From the divine realms to the infernal

Why is the translation from pali to English in the sutta from the divine realms to the infernal a run of the mill person will be reborn in a woeful plane instead of can be reborn in a woeful plane?

I at least can’t understand your question. Could you refer to the exact sutta passage with a link and rephrase your question?

If someone practices brahma vihara meditation or enters Jhanas or formless Jhanas it says they will go to that correlating heaven then it says after the exhaustion of their lifespan in heaven they WILL be reborn in a woeful plane. My question is why does it say WILL instead of CAN be reborn in a woeful plane. Sorry for the poor wording.

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I think it must be read together with other influences of karma as well- as well as the influence of practice of a Noble (ariya) person. The effect of sustained Juana practice on karma and rebirth sounds like it is extensive:

Difference (1st)
“Mendicants, these four people are found in the world. What four? Firstly, a mendicant, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. They enjoy it and like it and find it satisfying. If they abide in that, are committed to it, and meditate on it often without losing it, when they die they’re reborn in the company of the gods of Brahmā’s Group. The lifespan of the gods of Brahma’s Group is one eon. An ordinary person stays there until the lifespan of those gods is spent, then they go to hell or the animal realm or the ghost realm. But a disciple of the Buddha stays there until the lifespan of those gods is spent, then they’re extinguished in that very life. This is the difference between an educated noble disciple and an uneducated ordinary person, that is, when there is a place of rebirth. SuttaCentral


Nice observation and question! As far as I can see this formula only appears in AN 3 and AN 4 (- correct?). If you ask me it’s a simple scare tactic by the compilers. Indeed, if the law of kamma applies, what is the big crime in the arupas or boundless states that one should be punished with hell?

In the strong formulation of these particular suttas it ridicules the supposed logic of kamma. The refined meditation states are obviously good states of mind. It would only make sense if one was for example reborn first as a human, arrogant and hedonistic or so, and only then go to hell as a consequence of one’s unskillful deeds.


Or perhaps this is the horrifying true nature of reality. The higher rebirth states use so much good karma that once they cease, there isn’t much left and the bad karma gets the chance to fruition instead.

The Buddha doesn’t make the laws of the universe, he just reveals them. Some of those might seem unfair to us humans, but there is no-one to complain to. Black holes occur in outer space when sufficient conditions are met and then proceed to gobble up entire world systems. Is that fair to the countless beings who are obliterated in an instant? The universe doesn’t care…

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I agree, this is well possible and wouldn’t personally surprise me. Why shouldn’t the universe or the laws of kamma be organized in an absurd way?

Yet, this is not the image projected through the suttas, nor do I think does sutta-Buddha suggest this at some point. One could then also argue that in hell so much bad kamma would be exhausted that one immediately would be born as a deva. Then the promotion of self-mortification is only a step away…

Applying Ockham’s Razor I’d say that the conception of hell in the EBT is very susceptible to scare-tactic rhetoric of later preachers, so why not tweak the texts a little bit to make the Buddhist product look better in the spiritual supermarket? Or rather ‘If you buy the other product you literally go to hell!’


if you practice the ten wholesome actions you can choose where you want to be reborn. I wanna be a human apparently the sense pleasure of the heavens is too distracting to cultivate spiritual energy. Assuming I’m a wordling when I die.

sutta references ?

We know water flows downwards. To pump water upwards mechanical work is needed.

It kind of makes sense to me that after exhaustion of good kamma a being will be reborn in a lower realm. How much lower i guess depends on that beings unripened bad kamma.

But this poses another question. How will a being fallen in to the lowest plane ever get out ?

Actually water is not flowing down. When water is subjected to gravity that it flows down. To apply the metaphor to kamma would mean that there is an inherent force to pull beings down. Which again would mean all end up in hell.

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I dont know about you, but this is exactly how it feels like, to me. I have so many defilements, i have fight to just keep my head above water.(pun not intended)

That might sum up the human condition. Either way, this is not the world view of the EBT. Whether or not a Buddha exists, beings go up and down the rebirth ladder. Yes, a diluted Buddhism (my opinion) shows the way up - but the function of a Buddha is to show the way out.

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I think of it like the snakes and ladders game, with the throw of the dice replaced by actions. Or like those warnings on financial investments, “What goes up can come down”. :yum:

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Ok, firstly I notice that while the sutta doesn’t say ‘he can’ or ‘he might’ go to hell, it also doesn’t say ‘will go’. It just says ‘goes’, which is much more neutral language. Both Bhikkhu Bodhi and Sujato’s translation say this so I’m assuming the Pali reflects this.

Next, what is the purpose of this sutta. The Buddha has already given countless teachings on the fact that good karma leads to good rebirth and bad karma leads to bad rebirth and that as long as we stay in samsara we are liable to travel up and down the ladder of happiness. But this sutta seems to be highlighting something new.

We could first think about the context, the sutta was given during the Buddha’s life and anyone attaining samadhi would have been either a part of the sangha, or one of the outside practcioners. Now, i believe that it takes extremely strong samadhi and mastery of it for it to lead to a rebirth in a Brahma realm or higher. Attaining it just once or twice in life is probably not enough. Therefore we have two cases. A Buddhist practicioner attains really deep samadhi during the Buddha’s life, the true Dhamma is very much around so they most likely have right view, perfect causes for awakening to occur. Or, an outsider attains deep strong samadhi, but they have wrong view by definition, hence it is wrong samadhi. If they had right views, they would have joined the Sangha or have been part of the lay Buddhist community, right? The Buddha says elsewhere quite often that wrong view leads to hell, the animal, or the ghost realm, another unpalatable teaching! And this is wrong view magnified by deep samadhi so we have the unusual case of the wild swing to the peak and then to the depths and hence the need for the sutta to explain this counter-intuitive situation.

I thought wrong view did that by generating karmically unwholesome acts.

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Ok you are right.

It’s this common pericope that makes it seem that just having wrong view is enough:

AN 1.312

“Mendicants, I do not see a single thing that causes sentient beings to be reborn, when their body breaks up, after death, in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell like wrong view. It is because they have wrong view that sentient beings, when their body breaks up, after death, are reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell."

But this sutta clarifies the situation, AN 1.314:

“Mendicants, when an individual has wrong view, whatever bodily, verbal, or mental deeds they undertake in line with that view, their intentions, aims, wishes, and choices all lead to what is unlikable, undesirable, disagreeable, harmful, and suffering. Why is that? Because their view is bad. Suppose a seed of neem, angled gourd, or bitter gourd was planted in moist earth. Whatever nutrients it takes up from the earth and water would lead to its bitter, acerbic, and unpleasant taste. Why is that? Because the seed is bad. In the same way, when an individual has wrong view, whatever bodily, verbal, or mental deeds they undertake in line with that view, their intentions, aims, wishes, and choices all lead to what is unlikable, undesirable, disagreeable, harmful, and suffering. Why is that? Because their view is bad."

Also, a counterpoint to the above sutta AN 4.123 and my own post is here in DN 1, brahmajala sutta:

“And the beings who re-arose there after him also think: ‘This must be Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Vanquisher, the Unvanquished, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Supreme Being, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and are to be. And we have been created by him. What is the reason? Because we see that he was here first, and we appeared here after him.’

“Herein, bhikkhus, the being who re-arose there first possesses longer life, greater beauty, and greater authority than the beings who re-arose there after him.

“Now, bhikkhus, this comes to pass, that a certain being, after passing away from that plane, takes rebirth in this world."

One must also consider intent. In other words, where do we wish to be reborn?

They settle on that thought, stabilize it and develop it. As they’ve settled for less and not developed further, their thought leads to rebirth there.–DN33

Some want to be reborn as aristocrats. Others as gods. Etc.

The heart’s wish of an ethical person succeeds because of their purity.

Four kinds of reincarnation.
Cattāro attabhāvapaṭilābhā.
There is a reincarnation where only one’s own intention is effective, not that of others. …

Some might simply wish for extinguishment in this life.

I think i can answer my own question

There comes a time when, Vāseṭṭha, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos contracts.
As the cosmos contracts, sentient beings are mostly headed for the realm of streaming radiance. DN27