From extremely powerful chakra modes and overpowered villains to jutsu literally named after divine beings, there are many things in Naruto that one can consider to be “god-tier.” Two villains, Madara and Pain, even go as far to declare themselves as gods, but Pain is the only one who really has a stake on the claim, and his many forms prove it. Pain’s power, aptly named the Six Paths of Pain, is based on the Buddhist Paths of Reincarnation. Therefore, Pain really does bring a whole new meaning to “god-tier.”
In Naruto, Pain is an alias that denotes six corpses controlled by the ninja Nagato via chakra receiver rods and the Rinnegan. Nagato, alongside Yahiko and Konan, was a student of the Toad Sage Jiraiya, Naruto’s best mentor and worst enemy. Coincidentally, every single corpse that makes up Pain is a ninja whom Jiraiya encountered in his travels, and ergo Jiraiya is able to learn the secret of what Pain really is. This information later becomes crucial to Naruto, who brings down Pain and Nagato later in the series.
Using corpses to represent the Buddhist Paths of Reincarnation is a clever trick on the part of Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto. The Paths refer to one of six realms a being is reborn into after death, perpetuating an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth until one attains enlightenment and moves on to a higher state of existence. Here’s each one of the Six Paths of Pain: who they are in Naruto, and what their Path represents.
The Naraka Path
Pain is among the Akatsuki’s strongest members, and even the weakest Pain, the Naraka Path, is a force to be reckoned with. It is the Path dealing with interrogation and restoration. Using the King of Hell, a jutsu that’s pretty much the ultimate lie detector, the Naraka Path can wry information from whomever it pleases. If the one being interrogated lies, they have their tongue ripped out and they are killed. The other side to the King of Hell is that it can heal any wound, including bringing one back to life after death. In life the Naraka Path was a priest, which is fitting for the Pain who uses this power.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, Naraka is the name for the underworld, where the King of Hell gives out appropriate punishments to souls based on their Karma in life. After the appropriate punishment, the soul is reborn as a human or animal.
The Preta Path
Even the strongest jutsu in Naruto are useless when used against the Preta Path. This Path is defensive and can drain chakra out of someone’s body through physical contact. It can also drain the chakra out of ninjutsu-based attacks. Its one weakness is senjutsu, as demonstrated when the Path is turned to stone after absorbing too much chakra from Naruto in his Sage Mode. In life, the Preta Path was a shinobi from the Hidden Grass Village.
The Buddhist definition of a Preta is a reincarnation based on desire and possessiveness. They are ghastly, pale, humanoid creatures that have an unwavering and insatiable hunger and thirst. This is how the Path relates to Naruto: there is no limit to the amount of chakra the Preta Path can absorb, even after it turns to stone.
The Animal Path
As the name implies, this Path is all about animals, and in terms of Naruto, that means the Summoning jutsu, which is among the coolest ninja abilities in the series. The Animal Path has been used by two ninjas, a Fuma clan shinobi who was defeated by Jiraiya, and then a young Hidden Rain shinobi named Ajisai. It is capable of summoning an exhaustive list of giant animals that have been outfitted with their own Rinnegan and chakra rods. It can also summon other people, such as Konan and the other Paths, which is why the Animal Path is usually the first one sent into battle.
Buddhists believe that animals and humans live in the same realm physically but exist in two different places mentally. Animals are a form of reincarnation where no other thoughts pervade except for instinct, fear, and survival. This places them above the hellish realms of Naraka and Preta, but below the realms of humanity and the divine.
The Human Path
Naruto vs Pain is the best fight in Naruto, but it’s not because of this Path. Combat-wise, the Human Path is worthless, but when it comes to interrogation, it might be even better than the Naraka. All the Human Path has to do is yank out a person’s soul, and they gain access to that person’s memories and knowledge. No one can survive this, and the soul is stored in the King of Hell. In life, the Human Path was a shinobi of the Hidden Waterfall.
Unlike its Naruto counterpart, there is a lot more to Buddhism’s Human Path. It is the realm above Animal, and therefore humans have more access to thought, personality, and soul. But as the realm below divinity, humans are less likely to succumb to heavenly pleasures, making them the most likely to reach enlightenment.
The Asura Path
Now in the divine realm, this Path redefines Naruto‘s twist ending, but also has its place among the Paths of Pain. It is used with the body of a ninja puppeteer and is outfitted with many tools and weapons. Like the Asura of mythology, this Path has a form bearing six arms and three faces.
Asura are warring demons that are reincarnated from those obsessed with violence, jealousy, and unresolvable conflict. They are on a never-ending pursuit of power and indulge in materialistic pleasures. They also have magical abilities and weaponry called Astra that help tie this Path into its depiction in Naruto.
The Deva Path
Like its inspiration, the Deva Path is the top tier Path, and made from the body of Nagato’s closest friend, Yahiko. The Deva Path has control over attractive and repulsive forces and has the ability to create small planet-sized bodies from the surrounding environment. It is after the fight with this Path that many believe Naruto should have ended. Based on its powers alone, one can see why the Deva Path is considered all powerful, but it is also how Nagato pridefully touts that he is comparable to a god.
All that said, the Deva realm is considered the highest realm of divinity, home to the gods. It is the subject of the Asura’s passion for power. Devas are prideful, and despite their long lives and powerful abilities, they are destined for reincarnation unless they can attain enlightenment. But because the Deva realm is a realm of bliss, many would rather stay in it than be reborn or enlightened.
The Six Paths of Pain are an almighty ability in the ninja world of Naruto. Not only are they immensely powerful, but they find their inspiration from the real world’s Buddhist Paths of Reincarnation. From the bottom, hellish realms of Naraka and Preta, to the physical realms of Animal and Human, to the upper, divine realms of Asura and Deva, Nagato and Pain truly make a god-tier villain.
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