Ten Worlds

Although our lives are constantly changing and we experience a range of emotions from moment to moment, Buddhism teaches that our experience of the world can always be understood as one of ten basic states of life. These are called the Ten Worlds, and what follows is a brief impression of the positive and negative aspects of each of these worlds:

1. Hell

+ Really understanding what the state of hell feels like can lead to the desire and wisdom to help others.

– Ultimately is a life state of suffering, illustrated by depression, despair and self-destructive tendencies.

2. Hunger

+ The desire to live and achieve goals; yearning to improve things for yourself and others.

– Greed and the continuous unsatisfied desire for power, sex, money and so on.

3. Animality

+ The normal instinct to survive (sleep, eat, make love) and to protect and nurture life.

– Acting only from instinct, threatening the weak and fearing the strong; pleasure-seeking, living only in the present.

4. Anger

+ Passion to fight injustice and create a better world; a creative force for change.

– A state of egotism and self-righteousness, in which we cannot bear to lose. This will inevitably result in conflict.

5. Humanity, or Tranquility

+ At peace and in control of desires; ability to act with reason and humanity.

– A state of inactivity; unwillingness to tackle problems; thus leading to decline and negligence.

6. Rapture, or Heaven

+ Intense pleasure and happiness; heightened awareness and feeling glad to be alive.

– As it results from the achievement of desires, such happiness is short- lived. The wish for it to continue can lead to excess (drugs, materialism) and a weak, dependent attitude towards life.

7. Learning

+ Striving for self-improvement by learning new concepts through studying the teachings of others. This is the basis for realization.

– The tendency to become self-centred, to cut off from the daily realities of life or develop a dismissive attitude towards others with less knowledge.

8. Realization

+ Gaining wisdom and insight through the effects of learning and by observing the world.

– Lacking a broad view of life due to self-absorption; arrogance (i.e. ‘I know best’).

9. Bodhisattva

The word consists of bodhi (enlightenment) and sattva (beings) and means someone who seeks enlightenment for themselves and others.

+ Compassion or acting selflessly for other people, without expecting a reward.

– Becoming ‘a martyr to the cause’, neglecting our own life or health and ultimately feeling pity or contempt for those we are trying to help.

10. Buddhahood

+ Wisdom, compassion, courage, life force which illuminates the positive aspects of each of the other nine worlds.

This life state is only positive.

The Mutual Possession of the Ten Worlds

Although it is possible to see these ten life-states to be climbed like the rungs on a ladder, this implies the need to move up the ladder a rung at a time! But the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism talk about ‘the mutual possession’ of the ten worlds. The ten worlds do not exist as separate, isolated realms. Rather, each world embraces and contains within it the potential for all the others. Even if the self-destructive world of unrelieved suffering known as hell has manifested itself in an individual’s life, the potential for the other worlds remains; any one of them can become the dominant state of that individual’s life in the very next moment. In this way, our life-condition is never static or fixed, but continues to transform itself, instant by instant, throughout our lives. This is what is referred to as the ‘mutual possession’ of the ten worlds. In the light of the theory of the ten worlds, we see that even the tormented world of hell carries within it the potential state of enlightenment. No matter how bleak our circumstances may be, at each moment we can choose to reveal the highest state of life.

Faith, Practice, Study


See also