'This world and the next' - analysis of a pericope

We have the following pericope at many places throughout the suttas that is often connected with ‘right view’ or ‘accomplishment of view’ (MN 41, MN 60, MN 76, MN 110, MN 114, MN 117, AN 3.117, AN 3.119, AN 8.29, AN 10.176, AN 10.211, AN 10.212, AN 10.216, AN 10.217, SN 24.5, SN 42.13):

There is what is given, sacrificed, and offered; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings spontaneously reborn; there are in the world ascetics and brahmins of right conduct and right practice who, having realized this world and the other world for themselves by direct knowledge, make them known to others.

MN 60 shows that ‘other world’ means a rebirth in some other destination
MN 76 uses the pericope to argue for actions and their fruit, and a pragmatic rebirth-belief
MN 117 has it as ‘right view that is affected by āsavās’

Obviously the pericope is rooted in the Anguttara (Majjhima) and not the Samyutta. But there are several aspects that don’t easily fit with our smooth perception of Buddhism: the role of sacrifice, ‘ascetics and brahmins of right conduct’, ‘spontaneously reborn’ beings, ‘this world and the next’.

Spontaneously Reborn

What is a ‘being spontaneously reborn’? The PTS dictionary has related entries to opapātiko, but without a convincing etymology:

opapātika - arisen or reborn without visible cause (i.e. without parents), spontaneous rebirth etymology - fr. upapatti
opapātī - arisen without visible cause; born spontaneously
upapātika - = opapātika i.e. rebirth without parents, as a deva
upapāta - = upapatti rebirth
upapatti - birth, rebirth, (lit. attainment). fr. upa + pad, cp. uppatti
uppatti - coming forth, product, genesis, origin, rebirth / Vedic utpatti, ud + pad

We find three themes in this cluster of definitions: rebirth, the deva realm, no-cause - of which the ‘no-cause’ is the strangest, for as we know the Buddha showed conditions and causes regularly. Adding the suttas that have the ‘spontaneously born’ ‘due to attain final nibbāna there’, we could assume these are anāgāmī (e.g. AN 3.86).

To contextualize this opapātika
AN 3.97 calls the opapātika one that possesses speed
AN 3.141 / AN 9.22 has the same ‘speed’ but “when asked a question pertaining to the Dhamma or the discipline, he falters and does not answer.” (which would be weird for an anāgāmī).
AN 4.88 - he’s a ‘red-lotus ascetic’ (who realized jhanas & arupas)
AN 4.191 places him reborn 'in a certain group of devas’
AN 9.36 / AN 11.16 has him due to almost realizing nibbana, or due to realizing impermanence after the jhanas or the arupas
MN 12 finally a rare description

What are opapātikā? gods and ‘misfortunate-ones’ and some humans and some ‘who-have-fallen’. (pali: Devā, nerayikā, ekacce ca manussā, ekacce ca vinipātikā)

Additionally we have in SN 39 nāgā (serpent-demons) and in SN 40 supaṇṇā (mythical birds) that are opapātikā. So not all opapātikā are anāgāmī, but all anāgāmī are probably opapātikā.

The derivation is too complex for me, but we have some criteria for a root word: it should be vedic or from an early upanishad, and it has to combine ideas of rebirth and speed, possibly even naga/bird.

There is only one word - as far as I can see - fulfilling these criteria: utpat

utpad: (ud-pat-) to fly or jump up, fly upwards; to ascend, rise; to rise (from one’s bed); to shoot up; to start from, leave, run away; to jump out, hasten out, come out

So we would have udpat -> utpad --> uppatti -> upapati -> opapati

Assuming this derivation is correct, the opapātika would be literally ‘one who is soaring up’, which is then open to connotations, e.g. ‘soaring up after death’ ‘up to a higher (deva) realm’ etc. It still leaves unresolved the passage from MN 12, how an opapātikā can land in a lower/hellish realm though. Maybe there he is taken as an anāgāmī who could, according to the death circumstances, appear in different realms.

At least we can probably say that an opapātika is not automatically an anāgāmī. It’s ‘just’ a being that due to circumstances was reborn in a higher realm, and as AN 3.141 shows, not necessarily due to practice of buddha-dhamma.

This World and the Next

I searched for ‘imañca lokaṃ parañca lokaṃ’ (this world and the next) or rather the sanskrit parallel ‘imaṃ ca lokaṃ paramaṃ ca lokaṃ’ and found parallels in the usual suspects: Atharvaveda and Brhadaranyaka-Upanisad. It makes sense to quote in more detail…

AV 19,54.5c: imaṃ ca lokaṃ paramaṃ ca lokaṃ puṇyāṃś ca lokān vidhṛtīś ca puṇyāḥ
Both this world and the world that is most lofty (paramaṃ), the pure worlds and pure intermediate spaces.

So here ‘this world and the next’ is embedded in a longer list: the ‘pure world’ and the ‘separate pure world’. The following passage contrasts followers of truth of followers of sacrifice. The first group ends up in the world of brahman eternally, the second is reborn again and again:

BU 6.2.15: The people who know this, and the people there in the wilderness who venerate truth as faith - they pass into the flame… into the world of the gods … into the sun, and from the sun into the region of lightning. A person consisting of mind comes to the regions of lightning and leads him to the worlds of brahman. These exalted people live in those worlds of brahman for the longest time. They do not return.

BU 6.2.16: "The people who win heavenly worlds, on the other hand, by offering sacrifices, by giving gifts, and by performing austerities - they pass into the smoke… into the world of the fathers… into the moon… they become food. There, the gods feed on them… When that ends, they pass into this very sky … into the wind… into the rain… into the earth. Reaching the earth, they become food. They are again offered in the fire of man and then take birth in the fire of woman. Rising up once again to the heavenly worlds, they circle around in the same way.
“Those who do not know these two paths, however, become worms, insects, or snakes.”

BU 4.3.33 Among human beings, when someone is successful and rich, ruling over others and enjoying to the utmost all human pleasures… Now, a hundred measures of such human bliss equal a single measure of the bliss enjoyed by the ancestors who have won their worldthe world of the Gandharvas… gods-by-rites, that is, those who have become gods by performing rites… gods-by-birth - and, one might add, by those who are learned in the Vedas and who are not crooked or lustful… the world of Prajapati - and, one might add, by those who are learned in the Vedas and who are not crooked or lustful… the world of brahman - and, one might add, by those who are learned in the Vedas and who are not crooked or lustful. Now this, undoubtedly, is the highest bliss. This, Your Majesty, is the world of brahman.

In her paper (Jurewicz: The Rgveda, ‘small scale’ societies and rebirth eschatology) Jurewicz shows that the second path was already to be found in the Rigveda.

Without doubt we can see here that different realms of rebirth were established before the Buddha (taken the common understanding that the BU predates him). Even more, some right conduct and knowledge was known to grant one access to these higher realms. And there are further references in the BU to these different paths:

BU 6.2.2 Do you know the access to the path (sṛti, not mārga) to the gods or the path to the fathers?

BU 4.4.5: A man who’s attached goes with his action (karma) to that very place to which his mind and character cling. Reaching the end of his action, of whatever he has done in this world— From that world he returns back to this world, back to action.

BU 1.5.16: One can win this world of men only through a son, and by no other rite, whereas one wins the world of ancestors through rites, and the world of gods through knowledge. The best of these, clearly, is the world of gods, and for this reason they praise knowledge (vidyā).

So here we have what parallels our pali text ‘having realized this world and the other world for themselves by direct knowledge (abhiñña, lit. higher knowledge)’

(further references to ‘this world and the next’ can be found in BU 3.7.1/2, BU 4.1.2, BU 4.3.8/9, BU 4.5.11 and BU 5.10)

Mother and Father…

Finally we have a passage that parallels the part of “there is mother and father”. The fact that it is a negated paragraph suggests people could refer to them as common knowledge. Nonetheless we find a clear connection between ethical behavior and ‘the other worlds’.

BU 4.3.21 this person embraced by the self (ātman) consisting of knowledge (prājña) is oblivious to everything within or without. Clearly, this is the aspect of his where all desires are fulfilled, where the self is the only desire, and which is free from desires and far from sorrows. [22.] Here a father is not a father, a mother is not a mother, worlds are not worlds, gods are not gods, and Vedas are not Vedas. Here a thief is not a thief, an abortionist is not an abortionist, an outcaste is not an outcaste, a pariah is not a pariah, a recluse is not a recluse, and an ascetic is not an ascetic. Neither the good nor the bad follows him, for he has now passed beyond all sorrows of the heart.

We can take ‘mother and father’ as the physical ancestors, still the expression doesn’t seem to really fit. A plausible understanding comes from the Rigveda. Here Jamison/Brereton in their introduction to RV I.159 describe that of often in the Rigveda ‘father and mother’ stands for ‘heaven and earth’:

The various, and sometimes paradoxical, relationships between (masculine) Heaven and (feminine) Earth, and their joint relationship with their sons, the gods, are the topic of this hymn. The two are named in the first and last verses of the hymn, while in between they are only referred to by kinship terms. In the first half of verse 2 their parental roles are kept separate: father and mother…

Putting the pericope together

There is what is given, sacrificed, and offered
The context of the sacrificial ritual

there is fruit and result of good and bad actions
A proto-ethical karma-formula

there is this world and the other world
The different destinies in the course of rebirth

there is mother and father
’Earth’ and ‘Heaven’ - or: our physical sources

there are beings spontaneously reborn
beings that (after death) soar up to higher realms

there are in the world ascetics and brahmins of right conduct and right practice
knowers of truth, atman, vedas, speech, breath, etc. morally intact

who, having realized this world and the other world for themselves by direct knowledge, make them known to others.
As it is said in BU 1.5.16 “one wins the world of gods through knowledge”


In summary there is nothing exclusively buddhist about this passage, and fits more into a pre-buddhist background, where different karma-related rebirths are established. But only in the BU it seems we start to find references to a possible eternal afterlife with the gods. It is discussed among scholars if this elaborated rebirth-belief, its connection to the realm of ethics and the early upanishads in general were actually a development of kšatriyas and not brahmins.

This is not essential in this case. As a kšatriya / arya the young Gotama would have been exposed to both, kshatriyan mystics and brahmin rituals. If there was an environment around him that was more into understanding and questioning (as we find in the upanishads), this would have certainly helped to reinforce the bodhisattvas quest.

Finally, if it holds up that this pali passage is pre-buddhist, it throws a light on the diverse material that was finally inserted in the suttas. It could have been by bhanakas who were versed in buddhist and pre-buddhist material. Or it was original material that the Buddha used in order to connect to people of more traditional background, referring to the common understanding and insights of his time.


Another fascinating essay!

In your research did you come across any other suttas besides mn117 that described the “this world and the next” pericope as a view affected by taints?


I looked again but couldn’t find another reference. Interesting isn’t it - how MN 117 stands out again…

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MN 60, similar to the Kalama Sutta states: “if there is another world”… MN 60 is about gambling on a ‘safe bet’. It does not “show” anything certain.

It is a view affected by ‘self-view’. The very fact this mundane view includes the view of “beings” (“satta”) shows it is affected by ‘self-view’. SN 23.2 and SN 5.10 discuss the meaning of a “being”.

It seems to be a teaching for puthujjana. DN 31 states the duty of a priest or monk is to show puthujjana the path to heaven (rather than the path to Nibbana).

Thailand is a good example. The monks there generally do not impose their Buddhist views over traditional animist or brahmanistic beliefs

The Pali is "spontaneously arisen beings (“satta”) rather than ‘being spontaneously reborn’. The important word obviously is “beings” (“satta”).

MN 12 refers to four kinds of birth, including physical births. Opapātika seems to be an exception, i.e., not a physical birth.

Like when you get angry. Immediately, you are instantly born as a ‘hell being’.

I doubt a dozen different Pali words can all mean “rebirth” in the sense that you imagine “rebirth” to be or mean

MN 12 says many kinds of “beings” are opapātika, including hell beings.

Respectfully, your imagination seems to be running wild here, similar to a Christian Evangelist preacher. :innocent:

Yes. This shows your theory is obviously tenuous.

The word “para” means “other” rather than “next”. In Singalese, for example, it means “other”.

This view is questionable since the majority of suttas about kamma to refer to two destinations: heaven (happiness) & hell (unhappiness), in accord to the Buddha teaching about two things: suffering & cessation of suffering.

Suttas such as MN 135 that purport a “human rebith” apart from good deeds are questionable because most suttas have two destinations, namely, wholesome destination from wholesome action and unwholesome destination for unwholesome action.

There is doubt that everything in the BU was written before Buddha, per Wiki. The suttas do not report the Buddha & the Brahmans having deep discussions about kamma & rebirth to myriad realms. Instead, the impression is most Brahmans were preoccupied with union with Brahma or who they were born from Brahma’s breath or mouth.

This sounds like an immaterial plane of mind; of non-thinking; non-labelling; non-discrimination.

Why not?


The context of this is each of us are recipients or beneficiaries of gifts, offerings & sacrifices in our life, such as from our mother, father, teachers, friends, community, environment, etc. Our life is dependent upon other things therefore we should be grateful & act with skill to maintain those relationships.

A Buddhist must have this mundane right view. This mundane right view cannot be dismissed as Brahmanistic mumbo jumbo.


Refer to previous point about benefactions received from benefactors. Mother & father refer to the various benefactors, including mother earth and father heaven.


Because there are benefactors, there are obligations to benefactors by beneficiaries. This defines good & bad karma. Refer to DN 31 about the good kamma obligations in the ‘six directions’.


“Beings” (which are states of clinging, per SN 23.2) instantly become different realms according to kamma. For example, engaging in sexual promiscuity immediately becomes the animal realm, per AN 2.9, because the mind is ‘animal’ rather than ‘human’. Instant karma.

This rebirth may or may not continue after death but opapātikā sounds like instant immediate kamma-vipaka to me.


This seems to be an instruction to puthujjana to have (blind) faith in their priests & monks, regardless of religion, as long as those religions have right teachings on good & bad kamma. This also shows the Buddha did not intend for all people to follow his religion.


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