Are lower realms really the main destination of gods and humans?

Hello everyone! I have trouble understanding the logic of the following statements found in AN ones:

AN 1.348 - 359“Just as, mendicants, in India the delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds are few, while the hilly terrain, inaccessible riverlands, stumps and thorns, and rugged mountains are many; so too, those who die as humans and are reborn as humans are few, while those who die as humans and are reborn in hell, or the animal realm, or the ghost realm are many.”
“… the sentient beings who die as humans and are reborn as gods are few, while those who die as humans and are reborn in hell, or the animal realm, or the ghost realm are many.”
“… the sentient beings who die as gods and are reborn as gods are few, while those who die as gods and are reborn in hell, or the animal realm, or the ghost realm are many.”
“… the sentient beings who die as gods and are reborn as humans are few, while those who die as gods and are reborn in hell, or the animal realm, or the ghost realm are many.”

I understand that karma can be messy and unpredictable, but to say that most humans or even heavenly beings will go to lower realms after they die is a bit hard to swallow (which of course doesn’t mean it cannot be true). One would assume that majority of heavenly beings have good enough inclinations to at least be reborn as humans in their next life, no? For example in MN 129 the message seems to be that rebirth is mainly about inclinations that carry on from one life to the next and based on that sutta alone the “realm-jumps” straight from heaven to lower realms would not make much sense, at least as a general principle for most beings.

Also I have to say that the copy-paste-nature of these short texts doesn’t really inspire confidence in me tbh. There doesn’t seem to be any parallels available, but I don’t know what to make of that… So are these statements confirmed by other suttas? Are there suttas that contradict these statements or offer different take on the rebirth-process?

And if we assume that these suttas are correct, what could be going on here?

With gratitude,


Just my own opinion here, I understand the sutta as “the desirable destination requires a lot of conditions to be fulfilled, that’s why it’s hard to come by”.

An analogy: we can see with a jackpot case, there are a lot of numbers but the prize requires certain numbers to be aligned correctly (fulfilled) and that’s why it’s hard to come by a jackpot.

The god realm requires more conditions to be fulfilled than the human realm, that’s why it’s harder to come by than the human realm. Similar conclusion when compare between human realm and other lower realms.

An analogy: the god realm is like a 20-digit jackpot while human realm is like a 10-digit jackpot and other regular numbers are just rubbish.

So, when the time of chaos comes at death moment, an unawakened being is helpless against the overwhelming odd that his conditions are NOT fulfilled enough to reach desirable destination.

Therefore, I think the sutta is correct. Throughout the sutta, the Buddha taught us why and how lucky we are and encouraged us not to waste the chance.


Hiya :slight_smile:

According to, humans are just 2.5% of the animal biomass on earth.

Maybe it makes more sense in light of just how many non-human animals actually exist on the planet?

This reminds me of ud3.7:

… Now at that time five hundred deities were ready and eager for the chance to offer alms to Mahākassapa. But Mahākasspa refused those deities. In the morning, he robed up, took his bowl and robe, and entered Rājagaha for alms.

Now at that time Sakka, lord of Gods, wished to give alms to Mahākassapa. Having manifested in the appearance of a weaver, he worked the loom while the demon maiden Sujā fed the shuttle. Then, as Mahākassapa wandered indiscriminately for almsfood in Rājagaha, he approached Sakka’s house. Seeing Mahākassapa coming off in the distance, Sakka came out of his house, greeted him, and took the bowl from his hand. He re-entered the house and filled the bowl with rice from the pot. That almsfood had many tasty soups and sauces.

Then it occurred to Mahākassapa, “Now, what being is this who has such psychic power?” It occurred to him, “This is Sakka, lord of Gods.” Knowing this, he said to Sakka, “This is your doing, Kosiya; don’t do such a thing again.” “But Honorable Kassapa, we too need merit! We too ought make merit.” …

Maybe it’s hard for devas to make merit somehow?


Thank you for the replies!

Good point. I may be constructing too big of a barrier between animals, ghosts, humans and gods of sensual realms.

This kinda makes sense, but the analogy doesn’t really jive with me 100% especially when it come to heavenly beings. Winning a one-time jackpot probably inclines you to the company of all sorts of shady characters. However to be reborn as a heavenly being one needs to have faith, ethics, learning, generosity and wisdom. Once there you are surrounded by other beings who also have the same qualities. So not only are you in a good company but presumably you also enjoy said company, I mean how could you not if you already have the inclinations? In doing so you are constantly conditioned by good beings and make a lot of good mental kamma, right? It would also make sense if such beings would generally incline to listening to the Dhamma or other spiritual teachings that would help them even more.

Of course the heavenly sensual pleasures would probably be a pretty big distraction so it’s a mixed bag. But mixed enough to cause a mass-migration straight from heavenly realms to lower realms?

I would still like to see other suttas sayings the same thing as the short suttas in AN ones. It goes contrary to how I understand attachtment, not-self and the conditioning process of dependent origination between volitional actions and consciousness. I
have assumed that in general the station of consciousness doesn’t usually change drastically between one life and the next, one life is such a short stint in the great scheme of things. But again, I may be over-emphasizing the difference between different beings in the various sensual realms here. :person_in_tuxedo: :orangutan: :bison:

I don’t deny this. However, he also taught that inclinations are very important. Whatever we frequently think about and consider will become the inclination of the mind and if one has made a lot of good kamma bad deeds are like a drop of salt in a great river.

The suttas from AN ones seem to put more emphasis on past kamma suddenly ripening than strong inclinations taking us to particular realms. I would assume that in general the strong inclinations would usually dictate what will happen, though one can never rule out bad kamma ripening. Again, to see other suttas saying the same thing as the suttas in the first post would be appreciated.

Hmmm, yeah, maybe. I have also often heard the statement that heavenly realms are not conducive to practicing the Dhamma, but is this really true? To me they seem pretty conducive, especially if you have access to the teachings which is of course a huge if. And those heavenly pleasure gardens may steer many beings away from the practice, lol.


I think it’s useful to separate between beings who are devas because they practiced with degrees of right view and those that didn’t.

I would just assume that, on average, most beings don’t get to hear and practice the Dhamma. Even today on here on earth, the people who are serious Dhamma practitioners are few, and the people doing something else are many.

There are probably more people who are practicing goodness (the causes of a good rebirth) within the context of wrong view than right view, no?

I think there’s a big difference between what happens on average and what happens given someone is exposed to the Dhamma. Or you could say P(rebirth type) ≠ P(rebirth type | spiritual path) :nerd_face: :stuck_out_tongue:

To me it seems that the sutta you quote in the first post is about what happens on average :slight_smile:


This is a pretty satisfactory explanation. :thinking: Going back to the Jackpot analogy, it is meeting and having interest in the Dhamma that is the real Jackpot, not rebirth in this or that state of existence, imo.

I still wouldn’t mind if someone can point me to other suttas that speak of the same thing, though. :stuck_out_tongue:

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It seems like a particularly pessimistic view, perhaps an exaggeration to motivate people, particularly monastics, to stick to their precepts. Hell generally functions that way: The stick of the carrot & stick method of cajoling people into being moral. I’ve wondered about who exactly, or which religion, invented the concept of Hell as a punishment for evil-doers. I’ve slogged through translations of two different detailed descriptions of Buddhist Hells, and it was actually a little traumatizing, to be honest. The explicit depictions of horrific violence is just jarring. It puts modern horror films to shame. But the old mythology of the underworld that predates later religions like Buddhism didn’t function that way. In fact, it didn’t start out as an underworld. It was just another place people went when they died.

But, to get back to the topic, I recall a similar passage in Kumarajiva’s Commentary to the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, which was partially translated by Lamotte to French, which was translated to English by Chodron, which is hosted by Wisdom Library. (It’s like the transmigration of texts through languages!) There’s a lengthy contemplation of sentient beings transmigrating around the five destinies, which culminates in one of the more detailed tours of the Buddhist hells, in Chapter 27. The passage that’s similar to AN reads:

The bodhisattva who possesses the divine eye (divyacakṣus) sees beings wander through the five destinies (pañcagati ) and whirl about in them. They die among the gods and are reborn among men; they die among men and are reborn among the gods; they die among the gods and are reborn in hell; they die in hell and are reborn among the gods; they die among the gods and are reborn among the pretas; they die among the pretas and are again reborn among the gods; they die among the gods and are reborn among the animals; they die among the animals and are reborn among the gods; they die among the gods and again are reborn among the gods. And it is the same for those in hells (nāraka ), the pretas and the animals.

It doesn’t say anything about few higher beings being born in higher realms, though, and it depicts a fairly random set of possibilities, even lower beings jumping straight to the heavens. So, it’s not exactly the same.

A curious thing about the Anguttara Nikaya, especially the Book of Ones, is that it appears that someone(s) has taken larger suttas containing lists or repetitive passages and divided the items up into individual suttas. (Further reading on this is found in a paper by Bucknell and Kuan). There’s a little bit of this found in other Agamas, but not to the extent it happens in AN. Sometimes, the process of breaking suttas into smaller passages may have involved rewriting them a bit to make sense of them as individual items. This chapter in AN may have begun with a passage similar to the one I quoted above to produce this series of individual suttas.

The trouble with relying on existing parallels to decide whether Theravada suttas are legit or not is that the canons of the schools that would be the closest to the Theravada canon, namely the Mahisasaka and Dharmaguptaka, have largely been lost. We have their Vinayas and the Dharmaguptaka’s Dirgha Agama and Abhidharma, but we don’t have their Ekottarika Agamas. The translation of EA in Chinese is a distant relative of AN that doesn’t have many parallels in it. So, there’s a giant blank space when trying to find parallels for AN suttas. It doesn’t mean they didn’t exist at one time.


I don’t think it is just about inclinations. It also has to do with the store of ones good and bad karma. In theory (although unknowable on an individual basis) one uses up a lot of the good karma by ending up being reborn in such a good place.


Thank you Venerable! Yes, this makes sense and sounds reasonable. But are you aware of suttas that explicitly state this or imply it somehow? Or maybe to be more precise: are there suttas that point to the general tendency of heavenly beings just using up their good karma heedlessly without creating more good karma for the future?

In my tradition, it is said that we should contemplate the fortunate human rebirth by three points:
1. The causes of good rebirth
Good ethics (sila) and generosity, good karma, etc. If we contemplate this, it is clear that it is actually quite difficult, and the fact that our previous life managed to do that is amazing.
If we look at the general population ethics, isn’t it quite clear that most of them will go to lower realms?
If we look at ten unwholesome deeds for example, most people did those to some degree.

2. Analogies
The Buddha said many analogies. You have quoted one. There are more.
Dark and Light SuttaCentral
Fingernail SuttaCentral
Blind Turtle SuttaCentral

3. Statistics
Someone has said about this. How many humans compared to animals? Animals greatly outnumber human. Now the commentary further said, that the number of hungry ghosts far outnumber animals. And the number of hell beings far outnumber the hungry ghosts.
And the number of devas is far smaller than humans.

Here is another commentary from “Working of kamma” by Pa Auk Sayadaw

That said, it is just a general trend. If one is inclined to virtue, it will follow them even to the next life.

“Those here who, on gaining the human state,
Are amiable and generous,
Confident in the Buddha and the Dhamma
And deeply respectful towards the Saṅgha,
These brighten up the heavens
Where they’ve been reborn.

“If they come back to the human state
They are reborn in a rich family
Where clothes, food, pleasures, and sport
Are obtained without difficulty.

“They rejoice like the devas who control
The goods amassed by others.
This is the result in this very life;
And in the future a good destination.”


Just my opinion ok. I have read this in some sutta, well not exactly theraveda sutta. But it might be of help.

It is said that the grief experienced by dying deva cannot equal to one sixteenth of the pleasure and happiness which he has experienced in his deva life. It can be compared to the fire of hell beings which is more painful than the fire humans know. He is sticken with so great of a grief because of realisation of fact that he is going to leave this great happiness.

Human beings cannot imagine the sufferings of hell beings and happinesses of heavenly beings. Its beyond our imagination. So when ordinary being who goes to heaven he is mesmerized by the happiness there. Just as suffering always follow hell beings, happiness(goddesses & other such things) always follow gods there. Its hard to keep precepts there. Its not that they cannot listen to dhamma there or practice dhamma there. They actually can listen and practice but happiness is so dangerous there that most of them actually don’t want to listen to dhamma there as every kind of pleasure is available for them in grand quality and quantity. In the sutta I read, it is said that even devas have standards of morality there just as we have general standards of societal morality there. But most of them find it hard to follow them. Distractions are too strong there to follow dhamma. Most of the gods are puthujana(run of the mill people) who because of not having control over their desires/craving inevitably fall in hell or lower realms. What is dangerous is that some of them, at the time of dying know their next birth is in hell so their suffering worsens.

Having said that, such is the case with most of the gods but not with all of them. There are some who follow dharma and while living there and enjoying don’t forget dharma so such gods don’t fall in lower realms, they go to human realms. But to enjoy and follow dhamma simultaneously there in heaven, very great inclination towards teaching of lord Buddha and equally great virtue and morality is required. Just as in humans those who have inclination towards dhamma and try to follow it heartily are very few same is the case in heavens. So such gods(very very few in number) don’t go directly in lower realms.
One more thing, it also depends on what kind of heavenly realm is that. In heaven of four kings and in heaven of thirty three the present sakra(king of gods) is one who follows dharma and who is stream-enterer. So he tries to make sure he teach gods there to follow dharma so that they won’t fall, but still he cannot force them. Distractions are so dangerous there that God of lower moral(generally most of them) inevitably won’t follow dharma there. But not every sakra is like that. As past sakras(past King of the gods) of this aeon, almost all of them went in lower realms in their next birth.(it’s given in that sutta where present sakra looks at the names and pictures of past sakras and wonders about where they went in their next birth).

In heaven free from strife which is the realm between heaven of thirty three and heaven of joy(tushita), rulers are more powerful and try to make sure that their subjects don’t fall in lower realms, also teachings of Buddhas is also found there so many gods can attain stream-entry there of they stop being careless and many do actually. But there is no compulsion to follow dharma even there.

Problem with higher heavens is that, enjoyments are so varied and much there that one uses up too much good karma there. Its like you are getting the best results for your money so person is most likely to spend most of the money there. See we cannot know how much good karma or bad karma is there in our store, but given the difficulties and such a low lifespan of less than 100 years we have, we can say that, yes we don’t possess that much good karma. So when we create good karma we are more likely to use most of it in higher realms. So wise people are scared of both heaven and hells similarly because in lower realms beings don’t have any idea about dhamma and in higher realms even if they have dhamma available there, they don’t want to learn or follow it and as a result end up in hells.

Here I would like to add something which I have learned from my teacher that. In Brahma realms of four immesurables. If disciple of Buddha is born there he can attain nibbana directly from there without coming back to human realm. It is also said in Paṭhamamettāsutta A.N. 4.125.

Here’s link for that…