Neither Perception Nor Non-Perception

Buddhism has always been a empirical and almost scientific religion to me, hence I was always fascinated by the elaborated cosmology, especially the 31 states which usually exist in more mythological religions, until I read the life of the Buddha (Harvey, 2013).

In the story, the Buddha, before he was enlightened, learned yoga concentration from Āl.āra Kālāma and reached the "sphere of "nothingness" (p. 18). Later on, he learned from Uddaka Rāmaputta and reached "sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception" (p. 19). It then dawned on me that all these "heavens" are psychological states. I have also understood that with yoga or meditation, one may be able to reach the highest state, but is still trapped in samsara, because you cannot stay in that state forever, which is obvious during yoga practices.

In that case, the fine-material sphere should be phenomena (light, serenity, etc.) perceived during meditation, except the paṭhamajjhānabhūmi and below, which seems to stem from Brahminic or Vedic cosmology. The rest of the apāya-bhūmi may have originated with a soteriological purpose.

Nevertheless, we are formed with five aggregates, and apart from the first aggregate, the rest are all in our mind, hence most of the 31 states may have been psychological: when lust arises, we are in hell; when we meditate, we are in heaven... and we can travel to any place within a ksaṇa.

Best Regards,
Paul Sin

Harvey, Peter. (2013). Introduction to Buddhism (2nd Ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture

Realms as Mental States

I heard a similar teacher of the Vajryana here in Dallas some time ago.

I've transcribed the talk here.

He refers to the teachings of Vasubandhu in stating that "the realms are mental states, they are states of mind," including the realm of the gods, devas, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hell realms.

The teaching then goes on to explain how in changing our views, it's like we're living in another realm our experience is so impacted by the shift in perspective.

The example he uses here is the classic example of the coiled rope, as well as examples of how the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo changed people's view of the world - literally changed the world people lived in by changing their perspective.

Likewise, I can now see how the Buddha, the great masters and all of those who carry forward the teachings and their practice continue to change the world for the better, continuing to move us gradually to each realizing our own pure land - right here and now.


Sergio Leon Candia's picture


I left a similar comment of another topic in FAQS
Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi said that we shouldnt disregard the truth of next life,
but i do agree that most of this explanations

I would like to read more opinions as im just a begginner in this and might have many
wrong views about the Dhamma

best wishes

Good eassay topic

Dear Paul,

this is a good topic to write for the term paper.

Akira sadakata's "Buddhist Cosmology:Philosophy and Origins" is a good title, could be relevant for this kind of research.

Good luck!