Author Topic: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?  (Read 1213 times)

Offline Rianthe

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10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« on: September 18, 2015, 12:10:07 am »
So recently I've been doing some reading up and I was wondering if the 10 realms and rebirth are figurative, or literal, or both. I read something somewhere (can't find the link now) in which a Buddhist monk says that celebrities could be see as being in the "heaven realm" because they seem to "have it all" and lack nothing, but they soon fall into a lower realm due to the lack of cultivation. Likewise, many people in modern society could be seen to be in the "animal realm" because they are simply going about a very mundane existence with little to no self-knowledge.

This seems to point to the 10 realms as being mental states more than actual physical places. The Japanese wikipedia entry on the 10 realms goes right out and says that they are.

This also got me thinking about the nature of "rebirth" - if we are truly born one second and die the next, then it makes more sense to look at the realms as mental states, since we can be "born" into any of them at any second, due to attachments, karma etc. One does not need to physically die as a human (or anything else for that matter) to be reborn.

That being said, I don't see why they can't be both literal and figurative at the same time. There is much I do not know. :)

What do you all think?

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2015, 05:17:17 am »
The six lower realms can certainly be understood as being both literal and figurative in nature, but I'm not sure the same would apply to the four higher (or noble) realms, as they tend to be understood as being more literal in nature, though depending on who you ask this is also open to debate.

You might find the following links helpful (or at least as a means to provide some food for thought):

http://buddhajourney.net/?p=1081

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_spiritual_realms

http://www.patheos.com/Library/Buddhism/Beliefs/Ultimate-Reality-and-Divine-Beings


Offline ཨོཾRaZor༄

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Re: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2015, 03:10:09 am »
The higher realms are related to meditative concentration.  You can enter samadhi without entering nirvana.   The formless realm is still samsara and related to samadhi.  Milarepa mentions overcoming the initial and ensuing samadhis. They are positive, but can be a trap apparently.  I have no experience of them, so it's difficult to talk about. 


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Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2015, 02:19:34 pm »
I wish there were only 10 Realms in Samsara.

Quote
Rianthe,  "I was wondering if the 10 realms and rebirth are figurative, or literal, or both."


It's good that you have wondering.  But, the question is, "What has been your experience?"  My experience has been that there are both literal and figurative samsaric realms, not necessarily existing at the same moments, nor on the same planes of existence.

For example, I have personally experienced heavenly realms, both during meditation, in dreams, and during some physical life experiences, such as during the rituals of my wedding,and decades later my three daughters' weddings.  Then there were the literal hell realms such as those during  periods of The Vietnam war, and when my first wife died from cancer.

Buddha's advice to us all is that we have an obligation during our practice to verify and validate for ourselves to discern, what is real and what is pure B.S..  Faith in Buddha's teachings and in the wisdom of The Sangha can be relied upon to carry us along until we have those opportunities to experience that to which we have never been previously exposed.

The answer to your question is very personal, something that you must determine yourself through experiment. :r4wheel:

Buddha taught that there were Three Worlds, and Thirty One Planes of Existence:

Quote
The Thirty-one Planes of Existence
© 2005
Scattered throughout the suttas are references to as many as thirty-one distinct "planes" or "realms" of existence into which beings can be reborn during their long wandering through samsara. These range from the extraordinarily grim and painful hell realms all the way up to the most exquisitely refined and blissful heaven realms. Existence in every realm is temporary; in Buddhist cosmology there is no eternal heaven or hell. Beings are born into a particular realm according to their past kamma. When they pass away, they take rebirth once again elsewhere according to the quality of their kamma: wholesome actions bring about a favorable rebirth, while unwholesome actions lead to an unfavorable one. And so the wearisome cycle continues.

The realms of existence are customarily divided into three distinct "worlds" (loka), listed here in descending order of refinement:

The Immaterial World (arupa-loka). Consists of four realms that are accessible to those who pass away while meditating in the formless jhanas.

The Fine-Material World (rupa-loka). Consists of sixteen realms whose inhabitants (the devas) experience extremely refined degrees of mental pleasure. These realms are accessible to those who have attained at least some level of jhana and who have thereby managed to (temporarily) suppress hatred and ill-will. They are said to possess extremely refined bodies of pure light. The highest of these realms, the Pure Abodes, are accessible only to those who have attained to "non-returning," the third stage of Awakening. The Fine-Material World and the Immaterial World together constitute the "heavens" (sagga).

The Sensuous World (kama-loka). Consists of eleven realms in which experience — both pleasurable and not — is dominated by the five senses. Seven of these realms are favorable destinations, and include our own human realm as well as several realms occupied by devas. The lowest realms are the four "bad" destinations, which include the animal and hell realms.
The information on this page was assembled from a variety of sources. In the interests of economizing space I have not attributed each fact to its respective source.

I. The Immaterial World (arupa-loka)
Realm   Comments   Cause of rebirth here
(31) Neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññanasaññayatanupaga deva)   The inhabitants of these realms are possessed entirely of mind. Having no physical body, they are unable to hear Dhamma teachings.   Fourth formless jhana
(30) Nothingness (akiñcaññayatanupaga deva)   Third formless jhana
(29) Infinite Consciousness (viññanañcayatanupaga deva)   Second formless jhana
(28) Infinite Space (akasanañcayatanupaga deva)   First formless jhana
II. The Fine-Material World (rupa-loka)
Realm   Comments   Cause of rebirth here
(27) Peerless devas (akanittha deva)   These are the five Pure Abodes (suddhavasa), which are accessible only to non-returners (anagami) and arahants. Beings who become non-returners in other planes are reborn here, where they attain arahantship.
Among its inhabitants is Brahma Sahampati, who begs the Buddha to teach Dhamma to the world (SN 6.1).

Fourth jhana. (See, e.g., AN 4.123.)

(26) Clear-sighted devas (sudassi deva)
(25) Beautiful devas (sudassa deva)
(24) Untroubled devas (atappa deva)
(23) Devas not Falling Away (aviha deva)
(22) Unconscious beings (asaññasatta)   Only body is present; no mind.
(21) Very Fruitful devas (vehapphala deva)   Beings in these planes enjoy varying degrees of jhanic bliss.
(20) Devas of Refulgent Glory (subhakinna deva)   
Third jhana (highest degree). (See, e.g., AN 4.123.)

(19) Devas of Unbounded Glory (appamanasubha deva)   Third jhana (medium degree)
(18) Devas of Limited Glory (parittasubha deva)   Third jhana (minor degree)
(17) Devas of Streaming Radiance (abhassara deva)   
Second jhana (highest degree). (See, e.g., AN 4.123.)

(16) Devas of Unbounded Radiance (appamanabha deva)   Second jhana (medium degree)
(15) Devas of Limited Radiance (parittabha deva)   Second jhana (minor degree)
(14) Great Brahmas (Maha brahma)   One of this realm's most famous inhabitants is the Great Brahma, a deity whose delusion leads him to regard himself as the all-powerful, all-seeing creator of the universe (DN 11).   First jhana (highest degree)
(13) Ministers of Brahma (brahma-purohita deva)   Beings in these planes enjoy varying degrees of jhanic bliss.   First jhana (medium degree)
(12) Retinue of Brahma (brahma-parisajja deva)   
First jhana (minor degree). (See, e.g., AN 4.123.)

III. The Sensuous World (kama-loka)
HAPPY DESTINATIONS (SUGATI)

Realm   Comments   Cause of rebirth here
(11) Devas Wielding Power over the Creation of Others (paranimmita-vasavatti deva)   These devas enjoy sense pleasures created by others for them. Mara, the personification of delusion and desire, lives here.   · Ten wholesome actions (MN 41)
· Generosity

· The development of virtue and wisdom (AN 10.177)

(10) Devas Delighting in Creation (nimmanarati deva)   These devas delight in the sense objects of their own creation.
(9) Contented devas (tusita deva)   A realm of pure delight and gaiety. Bodhisattas abide here prior to their final human birth. This is where the bodhisatta Maitreya (Metteya), the next Buddha, is said to dwell.
(8) Yama devas (yama deva)   These devas live in the air, free of all difficulties.
(7) The Thirty-three Gods (tavatimsa deva)   Sakka, a devotee of the Buddha, presides over this realm. Many devas dwelling here live in mansions in the air.
(6) Devas of the Four Great Kings (catumaharajika deva)   Home of the gandhabbas, the celestial musicians, and the yakkhas, tree spirits of varying degrees of ethical purity. The latter are analogous to the goblins, trolls, and fairies of Western fairy tales.
(5) Human beings (manussa loka)   
You are here (for now).

Rebirth as a human being is extraordinarily rare (SN 56.48). It is also extraordinarily precious, as its unique balance of pleasure and pain (SN 35.135) facilitates the development of virtue and wisdom to the degree necessary to set one free from the entire cycle of rebirths.

· The development of virtue and wisdom (AN 10.177)
· The attainment of stream-entry (sotapatti) guarantees that all future rebirths will be in the human or higher realms.

* * *
STATES OF DEPRIVATION (APAYA)

Realm   Comments   Cause of rebirth here
(4) Asuras (asura)   The demons — "titans" — that dwell here are engaged in relentless conflict with each other.   · Ten unwholesome actions (MN 41)
(3) Hungry Shades/Ghosts (peta loka)   Ghosts and unhappy spirits wander hopelessly about this realm, searching in vain for sensual fulfillment.
Read Ajaan Lee's colorful description of this realm.

· Ten unwholesome actions (MN 41)
· Lack of virtue, holding to wrong views (AN 10.177)

(2) Animals (tiracchana yoni)   This realm includes all the non-human forms of life that are visible to us under ordinary circumstances: animals, insects, fish, birds, worms, etc.   · Ten unwholesome actions (MN 41)
· Lack of virtue, holding to wrong views. If one is generous to monks and nuns, however, one may be reborn as an "ornamented" animal (i.e., a bird with bright plumage; a horse with attractive markings, etc.; AN 10.177).

· Behaving like an animal (MN 57)

(1) Hell (niraya)   These are realms of unimaginable suffering and anguish (described in graphic detail in MN 129 and MN 130). Should not be confused with the eternal hell found in other religious traditions, since one's time here is — as it is in every realm — temporary.   · Ten unwholesome actions (MN 41)
· Lack of virtue, holding to wrong views (AN 10.177)

· Murdering your parents, murdering an arahant, injuring the Buddha, or creating a schism in the Sangha (AN 5.129)

· Being quarrelsome and annoying to others (Snp II.6)

Sources:

Buddhist Dictionary, by Nyanatiloka Mahathera (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1980).
The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction (fourth edition), by R.H. Robinson & W.L. Johnson (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1997).
The Long Discourses of the Buddha (Introduction), translated by Maurice Walshe (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1987).
A Manual of Abhidhamma, by Ven. Narada Thera (Kuala Lumpur: Buddhist Missionary Society, 1979).
The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Introduction), translated by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995).
Teacher of the Devas (Wheel Publication 414/416), by Susan Elbaum Jootla (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1997).
The Three Worlds (wall chart), compiled by Ven. Acaro Suvanno (printed for free distribution by devotees and Mr & Mrs Lim Say Hoe and family).
See also:


source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sagga/loka.html
« Last Edit: October 03, 2015, 02:34:23 pm by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2015, 11:15:23 pm »
Ron, the OP was in regard to the Ten Spiritual Realms as mentioned within some Mahayana scriptures, such as the Lotus and Avatamsaka Sutras, for example, where they're interpreted in a symbolical or allegorical sense --- in other words, it wasn't related to the 31 Planes of Existence nor the over-all cosmology of the Theravada school itself.

Although Mahayana Buddhism accepted the cosmology (as you've outlined above), several of the Mahayana sects also believe that there are pure land worlds where Buddhas and Bodhisattvas teach sentient beings in human forms:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_spiritual_realms


Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2015, 03:41:47 pm »
Thanks for the info., DK.  As you are well aware, I am not familiar with The Mahayana suttas.  I appreciate the link provided. :hug:
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: 10 realms and rebirth - figurative or literal?
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2015, 04:35:15 pm »
Consider yourself auspiciously lucky because too much familiarity leads to gray hair  :teehee:

 


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