PLANES OF EXISTENCE
We are born,
we die and then we are born again. It is beyond control in which plane of existence we
will be reborn; it depends on the kamma which produces the patisandhi-citta
(rebirth-consciousness) after the cuti-citta (dying-consciousness) has fallen away.
At this moment we are living in the human plane. Human
life, however, is very short. When this life is over we do not know in which plane we will
be reborn. Most people do not like to think of the shortness of human life; they are
absorbed in what they experience through the sense-doors and on account of these
experiences they are happy or unhappy. However, we should realize that happiness and
unhappiness are only mental phenomena which arise because of conditions and fall away
again. Our whole life is a sequence of phenomena which arise and fall away again.
Many religions teach about heaven and hell. In what
respect are the Buddhist teachings different? Do we just have to believe in heaven and
hell? Through the Buddhist teachings we learn to study realities, to study cause and
effect in life. Each cause brings about its appropriate result. People perform good and
bad deeds and these deeds bring different results; they can cause births in different
planes of existence. The plane of existence is the place where one is born. Birth in a
woeful plane is the result of a bad deed and birth in a happy plane is the result of a
good deed. Since the deeds of beings are of many different degrees of kusala and
akusala, the results are of many different degrees as well. There are different woeful
planes and different happy planes of existence.
The animal world is a woeful plane. We can see how animals
devour one another and we find that nature is cruel. The animal world is not the only
woeful plane. There are different hell planes. The akusala vipaka in hell is more intense
than the sufferings which can be experienced in the human plane. The descriptions of hells
in the Buddhist teachings are not merely allegories; the experience of unpleasant things
through eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body-sense is akusala vipaka and akusala vipaka is
reality. Life in a hell plane is not permanent ; when one's lifespan in a hell plane is
over there can be rebirth in another plane.
Apart from the animal plane and the hell planes, there are
other woeful planes. Birth in the plane of petas (ghosts) is the result of akusala kamma,
conditioned by lobha. Beings in that plane have a deformed figure and they are always
hungry and thirsty.
Furthermore, there is the plane of asuras (demons). The
objects which are experienced in the asura plane are not as enjoyable as the objects which
can be experienced in the human plane. There are four classes of woeful planes in all.
Birth as a human being is a happy rebirth. In the human
plane there is opportunity for the cultivation of kusala. One can study Dhamma and learn
to develop the way leading to the end of defilements and the end of birth and death. Birth
in the human plane is kusala vipaka, but during one's lifespan in this plane there are
both kusala vipaka and akusala vipaka. Each person experiences different results in life:
there is gain and loss, honour and dishonour, praise and blame, happiness and misery. Each
person is born into the family which is the right condition for him to experience the
results of his deeds. It is due to one's kamma that one experiences pleasant and
unpleasant things through eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body-sense.
Other happy planes, apart from the human plane, are the
heavenly planes. In the heavenly planes there is more kusala vipaka than in the human
plane and less akusala vipaka. There are several heavenly planes and although life in a
heavenly plane lasts a very long time, it is not permanent. The woeful planes, the human
plane and the six heavenly planes which are 'deva planes', are sensuous planes of
existence. Sensuous planes of existence are planes where there is seeing, hearing,
smelling, tasting, the experience of bodily impressions and other kamavacara cittas
(cittas which are of the sensuous plane of consciousness). There are eleven classes of
sensuous planes of existence in all.
Those who see the disadvantages of sense-impressions may
cultivate jhana ; they can be reborn in higher heavenly planes which are not sensuous
planes. Those who attain rupa-jhana can be reborn in rupa-brahma planes where there are
less sense-impressions. There are sixteen rupa-brahma planes in all. One of them is the
asanna-satta plane where there is only rupa, not nama. Those who have attained the highest
stage of rupa- jhana and who wish to have no consciousness at all, can be reborn without
citta; for them there is only a body. These beings have seen the disadvantages of
consciousness; even happiness is a disadvantage, since it does not last.
Those who see the disadvantages of rupa cultivate
arupa-jhana. Those who attain arupa-jhana can be reborn in arupa-brahma planes where there
are no rupas. There are four arupa-brahma planes. Beings born in these planes have only
nama, not rupa. People may wonder how there can be beings which only have rupa or beings
which only have nama. If we can experience different characteristics of nama-elements and
rupa- elements as they appear one at a time and if we have realized that they are only
elements which arise because of conditions, not a being or a person, not self, we will
have no doubt that, when there are the appropriate conditions, there can be rupa without
nama and nama without rupa.
There are thirty-one planes of
existence in all, namely:
4 woeful planes
the human plane
11 sensuous planes
16 rupa-brahma planes
4 arupa-brahma planes
As we have seen, the fact that beings are born in
different planes of existence is due to their accumulated kamma. Plane of existence is the
place where one is born. It is not plane of citta. What plane of citta a citta belongs to,
depends on the object (arammana) the citta experiences. We learnt about different planes
of citta, namely:
kamavacara cittas (sensuous plane of citta or
rupavacara cittas (plane of rupa-jhanacittas)
arupavacara cittas (plane of arupa-jhanacittas)
lokuttara cittas (plane of cittas experiencing nibbana)
As regards the kamacara cittas, they can be classified as
asobhana cittas (cittas not accompanied by sobhana cetasikas) and kama-sobhana cittas
(cittas of the sensuous plane of citta, accompanied by sobhana cetasikas). In which planes
of existence do they arise?
Kamavacara citta arise in thirty planes of existence, they
do not arise in the asanna-satta plane, where there is no nama, only rupa. Even in the
arupa-brahma planes there are kamavacara cittas.
As regards kama-sobhana cittas, they can arise even in
woeful planes. Furthermore, they arise in the human plane, in the heavenly planes, in the
rupa-brahma planes and in the arupa-brahma planes. They arise in thirty planes of
existence, the asanna-satta plane excepted. Not all types however, arise in all planes of
Asobhana cittas can arise in thirty planes of existence,
but not all types arise in all planes. Lobha-mula-cittas (cittas rooted in attachment) can
arise in thirty planes; even in the rupa-brahma planes and in the arupa- brahma planes,
lobha-mula-cittas can arise. Dosa-mula-cittas (cittas rooted in aversion) arise in the
eleven sensuous planes of existence. They do not arise in the rupa-brahma planes or in the
arupa-brahma planes. As long as beings live in the rupa-brahma
planes and in the
arupa-brahma planes there are no conditions for dosa. Moha-mula-cittas (cittas rooted in
ignorance) arise in thirty planes of existence ; all those who are not arahats have moha
and thus moha-mula-cittas arise in all planes of existence except in the asanna-satta
As we have seen, not only akusala cittas, but also ahetuka
cittas are asobhana cittas (cittas which are not accompanied by sobhana cetasikas). As
regards the asobhana cittas which are ahetuka, the ahetuka cittas which arise in a process
of cittas experiencing an object through one of the sense-doors, can arise only in the
planes where there are sense-impressions. Seeing-consciousness and hearing-consciousness
arise in the eleven sensuous planes of existence (the four woeful planes, the human being
plane and the six heavenly planes which are sensuous planes:
the deva planes) and
they arise also in fifteen rupa-brahma planes, thus they arise in twenty-six planes of
Smelling-consciousness, tasting-consciousness and
body-consciousness arise only in the eleven sensuous planes. Thus, they do not arise in
the rupa-brahma planes or in the arupa-brahma planes.
(five-sense-door-adverting-consciousness), sampaticchana-citta (receiving- consciousness)
and santirana-citta (investigating-consciousness) arise in all planes where there are
sense- impressions, thus they arise in twenty-six planes (in the eleven sensuous planes
and in fifteen rupa- brahma planes; the rupa-brahma plane which is the asanna-satta plane
(mind-door-adverting-consciousness) arises in all planes where there is nama, thus it
arises in thirty planes.
People are inclined to speculate about the place where
they will be reborn. Would we like to be reborn in the human plane? We cling to life in
the human plane and we do not always realize the many moments of akusala vipaka we are
bound to receive in this world: we are threatened by calamities such as war and hunger,
there is sickness, old age and death. Some people would like to be reborn in a heavenly
plane; they like to experience pleasant things through the senses. One may wish for
rebirth in a heavenly plane, but whether or not this will happen depend on one's kamma.
Birth is result, it does not take place without cause. If one performs many good deeds one
cultivates the cause which will bring a pleasant result; but there is no way to know when
the result will take place, this is beyond control.
Are we afraid of death? Most people want to prolong their
lives. They fear death because they feel uncertain of the future. If one is not an ariyan
there may be rebirth in hell. We do not like to think of rebirth in a woeful plane, but
there may be deeds performed in the past which can still cause rebirth in hell. Even the
Buddha was in one of his former lives born in hell. It is useless to think of
with aversion and fear, but the thought of hell is helpful when it reminds us to
cultivate kusala at this moment, instead of akusala.
We read in the 'Kindred Sayings' (V, Maha-vagga, Kindred
Sayings on Stream-Winning, Ch.VI, par. 4, Visiting the sick) that the Buddha spoke to
Mahanama about the way a wise lay-follower who is sick should be admonished by another
wise lay-follower. We read:
A wise lay-disciple, Mahanama, who is sick... should be
admonished by another wise lay-disciple with the four comfortable assurances, thus: 'Take
comfort, dear sir, in your unwavering loyalty to the Buddha, to the Dhamma, to the
Sangha...Take comfort, dear sir, in your possession of the virtues dear to the Ariyans...'
A wise lay-disciple, Mahanama, who is sick... should be admonished by another wise
lay-disciple with these four comfortable assurances.
Then, supposing he has longing for his parents, he should
thus be spoken to:
If he say: 'I have longing for my parents', the other
should reply: 'But, my dear sir, your are subject to death. Whether you feel longing for
your parents or not, you will have to die. It were just as well for you to abandon the
longing you have for your parents.'
If he should say: 'That longing for my parents is now
abandoned,' the other should reply: 'Yet, my dear sir, you still have longing for your
children. As you must die in any case, it were just as well for you to abandon that
longing for your children.'
If he should say: 'That longing for my children is now
abandoned,' the other should reply: 'Yet, my dear sir, you still have longing for the five
human pleasures of sense.'
Then, if he say, 'That longing for the five human
pleasures of sense is now abandoned,' the other should reply: 'My friend, the heavenly
delights are more excellent than the five human pleasures of sense. It were well for you,
worthy sir, to remove your thoughts from them and fix them on the Four Deva Kings.'
Suppose the sick man say, 'My thoughts are removed from
human pleasures of sense and fixed upon the Four Deva Kings,' then let the other say:
'More excellent than the Four Deva Kings and more choice are the Suite of the
Thirty-three... the Creative Devas... the Devas who rejoice in the work of other devas...
the latter are more excellent and choice than the former... so it were better for you to
fix your thoughts on the Brahma World.'
Then if the sick man's thoughts are so fixed, let the
other say: 'My friend, even the Brahma World is impermanent, not lasting, prisoned in a
person. Well for you, friend, if you raise your mind above the Brahma World and fix it on
cessation from the person-pack. (The five
khandhas of clinging.)'
And if the sick man says he has done so, then, Mahanama, I
declare that there is no difference between the lay-disciple who thus avers and the monk
whose heart is freed from the asavas, that is, between the release of the one and the
release of the other.
It is a danger to be subject to birth. No rebirth at all
in any plane of existence is to be preferred to birth even in the highest heavenly plane.
If one wants to have no more rebirth one should know the Four Ariyan Truths; realizing
these leads to the end of rebirth.
The First Ariyan Truth is the truth of dukkha. If we could
experience, for instance, that seeing at this moment, hearing, attachment or any other
nama or rupa which appears now is only an element which arises and falls away, we would
have more understanding of the truth of dukkha. What arises and falls away cannot give
satisfaction, it is dukkha. The Second Ariyan Truth is the truth of the origin of
dukkha. Craving is the origin of dukkha. Through the development of the Eightfold
Path there will be less craving, less clinging to nama and rupa. When finally there is no
more craving, there will be an end to rebirth, which is the end of dukkha. The Third
Ariyan Truth is the extinction of dukkha, which is nibbana, and the Fourth Ariyan Truth is
the Path leading to the extinction of dukkha, which is the Eightfold Path.
We read in the 'Maha-parinibbana-sutta' (Dialogues of the
Buddha II, No. 16, Ch.II, 1, 2):
The Exalted One proceeded with a great company of the
monks to Kotigama; and there he stayed in the village itself.
And at that place the Exalted One addressed the monks, and
said: 'It is through not understanding and grasping Four Ariyan Truths, O monks, that we
have had to run so long, to wander so long in this weary path of rebirth, both you and I!'
'And what are these four?'
'The Ariyan truth about dukkha; the Ariyan truth about the
cause of dukkha; the Ariyan truth about the cessation of dukkha; and the Ariyan truth
about the path that leads to that cessation. But when these Ariyan truths are grasped and
known the craving for future life is rooted out, that which leads to renewed becoming is
destroyed, and then there is no more birth!'
1. Why do the Buddha's teachings speak about hell? What is
the aim of this?
2. What is a plane of existence?
3. What is the difference between 'plane of citta' and 'plane of existence' ?
4. On what does it depend what plane of consciousness a citta belongs to?
5. The human plane is a sensuous plane of existence. Are there in the human plane only
cittas which are kamavacara cittas (cittas of the sensuous plane of consciousness) ?
6. The rupa-brahma planes are not sensuous planes of existence. Can there be kamavacara
cittas in the rupa-brahma planes? If so, all types ?
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