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  • Thong Tri Temple

Desire, Form, and Formless Heavens

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

January 02, 2023 | Compassion {Karuṇā}

Desire, Form, and Formless Heavens

Heaven in Buddhism is divided into three sections: Desire, Form, and Formless.

In Buddhist cosmology, there is no eternal heaven or hell. Existence in all realms is only temporary. Beings are born into a particular realm according to their past Karma. There are thirty-one Sub-Realms of Existence in Buddhism where Beings can be reborn AND Nirvana.


The Desire Realm, are also called the Sensuous Blissful Heavens. There are six heavens within the Desire Realm, which is directly above the human realm.

The Devas of the Desire Heavens still have desires related to the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) such as the desire to eat, sleep, and have sex just like in the Human Realm. However, the happiness they experience is far greater than in the Human Realm.

  • First and Second Heavens: In the first two Desire Heavens, the Devas fulfill their sexual desires just like in the Human Realm.

  • Third Heaven: In Yama, sexual desires are fulfilled by holding hands.

  • Fourth Heaven: In Tushita, sexual desires are fulfilled by smiling at each other.

  • Fifth Heaven: In Bliss from Transformations, sexual desires are fulfilled by mutual gazing.

  • Sixth Heaven: In Self-Mastery over Others’ Transformations, sexual desires are fulfilled by simply glancing.

All the heavens starting from the Yama Heaven and above do not have a sun or a moon. In those heavens, the bodies of the Devas emit their own light.


The first heaven in the Realm of Desire is the abode place of the Four Heavenly Kings (Cāturmahārājakāyika). In traditional lore, it is located on a terrace of Mount Sumeru and directly above the Human Realm.

Each cardinal direction (West, East, South, North) is ruled by one of the Four Heavenly Kings and is inhabited by a different non-human class as their subjects. These Four Heavenly Kings are responsible for protecting the four directions of the world. The beings in the heavens of the Four Heavenly Kings have a lifespan of 500 years; however, it is not the same as 500 years in the human world. One day and night in this heaven is equal to 50 years of human life on earth.

  1. The Western Heavenly King (Virupaksha) rules the Nagas. Virupaksha protects beings in the West, preventing forces that hinder the practice of Dharma. Since his gaze is harmful to beings, he avoids looking at them by staring at the stupa he carries.

  2. The Eastern Heavenly King (Dhatarattha) guards the Eastern world. Dhatarattha rules Gandharvas and the musicians of the heavens.

  3. The Southern Heavenly King (Virudhaka) is in charge of defending the Southern world. Virudhaka rules the Kumbhandas. He protected Shakyamuni Buddha's mother before the prince was born and continued to assist him throughout his life. Today, Virudhaka protects the beings who have led a virtuous life and uses his power to stop anything that might disrupt the Dharma. Since Virudhaka's touch is harmful to beings, he carries a sword to prevent them from approaching him.

  4. The Northern Heavenly King (Kubera) manages the Northern Heavenly world and rules Ghosts Yakkhas. Kubera is the Lord of Wealth and the Lord-King of the semi-divine species, the Yakshas in Hindu mythology. Kubera is known as Vaishravana, Jambhala, or Jain God. He is also a figure in Buddhist mythology. Kubera is often depicted as a plump body figure, wearing a lot of jewelry, and carrying a bag of money or a pomegranate.


The second heaven in the Realm of Desire is the Trayastrimsa Heaven. Trayastrimsa (Trayastri) is a Sanskrit word meaning the “thirty-three” world of the Heavens where King Sakra lives. This place in the past belonged to Asura devas. However, Asura devas were attacked by the thirty-three Gods which King Sakra was the commander. All sentient beings reborn in Trayastrimsa have the opportunity to enjoy all happiness.


The third heaven in the Realm of Desire is the Yama Heaven. Yama is a Sanskrit word which means "period of time." In this heaven, the gods are so happy that day and night they sing songs of their bliss. Every moment is filled with happiness and blessing. The Yama King stays here.


The fourth heaven in the Realm of Desire is the Tushita Heaven, which translates as "happiness and contentment." The beings in this heaven are always happy and satisfied. They are totally free from all worries and content even in unhappy situations. It is believed that Bodhisattva Mettaya lived in the Tushita and waited to be reborn as a human in the next life in order to cultivate to become the Buddha.


The fifth heaven in the Realm of Desire is the Bliss from Transformation Heaven (Nirmalarati). In this heaven, the beings enjoy inventing creative ideas and transforming their own happiness according to their abilities. For example, food and clothing appear to them as they think about it. They bring happiness through transformations.


The sixth heaven in the Realm of Desire is Self-Mastery over Others’ Transformations (Paranirmita-Vavartin). Paranimita-Vavartin refers to beings that control and take away the happiness of other beings. In this heaven, the beings do not have any bliss of their own; however, they can obtain that bliss from beings in other heavens for their own enjoyment. Mara lives in this heaven along with their followers in a separated corner. Vavartin Deva is the Great King of this place. The common thieves in the human world are generally beings who have fallen from Self-Mastery over Others’ Transformations Heaven.


The Form Heavens, also called Rupa Brahma Realms or The Fine-Material Realms

Form Realm: Above Mount Sumeru, the heavens of form are inhabited by beings who have overcome desire. These beings in the Form or Material Realm have a body, but they will not be reborn into a lower realm than Heaven.

There are sixteen sub-realms within the Form Heaven.

  • (7) Highest Pure Devas

  • (8) Clear-sighted Devas

  • (9) Beautiful Devas

  • (10) Serene Devas

  • (11) Durable Devas

  • (12) Unconscious Beings

  • (13) Very Effective Devas

  • (14) Steady Aura Devas

  • (15) Infinite Aura Devas

  • (16) Minor Aura Devas

  • (17) Radiant Luster Devas

  • (18) Infinite Luster Devas

  • (19) Minor Luster Devas

  • (20) Maha Brahma·

  • (21) Brahma’s Ministers

  • (22) Brahma’s Retinue

While in the Form Heavens, in a meditative state of perfect equanimity and awareness, one will then enter in the four Jhanas (Formless Heavens). This is the highest level of meditation practice in Buddhism.


Formless Heavens, also called Arupa Brahma Realms or The Immaterial Realms.

The inhabitants of the Formless Realms are fully possessed of the mind. Without a physical body, they cannot hear the teachings of the Buddha (Dharma teachings).

The Supreme Gods and Brahmas live in this realm. In this realm, There are four immaterial states or Jhanas.

The four Jhanas (immaterial stages of meditation) include:

  • (23) The first formless - Infinite Space

  • (24) The second formless - Infinite Consciousness

  • (25) The third formless - Nothingless

  • (26) The fourth formless - Neither Perception nor Non-Perception

In the first Jhana, passionate desires and unwholesome thoughts such as lust, ill-will, sluggishness, anxiety, restlessness, and doubt are eliminated, and feelings of joy and happiness are maintained. (Infinite Space)

In the second Jhana, all intellectual activities are extinguished; true wisdom comes from within. Calmness, and “one-pointedness” of the mind are developed, and feelings of joy and happiness are still retained. (Infinite Consciousness)

In the third Jhana, the feeling of joy also disappears, while the propensity for happiness still remains in addition to mindfulness. (Nothingless)

In the fourth Jhana, all sensations, even happiness and unhappiness, joy and sorrow disappear, leaving only pure equanimity and awareness. (Neither Perception nor Non-Perception)

May you all be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering!

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.


Chơn Lý,” Tác Giả Đức Tổ Sư Minh Đăng Quang (Language in Vietnamese)

Phật Học Phổ Thông,” Tác Giả Hòa Thượng Thích Thiện Hoa (Language in Vietnamese)

The Seeker’s Glossary of BUDDHISM,” Edited by the Van Hien-Study Group, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States & Canada

A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings,” by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

The Buddha and His Teachings,” by Venerable Narada Mahathera (Sri Lanka 1970), Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.

Buddhism,” from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

"Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth" (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010,

"Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3)" (Ud 8.3), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 3 September 2012,

A Verb for Nirvana by The Theravada Scholar Thanissaro Bhikkhu 2005”

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by H.E. Sogyal Rinpoche in 1992, is a presentation of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead or Bardo Thodol

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