Introduction to Chart of Samsara


The chart on the following pages lists the states of existence within Samsara, the realm of birth and death. In Samsara there are three distinct levels of existence. The highest is the Formless Realm, in which there are the greatest gods who have transcended the physical body, having mentality only. There are four heavens on this level.

The next level, the Form Realm, also, only consists of heavens. The gods in these eighteen heavens have a form, but they have gone beyond the greed and lust for the pleasures of the five senses. They have attained a state of very profound and sublime happiness that it is a result of their skill in meditative concentration. Their greed for the five senses has been eclipsed by means of the force of their concentration-power. This is just like when a boulder is placed on grass, the grass is temporarily unable to grow. In the same way, their meditative power and ability has temporarily suppressed their thirst for the pleasures of the five senses, but it is still latent. The only way it can be eliminated forever, is by means of prajna wisdom. The Sages, that is the Arhats and Bodhisattvas as mentioned in Chapter Five, attain permanent states of Enlightenment in which this greed is truly extinguished.

On the next level, the Realm of Sensual Desire, there are six heavens, the realms of Asuras, human beings, animals, ghosts, and the denizens of hell. The minds of all the beings in these states are dominated by the drive for sensual pleasures. Those in the heavens here enjoy an incredible happiness associated with the senses as a result of their practice of good karma in the past.

Those in the three lowest states, also known as the Three Evil Destinies, that is animals, ghosts, and denizens of the hell, undergo much suffering and difficulty.

As mentioned in the Introduction, the purpose of the Buddha’s teachings is to see that all states of existence in Samsara lack substantial realty. As it says in the Shurangama Sutra (Volume 7) they:

Come into being from false thoughts, and their subsequent karma comes from false thoughts. Within the wonderful perfection of the fundamental mind that is unconditioned, they are like strange flowers in space, for there is basically nothing to cling to. They are entirely vain and false, and they have no source or beginning.  


Appendix I

The Realm of Birth and Death
Divided into the Three Realms of Existence


Kalpa = 16 million years
Small Kalpa = 1,000 Kalpas
Middle Kalpa = 20 Small Kalpas
Great Kalpa = 4 Middle Kalpas
Yojana = 28 Miles


Asankhyeya Mahakalpa
= 1.28 billion vigintillion or
1.28 x 10 72 years

Our Buddha, Shakyamuni, in order to perfect his “blessings and wisdom”, cultivated for many, many lifetimes in a period of time covering three Asankhyeya Mahakalpas. He then further practiced for 100 Great Kalpas to perfect the 32 Hallmarks and 80 Subsidiary Features of a Buddha.

Formless Realm

Name of sphere of

Average Lifespan



Heaven of Neither Thought
Nor Non-Thought

80,000 Great Kalpas (102.4 quadrillion years)


Gods in the Formless Heavens have no bodies. They only have consciousness.

Heaven of Nothing


60,000 Great Kalpas



Heaven of Boundless Consciousness


40,000 Great Kalpas



Heaven of Boundless Space


20,000 Great Kalpas



Form Realm

Name of sphere of Existence

Average Lifespan

Average Height


5 Heavens of No-Return:




Ultimate Form Heaven

16,000 Great Kalpas (20.48 quadrillion years)


16,000 Yojanas (448,000 miles)

The Five Heavens of No-Return are also known as the Pure Abodes or Pure Dwellings. Gods in the Heavens of No-Return are Sages who have certified to the Third Stage of an Arhat. The gods of all the other heavens cannot even see these heavens, because they are beyond their scope.

Good Manifestation Heaven


8,000 Great Kalpas

8,000 Yojanas

Good View Heaven


4,000 Great Kalpas

4,000 Yojanas

No Heat Heaven


2,000 Great Kalpas

2,000 Yojanas

No Affliction Heaven



1,000 Great Kalpas

1,000 Yojanas

Fourth Dhyana Heavens:




No Thought Heaven

500 Great Kalpas (640 trillion years)

500 Yojanas
(14,000 miles)


These heavens correspond to the state of dhyana meditation called Ground of Purity from Renouncing Thought. In this state, subtle thoughts cease.

Vast Fruit Heaven

500 Great Kalpas

500 Yojanas


Love of Blessings Heaven


250 Great Kalpas

250 Yojanas

Birth of Blessings Heaven  

125 Great Kalpas

125 Yojanas

Third Dhyana Heavens:




Pervasive Purity Heaven

64 Great Kalpas (81.92 trillion years)

64 Yojanas (1,792 miles)


These heavens correspond to the state of dhyana meditation called the Ground of Wondrous Bliss from Leaving Joy. In this state coarse thoughts cease.

Limitless Purity Heaven

32 Great Kalpas

32 Yojanas


Lesser Purity

16 Great Kalpas

16 Yojanas


Form Realm

Name of sphere of Existence


Average Lifespan

Average Height


Second Dhyana Heavens:




Light-Sound Heaven

8 Great Kalpas (10.24
trillion years)

8 Yojanas (224 miles)


The heavens correspond to the state of dhyana meditation called the Ground of Joy from Producing Samadhi. In this state outer breath ceases. Beings in the Light-Sound Heaven use light to speak, the way a TV uses light to create pictures.


Limitless Light Heaven

4 Great Kalpas

4 Yojanas


Lesser Light Heaven

2 Great Kalpas

2 Yojanas


First Dhyana Heavens:




Great Brahma Heaven

3 Middle Kalpas (960
billion years)

1 ½ Yojanas (42 miles)


These heavens correspond to the Ground of Joy Arising from Separation. In this state the pulse stops.

Ministers of Brahma Heaven


2 Middle Kalpas

1 Yojana

Multitudes of Brahma Heaven

1 Middle Kalpa

½ Yojana

All the gods in the Form Realm Heavens are without the sense of smell and taste, and they do not eat food, sleep, or have sexual desire. However, the desires for these things are still latent and once their heavenly life comes to an end, they can still return to any lower realm of existence in accordance with their karma. These desires are also latent in the gods in the Formless Heavens. The Third and Fourth Stage Arhats and the Bodhisattvas, because of prajna wisdom, have ended these desires at their origin, so they will never arise again.

In the “comments” above, in the right-hand column, it describes specific things that happen to a human being who enters the levels of dhyana meditation which correspond to the Dhyana Heavens. In addition to the above, when one enters the First Dhyana meditation state one can sit for seven days without getting up from one’s seat. At that time one can also go without eating, drinking or sleeping. In the Second Dhyana one can sit for 49 days. In the Third Dhyana one can sit for three years. And in the Fourth Dhyana one can sit for nine years. The happiness experienced in dhyana meditation far surpasses the happiness connected with the five senses.

Sensual Desire Realm

Name of sphere of Existence


Average Lifespan

Average Height


Six Desire heavens:




Self-Mastery Over

16,000 Heaven years
(9.2 billion years)

4,500 feet

1 day = 1,600
human years

They usurp other’s happiness. Many demons and their retinues dwell here, like Mara, the king of demons.

Bliss From

8,000 Heaven years
(2.3 billion years)

3,500 feet

1 day = 800 human years

Can transform their own happiness. Food and clothing appear as they think about them.


Contentment (Tushita)

4,000 Heaven years
(576 million years)

3,000 feet

1 day = 400 human years

Heaven of “Joyful contentment”. Gods totally free from all worries—very content.


Well-Divided Time
(Suyama) Heaven

2,000 Heaven years
(144 million years)

2,250 feet

1 day = 200 human years

Gods are always joyful, singing songs from morning till night: “Merrily indeed, I am so Happy!”

Heaven of the
Thirty-three (Trayastrimsha)

1,000 Heaven years
(36 million years)

1,500 feet

1 day = 100 human years

Ruled by Lord Shakra, King of Gods, also known as Indra, and the God of the Christian Bible.


Heaven of the Four Kings

500 Heaven years
(9 million years)

750 feet

1 day = 50 human years

Ruled by Four God Kings—one in each direction. Newborns are as big as a 5 year old human.

Gods in the Desire Heavens still have desires connected with the five senses, including the desires for food, sleep and sex, with marriages as in the human realm. Yet the happiness they experience is much greater than that of the human realm. The human realm compared to even the lowest Desire Heaven is like a toilet pit. The gods in the first two Desire Heavens fulfill their sexual desire in the same way as those in the human realm. In the Suyama Heaven they fulfill it by holding hands. In the Tushita Heaven they fulfill it by smiling at each other, in the Bliss From Transformations Heaven, it is fulfilled by mutual gazing. And the Heaven of Self-Mastery Over Others’ Transformations it is fulfilled by merely glancing. All the heavens beginning with the Suyama Heaven and above do not have a sun or a moon. In those heavens, the bodies of these gods emit their own light.


Although asuras are an individual realm by themselves, they also can appear in both of the other good paths of gods and humans as well as in the three evil destinies of the hells, the ghosts and animals. In general, regardless of what path they are in, they like to pick fights and have bad tempers. They enjoy bossing others around and like to be supervisors, but they cannot stand being supervised by others. Among people, asuras can be good or bad. The good asuras include military officials and troops, and bad asuras are thieves, thugs, murderers and the like.

Asuras are unruly beings that love to fight. Their name means “ugly”. It also means “ungodly” because, although some asuras enjoy heavenly blessings, nonetheless, the lack authority in the heavens.

There are four categories of asuras in the three realms of existence. Asuras in the path of ghosts use their strength to protect the Dharma and can with spiritual penetrations travel through space. They are born from eggs and belong to the destiny of ghosts.

Those who have fallen from virtue and been expelled from the heavens dwell in places near the sun and moon. They are asuras born from wombs and belong to the destiny of humans.

There are also asura kings who support the world with a penetrating power and fearlessness. They vie for position with the Brahma Lord, the God Shakra, and the Four Heavenly Kings. These asuras come into being by transformation and belong to the destiny of gods.

Ananda, there is another, base category of asuras. Their minds dwell on the sea; they live submerged in underwater caves. During the day they roam the skies; at night they return to their watery realm. These asuras come into being because of moisture and belong to the destiny of animals.

Human Beings

All Buddhas become Buddhas in the human realm. The human realm presents the best state of existence for spiritual cultivation because it has a balance of good and bad. In the heavens life is too blissful to arouse concern over the problems of birth and death. In the three evil destinies (hells, animals, ghosts), intense suffering precludes any other awareness. One merely longs to escape the immediate agony, and is unable to consider the deeper significance of suffering as a universal condition of all the states of conditioned existence.

The Buddha once held up a clump of dirt in his hand and asked his disciples which was greater, the dirt in his hand, or the dirt of the whole earth. The disciples answered that of course the dirt of the earth was far greater than the dirt in the Buddha’s hand. The Buddha said that those beings who secure a human form are like the dirt in his hand; whereas those who had human form but have lost it (regressing into the three evil destinies) are as many as the dirt covering the entire earth. Thus we see that human life is extremely precious and fragile.

The Three Evil Destinies

If you wish, you can enter the realms of existence mentioned above to try them out—put on a play—but you should not play around with the three remaining realms. If you try these out you may not be able to escape. It is said that after one life in a human body, 10,000 kalpas may pass before that form can be obtained again. Playing around with the three evil destinies can be very dangerous.


Eager animals feed on greed,
Never sated by a lot.

Because they make what is black white,
They don’t distinguish wrong from right.

There are billions of animals, an infinite variety—flying, crawling, swimming, and walking—on land, in the water and in the sky. Beings become animals as a result of one thing: greed. For them, no matter what it is, the more the better. Animals lack the ability to reason. They become muddled and ignorance envelops them so that they become totally oblivious to anything rational—even to the point that they are greedy to eat excrement.


The ghostly crew delights in hate,
Deluded by effects, confused about cause.
Their ignorance and upside-downness
grows greater each day, deeper each month.

Almost everyone has heard of ghosts, but not everyone believes in them. Ghosts are masses of yin energy which have shadow and no form, or form and no shadow. There are as many different kinds of ghosts as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. Some ghosts are affluent and reign as kings over the ghost realm; some ghosts are poverty stricken and devoid of authority—it is often the poor ghosts who bother people. If you want to investigate ghosts in detail, work hard at your spiritual cultivation, open the Five Eyes and Six Spiritual Penetrations, and then explore for yourself.


The hells’ anxiety and suffering
Is devoid of doors yet one bores right in.
Giving rise to delusion deeds are done.
The retribution is born in due accord.

Anyone who would like to take a vacation in the hells can do so at any time at all. I can guarantee that. But the hells are a miserable place. Lamentation plants the seeds for hells; happiness plants the seeds for heavens. Unlike jails, the hells, although man-made by people who commit offenses, haven’t any doors. However, if you are due to go to the hells, when you arrive it is just as if a door opened, because you find yourself worming and boring in where there was no entrance.


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