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Divine Cosmology in Buddhism

In this article we will touch upon some basic concepts and ideas not so commonly discussed in Buddhism. Often taken purely metaphorical, these ideas appear in some important Buddhist texts, so we should be familiar with them.

The Buddhist view on Cosmology is the one of infinite space, infinite time, and more than 30 realms or worlds inhabited by beings of different degrees of development, power, knowledge, and consciousness.

Even though there is no systematic cosmology in Buddhism, we can find some common concepts present in all main schools of Buddhist thought and philosophy.

By the way, we should mention what the main schools of Buddhism are: Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Please note that some cosmological ideas have been adapted from the Vedic texts and Indian cosmology.

The main principles of Buddhist cosmology are:

  1. The cause of the existence of the Universe is in the principle of Pratītyasamutpāda or dependent origination.
  2. The Universe is limitless, both temporally and spatially.
  3. All beings in the Universe are born and reborn in different realms of existence depending on their past Karma. The ultimate aim is to escape this endless cycle by reaching final liberation – Nirvana.
  4. There are various levels of existence in a hierarchical order.

Different Types of Beings

While considering the different realms of Buddhist cosmologz, we can distinguish several types of Beings. These beings are Devas, or god-like individuals, Asuras, or titans, or demigods, Narakas or demons, Humans, Animals, and Ghosts.

All beings, even the most advanced ones, live in a state of illusion, samsara. Because of that they are not free from the laws of karma.

The main Deities in Buddhist mythology are:

Brahma, the supreme Deva. Indra, the major Deva, Prajna, the goddess of knowledge, Mara, the deva who tempted Buddha on the path of His enlightenment, Gandharvas, angelic beings.

Not too unlike the metaphor of the mountain Olympus from where the Greek god Zeus ruled the other gods and humans, Buddhist people also keep an image of Mount Meru, at whose peaks the land of the Buddha resides.

The Devas are found on the upper slopes, the titans are on the lower slopes. The plains around the mountain Meru are reserved for the humans and animals. The ghosts live below the surface, whereas the hell is deep down into the earth.

Let’s now consider the different realms of existence:

31 Levels of Existence

Throughout the sacred texts of Buddhism, we find reference to 31 realms of existence. That means Buddhism knows of as many as 31 levels of existence. Here we find a vast range of worlds, starting from painful hell-like realms to the most refined heavenly worlds.

However, Buddhism knows of no lasting heaven or hell. They are all temporary. Beings are born there, live a particular period of time, and then they move on to another world, according to their karma.

A being can be incarnated in any of them. It is believed that most of us during the course of cosmological time incarnate in most of these levels.

A basic division of these levels is in three groups:

  • The levels of sensual existence (material levels). The sense world is also called kama loka. Here we have 11 worlds, and seven of them offer favorable existence, including our Earth and some other realms inhabited by more advanced beings (Devas). The lowest four realms are unfavorable, hell like realms.
  • The levels of pure form (subtle material levels). These fine material realms are called rupa loka. Here we have 16 worlds with relatively blissful existence and mental and emotional pleasures. The beings incarnated here have bodies of light, while the highest four realms are the pure abodes.
  • The formless levels. These immaterial worlds are also called arupa loka (loka means world). Here we have four worlds in total.

The lowest levels are the levels of sense existence, inhabited by individuals with physical senses and cognition. This group has a higher and lower division. In the lower division (various hells), there are unfavorable incarnations as a result of various misconducts, like killing or greed in the previous incarnations. In the higher division, wherein we also can include our present human existence, there are also realms of the various Devas in the sense-based heavens.

The middle levels are the levels of pure form. These are also heavenly worlds of higher Devas. The Buddhist teachings state that beings born here have only 2 senses (hearing, and sight), rather than the usual 5.

To be born in the middle levels means spending your previous lives in meditation, stilling your mind, practicing concentration and contemplation. The highest of the middle levels (also known as pure abodes). Pure abodes are reserved for those who have attained high stages of enlightenment, or awakening, or are just about to reach enlightenment (nirvana).

The most sublime realms of existence are found in the formless worlds. The beings present here are distinguished by their pure consciousness and independence from any bodily form.


The highest four realms are as follows:

The realm of “Neither-perception-nor-non-perception“.

Next comes the Nothingness.

The 29th realm is the Infinite Consciousness and bellow is

the Infinite Space.

Rupa Loka

The next 16 realms are the following:

Pure abodes (5 in total):

Peerless Devas,

Clear sighted,

Beautiful Devas,

Untroubled Devas, and

Devas not Falling,

Next we have the Unconscious beings, and then come the beings who enjoy different degrees of bliss:

Very Fruitful Devas,

Devas of Refulgent Glory,

Devas of Unbounded Glory,

Devas of Limited Glory,

Devas of Streaming Radiance,

Devas of Unbounded Radiance,

Devas of Limited Radiance,

Great Brahmas,

Ministers of Brahmas, and

Followers of Brahmas.


Happy Places

Here we have Devas with power of the creation of other beings. They enjoy the pleasure created for them by others.

Next are the Devas that enjoy in Creation of their own objects,

Contented Devas who enjoy pure bliss and cheerfulness, and

Yama Devas who live liberated from any difficulty,

Sakka who are devotees of Buddha, and

Devas of the Four Great Kings, who possess different degrees of purity.

The fifth realm is reserved for Human beings who strive to develop virtue and wisdom.

Unhappy Places

In the lower realms we find the Ausaras, demons who are in constant conflict with each other,

Hungry Shades, ghosts who are without hope and who wander lost in search for sensual pleasures,

Animals, and

Hellish beings, who suffer great pains in this temporary condition.

Cosmological Time in Buddhism                                   

Kalpa is the basic unit of time in Buddhist cosmology. One kalpa is 4,320,000,000 years. It takes exactly one kalpa for the world to come into being, evolve, and dissolve into emptiness. After a period of inactivity, it all starts all over again.


We all go through life in a unique world created by our preconceptions, beliefs, and karmic circumstances. Our own subjective reality paints how we look at the objective reality. In order to be able to look at the truth as it is, we have to climb the ladder of personal and spiritual development and expand the faculties of the mind, such as, mental clarity and objectivity. Then, all our subjective mental barriers will be destroyed and the Universe we see is going to be different. That also means choosing a higher level of existence in our next incarnation.

Photo courtesy of hubblesite

Filed under: Glossary, Metaphysical

Buddhist Views on Supernatural Powers

miracles-room-2There is a nice story that illustrates the attitude of Gautama Buddha toward the tendency of some people to strive for miraculous powers in their spiritual practice.

One day the Buddha came across an ascetic who was sitting by a river bank. This ascetic was known for his spiritual practice of austerity for good 25 years. The Buddha asked the ascetic, given all his hard work and labor, what he had received as a reward. The man replied with pride that, he was able to cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha pointed in the direction of the ferry, indicating that the gain of the man was insignificant. He could, after all, cross the river for just one penny by using a ferry!

This story probably has different layers of meanings. One meaning could certainly be the message that we have to live our lives happily, performing our everyday duties, rather than chasing miracles and supernatural powers.

After all, why are we here on this planet, incarnated on this physical plane? We must have gotten these material bodies for a reason. We have them to follow our worldly duties, occupations, and obligations, and yet strive for Divine accomplishments and achieve something beautiful and worthy.

Of course, Buddha must have known very well that meditation, concentration, and training the mind within a well developed spiritual practice leads to attaining supernatural powers.

Buddha must have also known that these mystical powers develop by themselves even when the student is not seeking them, provided that he or she is well advanced on the spiritual path. But He never encouraged His students to chase nor publicly show such powers.

To Him, paying attention to miracles and powers was nothing else but a distraction for the disciples striving to realize the truth. The students themselves have to work for their liberation through purification of the lower self and not be tempted to fall into the trap of developing powers.

To Him, it didn’t really matter the kind of power: walking on water, thought reading, foretelling the future – they were all similar.


But what about hard core materialists and non-believers ? Buddha believed that even for the people with little faith, seeing miracles being performed was also not very useful. To Him the faith should be embraced because of the realization of the truth, not because of fascination or fear.

Therefore, Buddha was trying to draw people to listen to the Dharma (the teaching and religion of the Buddha) appealing to their reasoning powers.

Buddha was telling his disciples that gaining incredible powers was possible even without developing spiritually. He knew that one automatically receives powers if spiritually developed, which is a much better option. Having powers without being spiritually advanced is dangerous, as it usually leads to strengthening the ego, achieving vain glory or fruitless material gains.

Buddha explicitly forbade His students to demonstrate the authority of His teaching by using powers. To Him, miracles were simply a manifestation of the superiority of the mind over matter. Anyone with proper mental training could carry them out.

For Buddha, the highest power one could develop was the understanding the truth and realization of one’s true nature.

Here are some interesting resources about developing supernatural and mystical powers within the Buddhist thought and religion.

Relevant Links with Respect to Buddhism and Supernatural Powers

Did Buddha Perform Miracles?

Gautama Buddha was believed to possess powers. However, he disliked, rejected and despised them. He attained his abilities during His many years of deep meditation. He was well aware that attaining miraculous powers should never be the motivation for being on the path of self realization.

Check our more here.

Six supernatural powers of the Buddha

There are six supernatural powers of the Buddha. The explanation and instructions how to acquire them are given by Buddha Himself.

They are as follows:

  1.  Iddhividha – the power of transformation
  2. Dibbasota – celestial hearing
  3. Cetopariya – the power of discernment of the mind of others
  4. Pubbenivasa – power of knowing previous existences
  5. Dibba-cakkhu – celestial vision
  6. Asavakkhaya – Supra-mundane knowledge or power relating to destruction of asavas (mental defilements of sensual pleasures, craving for existence, and ignorance) and the recognition of the four noble truths.

You can check out the more detailed explanation of all of them here:

Mogallana’s Supernatural Powers

Mogallana was Buddha’s disciple. He had the divine power to hear sounds, no matter how near or far. The other divine power of his was to see things through obstructions. He was also able to travel to any place in an instant.

You can check the detailed explanation of Mogallana powers here:

Does Buddhism Believe in Supernatural?

Check out the most complete answer here, even though perhaps it will not be the most satisfactory one.


Psychic Abilities in Buddhism

Buddhists know deeper levels of concentration and jhana (Jhana is a state of meditation characterized by profound stillness and concentration) can lead to a wide spectrum of psychic powers.

These psychic abilities include knowing the past or future, reading minds at distance, seeing or hearing at distance, manipulating the basic elemental forces of air, earth, water and fire, and so on.

Buddhists texts that describe these powers are for example “The Path of Purification” or “Visuddhimagga” by Bhadantácariya Buddhaghosa.

The other teaching is, for example, the “Yogas of Naropa“.

It is a tantric tradition within the Tibetan Buddhism. Arranged by the Indian masters Tilopa and Naropa, this yogic system was carried to Tibet one generation later. The six yoga methods described in this teaching are the yoga of inner heat, clear light, forceful projection, illusory body, consciousness transference, and bardo yoga.

Psychic and Supernatural Powers in Contemporary Buddhist Practices

We know of some contemporary Buddhist practices where psychic powers are developed and even documented.

For example, the practice of tummo has been shown to increase core body temperature at will. G-tummo meditators are able to dry wet sheets surrounding their naked bodies during a frosty Himalayan ceremonies. The result have been published in the following paper:

Neurocognitive and Somatic Components of Temperature Increases during g-Tummo Meditation: Legend and Reality

Another phenomenon is related to the so-called rainbow body. Dzogchen practitioners are believed to be able to dissolve their bodies at the moment of their death. During the process, their body emanates rainbow light, and finally only the hair and nails are left behind.

Have you ever experienced any psychic phenomena in your meditation practice? What is your attitude toward attaining supernatural powers?

Filed under: Blog Posts

The Yoga of Swami Dev Murti Ji

swami-dev-murtiThe Yoga philosophy and practice of Swami Dev Murti Ji is presented in the book “Yoga in Daily Life” written by Jack Boulton and John More. Jack and John were students of Swami Dev Murti more than 25 years. They also wrote another book, “Yoga in Practice”.

Swami Dev Murti started practicing the ancient practice of yoga at the age of three.At the age of 5 Swami Dev Murti was introduced to a great yoga master in the Himalayas who took the boy the secrets of yoga in the Himalaya caves.

In 1958, his teacher, Matiji Maharaj (who lived approximately 140) sent him to spread the art and science of yoga throughout the world.

His system of special exercises for the spine was developed with the needs of the modern people in mind. It gives great results with just seven minutes of daily practice. .

Here is a demonstration of these exercises (crocodile exercises, as they are conveniently called)  by a Swamid Dev Murti’s student of Yoga.

Swami Dev Murti passed away in 2011, at the age of 108 years. He was one of the grandfathers of yoga. Although he didn’t want to expose to the public very much, he had a lot of students all around the world, who in turn set up several ashrams, as well as yoga societies, and associations. He was known for his teaching of three or more generations of students from the same family.

In his early age, to kindle the interest of the public for the little known science of yoga, he used to demonstrate his mastery of yoga performing in shows in public. Check the video below for a stunning demonstration of his powers:

In addition to the Hatha yoga exercises, Swami Ji developed and research the Kundalini yoga practice. He adjusted this powerful technique to the ordinary people living in the West.

Filed under: Glossary