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PLANES

of
REBIRTH

A Bhante Suvanno’s
Discourse

A Jinavamsa Collection
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Published by Leong Yok Kee

CG – 8 Villa Indah
Bukit Tinggi
28750 Bentong
Pahang

Email: jinavamsa@gmail.com
Copyright @2009 by Leong Yok Kee

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any


form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording without prior written permission from the publisher.

Front and back cover by Leong Yok Kee

Title: Planes of Rebirth


Author: Leong Yok Kee
Buddhism - customs and practices
Buddhism - doctrines

Published in Kuala Lumpur


Printed by: Majujaya Indah Sdn. Bhd (85902-U)
68 Jalan 14E Ampang New Village
68000 Selangor Darul Ehsan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: 03-42916001
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Grateful acknowledgement is extended to all


all those who have helped
in their special
special ways
ways to make this Dhamma Book
Book available.

A Very Special thanks must be rendered to Ms. Carol


Carol Law for
painstakingly proof-
proof-read and improving the oft changing draft
presented to her on as many occasions. From the myriad times she
has proof-
proof-read this manuscript she would have realised the
inconsistency and impermanence of existence.

To those of you who made the request to remain anonymous,


grateful thanks are also rendered and to those whom I have missed
mentioning, no less are your merits.

Special thanks for financial support to:


Mooi Seng and Chu, Doris, Sister Quah and family, Sister Tan
Teck Beng and Family, The Dhamma Family KL, Fong Weng
Meng and Family and Brothers and Sisters of The Gunaratana
Memorial Library, 2 Kampar Road, Penang

May all beings share in these merits thus acquired.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

The publisher is much encouraged by the support and generosity


that enabled this Dhamma literature to be printed for Free
Distribution. Balance of funds will be channelled to future
publications.
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FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION

This Dhamma book is for free distribution and have been


financially brought to you by those who have appreciated and
realised the Buddha’s teachings through the talks by Bhante
Suvanno in his lifetime of monkhood.

A series of his talks will be printed in book form and if you have a
desire to contribute to the successful completion of these series,
financial donations will be helpful and can be sent to:

LAW MI-LAN CAROL


Blk 226, ANG MO KIO AVE 1
#08-603
SINGAPORE

OR directly credit your donations to Standard Chartered Bank


Malaysia for the account of:
Law Mi-Lan Carol: a/c no. 388194997462

Giving me your name:…………………………………………….

Your address: ………………………………………………………

Person to Dedicate to/In Memory of: …………………………

Contact email: jinavamsa@gmail.com


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CONTENTS
Acknowledgement /Dedication/Introduction /Object 3/8
Disappearance of the Dhamma 16
Counterfeit Dhamma/Criterion for Acceptance 17/18
Corruption of Insight 18
Benefits of the True Path 21
Metta Bhavana Sutta 22
Forward 25
Kamma Cause of Rebirth 27
What Happens at Death 28
Part 1
Kamma and its Fruit 32
Kamma and Rebirth 34
The Modifiabilty of Kamma 36
The Five Precepts 37
Evil Actions by Mind 41
Part 2
The Planes of Rebirth/Introduction 42
Description of the 31 Planes 43
3 Divisions of the 31 Planes 46

1st Division
The Sensuous Planes 47
[A] The Four Planes of Misery 47
(a) Hell Plane 47
Suffering in Hell 49
Where are the Hell Regions/Maha Naraka 52
Hell’s Duration 57
The Buddha Describes Hell 60
(b) Animal Plane 63
Examples of Beings Born as Animals 64
Animals have only Three Perceptions 66
The Naga Mucalinda 66
The Elephant and the Monkey 67
(c) Hungry Ghost Plane 69
The Story of King Bimbisara 71
(d) The Demon Plane 74
[B] 7 Planes of Sensual Desires 75
The Human Plane (5) 75
The Six Deva Planes (6-11) 78
Who’s Who in Devaland 80
Death of Devas 86
nd
2 Division: The Fine Material Planes (12-27) 87
3rd Division: The Non-Material Planes (28-31) 91
Epilogue – Showing the Way 93
31 Planes – A Summary 100
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DEDICATION

This book is dedicated to the memory


of the Buddha’s Dhamma propagated
propagated by
The late Venerable
Acara Suvanno Mahathera
(1920-2007)

Gāravo nivāto
ravo ca niv to ca
kataññutā
Santutthi ca kataññut
Kālena
lena dhammasavanam
Etam mangalamuttamam

Reverence,
Reverence, humility,
humility,
Contentment and gratitude.
gratitude.
Hearing the Dhamma at the right time,
This is the most auspicious sign.
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SECOND DEDICATION

A New Beginning
Beginning

Chace Low Zhuo Jun


Brings Great Joy to her new Parents
on 5th July 2009

A new birth, a dhamma


dhamma rediscovered,
rediscovered,
Etched, a Brilliant New page;
page;
Hopes and Aspirations
spirations
Heavenly placed;
placed;
Awakened …Pure… Chace
A bright new world…
world…
Your Stage
Stage
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INTRODUCTION

Jinavamsa: Dear Readers, I am very happy that you have picked up this
copy of a Dhamma literature; for whatever reason. It will surely bring you
great rewards. Maybe you like the cover, maybe you saw the name on it
and maybe you were actually looking for a book on Bhante Suvanno and
his life’s work. Whatever the reason, you are very welcome to begin your
investigation of the Buddha’s true Dhamma in the following pages.

OBJECT
Jinavamsa: The Lord Buddha had reflected that the Dhamma He had
deep, difficult to see, difficult to realise, peaceful,
rediscovered is; “deep,
refined, beyond the scope of conjecture,
conjecture, subtle, to be experienced
only by the wise”.
wise

He, knowing the difficulties ignorant humans have in reaching into the
Dhamma, did not just leave it to our own devices to seek and realise it; He
sign posted the way with specific instructions. For when Ananda asked
for some final words in respect of the community of bhikkhus during the
Buddha’s passing away; the Blessed One answered him:

The Blessed One: What more does the community of bhikkhus


expect from me, Ananda? I have set forth the Dhamma without
without
making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is
nothing, Ananda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathagata
holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some
things back. Whosoever may think that it is he who should
should lead the
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community of bhikkhus, or that the community depends upon him, it is


such a one that would have to give last instructions respecting them.
But, Ananda, the Tathagata has no such idea as that it is he who
should lead the community of bhikkhus, or that the community
depends upon him. So what instructions should he have to give
respecting the community of bhikkhus?

Now I am frail, Ananda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my


eightieth year, and my life is spent. Even as an old cart, Ananda, is
is
held together with much difficulty, so the body of the Tathagata is
kept going only with supports. It is, Ananda, only when the
Tathagata, disregarding external objects, with the cessation of
certain feelings, attains to and abides in the signless concentration
concentration
of mind, that his body is more comfortable.

Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto


yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as
your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other
refuge.

Jinavamsa: Those were the final exhortation of the most Unique Teacher
ever in the history of humankind; reading between the lines, we should
sieve through to the essence of His Dhamma. He taught that the realisation
of His Teaching can only be through a gradual training. It is not possible
to take a book on the Dhamma, read it, digest it and be enlightened. One
needs to practise correctly to realise the Dhamma; just as there is no other
way to know a taste but that one must try it for oneself.

To get a factual perspective of what we mean, we will begin by rendering


a clear vision of the word “realise”; for words convey a mental image and
we need to see clearly the true identity of the word “realise”. Funk &
Wagnall Dictionary (a very insightful dictionary) gives the meaning as: “to
understand and appreciate fully; to make real or concrete; to cause to appear real”.
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However, these words are but mundane knowledge and understanding; in


the Dhamma context “realise” is experiential knowledge and understanding arising
from insight wisdom acquired through contemplative insight meditation;
contemplation in regards to viewing all arising phenomena, bodily and
mentally, as impermanent, unsatisfactory and of a non-entity nature. The
realisation of such Dhamma knowledge is not for worldly intelligence, but
wise knowledge of the reality of existence.

There are three portals leading to the realisation of the Dhamma; and
entering these portals are not necessary your decision. Their openings are
conditional. Conditions must arise before the first portal will even open.

It has been said by a wise person; when the student is ready the teacher
will appear; along the same reasoning, the Dhamma will appear to one who
is ready for the Dhamma. When conditions due to arising merits and
supportive kamma mature, then events will unfold that will open doors to
the Dhamma.

Conditions arising will pry open the doors to the ripening of kamma. This
will be the first portal that will introduce the Dhamma in various ways;
secondly, when this arises the correct thing to do will be to investigate the
Dhamma; this second portal involves time and energy in learning the
Dhamma intellectually. Faith and confidence deepens and then the third
portal will open.

The final step, the third portal is to realise the Dhamma by practising it as
taught by the Buddha. Only by practise can we experience the Dhamma
and in this way we will be living the Dhamma and wisdom will arise that
will lead us onto the path to freedom from defilement and thus attain
Nibbana.

To say “firstly, being introduced to the Dhamma….”, is but just a statement, but
the real introduction must depend on conditions being juxtapositioned at
a pivotal point at a specific time! These conditions can be a coming
together of kamma, natural happenings and the vagaries of life now and
the past. So you see to be “introduced to the Dhamma” is not a simple matter
at all! That is why a myriad of beings are unable to know the Dhamma due
to conditions not arising.
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TWO CASES
I offer two cases to illustrate the above conditional introduction to the
Dhamma.

Khoo Eng Kim a/k Bhante Suvanno


Khoo Eng Kim’s introduction to the Dhamma happened when he was 12
years old (please read: Striving to be a Nobody). He was born into a
very poor family; an abused child without a mother’s love and care. As a
school boy he used to pass by a Christian family and often heard the
pastor preached. He was very keen to learn more, but he never had the
opportunity to pursue Christianity. He was very keen to find out why he
had to endure so much suffering. Hearing of the Buddha, he wrote to a
publisher in Sri Lanka and obtained a copy of Words of the Buddha by
Nyanatiloka Mahathera, a monk of the German sangha. The book’s message
was very clear to him and he recalled he knew why he had inherited so
much suffering. There and then he wanted to renounce and take up the
robes. But at 12 years of age, no Buddhist monastery was about to accept
him as a novice. He was not able to fulfil his wish to be a monk though he
had serious intention of doing so. He had to wait till the conditions were
ready and that took many years. Only when at the age of 60 were the
conditions juxtapositioned for him to renounce and take up the holy life.
He passed on at the age of 87, having been a monk for 27 years; a strong
case of conditioning.

YK Leong a/k Jinavamsa Bhikkhu


YK Leong (the author of this book) was a business man who retired at the
age of 49 and migrated to New Zealand to spend his days in life’s
decadent pursuit of worldly pleasures. For some reasons he had to return
to Malaysia when he was 60 years of age, where he was enticed to attend a
metta meditation session. From then he took up the practice of meditation
seriously and as the saying goes, he never looked back and at age 67,
ordained for the first time into the Burmese sangha. He subsequently
returned to Malaysia, after disrobing and much later at his teacher’s advice,
he again ordained for the second time.

He had no knowledge and desire to practice the Buddha’s teachings; but


due to ripening conditions, he took up life as a renunciate for sometime,
till sickness conditioned him to disrobe and return to lay life. He is well
and happy being a lay person at the writing of this Dhamma literature at
age 72; again another strong case of conditioning.
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In apropos to these two stories, Jinavamsa is a student of Bhante Suvanno


and had spent quite a number of years studying and practising with the
latter.

Let us proceed to the second criteria and begin our investigation by


observing ordinary happenings around us; for are we not more involved
with ordinary things? For, is not our very life bound by the ordinary?

For starters, has anyone taken notice about people’s behaviour lately;
especially the behaviour of religious people? Has anyone noticed the huge
amount of funds going to religious coffers whenever there is noised about
that such and such a venerable monastic or holy person is going to build a
temple, church or some form of icon of their faith? Do you know of
monastics, priests and religious personages getting big fat salaries with
expensive perks to go? Have you never seen monastics or religious person
staying in 5-star accommodations?

Coming nearer home to the Dhamma practice, has anyone paid attention
that less people are inclined to meditate for the correct reasons; instead
they prefer to offer dana, listen to Dhamma talks, habitually and religiously
attend discussions, workshops, chanting sessions and such religious
activities other than what was advised by the Buddha Himself?

And with the Internet casting a wide web around the globe, those who
aspire to propagate their doctrines and teachings sit in their homes and
spew them out to the world. Outer space has become such a vast field of
sewage dump and many of these blogs and postings are going to join the
ranks of spewed garbage into the same sewage field.

These postings and Internet messages are easily available to all. Most
religious organisations are using these means to entice adherents to their
doctrines, should we not by common logic be doing the same thing? Such
thinking and deeds, in regards to the Dhamma does not fulfil the essence
of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is:

The Path should start with the right view or right understanding; followed
by right thinking, right speech, right action, right effort, right livelihood,
right mindfulness and then right concentration.

Thus, when one begins anything with the wrong view, will one be able to
get to the path of right thinking? Of course not; then the rest of the
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negative and opposite factors following will be the obvious result and
those who propagate such ways of learning the Dhamma will have to bear
the result of their thoughts, spoken words and deeds.

Has anyone noticed that food is being bought from established markets
called supermarkets; has anyone noticed that sales of instant food, teas,
coffees and what have yous, have become the norm?

Has anyone realised that world climatic changes are very apparent and
temperature around the globe is rising? And has anyone wondered why
there are so many forms of diseases popping up here and there around
the world and becoming pandemic? Has anyone really pay attention to
habits and pastimes of kids and teenagers? I am sure that you too, will
have your own long lists of these ‘have yous…..’

As to the practice of the Dhamma, the third criteria; that will be your own
effort and hopefully we will have given you sufficient reasons to carry on
the practice yourself.

Now you may ask what has all this to do with this book. The point of
these things are that human beings desire quick fixes, they want to acquire
things; material as well as spiritual, as quickly as possible; they do not want
to work for it, they want a pill to take them to peace and calm and
Nibbana....peace and calm possible… but Nibbana no!

The meditation teacher, Bhante Suvanno has constantly reminded me


when I repeat to him what I hear from others…”so and so teacher has a
new method to meditate that brings result faster and better…his stock
reply was and I want to share this with you… “Jinavamsa, if the Lord
Buddha, who is self-enlightened, after going through intense training for
four asankheyya and a hundred thousand world cycles, says there is only
one way…there must then be only one way; if he knew of a short cut do
you think he will not tell us? Jinavamsa read my lips ... there is only this
one way to the eradication of defilement of beings…”

With that reply and his example of living a Dhamma life, I have always
been satisfied that that was the only and correct way, and I stay firmly on
the Path; that is why I have only one teacher and one only…a local born
and bred guru...the Venerable Bhante Acara Suvanno. Now having
repeated that there is only one way:
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Let me continue by quoting some words from the Lord regarding Five
Dangers in the Future. In Anguttara Nikaya 5: 77-80; there are enumerated
4 sets of 5 dangers that will befall the Dhamma. These Future Dangers are
real and we are already living within the parameters of these dangers even
as we are reading and writing here. These conditions have been built up
through aeons by us in many previous lives and we are now reaping their
fruits.

The Buddha: There will be, in the course of the future, monks
undeveloped in bodily conduct, virtue and discernment (Jinavamsa: I
have total belief and faith in this statement to add that it covers all professions and
calling, not only bhikkhus, but because we are concerned about the Buddha’s teachings,
we will hone in on those who we look up to as leaders and exemplar of our beliefs).
They, being undeveloped
undeveloped in bodily conduct, virtue, mind
and discernment, will not listen when discourses that are words of the
Tathagata; deep, profound and transcendent are being recited.
They will not set their hearts on knowing them, they will not regard
these Teachings
Teachings as worth grasping or mastering (Jinavamsa: by the way,
this is not something new, He had already seen this, the moment He was self
enlightened 2600 years ago, that was the reason He was reluctant to teach the
Dhamma then).
But they will listen when discourses
discourses that are literary works;
the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric; the work of
outsiders, words of disciples are recited. They will listen and set
their hearts on knowing them and regard these teachings as worth
grasping and mastering.
mastering. Thus from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt
discipline; from corrupt discipline, corrupt Dhamma.
Furthermore, being undeveloped in bodily conduct, virtue,
mind and discernment, they will become elders living in luxury;
lethargic, foremost in falling back, shirking the duties of solitude.
They will not make efforts for the attaining of the as-
as-yet-
yet-unattained,
the reaching of the as-
as-yet-
yet-unreached, the realisation of the as-
as-yet-
yet-
unrealised. Future generations will take them as examples; thus from
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corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline; from corrupt discipline,


corrupt Dhamma.
There will be, monks (in all cases of “monks” also read “other
monastics”) desirous of fine robes,
robes, lodgings and fine foods, they,
they, being
so desirous, will neglect the practice of wearing cast
cast-off cloth, will
neglect isolated forest and wilderness dwellings, will move to towns,
cities and royal capitals, taking up residence there. For the sake of
their desires they will do many kinds of unseemly, inappropriate
things.
In the future, there will be monks who will live in close
association with nuns, female probationers, and female novices. As
they interact with nuns, female probationers and female novices, they
can be expected either to lead the holy life dissatisfied or to fall into
one of the grosser
grosser offenses, leaving the training, returning to a lower
way of life.
There will be monks who will live in close association with
monastery attendants and novices. As they interact with monastery
attendants and novices, they can be expected to live intent
intent on
storing up all kinds of possessions and to stake out properties.
properties
These, monks, are the future dangers that will arise in the
future. Be alert to them
them and work to get rid of them.
them.

Jinavamsa: Thus, the Lord has foreseen the dangers befalling the
Dhamma in the future and taught that we should work to get rid of these
dangers; but even as in the early times when the Lord was not prepared to
teach the Dhamma, even at those times he had seen the corruptness of
humans. Today we, especially the young ones, will be fed with more
corrupt Dhamma, which if unrecognised will lead the unwary and gullible
astray and eventually into the wrong path and suffering for untold aeons.
We need to be aware and to safeguard our own personal faith and practice
so that we are able to enhance our spiritual development in these times of
unwholesome adhamma.
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The very fount of the Dhamma has gone after attaining the final
goal, PariNibbana; and the Dhamma He left with us as our guide
and teacher is fast shrinking and will eventually dry up and be no
more; we are already seeing major Dhamma losses in the form of
fewer true renunciates and fewer people who are in real earnest to
practise solitude. The Dhamma will disappear; this is without doubt.
The signs of its disappearance are very clear. We see their shrinking
from within daily, in our lives’ moments. Let us hear how the
Dhamma will disappear.

DISAPPEARANCE OF THE DHAMMA [Samyutta Nikaya (Kindred


Sayings) on Kassapa, causes of the disappearance of the Dhamma are outlined]:

Ananda (the Buddha’s cousin and attendant): The Exalted One was once
staying at Savatthi, at the Jeta Grove, in the Anathapindika Park. Now the
Venerable Maha-Kassapa went into the Lord’s presence, saluted Him and sat
down beside Him. So seated, the Venerable Maha-Kassapa said to the
Exalted One:

Maha Kassapa: Venerable Sir, what is the reason, what is the cause, why
formerly there were fewer trainings rules but more bhikkhus were
established in final knowledge, while now there are more training rules but
fewer bhikkhus are established?

The Lord Buddha: That’s the way it is, Kassapa, when the purity of
beings are deteriorating and the true Dhamma is disappearing, more
training rules are needed but even so, fewer bhikkhus are established
in final
final knowledge. Kassapa, the true Dhamma does not disappear
so long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not arisen in the
world. But when a counterfeit of the true Dhamma arises in the
world, then the true Dhamma disappears.
Just as Kassapa, gold does not disappear so long as
counterfeit gold has not arisen in the world, but when counterfeit
gold arises then true gold disappears, so the true Dhamma does not
disappear so long as a counterfeit of the true Dhamma has not
arisen in the world.
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It is not the earth


earth element, Kassapa, that causes the true
Dhamma to disappear, nor the water element, nor the heat element,
nor the air element. It is the senseless people who arise right here
who cause the true Dhamma to disappear.
The true Dhamma does not disappear all at once in the way
a fully laden ship sinks. There are, Kassapa five detrimental things
that lead to the decay and disappearance of the true Dhamma.
Dhamma. It is
when brethren and sisters,
sisters, laymen and laywomen live in irreverence
and are unruly toward the Teacher, live in irreverence and are unruly
toward the Teaching, live in irreverence and are unruly toward the
Order, live in irreverence and are unruly toward the training, live in
irreverence and are unruly toward concentration.
But when they live in reverence
reverence and docility toward
toward these
Five, then do these Five
Five things conduce to the longevity, non-
non-decay
and non-
non-disappearance of the true Teaching.

COUNTERFEIT DHAMMA
Jinavamsa: This brings us to the question; how do we define counterfeit
Dhamma? Mahasi Saydaw and the VisuddhiMagga have recognised the source
of counterfeit Dhamma as basically two:

Firstly, when people do not take the original text which is the backbone of
the Buddha’s True Teaching as enshrined within the Tipitaka as the only
words of the Buddha but when they begin to deviate from this Teaching
and take refuge in other seemingly true Dhamma.

Secondly, when meditators begin to view corruption of insight when


developing Vipassana, as non-corruptions and set their goals by such
standards; then in both instances we are looking at the counterfeit
Dhamma in overdrive and speeding towards the chasm of destruction and
suffering.

Let us look at the first factor; the Tipitaka is the main testimony of the
true Dhamma. In the last hours before the Buddha entered PariNibbana,
He told the gathering of bhikkhus that the Dhamma He left behind would
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be their teacher. The Dhamma as enshrined within the Tipitaka has been
authenticated in Six Highly Profiled Councils within the Theravada stream
of the Buddha’s Dhamma for 2600 years as the True Dhamma and is
recognised by all Buddhist divisions as the full original authority of the
Buddha‘s Dhamma after His PariNibbana. However, nowadays, these pure,
pristine Dhamma is rarely taken as our Teacher and instead many other
non-Tipitaka texts expounded by “great and elderly” present day teachers
are applied as the better Dhamma. Thus here counterfeit dhamma is already
overshadowing the true Dhamma. Many have forgotten how to apply the
Kalama Sutta in regards to ascertaining the true Dhamma. Let me refresh
memory lapses:

THE CRITERION FOR ACCEPTANCE


The Buddha: Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been
acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor;
nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor
nor upon an axiom;
nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias toward a notion that
has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor
upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when
you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not
blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and
observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and
abide in them.

Jinavamsa: Thus, did the Buddha taught; as to the second factor, let us
see what Mahasi Sayadaw says about what are:

CORRUPTION OF INSIGHT (Mahasi Sayadaw)


 the noting of a brilliant light; which to a meditator will appear like the
light of a lamp, to others like a flash of lightning, or like the radiance
of the moon or the sun, and so on; with one meditator it may last for
just one moment, with others it may last longer.
 The arising in a meditator of strong mindfulness pertaining to insight.
 The meditator’s knowledge consisting in insight, here called "noticing,"
will be likewise keen, strong and lucid.
 Further, strong faith pertaining to insight arises in the meditator.
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 There arises also rapture in its five grades, beginning with minor
rapture.
 There arises tranquillity of mind.
 There also arises a very sublime feeling of happiness suffusing all of the
meditator’s body.
 There arises in the meditator energy that is neither too lax nor too
tense but is vigorous and acts evenly.
 There also arises in the meditator strong equanimity associated with
insight.
 There arises further a subtle attachment of a calm nature that enjoys
the insight graced with the "brilliant light" and the other qualities here
described.

Taking these phenomena listed above as permanent and perceiving


them as correct insights are corruption of insight.

The meditator, however, is not able to discern the above as corruptions


but believes them to be just the very bliss of meditation. So meditators
speak in praise of it thus: "Only now do I find full delight in meditation!"

Having felt such rapture and happiness accompanied by the "brilliant


light" and enjoying the very act of perfect noticing, which is ably
functioning with ease and rapidity, the meditator now believes: "Surely I
must have attained to the supramundane path and fruition! Now I have
finished the task of meditation."

Taking all the above arising phenomena as permanent and


perceiving them as correct insights; this is mistaking what is not the
path for the path, and it is a corruption of insight which usually
takes place in the manner just described. But even if the meditator
does not take the "brilliant light" and the other corruptions as an
indication of the path and fruition, still he feels delight in them.
This is likewise a corruption of insight. (Progress of Insight Mahasi Sayadaw)

The Visuddhimagga continues with:


When these sensations arise, a wary meditator who is endowed with
discretion either defines and examines it with understanding thus: “this
thing has arisen, but it is impermanent, formed, conditionally arisen,
subject to destruction, subject to fall, subject to fading away, subject to
cessation”. Or he thinks: “if these things were self, it would be right to
take it as self; but being not self, it is taken as self. Therefore it is not self
20

in the sense of no power being exercisable over it. It is impermanent in


the sense of non-existence after having come to be; it is painful in the
sense of oppression by rise and fall’.

Having investigated it thus, he sees these things as: “these are not mine,
this is not I, this is not myself”. Seeing thus he does not waiver or vacillate
about these sensations and passions. So he understands these as
imperfections without falling prey to doubts and uncertainties (Vm by
Nanamoli pg.739).

Jinavamsa: When these contemplations and seeking after insight


knowledge are faithfully followed then the breakup of the Dhamma will
not be so soon; but the fact is the opposite is true for those seeking the
easy path. Thus the counterfeit Dhamma is now apparent, leading to the
loss of the true Dhamma.

Thus, we are at this time witnessing the fading away of the True Dhamma.
You will notice that there are so many forms of the Teachings in today’s
world that most if not all, supposedly followers of the Buddha’s Path, do
not know whether the path they follow are truly the Buddha’s Path! Just
ask anyone and you will be given answers to your question in a confused
manner.

In these “modern” days, people do not practise the Teachings of the


Buddha; they practise the “delusions” of the Teachings as they see fit;
they practise the glamour of the Dhamma without appreciating and
realising the true core of the Teachings. They skim the shallow surface of
the Teachings and fail to see the innermost brilliance of the diamond
within; they deify the Teachings with layer after layer of cosmetised
wrappings and forget the true sweetness of the gift within. They see only
the beautiful wrappings and forget the reason for the wrapping.

They teach the bliss of the Teachings as the only worthwhile goal and
forget that the realisation of that bliss is not within the moment but at the
end of the final moment where all suffering are eradicated and true bliss is
attained. People fail to see the quagmire beneath the surface of their
delusions; they create the delusions believing it is real. They live in a world
of adhamma making belief that that is the true Dhamma. Thus is the end of
the Dhamma realised.
21

One of the greatest renunciate that truly followed the True Path of the
Lord has passed on and there will be more who follow the True Path
disappearing in the days ahead. These true renunciates are a fast
disappearing breed and sadly there will be no replacement from the same
mould! This short discourse, and others to come, by Bhante Suvanno will
put forward for your review what are the True Teachings of the Buddha.
May the merits of his work be shared among all beings and that by such
merits all beings are guided to the correct path to freedom from suffering.

BENFITS OF THE TRUE PATH


Jinavamsa: The Buddha taught two forms of meditation; Vipassana and
Metta Bhavana. Each one has its goal and benefits, unique in itself. Their
practise can be dove-tailed one into the other or stand alone, each on its
own. In Vipassana Bhavana the ultimate goal is eradicating of defilement
and gaining Nibbana through the arahant path. It took Him six long
torturous years to finally arrive at this knowledge to practise Vipassana to
be free from defilement and be totally pure. This Knowledge is a Path.
This Path is Eightfold.…a very Noble Eightfold Path…the goal of this
Path is eradication of defilement and mental effluent. When the mind is
totally pure and without blemish, the mind becomes free; suffering is also
eradicated, there is no cravings, greed, emotional trappings and delusion.
When a mind is of this nature, it is a mind ready for noble state … a state
of arahantship…culminating in Nibbana.

The benefits that will accrue before this final stage are; mental peace and
calm, good physical health and wellness, able to accept the ups and downs
of life knowing that all arising things are of an impermanent nature and
subject to dissolution.

Correct practice of Vipassana will lead to deeper insights as the practice


progresses. Results of Vipassana will be cumulative through progressive
rebirths; thus when one’s practice has reached the stream entry stage, one
has no fear that future rebirths will be towards the suffering planes. In
fact when one practises to the stage of stream entry one will be reborn at
a maximum of seven more rebirths before one enters Nibbana. This is a
great benefit! The Bodhisatta tried many ways to attain this goal, even to
the extent of learning from great concentration teachers of the time. After
six long years of intense suffering did he finally realised that the only way
to the eradication of defilement is through the practice of Satipatthana
Vipassana. The practise of Satipatthana is so paramount to His Teachings
22

that He gave two great identical discourses and many reminders of it


throughout His ministry of forty-five years.

Other concentration meditations were already taught by great


concentration teachers even before the time of the Buddha. The Buddha
did make use of these concentration practices and achieve the highest
results, even surpassing those of his teachers. Having done so He realised
that these practises neither lead him to the eradication of suffering nor
attain Nibbana for which he left family and kingdom. These concentration
meditation methods only brought Him at best to the planes of the
Brahmas at death. In those planes he realises that, he will find rebirth into
other suffering planes again. Thus, concentration meditation brings about
only a yo-yo sort of result and not the final liberation of Nibbana.

Thus, he forsaked those methods and strived alone to find his own
salvation. He found it in Satipatthana Vipassana which leads to
Nibbana!

METTA BHAVANA SUTTA (Loving-kindness Meditation)


Jinavamsa: Metta meditation is the second meditation taught by the
Buddha. It is a concentration meditation and has for its object, love for all
beings; a total untainted universal selfless love for all things. This
meditation originated from the Buddha due to the following reason.

Scriptural Text: On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Savatthi
when it was the time for the taking up of the residence for the rains
retreat. Now on that occasion many bhikkhus from various areas and
districts were desirous of taking up residence for the rains and meditation
in the Blessed One's presence.

It was the Buddha's habit every morning after a discourse to the bhikkhus,
He would assign or advise them to practise meditation in the forest and
the bhikkhus would go away for meditation in their assigned location.
Some would return the same day and some would return after some time
seeking further instructions or details on other matters.

A group of 500 bhikkhus went to a part of a forest where earth bound


Devas were residing. Seeing the bhikkhus arriving, the Devas made room for
them and stayed away, thinking that these bhikkhus would be staying for a
short time and would be away after their meditation. However, from a
week the bhikkhus stayed for another week and yet another week. By this
23

time the Devas were quite upset as they were not able to return to their
abodes in the trees or the rocks now taken up by the bhikkhus.

The Devas decided to frighten the bhikkhus so that the bhikkhus would
leave them and they could return to their homes in peace. The bhikkhus
thus disturbed and frightened by the Devas, decided to return to the
Buddha, whereupon they reported the matter to Him.

After ascertaining the true situation, He realised that the Devas were
unhappy with the bhikkhus for their impolite way of taking over their
abodes leaving them with no shelter for their families. The Buddha then
advised the bhikkhus to go back to the same place but armed with the
good-will of Metta for their comfort and protection. The Buddha then
expounded the Metta Sutta for the practice of Loving-kindness. He
further enumerated the benefits of Metta Bhavana.

The Buddha: O! bhikkhus,


bhikkhus, loving-
loving-kindness conduces the
loving--kindness,
unshackling of the mind. One who is familiar with loving
practises it frequently, becomes good at it until it becomes his nature,
such an individual so developed in loving kindness will gain eleven
benefits.

Jinavamsa: These are the benefits enumerated:


1. He sleeps well. One who is practising Loving-kindness falls asleep
comfortably as though entering upon an attainment and rarely snores
or turns around restlessly during sleep.
2. He wakes up feeling good without groaning or yawning, is rested and
comfortable, like a lotus opening.
3. He does not have bad dreams. If one does dream, one's dreams are
of peaceful and spiritually calming scenes. One does not have
nightmares and other frightening dreams.
4. He is well-liked by fellow men. The Visuddhi Magga says: "dear and
beloved by human beings as a necklace worn to hang on the chest, as
a wreath adorning the head."
5. He is well liked by non-humans.
6. He is protected by the Devas. They guard him as a mother and father
guard their child.
7. He will not be harmed by fire, poison or weapons. A story to
illustrate this is told about a cow that was giving milk to her calf. A
24

hunter seeing her thought "I shall shoot her," and flourishing a long-
handled spear in his hand flung it at the cow. It struck her body and
bounced off like a palm leaf, and that was neither to access nor to
absorption, but simply to the strength of her consciousness of love
for her calf. So mightily powerful is loving kindness!
8. He achieves meditative concentration quickly and easily; the mind of
one who abides by loving kindness is quickly calmed and
concentrated, there is no sluggishness about it.
9. His facial complexion is healthy and serene. The Visuddhi Magga says:
"face has a serene expression, like a palmyra fruit loosed from its
stem."
10. His death will not be confused. There is no deluded mentality for one
who abides in Loving-kindness, death is like falling asleep.
11. If in this life he does not achieve Nibbana he will be reborn in happy
planes. The VisuddhiMagga says: "then when he falls from life, he
reappears in the Brahma World as one who wakes up from sleep."

After learning the Sutta, the bhikkhus returned to the forest and the 500
bhikkhus chanted the Sutta in unison. The vibrant all compassionate and
love-centred Metta Sutta coming from 500 holy bhikkhus conveyed such
tremendous, powerful good-will and loving-kindness that the Devas were
overwhelmed, so much so that they came to pay respects to the bhikkhus
and protected and provided requisites for the bhikkhus for the duration of
their meditation. All 500 bhikkhus attained arahantship and ended their
stay. It is very beneficial for the reciter and the recipient when the practice
of Metta is done habitually. Hopefully, we are clear about our goal in
getting this book presented to you; let us investigate further.

Jinavamsa
Bukit Tinggi
Bentong, Pahang
jinavamsa@gmail.com August 2009
25

FOREWORD
Bhante Suvanno (seated in his kuti, in
conversation with Jinavamsa, the lay disciple):
The Lord has given us specific guides
to suit every situation in our present
lives and even into the after life, yet
many do not seem to realise the gems
of universal truth the Lord has left us.
It is our responsibility, Jinavamsa, to
share these knowledge with those who
are seeking. It is our responsibility to
offer them the way to the correct
practice.

Not knowing the Lord’s Teachings, many have questioned and some have
even gone on to séances, mediums, soothsayers, spirits and what-have-
yous to allay their fears, pamper their curiosities and feed their
superstitious concepts regarding their confusion and uncertainties at and
after death.

They further question: Is Death Final? Is there life beyond death? What
if …what if not? They desperately want to know. They fear the unknown;
they seek to ensure that they find continuity to their lives in order to enjoy
the material fruits they have garnered in this life. The more material
possessions they have the more desperate their need to know. They fear
that death may take away all that they have worked for, fought for,
cheated for or even traded their morality or for some their so-called
“souls” for. Conscious and fearful that death is inevitable, they seek ways
to prolong it, to overcome it or even to live beyond death; they seek the
security of permanent control of their possessions

The Buddha had indicated that none will be able to attain their desires as
they neither have the wisdom to realise their impermanence and
selflessness nature nor do they realise that their desires are never to be
satiated as they set their goals of material gains increasingly higher. All
beings, man, and gods included, live bound within concepts that are
illusions of their minds, fed by their desires and greed. Thus, all beings
find rebirth into existences that they created for themselves through
ignorance of the realities within this life and the uncertainties of the future
ahead. All living beings live life after life within the causal parameters that
26

they ignorantly craft for themselves. With muddled intentions, they build
iron clad cages that will for many aeons imprison them within the
confines of sufferings that they fear; yet the very desires that they crave
for, they cannot achieve because they do not understand the wherewithal
of their existences.

The Buddha had taught that three major root defilement of the mind
effectively lock us into our world of suffering and torment; these three are
unbridled greed, frustrated anger and ignorant delusion. Confined within
the confusing maze-like delusion of our defiled minds, we are unable to
rid ourselves of these three root defilement; not that we do not want to
but that we do not know that these three defilement exist. Even if we
know, we do not know the way to rid ourselves of these three binding
cords that confine us life after life within these damning walls of suffering.
The Buddha knew and taught us the Only Way, He said:

The Buddha: This is the only way for the purification of beings, for
the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of
pain and grief, for reaching the Noble Path, for the realisation of
Nibbana.

Bhante Suvanno: And that only way, Jinavamsa, is Satipatthana


Vipassana; the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

So, Jinavamsa, you see the Buddha had seen the whys and wherefores of
living, dying and rebirth and the conditions that set the wheel of life in
motion. Best of all, He taught us this Only Way to be rid of these
defilement. He taught us how to develop from early beginnings, the Path
to Purification that will lead us away from the suffering world and into
Nibbana.

This Only Way, the Way of Mindfulness (Vipassana) Meditation is not a


secret way; it is open to all, religions aside; for the Buddha’s teachings are
meant for all beings, applicable universally; for those who have painfully
discovered the need to end this suffering. For those few who seek to end
this suffering, the Buddha has offered this One and Only Way. There may
be paths leading to this Way, but given time and maturity of insight
wisdom these paths gyrate towards this One Way, just like tiny rivulets,
trickling towards the streams into the river and finally pouring into the
great ocean of purity and total freedom.
27

KAMMA, CAUSE OF REBIRTH


Bhante Suvanno: The Buddha has
said that all things come into being
due to a cause; existing conditionally
upon natural phenomena. Birth and
death are but a continuing series
conditioned by such phenomena in
an unending process; death is
followed by immediate re-birth in
accordance with this dictate of
causality.

Death only signals the end of a phase in that on-going process. At that
point of the process known as death, a new vehicle is charged and the
process of life carries on and re-birth occurs in the same or another plane
of existence as conditioned by the character of the resultant of past
thoughts, speech and deeds of the dying being arising at that moment.
The word “rebirth” does not mean that the same being is reborn in exact
replica of the one before; and here-in lies the confusing view of re-birth.

[Dhamma Note: To know the Dhamma profoundly and realise its intrinsic essence,
we have to view it through two forms of understanding; view from a conventional
terminology (a commonly spoken language) and a view through universal terminology
(conveying the reality of Dhamma).

This was because the Buddha was a teacher of gods and men (annuttaro purisa
dhamma sarathi sattha deva manussanam). In the course of a discourse, humans and
non-humans were his listeners. The non-humans were the devas and brahmas who were
also eager to know the Dhamma and who had come from various distant heavenly
planes and other world systems to learn the Dhamma from the Buddha himself. Thus,
in speaking to humans, the Buddha was also teaching the unseen devas and brahmas
gathered around at the same moment.

Thus, in most cases where the Lord Buddha discoursed, the nature of the Dhamma is
such that he applied conventional terminology to express universal truths. Due
to this necessity, those who in the past have taken the Buddha’s words at the level of
conventional speech have made grave errors in their interpretation. In some cases those
misinterpretation has been passed to us together with major erroneous content. We need
therefore to be mindful of the duality of Dhamma terms when the Lord’s Dhamma is
discoursed].
28

Bhante Suvanno: As a result of previous lives’ volitional performances,


the being whose life process is ending at this moment is followed by
immediate rebirth to an awaiting new being in one of the 31 Planes. That
is to say, a new being arises in the appropriate sphere to continue the
process. This arising of the new being is conditioned by past volitional
actions and habitual tendencies culminating in the last thought-moment of
the “being about to die”, leading to re-birth.

In “the being about to die”, if its actions in its life before death, had been
conditioned and initiated by thought and speech directed by a purified
mind, the new being will manifest in a plane appropriate to the condition
of the mind at the moment of death; if they had been of mixed type, the
kammic energy conditioned by past thoughts, speech and deeds will
reappear into a new being anywhere in the 31 Planes.

If his kamma (volitional action) has been predominantly unwholesome, with


a strong reflex at the moment of death, the kammic energy will manifest
in a new being in what are called the unhappy states.

Kamma arising at the moment of death (known as death proximate kamma) is


an important factor in deciding the immediate rebirth. It may be good or
bad, but whichever it is, it tends to be the state of mind characteristic of
the individual of the previous life, which takes possession of the last
moments of consciousness before it leaves the “about to die” being.

Let us digress momentarily to delve a little into kamma and death. Let us
begin by reading from a teacher of meditation with international
recognition. He wrote:

WHAT HAPPENS AT DEATH?


Bhante Suvanno: To understand what happens at death, let us first
understand what death is. Death is like a bend in a continuous river of
becoming. Death is the end of a process of becoming, and certainly it is
so in the case of an arahant (a fully liberated being) or a Buddha; but with
an ordinary person this flow of becoming continues after death. Death
ends all activities of one life, and the very next moment starts the play of a
new life. On the one side is the last moment of this life and on the other
side is the first moment of the next life. It is as though the sun rises as
soon as it sets with no interval of darkness in between, or as if the
moment of death is the end of one chapter in the book of becoming, and
another chapter of life begins the very next moment.
29

Although no simile can convey the exact process, still one might say that
this flow of becoming is like a train running on a track. It reaches the
station of death and there, slightly decreasing speed for a moment, carries
on again with the same speed. It does not stop at the station even for a
moment.

For one who is not an arahant, the station of death is not a terminus but a
junction from where 31 different tracks diverge. The train, as soon as it
arrives at the station, moves onto one or another of these tracks and
continues. This speeding "train of becoming," fuelled by the electricity of
kammic energies of the past, keeps on running from one station to the
next, on one track or the other, a continuing journey that goes on without
ceasing.

This changing of "tracks" happens automatically. As the melting of ice


into water and the cooling of water to form ice happens according to laws
of nature, so the transition from life to life is controlled by set laws of
nature.

According to these laws, the train not only changes tracks by itself, it also
lays the next tracks itself. For this train of becoming, the junction of
death, where the change of tracks takes place, is of great importance. Here
the present life is abandoned (this is called death). The demise of the body
takes place, and immediately the next life starts (a process which is called
conception or taking up of the next birth). The moment of conception is the
result of the moment of death; the moment of death creates the moment
of conception. Since every death moment creates the next birth moment,
death is not only death, but birth as well. At this junction, life changes
into death and death into birth.

Thus, every life is a preparation for the next death. If someone is wise, he
or she will use this life to the best advantage and prepare for a good death.
The best death is the one that is the last but that is not a junction but a
terminus: the death of an arahant. For the arahant or the Buddha, there will
be no track on which the train can run further; but until such a terminus is
reached, one can at least ensure that the next death gives rise to a good
birth and that the terminus will be reached in due course. It all depends
on us, on our own efforts. We are makers of our own futures; we create
our own welfare or misery as well as our own liberation.
30

How is it that we are the creators of the tracks that receive the onrushing
train of becoming? To answer this we must understand what is kamma.

The wholesome or unwholesome volition of our minds is kamma. Before


performing any action at the mental, vocal, or physical level, whatever
wholesome or unwholesome volition that arises in the mind, is the root of
that action.

The consciousness arises due to a contact at a sense door, then perception


and recognition evaluates the experience, sensations arise, then a kammic
reaction takes place. These volitional reactions are of various kinds.

How strong is the volition? How slow, deep, shallow, heavy or light?
Conditionally, the intensity of these reactions will vary. Some are like a
line drawn on water, some like a line drawn on sand and some a line on
rock. If the volition is wholesome, then the action will be the same and
the fruits will be beneficial; and if the volition is unwholesome, then the
action will be the same; it will give fruits of misery.

Not all of these reactions result in a new birth. Some are so shallow that
they do not give any substantial fruits. Some are a bit heavier but will be
used up in this lifetime. They do not carry over into the next life. Others
being still heavier, continue with the flow of life into the next birth, but
they themselves do not give new birth (end of quote).

Bhante Suvanno: We now read from another authority: Thus, the


kammic energy of the “about to die” being whose predominant
characteristic is a mental attitude of anger and hate will at once re-
manifest in a new form embodying this unwholesome characteristic, as
that is the death-proximate kamma, induced by habitual past thoughts. If
he has cultivated loving kindness and compassion (metta and karuna), it is
that consciousness that will arise in a higher plane where these
characteristics manifest.

The most common type of habitual consciousness is neither of


active love nor active hatred, but desire (tanha). It is desire and
attachment that bind the individual to incessant re-birth.

They provide the motives of all activities; hatred and love themselves arise
from the root cause of desire; love towards the object of attraction, hatred
when the desire is thwarted. Most kamma, therefore, is of a mixed type
31

and its effects alternate in the experiences of the future life in the sensual
world; the world wherein we now find ourselves, as it is one of the
spheres dominated by desire and sensual attachment.

Another law of nature, equally difficult to comprehend is the reality of


selflessness or void of an identifiable self. This truth dictates that even in
the earthly life-continuity of the individual, there is no persistent or
unchanging entity.

All living beings are aggregates of the conditional coming together of


mental and material aggregates arising and passing away inexorably in
accordance to another natural law; the Law of Dependent Origination.

Thus to rid defilement from their minds, people must see the real dangers,
only then will they seek the correct remedy; in this case the ills of
ignorance and the remedy of Nibbana. It is my sincere aspiration that
those who seek will find in this book the need to investigate further and
practise the only way to end the continuing rounds of rebirths into
suffering.

Jinavamsa: Bhante, what the Buddha taught is truly profound and most
people would not know where to start seeking the truth. At which point
should we begin to investigate?

Bhante Suvanno: This will depend on those who are seeking. Some may
be quite knowledgeable, some little and some none. Let us first find out
what lies ahead after death.
32

PART 1: KAMMA AND ITS FRUIT

THE BUDDHA:
Kammassaka, bhikkhave, satta kammadayada,
kammayoni, kammabandhu, kammapatisarana, yam
kammam karonti—
karonti—kalyanam va papakam va—
va—tassa
dayada bhavanti.

Oh bhikkhus, beings are the owners of their deeds,


the heirs of their deeds, born of their deeds, kin to
their deeds; their deeds are their refuge. Whatever
actions they perform, whether good or evil, such will
be their inheritance.
inheritance.

Bhante Suvanno: The Buddha has said that beings are born into any one
of the 31 Planes for rebirth due to kammic result (Majjhima Nikaya 129/130).
These planes are physical realities; but for the purpose of getting an
insight of their realness, one may even equate them as mental states.

For example, in one who is constantly having a mind imbued with evil or
unwholesome mental states, he is as if living in a plane of hell; and in one
who repeats unwholesome actions without fear and without being
33

mindful of the results, he is as if born into a place of suffering, a hell plane.


These imaginative mental conjectures can never represent the realities of
the physical state in its actual equivalent.

In one who is honest, virtuous and has a mind that is pure and
compassionate; diligently practises wholesome acts of giving, morality and
meditation, he is as if living in a heavenly state and if his practice of
meditation develops further, he is bound to be born into a heavenly plane
and heading towards higher stages of purity to attain Nibbana.

This cosmology and natural "law" applies to all beings, whatever their
religious beliefs, for such laws or Dhamma are not inventions of the
Buddha, but are natural phenomena and re-discovered by him on
attaining Enlightenment on that fateful day under the Bodhi tree.

It must be realised that without exception ALL things with or without life,
including gods and human beings in all the planes are impermanent;
excepting Nibbana, nothing whatsoever live forever. Some heavenly beings
do live for aeons but eventually, they too die and once they die, they find
rebirth in another plane, unless Nibbana has been attained; in which case
they are not reborn; they have achieved "emancipation"; freedom from
suffering.

The law of kamma provides that each and every one of our actions
has consequences in line with the skillfulness or otherwise of that
action.

We often witness this process in our own lives; the effects may not be
immediately apparent. But the Buddha also taught that our actions have
effects that extend far beyond our present life, determining the quality of
rebirth at death; act in wholesome, skillful ways and you are destined for a
favourable rebirth; act in unwholesome, unskillful ways and an unpleasant
rebirth awaits.

In our ignorance, we have stumbled on for aeons through samsara,


“becoming” from one birth to the next by the quality of our choices and
our actions, not knowing where we shall end up next and unconsciously
clinging to and craving for a better existence; rushing helter-skelter, as if
blindfolded and mindless to join a speeding train taking us to a destination
we know not where. Compare this to a flock of chicken in the farm,
34

happily scrounging for food, oblivious of the fact that at any time, one or
any of its numbers will be picked up and slaughtered!

Life after life, we find rebirth originating from delusion and ignorance, we
have no knowledge of a previous existence, nor do we know anything
about a coming existence.

Not knowing where we were from and where we will be going to, we are
walking as if blindfolded in the middle of a very busy road without a sense
of direction. This will be disastrous. The Buddha taught that, beings
existing in the suffering planes will find it very difficult to find rebirth as a
human being. Thus if we desire to find future existence in the human
plane, we must know, understand and realise the True Dhamma, the
ignorance of which will lead us to extreme sufferings the likes of which
we can never imagine possible.

Many have prayed to Sakka, the King of the 33 Heavenly Gods to grant
them rebirth as human beings, but can Sakka or anybody at all fulfil such
requests? Neither Sakka, nor any other gods can help us find rebirth in a
better future existence. The Buddha is not available to help us. He can
only show the way, we have to travel the road to freedom, Nibbana on our
own. It is our volitional actions that will shape our future destinies. What
then should be done to ensure at the minimum, a rebirth in a human
existence, where we will have the only opportunity to strive for the fruits
of Nibbana?

The answer has been given by the Buddha when He taught that we should
avoid evil and do good; we would then not fall into any of the four woeful
planes; the Animal, Hungry Ghost, Demon Planes or the great sufferings
of the Hellish Regions.

KAMMA AND REBIRTH


Bhante Suvanno: During their long stay in the hell regions, living beings
have been conditioned by many unwholesome thoughts, speech and
deeds; the results of which, remains in their kammic stream and may or
may not fruit in future existences, depending on conditions arising and on
the weightiness of the results of kamma.

The most important consideration is that we must not succumb to evil


actions or deeds; otherwise we will find ourselves in the hell regions.
Once we are in hell all the unwholesome actions will create the conditions
35

and opportunities for unwholesome kamma to arise, and evil kamma after
evil kamma will arise, till conditions change again, for better or for worse.
No one knows.

In certain cases, having passed away from the human plane, one goes to
hell, having then passed away while in hell, one may be reborn again and
again in hell or other woeful states for many existences. All our thoughts,
speech and deeds, though unseen by anybody or any agencies, will shape
the effects of kamma.

In Dhammapada Verses 1 and 2, the Buddha said:


Verse 1: All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they
have mind as their chief; they are mind-
mind-made. If one speaks or acts
with an evil mind, suffering (dukkha
(dukkha)
dukkha) follows him just as the wheel
follows the hoof-
hoof-print of the ox that draws the cart.
cart.

Explanation: Our words and deeds spring from a thought. If we speak


or act with evil thoughts, unpleasant circumstances and experiences
inevitably result. Unwholesome deeds create circumstances that are
unwholesome. This is very much like the wheel of a cart following the
hoofs of the ox yoked to the cart. The cart-wheel, along with the heavy
load of the cart, keeps following the draught oxen. The animal is bound to
this heavy load and cannot discard it.

Verse 2: All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they


have mind as their chief; they are mind-
mind-made. If one speaks or acts
with a pure mind, happiness (sukkha) follows him like
like a shadow that
never leaves him.

Explanation: All deeds that a man does springs out of his thoughts. If
his thoughts are good, the words and the deeds will also be good. The
result of good thoughts, words and deeds will be of a wholesome kind.
The joy and bliss of such wholesomeness will never leave him, but will
follow him like his shadow. Results of our deeds and actions are known as
kamma and in due season will ripen and bear fruit. Kammic resultants will
be our only heir to the many existences that we are reborn into. It has no
distinctions or preferences. Kings, emperors, gods, devas, brahmas, beggars,
humans and all beings are the product of their own kamma.
36

Bhante Suvanno: Similarly, if in our lifetime we have performed


wholesome deeds, resultant kamma will be good. Results of our deeds will
mature and ripen at the appropriate time; in the present life or in lives to
come. Conditions must prevail in the ripening of kamma.

All unwholesome deeds done by human beings are mostly due to


delusions they harbour and these delusions can only be eradicated by
Vipassana Insight Meditation. In this form of meditation, one will realise
that the self, “me”, “you” or “mine”, most people are centred on, is non-
existent. Once that is realised, delusions will not arise any more; and when
this stage has been attained, due to meditative efforts, people will realise
that they are but aggregates of compounded things and they will have
done away with numerous delusions and wrong views. If they persist in
their meditative efforts having full faith in the teachings of the Buddha,
they will be further rewarded with due insights and mental purities that
ensure that they are not reborn into any woeful states but only as humans;
not ordinary humans, but wise and discerning human beings.

THE MODIFIABILTY OF KAMMA


Bhante Suvanno: While kamma rules that our deeds and their fruits are
related, there is another facet of kamma which is just as important.

This is the modifiability of kamma, and the fact that the Law of Kamma does
not operate with mechanical rigidity but allows for a considerable range of
modifications in the ripening of its fruit. Various external conditions can
effect modifications in kamma. Internal conditions such as the total
qualitative development of the mind. To one, rich in moral or spiritual
qualities, a single offence may not entail the weighty results the same
offence will have for one who is poor in such protective virtues. The
Buddha compares this with the taste of water from a cup wherein a lump
of salt has been added against the taste of water from the Ganges River in
which the same quantity of salt has been thrown in.

The permutative strands in the arising of kamma are highly complex and
unfathomable by any living being, and only a Buddha can trace out the
kammic links in the life-dramas of particular beings. Kamma neither ripens
in any mechanical, linear nor predictable ways, nor according to any preset
time frame. The interaction of many supporting and obstructive factors
makes it difficult or almost impossible for anyone to pinpoint the
connections between past, present and future events.
37

Bhante Suvanno: There are some who consider every happening, even
our new wholesome and unwholesome actions, as the result of our
prenatal kamma. In other words, they believe that the results again become
the causes of new results, and so ad infinitum. Thus they are stamping the
Buddha’s teaching as fatalistic; and they will have to come to the
conclusion that, in this case, our destiny can never be influenced or
changed, and no deliverance ever be attained.

However, not everything that happens to us is the result of past kamma.


We are subjected, by the fact that we exist, to sufferings from natural
causes, the deeds of others, and above all, from our ignorance. Certain
illnesses are caused by physical phenomena, such as wind, heat, or the
change in seasonal conditions, or the imbalance of the physical elements
of the body. It is also true that certain kinds of diseases are kamma
originated. We are responsible for our actions, and though kamma may
condition the circumstances, it cannot make us commit a crime if we do
not desire to do so. We do have choices; and we can make better choices
with the practise of vipassana meditation as this will enable our decision to
be founded on mindfulness practices.

THE FIVE PRECEPTS


Bhante Suvanno: From the actions of his past, man has shaped his
present existence, he is equally capable of being the architect of his own
future and with the right guidance he can be sure of it being a happy one.
The Blessed One in His vast encompassing wisdom and insight has laid
out certain rules of morality that we should train in. The very basic ones
are five training rules which make up this training in morality.

These moral precepts reflect such values as compassion, respect, self-


restraint, honesty, and wisdom. Observance of the Five Precepts
constitutes the minimum moral obligation of a person living in the
Dhamma. These Five Precepts are trainings to abstain from killing living
beings, abstain from taking what is not given, abstain from sexual
misconduct, false speech and use of intoxicating drinks or drugs.

These Five Moral Precepts affect one's personal and social life. The fact
that they represent a course of training which one willingly undertakes
rather than a set of commandments imposed on one by a God or a
supreme being is likely to have a positive bearing upon one's conscience
and awareness.
38

Bhante Suvanno: On the personal level, the Precepts guide one to lead a
moral life and to advance further on the spiritual path. Moreover, the
practice of keeping the Precepts contributes to the accumulation of merits
that both support one in the present life and ensure happiness and
prosperity in the next. On the social level, observing the Five Precepts
helps to promote peaceful co-existence, mutual trust, a cooperative spirit,
and general peace and harmony in society. It also helps to maintain an
atmosphere which is conducive to social progress and development, as we
can see from the practical implications of each precept.

On a universal level, the Five Precepts are the base of all moral deeds;
thus, they are not religious in essence, though all religions based on moral
concepts have these five precepts as corollary to their doctrines. This fact
demonstrates the nature of the Buddha’s Dhamma as uniquely universal in
practice.

The First Precept; I train to refrain from the destruction of life,


admonishes against the destruction of
life. This is based on the principle of
goodwill and respect for the right to
life of all living beings. By observing
this Precept one learns to cultivate
loving kindness and compassion. One
empathises with others’ suffering but
without personal involvements and
attachements and endeavours to do
what one can to help alleviate their
problems.

Consequences of Killing
Whosoever kills any living being will be reborn into one of the four lower
abodes immediately at death, and when the kammic life term is ended
there and, hopefully with the arising of meritorious results of some past
good deeds, he finds rebirth in the human plane, he will encounter the
following consequences:
• Having physical deformities, ill health, feebleness, dullness and
lethargy and suffering from diseases.
• Having few friends, being separated from loved ones and being killed
in youth.
39

The Second Precept; I train to refrain from taking that which is not
given, signifies respect for others' rights to possess wealth and property.
Observing the Second Precept, one refrains from earning one's livelihood
through wrongful means, such as by stealing or cheating. This Precept
also implies the cultivation of generosity, which on a personal level helps
to free one from attachment and selfishness, and on a social level
contributes to friendly cooperation in the community.

Consequences of Stealing
When we take what does not belong to us, including taking things without
permission, by force or by underhand means, we will not be able to have a
happy and peaceful life. Thieves will find rebirth in one of the four lower
abodes when they die. When the fruits of previous good kamma condition
his release from the suffering planes and he is again reborn as a human, he
encounters the following evil consequences:
• Having bodily and mental suffering, being tortured by hunger and
starvation.
• Being poor, wishes unfulfilled, having unstable and easily perishable
fortunes and insecured properties.

The Third Precept; I train to refrain from sexual misconduct,


includes rape, adultery, sexual promiscuity and all forms of sexual
misconduct. This Precept teaches one to respect one's own spouse as well
as those of others, and encourages the practice of self-restraint, which is
of utmost importance in spiritual training. It is also interpreted by some
scholars to mean the abstention from misuse of senses and includes, by
extension, non-transgression on things that are dear to others, or
abstention from intentionally hurting other's feelings.

Consequences of Sexual Misconduct


By committing adultery, we are actually stealing a person’s most precious
treasure. There is a special place in hell for people who commit adultery.
Whosoever has sexual relations with another person other than one's
spouse is said to have committed sexual misconduct and at death will be
reborn in one of the lower abodes. If by good results of past meritorious
deeds he finds rebirth as a human being, he will encounter the following
unwholseome consequences:
• Being disgusted by others, having many enemies, loss of wealth and
prosperity.
• Being deprived of happiness, encountering disgrace, separated from
loved ones.
40

The Fourth Precept; I train to refrain from falsehood and wrong


speech, is an important factor in social life and dealings. It concerns
respect for truth. A respect for truth is a strong deterrent to inclinations
or temptations to commit wrongful actions, while disregard for the same
will only serve to encourage evil deeds. The practice of the Fourth
Precept, therefore, helps to preserve one's credibility, trustworthiness, and
honor.

Consequences of Telling Lies


The fourth precepts let us be mindful of our speech. Evil action
committed through our speech is lying or uttering false words; carrying
tales; scolding and cursing others in anger; engaging in frivolous speech.
People who engage in frivolous speech will point a finger, accusing
everyone around them. But what they fail to realise is that for every finger
they accuse others, three fingers are reverting to themselves, meaning to
say, they do not see the faults in themselves, which may be more severe
than in those whom they are accusing.

Conveying a falsehood, by gestures or words with malicious intent is


committing the action of falsehood. The gravity of that offence
corresponds to the amount of harm done by such actions. The liar will
have to suffer in the miserable planes at death. If he were to be reborn in
the human world he will be afflicted with the following defects:
• Poor and harsh speech, uneven teeth, foul breath, unhealthy
complexion, poor eyesight and poor hearing.
• Lacking ability to influence others and restlessness of mind.

The Fifth Precept; I train to refrain from intoxicants that cloud the
mind and cause heedlessness. On the personal level, abstention from
intoxicants helps to maintain balance and a sense of responsibility.

Consequences of Indulging in Intoxicants Intoxicants and drugs are


addictive. Consuming any of these in the long term leads to drunkenness,
forgetfulness and lack of common sense. These in turn lead to killing,
lying and adultery, and all manner of unwholesome deeds. Moreover, the
user of such poisonous items will suffer from poor health, die young and
be reborn in the woeful abodes. If by chance he finds rebirth as a human
being, the following evil consequences will be his dues:
 Being lazy, lack of intelligence and mindfulness.
 Being ungrateful, lacking moral shame and moral dread.
 Insane and tendency to commit evil deeds.
41

EVIL ACTIONS BY MIND


Bhante Suvanno: Other evil actions are committed by our mind. First
on the list is greed. The second evil action committed by our mind is
losing our temper. When a person loses his temper, he is very capable of
committing evil actions such as robbing or even murdering someone.
These actions will definitely send them directly to hell. Why does a person
commit murder? Again, it’s all due to greed.

And the third evil action committed by our mind is ignorance. What is
ignorance? A lot of people today are filled with ignorance. A good
example is a funeral where due to ignorance and misunderstanding,
expensive rites and rituals are carried out. It is believed that paper houses,
video players, TV and video tapes must be burned so that the deceased
can benefit from them when they are in hell. Why would they think that
their parents, family members or friends are already in hell? All these are
wrong views due to ignorance of the Dhamma. Those who have actually
spent huge amount of money on such rites and rituals are actually very
foolish.

That is why today we have to evaluate and practise the Dhamma to realise
the truth of existence. Only with this realisation can we walk the correct
path. And we should also teach these truths to our next generation so that
they too will be able to distinguish right from wrong. By doing evil deeds
we are assured of a place in unfortunate existences.

The refrain "I train to refrain from ..." which precedes every precept
clearly shows that these are not commandments. They are in fact training
rules that the laity willingly undertake out of clear understanding and
conviction that they are good for both themselves and for society and that
they are gradual training rules to finally rid the mind of defilement.

Bhante Suvanno: Let us see what the results are when we do not let
these moral precepts shape our lives.
42

PART 2: THE PLANES OF REBIRTH


INTRODUCTION
Bhante Suvanno: The Buddha taught that there are the 31 distinct
“planes” into which
beings are reborn. No
beings have a choice as to
which plane he will find
rebirth. Beings find rebirth
conditioned by the results
of thoughts, speech and
deeds they have
voluntarily performed in
their existences at present
and in many past lives. As
such they have been
through extraordinarily
dark, grim and painful hell
planes, to the most sublime, refined and exquisitely blissful heavens
repeatedly.

Existence in every one of those planes without exception is impermanent;


there is no eternal heaven or hell; beings are born into a particular plane
according to both their past kamma and their kamma at the moment of
death. When the kammic forces that brings them to that plane is finally
exhausted, they pass away, taking rebirth once again elsewhere according
to their kamma. And so the cycle of suffering continues on and on, like a
play without an end in sight.

In these 31 planes, the plane of the greatest suffering is hell, niraya, and in
ascending order, the animal plane, the plane of the peta or hungry ghosts
and the plane of the asuras; these are the planes of suffering where there is
no opportunity to gain merits. Unfortunately, these planes are the most
populated, bursting at their seams with beings reaping the fruits of their
past evil deeds.

These four woeful planes, the most fearsome of which is hell, there being
one hundred and thirty-six forms of hell, is also described as
compartmented into two hundred and sixty-four sub-hells. In hell, the
suffering is intense and there is no let up of suffering for even a single
moment.
43

Bhante Suvanno: Ascending to higher pure states, there are the Seven
Planes of beings of Sensual Desires, where the human plane is found; and
six planes of Devas and Brahmas of differing purity. Going beyond these
Seven Sensual Planes, are another sixteen planes of Devas and Brahmas of
superior attainments and deeper meditative progress, and finally there are
the four abodes of Brahmas without material bodies, where the life span is
so lengthy that it appears to be timeless.

The Buddha further spoke of many


thousand world systems. Through
very powerful telescopes, science has
been able to discover the existence of
more than 100,000 million stars in our
Galaxy, many of which are very much
like the Sun. They are also able to
observe millions of other galaxies.

Two thousand six hundred years ago,


the Buddha and his enlightened
disciples had personally seen and had
knowledge of, what today science has
just begun to discover; that there are other universes with their own world
systems, each with its life forms as are found in our already vast universe.

The Buddha further said that planes of rebirth and existence exist not
only in this universe but is found among the other world systems or
universes. Every system or world has its 31 Planes where beings are
reborn. Each system is very much conditioned by its own energy and
conditions; but beings passing away from its exisiting system may find
rebirth at another system; time and distance being no barrrier to the
workings of kamma. Such is the intricacies of kammic energy.

DESCRIPTION OF THE 31 PLANES


Bhante Suvanno: The areas most populated and frequented (planes 1-11)
are the Sensuous Planes; here sense experience predominates. Next come
the Planes of Material Form (planes 12-27). Beyond that are the four
Planes without Form (planes 28-31). These 20 Planes (12-31) are attained
through practising concentration meditation to certain degree of deep
concentration. The Buddha Himself mentioned that many wise deities
long for rebirth on the human plane. This is due to the fact that the most
44

opportune place to practise the Dhamma and attain freedom from


suffering is on the human plane.

In the four suffering planes (1-4), developing spiritual progress is rare as


suffering is gross and unrelenting and the opportunity by beings here to
perform deeds of merit is rarely available. On the other end of the scale,
the very bliss of the happy planes of devas and brahmas (6-11), beclouds the
universal characteristics of all phenomena: impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness, and the non existence of any lasting, controlling self.
And without fully comprehending these intrinsic Dhamma, there is no
motivation to develop the detachment from continuing existence that is
essential to freedom from suffering.

The suffering beings and humans (planes 1-5) do not have fixed lifespans,
but beings beyond these planes do. From the Sixth Plane to the Thirty-
first, each successive group of deities lives longer than the group before it.
The lifespans of devas and brahmas are measured in multiple centuries. The
brahmas of the Planes without Forms live for 84,000 aeons.

All beings; human, devas and brahmas are subject to mortality and rebirth.
All except arahants are reborn in one or another of the Thirty-one Planes.
No being lives forever. Arahants have eradicated all mental defilement
and have thereby eliminated the causes for rebirth with its attendant
suffering. They are not reborn. Instead, they attain Parinibbana, the
complete, permanent cessation of every form of existence.

For all non-arahants, death is immediately followed by rebirth. The plane


of birth is conditioned by the kamma that arises at the moment of death.
This could be any volition created in the present life or in any previous
existence. Rebirth is neither by choice nor dictated by a god, gods, groups
or individuals. It takes place solely due to kamma; the thoughts, speech
and deeds we have voluntarily performed in previous existences.

The devas of the sensuous planes are said to enjoy sense pleasures in far
greater abundance than can be found in the human world. Their bodies
emit beautiful pleasant coloured auras and they have subtle sense organs,
similar to ours but far more refined and sensitive. On the deva planes
there are stream-enterers and once-returners. For example, Sakka, King
of the Gods in the Heaven of the Thirty-three, became a stream-enterer
while discussing Dhamma with the Buddha. However, only few among the
devas have any understanding of the Dhamma. In fact, all that is needed to
45

be reborn in these heavens is the meritorious kamma of generosity and


morality. Mental development through meditation is not a prerequisite for
rebirth on the higher sensuous planes.

The brahmas with forms have extremely subtle bodies of light; their
powers are great but not unlimited. A being is reborn among these
brahmas by cultivating the appropriate concentration meditation,
perfecting it, and retaining it at the moment of death. The beings in the
brahma planes spend most of their time enjoying their respective
meditative attainments and bliss. Brahmas experience no ill will or hatred,
but only because they have suppressed these defilement during their
meditative concentration, not because they have uprooted them through
insight knowledge and wisdom developed through insight meditation.
Thus when a brahma is eventually reborn as a deva or human being, he can
again be beset by greed, anger and delusion. The brahmas also are prone to
conceit and the wrong view that there is a permanent self, as well as to
attachment to the bliss of meditative concentration. Brahmas in the Planes
of Form can interact with humans if they so choose, but to appear to
humans they must deliberately assume grosser forms.

The Brahmas of the Planes of Formlessness (27-31), the four highest


planes have no material bodies whatsoever. They are entirely mind made.
They attained this kind of birth by achieving and maintaining the
immaterial concentration. They spend countless aeons in the perfect
equanimity of concentration meditation until their lifespan ends. Then
they are either reborn in the same plane, a higher formless plane, or as
devas.

Bhante Suvanno continues: The Buddha had said in many suttas that it is
through understanding and practising the Noble Eightfold Path that
beings are able to eradicate suffering and realise Nibbana. In fact, Brahmas
in the Planes of Formlessness are in the unfortunate position of being
unable to practise the Path. That is why the sage Asita, requested by the
Buddha's father to examine the newborn Bodhisatta, wept after predicting
that Prince Siddhattha would become a Buddha. The sage knew that he was
going to die before the prince attained Buddhahood. Not knowing better,
he had cultivated these immaterial absorptions and because of his
ignorance, he would be reborn into the Formless Planes and would
thereby lose all contact with the human plane. This meant he would not
be able to escape samsara under Gotama Buddha. He was sorely distressed
to realise that he would miss this rare opportunity to gain deliverance and
46

would have to remain in the round of rebirth until another Buddha


appears in the remote future. With his acquired ability to see into the
future, he realised the precious opportunity a Buddha offers, but he could
neither postpone his death nor avoid rebirth into the Planes without
Form.

The Buddha saw the reality of the Noble Path, 2600 years ago when he
was totally purged of defilement and became self enlightened. Thus
enlightened, he was able to acquire powers with which he could see
whatever thing that he so wished to see; time and distance being not a
barrier to such powers. Thus far, no other religious teacher has been
known to propound and teach this re-discovered natural law. The Buddha
further exhorted that to strive for the attainment of enlightenment should
be the ultimate goal of all.

THE THREE DIVISIONS OF THE 31 PLANES


These 31 planes are divided into three divisions:
First Division:
The Sensuous Planes/Planes of Sensual Pleasures:
[A] 4 Planes of Misery
Hell (Lowest Level)
Animals (2nd Level)
Hungry Ghosts (3rd Level)
Demons (Asuras) (4th Level)
[B] 7 Planes of Sensual Desires
1 Human Plane (5th Level)
6 Devas Planes (6th to 11th Level)

Second Division:
The Fine Material Planes (12th to 27th Level):
Consists of 16 Planes whose inhabitants (devas) experience extremely
refined degrees of mental pleasure. They are said to possess extremely
refined bodies of pure light. The purest of these planes, the Pure Abodes
(23rd to 27th Level), are accessible only to those who have attained to ‘non-
returning’, the third stage of arahant-hood.

Third Division:
The Non-Material Planes (28th to 31st Level):
Consists of 4 Planes that are the abodes of those who pass away while
meditating in the formless meditation. Beings of these 4 planes are
without form.
47

FIRST DIVISION: THE SENSUOUS PLANES


[A] 4 PLANES OF MISERY:
(a) Hell Plane
(b) Animal Plane
(c) Hungry Ghost Plane
(d) Demon Plane

(a) HELL PLANE


Bhante Suvanno: People do not like to hear or know of hell; they fight
shy even to consider that hell may just be real. They try to laugh it off as
an old wifes’ tale or a story designed to frighten naughty children. This
may be due to superstitious fears of the unknown or a dislike to be
associated with something they do not understand. Whatever they wish to
think, they cannot escape the fact that hell and all its accompanying
suffering does exists and it would be better to know about it, prepare not
to be in it, than to be the proverbial ostrich, hiding its head in the sand
hoping that by not seeing the unpleasant sights; it will be safe.

Here’s some news for them, though; they will still be subjected to the
conditions imposed by the natural laws and that these laws will bring
them to where they have conditioned themselves to be in; willingly or
unwillingly. Hell in all its many facets does exist; however, the good news
is heaven or heavens with all its equisite joys, too exist and better still; at
the end of the long dark tunnel there is light… Nibbana, freedom from
all suffering.

Hell, a state of unimaginable suffering and anguish (described in graphic detail


by the Buddha Himself in Majjhima Nikaya 129 and 130) is not in any way the
equivalent of the eternal hell universally propounded by other religions,
since one's time here is, as it is in every plane, temporary.
48

There are many concepts of hell; some has it as the abode of evil spirits, a
place of eternal punishment, of extreme torment, a place where departed
spirits abide and are on the lookout to snare unwary beings.

In the process of Enlightenment during the second watch of that night,


the Buddha was able to see the realities of hell and able to describe the
conditions in hell as we shall see:

Scriptural Texts: Exercising the power of divine eye, He observed


human and other living beings on the verge of death and at the
moment of conception into their future existences. He saw the base
and the noble, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the
miserable. He saw the base ones who committed evil by deeds,
words and thoughts; by reviling Noble people, by holding wrong
views; being reborn in miserable states. He saw the good
individuals, by good deeds, words and thoughts; not reviling the
Noble people and by holding right views, reborn in the happy
realms of Devas and Brahmas.

Bhante Suvanno: Hell or Niraya is a place of unimaginable torment.


Totally devoid of happiness, only suffering is to be found here. In this life,
if one does very harmful things, like killing, patricide or matricide, one will
condition the mind to be negative and unwholesome. When passing away
in this state of mind, one will surely find rebirth in this plane of great
torment, joining other negative-minded beings to partake the fruits of
their deeds for a very long time.

One must realise that being in hell is neither being punished by anyone,
nor is it a reward to be reborn in the heavenly planes; these states are
resultants conditional upon natural process of cause and effect. Just as
similar grains of sand gather to form a beach and birds of a feather flock
together, so do evil beings naturally attract and end up with other evil
beings. This same natural "law" applies in all planes.

Living beings are habit forming. Once a habit, either good or


unwholesome, is ingrained onto the mind, it will be the tendency of the
mind to align itself to like-minds especially so while at the moment of
death. For at this moment of finality the mind is seeking comfort and
assurance and the only thing that it finds comfort with and can relate to is
like minds. Then it will cling to like minds. Thus it is extremely difficult
for the mind to change its direction at the moment of death.
49

A drug addict will seek his own level of acquaintances to share their
common desires; drugs. They understand and relate to each other. They
have situations in common. These are unwholesome habits. Those in the
habit of doing wholesome deeds and practise mindfulness meditation will
by habit seek those of the same mind. They will be conditioned to find
rebirth amidst the same conditions.

A great renunciate wrote: “Dispersion of life” after death is worse than


death itself, for the four planes of misery down to the great Avici Hell
stand wide open to a worldling who is ignorant of the Dhamma. As soon
as a being’s kammic life term expires, he or she may fall into any of the
planes of misery; there being no intervening period of time. He may be
reborn as an animal, as a peta, a wretched shade or as an asura in the next
instant.

The same holds true for beings in the six planes of devas when they pass
away. However, for those beings from the material and immaterial planes
who pass away, there is no direct fall into the four planes of misery; there
is a halt of one existence either in the abode of men or in one of the six
planes of the devas, wherein, when they again pass away, conditioned by
kamma and unskillful actions while in the human abode, the being may yet
fall into one of the four planes of misery. There is thus no certainty in life
that a being will be reborn into this or that plane as desired.

SUFFERING IN HELL
The Buddha: Were it rightly speaking to be said of anything: ‘That
which is utterly unwished for, utterly undesired, utterly disagreeable’
disagreeable’,
it is
is of hell that, rightly speaking, this should be said, so much so that
it is hard to find a simile for
for the untold suffering in hell.

Bhante Suvanno: The suffering is so intense the Buddha said, that it is


not possible to describe fully the sufferings of those beings there. Even
their bones, nerves, flesh, heart, lungs, brains etc, are red hot, with
tongues of fire springing up from their skins resembling a red hot blazing
torch. Thus they remain for thousands or even millions, trillions and
descillions of years. Deaths and births of beings arise repeatedly in any of
the 31 Planes. The cumulative results of their actions in the many
previous life times condition their deaths and rebirths. These resultant of
actions that were done in times past, remaining inactive until conditions
cause their ripening to bear appropriate fruits.
50

Hell fire is white hot, immensely hot; very


much hotter than any fire we can imagine. A
rock as big as a pagoda crumbles instantly in
hell fire; thus beings burning in hell are
undergoing great pain, yet, said the Buddha:
They shall not die so long as their evil evil
kamma are not yet exhausted.
exhausted

Bhante Suvanno continues: Let us take a


moment to contemplate the realities of samsara.
We see a being reborn into this world; due to
some unwholesome deeds that he has performed previous to this
existence, he is reborn into a poor, underprivileged family and
environment. He struggles for survival. In the process of growing up he
undergoes privations, pain, sicknesses, poverty and abuse. He may suffer
some terrible disease or have deformities that make him odious to others.
Because of his limited intelligence he has to steal, kill or do other
unwholesome deeds to stay alive.

Finally he passes away and immediately is reborn (this time because of


good kamma ripening appropriate to this period) to favourable conditions
and he finds himself in a very prosperous situation; he is rich and famous
and is able to indulge in all sorts of excesses. After a prosperous life in
terms of worldly human values, he passes away. Not having done any
meritorious deeds, he may be reborn as an animal; a dog, a horse or even
an ant.

These changes and processes are repeated indefinitely for aeons and aeons
until we lose track of the beginning and we can see no ending to all these
rebirths. We see these changes as in a picture show. We have sat there
seeing his lives unfold before us and we know what that being has gone
through and for how lengthy a time that process has been going on. That
particular being had been undergoing that process for ever so long and
sadly, he does not see it. He does not see the senselessness of it, but as
viewers, we see his sufferings, his ignorance of what is happening to him,
we see his tragedies and his victories, his losses and his winnings, his loss
of his loved ones, the crimes he has committed, the punishment he has
borne for uncountable number of times, the diseases he has suffered for
ever so many times. We see his ups and downs; we see the forceful rivers
of greed, anger and delusion conditioning all his thoughts, speech and
51

deeds throughout the show; all these, we see repeated again and again, till
we as spectators just cannot bear the monotonous repetitiveness of the
process.

Youth ends in old age, health in sickness,


pain and suffering, life eventuating in death.
But to understand the situation in its full
depth and gravity, we must multiply these
processes by infinity. Numerous times
without beginning we have been going to
and from the endless rounds of existence,
encountering the same experiences again
and again in repetitious frequency; birth,
ageing, sickness and death, separation and
loss and failure and frustration. Repeatedly we have made the plunge into
the planes of misery; times beyond counting we have been animals, ghosts
and denizens of hell. Over and over we have experienced suffering,
violence, grief and despair.

The Buddha declares that the amount of tears and blood we have shed in
the course of our samsaric wandering is greater than the waters in all the
oceans of this world; the bones a single individual have left behind could
form a heap higher than the Himalayan Mountains. We have encountered
this suffering countless times in the past, and as long as the causes of our
becoming and passing away in samsara are not cut off, we risk meeting
more of the same in the course of our future wanderings.

From the script we know the way out and we are frustrated that he is so
forgetful that he does not remember the script, and thus cannot find the
way out. He keeps on doing the same thing again and again, exactly like a
guinea pig in a laboratory being experimented on. We, who are sitting
there watching, are seeking ways to tell that being the way out, but he is
too involved in his way of life to lift up his head to look at us or to listen
to the solution. Sometimes he is too busy enjoying all the sensuous things
that are happening to him to want to get away from the process. Mostly
he has been to the deepest pains of hell countless times; and yet he is as
blind as a new born mouse each time he finds rebirth in the human plane.

That in essence is the way of life of the general populace. They do not see
the senselessness of their actions, they are blinded by the cravings that has
developed in them through so many life times. Samsara is really tiresome
52

and yet we are “dying” to return to these suffering planes. We are born
into a life that in our ignorance, we think as brand new; because we have
forgotten that we have lived before. We go through life blind folded.
Those who have “little dust” in their eyes must wonder; which is worse;
wanderings in samsara or being in the hellish regions?

We must realise that in reality, we are the actors of the picture show we
have just seen, and that there is no single supreme being that directs the
show, rewards the good or punishes the evil doers; it is the ripening of the
results of deeds and the coming together of condition that results in
rebirth in samsara; the result of cause and effect. This is the cross each and
every being must carry with them without fail. This is the only inheritance
each and every being can and will have to bring along with them to their
new existence; nothing more, nothing less.

Scriptural Texts: All beings are owners of their deeds, the heirs of their deeds, their
deeds are the womb from which they sprang, with their deeds they are bound up, their
deeds are their refuge. Whatever deeds they do; good or evil, of that they will be the heirs.
AN. Book of Tens, 205

WHERE ARE THE HELL REGIONS?


Bhante Suvanno: Hell or Niraya is totally void of happiness. It is a region
assigned to those the fruits of whose evil deeds have ripened and
conditioned them to be reborn in these planes of suffering. Not only did
they perform evil deeds; they have not performed any form of meritorious
deeds during that period of their bad kamma, thus they are conditioned to
be reborn into the woeful planes.

However, as in all conditioned things, this state, or any state of their


existence is impermanent. At the end of their present lives, beings here
will be conditioned for rebirth to suffering or happy planes in this endless
samsara, depending on the conditions at passing away.

The Buddha tells us there are altogether eight great hells, which are
divided into other sub hells as in the following:

Maha Naraka (Greater Hell)


Scriptural Texts: There are eight pits each with 16 lesser hells. Encircled
by walls, roofs, floors of iron sheets blazing with white hot fire; the
atmosphere within these hellish pits are formidable, hair-raising, fearful,
53

terrible and so oppressive as beyond imagination. The Buddha said that


none can begin to picture the fearsomeness of hell.

1. Sanjiva Naraka: Those who kill and caused beings to be killed out
of greed, anger, delusion and fear. Here, they will suffer for thousands of
years, being tormented again and again, without losing life or
consciousness, as long as their bad kamma is not ended. They are hung
upside down and trimmed and cut with axes and knives. Their flesh grows
up again to undergo repeated tortures. They possess nails like claws of
iron and with these they lash out at one another in their pain and anger.
Often their bodies collapse with very cold, icy winds while their limbs are
ablaze with hell fire. This is in retribution for the harm they have done to
others; harm in robbing, plundering and murdering innocent beings;
destroying farms, fields and houses as hostile warring kings, thieves,
robbers and soldiers. Their wrong doings involved in cutting up beings
and creatures and having them as food and encouraging others to do so.

2. Kalasutta Naraka: Hell warders after lashing suffering beings with


black wire, cut them into pieces; even so they do not die and their flesh
grows up again.
The warders drive them from place to place, cutting them with black
wire, hoe, knives, saws, etc. Heated iron sheets are wrapped round their
bodies; and after a while and repeatedly, with skin and flesh stuck on,
these iron sheets are removed, tearing up skin, flesh and oozing blood.
Mercilessly, as they have done to their victims, warders rend them from
heel to neck. They suffer horrendous agony. In their unimaginable pain,
they dash against one another; seeking relief; screaming and crying with
the greatest of agony. Relief do not come and still they do not die; for as
long as their bad kamma is not worn off, they will remain in that state to
suffer the results of their actions; again and yet again as long as the results
of their unwholesome actions remain.
What kamma has brought them to this state of affairs? Torturing
people, chaining and dragging slaves along, forcing their victims to labour
until they drop dead, executing all forms of torment, like cutting off
others’ noses, finger; poking them with hot spikes, burning cigarettes
butts on their bodies, putting heavy chains on slaves; ill treating slaves,
even step children. They cause harm to friends and parents. They lie and
use back-biting words. They kill human beings, use bhikkhus robes falsely
for the sake of carrying out their criminal acts.
54

3. Sanghata Naraka: Inmates here have caused agonies to animals by


herding and crowding them together. They had tortured animals such as
pigs, goats, hares, deer, jackals even insects with overcrowding, with
hunger, with poor breathing space, with unliveable conditions and
eventually killed them for resale. In hell, they are thus herded together and
beaten to death, but they do not die as long as the evil kamma in them has
not been worked out. The place is smoky and dark. Two mountains of
hot blazing iron move in to crush them like mills crushing sugar cane.
Blood flows like a river, but they do not die. Maddened by pain, they dash
about and claw at each other. Merciless hell guards beat them up with
iron-tipped pestles, but still they do not die; they only know intense pain
and suffering.

4. Roruva Naraka: Here beings scream and cry in great pain as fire
passes into their nine orifices (eyes, ears, noses, mouths, urinary passages
and anuses). When the fire is intense; loud will be their cries and screams;
when the fire is reduced, their crying and screaming will be reduced, when
the fire ceases their crying and screaming too, will cease. At its lowest, the
fire is again intensified; thus the whole torturing process is repeated again
and again. The crying and screaming will rise from a low pitch to the
highest crescendo, as their agonies ebb and wane so will the cries of their
sufferings ebb and wane. Still they will not die and their suffering will
continue as long as they have not worked out their bad kamma.
What kamma has brought them to such a hell? This is due to their
cheating, swindling poor wretched and helpless people, torturing enslaved
beings who have no protection or refuge, starting forest fires, setting fire
or pungent smoke at entrance of animal dens, rats, snakes, poisoning of
monkeys, burning of villages and bhikkhus huts, causing mental and
physical pain to others and all manner of atrocities that cause pain and
suffering to others.

5. Great Roruva Naraka: Horrible, shore-less, abysmal and impassable.


Warders with scourges strike them mercilessly on their heads. The place is
one great mass of burning iron. Beings cry very loudly, so loud that they
are heard by human beings.
What kamma had brought them here? Those who imprison creatures
in places without sunlight, moonlight, unhealthy conditions, with no food
or improper food, steal from bhikkhus, temples, teachers and hermits.
They will be crying loudly: “mother, father”. But no one is there to help
them. They alone committed the unwholesome acts, they themselves will
have to reap the fruits of their deeds.
55

6. Tapana Naraka (burning, heat): Flames of fire on four sides, above


and below. Warders beat them with iron rods. Hellish vultures devour
them; grounded by iron grinders, cold winds blow and their flesh grows
again, only to be pushed in again. Warders toast them on iron spits till
they look like badly burnt satay.

7. Maha Tapana is a fearful mountain. It is a solid mass of fire and


beings are constantly roasted and burnt here.
What kamma brings beings here? They are here because they have
caused other beings and animals to be hopelessly tied up and cruelly killed;
they have caused others to be killed and they have put fear into them
before killing them; they have harboured wrong views and beliefs that
involve killing virtuous people.

8. Avici Naraka: Here, beings are packed to the full, like mustard seeds
in a bamboo tube. It is very crowded here. Beings with remnants of
unwholesome kamma are made to lie down on their backs and iron spears
are pierced through their hands, legs and chest. They are struck with axes
repeatedly and they bleed profusely, and they look as though they are
being fried in their own blood. The floor and the four sides are red hot
iron sheets. The suffering here are continuous, without a break. Beings
become so hot that their bodies are like torches of flames. As they are
pinned down by iron spikes, there is “no escape” whatsoever.
The gates open at times for those who have ended their stay here;
and those beings who still have to endure their suffering, rush to it,
hoping to escape, only to see the gates close before they can get near it.
They cry in great agony.
What kamma brings these beings here? Those who commit the
four deadly evils of injuring a Buddha, killing an arahant, causing a division
in the monastic order, killing mother or father, and those with very evil
wrong views are reborn here.

There are further 12 divisions in this Avici Naraka, namely:


1. Pahasa Niraya 7. Atata Niraya
2. Aparajita Niraya 8. Kumuda Niraya
3. Ambuda Niraya 9. Sogandhika Niraya
4. Nirabudda Niraya 10. Uppalaka Niraya
5. Ababa Niraya 11. Pundarika Niraya
6. Ahaha Niraya 12. Maha Paduma Niraya

Each of these eight Great Hells has 5 lesser hells:


56

1. Gutha Naraka; a hell fermenting with excrement and swarms of


worms where those who earn their livelihood by dishonest means
are eaten by the worms. Husbands scolding wives for doing dana,
vice versa will end up in a hell full of worms and being eaten up by
these worms.
2. Kukkula Naraka; a hell where beings are fried like mustard seeds
on a burning pan.
3. Simpalivana Naraka; a hell where trees with fruits are seen, and
beings on rushing there for shelter are attacked by birds and
carnivorous dogs, etc. Here everyone fights with one another.
Adulterers and adulteresses embrace figures that are red-hot.
4. Asipattavana Naraka; a hell of forests with great sword leaves.
Traitors, thieves are forced to swallow molten copper balls.
Butchers are eaten by dogs with large iron-like teeth.
5. Vettarani Naraka; rivers of corrosive acid and filth, hot as molten
brass. Women inducing abortion and those who kill aquatic animals
and those who fish will find themselves here.

• Those who are envious, cherish anger, or become happy at the sight
of suffering of others are reborn as birds, etc.
• Those who are fools are reborn as insects.
• Those who are haughty and proud are reborn as snakes.
• Those who neglect friends are reborn as asses and dogs.
• Those who are envious and miserly are reborn as monkeys.
• Those who are garrulous, fickle and shameless are reborn as crows.
• Those who give trouble to elephants, horses and such animals are
reborn as parrots and scorpions.
• Those who are miserable, irritable and fond of backbiting are reborn
as tigers, cats, boars, etc.
• Those who are charitable but angry and haughty are reborn as
garudas and nagas with great psychic powers.

Each minor hell has a population of not less than all of the 27 happy,
sensuous planes put together! Beings in hell far out-number all those
in the other 30 planes of existence; they are packed tight as mustard
seeds in a jar.

Such are the places of torment that beings whose conduct had been bad
in thoughts, words or deeds will find rebirth at death. Those who have
been guilty of atrocious crimes, such as that of Devadatta, who tried to kill
57

the Buddha but the rock that he threw at the Buddha, grazed His foot and
drew blood instead, will be destined for Avici hell.

Once the King of Kurus mentioned that people left their homes, shaved
their heads and put on the yellow robe because of; old age, sickness, loss
of relatives and loss of wealth. These are not the best reasons! But there
are worse: laziness and desire for an easy life, to get one's belly filled, for
instance. There were such bhikkhus in the Buddha's days and now they can
certainly be found everywhere. Thus they become bhikkhus with the
wrong views and intentions.

Most times too, ignorant devotees corrupt bhikkhus and in their ignorance
encourage untrained bhikkhus to adopt wrong attitudes. Such actions by
untrained bhikkhus and ignorant devotees are unwholesome and they are
destined for the unhappy planes at death. Because of the vows that bind
the bhikkhus to a strictly holy life of abstinence, the results of their actions
reap much, much heavier fruits than those of the ignorant devotees. The
Buddha said that untrained monks who perform such actions are better
off eating red hot iron balls rather that they continue eating alms of the
people, for at death the suffering will be of an untold severity.
(Dhammapada 307/308)

HELL’S DURATION
Bhante Suvanno: This question was asked by a certain monk during a
discourse given by the Buddha, and the Buddha gave a reply that will be
demonstrative of the time frame of “how long” suffering is when a being
is unfortunate to be reborn into the apaya regions.

Bhikkhu: Pray, Lord, how long is the measure of life in Maha Paduma
Niraya?
The Buddha: Long indeed, bhikkhu,
bhikkhu, is the measure of life in Paduma
Niraya.
Niraya. It were no easy thing to reckon it thus, so many years or so
many
many centuries or so many thousands of years or so many hundreds
of thousands of years.
Bhikkhu: But Lord, can a figure be made?
The Buddha: It can bhikkhu,
bhikkhu, suppose a cartload of twenty measures
of sesamum seeds, and suppose that at the end of every century o
one
ne
took out a single seed. Sooner would that cartload of twenty
58

measures of sesamum seed be used up and finished by this method


than the period of the Ambuda Niraya.
Niraya.

The Buddha continues: Just as are twenty such, such is one


Nirabudda Niraya.
Niraya. Twenty of these
these make one Ababa…twenty of
these one Ahaha…twenty of these one Atata Niraya;
Niraya; of
of these
twenty make one Kumuda Niraya;
Niraya; of
of these twenty make one
Sogandhika Niraya;
Niraya; of
of these twenty make one Uppalaka Niraya;
Niraya;
twenty of these make one Pundarika Niraya and twenty
twenty of these
make one Paduma Niraya.
Niraya. (An. Bk. of Tens Ch.9 [89])

Bhante Suvanno: Compare this time frame of constant suffering in hell


against the life span of between seventy to a hundred years of sensual
pleasures in our human existence and you can imagine the amount of
suffering in the regions of hell!

Furthermore, the Buddha said that what he had explained was what he
knew for himself. The seeds of results of good or bad are for us to plant
and reap for ourselves. We cannot plant grass seeds and expect to reap
rice. We cannot remain inactive and expect to gain perfect freedom.

This discourse can serve as a very timely warning to us all. The scene that
the Buddha describes in which a person reborn in hell is taken to the king
of death, Yama, might appear to be judgement being meted out. Yama’s
role is one of a counsellor advising incoming beings that the cause of their
rebirth in hell was due to their own past deeds and that they were reaping
their dues caused by their negligence to heed the signs of the divine
messengers.

The old, the sick, the suffering and the dying; these are messengers giving
a fair warning of the pitfalls ahead, if we but are mindful and be aware of
them. They are, in fact, part and parcel of the conditioned world we live in.
We ignore them at our own peril! Or, if we try to reason them away,
denying the law of cause and effect, we will still be subjected to the
workings of this law. As the Buddha said, denying that we will reap the
results of our volitional actions; both good and bad; is the most dangerous
of all wrong beliefs because this will lead to irresponsible behaviour and
to the lowest region in hell.
59

Bhante Suvanno continues: Another important point to remember is


that hell is not a place where beings suffer for eternity. These descriptions
of the various hells should not add to our fears and anxieties but should
rather serve to spur us on to strive to escape from continual birth, old age,
sickness, suffering and death. Like the Bodhisatta, who gave up worldly
pleasures on seeing an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man;
we can feel a sense of urgency as we observe the realities of life around us
and reflect on the results of evil deeds.

What we have to do is very simple; we must do good deeds - good deeds


through bodily actions, good deeds through what we say; good deeds
through what we think. This is very simple, but anyone who has made an
effort to do good knows how difficult it is. This is why we need as much
help as we can. Our best help, of course, is found in the Buddha’s
Teachings, especially the Noble Eightfold Path.

We can strive to develop generosity in all our actions; observe the moral
precepts at all times; develop control over our minds through learning
how to be mindful; deepen our direct understanding of the reality of the
conditioned world through meditation and developing insight.

And we can be mindful of the many things that help us to accomplish


these tasks, such as associating with good friends who have the same
goals and who encourage us, studying the Buddha’s Teachings so that our
theoretical understanding can enable us to advance in what we know
through personal experiences. Thus:

“Good people here in this life are warned; do not dwell in ignorance,
but practising well the noble Dhamma. Clinging they look upon
with fear, for it produces birth and death. And by not clinging they
are freed. In the destruction of birth and death, they dwell in bliss
for they are safe. And reach Nibbana here and now. They are
beyond all fear and hate; they have escaped all suffering”
(MN-Devaduta Sutta 130)

It is no wonder that people choose not to know about hell! Ignorance is


bliss and they can go on doing the evil deeds that they are doing without
fear. Their cravings are stronger than their fears.

Most people think: “Sensuous pleasures are more fun and gratification is
immediate, hell is in the indistinct future and may not be true, so why
60

worry; after all the distant future may never come, anyway I shall have
time when I retire to do good, thus I have the best of both worlds, enjoy
now and do good later. That should do and I shall still be able to make up
for lost time and in the meantime I have enjoyed to my fullest the best of
both worlds”!

These four lower planes are unhappy or suffering (dukkha) planes. There
is no opportunity to be good or to do good here.

In the four woeful planes of existence, beings too have the five senses:
they see, hear, smell, taste and touch. However, their faculties can only be
conscious of sufferings! Their existence in the lower planes has suffering
as the sole objective, there is no occasion for happiness, sense of pleasure,
recreation or performance of any deeds that causes happiness. Beings here
are also unable to choose to do good, hence they do not have any
opportunities to accumulate merits. Their consciousness is only for
sufferings. They cannot choose to do one iota of good! They can only
suffer, so much suffering that the Buddha said: “…it is hard to find a
simile for the suffering in hell”.

THE BUDDHA DESCRIBES HELL


Bhante Suvanno: The Buddha further elaborated on just a fraction of
the fruits of evil deeds:

The Buddha: Now the wardens of hell torture him with the fivefold
transfixing. They drive a red-
red-hot iron stake through one hand, they
drive a red-
red-hot iron stake through the other hand, they drive a red
red--
hot iron stake through one foot, they drive a red-
red-hot iron stake
through the other foot, they drive a red-
red-hot iron stake through his
belly.
Next the wardens of hell throw him down and pare him with
axes.
axes. There he feels painful, racking, piercing feelings. Yet he does
not die so long as that evil action has not exhausted its result.
Next the wardens of hell set him with his feet up and his
head down and pare him with adzes. There he feels painful, racking,
racking,
piercing feelings.
61

Next the wardens of hell harness him to a chariot and drive


him back and forth across burning ground, blazing and glowing.
There he feels painful, racking, piercing feelings.
Next the wardens of hell make him climb up and down a
great mound of burning coals, blazing and glowing. There he also
feels painful, racking and piercing feelings.
Next the wardens of hell take him feet up first and head
down and plunge him into a red-
red-hot metal cauldron, burning, blazing
and glowing. He is cooked
cooked there in a swirl of froth. And as he is
being cooked there in a swirl of froth, he is swept now up, now down,
now across.
Next the wardens of hell throw him into the Great Hell.
Now as to that Great Hell, bhikkhus:
bhikkhus: It has four corners and is built
with four doors, one set in each side, walled
walled up with iron and all
around,
around, and
and shut in with an iron roof. Its floor as well is made of iron
and heated till it glows with fire. The range is a full hundred leagues
which it covers all-
all-pervasively.
Thus, these residents of hell feel painful, racking, piercing
feelings. Yet they do not die so long as their evil actions have not
exhausted the result.

Bhante Suvanno: Yes, hell is very real indeed. It can be likened to a huge
furnace, flames shooting out from all sides including top and bottom.
Doors lead to and from this furnace like chambers. There are altogether
eight chambers. The flames are constantly burning and there is no switch
to shut off the flame and the great horrendous heat. Their bones, nerves,
flesh, heart, lungs, brains and skin are burning hot, so hot that flames
shoot out from them.

In hell, they will remain for hundreds of thousands of years, even millions
of years or trillions, descillions of years*. There they will remain
experiencing sufferings. There are many beings in hell, just like mustard
62

seeds packed into a bamboo tube. (trillion = 1 followed by 18 zeros; descillion = 1


followed by 60 zeros).

The Buddha: Bhikkhus,


Bhikkhus, I could tell
tell you in many ways about hell; so
so
much so that it is hard to find a simile
simile for the suffering in hell.
(MK.129.7; for more description of the results of wrong deeds see Visudhimagga I.156)

Bhante Suvanno: Suffering in hell is indeed great. Being forewarned by


no less a person than the Buddha himself, who, with his enlightened
powers, saw actually as it happened; human beings have the good fortune
to be able to determine their own course of actions in this present
existence to determine in a big way the degree of happiness or suffering in
their future existences.
63

(b): ANIMAL PLANE:

Bhante Suvanno: This plane includes


all the non-human forms of life that are
visible to us under ordinary
circumstances: animals, insects, fish,
birds, worms, etc.

Animals live in unsafe and fearful


environment; birds flying in the sky may
seem beautiful and carefree, but they are
searching for food or material to build
their nests with, looking after their
young and looking out for danger as a
matter of survival. Birds and animals are
always afraid that someone or something is going kill them for food, so
they live with fear and worry.

Animals have no choice but to hunt for food, fight and kill to stay alive.
They mark and guard their territory and are hostile to intruders. They do
not have many options in life; they are bound and restricted by their
environment, intelligence, and instincts. Some animals may appear
fortunate, house pets and such, but are they really? On the whole though,
animal life is about struggle for survival, about fear and uncertainty.

People who do not keep their five precepts well, who are deluded, not
differentiating between wholesome and unwholesome deeds, not
believing in kamma, desiring sensuous pleasures such as sex, food and
craving amusement to the extremes have great potential to be reborn in
the animal world.

At death and burdened with unwholesome tendencies they are reborn in


the animal world. Some are born with eyes, some without, some with legs
some without, some with two legs, some with four legs and some with
many legs. Some are born on land, some under the earth, some in water,
some burrow the ground, wriggle, hop, fly, swim, crawl or walk. Some
have good food and homes while others are disliked by all. Some are not
able to find food and are liable to be killed or thrown away with eyes still
closed. Some have intelligence and some are without. All have delusions
of various degrees.
64

Generally animals have comparatively short life span, though a few


species exceed human life span. Whatever it may be, their lives are
conditioned by uncertainty and fear, not knowing when their next meal
will be and what or who will kill and use them for food! In a way, animals
see other animals as their food chain.

The animal world is a world of bullies. The larger animals bully the
smaller ones, the strong takes advantage of the weak. What are some of
the characteristics of animals?

Firstly, they do not have sense of shame or morality. Their self-


preservation instincts are such that they procreate with their one-time
parents. Animals do not have sense of filial piety, thus they do not have
concern for the older animals. Here again, those who do not do much
wholesome deeds to gather merits and do not respect their parents, the
elderly and those on the holy path, have greater opportunities of being
reborn in the animal world.

Those who do not observe the no-killing precept have the tendencies of
animals and thus seldom practise metta or any form of mental
development. They care little for what other beings feel and when they are
reborn as animals, they have short life span. As animals, they may be
killed for fun, for food or because of undue fear of them. Seldom do
animals live a secure life; seldom do they live to a ripe old age. The big
and strong will pounce on the small and weak, killing them for food. The
larger animals will seek to dominate others of their own breed and fight
each other to establish their supremacy. Elephants go alone to the
deepest jungle to die on their own when they have lost the leadership of
the clan and when they know the time has come. There they die, just as
humans do…all alone and by themselves…a lonely death.

People who never do any charity, are stingy or try to discourage others
who are on their way to do dana can be reborn as animals, suffering
extreme hunger and thirst. Undue attachment is another cause of rebirth
in the animal world.

EXAMPLE OF BEINGS BORN AS ANIMALS


Bhante Suvanno continues: Tissa, an elder of Savatthi, was given a length
of coarse cloth as a gift and handed it to his sister to be made into a robe.
She pounded and spun the cloth into fine yarn and made of it a soft robe-
cloth. At first Tissa would not accept it but was prevailed upon to do so
65

and had it made into a soft robe by skilled robe makers. He died on the
night it was finished and, as a result of his fancy for it, was reborn as a
louse in the robe. After his death, the bhikkhus wished to divide the robe
but the louse started shouting. The Buddha, hearing this by his power of
divine audience, asked the bhikkhus to lay the robe aside for seven days. At
the end of that period, the louse died and was reborn in Tusita heaven.
(Ref: Dhammapadatthakatha, 5 vol PTS. iii.341 ff)

While other ladies were building rest-houses, making gardens and


repairing roads for poor travellers, Sujata, one of Sakka’s wives and also
another woman, Queen Upari spent their time decorating themselves,
thinking that, “so long as I do not do wicked deeds it should be alright”.
But the Buddha said, “not doing good is unhealthy, because when the
mind is not immersed in good, it will dwell on evil thoughts”.

Sujata, immediately at death was reborn as a very beautiful bird living near
a mountain stream in the Himalayas. Queen Upari, at death was reborn as a
very colourful beetle.

The Buddha said that the mind tends toward delight in evil! Those who
think bad thoughts, speak bad words, and do bad deeds are people who
will in most possibilities be reborn in the animal world. According to their
tendencies while they were in the human world they will be reborn
accordingly. Such as:

People who normally find delight in tastes here and there and do evil
actions will at death be reborn in the animal world where they are grass
eaters; such as elephants, horses, donkeys, goats, deers and such like
animals. Such people too at death will be reborn in the company of dung
eaters, such as fowls, pigs, dogs, jackals and such like animals. Smelling
dung even from a distance, they will run to it thinking; “we can eat, we
can eat”. They live in filth and squalor.

These people too may be reborn in dark places on passing away. They will
become moths, maggots and earthworms. They may also be reborn in the
water and be fishes, turtles, crocodiles and such like watery creatures.
They will be reborn and die in the water. They may also be reborn and die
as creatures that live in rotting corpses, rotting fishes, in cesspool, sewers
and such like places. (Ref: MN. Balapandita Sutta, 129)
66

It pays to keep the precepts, perform wholesome deeds, take care of


parents and the elderly, practise Metta and Vipassana meditation. Thus,
even though past unwholesome kamma causes us to be reborn as animals,
we will be cushioned by a protective shield of wholesome deeds that will
certainly help to reduce unwholesome results of previous kamma at the
least or help to overcome their effect totally.

ANIMALS HAVE ONLY THREE PERCEPTIONS:


Bhante Suvanno: They know only sensual objects; know how to eat;
have fear of death and the instinct to procreate.

In the time of the Buddha, a naga


after listening to the Dhamma
disguised himself as a human
being and requested ordination.
He was ordained and strived hard
at meditation. One day while
meditating, he was overcome with
tiredness and promptly fell asleep.
At rest his body returned to the
snake-like form of a naga. This was reported to the Buddha who asked the
naga to disrobe.

After such an incident the Buddha made a ruling that during ordination,
an intending applicant for bhikkhuship, should confirm his human state.
No other beings, except human were to be accepted as a candidate for
bhikkhuship. In the time of the Buddha, there were many animals capable
of performing kusala deeds, such as:

THE NAGA MUCALINDA


Bhante Suvanno: On Enlightenment, the Buddha contemplated the bliss
of Arahantship under the Mucalinda tree. At that time a great rain fell. A
very powerful Naga king, Mucalinda, who ruled the Naga abode underneath
the lake nearby thought:
67

Mucalinda: This great rain fell as soon as the Blessed One took shelter in
my abode. It will be good if I can provide a proper dwelling place for the
Buddha. I will create a great mansion for that purpose; however, it will be
of greater benefit if I should render my own personal service to the
Buddha.

Bhante Suvanno: Thus, with this good intention in mind, he encircled


the Buddha seven times providing a
shelter with his extended hood so that
the cold, heat, gnats, mosquitoes and
flies could not harm Him.

ELEPHANT AND MONKEY IN


THE PARILEYYA FOREST
Bhante Suvanno: Once, the Buddha
wishing to be alone for some time, set
out for the Parileyya Forest. On reaching
the forest and after meeting with some
of his devoted disciples who were living
alone there, the Buddha rested under a
huge sala tree. Now a certain full-grown
male elephant, the leader of a herd, was
living in the forest with females and
young ones. Feeling a bit restless, the
elephant left the herd and wandered off. After a while it happened to
come to the sala tree where the Buddha was alone by himself.

The elephant on seeing the Buddha seated at the foot of the sala tree, felt
calm like a man who had his grief allayed by the cool waters of a thousand
pools. A great feeling of devotion to the Buddha arose in him and he
stood gazing at the Buddha. From that moment, he wanted to serve the
Buddha and made it his daily duty to sweep the ground where the Buddha
sat. Daily he brought water to the Buddha for washing His face, he
fetched water for bathing, he offered small twigs as tooth cleaner, he
brought sweet, delicious fruits of different sizes and offered them to the
Buddha and cared for the Buddha in any way he could.

When the Buddha entered the village for alms, the elephant would carry
the Buddha’s alms bowl and robe on his head and accompanied him up to
the edge of the village. There the Buddha would take the bowl from him
and the elephant would await His return, whereupon he would again take
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the alms bowl and robes and return to the tree with the Buddha. Whilst
the Buddha was meditating, he would stand guard to ensure that the
Buddha was not endangered in any way. He would fan and ward off any
pests and insects from disturbing the Buddha. In this way, the elephant,
protected and served the Buddha during His tenth vassa period in the
Parileyya Forest.

Later, when the Buddha returned to Savatthi, the elephant died of a


broken heart. For the good deed that he had done, the elephant was
reborn in Tavatimsa Heaven and lived in a golden palace, where he came
to be known as Parileyyaka-devaputta.

At this time, a monkey seeing the daily duties of the elephant became
inspired and thought to himself; “I too would like to gain some merit by
serving the Master”. One day finding some honeycomb devoid of bees, he
brought it to offer to the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the honey. The
monkey noticed that the Buddha was just holding and not eating the
honey. Wondering why, he investigated, and taking the honey-comb he
turned it around and saw the bee-eggs still stuck onto the comb. Carefully,
he removed the bee-eggs and offered it again to the Buddha. Only then
did the Buddha partake of the honey. So elated was the monkey that he
danced moving from tree to tree and whilst doing so, a branch on which
he was jumping from broke and he fell on a tree stump. The stump
pierced his body and with the joy and his mind devoted to the Buddha he
died and was straightaway reborn in a golden mansion in the deva abode of
Tavatimsa.

In the many past lives of the Buddha, as told by Himself in the Jataka
Tales He had been reborn as various animals such as a naga, hare, parrot,
deer, bull, quail, horse, dog, monkey and various other types of animals.
69

(c): HUNGRY GHOSTS PLANE


Bhante Suvanno: Ghosts or petas and unhappy beings are found
wandering about in this plane. They are also referred to as hungry ghosts;
they are constantly hungry and can never get enough to eat. They have
huge stomachs and tiny, little mouths. Greed, lacking practice in sharing
and giving (dana), are some of the
conditions to find rebirth here.
Beings here are unable to gather
merits thus the merits of
wholesome deeds we perform
should be shared with them as
this will help them find better
rebirths. Earth bound devas, petas,
yakkhas, gandhabbas, nagas,
kumbhandas, together with other
supernatural beings such as
terrestrial devas, tree devas, the
guardian spirits of lakes and
mountains, demons, troublesome
spirits of various nature and animals are our co-residents on the earth
plane.

Petas are found amongst forests, mountains and hills, water ways and seas,
rivers and lakes, tunnels and caves, old and uninhabited dwellings,
abandoned and derelict buildings, alongside cross roads, cemeteries,
rubbish heaps, under bridges and by-ways. They are found where there
are dirt and filth. They alone, suffer from the results of their evil deeds.
Their friends, relations and families are not there to help elevate their
suffering and pain, because they too are suffering on their very own as he
is suffering. Each one reaps the results of his or her own deeds himself or
herself! No one is responsible for another’s action!

Beings find rebirth as hungry ghosts or petas and animals, due to the
degree of anger, greed and delusion in their past lives. In previous
existences they had neither shown respect nor treated their parents,
relatives, the elderly and others well and had instead done many
unwholesome deeds and thus have not been able to accumulate merits to
enable good rebirth at the present time. Lacking merits from wholesome
deeds, at death they again find rebirth in the peta world, animal world or
hell regions for a very long time to come. Already existing in the unhappy
70

planes due to their unwholesome kamma and unable to gather merits, such
unfortunate beings will find rebirth in the human plane extremely rare.

Animals enjoy and find happiness in simple things, but the peta and the
hell beings are totally devoid of happiness. Their whole existence is
suffering according to their deeds. Thus they are far, far away from
happiness.

Petas and hell beings are different in the respect that hell beings are
confined in the different hells. In hell, the beings are as good as being
kept in a strongly guarded jail; locked and bonded, unable to have a single
moment of freedom from the suffering they are undergoing. The binding
strength of their kamma keeps them there; there is no escape for even a
brief breathing spell, let alone be left off for a short time to respite and
recuperate as is believed by many.

Petas roam from place to place, having no abode of any kind. They seek
only places where there are no others around. They have such appalling
appearances that they do not wish to be seen at all. Petas have large bodies
but pin holes as mouths; thus they are always unable to have enough to
satisfy their gnawing hunger and are always scavenging for food, which
are things like phlegm, spittle, putrid food, thrown away menstruating
blood and such like human waste.

Some petas being much oppressed with great hunger, have mouths that
emit flames just like a furnace emitting flames. Some have very large
abdomen but throats about the size of the eye of a needle, thus they
cannot take sufficient food and are constantly hungry. They are always
roaming in search of food. If they are unable to find food, they will
consume other type of substances, such as spilt blood from any creatures
including human beings, impure blood and pus from the sick and diseased,
even from other petas.

Depending on their mental disposition petas have different appearances.


Some petas as a result of envy and selfishness during their existence as
human beings, have long unkempt beards, distorted faces (due to mental
disposition brought on by extreme selfishness and greed when as humans), loose,
drooping jaws, lean, coarse and dark coloured parts on their bodies,
resembling burnt trees.
71

Petas are not born as in a human birth but are spontaneously born with
memory of their previous lives and the reason why they are reborn in the
woeful planes of existence. They also realise why they have the
appearance that they possess as petas. Due to their bad behaviour as
humans, even as petas, their living relatives will forget their existence and
they are often forgotten when merits are shared after a dana or after some
meritorious deeds performed by living relatives. This is shown clearly in
the story of King Bimbisara below. The sufferings endured by petas can be
relieved through the merits transferred to them by dana and wholesome
deeds done by friends and relatives.

THE STORY OF KING BIMBISARA


Bhante Suvanno: At one time, when the Buddha was at Rajagaha and had
caused King Bimbisara and his retinue of one hundred and ten thousand
Brahmins to be established in stream entry, the first stage of arahanthood,
the king invited the Buddha to the Golden Palace on the next day to
accept a great dana. Petas who had been relatives of the King in aeons past,
came and stood surrounding him with the hope that; ‘Our former relative,
King Bimbisara will share his merits with us, he will presently make the
announcement of his merit-sharing’.

But having performed the great meritorious deed, the King was only
thinking, ‘Where would the Blessed One reside’? and failed to share the
merits. The petas expressed their indignation by making terrible outcries
and groans in the King’s palace at the dead of night. Thoroughly shaken,
frightened and alarmed by the uproar, the King went to the Buddha at
daybreak and paying respectful homage, asked:

King Bimbisara: Lord, I heard such frightful noises last night, what
would be their effect on me?
The Buddha: Have no fear,fear, Great King,
King, those noises will have no ill
effects upon you at all. Those are your former relatives, that have
been reborn in the plane of peta,
peta, are roaming about waiting for you
throughout the innumerable world-
world-cycles that intervened between
the appearance
appearance of one Buddha and another. They had hoped to
receive the share of merits of the good deeds done by you. You
failed to share your merits with them after your meritorious deeds
72

yesterday, and deprived of any hope of receiving the share of your


merits, they
they caused that frightful din.

On hearing the Buddha’s reply, the King addressed the Buddha:

King Bimbisara: Lord, if I perform a dana again and share my merits


gained thereby, will they be able to receive them?
The Buddha: Yes, Great King, King, they
they will be able
able to receive them.
King Bimbisara: This being so, may the Blessed One accept the great
dana to be performed by me today. I will announce the sharing of merits
with my former relatives.

The Buddha signified his acceptance by remaining silent.

The King went back to the palace and made the necessary arrangements
for the offering of a magnificent dana, and when all the arrangements were
completed, the time was appropriate to send for the Buddha. The Buddha
together with the community of bhikkhus arrived, and sat at the prepared
seat. The petas who were the King’s former relatives were also present at
the dana, with the hope, “Today, surely we are going to receive the share
of merits”, and stood waiting outside the walls.

The Buddha, exercising His powers, enabled the King to see the peta
relatives. The King then dedicate the merits gained:

King Bimbisara: Idam me natinam hotu: May the merits of this dana be for
the well-being of my past relatives.

At that very moment there appeared ponds with many kinds of lotus for
their enjoyment. All his past relatives were able to drink the water in the
ponds and took bath in them. Thus freed from miseries, worries,
weariness and thirst, they acquired golden complexion.

Again, the King offered various hard and soft food to the community of
bhikkhus headed by the Buddha, and as before dedicated the merits of the
dana to his past relatives. At that very moment, various kinds of celestial
food appeared for the petas consumption. Partaking of these divine meals
voraciously, the petas assumed fresh, healthy physical appearance complete
with all the sense faculties of eye, nose, ear, tongue and body.
73

Then the King proceeded to offer robes, sleeping and dwelling places to
the community of bhikkhus headed by the Buddha, and as the merits were
dedicated to the peta relatives, there too appeared divine garments, divine
carriages, celestial mansions complete with beds, beddings, bed spreads
and various kinds of ornamental clothing for their use. The King was
overjoyed.

The story of King Bimbisara will not be complete if we do not point out
that this was a very special form of dana. This was a dana done specially
for the benefit of past relatives of King Bimbisara as advised by the
Buddha Himself at the life time of the Buddha. These relatives had been
waiting for a period of 92 kappas at the time of the Buddha Phussa for this
dana to happen.

Thus, this dana bore great fruit for King Bimbisara and also for the petas, as
they loudly thanked the King by saying “sadhu, sadhu, sadhu” after the
dedication of merits to them. This was a meritorious deed by the petas in
itself. Thus they were able to receive direct benefits from the offerings
made.

From this, it can be assumed that certain type of dana can directly benefit
the petas. (Commentary to the Tirokutta Sutta)
74

(d): THE DEMON PLANE:

Asura demons or titans are of


gigantic size, powerful and warlike;
constantly engaged in relentless
conflict with one another. Rahu, an
asura chief, is four thousand eight
hundred leagues in height. It is said
that when he steps into the ocean,
the waters in its deepest part reaches
only to his knees.

Another asura, Kalakancika has a


body three gavutas (a little less than
two miles) in size, but as he is of
scanty flesh and blood, his
complexion is like the colour of a
weathered leaf. His eyes, lying on his head, protrude like those of a lobster.
Since the mouth is the size of the eye of a needle, also lying on the head,
he has to bend forward to pick up the food if he finds any at all.

There are a few types of asuras. Some are like devas from Tavatimsa Heaven,
living at the foot of Mt. Sineru. Some live in the human world as earth
bound devas. Some live in forests, mountains, trees, caves and such places.
Some are more powerful than others; some are like hungry ghosts; some
enjoy at night but suffer in the daytime; some are aggressive and fight
each other.

The demon plane is so completely dark that no sunlight can penetrate. It


is only when a Bodhisatta is conceived (as a human) in his mother’s womb
for the last time that a brilliant light would appear, illuminating many a
world system including such places described above, where even the most
powerful light could not penetrate. The place is not only completely dark
but extremely cold. Beings there perch onto the sides of the three
cakavalas as bats perch onto the roof of a cave. When they meet they take
the others for food and in biting one another, they lose their grip and fall
into the cold, corrosive waters below. They dissolve as salt dissolves in
water.

Those who misuse their power, authority and money to cause distress to
others will find rebirth in the asura world.
75

B. THE 7 PLANES OF SENSUAL DESIRES:


One (1) Human Plane and
Six (6) other Planes of Devas and Gods.

THE HUMAN PLANE (5th Plane):


We have spoken about the four woeful planes, we shall now dwell on the
human plane and six other planes of heavenly gods (devas).

Rebirth as a human being is extraordinarily rare. It is also extraordinarily


precious, as its unique mix of pleasure and pain facilitates the
development of virtue and
wisdom to the degree necessary
to set one free from the entire
cycle of rebirths. The
attainment of stream-entry
(sotapatti) is a guarantee that all
future rebirths, to a maximum
of seven times, will be in the
human or higher planes
without the danger of falling to
a suffering plane.

Suffering and joy is the


underlying trait of human
existence. Human beings live in
many varied and sometimes
extreme life situations. Some
are born into suffering conditions, without proper food or clean water,
clothes, money, adequate sanitation, etc. To be alive is a daily struggle. To
these unfortunate people, these physical and mental suffering are already
hell on earth.

A vast majority of human beings live in fortunate circumstances; in good


families and are well fed and clothed, with children going to good schools;
though neither rich nor poor they do not face much suffering. Some are
reborn as princes or princesses and have the best of everything. They do
not have much suffering, but have lots of joy. They are as if living
heavenly lives in this world. Heavenly beings (devas and brahmas) who have
developed wisdom and are discerning, long for rebirth on the human
plane; it is only in this human plane that there is pleasant and unpleasant,
76

happy and unhappy, good and bad, and also everything in between;
therefore only human beings can truly experience the nature of existence.
In the other four planes of suffering, little progress can be made for any
form of spiritual development as suffering is gross and unrelenting; thus,
the opportunity to perform deeds of merit is rarely available. On the other
hand, the very bliss of the heavenly planes beclouds the universal
characteristics of all phenomena; impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and
the lack of any lasting, controlling self. And without fully comprehending
these characteristics of existence, there is no motivation to develop
detachment from sensual desires that is essential to liberation.

Those who do not have knowledge of the Dhamma, are seldom able to
find rebirth in the happy planes. They habitually seek fulfilment and
solace outside of themselves. They seek solely to satisfy their sensuous
desires and inclinations, they amass material possessions, gold, silver, land
and houses. They live lives of delusion, completely conditioned by greed
and nurturing the self.

Those who practise Dhamma know that the mind is the forerunner of all
things. They look within themselves, and realising the defilement of greed,
anger and delusion within, seek to rid them from their minds. They look
within to seek the truth and to know their minds. They look inward, and
while developing insight wisdom, they realise the impermanence of all
things, realising such they then know that suffering is due to their
identifying a permanent self within. They are said to be living in the
Dhamma; a Dhamma person.

The Dhamma person will surely find rebirth in happier planes whereas the
person who is not knowledgeable of the Dhamma may not be quite certain
of his destination.

On dying, a person, by the merits of his or her practice, will be able to


maintain a balanced mind and be ready to accept the changing process of
life and death, with an equanimous mind, knowing that his accumulated
meritorious deeds will enhance his chances of a good rebirth. He should
be prepared to relinquish his hold on this worldly state and go calmly to
the next phase of the life and death process.

The rich and powerful have many family and material ties, sons, relations,
properties and material possessions; they are unwilling to relinquish their
hold onto the material things they have spent a life time amassing. Their
77

bond to life and possessions are as strong as steel


bands; and in their ignorance of the true Dhamma, they cling to those
bonds. Life is extremely dear to them. Death is near, yet they cling on
and are unwilling to let go, they are concerned that their possessions so
dear to them will be out of their hands and control. They had hoped to
live longer to enjoy their wealth and possessions.

They cry and they weep, they lament that they have to die, they wish they
could stop the process, but alas, the Buddha has said: ‘Life is uncertain
but death is certain.’ The final minutes come and the rich goes unwillingly
to their next existence. They are assured of a place of unhappiness! If they
are reborn into the plane of the peta, they can only hope that their good
kamma accumulated at some stage in their long stay in samsara, will find
the opportunity to arise and condition them a better rebirth. Here is
where friends and relatives, dedicating merits to them, gained by good
deeds, will help.

Whether these planes are real or whether they are merely fanciful
metaphors describing the various mind-states we might experience in this
lifetime; we should take the message of the cosmology of the 31 Planes of
Existence as this: unless we take steps to break free from the grip of
kamma, we are doomed to wander aimlessly in samsara, with true peace
and satisfaction always out of reach. The Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path
provides us with precisely the tool we need to break out of this cycle,
once and for all, to true freedom.
78

THE 6 DEVA PLANES (6th–11th)

The word "deva" also


include, devata and
devaputta. Although "deva"
is often used in the Pali
texts to refer to all other
beings other than humans,
devas and brahmas can be
differentiated. "Deva" in its
more limited sense refers
to beings in the six planes
immediately above the
human one (planes 6-11),
the sensuous heavens.

The devas of the sensuous sphere are said to enjoy sense pleasures in far
greater abundance than can be found in the human world. Their bodies
emit light and they have subtle sense organs, similar to ours but far more
sensitive and acute. That is why the supernormal powers of seeing various
planes and hearing at great distances are referred to as deva vision and deva
hearing. On the deva planes, there are stream-enterers and once-returners.
For example, Sakka, king of the gods in the heaven of the Thirty-three,
became a stream-enterer while discussing the Dhamma with the Buddha.
However, only few among the devas have any understanding of the
Dhamma. In fact, all that is needed to be reborn in these heavens is the
meritorious kamma of generosity and good morality. Mental development
through meditation is not a prerequisite for rebirth on the higher
sensuous planes.

Devas do not see the misery of human beings in their daily existence. Many
devas instantly obtain whatever sense object they wish for. Brahmas dwell in
sublime bliss and equanimity. In the formed and formless planes, ill will is
suppressed, and without it there is no mental unhappiness.

In their nature of existence, it is difficult for devas and brahmas to


appreciate that everything changes and to recognise that their present
pleasure and bliss will not last forever; many imagine that they are eternal.
The subtler forms of suffering tend to escape them as well.
79

Some devas long to be reborn as human beings because they are aware of
the greater possibility of comprehending impermanence, suffering, and
non-self on the human plane.

The Buddha explained that devas view human existence as an excellent


opportunity for growth in morality, giving, faith and understanding.

THE HEAVENS
There are six Deva Planes included in this group and is known as Heaven
in human term. The beings here are not born as babies; they are already
adults and they retain the same appearance until they die. The luxuries and
sensual pleasures enjoyed by the devas in the six Deva Planes are far more
superior than any human pleasures one can dream of. There are beautiful
gardens and parks where devas stroll about in almost timeless period. Their
dwellings are mansions nestling gently and softly among verdant green
foliage and beautiful pleasant lakes where crystal clear waters give them a
sense of peace and calmness. Life is mostly very pleasant and they do not
encounter much suffering. Those who practise sharing (dana), morality
(sila) and meditation (bhavana), particularly loving kindness meditation
(metta) may be reborn in these deva planes.

The jewelled mansions where devas reside are theirs by reason of their own
good kamma. All male devas look as if they are 20 years old, and females,
16. They never age; they remain youthful and beautiful all their lives. They
consume only celestial food so their bodies produce no excreta.

All these divine abodes are filled with all kinds of sensual pleasures and
are fully enjoyed by the celestial beings, so much so that they do not find
the necessity to meditate or to keep their precepts. Thus, there is no
possibility of doing good or practising the Dhamma in these deva planes.

Passing away on exhausting their wholesome kamma, and not having


accumulated further merits in these deva planes, they may descend into
one of the four woeful planes. To be reborn into the deva planes or
celestial planes is not a great comfort as we see clearly that there are many
dangers and hindrances towards spiritual progress. Details of these 6
Planes are:
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6 Catumaharajika Heaven:- Devas of the Four Great Kings, home of the


gandhabbas, the celestial musicians, and the yakkas, tree spirits of
varying degrees of ethical purity. Life span: 500 celestial years or 9
million human years. (1 celestial day = 50 human years).
7 Tavatimsa Heaven:- The Thirty-three Gods with Sakka as their king, a
devotee of the Buddha, presides over this plane. Many Devas dwelling
here live in mansions in the air. Life span: 1,000 celestial years or 36
million human years. (1 celestial day = 100 human years).
8. Yama Heaven:- Yama Devas. These Devas live in the air, free of all
difficulties. Life span: 2,000 celestial years or 144 million human years.
(1 celestial day = 200 human years).
9. Tusita Heaven:- World of Contented Devas. A plane of pure delight
and gaiety. Bodhisattas abide here prior to their final human birth. Life
span: 4,000 celestial years or 576 million human years. (1 celestial day
= 400 human years).
10. Nimmanarati Heaven:- World of Devas
delighting in creation. These Devas delight in
the sense objects of their own creation. Life
span: 8,000 celestial years or 2,304 million
human years. (1 celestial day = 800 human
years).
11. Paranimmita-vasavatti Heaven:- world of Devas
wielding power over the creation of others.
These Devas enjoy sense pleasures created by
others for them. Mara, the personification of
delusion and desire, lives here. Life span: 16,000 celestial years or
9,216 million human years. (1 celestial day =1600 human years).

WHO’S WHO IN DEVALAND


The Great Assembly (Maha-samaya Sutta (Digha Nikaya 20)
Ananda: Thus have I heard: On one occasion the Blessed One was living
in the Maha-vana (great wood) near the city of Kapilavatthu together with a
great retinue of bhikkhus, all of them arahants, and five hundred in number.
Devas from ten thousand world-systems frequently assembled for the
purpose of seeing the Blessed One and the community of bhikkhus…

The Blessed One: Often, bhikkhus,


bhikkhus, Devas from the ten thousand
world-
world-systems foregather to see the Tathagata and the community
of bhikkhus.
bhikkhus. Devas have assembled before the supreme Buddhas of
the past; Devas will appear before the supreme Buddhas of the
the
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future as they do assemble now before me. I will tell you, bhikkhus,
bhikkhus,
the names of the host of Devas,
Devas, I will reveal the names of the host of
Devas.
Devas. Listen, pay attention. I will speak.
Bhikkhus: Yes, Venerable Sir.
The Blessed One: Bhikkhus,
Bhikkhus, hosts of Devas
Devas have assembled. Do
know
know them well.

Scriptural Text: And the bhikkhus hearing the word of the Buddha,
strove ardently to see and know the host of Devas. And there arose in
them knowledge of perceiving the non-humans. Some saw one hundred,
some one thousand non-humans (Devas and Brahmas), and others seventy
thousand non-humans. Some saw one hundred thousand non-humans,
others saw countless numbers, every quarter of the air and land being
filled with them.

Thereupon the All Seeing One (the Buddha) knowing all things through
super knowledge, addressed the bhikkhus:

The Blessed One: Bhikkhus,


Bhikkhus, the host of Devas have assembled. I
will announce them to you in words, and in due order. Know them.
Here they are:
Seven thousand Terrestrial Yakkhas of Kapilavatthu
possessed of super normal power, radiant, comely, and followed by a
retinue of attendants.
Six thousand Yakkhas from the Himalayan mountain,
diverse in hue, possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely, and
followed by a retinue of attendants.
Three thousand Yakkhas from the Sata's mountain
(satagira), diverse in hue, possessed of supernormal power, radiant,
comely and followed by a retinue of attendants.
Sixteen thousand Yakkhas,
Yakkhas, diverse in hue, possessed of
super normal power, radiant, comely
comely and followed
followed by a retinue of
attendants.
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Five hundred Yakkhas from the Vessamitta mountain,


diverse in hue, possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely and
followed by a retinue of attendants.
Kumbhira of Rajagala town, having his dwelling on Vepulla's
Vepulla's
Mountain, with more than a hundred thousand Yakkhas in his train.
Dhatarattha, King of the East, adviser to the Eastern
clime, and Chief of the Gandhabbas, followed by a retinue of
attendants, and with his many mighty sons (devaputtas), Inda their
names,
names, possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a
retinue.
Virulha, King of the South, adviser to the Southern clime,
and Chief of the Kumbhandas, followed by a retinue of attendants,
and with his many mighty sons, Inda their names, possessed of
supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a retinue of attendants.
Virupakkha, King of the West, adviser to the Western clime,
and Chief of the Nagas, followed
followed by a retinue of attendants and
with his many mighty sons, Inda their names, possessed of
supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a retinue of attendants.
Kuvera, King of the North, adviser to the Northern clime,
and Chief of the Yakkhas,
Yakkhas, followed
followed by a retinue of attendants and
with his many mighty sons, Inda their names, possessed of
supernormal
supernormal power,
power, radiant, comely and with a retinue of attendants.
Dhatarattha over the East, to the South Virulhaka,
Westward Virupakkha, Kuvera over the North; these four great
Kings stood illuminating the four quarters of the forest in the vicinity
of Kapilavatthu.
Kapilavatthu.
With them came their crafty, deceitful, cunning slaves:
enticing Kutendu, Vetendu, Vitucca, and Vituda. And (also the
slaves) Candana, Kamasettha, Kinnughandu, and Nighandu.
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There also came Panada and Opamanna and Matali charioteer of


the Devas
Devas.
as.
Citta and Sena, the Ghandhabbas, Nala (kara),
(kara),
Janesabha (Janavasabha, Pancasikha,
Pancasikha, the Devas,
Devas, Timbaru, the
Gandhabba, and Suriyavaccasa (the daughter of Timbaru) also
came. Along with these (Gandhabba) kings, other Gandhabba
kings,
kings, too.
Then came the divine Nagas of the lake Nabhasa, those of
the Naga plane Visali together with the Nagas
Nagas named Tacchaka.
Also came Nagas
Nagas of Kambala and Assatara and Payaga
accompanied by their relatives. Nagas
Nagas from Yamuna, and those of
the race of Dhatarattha came with their
their retinue of attendants, and
Eravana, the great Naga, too.
Those birds (harpies, garula or suppana) who carry away
Nagas
Nagas by force, endowed with divine power, and twice born, with
middle
clear eyes (keen of sight), have flown into the middle of the forest
from the sky; Citra and Supanna are their names.
At that time,
time, the Naga king (with other Nagas)
Nagas) were free
from fear. The Buddha vouchsafed his protection to the Nagas
Nagas
from the harpies (suppana). Entreating one another with gentle
words, the Nagas
Nagas and Suppanas (harpies) took refuge in the
Buddha.
The Asuras dwelling in the ocean were defeated by
Vajirahattha (another name for Sakka). They are brethren of
Vasavassa (other name of Sakka) possessed of supernormal power
and are followed by a retinue of attendants.
The terrible Kalakanjas, the Danaveghasas, Vepacitti,
Sucitti, and Paharada;
Paharada; all Asuras have also come with Namuci (the
Vasavatti Mara,
Mara, the Evil One).
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Hundreds of the sons of Bali, all of them named after


Veroca (that is their uncle Rahu), with an armed
armed host of warriors,
approached Rahu (Asurendra, the lord of Asuras),
Asuras), and said: 'Lord,
it is time to go to the forest to see the assembly of bhikkhus.'
bhikkhus.'
The Devas Apo and Pathavi, Tejo, and Vayo have also
come to the forest, and the Devas Varuna, Varuna, and
and Soma with
Yasa. There also came the Devas Metta-
Metta-kayika and Karunakayika,
followed by their attendants; these
these ten groups of Devas of diverse
hue, possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a
retinue of attendants. The Devas Venhu, Sahali, Asama,
Asama, the two
Yama, and those who attend on the Moon god came preceded by
him.
The Devas attending on the Sun god, came preceded by
him. The Devas attending the Planets came preceded by them. The
Devas of the rain clouds too, came.
Sakka, the chief of gods,
gods, who is also called Vasava and
Puri
Purindada
ndada,
da, also came. The ten groups of Devas of diverse hue,
possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a retinue
of attendants,
attendants, also came.
came.
Then too, came the Deva Sahabhu, shining like unto a
flame of fire, along with the Devas Aritthaka, Roja, and
Ummapupphanibha. There came also the Devas Varuna
Sahadhamma, Accuta and Anojaka, Suleyya, Rucira, and
Vasavanesi;
Vasavanesi; all
all those ten groups of Devas of diverse hue,
possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a retinue
of attendants.
The Devas Samana, Mahasamana, Manusa,
Manusuttama, Khiddapadusika, and Manopadusika all have come.
85

Then came the Devas Hari, those of Lohita, Paraga, and Maha-
Maha-
paraga with their retinue of attendants.
All those ten groups of Devas of diverse hue, possessed of
supernormal power, radiant, comely and
and with a retinue of attendants.
There also came the Devas Sukha, Karumha, Aruna with
Veghanasa. The Deva Odatagayha, Pamokkha, and Vicakkhana
also came. Sadamatta, Haragaja, mighty Missaka
Missaka and Pajjuna, who
thundering;; all
causes rain to pour in every direction, came thundering all these ten
groups of Devas of diverse hue, possessed of supernormal power,
radiant, comely and with a retinue of attendants.
The Devas Khemiya, Tusita, Yama, the mighty Katthaka,
Katthaka,
Lambhitaka, Lamasettha, Joti and Asava also came.
There also came the Devas Nimmanarati, and Paranimmita
(Vasavatthi). All these ten groups of Devas of diverse hue,
possessed of supernormal power, radiant, comely and with a retinue
of attendants. These sixty (six of ten groups, indicated in the order
of Apo Deva, etc.) Devas of diverse hue, according to their name
and class, have come with others (similar in name and class).

These Devas came saying: Let us see the community of bhikkhus, the
Arahant bhikkhus, who have outlived birth, who have removed the stake
(of lust, hate and delusion), who have crossed the four currents or streams
(of sense-pleasures, becoming, wrong views and ignorance), free from
taints. Let us also see the Buddha who has crossed the streams, who is
called Naga (in the sense of one who commits no evil) and shining like the
unclouded moon.

The Blessed One (continuing): The Brahmas Subrahma and


Paramatta, came (with other Brahmas) who are possessed of
supernormal power, and sons (disciples of the Buddha). The
Brahmas Sanankum
Sanankumara and Tissa also came to the forest (to see
the assembly of bhikkhus).
bhikkhus).
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There is born a Mahabrahma (for every Brahma world)


excelling other Brahmas, mighty in power,
power, with a formidable stature
and of great glory.
glory. Among them, ten chief Brahmas, lords over their
retinues have come, and in the midst of them with all his attendants
came Brahma Harita.
When all the Devas headed by Inda (Sakka), and all
Brahmas headed by Haritta had come, there came the host of Mara
Mara.
Lo! The folly of Mara,
Mara, the Murky One.
One.

Mara: Come on, seize them, bind them, let them all be bound by lust,
surrounded on every side, suffer not anybody to escape'.

Scriptural Text: Mara thus striking the earth with his palm and thereby
producing a dreadful sound as when a storm cloud thunders and causes
lightening during rainy season, sent his black army to the midst of the
devas. Nevertheless, he was unable to bring the devas under his sway. He
became filled with anger and retreated. Then the All Seeing One (the
Buddha) knowing perfectly well what had transpired, addressed his
disciples who take delight in the word of the Buddha.

The Blessesd One: Bhikkhus,


Bhikkhus, the host of Mara have come and gone.
Know them
them, beware of them.
them

Scriptural Text: And they (non-arahants), hearing the word of the Buddha,
strove to gain Deliverance from their defilement. From the passion-free
arahants the army of Mara retreated; not even so much as a hair in the
arahants was affected.

Mara (departing): All those disciples are victors in the war of passions; they
are free from fear, glorious and renowned among mankind. They live
rejoicing with Aryan disciples.

Death of Devas: There is no real illness on the deva planes. When a deva
faces death, his aura begins to fade and dirt appears on his clothes for the
first time. The nature of Devas is such that even though they eat, they do
not have excrement as do humans. Devas who pass away from heavens do
not leave corpses behind. Their dead bodies disappear at the same time.
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SECOND DIVISION
THE FINE MATERIAL PLANES (12th – 27th Plane):
The following are the different Planes of Devas in the Fine Material Planes:

12. brahma-parisajja deva - Retinue/servants of Maha Brahma.


Life span: 1/3 maha kappa
13. brahma-purohita deva - Ministers/advisors of Maha Brahma, they
enjoy varying degrees of jhanic bliss. Life span: 1/2 maha kappa
14. maha brahma - Great Brahmas. Some Brahmas here regard
themselves creators of the universe. Life span: 1 maha kappa
15. parittabha deva - Devas of Limited Radiance.
Life span: 2 maha kappa
16. appamanabha deva - Devas of Unbounded Radiance.
Life span: 4 maha kappa
17. abhassara deva - Devas of Streaming Radiance.
Life span: 8 maha kappa
18. parittasubha deva - Devas of Limited Glory.
Life span: 16 maha kappa
19. appamanasubha deva - Devas of Unbounded Glory.
Life span: 32 maha kappa
20. subhakinna deva - Devas of Radiant Glory.
Life span: 64 maha kappa
21. vehapphala deva - very fruitful Devas, they enjoy varying degrees of
jhanic bliss. Life span: 500 maha kappa
22. asannasatta - mindless beings, only body is present; absence of sanna
cetasika. Life span: 500 maha kappa
23. aviha deva - Devas not falling away. They live their full life span. Life
span: 1,000 maha kappa
24. atappa deva - untroubled Devas. They are not troubled by the 5
hindrances. Life span: 2,000 maha kappa
25. sudassa deva - beautiful Devas. They have magnificient and beautiful
body forms. Life span: 4,000 maha kappa
26. sudassi deva- clear-sighted Devas. They see things with ease.
Life span: 8,000 maha kappa
27. akanittha deva - peerless Devas. Beings who become non-returners
in other planes are reborn here, where they attain Arahantship. Life
span: 16,000 maha kappa

Bhante Suvanno: Those born here are devas. These devas have special
virtues, having practised meditation till they have achieved deep
concentration (these deep and sustained concentration are also known as jhana) and
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are able to enter and maintain such


concentration at will. In the Dhamma
sense they are morally upright, practise
meditation and have developed much
insight wisdom. They have pure,
healthy minds that are totally joyful and
without hindrances.

In the worldly sense they have very


long life span, beautiful textured skin
and are strong in body. Their bodies
radiate beautiful and wondrous rays
that illuminate large areas around them.
They live in mansions that are of great
beauty. These devas possess special
powers. They are also known as brahmas, due to these superior attainments.

Only those who regularly practise mental development (Vipassana


Meditation) and those in the habit of doing good deeds will gain merits to
be reborn in one of these 16 happy planes. The good things that happen
to one; wealth, comfortable living, happiness and peace are due to the
sowing of good seeds on fertile ground in the past, thus accumulating
merits. “One cannot be reborn into any existence as one desires, but will
fall into any one of the 31 planes of existence according to one’s past
kamma.” (Manuals of Buddhism by Ledi Sayadaw).

All beings, who are reborn in these sixteen planes do so as males. Being a
single gender, there is no attachment or emotion due to sex. They are very
peaceful beings and they live very pure lives, free from all thoughts of
sensual pleasures. In their existence as humans they had preferred the
solitude of meditation in quiet places away from town centres, cities,
houses, villages and monasteries, remote from worldly and sensual
pleasures.

These planes are accessible to those who have successfully gain some level
of attainment in their meditation and who have thereby managed to
eradicate hatred and ill-will to some extent. They are said to possess
extremely refined bodies of pure light. There is no need for illumination
in this plane as all beings here are beautiful and radiant in different
degrees and their faces shine brilliantly, lighting up the surrounding area.
89

Among these are five of the purest abodes (23-27) of the 31 planes, which
are accessible only to non-returners (anagami) and arahants. Those beings
that had become non-returners in other planes are reborn here, where
they attain enlightenment.

The Brahmas, like the other celestials, are not necessarily on the way to
complete knowledge; their attainments depend on the degree of their faith
in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha; it is not necessary to be a
follower of the Buddha to be born into the Brahma world. Examples are
the Buddha’s first two teachers, the ascetic who predicted the Bodhisatta’s
future as a Buddha. These were ascetics who practised different faiths.

The Buddha tells of ascetics who practise meditation, being born into the
Brahma planes after death. Some Brahmas hold false views regarding their
worlds, which, like all things, are subject to change and destruction.
Buddhas and their more eminent disciples often visit the Brahma planes,
both in their mind made bodies and their physical bodies.

If a rock as big as the gable of a house were to be dropped from the


lowest Brahma-world it would take four months to reach the earth travelling
one hundred thousand leagues a day. Brahmas subsist on meditative
concentration, abounding in joy, this being their sole food. The beings
born in the lowest Brahma plane are Brahma-pārisajjā; their life term is one
third of an asankheyya kappa; next to them come the Brahma-purohitā, who
live for half an asankheyya kappa; and beyond these are the Mahā Brahmas
who live for a whole asankheyya kappa.

Immediately after his birth, the Buddha looked around and took 7 steps
northward, it was a Maha Brahma with a life span of sixteen thousand
kappas, who cradled the baby in his hands and assured him that none was
greater than he.

Brahmas are known to visit the human plane and take interest in the affairs
of men. When the Buddha hesitated to teach the Dhamma, because of its
profundity, it was Sahampati who appeared before him and exhorted him
to teach the Dhamma for the salvation of the few who had sufficient
wisdom to see the truth. The reason for the Buddha’s hesitancy being
that, for the Buddha to teach the Dhamma, he had to be invited to do so.
As people then were followers of Brahmas; Sahampati's acceptance of the
Buddha's Dhamma would impress them deeply and lend weight to His
teaching. Sahampatī later visited the Buddha several times subsequently,
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illuminating Jetavana with the effulgence of his body. It is said that with a
single finger he could illuminate a whole world system.

Brahmas appear to have been in the habit of visiting the deva planes too,
for a certain Brahma was reported as being present at an assembly of the
Tāvatimsa gods and there, singing the Buddha's praises and giving an
exposition of his teaching.

Mahā Brahmās, though mighty and powerful, are all of them subject to
suffering and the laws of Kamma.

Note:
Maha Kappa, Asankheyya Kappa (such time periods are aeons spanning from 1
with 140 zeros behind to 47 million zeros behind; also known as an uncalculable
period). There are 3 kinds of kappas - namely, antara kappa, asankheyya kappa and
maha kappa. The interim period when a comlete universe system disintegrate to its
reformation and breaking up again constitutes an antara kappa. Twenty such antara
kappa equal one asankheyya kappa; an incalculable cycle. Four asankheyya kappas
equal one maha kappa.
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THIRD DIVISION:
THE NON-MATERIAL PLANES (28th-31st):
28. akasanañcayatanupaga deva - infinite space.
Life span: 20,000 maha kappa
29. viññanañcayatanupaga deva - infinite consciousness.
Life span: 40,000 maha kappa
30. akiñcaññayatanupaga deva - nothingness.
Life span: 60,000 maha kappa
31. nevasaññanasaññayatanupaga deva – neither perception nor
non-perception. Life span: 84,000 maha kappa

These Four Non-Material (Formless) Planes are where heavenly beings


are without bodily forms; the Plane is without form and materiality and
there are no dwellings such as mansions as there are in the other Planes.
The inhabitants of these planes are possessed entirely of minds; and
having no physical bodies, they are unable to hear Dhamma teachings.

Beings in these Formless Planes having no-bodily forms at all do not feel
physical suffering (dukkha). Life here is very pleasant and extremely long.
One may be reborn in such a plane by practising strong and deep
absorption concentration meditation techniques. These states are very
pure and having become adept at entering into these states one may, upon
death, die in this state and be reborn in such a plane. However, this is not
to say that one should aspire to be born in this plane as the primary
objective of meditation taught by the Buddha is to attain Nibbana and that
can only be through Vipassana Meditation. These brahmas have no contact
with the human or deva planes, for they have no physical bodies. They
spend countless aeons in the perfect equanimity of meditation until their
lifespan ends. Then they are reborn in the same plane, the next higher
formless plane, or as devas. After that they too can be reborn on any plane
at all; so even existence without a body is not the way to permanently
eliminate suffering.

This is why the Bodhisatta, realising that after attaining to the stage of
concentration meditation, at death he would find rebirth into these
formless planes, which was not his goal, he decided to leave his two
teachers and find his own way to freedom from suffering.

It is only through practising the Noble Eightfold Path that we can bring
suffering to an end. In fact, these formless brahmas are in the unfortunate
position of being unable to start on the path. This is because one has to
92

learn the Dhamma from the Buddha or one of his disciples to attain the
first stage of awakening, to become a stream-enterer.

That is why the sage Asita, invited by King Suddhodana to examine the
newborn Bodhisatta, wept after predicting that Prince Siddhattha would
become a Buddha. The sage knew he was going to die before the prince
attained Buddhahood. He had cultivated these formless absorptions so he
would have to be reborn in the formless plane and would thereby lose all
contact with the human plane. This meant he would not be able to escape
samsara under Gotama Buddha. He was sorely distressed to realise that he
would miss this rare opportunity to gain deliverance and would have to
remain in the round of rebirth until another Buddha appears in the
remote future. He could see into the future and thus understood the
precious opportunity a Buddha offers, but he could neither postpone his
death nor avoid rebirth into the immaterial plane.
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EPILOGUE: SHOWING THE WAY

Bhante Suvanno: All this information is not really important if your goal
is to attain enlightenment. It's just an interesting subject that many people
like to philosophise about. But the Buddha’s teaching is not merely a
philosophy; it is a practice, a blueprint for correct living. As we have just
mentioned, Vipassana Bhavana is the only way to Enlightenment, the goal
of the Buddha’s teaching. For this to happen we need to practise diligently.

In the rounds of samsara that beings go through, regardless of the plane


they live in, the process of being reborn, getting old, sick, dying and being
reborn again had been tediously timeless. All beings undergo these
processes many times in as many Great Kappas.

In their ignorance and delusion, beings go through endless cycles of


rebirths, without realising the sufferings they have experienced in samsara.
In their delusion they believe that they are having great enjoyment in their
lives and thus at each death they crave to be reborn, even though some of
their rebirths are in the planes of animals, hungry ghosts or sometimes as
gods in the heavenly planes.

In our repeated cycles of rebirth, many Buddhas have appeared and


passed on and we have sometimes met with a Buddha and sometimes not.
The Buddha has said very clearly that there are as many Buddhas in the
many mahakappas as there are pebbles along the two thousand miles of the
94

banks of River Ganges. So lengthy a time and with so many opportunities


to attain the bliss of Nibbana, yet a greater number of humans have not
enlightened to the realities of the horrors of repeated rebirths.

In their ignorance and delusion, the Buddha said, human beings are
unable to realise and remember any single vistage of the sufferings they
had experienced in their previous existences and in their deluded cravings
for and clingings to sensuous pleasures, they are inevitably reborn to a
world where their cravings, clingings and kamma take them. Human
beings have experienced so many losses of loved ones in their many
existences that the tears they have shed are more than all the waters of the
oceans in the world. Yet they are desirous of rebirth, not realising the
suffering inherent in it.

The Buddha also said that humans are normally desirous of doing
unwholesome deeds rather than wholesome deeds. When they are about
to die, in the last death moment when they realise that they are going to
be reborn into one of the four woeful planes, then only are they confused
and terrified, knowing that their concepts were flawed. That is then too
late!

To be reborn as a human being is already a very rare occasion; to be


reborn as a human being in a Buddha sasana with the knowledge to
practise the Dhamma is much more singular and unique. Maybe in a
thousand rebirths are we able to be so fortunate as to have that happen to
us. There are also more times when there will not be a Buddha sasana.
These then will be very bleak times indeed.

Those who understand the nature of sufferings and are knowledgeable of


the Dhamma, fear the results of unwholesome actions and will refrain from
doing anything of that nature. Those who are not knowledgeable of the
Dhamma are not exempt from the sufferings resulting from unwholesome
actions. If their excuse is that since they do not know about the Dhamma,
they should not be affected due to their ignorance, they are sadly mistaken
because what the Buddha taught are universal laws and will affect
everyone whether one is aware of it or not. In the eyes of the law,
ignorance of the law is not a valid defence. Even pleading guilty will not
draw a lighter sentence.
95

Bhante Suvanno: If we are ignorant in this existence, we must not


go on being ignorant in our next existence. We should work
towards gaining knowledge in this present existence. Once we have
found the Truth in this existence, we shall have continuity of
knowledge of the Truth in our future existences.

The way to a better rebirth and happy plane of existence is by observing


the precepts, doing good deeds, giving to the needy (dana) and practising
Vipassana meditation. Do not view wrongly that the performance of
dana is a very simple action. It is possible to do dana only if one has the
opportunity and the means.

It is of utmost importance to practise giving to the needy, meditation and


other good deeds of a selfless nature, without any expectations of material
gains. The results of such deeds of different kinds will result in different
benefits.

Most importantly, we must be aware and mindful of the defilement of


greed, hatred and delusion. Not to be wrongly attached to an entity as ‘I’,
‘me’ or ‘mine’; all these ‘I’s, ‘I am so and so’; ‘my father is so and so’; all
these are very strong egoistic reference to self, and the Buddha has called
this, the wrong view of self (sakkaya-ditthi).

‘I’, drives ‘I’ to perform unwholesome action that will cause endless
suffering to ‘I’. Thus the most important goal of the meditator or yogi in
meditation is to destroy this false concept of ‘I’. If one does not have the
wrong view of ‘I’, one does not place importance on ‘I’.

Even when we have attained to the top of the happy planes, there is no
guarantee that we are safe from future sufferings. Depending on past
merits, we can still be having defilement, which if we are not mindful of,
will lead us to the lower planes of existence. We have to be constantly
mindful to guard the entrance to the six sense doors in order to be aware
of our intentions and actions.

We sometimes find some young persons and even matured persons


behaving very unruly and destructively, even with the things they profess
to love. This is because of the results of unwholesome actions
accumulated through many lifetimes, conditioned to arise from the depths
of their sub-conscious in this present life-time, characterising their every
word and action. These results of past unwholesome actions cause much
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suffering and give rise to defilement which colour their present deeds.
What are these defilement? They are greed, anger or hatred and delusion.
Because of these defilement their words and actions will be tainted. Some
speak with barbs in their words and some act with unrestrain.

All beings reap the fruits of the seeds they sow and are given rebirth by
and according to their kammic results. No deity of any sort controls the
birth and death of any beings. It is the kammic energies of the past and
present that condition the rebirth of beings. The good or bad kamma will
determine the happy or suffering planes where they will find rebirth.
Having arrived at a destination conditioned by past kamma does not mean
that a being need to go through with the result of the cause that brought
him, her or it hence; but that depending on the development of mental
purity and wisdom of this present life, a living being will be able to
reshape future lives thus effectively changing the results of past deeds, if
those deeds were not of a very severely unwholesome nature, as in killing
living beings.

Refrain from evil deeds. Should one be contemplating unwholesome


thoughts, now is the time to stop. One should not find pleasure in evil;
brush off even a simple act of evil. The Buddha says there will be painful
suffering if one does not stop contemplating doing unwholesome deeds.

Make haste to do good, check your mind for unwholesomeness. If one


is not mindfully and energetically doing good, one’s mind will
subconsciously be thinking of unwholesome thoughts and deeds. The
mind has a tendency to gyrate to unwholesome thoughts and if one were
to let it alone it will start looking for dirt. Thus practise Vipassana
meditation to eradicate defilement and achieve purity of mind.

The Buddha knows that beings constantly perpetuate their own sufferings
from life to life. He taught that if we could completely purify the minds of
selfish attachment we would be self-liberated and experience the peace
and freedom of Nibbana (enlightenment), the cessation of suffering and the
end of rebirth. To be reborn again and again is to experience untold
suffering and misery.

He asked:
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The Buddha: Which is greater, the tears that were shed from
existence to existence while wandering this samsara,
samsara, crying and
weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated
from what is pleasing, or the waters in the four great oceans?

Bhante Suvanno: The Buddha pointed out that the greater was the tears
shed through the rounds of samsara.

The Buddha: Long have you repeatedly experienced


experienced the death of a
mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while
wandering this long, long samsara,
samsara, crying and weeping from being
joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing,
pleasing,
are greater than the water in the four
four great
great oceans.

Long have you repeatedly experienced the death of a father … the


death of a brother …the death of a sister… the death of a son… the
death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard
to wealth… loss with regard to disease.
disease. The tears you have shed
over loss with regard to disease while wandering this long, long time,
crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being
separated from what is pleasing, are greater than the water in the
four great oceans.

Why
Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes birth. A
beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance
and fettered by craving are being reborn repeatedly. Long have you
thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling
swelling
the cemeteries, enough to become disenchanted with all conditioned
things, enough to become dispassionate,
dispassionate, enough to be released.
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Jinavamsa: This brings us to the question: how enduring is samsara; is


there a beginning and does it end? Is it eternal or not eternal? These self-
same questions and others were contemplated by the monk, Malunkyaputta
and he went to the Buddha with the intent of getting an answer from him
or else he would not continue being a monk (Majjhima Nikaya 63). The
Buddha refused to give him an answer but rather declared that He could
not see any conceivable point where the beginning was and the ending
thereof.

To render a simile of the timelessness of samsara, He turned to the group


of bhikkhus He was addressing and enquired of them which they thought
was greater; the mother's milk they had drunk in the course of their long
travels in samsara or the waters of the four great oceans of the world. He
stated that the mother's milk they had drunk was the greater, thus
demonstrating the lengthy duration of samsara.

Therefore, it would appear that we have wandered in samsara from birth


to death, from death to rebirth again and again for so great a number of
aeons that should we have been conscious of it we would surely have
stopped doing so. He further said to Malunkyaputta why He had not made
known the answers to those questions:

The Buddha: And why, Malunkyaputta have I not made known the
answers to your questions? Because it is not beneficial and does
not belong to the fundamentals to leading a holy life, it does not lead
to dispassion and disenchantment, to cessation, to peace and to
Nibbana. Thus
Thus have I not declared it to you.

Jinavamsa: The Buddha knew many things, but He did not want to
burden people with unnecessary knowledge that did not serve to lead
them to Nibbana.

Why Do We Wander in Samsara?


The Buddha: It is because of not understanding and not penetrating
four things that you and I have wandered on such a long, long time.
time.
Which four? Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Cessation of
Suffering and the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering
Suffering (i.e.
the Noble Eightfold Path).
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Jinavamsa: But when noble virtue is understood and penetrated, when


noble concentration, noble discernment, noble release is understood and
penetrated, then craving for becoming is destroyed; the guide to
becoming (craving and attachment) is ended; there is now no further
becoming (An iv.1). The ending of samsara is the attainment of the state of
Nibbana, Cessation of all Suffering.

The Blessed One has given us ample warning of the need to search
ourselves and make ready for the day when we have to go to another
world to harvest the fruits of the seed we have planted in this present time.
Should we be found wanting and end up in the woeful planes where there
is no let up in the sufferings, we must endure or if we have taken heed of
this advice we may be transported to the worlds where sensual pleasures
are beyond our imagination. Better still, if we take notice of the warnings
in real earnest, we may never have to return to any worlds but be totally
liberated. The choice is yours to make. Going hand in hand with the
wisdom of Vipassana, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness; you will
definitely make a wise choice!
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THE 31 PLANES
A Summary

PLANES OF REBIRTH

The Planes of Rebirth are what the Buddha had seen and had direct
knowledge of after His Enlightenment. These planes are very real and
beings are reborn into the different planes due to their kamma. There have
been speculations and theories as to whereabouts are these planes. One
could view them as places either above or below the Earth; or in different
dimensions within the universe; or one can be in hell or heaven according
to the state of mind one causes oneself to be in. The real reason the
Buddha expounded the 31 Planes was to teach us that we must always be
aware that our thoughts, speech and deeds will cause us to receive the
appropriate fruits depending on the seeds that we sow; so we need to be
aware that the fruits can be disastrous or they can be wonderfully blissful.
You have the volition to choose your own planes to go to.

Your choice can be wisely guided with the practice of Satipatthana


Vipassana meditation, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. That is the
Only Way.
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THE NON-MATERIAL PLANES (arupa-loka) (28-31)


(31) Plane of Neither Perception nor Non-perception
(30) Plane of Nothingness
(29) Plane of Infinite Consciousness
(28) Plane of Infinite Space

The inhabitants of these Planes are possessed entirely of mind; having no


physical bodies, but they can create physical bodies if they want to be seen.
Rebirth in these planes can only be achieved by intense samatha meditation
and achieving deep concentration during their lives as human; they are
unable to hear Dhamma teachings. They are not able to attain wisdom and
purity of mind here. Thus, this is not an ideal plane to find rebirth.

In the Plane of Neither Perception nor Non-perception (31), Brahmas live


a life span that is equivalent to that of 84,000 Maha kappa or world cycles.
The ascetic Udaka, one of two teachers who taught the then Bodhisatta,
was reborn into this Brahma Plane after passing away on the night before
the Buddha decided to teach the Dhamma.

The Brahmas in the Plane of Nothingness (30) live a life span of 60,000
world cycles. The Buddha’s first teacher in his quest for the truth was the
ascetic, Alara. He was the first person the Buddha decided to pass on his
discovery after he decided to teach, but Alara had passed away seven days
earlier and was found to be reborn in this Brahma Plane.

THE FINE MATERIAL PLANES (rupa-loka) (12-27)


The Five Pure Abodes (23-27), within these Planes, are accessible only
to non-returners (anagamis), from whence they attain arahantship. These
are the purest of all the abodes in the 31 Planes. Brahmas here neither seek
nor take delight in sensual pleasures, they have faculties to receive the
Dhamma and become enlightened.

(27) Peerless Devas (akanittha deva): The supreme heaven where arahants
and anagamis reside in a final existence before entering Nibbana. The
Brahmas of this Plane can live up to the life span of 16,000 world
cycles.

(26) Clear-sighted Devas (sudassi deva): The Brahmas of this Plane can live
up to the life span of 8,000 world cycles before passing away into
Nibbana.
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(25) Beautiful Devas (sudassa deva): The Brahmas of this Plane can live up
to the life span of 4,000 world cycles before entering Nibbana.

(24) Untroubled Devas (atappa deva): The serene heaven where the
Brahmas of this Plane can live up to the life span of 2,000 world cycles
before entering Nibbana.

(23) Devas not falling away (aviha deva): The durable heaven where the
Brahmas of this Plane can live up to the life span of 1,000 world
cycles before entering Nibbana.

(22) Mindless Devas (asannasatta): Beings here only have bodies, but no
mind. They can live up to 500 world cycles.

(21) Very Fruitful Devas (vehapphala deva).

The heaven of gods and noble beings of great merits, who have practised
Samatha and Vipassana meditation during their life as humans. Those
Brahmas who have practised Samatha only are reborn into lower Planes
after dying, but those who have practised Vipassana and have attained the
stages to arahanthood are reborn into this Plane again or a higher Plane.
The Brahmas of this Plane can live up to the life span of 500 world cycles.

The Devas (15-20) have brilliant auras as their distinguishing characteristics;


each purer attainment marked by brighter brilliance, thus the names of the
appropriate planes.

(20) Devas of Radiant Glory ((subhakinna deva)

(19) Devas of Unbounded Glory (appamanasubha deva)

(18) Devas of Limited Glory (parittasubha deva)

(17) Devas of Streaming Radiance (abhassara deva)

(16) Devas of Unbounded Radiance (appamanabha deva)

(15) Devas of Limited Radiance (parittabha deva)

The Brahmas here (12-14) are gigantic in size and are well organised.
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(14) Great Brahmas (maha brahma)

(13) Ministers of Brahma (brahma-purohita deva)

(12) Retinue of Brahma (brahma-parisajja deva)

All Devas in the above Planes live in concentration meditation bliss


and are reborn here due to practising concentration meditation to
high levels of attainment in previous life.

THE SENSUOUS PLANES (kama-loka)


Happy Destinations (sugati)
(11) Devas wielding power and enjoying the creation of others; Mara, lives
here.

(10) Devas delighting in creation. They delight in their own creations.

(9) Contented Tusita Devas: A Plane of pure delight and gaiety; all
Bodhisattas abide here prior to their final human birth.

(8) Yama Devas: These Devas live in the air, care-free and happy.

(7) The Thirty-three Gods (Tavatimsa Devas). Sakka, a devotee of the


Buddha, presides over this Plane. Many devas dwelling here live in
mansions in the air. It was in this heaven that the Buddha taught the
Abhidhamma to the Devas for three months.

(6) Devas or gods of the Four Great Kings (Catumaharajika Devas): Home
of the Gandhabbas, the celestial musicians; the Yakkhas, tree spirits of
varying degrees of ethical purity; the kumbhandas; and home of nagas.
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(5) Human Beings (manussa loka): To find rebirth as a human is


extremely rare. It is also very precious as only beings in this plane are able
to experience happiness, suffering, develop wisdom and find a way out of
suffering. Most wise devas and brahmas aspire to find rebirth in this plane.

PLANES OF MISERY (apaya):


(4) Plane of Demons (asuras), war-like, quarrelsome and are constantly
engaged in relentless conflict with each other.

(3) Plane of Hungry Ghosts (peta loka), ghosts and unhappy spirits
wandering and searching in vain for food. Petas do not have a
separate plane, but exist in the human plane

(2) Plane of Animals (tiracchana yoni), this plane includes all the non-
human forms of life that are visible to us under ordinary
circumstances: animals, insects, fish, birds, worms, etc.

(1) Plane of Hell (niraya), plane of continuous suffering and pain


without any let up. There are eight grades of hell where the bitter and
suffering fruits vary according to the severity of the unwholesome
deeds performed.