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Mount Meru surrounded by the continents and subcontinents, with the devas of the kāmadhātu and rūpadhātu 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. In the Sanskrit tradition, there are seventeen sub-realms in total; in the Pali tradition there are sixteen sub-realms.

In Buddhist cosmology, these heavens are situated above the sensuous realm (kamadhatu), and tiered one above the other.[2]

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'.[3]

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.[4]

These sub-realms are divided further; thus in total there are:

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:[6]

  • "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:[6]

The Pali tradition recognizes two divisions:[5]

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

Third dhyana (virtuous realms)

The realm of the third dhyana (Skt. tritīyadhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་གསུམ་པ་) has three sub-realms:[7]

Second dhyana (radiant realms)

The realm of the second dhyana (Skt. dvitīyadhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་གཉིས་པ་) has three sub-realms:[8]

First dhyana (brahma realms)

The realm of the second dhyana (Skt. prathama-dhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་དང་པོ་) has three sub-realms.[9]

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

Suffering of beings in the rūpadhātu

Dudjom Rinpoche states:

In the form and formless worlds there is no manifest suffering of suffering, but the gods there are never exempt from the suffering of everything composite. Because the ordinary beings in these realms become, as it were, intoxicated with concentration, they do not make any progress in increasing their good qualities. Once they have tasted the flavor of concentration, they dare not be parted from concentration as an experience, and as a result, their concentration fades and they die. In particular, when the propelling action they performed in a previous life is exhausted, the ordinary beings in these realms again take birth in the kamadhatu. Although they have had an apparently blissful experience in their earlier meditation of worldly concentration and now in the concentrations of the form and formless realms, when the propelling force for this tainted bliss is spent, they will again fall into the lower realms without any idea where they are going, like an arrow being shot into the sky. Letter to a Friend says:
A Kamaloka deva, one gains such bliss,
As Brahma, bliss that’s free from all desire;
But know that after that comes constant pain:
As firewood one feeds Avici’s flames.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Thupten Jinpa 2017, s.v. "The Formation of World Systems".
  2. Jamgön Kongtrul 2003, p. 119.
  3. RW icon height 18px.png Form realm, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
  4. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. rūpadhātu.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Access to insight icon 50px.png The Thirty-one Planes of Existence, Access to Insight
  6. 6.0 6.1 Internet-icon.svg བསམ་གཏན་བཞི་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  7. Internet-icon.svg བསམ་གཏན་གསུམ་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  8. Internet-icon.svg བསམ་གཏན་གཉིས་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  9. Internet-icon.svg བསམ་གཏན་དང་པོ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  10. Dudjom Rinpoche 2011, s.v. Chapter 7.