Three realms

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Three realms of existence are identfied in Buddhist cosmology. These are:

There are multiple terms within traditional Buddhist texts that are translated as "three realms." (See below)

Brief description

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics states:

In general Buddhists and others speak of the universe in terms of the three realms: the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. These three are characterized, in their respective order, as principally dependent on external objects of sensual desire such as form, sound, and so on; on the internal bliss of absorption; and, being disenchanted even by the bliss of absorption, on tranquility permeated by the feeling of equanimity alone. Thus the cosmos is explained in terms of three distinct realms. If these three realms are explained further by means of their body, feelings, and resources, the desire realm is characterized as follows: The body is coarse, experience is predominantly a mixture of pleasure and pain, and beings depend mainly on coarse food. The form realm is characterized thus: 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 formless realm is characterized as follows: beings there do not possess a coarse physical body that symbolizes their nature as sentient beings, they abide with feelings of equanimity transcending feelings of pain and pleasure, and they do not depend on coarse food but live their entire life in meditative concentration focused solely on objects such as limitless space, which resemble the cessation of all mental engagement in other objects. It is stated that beings who live in the higher levels of the desire realm and beings who live in both the form realm and formless realm are celestial beings.[1]

Names for these realms within traditional texts

Within traditional Buddhist texts, the three realms are referred to by the following names:

  • traidhātu (T. khams gsum)[2]
  • traidhātuka (P. tedhātuka; T. khams gsum; C. sanjie; J. sangai; K. samgye 三界)[3]
  • tridhātu (T. khams gsum)[4]
  • trailokya (T. 'jig rten gsum; C. sanjie; J. sangai; K. samgye 三界)[5]
  • triloka (P. tiloka; T. 'jig rten gsum; C. sanjie)[6]
  • trilokadhātu[6]


  1. Thupten Jinpa 2017, s.v. "The Formation of World Systems".
  2. Internet-icon.svg Three realms, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  3. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. traidhātuka.
  4. RW icon height 18px.png Three realms
  5. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. trailokya.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. triloka[dhātu].


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