Published before October 23, 2015; revised May 31, 2016; Dec. 1, 2018; Dec. 8, 2020; August 7, 2022
31 Realms In 3 Loka
1. There are three main categories that the 31 realms can be divided into kāma lōka, rūpa lōka, and arūpa lōka.
- Living beings in the kāma lōka are in 11 realms: four lowest realms (apāyās), the human realm, and six dēvā realms.
- Rūpa lōka has 16 rūpāvacara brahma realms. A “rūpāvacara brahma” means a brahma in the rūpa lōka.
- Arūpa lōka has 4 arūpāvacara brahma realms.
- Different sets of sense faculties are associated with beings in those three types of “lōka.”
Body Types in Arūpa Loka
2. Those in the arūpa lōka have just the mind. Therefore, the only rūpa (or matter) associated with an arūpi Brahma is the hadaya vatthu, the smallest unit of matter in Buddha Dhamma is a suddhāṭṭhaka.
- An arūpāvacara brahma has a manōmaya kāya that has only a hadaya vatthu.
- That suddhāṭṭhaka is unimaginably small; much smaller than an atom in modern science. So, we cannot see these beings.
- It is important to note that we cannot even see many microscopic beings that live among us, like those in drinking water. Just because we cannot see them, it does not mean they do not exist. Furthermore, a microscopic creature like an ameba is made of billions of suddhāṭṭhaka! That should give an idea of a suddhāṭṭhaka.
Body Types in Rūpa Loka
3. Those in the rūpa lōka have just three sense faculties: eyes, ears, and mind.
- But the eyes and ears are not solid and tangible things like the physical eyes and ears that the animals or we have.
- Seeing and hearing for those rūpāvacara Brahmā happen with the aid of cakkhu and sota pasāda rūpa. Each of those two is also the size of a Suddhāṭṭhaka.
- Therefore, even for a rūpāvacara Brahma, the whole “body” is just three suddhāṭṭhaka, unimaginably small. This collection of hadaya vatthu and the two pasāda rūpa is called the manōmaya kāya of that Brahma.
Therefore, even with the aid of the most sophisticated microscope, it will be impossible to see any Brahmā in those 20 realms (rūpa and arūpa loka.) They all have a “subtle body” with just a few suddhāṭṭhaka or a “manomaya kāya.”
Manomaya Kāya in Kāma Loka
4. In fact, ALL BEINGS have such basic sense faculties of the size of a suddhāṭṭhaka each. The basic sensing unit for a kāmāvacara being has six units for seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and thinking.
- Any kāmāvacara being (including humans, animals, and dēvās) has a “fine body” with those unseen five sense faculties called “pasāda rūpa”: cakkhu pasāda rūpa for seeing, sota pasāda rūpa for hearing, ghana pasāda rūpa for tasting, jivhā pasāda rūpa for smelling, kāya pasāda rūpa for touching.
- These five sets of pasāda rūpa and the hadaya vatthu make up the “mental body” or “manōmaya kāya” of a kāmāvacara living being.
- It is easy to see that a rūpāvacara Brahma has a manōmaya kāya with just two pasāda rūpa (for seeing and hearing) and a hadaya vatthu for thinking. An arūpāvacara Brahma has just the hadaya vatthu for the mind.
Dense Physical Body in Kāma Loka
5. The above-mentioned manomaya kāya of a being in kāma loka is “trapped inside” a dense body. It contacts the external world through the “windows” on the physical body: Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body.
- Thus, the physical (solid) eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body of a kāmāvacara being (human or animal) act as “sensing equipment” to collect external signals.
- The brain processes those signals and sends them to the manōmaya kāya inside this solid body. See “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body.”
- This is why, even for humans, the essence is in the manōmaya kāya. The solid body is just an inert shell “powered by” the manōmaya kāya. When the manōmaya kāya comes out at death, the physical body becomes inert, like a piece of wood.
Manomaya Kāya Has the Blueprint for the Physical Body
6. This “manōmaya kāya” is the one that takes hold of the zygote in a womb at conception. The union makes that zygote of the mother and father; see “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
- A gandhabba that descends to the womb originally has a bit denser body than this manōmaya kāya. In addition to the “manōmaya kāya,” it has a “material body,” too, but that is still too fine to be seen by us. When the gandhabba enters the womb, that “material body” is shed and only the “very fine manōmaya kāya” combines with the zygote.
- As discussed in that post, the zygote is the cell formed by the mother and father’s union and is well understood in modern science. Of course, modern science is unaware of the manōmaya kāya of the gandhabba that merges with the zygote.
- Scientists do not know how that zygote becomes a “new life,” a new living being.
- Gandhabba is discussed in “Mental Body – Gandhabba.”
7. Now that zygote with the manōmaya kāya starts diving into more and more new cells. The energy needed to make those new cells comes from the mother (i.e., from the mother’s food). See “Buddhist Explanations of Conception, Abortion, and Contraception.”
- That initial single cell grows to a baby of the size that comes out of the womb after nine months. Now, we can see that the critical manōmaya kāya — with those basic sensing faculties – is negligibly small compared to that baby.
- Of course, once outside the womb, the baby grows by eating food and eventually grows into an adult. Virtually all solid matter in an adult is just lifeless matter. This is why a person can lose one-third or even half of the body mass and remain the “same person.”
- “Life” is not in the physical body but in the manōmaya kāya.
Manomaya Kāya is Primary
8. Nothing in the heavy solid body defines that “person.” All the key aspects are in the mental body or the manōmaya kāya.
- That solid body is made alive by the manōmaya kāya with the hadaya vatthu and the five pasāda rūpa. Hard to believe, but that is what happens.
- At the death of the physical body, that manōmaya kāya comes out. When it comes out, it also has a very fine “physical type” body that resembles the body of the person that dies. That combined fine body is really “ghost-like” and can be seen by even some people. That is called gandhabba, which now waits for another suitable body to enter if more kammic energy for the “human bhava” is left.
No Dense Bodies in Rūpa and Aūpa Loka
9. For Brahmā in the rupa loka, three units of matter are formed by kammic energy at the moment of birth; because it has three units of matter, an initial “body” formed at the moment of paṭisandhi is called a “tija (or thrija) kāya.” The three units are kammaja kāya, cittaja kāya, and the utuja kāya. The utuja kāya is a very subtle “physical body,” and those “rupi Brahmā” can “see” and “hear.”
- Those rupi Brahmā have a kammaja kāya consisting of kāya dasaka, vatthu dasaka, bhava dasaka, and two pasada rupa for seeing and hearing: cakkhu pasada and sota pasada. Each pasada rupa is essentially a suddhashtaka, with different modes of spin/rotation (“bramana“/”paribramana“); see “31 Realms Associated with the Earth“.
- Even though “kāya” is translated as “body,” the only “physical body” of a rupi Brahma is the “utuja kāya.” Thus a “kāya” does not necessarily mean a “physical body.”
10. The physical bodies (utuja kāya) of those rupi Brahmā are much finer than those of the devas, and thus devas cannot see those rupi Brahmā just like we cannot see the devas.
- The Brahmā (and also devas) can “see” without the aid of light and “hear” without having air to transmit sound waves; their “physical bodies” do not have “eyes” and “ears” like ours. Thus they can “see” and “hear” over great distances. And they can be anywhere they wish within a short time.
- The closest analogy of how their “vision” works is how we “see” dreams; we don’t need eyes to see dreams. The Brahmā can “see” with the cakkhu pasāda rupa (perceive may be a better word). These things will become clear in the future as we get into details.
“Denser” Bodies in Lower Realms
11. A basic rule of thumb is that those in lower realms generally cannot see the beings in the higher realms. Humans, of course, can develop abhiññā powers and “see” those beings in higher realms.
- In the kāma loka, the highest realms are, of course, the deva realms. Devas are also born instantaneously (opapatika births), just like the two kinds of Brahmā. However, devas have a fourth type of body called the “karaja kāya,” which is like our physical body. And just like us, they need to consume food (“amurtha“) regularly to sustain their “karaja kāya,” which is also called the “āhāraja kāya” since it requires food (“āhāra“) for sustenance.
- Thus devas have “four bodies” or “catuja kāya,” i.e., the four bodies of “kammaja kāya,” cittaja kāya, utuja kāya, and the “karaja kāya.” are collectively called a “catuja kāya.”
- But devas (and Brahmā) do not get sick. They die and disappear when the kammic energy for that existence runs out.
Beings in Kāma Loka Start With Manomaya Kāya
12. When humans and animals are first “born” into that existence, they are also instantly formed in a form close to Brahma. This is the manōmaya kāya generated by kammic energy at the cuti- paṭisandhi moment.
- That manōmaya kāya is condensed into the gandhabba state we discussed in previous essays; see “Gandhabba (Manomaya Kaya) – Introduction” and follow-up posts.
- For example, if a man dies and still has kammic energy for the “human bhava” left, he will be reborn as a human. Otherwise, he will latch onto another “bhava” on his past strong kamma vipāka. For example, his next “bhava” could be a deer.
- If reborn as a human, a “human gandhabba” will emerge from the dead body; if he is born a deer, then a “deer gandhabba” will emerge from the dead body.
Gandhabba Can See/Hear Without Physical Eyes/Ears
13. The body of a human or animal gandhabba is also a “catuja kāya” like a deva. But it is finer than the body of a deva. A gandhabba can only inhale odors (“gandha” + “abba“) as food, and thus the name.
- Like Brahmā or devas, a gandhabba can “see” and “hear” over great distances. A gandhabba does not have a solid body to support physical eyes or ears. (Of course, we have a hard time imagining that. But it can be compared to what happens when we see a dream. There is no need for light to see dreams; we see dreams when pitch-black at night; we do not “see” dreams with our eyes).
- Even though one could think it would be nice to be a gandhabba, a human gandhabba is in perpetual stress (agony may be a better word). A gandhabba cannot enjoy any kind of “contact” sensory pleasure since the body is fine; it cannot taste the food or grasp anything.
A Physical Body Is Needed for “Sensual Pleasures” or “Kāma Assāda”
14. A human or animal gandhabba must “build” a physical body to experience sensual pleasures with touch, smell, or taste. They received those “bhava” because they very much DESIRE “coarse sensory pleasures”: “upādāna paccayā bhava.”
- Thus we can see that we get these solid, dense bodies BECAUSE that is what we so eagerly desired. As long as we crave these “coarse sense pleasures,” we will be born in the kāma loka. Even though the devas are in the kāma loka, their desires are not as “coarse.” They do not need to “tightly grab things” to get enjoyment.
- Brahmā in rupa loka is further removed from “coarse sensory pleasures”; they do not desire tastes, smells, or body touches. Seeing and hearing are enough for them.
- Brahmā in arupa loka does not even have a desire for sights and sounds. Mind pleasures are enough for them, and the presence of matter is minimal in the arupa loka.
Those “Kāma Assāda” Come With Drawbacks (Ādinava)
15. We do not realize that having a “dense body” also leads to various ailments. A dense body is also subject to decay as it gets old.
- Furthermore, now the ability to “see” and “hear” over great distances is gone. Now the gandhabba is trapped inside a heavy, solid body shell and has to “see” and “hear” through the “physical doors” that are attached to that body. That is the sacrifice made to be able to have the “grabbing experience,” to be able to enjoy coarse foods and sexual pleasures, etc.
- The Buddha called the physical body (“karaja kāya” or “āhāraja kāya“) a “cave” or a “shell” that a gandhabba uses temporarily. It has a certain lifetime; during that time, it grows, decays, and finally dies. Then the gandhabba needs to find another body. Especially in the kāma loka, we build a “new shell” when the old one dies and spend a lot of time as a frustrated gandhabba waiting for a suitable womb to start building a new body.
- “Dhammapada Verse 37” states: “Dūraṅgamaṁ ekacaraṁ, asarīraṁ guhāsayaṁ;” OR “The mind travels far, wandering alone; incorporeal, it hides in a cave.”
Physical Body a Temporary
16. Thus, it should be clear now that it is only the “physical body” that decays and finally dies. A human gandhabba will keep evolving and find a “new body” similar to the old one IF the kammic energy for that bhava is not exhausted. Otherwise, the human gandhabba will disappear (like a deva or Brahma does at death), and a new animal gandhabba will emerge if the new bhava is that of an animal; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”
- Thus we can see now that even for humans and animals, “the basis” is a fine body of a gandhabba with a fine body like a rupi Brahma (and less dense than the body of a deva). The “solid body” starts growing inside the mother’s womb and continues after the “birth” as a baby by eating food.
17. Nature also uses this physical body or the “shell” to impart kamma vipāka. We need to constantly clean this body all the time and also need to take care of vital body parts. These are part of the “physical suffering” we do not think twice about.
- And, of course, we can come down with not only minor colds and headaches but also major ailments like heart problems or cancer; this is also part of the “physical suffering.” Both kinds of “physical suffering” arise due to the physical body.
- However, these hardships are “masked” by our sense of “anticipated future happiness” by acquiring such and such “pleasurable things.”
Human Body Is Special
18. The other point, even more important, is the special nature of the human body with a well-developed brain. See “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body.” That is what makes human life special because that is what allows us to understand the message of the Buddha and get released from the suffering-filled round of rebirth.
- How the bodies of the hell beings are prepared by kammic energy just to impart kamma vipāka (they are unable to do abhisaṅkhāra, especially puññābhisaṅkhāra) is discussed in “Does the Hell (Niraya) Exist?.
Next in the series: Gandhabba Sensing the World – With and Without a Physical Body