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. 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." The beings who live in this realm are considered to be celestial beings.
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'.
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.
These sub-realms are divided further; thus in total there are:
- seventeen heavens of the of the form realm (Skt. rupadhatuvasiñjati; T. gzugs khams gnas ri bcu bdun) according to the Sanskrit tradition
- sixteen heavens, or "Brahmā realms," according to the Pali tradition
The distinction between these traditions is noted in the sections below.
The fourth dhyana (Skt. caturtha-dhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་བཞི་པ་) has two main sub-divisions:
- "the five pure abodes" (śuddhāvāsa)
- the heavens of the ordinary beings
Five pure abodes
- Unexcelled (akanishtha)
- Perfect vision (sudarśana)
- Perfect appearance (sudṛśa)
- Untroubled (atapa)
- Free from afflictions (avṛha)
Heavens of ordinary beings
The "heavens of ordinary beings" are the highest realms accessible to ordinary beings.
- Unconscious beings (asaññasatta) - only the body is present; no mind.
- Great Fruition (P. vehapphala; Skt. bṛhatphala)
The realm of the third dhyana (Skt. tritīyadhyāna; T. བསམ་གཏན་གསུམ་པ་) has three sub-realms:
- Most Extensive Virtue (Skt. Śubhakṛtsna; Tib. དགེ་རྒྱས་, dge rgyas)
- Immeasurable Virtue (Skt. Apramāṇaśubha; Tib. ཚད་མེད་དགེ་, tshad med dge)
- Lesser Virtue (Skt. Parīttaśubha; Tib. དགེ་ཆུང་, dge chung)
- Clear Radiance (Skt. Ābhāsvara; Tib. འོད་གསལ་, ‘od gsal)
- Immeasurable Radiance (Skt. Apramāṇābha; Tib. ཚད་མེད་འོད་, tshad med ‘od)
- Lesser Radiance (Skt. Parīttābha; Tib. འོད་ཆུང་, ‘od chung)
- Great Brahma (Mahābrahmaṇa)
- Ministers of Brahma (Brahmapurohita)
- Attendants of Brahma (Brahmakāyika)
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 god, 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.
- Thupten Jinpa 2017, s.v. "The Formation of World Systems".
- Jamgön Kongtrul 2003, p. 119.
- Form realm, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
- Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. rūpadhātu.
- The Thirty-one Planes of Existence, Access to Insight
- བསམ་གཏན་བཞི་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
- བསམ་གཏན་གསུམ་པ་, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
- Dudjom Rinpoche 2011, s.v. Chapter 7.
- Dudjom Rinpoche (2011), A Torch Lighting the Way to Freedom: Complete Instructions on the Preliminary Practices, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala
- Jamgön Kongtrul (2003), Myriad Worlds, The Treasury of Knowledge, Book One, Snow Lion
- Thupten Jinpa, ed. (2017), Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Volume 1: The Physical World, translated by Coghlan, Ian James, Wisdom Publications