The conundrum of heavenly rebirth

I’ll just forestall that i don’t quote any sutta material in support of my premises because of not being conversant enough with discourses dealing with specific aspects of this topic

  1. the Canon is abundant with statements that virtuous conduct and jhanas lead to heavenly rebirth (this i can say with certainty)
  2. it’s believed that life in heaven isn’t conducive to the practice of the Dhamma and gods are described as jealous of humans who were able to train under the Buddha
  3. it’s been stated that human birth is very fortunate in terms of the Dhamma practice and so it needs to be utilized for that purpose because its another occurrence might be a matter of a very distant future

what doesn’t add up for me is the causative link between 1 and 2, because instead of facilitating and promoting the practice across several consequtive births virtuous conduct and jhanas hamper it by catapulting the practitioner to heaven where the practice halts until the next or some other future birth, which kind of defeats the purpose

if it’s the human birth which is the most propitious for the Dhamma practice the logic tells that it is this which bhavana has to create conditions for, so a person can finally graduate, because the maximum of 7 lives till nibbana is only promised for a sotapanna whereas for everybody else it’s infinity, and yet we’re offered the useless and time wasteful heaven as a prize for leading wholesome lives

or did i miss something in the mechanics of fortunate rebirth or have oversimplified things?


I haven’t seen much basis for this belief in the suttas, at least not in the SN or AN. On the other hand, there are a lot of suttas with devas coming to learn from the Buddha so I guess they must be practicing in their realm.

I think if your mind inclines towards practicing the Dhamma it will do so whether you are reborn amongst the humans or the devas. The devas just seem to have an easier time in terms of suffering and they also seem to be a lot wiser or at least they seem to grasp the Dhamma a lot quicker.

On the other hand, if your mind doesn’t incline towards practice, there’s no guarantee you will do so, whether you are reborn as a human or a deva. As a human, there’s also a good chance you won’t even hear the Dhamma.

Anyway, it seems to me that good conduct is not only helpful for meditation, it’s also a kind of a safety net or insurance. If you don’t make the breakthrough in this life, at least you won’t be reborn as an animal or in hell. That would probably halt the practice for much-much longer than a heavenly rebirth.

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and also:


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Buddha has give many options to people.
It is also a gradual training.
While he is showing the direction to heavenly rebirth he also point the direction to ending of the mental fermentations.
Read about the eleven doors.

@LXNDR it is indeed a weird topic with layers that don’t seem to fit well. We can add to the realms of the devas also the notion of “this world and the next”



  • The end of the Samyutta deals with the rareness of human & deva rebirths, SN 56.102 ff, also SN 20.2, SN 56.48, SN 56.61, and AN 1.333 - AN 1.377. According to it hell, the animal and the ghost realm are the dumpsters of rebirth because most beings end up being reborn there.

I don’t see suttas that say that the human realm is better than the deva realm. Important is to have access to dhamma and the appearance of a Tathagata - and I would argue that because of the high chance to get reborn as an animal, peta or in hell it would be better to have a very long time span, in order to come across the teachings. But - in extension of your question - why the praise of the arupa states and practices? If one fails to attain nibbana practicing arupa one is ‘stuck’ there, without any possibility of teaching and has to get back anyway…?


Teachings about kamma (but not jhana) certainly mention taking birth again in a heavenly state due to skilful kamma. Possibly this is a different heaven to the jhana heavens (since the jhana heavens seem to be named after various dieties, such as Brahma, Abhassara, Subhakinha, Vehapphala, etc - refer to AN 4.123; MN 1, etc).

AN 4.123 states:

There is the case where an individual, withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He savors that, longs for that, finds satisfaction through that. Staying there—fixed on that, dwelling there often, not falling away from that—then when he dies he reappears in conjunction with the devas of Brahma’s retinue. The devas of Brahma’s retinue, monks, have a life-span of an eon. A run-of-the-mill person having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, goes to hell, to the animal womb, to the state of the hungry shades. But a disciple of the Blessed One, having stayed there, having used up all the life-span of those devas, is unbound right in that state of being. This, monks, is the difference, this the distinction, this the distinguishing factor, between an educated disciple of the noble ones and an uneducated run-of-the-mill person, when there is a destination, a reappearing.

Does the Pali in SN 13.1 actually say seven more ‘lifetimes’ or is this just an interpretation?

I ask this because: (i) I can’t read Pali but have done my best to examine the Pali; and (ii) I have not read anywhere in the suttas where a sotapanna returned after death (e.g. MN 143). My recollection is most relevant suttas I have read state Nibbana is attained in a heavenly realm.

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the word sattakkhattuṃ means “7 times”, in SN 15.10 it appears in the context of transmigration, what do you think it could possibly be referring to apart from transmigration?

you mean by sotapannas specifically or by everybody? at the same time a sotappana isn’t precluded from another human birth provided our realm isn’t included among the lower realms from which a sotapanna is protected

Thanks for that. I have not read SN 15.10 before. It is one of those ‘samsara’ suttas (I think the term ‘transmigration’ is a liberal translation) which never make logical sense to me since the goal of these suttas is to generate ‘dispassion’ (they all end with a statement about ‘disenchantment’) yet I get the impression those that fall back on such suttas seem to have a passion for reincarnation rather than dispassion towards the idea. For example, if I enjoy worldly life, why would it bother me to be reincarnated over & over again so my bones stack up as high as Mt Everest? There is something in the transmission of this genre of suttas that has never made sense to me, logically.

That said, for me, the context in SN 15.10 of ‘seven more times’ seems to be ‘when one sees with correct wisdom the 4 noble truths leading to suffering’s appeasement’, thus stream-entry.

I might sound like a heretic, but, for me, SN 13.1 is about the stream-enterer that has “broken through” three fetters therefore they have seven more fetters to break through, at most.

Sotapannas & other non-arahant ariyans. I have not read any suttas where sotapannas return (eg MN 143, where the sotapanna Anātha­piṇḍik­a becomes a deva in heaven) however I have not read every sutta. I do recall Bhikkhu Dhammanando on DW once posting this same observation.

that’s a good challenging alternative reading

are there in general any suttas which describe rebirth of a specific person known to have died, not necessarily an ariya, in the human realm? i can’t recall coming across such narratives in the suttas

Thanks. I cannot answer since my knowledge of the suttas is incomplete. There are those handful of suttas (MN 50; MN 81; AN 3.15; etc) that mention literal past lives the Buddha, Maha-Moggallana, etc, although MN 123 seems to infer the Buddha took a detour via the heavens.