What are the different realms of existence, and are they real places?
Traditionally, Buddhists recognize six different realms or planes of existence. These are the Hell, Animal, Hungry Ghost, Demon, Human and Heaven realms. Some of these realms, such as the Animal and Hungry Ghost realms, overlap our realm.
It is said that there are also different 'levels' within the Heaven and Hell realms. To put this in perspective, take our own world as an example. There are currently 193 countries in the world, spread over seven continents. Living in a peaceful country with a pleasant climate is a far cry from being in a war-torn country wracked by hunger and disease. It is clear that even in our own world, there are vast differences between different countries!
Thus a Heaven realm is a plane of existence which is far more agreeable than even the best country in our world, and a Hell realm is a plane where conditions are far harsher than anywhere on earth. Even the different 'levels' within these realms can be compared to different countries in each continent where the living conditions in some countries may be 'better' or 'worse' than others.
There is an alternative viewpoint that the Buddha was speaking allegorically when He was talking of these different realms of existence. For example, a person who is suffering from severe physical disabilities, very serious illnesses, or is mentally deranged may be said to be reborn in a Hell realm. People who undergo lives of deprivation where their only focus is looking for their next meal and staying alive, may be said to be born in the Animal realm.
People who have constant unfulfilled and burning desires and are never satisfied no matter how much they have, may be said to be in the realm of Hungry Ghosts. Those who are overly aggressive and constantly fighting and struggling for power and possessions may be in the Demon realm. And people who are born with great physical beauty and wealth may be said to be reborn in a Heaven realm. For example, sports and movie stars who have all of these attributes along with literally millions of fans or 'worshippers', are often described as gods!
Quite obviously the Lower realms of Hell, Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Demons are places of suffering, and the Heavenly realms are places of enjoyment. However, the Buddha says that these realms are not particularly suitable places for the practice of Buddhism, or to accumulate positive kamma. This is because the beings in the Lower realms are usually in too much suffering, and the Heavenly beings are too busy enjoying themselves.
Therefore, because the Human realm has both suffering and happiness, it can be considered the most suitable place to learn and practice the Buddha's Teachings. Also, it is the Human realm that offers the greatest opportunity to do good and accumulate positive kamma.
However, the Buddha also said that many Heavenly beings do practice His Teachings and are able to achieve Nibbana. He therefore encouraged everyone to strive for a good rebirth in either a Heavenly or Human realm.
Whether these six realms of existence are actual or figurative doesn't really matter. What really matters is to maintain the practice so as to ensure a good rebirth. This is very important as it is only in either a Human realm or a Heavenly realm that we are able to learn and practice the Buddha's Teachings, and thus attain Nibbana.
Article Source : justbegood.net