Sensual Pleasures – The Hidden Suffering

August 22, 2020; revised June 15, 2022; December 11, 2023

Sensual Pleasures (Kāma Assāda)

1. The word sensual means the gratification of physical senses. It may have a sexual connotation, but not necessarily. We will use that word in that sense to represent the meaning of the Pāli word “kāma.” People like sensual pleasures because they have “kāma rāga.”

  • Such sensory contacts occur in close proximity. The three main “close sensory contacts” involve eating, smelling, and body touches (including sex.) However, visuals and sounds are also used to enhance these three sensory experiences.
  • Therefore, “kāma rāga” means craving for sensual pleasures (tasty foods, nice fragrances, bodily comforts, etc.), not just for sex. See, “What is “Kāma”? It is not Just Sex.”
  • All five sensory contacts are available in most of the lowest 11 realms (four apāyā, the human realm, and six Deva realms.) Thus, kāma loka includes those 11 realms.
  • Most “sensory pleasures” are “mind-made”; see “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”
  • Furthermore, those sensual pleasures (kāma assāda) come at a price. There is much suffering in kāma loka, as we will see below.
What Is a Body (Kāya)?

2. In the previous post, we saw that out of 31 realms in this world, living beings in 20 realms do not have physical bodies like ours. Brahmā in those 20 realms have only a trace of matter. They cannot be seen even with the best scientific instruments available today. See “Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis.” Therefore, we need to abandon our perception of “solid, dense” bodies like ours to be universal. Even our bodies, in reality, are mostly “empty space,” as illustrated in the following video:


  • There is also the following related issue. We conventionally translate the Pāli word “kāya” as “body.” Now, we are only used to “physical, dense bodies” like ours or animals. The idea of a living being with very little matter (and thus invisible to us) is strange to most of us.
  • However, the Pāli word “kāya” means a “collection.” As we know, a living being is a collection of five aggregates (pancakkhandha) in Buddha Dhamma. An entity that can support those five aggregates has a “kāya.”
  • In English, we sometimes use “body” as a collection or aggregate. Some examples are “body of water” and “body of evidence.”
  • Brahma has a set of “bare minimum” (a trace of) rupa to support the five aggregates, as discussed below. A “kāya” of a living being is a collection of aggregates of mind and matter.
  • The Pāli word for a physical body is “sarīra” even though “kāya” is sometimes used, especially regarding sesnory experiences (touch, injuries, etc.)  felt by the physical body, i.e., in “kāyañca paṭicca phoṭṭhabbe ca uppajjati kāyaviññāṇaṁ” in the “Chachakka Sutta (MN 148).”
Why Do Humans Need Dense Physical Bodies?

3. Then, a question comes up. Why do humans need physical bodies? We discussed that human (and animal) life also starts with an “invisible body” (gandhabba), just like for a Brahma. A dense physical body arises later on when that gandhabba gets into a womb. See the previous post, “Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis.” Why doesn’t the gandhabba stays with that invisible body?

  • We need physical bodies to taste the food, smell nice odors, have sex, etc. Those sensory experiences REQUIRE dense bodies. We highly value those “bodily contacts” and constantly think, speak, and work to get more.
  • But there is a “hidden price to pay” for close-contact sensory pleasures. Such dense bodies are prone to diseases, injuries, and body pains. – Unfortunately, such problems are not very evident at a young age, and for most people, by the time they realize these problems, it is too late. Their brains are getting weak too, and they may not be able to learn the deeper teachings of the Buddha.
  • Most living-beings in the 11 realms of kāma loka have dense bodies. The bodies of Devas are a bit less dense but dense enough to experience those three sensory inputs. The word “kāma” implies such close contact.
  • Let us consider a different approach to see the “drawbacks” and “dangers” in sensual pleasures. Let us look into how Brahmā in 20 realms (out of 31 realms in the world) overcome the desire for sensual pleasures and live for billions of years in “jhānic bliss” in those realms.
Sufferings Due to “Dense Bodies” Is Absent in Brahma Realms

4. Out of the 31 realms of our world, the higher-lying 20 realms of Brahmās are absent from any suffering (diseases like cancer, injuries, brain defects, or even body aches). As we discussed in #2, those Brahmās do not have dense bodies like ours. To be born in Brahma realms, one must overcome kāma rāga at least temporarily; see “Rebirths Take Place According to Abhisaṅkhāra.”

  • Their “physical bodies” have just an unimaginably small amount of “matter” that is a billion times smaller than an atom in modern science. It is better to call it an invisible “magnetic body” or an “energy field.” Some people think these Brahmā have ONLY the mind, but that is not correct. The Buddha stated that the mind could not exist without a material base. These Brahmā have “bodies” with the least amount of matter in Buddha Dhamma, a suddhāṭṭhaka.
  • Furthermore, there is no need to eat since there is no dense physical body to maintain. The subtle “body” of a Brahma is sustained by kammic energy.
  • Of course, “bodies” that are invisible is a strange notion to many people. That is why the Buddha said his Dhamma has never been known to the world.
  • How do those Brahmā get such “invisible bodies” that are not subject to any suffering (illnesses, injuries, hunger, etc.)?
Births in Arupāvacara Brahma Realms

5. As briefly mentioned in the previous post, one can be born in those four realms by cultivating the four highest jhānaThose who cultivate such jhāna enjoy the same life experiences as arupāvacara Brahmā (with just the ability to think.)

  • Anariya yogis get to such jhāna using various techniques, but abstaining from sensual pleasures is a requirement. Such anariya yogis normally stay away from sensual attractions by living in forests, especially away from women. But Noble Persons (Ariyas) get to such jhānā by cultivating wisdom and comprehending the dangers of sensual pleasures. Once getting to Ariya jhāna, one could associate with even the most beautiful women without being tempted. For example, an Anāgāmi has no kāma rāga.
  • The four arupāvacara Brahma realms correspond to optimum levels of mettā, karuṇā, muditā, and upekkhā.
  • For details, see “The Four Sublime States” by Nyanaponika Thera. To quote from that article, “Brahma is free from hate; and one who assiduously develops these four sublime states, by conduct and meditation, is said to become an equal of Brahma (Brahma-samo). If they become the dominant influence in his mind, he will be reborn in congenial worlds, the realms of Brahma. Therefore, these states of mind are called God-like, Brahma-like.“
  • These arupāvacara Brahmā (in the four highest realms) have the “smallest bodies” of all living beings. In the Abhidhamma language, they only have the “seat of the mind” (hadaya vatthu) for thinking. They do not have any of the five “physical senses” of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or body touches.
Births in Rupāvacara Brahma Realms

6. Rupāvacara Brahmās have only a “bit more complex bodies” with the addition of two pasāda rupa of cakkhu and sota. They can see and hear, in addition to being able to think. As we know, the 16 rupāvacara Brahma realms lie below the 4 arupāvacara Brahma realms. See, “31 Realms of Existence” and “The Thirty-one Planes of Existence.

  • Note that rupāvacara Brahmā can “see” and “hear’ without having physical eyes and ears like humans. I explained in the previous post (“Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis.”) that we do not see or hear with our physical eyes and ears. Our physical eyes are like cameras that only “take pictures” of the external world for the gandhabba trapped inside the dense physical body. Also see “Vision Is a Series of “Snapshots” – Movie Analogy.”
  • A human can be assured of birth in a rupāvacara Brahma realm by cultivating rupāvacara jhāna. The 16 realms in rupāvacara Brahma loka correspond to the four lower jhānā at various “strengths.”
  • Even to get to the four lower jhāna corresponding to the 16 realms in rupāvacara Brahma lokaone needs to suppress at least the desire for sensual pleasures (or “kāma rāga“) in addition to abstaining from immoral deeds (dasa akusala.) That is why all suttā on jhāna have a verse with “vivicceva kāmehi, vivicca akusalehi dhammehi.” or “withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from akusala thoughts.” See “Jhānic Experience in Detail – Sāmañ­ña­phala Sutta (DN 2).”
Why Do People Cultivate Jhāna?

7. Sensory pleasures due to “close contacts” (eating, smelling, sex, and other “bodily comforts”) come at a price, as we discussed in #3. Such “close contacts” are possible ONLY with a complex, dense body. However, such a dense body is subjected to various types of ailments.

  • In addition, the ability of the physical body to provide such sensory experiences GO DOWN with age. At old age, the taste buds don’t work well. One may be unable to smell odors the same way as one used to. And one’s sexual capabilities go down as well. One can easily see such drawbacks.
  • Furthermore, there is also a hidden danger in such cravings for sense pleasures. The pursuit of sense pleasures INEVITABLY leads to immoral deeds sooner or later. People kill, rape, steal, and lie to get possession of “material things” that provide those sensory contacts. Such actions are papa kamma (or strong immoral deeds) that can lead to bad results (vipāka). In particular, they can lead to rebirth in the “bad realms’ or apāyā.
  • Ancient yogis (even before the Buddha,) realized that sense pleasures (kāma assāda) have such bad consequences. They saw that by staying away from such sense pleasures, one could GET INTO jhānic states. So, they went deep into forests, stayed away from society in general and women in particular. They focus on “neutral objects” such as one’s breath or a kasina object. With such techniques, they could get to both rupāvacara and arupāvacara jhānic states.
Why Are Such “Non-Buddhist” Jhāna Techniques Are Useless in the Long Run?

8. We remember that ascetic Siddhattha (before attaining the Buddhahood) learned such mundane jhāna techniques from two yogis, Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Ramaputta. The Bodhisatta realized that such techniques do not remove kāma rāga from one’s mind, but can only SUPPRESS them.

  • While cultivating such a jhāna will lead to rebirths in a Brahma realm, the existence in that realm WILL END once that kammic energy runs out. Then, one can be reborn in an apāya in the future. The only PERMANENT solution is to end the rebirth process. That DOES NOT mean extinction because there is no “soul-type entity” going through the rebirth process. See, “What Reincarnates? – Concept of a Lifestream.” For a deeper analysis, “Yamaka Sutta (SN 22.85) – Arahanthood Is Not Annihilation but End of Suffering.” 
  • The Bodhisatta spent six more years pursuing the way to permanently REMOVE kāma rāga (and other defilements) from the mind.
The Permanent Solution Is Nibbāna

9. Upon attaining the Buddhahood, the Buddha realized that one must first understand the unfruitfulness and dangers in pursuing such sensory pleasures. That is the ONLY way to remove cravings for sensual pleasures PERMANENTLY and to avoid rebirths in the apāyā due to INEVITABLE temptations in kāma loka.

  • With that understanding of the anicca nature, one becomes a Sotapanna free of rebirths in the apāyās. That is when one ENTERS the Noble Path.
  • Then, by following that Noble Path, one can become free of kāma rāga first and stop rebirths anywhere in kāma loka at the Anāgāmi stage.
  • The main point is that birth in ANY of the 31 realms of this world WILL end up in death. Even the “relatively peaceful” life in a Brahma realm will end in death. There is no refuge anywhere in the 31 realms. Therefore, the ONLY permanent solution is to stop any and all rebirths. Of course, that process starts with understanding the overall rebirth process among the 31 realms. That understanding is embedded in the Four Noble Truths (and Tilakkhana.)
  • We are going through this process to get a better understanding of that grand scheme of things.
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