This Special Edition Was Published For Free Distribution by
Inward Path Publisher, Penang, Malaysia in 1998.


Whoever knows all his past lives,
Sees both the happy and unhappy realms,
Who has reached the end of births,
Who has achieved perfect Insight,
And has attained the summit of the holy life.
- Him do I call a Noble One.




SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL,men have always been wondering whether there is a life before one is born and after one dies.

Most religions, other than Buddhism, believe that the human world is between heaven and hell. They believe that when humans die they will go to either heaven or hell, depending on their past good or bad deeds. They believe in the Almighty God who creates our universe and all its inhabitants.  Life in either heaven or hell seems to be eternal to them as they do not believe in rebirth.

But Buddhists believe that there are more than just the human world in between heaven and hell. According to Buddhist teachings, there are altogether thirty one planes of existence where beings can be reborn again and again - a process termed as Samsara - so long as there are craving and attachment, which are the primary causes of rebirth. Kamma only plays a secondary role by determining which plane of existence one is to be reborn.

The basis of Buddhist teachings is the Four Noble Truths, that is suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.

The cessation of suffering can only be attained when one gets rid of all craving and attachment, which are the causes of rebirth and suffering. The termination of the process of rebirth and the cessation of all sufferings is termed as Nibbana. Nibbana is conceived by Buddhists as the state of eternal peace and highest bliss. The only way to attain Nibbana is by following the middle path, that is the Noble Eightfold Path proclaimed by Lord Buddha.

The following article on Existence: Rebirth and Planes of Existence which is taken from chapter N of the book entitled 'THE BUDDHIST CONCEPT OF KARMA AND REBIRTH', by Sunthorn Na-Rangsi will give readers an insight into the thirty one planes of existence. It is written in plain simple English and an average reader can easily gauge its contents and have a rough idea of what the thirty one planes of existence are all about.

Ng Kim Jee




A. Apaya-bhumi or the Plane of Misery

l.  Niraya or Hell
2. Tiracchanayoni or Animal Birth
3. Pettivisaya (Petayoni) or the realm of the Unhappy Ghost
4. Asurayoni or the Birth of the Titans

B. Kamasugati-bhumi or the Plane of Happiness Connected with Desires

1. The realm of Human Beings

2. Catummaharajika Heaven or the Heaven of the Four Great Kings

3. Tavatimsa or the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods

4. Yama-bhumi
(the Abode of a Devaraja named Yama)

5. Tusita-bhumi
(the realm where every Bodhisatta to be born here before the last one in which he attains to Buddhahood)

6. Nimmanaraa-bhumi
(the Abode of a Devaraja named Sunimmitta or Nimmitta)

7. Paranimmitavasavata-bhumi
(the Abode of a Devaraja named Paranimimita)

C. Rupavacara-bhumi or the Plane of Form

1. Rebirth in the Pathama jhana-bhumi
(Brahmaparisajja, Bmhmapurohita and Mahabrahma)

2. Rebirth in the Duaya jhana-bhumi
(Parittabha, Appamanabha and Abhassara)

3. Rebirth in the Tatiya jhana-bhumi
(Parittosubha, Appamanasubha and Subhakinha or Subhakinna)

4. Rebirth in the Catuttha jhana-bhumi
(Vehapphala, Asannasatta, Aviha, Atappa, Sudassa, Sudassi and Akanittha)

D. Arupavacara-bhumi or the Plane of the Formless

1. Akasanancayatana

2. Vinnanancayatana

3. Akincannayatana

4. Nevasannanasannayatana



BUDDHISTS BELIEVE THAT THE HUMAN WORLD is not the only world where living beings exist, but that there are many other planes of existence where some forms of life flourish. These planes of existence, despite the fact that some of which are invisible to human eyes, are closely related to our world. They are places where rebirth takes place.

According to Buddhism, the nature of one’s future birth is conditioned by kamma performed in the present life. From here one may, after death, go “upwards” to the plane of happiness or “downwards” to the realm of misery. So far as kamma is concerned, our present world seems to be the centre of all other worlds and this present life is the determining factor of future lives.

Viewed from the point of view of rebirth, the human world and other worlds or planes of existence are reciprocally related.  Not only do the beings of this world pass away to take rebirth in other planes, but the beings of those planes also come to take rebirth in the human world.

The Pali Canon speaks of three planes of existence called bhava. The Pali term bhava literally means ‘becoming’, ‘state of existence’ or ‘plane of existence’. The three planes of existence are:

a. Kamabhava, the plane of desires,
b. Rupabhava, the plane of form, and
c. Arupabhava, the plane of the formless or incorporeal beings.

In the Sammaditthi Sutta the Venerable Sariputta speaks of the cause, the cessation and the path leading to the cessation of bhava for each and every individual. Attachment (upadana) is described as the cause of bhava.  Because of attachment one is to be reborn again after death, and because he is to be reborn, bhava or the plane of existence is said to exist for him.

The cessation of bhava is nothing but the cessation of attachment which
is its cause. And the Noble Eightfold Path is said to be the way leading to
the cessation of bhava.

In the Abhidhammatthasangaha the classification of the planes of existence appears to be slightly different from that of the Pali Canon.  Here the planes of existence are called bhumi. The Pali term ‘bhumi’ literally means ‘ground, soil, plane, or stage’.

The Abhidhammattha-sangaha classifies planes of existence into four sub-divisions:

a. Apaya-bhumi, the plane of misery,
b. Kamasugati-bhumi, the better plane of the world of desires,
c. Rupavacara-bhumi, the plane of form, and
d. Arupavacara-bhumi, the plane of the formless.

The Apaya-bhumi and Kamasugati-bhumi are included in the Kamavacara-bhumi or the plane of the beings whose consciousness is restless under the influence of diverse worldly desires. Classification is made here merely to distinguish the plane of misery (Duggati) from the plane of happiness (Sugati). Our consideration of the planes of existence will follow the classification as given in the Abhidhammatthasangaha.

The Pali Canon speaks of four types of birth in different planes of existence. The first type is that of a being born from an egg (andaja).  Whatever being comes into life by breaking through an eggshell is called a ‘being born from an egg’.

The second type is that of a being born from a womb (jalabuja). The being born by breaking through a membranous sheath, like human beings, or some kinds of animals like cows, etc., belongs to this type of birth.

The third type is that of the being born of moisture (sansedaja).  Whatever being is produced out of rotting fish or rotting corpses or in a dirty pool,’ is called a ‘being born of moisture’.

The fourth type is that of spontaneous uprising (opapatika). Devas or gods in heaven, and those who are born in hell belong to this type of birth.

We may roughly say that human beings belong to the second type of birth or jalabuja; among the beings in the animal kingdom, some belong to the first type of birth or andaja, some belong to the second type or jalabuja, and some belong to the third type or sansedaja; the beings in heaven and in hell belong to the fourth type or opapatika.

Arupabhava (Sutta) or
Arupavacara-bhumi  (Abhidhamma)
Or the plane of the formless (incorporeal beings)

(31) Nevasannanasannayatana
84,000 kappas (aeon)

(30) Akincannayatana
60,000 kappas

(29) Vinnanancayatana
40,000 kappas

(28) Akasanancayatana
20,000 kappas

Rupabhava or Rupavacara-bhumi or the plane of  form


Suddhavasa or the Pure Abodes

(27) Akanittha - 16,000 kappas
(26) Sudassi - 8,000 kappas
(25) Sudassa - 4,000 kappas
(24) Atappa - 2,000 kappas
(23) Aviha - 1,000 kappas

(22) Asannasatta - 500 kappas
(21) Vehapphala - 500 kappas


(20) Subhakinha or Subhakinna - 64 kappas
(19) Appamanasubha - 32 kappas
(18) Parittasubha - 16 kappas


(17) Abhassara - 8 kappas
(16) Appamanabha - 4 kappas
(15) Patittabha - 2 kappas


(14) Mahabrahma - 1 kappas
(13) Brahmapurohita - 1/2 kappas
(12) Brahmaparisajja – 1/3 kappas

Kamabhava or  Kamavacara-bhumi or the plane of desires

Kamasugati-bhumi or the plane of hapiness
connected with desires

Kamavacara (Heaven)

(11) Paranimmitavasavatti-bhumi
16,000 divine years or 9,216 million years human world

(10) Nimmanarati-bhumi
8,000 divine years or 2,304 million years human world

(9) Tusita-bhumi
4,000 divine years or 576 million years human world

(8) Yama-bhumi
2,000 divine years or 144 million years human world

(7) Tavatimsa
1,000 divine years or 36 million years human world

(6) Catummaharajika
500 divine years or 9 million years human world

(5) Manussa (human beings)

Apaya-bhumi or plane or misery

(4) Tiracchanayoni (Animal)

(3) Asurayoni (Titan)

(2) Pettivisaya (Unhappy ghost)

4 kinds of  Peta :


(1) Niraya (Hell)

a) Sanjiva Niraya
b) Kalasutta Niraya
c) Sanghatai Niraya
d) Roruva or Dhumaroruva Niraya
e) Maharoruva or Jalaroruva Niraya
f) Tapana or Culatapana Niraya
g) Mahatapama Niraya
h) Avici Niraya

Each great hell (above) is surrounded on each of its four sides by five minor hells –
Ussada-niraya, viz.; Gutha, Kukkula, Simpalivana, Asipattavana and Vettarani –
Bringing the total to 168 hells.

**The tables above is based on the article in the book – by Sunanda