>> from Buddhism: A Brief Introduction

Introduction to Chart of Samsara

The chart on the following pages lists the states of existence within Samsara, the realm of birth and death. In Samsara there are three distinct levels of existence. The highest is the Formless Realm, in which there are the greatest gods who have transcended the physical body, having mentality only. There are four heavens on this level.

The next level, the Form Realm, also, only consists of heavens. The gods in these eighteen heavens have a form, but they have gone beyond the greed and lust for the pleasures of the five senses. They've attained a state of very profound and sublime happiness that it is a result of their skill in meditative concentration. Their greed for the five senses has been eclipsed by means of the force of their concentration-power. This is just like when a boulder is placed on grass, the grass is temporarily unable to grow. In the same way their meditative power and ability has temporarily suppressed their thirst for the pleasures of the five senses, but it is still latent. The only way it can be eliminated forever, is by means of prajna wisdom. The Sages, that is the Arhats and Bodhisattvas as mentioned in Chapter Five, attain permanent states of Enlightenment in which this greed is truly extinguished.

On the next level, the Realm of Sensual Desire, there are six heavens, the realms of Asuras, human beings, animals, ghosts, and the denizens of hell. The minds of all the beings in these states are dominated by the drive for sensual pleasures. Those in the heavens here enjoy an incredible happiness associated with the senses as a result of their practice of good karma in the past. Those in the three lowest states, also, known as the Three Evil Destinies, that is animals, ghosts, and denizens of the hell, undergo much suffering an difficulty.

As mentioned in the Introduction the purpose of the Buddha's teachings is to see that all states of existence in Samsara lack substantial reality. As it says in the Shurangama Sutra (Volume 7) they:
Come into being from false thoughts, and their subsequent karma comes from false thoughts. Within the wonderful perfection of the fundamental mind that is unconditioned, they are like strange flowers in space, for there is basically nothing to cling to. They are entirely vain and false, and they have no source or beginning.