MN 117 states moral or mundane right view includes the following view:
There are fruits & results of good & bad actions.
There is this world & the other worlds.
The Pali word for ‘world’ or ‘worlds’ is ‘loka‘.
The ‘worlds’ are regarded as human, heavenly/godly, hell, animal & ghost.
Many Buddhists regard the ‘worlds’ to be other places or planes, similar to other planets. However, there are many teachings in the Pali suttas that give the impression that the ‘worlds’ are merely mental or psychological states of mind.
In AN 4.45, the word ‘world’ is used in the place of ‘suffering’ in the Four Noble Truths and it is explicitly said the ‘world’ arises & ceases within the mind:
It is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the world, the origination of the world, the cessation of the world and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the world.
Similarly, in SN 12.44, the word ‘world’ is used in the place of suffering in the Dependent Origination:
And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging. From clinging as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world.
In SN 35.82, it is said:
Insofar as it disintegrates, monk, it is called the ‘world.’
In AN 8.6, it is said:
Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. These are the eight worldly conditions that spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions.
In the Lokavagga of the Dhammapada, the ‘world’ refers to ‘worldly’ (unenlightened) states of mind:
Follow not the vulgar way; live not in heedlessness; hold not false views; linger not long in worldly existence.
Blind is the world; here only a few possess insight. Only a few, like birds escaping from the net, go to realms of bliss.
As shown in the 1st quote above from MN 117, the doctrine of the ‘worlds’ is tied to the doctrine of ‘kamma-vipaka’ (action & results). AN 6.63 states:
And what is the diversity in kamma? There is kamma to be experienced in hell (niraya), kamma to be experienced in the realm of animals ( tiracchānayoni), kamma to be experienced in the realm of the hungry shades (pettivisaya), kamma to be experienced in the human world (manussaloka), kamma to be experienced in the world of the devas (devaloka). This is called the diversity in kamma.
Importantly, AN 6.63 states:
Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect. And what is the cause by which kamma comes into play? Contact is the cause by which kamma comes into play.
Similarly, SN 12.25 states:
Kamma…and…happiness & suffering are dependently co-arisen.
Dependent on what? Dependent on contact.
While the above quotes from AN 6.63 and SN 12.25 are not detailed or clear in their description, it appears they state the ‘worlds’ are dependent on sense contact and are actual states of sense contact (rather than external worlds, places, planes or planets).
About the ‘hell’ world, SN 35.135 unambiguously states there is a ‘hell’ at sense contact:
I have seen, bhikkhus, the hell named ‘Contact’s Sixfold Base.’ There whatever form one sees with the eye is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable. Whatever sound one hears with the ear … Whatever odour one smells with the nose … Whatever taste one savours with the tongue … Whatever tactile object one feels with the body … Whatever mental phenomenon one cognizes with the mind is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable..
SN 56.43 is similar:
Mendicants, there is a hell called ‘The Mighty Fever’. There, whatever sight you see with your eye is unlikable, not likable; undesirable, not desirable; unpleasant, not pleasant. Whatever sound you hear … Whatever odor you smell … Whatever flavor you taste … Whatever touch you feel … Whatever thought you know with your mind is unlikable, not likable; undesirable, not desirable; unpleasant, not pleasant.”
Similarly, MN 79 refers to a ‘heavenly world’ within the mind, i.e., the blissful meditative jhana of the noble eightfold path:
Here, Udayi, the bhikkhu secluded from sensual desires and thoughts of demerit abides in the first jhana: Overcoming thoughts and thought processes and the mind in one point internally appeased, without thoughts and thought processes abides in the second jhana. Again with equanimity to joy and detachment, feeling pleasant with the body too, abides in the third jhana. To this the noble ones say abiding in pleasantness with equanimity. Udayi, this is the course of actions, for realising the world of only pleasant feelings (ekantasukhassa lokassa).
In AN 3.23, it seems to be said ‘hell’ & ‘heaven’ exist in this world:
Bhikkhus, there are three kinds of persons found existing in the world. What three?
(1) “Here, bhikkhus, some person generates afflictive bodily activities, afflictive verbal activities, and afflictive mental activities. In consequence, he is reborn in an afflictive world. When he is reborn in an afflictive world, afflictive contacts touch him. Being touched by afflictive contacts, he feels afflictive feelings, exclusively painful, as in the case of hell-beings.
(2) “Someone else generates unafflictive bodily activities, unafflictive verbal activities, and unafflictive mental activities. In consequence, he is reborn in an unafflictive world. When he is reborn in an unafflictive world, unafflictive contacts touch him. Being touched by unafflictive contacts, he feels unafflictive feelings, exclusively pleasant, as in the case of the devas of refulgent glory.
(3) “Still another generates bodily activities that are both afflictive and unafflictive, verbal activities that are both afflictive and unafflictive, and mental activities that are both afflictive and unafflictive. In consequence, he is reborn in a world that is both afflictive and unafflictive. When he is reborn in a world that is both afflictive and unafflictive, both afflictive and unafflictive contacts touch him. Being touched by both afflictive and unafflictive contacts, he feels both afflictive and unafflictive feelings, mingled pleasure and pain, as in the case of human beings, some devas, and some beings in the lower worlds.
“These, bhikkhus, are the three kinds of persons found existing in the world.”
In AN 5.51, the ‘human state’ appears to be described as the mind free from the five hindrances and with knowledge & wisdom:
Sensual desire… ill-will (anger)… sloth & drowsiness… restlessness & anxiety… uncertainty is an obstacle, a hindrance that overwhelms the mind and weakens wisdom… when a monk has not abandoned these five obstacles… for him to understand what is for his own benefit, to understand what is for the benefit of others, to understand what is for the benefit of both, to realize a superior human (manussa) state (dhammā), a truly noble distinction in knowledge & vision: that is impossible.
In SN 56.47, the ‘human state’ is described as the opposite to an animal-like state, i.e., the human state being a state of harmlessness & righteous conduct where there is not the mutual devouring of the weak:
Bhikkhus, suppose a man would throw a yoke with a single hole into the great ocean, and 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?
If it would ever do so, venerable sir, it would be only after a very long time.
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. For what reason? Because here, bhikkhus, there is no conduct guided by the Dhamma, no righteous conduct, no wholesome activity, no meritorious activity. Here there prevails mutual devouring, the devouring of the weak. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, they have not seen the Four Noble Truths. What four? The noble truth of suffering … the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.
Similarly, AN 6.39 equates non-greed. non-hatred & non-delusion with human & godly realms:
Bhikkhus, a god, a human or any other good state would not be evident from actions born of greed, hate and delusion. Yet, bhikkhus, from actions born of greed, hate and delusion a hellish being, an animal birth a ghostly birth or some other bad state would be evident.
In AN 2.9, immoral behaviour is again compared to animal behaviour:
Bhikkhus, these two bright principles protect the world. What are the two? Shame and fear of wrongdoing. If, bhikkhus, these two bright principles did not protect the world, there would not be discerned respect for mother or maternal aunt or maternal uncle’s wife or a teacher’s wife or the wives of other honored persons, and the world would have fallen into promiscuity, as with goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, and jackals. But as these two bright principles protect the world, there is discerned respect for mother… and the wives of other honored persons.
In AN 10.93 & elsewhere, non-Dhamma talk by monks is explicitly called ‘animal talk’ (‘tiracchāna kathaṃ kathentā’):
Now on that occasion the wanderers of other persuasions had come together in a gathering and were sitting, discussing many kinds of bestial topics, making a great noise and racket.
In the Tevijja Sutta, the Buddha is said to have taught Brahmans the way or path to Brahma is radiating unconditional love in all directions, without exception:
And he lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of love, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world—above, below, around, and everywhere—does he continue to pervade with heart of love, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure….Verily this is the way to a state of union with Brahmā.
Finally & most interesting, the final suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya, namely, SN 56.102 to 131, refer to how animals, hell beings & ghosts can realise the Four Noble Truths to be ‘reborn’ (paccājāyanti) human or godly:
Beings (sattā) are few who, when they pass away from the animal realm (tiracchānayoniyā) are reborn (paccājāyanti) among humans (manussesu)… those beings are more numerous are reborn in hell…. For what reason? They have not realised the Four Noble Truths.
As previously posted on this blog, in relation to the topic ‘birth’ (‘jati’), the Pali term ‘satta’ or ‘beings’ primarily does not refer to life forms or organisms but, instead, to states of mental attachment (SN 23.2) & views of ‘personhood’ (SN 5.10).
Also, the term ‘yoni’ (translated as ‘realm’) is used in SN 56.102 as a synonym for ‘loka’ (‘world’). About the term ‘yoni’ (‘generation’), MN 12 states there are four kinds, distinguishing clearly the physical from the mental, of which the mental arises spontaneously (opapātikā ):
Catasso kho imā sāriputta yoniyo. Katamā catasso? Aṇḍajā yoni, jalābujā yoni, saṃsedajā yoni, opapātikā yoni
There are these four kinds of generation. What are the four? Egg-born generation, womb-born generation, moisture-born generation and spontaneous generation.
What is egg-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out of the shell of an egg; this is called egg-born generation. What is womb-born generation? There are these beings born by breaking out from the caul; this is called womb-born generation. What is moisture-born generation? There are these beings born in a rotten fish, in a rotten corpse, in rotten dough, in a cesspit, or in a sewer; this is called moisture-born generation. What is spontaneous generation? There are gods (devā) and denizens of hell (nerayikā) and certain (ekacce ca) human beings (manussā) and some (ekacce ca) destined to suffer (vinipāta); this is called spontaneous generation.
Devā nerayikā, ekacce ca manussā, ekacce ca vinipātikā
In conclusion, there are many examples in the Pali suttas that appear to point to the worlds or realms ‘loka’ as being mental states of mind rather than external worlds.