The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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DontWantToReturn
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The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by DontWantToReturn »

... about is it literal or metaphorical.


Hi,

Firstly, let me just say, please keep things nice on this thread, I would like a plethora of answers and I DO NOT want to see the proponent of one answer attack a proponent of an alternate answer. So, just answer ME (don't bother replying others) with your own experience. IF this is not followed, this thread is just going to be useless, like the countless other threads on this subject out there.

I've been following a Buddhist practice for quite a while now... but the last place that I stopped, which I am picking up again from is the reason for this question.

I've always wanted to know if rebirth was literal or not. Asking this question from Buddhist monks, I get the non-answer, "see for yourself" or "keep meditating". :)

Asking this from other buddhists (not monks, at least not a monk I've come across yet) I would get either the yes it's true, the suttas say so and so or no it's not true and then the "spaghetti monster" bit (the later of these answers, mostly coming from Western Buddhist practitioners).


So back to the quesiton: I just read about the 31 planes of existence on access to insight, and it has brought me back to where I left off last.

Reading that, I tried to interpret it in both the literal many births perspective and also the metaphorical one life perspective. In doing so I found that it could more or less make sense in both perspectives (at the end of the day, as the monks I've spoken to rightly gives a non-answer to this issue, it is a non-issue, as long as we all follow the eightfold path, it makes perfect sense to do so, whichever perspective you take).

But that said, I can't help but think this: If its not meant to be taken literally, what's the point of meditative practice? I mean, I know to live a good life and follow the eightfold path, and look forward to death after one life as the end of samsara. If this is the case, what is the point of a continued meditation practice to reach Jhanas, why should we do that?

(From this point on, the confusion arises, so apologies if I am not making sense)

For those who have practiced deep meditations, how do you see this? Literally or metaphorically? Have you visited the different planes of existence in your meditation? If so, is it merely a place you can go to during one's single lifetime? Does that mean we can equate nibanna to a happy death after a single life? I ask this, because on the access to insight page I linked to above, it clearly states that the rupa-loka or arupa-loka (are all attainable by the jhanas).

Now if we take the metaphorical perspective on this, we can see that through deep meditation, maybe it is only a state of mind. But why does the access to insight article then state things like:
(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).
But then we can think based on a metaphorical perspective, that during the Buddha's time in India, they had what are called Brahma's in hinduism, and maybe those planes of existence mean that, i.e. it is another state of mind we reach in one life time.


But again, the metaphorical route (i.e. one lifetime), doesn't make sense as to why we should bother meditating and reaching jahnas if they are just states of mind, and we all one way or the other end in the same place... i.e. death (whether its a peaceful or happy death, decided by our practice of the eightfold path).


I would love to know your own understanding of this, whichever perspective you take, metaphorical or literal. And again, let me just end by saying that you should only give your answer and refrain from arguing with others who reply, also I won't be replying to your replies either, because then only the same could happen. :)

So with metta, I welcome your answers. :smile:
Jhana4
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by Jhana4 »

DontWantToReturn wrote:... about is it literal or metaphorical.


Hi,

Firstly, let me just say, please keep things nice on this thread, I would like a plethora of answers and I DO NOT want to see the proponent of one answer attack a proponent of an alternate answer.
Kind of an odd thing for someone who is making her/his first post to say. Have you been on this web site before?
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
DontWantToReturn
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by DontWantToReturn »

Hi,

I suppose this I can reply to, since its not related to the question. I have not been on this forum before, but throughout my "studies" of Buddhism on the net, I've seen so many of the literal or metaphorical threads get out of hand. So I thought it was better to lay down some rules.

Is that a bit rude since I'm a new comer here? Apologies if I come across like that... I just didn't see how this place could be any different from other buddhist forums concerning this topic. :)
Last edited by DontWantToReturn on Sun Oct 30, 2011 1:39 am, edited 2 times in total.
befriend
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by befriend »

i think it would be a better topic if teaching about the planes of existence is beneficial or detrimental to ones practice. how does it help how does it hurt. in zen they do away with the whole lot of it. but i see zen practitioners meditate more so than theravadans. hmm.
Take care of mindfulness and mindfulness will take care of you.
brahmabull
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by brahmabull »

I view rebirth through the lens of the 12-links of DO, which I hold to be present concurrently and momentarily. Because these are interdependent conditions and because emptiness is unobstructed, as a sort of law of nature, they must continue repeating from the moments conditions as their cause, and death of the physical body is not a manner of obstruction. In other words, "arising of this, that arises," to me means mind and matter are not discrete.
befriend
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by befriend »

no offense i think its a dumb topic. it is obviously both literal and metaphorical. millions of buddhists have attained 4th jhana and seen these realms, buddha said so himself. if you dont ahve the karma to trust that then the 31 planes are strictly metaphorical. if you do have the karma to trust the wise, than they are literal and metaphorical, what i think is more important is did learning about these planes of existence as being literera benefit our practice.
Take care of mindfulness and mindfulness will take care of you.
brahmabull
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by brahmabull »

Understanding the 31 planes of helps to contextualize the practice. Helps one not be disoriented.
daverupa
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by daverupa »

I can appreciate your concerns, and the care with which you've asked your question.

Very carefully and energetically apply your mind to DN 1:
..."Whatever recluses or brahmins, bhikkhus, are speculators about the past or speculators about the future or speculators about the past and the future together, hold settled views about the past and the future, and assert various conceptual theorems referring to the past and the future, all of them do so on these sixty-two grounds or on a certain one of them. Outside of these there is none...

..."When those recluses and brahmins who are speculators about the past, speculators about the future, speculators about the past and the future together, who hold settled views about the past and the future, assert on sixty-two grounds various conceptual theorems referring to the past and the future — that too is only the feeling of those who do not know and do not see; that is only the agitation and vacillation of those who are immersed in craving...

..."When those recluses and brahmins who are speculators about the past, speculators about the future, speculators about the past and the future together, who hold settled views about the past and the future, assert on sixty-two grounds various conceptual theorems referring to the past and the future — that too is conditioned by contact. That they can experience that feeling without contact — such a case is impossible.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
santa100
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by santa100 »

So, there're 4 possible answers: 1. Literal only 2. Metaphorical only 3. Both 4. Neither.
Instead of thinking about which is the correct answer, think about which one is most practical and useful to the progress of your own practice. Pick one that will help purify the mind, eradicate defilements, and motivate you to become a more virtuous and compassionate person..
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Pondera
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by Pondera »

Literal? Yes. With the divine eye you can see the sphere above the earth in which bodies made of mind soar in light feeding on joy. If you had the divine eye, if you had simple clairvoyance, this would be obvious to you. Then the question would be settled and you would see that it is quite literally not important to the practice of Buddhism. Why? Because you have no idea where you are heading. Good people wind up with Bad Fates. Bad people wind up with Good Fates. And Bad people have bad fates, while good people have good ones. All of these possibilities exist and since no one understands how karma fully operates, you're best off simply trying to improve the way you live in the here and the now. This is the criteria for living which Buddhists practice; whether a world exist for us after death or not, the question of living right remains unchanged. But to be clear, there are many things to be seen with the divine eye. A heaven above us and many more in different places. There is one particular heaven that is quite interesting. The occupants are made like solid bricks. Their forms are white and radiant. There are no more than 20 or 30 of them. There are males and females. They remain still and they have no burdens. It is a rare event for anyone to be reborn in this place and it is also rare event for anyone of these Beings to meet their death in this place. The heaven they live in is cold. A quick silver light circumscribes the plane. They live in the center of a whirlpool of consciousness. They are emblent. They are pure white. They are thick solid. Immovable. Thoroughly benevolent but able to crush a man into pile of dust with a single impulse. They are strong and beautiful. The divine eye is not craziness. The divine eye is the extension that we make to the infinite nature of consciousness. Simply because consciousness is infinite we who have the power, ability, and insight can view whatever we wish, when ever we choose. If I choose to view the gas station down the road from my house I view it in my consciousness. I am able to do so because I am attached to the infinite field of consciousness. That consciousness has a proximity to the gas station and I have a natural ability to take up a point of reference in side that proximity. Thus I can look at gas stations, the back of my own head, anything I want, and the heaven that lies above. With age the power diminishes, as so too does the vitality of the heart from which all things spring. I haven't read specific details about the 31 planes of existence, but if I looked it up such that each plane was given a description I could easily go there in my mind. So, for me it is not even a question. But why would you even care what I think? The monks say, "keep meditating". You're not happy with the answer, most likely because you don't understand their intent. Develop the divine eye, then observe whatever plane it is you wish to observe. This still will not tell you whether you will exist or not after death. It will also fail to tell you if you will reappear on any of these planes. It sounds stupid, but assume your heading straight for "the bad destination" and practice living well as if your immortal soul depended on it, because if the assumption is true, it does. :) smiles

-Pondera
befriend
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by befriend »

maha pattiumodana on your success on the path pondera. great post.
Take care of mindfulness and mindfulness will take care of you.
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Pondera
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by Pondera »

Thank you befriend, for your appreciation.
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ground
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by ground »

DontWantToReturn wrote:Reading that, I tried to interpret it in both the literal many births perspective and also the metaphorical one life perspective.
IMO the self-imposed limitation of "either one life or many lives" is what causes all the papanca. It is a manifestation of clinging aggregates. Therefore "self-imposed" can nearly be taken "literal"

Kind regards
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gavesako
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Re: The 31 Planes of Existence, and the whole debate about...

Post by gavesako »

The moral economy of the "Petavatthu": Hungry ghosts and Theravada Buddhist cosmology.

http://www.docstoc.com/docs/46999380/Th ... -cosmology" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;


http://www.arrowriver.ca/wheel/ghost.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

Access to Insight - Theravada texts
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
Dhammatalks.org - Sutta translations
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