Which Sutta says that human realm is the best realm to practice the dhamma?

I’ve read about this somewhere but couldn’t find the relevant Sutta.

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Hi Fxam,

Yes, it seems most Buddhists have heard this sort of thing, which is rather curious since I am not aware that the Buddha ever said it. Contemporary Buddhism is often quite divorced from Early Buddhism, and one needs to take what one hears with a huge dose of salt. “Buddha quotes” that were never actually spoken by the Buddha are ubiquitous. (Right now we have a Buddhist calendar in our monastery office which is full of “Buddha quotes”, not one of which seems to be authentic. )

According to the suttas, the two most unfortunate kinds of rebirth are the animal realm and hell. It seems that once you get reborn there you tend to be stuck there for a long time, and there is no comprehension of Dhamma while you are there. The realms that correspond to high states of samādhi are also unfortunate in the sense that you cannot access or practice the Dhamma while you’re there. (But once you come out, you will have a very good foundation for practice.) As for the lower heavenly realms, there are many examples from the suttas of beings there practicing the Dhamma and even gaining the stages of Awakening. So these realms may not be inferior to the human realm as far as Dhamma practice is concerned.

In any case, I don’t think it is a good idea to try to guide one’s rebirth to a certain realm. I suspect we may often just end up making a mess of it. Live well and let kamma takes it course. If you practice well in this life, you will have a good foundation for continuing that practice in the next one, regardless of where you find yourself.

Good luck!


i just imagined the whole situation and laughed, it would make a great piece of sketch comedy

from the EBT i too get an impression that human birth is considered the most advantageous in terms of Dhamma practice and realization of nibbana

i cannot quote relevant passages attributed to the Buddha, but this is what is suggested in the words of Sakka in Sakkapanha sutta (DN 21)

Deceasing from the gods I shall forsake
The life that’s not of men, and straight shall go
Unerring to that womb
I fain would choose.

‘I who have had my problems rendered clear
And live delighting in His Word, shall then
Live righteously, mindful and self-possessed.

‘And if into my life thus rightly led
Enlightenment should come, then shall I dwell
As one who Knows, and this shall be the end.

and this in addition to the view of inferiority of birth as a woman expressed in this sutta through Sakka :slightly_smiling:


I have not found any sutta myself where the Buddha states this and I am deeply suspicious of this belief. In contrast however, there are bunch of suttas in the AN that come to my mind where the Buddha says that people who maintain the five precepts will later be “deposited in heaven as if brought there”. Note, he referred equally to Monks and Nuns in this respect as he did to lay people - (except, as we know, for Monks and Nuns they are to abstain from sexual activity, not just sexual misconduct as for lay people).

AN 5.286 “…Bhikkhus, possessing five qualities, a bhikkhu is deposited in heaven as if brought there. What five? He is one who abstains from the destruction of life, from taking what is not given, from sexual activity, from false speech, and from liquor, wine, and intoxicants, the basis for heedlessness…”

Basically this says, if you keep the five precepts, you will have little choice; your destination will be heaven. But the idea that you will not continue to practice seems absurd. In fact, the way the Buddha presents it, reappearing in heaven is a good outcome (not a bad one).

In my humble opinion, it is disappointing that this belief has managed to get so much traction. For example, in his introduction to his translation of the DN, Maurice Walshe ‘peddles’ exactly this idea.


Then again all the Buddhas (including countless Paccekabuddhas) seem to arise in the human realm. And even in the human realm, a lot more Arahants seem to come from poor North-East Thailand than the whole USA. The latter would probably be closer to a sensual deva realm at the time of the Buddha.

So while it doesn’t say so in the suttas, perhaps there might be something to this idea that the best mix of sukha and dukkha for progress is in the human realm.


(1) Human rebirth conductive to practice

I am not aware of an explicit source for this notion in the EBTs. It seems to originate rather from Mahayana thought (which I do not wish to endorse on doctrinal terms here; this is just meant as informative input to the thread).

For example, Verse I, 4 from Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara is regarded to refer to the fortunate and precious nature of human rebirth (since it is said to provide opportunity to develop bodhicitta, the awakening mind, i.e. the altruistic urge to aid all sentient beings towards enlightenment) and its rarity in comparison to all other potential destinations of rebirth:

"This opportune moment is extremely hard to meet. Once met, it yields the welfare of mankind. If the advantage is neglected now, how will this meeting come again? "

(2) Active directing of rebirth

In MN 120, sankhāruppattisutta, the topic is << The Blessed One addressed the bhikkus there: ‘Bhikkhus, I will speak of rebirth by intention, listen carefully with attention. >> but this sutta seems to be a little at odds with other passages in the canon with regard to stylistic properties and content (although I do not feel qualified for a firm judgment on this).

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just now reading about Sakka’s lavish life in heaven i start to understand why it’s not a suitable realm for Dhamma practice: the ratio between pleasure and suffering there is in favor of the former by a large margin, and so practice is difficult because of many alluring distractions and few incentives

in the realms lower than human however of the Dhamma they’re probably simply unaware or too busy counteracting suffering

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But then Mahayana also believes that Pure Lands are the best places to practice the Dhamma :grin:. Pure Lands are classified as deva realms, aren’t they?

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Since SuttaCentral is a resource for study and discussion of the EBTs, we should not digress too far…

Suffice to say that there are dozens of Mahayana schools in which pure lands seem to play a rather subordinate role or none at all. Of course, from the 1st century CE in India (Sukhavativyuha Sutras), 2nd century in China (Huiyuan) and especially in medieval Japan (Honen, Shinran Shonin, Rennyo Shonin) and contemporary Japan (Jodo Shin Shu school) Pure Land(s) play a dominant salvific role. I apologize for my overgeneraliztaion of ‘Mahayana’ which was due to the wish to write just a very short posting with regard to your initial question.

Anyway, to my mind, the teachings preserved in the Pali Canon give ample nourishment for a lifetime (and more than one) of study and contemplation. :relieved:

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As an afterthought, AN29 does seem to resonate with the notion of a human rebirth bearing the most potential for spiritual development:

“There is, bhikkhus, one unique opportune moment that is the right occasion for living the spiritual life. What is it? Here, a Tathāgata has arisen in the world, an arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, an Enlightened One, a Blessed One, and the Dhamma leading to peace, nibbāna, and enlightenment is taught as proclaimed by a Fortunate One. And a person has been reborn in the central provinces, and he is wise, intelligent, astute, able to understand the meaning of what has been well stated and badly stated. This, bhikkhus, is the one unique opportune moment that is the right occasion for living the spiritual life.
if one has obtained the human state,
and the good Dhamma is being taught,
for a person desiring his own good,
this is incentive enough to strive.
But those who gain the human state
when the good Dhamma is well proclaimed,
have accomplished the Teacher’s word,
or will do so, or are doing so now.

Those who have practiced the path,
proclaimed by the Tathāgata,
have penetrated the right moment in the world
the unsurpassed spiritual life. […]"


AN 8.29

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Sorry for the misquote: [quote=“dhammachatta, post:10, topic:2556”]
It should have read
AN8.29 (Akkhanasutta)

I’m currently reading through the Buddhavamsa & in a number of occasions it refers to places in the suttas where the Buddha in his former births would basically commit suicide when born in a deva or Brahma realm & be reborn immediately as a human being so he can continue practicing & developing his paramis. Also on another occasion Sumedha (the future Buddha Gotama) when he went to meet Buddha Dipankara, he was assigned a peace of the road where Dipankara & his 500 Arahants were to walk on so he will fix it before they come. At that Sumedha had attained sankaraupekkha nana, which means he had psychic powers. But he said that he will use his ‘human power’ to complete the work because that will gain him more merit than finishing the whole stretch of road with his supernormal powers. From these passages it is clear that human birth is the most conducive for Dhamma practice because not only one can gain much more paramis by being a human, but also for bodhisattas can only become Buddhas as a human being. Another reason given in the suttas is that the amount of pleasure we get in deva realms is so high compared to the human realm, & their age is so much longer, that one tends to get immersed in sensual pleasures & forgets about Dhamma practice. The life of the human being is short enough to make us constantly aware of death, & long enough to give us enough time to make a lot of merit & gain a lot of paramis.

Hope this sheds some light.

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Are you reading a translation of Buddhavamsa? I found a scanned English translation (8 PDFs) by Mingun Sayadaw where page 3 in Volume 1, Part 1 describes Adhimuttimarana (voluntary passing away by self-determination). Interestingly, googling on “Adhimuttimarana” returns only one result which is in Korean.

A quick dictionary check on adhimuttimarana:

  • adhimutti = resolve, intention, disposition
  • marana = death, as ending this (visible) existence, physical death, in a narrower meaning than kālakiriyā; dying, in cpds. death

UPDATE: A 2008 revised version called “The Great Chronicles of Buddhas - Singapore Edition” is available. This version has only one PDF and the text is searchable unlike the scanned version above.

Yes. It is the English translation of Mingun Sayadaw’s The great chronicle of Buddhas by U Ko Lay & U Tin Lwin. And yes I was talking about Adhimuttimarana.

Wonder which version you are reading, I have edited my post above to include a revised Singapore version which has everything in one searchable PDF.

I’m reading the State Buddha Sasana Council’s version. Thanks for including the pdfs.

Could it be SN 56.48?

“Bhikkhus, suppose that this great earth had become one mass of water, and a man would throw a yoke with a single hole upon it. An easterly wind would drive it westward; a westerly wind would drive it eastward; a northerly wind would drive it southward; a southerly wind would drive it northward. 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?”

“It would be by chance, venerable sir, that that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, would 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.

“Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

The sutta before this is one about how it’s really bad to fall lower than the human realm, SN 56.47


“Sooner, I say, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once
every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole
than the fool who has gone once to the nether world would regain the human state.


SN 56.48

it’s an interesting statement which can be interpreted as negating the validity of the kamma doctrine

or it must be appreciated in connection with the previous sutta SN 56.47 which talks specifically of those born in the nether world

Sooner, I say, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole than the fool who has gone once to the nether world would regain the human state.

I understand it as ‘by chance’ referring to being human at the same time and place as a Buddha who is teaching the Dhamma.

I think this is more in line with the whole ‘interpret the obscure suttas in light of the general teaching’ idea.

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