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Mount Meru surrounded by the continents and subcontinents, with the gods of the Desire and Form Realms above

Rūpadhātu (T. gzugs khams གཟུགས་ཁམས་; C. sejie; J. shikikai; K. saekkye 色界) is translated as "form realm," "realm of fine materiality," "realm of subtle materiality," etc. It is one of the three realms of cyclic existence (samsara) within Buddhist cosmology.

This realm is characterized by the internal bliss of absorption.[1] If explained further by means of body, feelings, and resources: "beings there have bodies in the nature of light, their experience is permeated mostly by feelings of bliss, and they do not rely on coarse food."[1] The beings who live in this realm are considered to be celestial beings.[1]

This realm is divided into four sub-realms, which are further divided into additional sub-realms or heavens. In the Sanskrit tradition, there are seventeen heavens in total; in the Pali tradition there is one less heaven, for a total of sixteen heavens.

The cause for being reborn in one of these heavens is the favourable karma accumulated through the practice of one of the dhyanas, each 'causal meditative dhyana' acting as a cause of rebirth in one of the corresponding 'resultant dhyana levels'.[2]

Divisions of the form realm

The form realm is divided into four sub-realms, each corresponding to one of the four meditative absorptions of the form realm (rūpāvacaradhyāna). These sub-realms are places of rebirth in cyclic existence (samsara). Each sub-realm is accessible only through mastering the corresponding stage of meditative absorption.[3]

These sub-realms are divided further:

  • seventeen heavens of the of the form realm (Skt. rupadhatuvasiñjati; T. gzugs khams gnas ri bcu bdun, གཟུགས་ཁམས་གནས་རི་བཅུ་བདུན་) are identified in the Sanskrit tradition
  • sixteen heavens, or "Brahmā realms," are identified in the Pali tradition[4]

The distinction between these traditions is noted in the sections below.

Fourth Dhyana

The fourth dhyana (Skt. caturtha-dhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་བཞི་པ་) has two main sub-divisions:[5]

  • "the five pure abodes" (śuddhāvāsa)
  • the heavens of the ordinary beings

Five pure abodes

The "five pure abodes" (śuddhāvāsa) are the uppermost realms in the form realm (rūpadhātu). These realms are only accessible to noble beings (āryapudgala).

  1. Unexcelled (akanishtha)
  2. Perfect vision (sudarśana)
  3. Perfect appearance (sudṛśa)
  4. Untroubled (atapa)
  5. Free from afflictions (avṛha)

Heavens of ordinary beings

The "heavens of ordinary beings" are the highest realms accessible to ordinary beings.

The Sanskrit tradition recognizes three divisions at this level:[5]

The Pali tradition recognizes two divisions:[4]

  • Unconscious beings (asaññasatta) - only the body is present; no mind.
  • Great Fruition (P. vehapphala; Skt. bṛhatphala)

Third Dhyana

The realm of the third dhyana (Skt. tritīyadhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་གསུམ་པ་) has three sub-realms:[6]

Second Dhyana

First Dhyana

This realm is also referred as the "brahma worlds" (brahmaloka). The beings in this realm are immersed in the bliss of the first meditative absorption (dhyana).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Thupten Jinpa 2017, s.v. "The Formation of World Systems".
  2. RW icon height 18px.png Form realm
  3. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. rūpadhātu.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Thirty-one Planes of Existence, Access to Insight
  5. 5.0 5.1 Internet-icon.svg བསམ་གཏན་བཞི་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  6. Internet-icon.svg བསམ་གཏན་གསུམ་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary