Rebirth into the Higher Realms: An Undesirable Waste of Time?

It seems to me, as a Buddhist practitioner, that rebirth into a non-human higher realm, where existence is not conducive to practice and progress along the Path, is not desirable. I’d even go so far as to suggest that it seems to be, what could be considered, a “waste of time.” Especially considering the incomprehensibly lengthy duration of the arūpa-lokas (i.e., 20,000 – 80,000+ aeons).

Is this a reasonable understanding for those who are ariyapuggala intent on path fruition?

I would love to get others’ take on this.


This is a judgement that some people have, but it would be good to find if it is really supported by the suttas.

The higher realms are always classified by the Buddha as a good destination. And in fact once someone has become a stream-enterer it is one of the two possible destinations.

And when we look at the way most humans use their life, it’s hard to argue that it’s categorically better than a higher rebirth in terms of practice.

The other conclusion that we can come to by thinking about life span is that there are certainly beings in the heavenly world right now who are noble disciples. Of course running into them is not a sure thing.

There is a passage in the Itivuttaka, though (Iti83) where devas praise the human rebirth.

It’s also true that Sakka complains that he is often to busy to pay attention to the Dhamma, this is also a standard complaints for humans in the suttas as well. And keep in mind that Sakka became a stream-enterer while living in the deva realm.


There is perhaps SN 56.48:

… There was a blind turtle which would come to the surface once every hundred years. What do you think, bhikkhus, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole?” …

“So too, bhikkhus, it is by chance that one obtains the human state; by chance that a Tathagata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One arises in the world; by chance that the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata shines in the world.

…“You have obtained that human state, bhikkhus; a Tathagata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One has arisen in the world; the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata shines in the world.

But the point seems more like being human and meeting a Buddha IRL is very unlikely. And if the Buddha is “teacher of gods and humans” (e.g. iti84), it doesn’t seem like living in a higher realm must be a bad deal.


SN 56.47 uses the same turtle simile:

…“That one-eyed turtle would poke its neck through the hole in that yoke sooner than a fool who has fallen to the underworld would be reborn as a human being, I say.

Why is that? Because in that place there’s no principled or moral conduct, and no doing what is good and skillful. There they just prey on each other, preying on the weak. Why is that? It’s because they haven’t seen the four noble truths. What four? The noble truths of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path. …

So an explicitly undesirable aspect of the lower realms is that there’s are few opportunities to practice morality.

As far as I can tell, heavenly rebirths for those who aren’t trying to make an end of suffering are undesirable in the sense that their good kamma is eventually used up and they might find themselves back in lower realms later.

But I can’t think of any suttas where the Buddha warns against good rebirths, only the wrong view that some type of rebirth can solve suffering.


I’d take 20,000 - 80,000 aeons in a higher realm given the choice. :wink:

As a householder with family who has no possibility or even interest in being an arahant (it would mean giving up certain householder attachments that are more important to me than ending my suffering) living an ethical life that leads to rebirth in a higher realm would be the best case I would think. Buddha certainly encouraged householders to live good lives and talked about better rebirth as one of the consequences.

Birth in Higher Realms is sometimes spoken of as Mara’s bait, SN2.30.
And also as the celestual yokes, SN1.50
Or sometimes as a lost oppertunity, AN8.29


Indeed, the Dhamma is difficult for the devas to see. And while sometimes arahants will rise to the deva realms to teach or to speak with the devas, it is difficult to make progress due to minimal exposure to dukkha, wrong views, limited teachings, the abundance of sense pleasures, etc; but there are some instances of those few who do make it to sotapanna (e.g., as Snowbird mentions above with Sakka, king of gods, attaining streamentry)… but they seem to be outliers to the norm.

It’s problematic that many devas and Brahmās seem to fall into the trap of various Wrong Views, even to the point of believing themselves to be immortal as they bask in the sense pleasures associated with their respective heavenly sense sphere realms, or in the cerebral activities and deep meditative bliss found in the rūpa- and arūpa-lokas.

Indeed there are many discourses on the benefits of rebirths into non-human higher realms, but not so many that I’ve come across that express the “gratification, danger, and escape” (so to speak) of them. Thank you for sharing these, I look forward to digging into them.

“Mara’s bait,” that’s classic! :joy: I love it.


Not only that, but there seems to be an assumption in the suttas that being reborn as a deva is “better” than being reborn as a human. At least AN 8.36 says a deva birth requires more virtue and generosity than a human one.

Also, there are a number of examples of noble disciples being reborn in the heavens in the suttas, but no examples of them being reborn as humans (though sakka in the “Questions of Sakka” does predict he’ll be reborn as a human one day, only to be reborn again in a heavenly world).


Better, more pleasurable, and freer of suffering? I’d agree with that. Rebirth into the heavenly realms and realms of deep concentration are no doubt more comfortable and enjoyable than the mix of pleasure and suffering of rebirth into the human realm.

But “better” in terms of progression along the path toward nibbāna and the cessation of dukkha and the uprooting of taṇhā? That’s really the theme of the original question.

Well, if being born a human really were more conducive to dhamma practice, I find it peculiar that there is no evidence from the suttas that the Buddha taught this. Granted, the Dhamma has spread throughout the human world greatly since the time the Buddha taught.

Another nugget: After Rahula became an Arahant, 1000 devas became stream winners. So I don’t think it’s all that rare for devas to make spiritual progress.

Tbh I would think there is a lot of variation within both the human and deva realms, dhamma-exposure wise.

It’s worst to have aversion to rebirth in formless realms. That’s craving for non becoming. Take note of it. Don’t dwell on this too much. Just practise, don’t fear. If one cannot get stream winner, heaven is better than hell.


With this change, I’m wondering if you are narrowing your question to just those who are stream enterers and above.

I don’t believe so — at least I hope not — not from the perspective of the respondent, just from the perspective of the subject. I was just hoping to clarify the question as I had initially intended it.

I think for pre-ariya worldlings, we can all agree that positive higher rebirths are always better than negative lower ones. And if we can avoid lower realm or unfortunate human rebirths, that would be highly preferred. But I think that’s a given, so a less interesting question?

The more interesting question (to me) is the perspective of those who have achieved inevitable freedom from suffering and whether or not a “positive” rebirth into a higher non-human realm where attainments and significant progress is less (or not) likely is still desirable when they could otherwise have a fortunate human rebirth and more directly continue the Path. :slight_smile:


I guess I keep coming back to wondering where you are getting this information from. I recognize that many modern teachers will speak against heavenly rebirth. To the degree that this is done simply to encourage people to work hard now, I’m not sure.

Of course there won’t be progress if reborn in the formless realms. But setting that aside, I wonder if you could provide some sutta references where the Buddha (or anyone) said that significant progress in the heavenly worlds is less likely than in human worlds.


It depends of the situation. We live a noble person status or not.

If we are born in the higher realms as a NOBLE than we can carry-on with the ‘exercise’.

If we are born in the higher realms as an ORDINARY than we can just enjoying life, lost in our worldly lust.

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Mostly from teachers like Punnadhammo and Bodhi, but I’ve likely be more influenced by my own reflections and contemplations on the countless discourses where humans realise attainments versus the many fewer discourses where devas do.

It’s just more difficult when surrounded by distractions and lack of the teachings, as I mentioned above, " it is difficult to make progress due to minimal exposure to dukkha, prevalent wrong views, limited teachings, the abundance of sense pleasures, etc." it is difficult to take on a path with so little motivation or knowledge to do so. Dukkha is a strong motivator :slight_smile:

While there are probably other sutta references, the ones that seem potentially relevant to me include AN 8.29, SN 56.48, and Iti 83 — at least these are the ones that come to my sleepy mind, perhaps I will recall others tomorrow… its past my bedtime :smiley:

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  1. It’s possible to attain to arahanthood even without formless attainments, so that’s one thing for those who worry a lot. Just don’t need to practise until that level.

  2. For stream winners and above, yes I have heard that it might be nicer to have 7 lifetimes as human to quicky get arahanthood, rather than become a non-returner and stay in pure abodes for a long time. A little bit of existence is like dung. But from unenlightened perspective, having been freed from the lower realms is one of the best assurance already. What’s there to complain about enjoying samsara without much suffering, even for a super long time? Espcially given that one is destined to become arahant one day. Oh well, it’s not easy to understand the enlightened perspective.

  3. The suttas you quoted are more for the sake of those who are not yet enlightened. AN 8.35: Dānūpapattisutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi ( Can use this sutta to note that one can aspire for the next realm of rebirth, provided there’s enough merits.

In my opinion, someone with supermundane (ariyan) right view isn’t concerned with future forms of existence (e.g. “what will I be”) as they’re disillusioned from identity-view and existentialism, instead they’re focused on suffering and ending suffering here and now, and that is by keeping the 3 poisons as low as possible.

So an ariya is only concerned with keeping his mind clean and free from the 5 hindrances and 3 poisons, not with future bhava existences.


Nagarjuna in his letter of a friend said

(40) Always meditate properly on love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Even if you do not receive, like that, the highest (goal, nirvana), you will (at least) attain a Brahma realm’s bliss.

But then in another verse he said, paraphrasing the sutta AN 8.29

(63) Rebirth as someone holding a distorted, antagonistic outlook, as a creeping creature (animal) , a clutching ghost, or in a joyless realm, or rebirth where the words of the Triumphant are absent, or as a barbarian in a savage border region, or stupid and dumb,

(64) Or as a long-lived god – rebirths as any (of these) are the eight faulty states that have no leisure. Having found leisure, being parted from them, make effort for the sake of turning away from (further) rebirth.

Leisure here usually interpreted as leisure to practice dharma.
But this is advice given to someone already reborn as human. So that they don’t waste their opportunity.

But from the verse above, if we had to be reborn anyway, gods realm are not too bad.

Although, in the next part when he discuss all the fault of samsara, he said this about heavens:

(98) Even though higher status (celestial beings have) great bliss, the level of suffering at their death and shift-down is much greater than that. Having considered like that, respectable people would never crave after exhaustible higher status rebirth.

(99) “The color of your body turns ugly; there’s no delight in your seat; your flower garlands wilt; your clothes become smelly; and sweat comes out on your body, which it never did before,”

(100) (These) five early signs that herald your death and shift-down from a higher status appear to celestials in higher status rebirth states, just as signs of death (appear) to humans on earth, heralding impending death.

(101) If, at the shift-down from the celestial worlds, they’ve no remainder left at all of constructive force, they transform, thereafter, without control, to a rebirth state as a creeping creature, a clutching ghost, or a being trapped in a joyless realm, whichever it may be.

(102) The would-be divine also have great mental suffering because of hostility, by nature, toward the glory of the celestial ones. Although having intelligence, they cannot see the truth because of obscurations of (their) rebirth state.

(103) Since recurring samsara’s like that, there’s no wonderful rebirth as a celestial, a human, a joyless realm being, a clutching ghost, or a creeping creature. So know that rebirth is something that turns out to be (no more than) a vessel for numerous harms.

(104) So, even if a fire has suddenly broken out on your head or your clothing, give up trying to cast them off, and make effort instead for the sake of trying to extinguish further compulsive rebirth. There’s no other necessity more superior than that.

Those people who can not attain Nibbana in this lifetime (padampara) should practice Dhamma not for the sake of getting higher rebirth as deva/brahma but as Tihetuka in the future