Deva realms of the kāmadhātu

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The deva realms of the kāmadhātu (Skt. kāmadhātu-deva; T. 'dod pa'i khams kyi lha; C. yujie tian 欲界天) are the abodes of the six classes of devas in the sensuous realm (kāmadhātu).[1]

The six realms are:[1][2][3]

Brief description of the deva realms

The "Realm of the Four Great Kings" (Cāturmahārājakāyika) is inhabited by the Four Great Kings and their retinues, who reside on the four terraces near the summit of Mount Meru. The "Realm of the Thirty-three" (Trāyastriṃśa) is inhabited by the Thirty-three devas and their retinues, who reside on the flat summit of Mount Meru. The devas in both of these realms are subject to attack by the jealous asuras who live on the lower slopes of Mount Meru; therefor these devas must engage in combat with the asuras.

The other four deva realms (of the kāmadhātu) exist in the space above Mount Meru, one realm above the other, resembling layers of cloud-like formations. The "Conflict-free realm" (Yāma) is so-called because it is the first deva realm that is beyond the reach of the asuras, so it is free from conflict. Above the "Conflict-free realm" is the "Joyous realm" (Tuṣita), where bodhisattvas reside prior to their final human birth.[4] Above Tuṣita is the "Enjoying Creations realm" (Nirmāṇarataya), were the devas create their own magical emanations.[5] Above this realm is the the "Controlling Others' Emanations realm" (Paranirmitavaśavartin), where the devas control their own emanations as well as the emanations of other beings. The devas in this realm are the tallest and longest-lived of all divinities in the kāmadhātu.[6]

These realms are all places of rebirth within cyclic existence (samsara). The devas in these realms are often referred to as the "long-lived devas", due to the fact that they live very long lives. However, like all beings in samsara, their lives eventually come to an end and they must undergo the suffering of death and experience a new rebirth.

Beings take rebirth in these realms as a result of virtuous deeds done in the past, particularly as a result of acts of generosity (dāna).[7]

Lifespans in each realm

Ornament of Abhidharma states:

For the gods of Cāturmahārājika, the lowest of all desire gods, fifty human years is calculated as one day and night. The measure of their lifespan is five hundred years, where thirty such days make one month and twelve such months make one year...
The gods above Cāturmahārājika, such as the gods of Trāyastriṃśa, have double both the days and years {since the measure of the lifespan of the latter is four times the former.} Thus in the heaven of Trāyastriṃśa, a hundred human years is calculated as one day and night and they live a thousand years, up to the heaven of Paranirmitavaśavartin, where 1,600 human years is calculated as one day and night and they live 16,000 years.
{In terms of human years, those are, respectively, 9 million years for the first, 36 million for the second, 144 million for the third, 576 million for the fourth, 1,152 million for the fifth, and 2,304 million for the sixth.}[8]

Suffering of the devas of the kāmadhātu

The devas of the kāmadhātu enjoy long lives filled with great pleasure and abundance. However, all of these devas must eventually experience the suffering of death and rebirth in the lower realms. In addition, the devas of the "Realm of the Four Great Kings" (Cāturmahārājakāyika) and the "Realm of the Thirty-three" (Trāyastriṃśa) must engage in combat with the jealous asuras.

Patrul Rinpoche states:

The devas enjoy perfect health, comfort, wealth and happiness all their lives. However, they spend their time in diversions and the idea of practicing Dharma never occurs to them. Throughout their lives, which may last a whole kalpa, they do not have that thought even for an instant. Then, having wasted their whole life in distraction, they are suddenly confronted with death. All the devas of the kāmadhātu, from that of the "four great kings" right up to the one called "enjoying the emanations of others," have to undergo the sufferings of death and rebirth.[9]

Dudjom Rinpoche states:

At first, the devas of the kāmadhātu are seduced by the pleasures of carefree indulgence in sensual enjoyment and fail to see their lives trickling away. But when the time comes for them to die, they lose their beautiful complexions, their seats no longer feel comfortable, their flower garlands grow old, stains appear on their clothes, and perspiration, formerly absent, breaks out on their bodies. These five portents appear seven gods’ days before they die, so the anguish they go through in dying is enormous and long lasting. During this time their own companions and attendants abandon them and go off to spend their time with other gods, causing them great sorrow. In particular, despite their attachment to the splendor and pleasure of their celestial state, they know they cannot help but be separated from them. They also know that once they have died, it is all but impossible to be reborn in the celestial realms again, and that even if a few of them are reborn as human beings, the majority will be reborn in the lower realms and will have to experience terrible suffering there for long periods of time. This knowledge and their subsequent fall are unbearably painful for them, as we read in the Close Mindfulness Sutra:
Falling from the gods’ abodes,
Their agony is most intense.
The denizens of hell do not endure
A mere sixteenth of such great misery.
And in Letter to a Friend:
Indra, universally revered,
Will fall again to earth through action’s force.
And he who ruled the universe as king
Will be a slave within samsara’s wheel.
Furthermore, when they see the majesty and abundant pleasures of gods with greater merit, the ones with less merit become depressed and intimidated. For the weaker gods, there is the distress of being driven out of their homes by the stronger ones. The gods in the realm of the Four Great Kings and the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, in particular, quarrel and fight with the demigods, and they suffer horribly when they are cut and torn, or killed, by their weapons.[10]

Jewel Ornament of Liberation states:

The devas of the kāmadhātu experience the sufferings of fighting with the demi-gods; being dissatisfied with their pleasures; being humiliated, cut, slaughtered, dismembered and banished; the transference of death; and falling down to the lower realms. It is said: Five signs of death appear when gods are close to death: their clothes become stained with filth, their garlands of flowers fade, sweat comes from their two armpits, a filthy odor rises from their bodies, and they dislike their own seats.[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. List of lists, "six heavens of the sensuous realm".
  2. Mipham Rinpoche 2000, s.v. line 8.26.
  3. Gampopa 1998, Chapter 5, note 11.
  4. Access to insight icon 50px.png The Thirty-one Planes of Existence, "III. The Sensuous World (kama-loka)", Access to Insight
  5. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Nirmāṇarataya.
  6. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. paranirmitavaśavartin.
  7. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. deva.
  8. Chim Jampaiyang 2019, s.v. Chapter 17.
  9. Patrul Rinpoche 1998, p. 93.
  10. Dudjom Rinpoche 2011, s.v. Chapter 7.
  11. Gampopa 1998, Chapter 5.


Further Reading