Realms of existence
- Purgatory (Hells, but impermanent, not eternal)
- Asuras (jealous beings)
- Higher Beings (the six planes within sense world, consisting of angels or impermanent gods)
The above lists a summary of the Buddha’s cosmology. All are closely interdependent as beings progress through the various realms of existence.
In addition to the six major levels of the planes of existence listed above, there are 16 planes of heavenly beings outside the sense world (the world of Form) and another 4 planes of heavenly beings in the Formless world (without body) for a total of 31 planes of existence. In the planes of existence we can see our close connection to animals. This is from the re-birth process and the fact that animals, like humans suffer from emotions, selfish cravings, and other pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Darwin’s theory of evolution is completely compatible with Buddhism.
The 31 planes of existence
Typical life span not set unless shown in paranthesis; time is in our earth years, for the devas their celestial days and years are different from our concepts of time:
- 1. Purgatory
- 2. Asuras
- 3. Ghosts
- 4. Animals
- 5. Humans
- 6. Devas of the Four Great Kings (9 million years)
- 7. The 33 Gods (36 million years)
- 8. Yama devas (144 million years)
- 9. Contented devas (576 million years)
- 10. Devas delighting in creation (2.3 billion years)
- 11. Devas wielding power over others’ creations (9.2 billion years)
Numbers 1 – 11 are in the realm of the sense world, can experience sense pleasures and displeasures, mostly pleasure for the devas (impermanent gods or angels).
- 12. Retinue of Brahma (one-third of an aeon) 
- 13. Ministers of Brahma ((half an aeon) 
- 14. Great Brahmas (one aeon) 
- 15. Devas of limited radiance (2 aeons) 
- 16. Devas of unbounded radiance (4 aeons) 
- 17. Devas of streaming radiance (8 aeons) 
- 18. Devas of limited glory (16 aeons) [Third jhana, minor degree]
- 19. Devas of unbounded glory (32 aeons) [Third jhana, medium degree]
- 20. Devas of refulgent glory (64 aeons) [Third jhana, highest degree]
- 21. Very fruitful devas (500 aeons) 
- 22. Unconscious beings (500 aeons) 
- 23. Devas not falling away (1,000 aeons) 
- 24. Untroubled devas (2,000 aeons) 
- 25. Beautiful, clearly visible devas (4,000 aeons) 
- 26. Clear-sighted devas (8,000 aeons) 
- 27. Peerless devas (16,000 aeons) 
Numbers 12 – 27 are in the realm of form. There is a subtle body and these deva realms are superior to those in the sense realm. One attains rebirth to these planes based on kamma and spiritual attainments. Attainment of certain jhanas at the time of death or sometime during your life can lead to these levels. The jhana level associated with the levels above is shown in [brackets].
- 28. Sphere of Infinity of Space (20,000 aeons)
- 29. Sphere of Infinity of Consciousness (40,000 aeons)
- 30. Sphere of No-thingness (60,000 aeons)
- 31. Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception (84,000 aeons)
Numbers 28 – 31 are in the realm of the formless. This means there is no body of any kind. There is just a type of consciousness, conventional existence as we know it, but without a body. The life spans are very long in the formless realm and one attains to these levels by the formless jhanas these planes are named after, jhanas or realms 5 to 8. Numbers 28- 31 are not necessarily the best places to be. At these levels, one cannot hear the Dhamma from a Buddha or arahant on earth or any other planet.
The best destinations are the pure abodes at numbers 23 – 27 which are deva realms for non-returners. Rebirth to these planes means that enlightenment will be attained while at one of these planes of existence.