion and life force. This realm is difficult to describe and is generally only obtained through the direct internal perception of the realm of realization. This realm is characterized by not being shifted into lower realms due to external sources, and the non-reliance on external sources for happiness. This realm is manifested outwardly through the actions of the realm of bodhisattvahood.
This condition is that of a fully enlightened Buddha.
Interpenetration of the Ten Realms_
The humanity world possesses all Ten Worlds. The lower realms have the potential to reveal any of the others at any moment. Some sects of Buddhism believe that as people practice Buddhism they make Buddhahood the dominant state of their lives, as it acts as a kind of filter, revealing the positive aspects of the other nine worlds from Hell to Bodhisattva.
The realms may be labelled the same by Buddhist sects that see them as planes of existence; in this case they are shifted between through material or spiritual rebirth. This is governed by karma (action and volition: the choices made during life).