Buddha statue Leaves
ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 1): The Six Realms
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ESSENTIAL Teachings of the BUDDHA (pt 1): The Six Realms (25 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
May 6, 2012 - Dallas, Texas

No matter what, you are a Buddha in the making. No matter what. Before I talk on the six realms of existence according to the Buddhist teachings, I would like to preface with a personal story of the Buddha's and bodhisattva's personal care for me, which I am sharing with you not to focus on me, but to remind you that the same that is true for me is the same that is true for you. You have personal care and attention and support from Buddhas and bodhisattvas. You do.

About 12 years ago, I started the Buddhist path. And I started to learn Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings. Shakyamuni Buddha was the Buddha, the historical Buddha of 2,600 years ago in India, who started the whole Buddhist movement, at least in this particular time period. It is said that there were Buddhists beforehand, but that is in prehistoric times. I do not know anything about that. All I know is in our historical period now, our recorded history, he was the first Buddha that we knew about.

And so I began to learn his teachings through the beautiful teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, began to read his story through the wonderful book Old Path, White Clouds, which if you do not have yet, you must get. It is our Bible. Every night I would read a chapter--which is only about 3 pages each or so--before going to bed, and I would be right there with the Buddha as he went through his life and his teachings and his encounters with people. And after several months, I finally finished it, and I felt that Shakyamuni Buddha was a real human being that I could relate to and that I could know that he is very real.

Then a few years ago, another Buddha began to grow in my consciousness and awareness: Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light, who shares his support, his pure land with as many beings who want to be supported by him. I have been so happy to practice the practices of the pure land tradition blending with my Zen tradition that I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh and of course other traditions that I've also been practicing over the years as well--Theravada Buddhism especially--as I ordained twice for temporary monastic ordination in that tradition. And now more recently, learning more about the Tibetan Buddhist tradition through having a Buddhist monk from the Tibetan tradition here at the center, Tashi Nyima.

And now in the last month or so, another Buddha began to grow in my consciousness and awareness. I woke up one day about six or so weeks ago and I just had to find out more about Medicine Buddha. I have heard about Medicine Buddha. I mean, there are so many Buddhas. That was the Buddha I particularly was just--I woke up with this sense, and so I Googled "Medicine Buddha" and the Medicine Buddha mantra.

I wanted to learn the mantra. I just had to. And I found it online, which you heard earlier this evening, a Tibetanized version, and then I researched to find out what is the original Sanskrit, and I finally found it. And then I learned it. I learned how to chant it in one day.

And later that evening I went to the Barnes & Noble bookstore with a couple of friends. We looked at different things: music, some magazines. Then I went to the religion section, the Buddhism section, and I just kind of scanned the books, and I saw one book in particular. I've seen it before. I knew the author. I had actually met the author before, Lama Surya Das. But this one--it was the book Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, an appropriate title for anyone going through midlife or at least approaching it.

And I opened it up, and I just opened, and there on the top of the page was the Medicine Buddha mantra. And that whole chapter was about Medicine Buddha. Of all different chapters, that was the one I opened to, and I just felt so happy because I knew that was the sign from the Buddhas that I have personal care and attention from the enlightened ones--that it was the Buddhas themselves that--or bodhisattvas--who knows? Some beings of infinite light--that put into my mind when I woke up the desire to learn the Medicine Buddha mantra, and that evening confirmed to me that I was being led, just as I was led two years ago to start the Dallas Meditation Center.

During meditation, I just suddenly had this powerful thought about checking out this building and to kind of just throw it out there amongst friends to see what they thought about possibly maybe starting the center. That was an inspired thought. I know that now. The fact that all of you are sitting here in this beautiful practice is proof to me that was not my own ego's idea. It came from the Buddhas.

If that had anything to do with my ego, I would have been too scared to do it financially, you know, in this economy. But every single office in the building is now filled with practitioners and tenants. Isn't that wonderful? Let us just hear a clap for the Buddhas. Yay! I am grateful to all of you who pledged a monthly donation, and if you haven't yet, I encourage you to do so so you can get all the good karma and the flow of wonderful merit.

And so I just wanted to share about the Medicine Buddha and the mantra with you so you have some extra support in your practice. We have the Shakyamuni Buddha and the wonderful true teachings of enlightenment, and we have the wonderful support of Amitabha Buddha and all the Buddhas related to Amitabha, all the bodhisattvas who are his helpers, including Avalokiteshvara and Quan Yin bodhisattva. We have all that support of infinite light and grace and love, and we have the Medicine Buddha and all of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas related to him.

We have all the support of not just spiritual enlightenment help, but also support in the practical matters of living in the physical world, support in having health in our body, support in having health in our minds, support in having health in our relationships--practical support in the nitty-grittiness of earth life here and now. The Buddhas are not just for ultimate reality and mindfulness. Also the Buddhas help us with the nitty-grittiness, the down-to-earthness of our everyday crazy human life here and now.

So we have all the support, all the support. So let us take advantage of the support, open our hearts through meditation and mindfulness and chanting and service and supporting one another. This is how we receive that support. We give to receive. That is how we do it. So give yourself the gift of practice regularly.

Now to my topic for the evening, the teaching of the six realms. But before we do, since this is still on the board, let us chant one more time the Medicine Buddha mantra.

(Everyone chants Medicine Buddha mantra)

So according to the Buddha's teachings, there are basically six categories of realms of existence in the universe in which beings can take physical form or semi-physical form. We are very familiar with the human realm, and we also know of the existence of the animal realm. We coexist with the animals here on the planet.

According to the Buddha's teachings, there are also four other realms of existence. There is the hungry ghost realm. I don't really like the word ghost, but oh well. And then there is the hell realm, the hell being realm. These are English translations of Sanskrit words, and I do not particularly like the English translation. I am going to use them anyway, because I have not come up with better words yet. There is also the demigod realm and the gods realm. I also do not like those translations either, but I will use those anyway.

Now, because beings continue to be born and die and be reborn over and over and over again, they manifest themselves in their particular realm based on their actions in a particular life that have consequences and ramifications. So action in Sanskrit is karma, so whatever you do in your mind, the thoughts and your speech, your words and your body actions, they have an effect, a reverberation in the universe. And so they take you into manifesting in different realms.

So sometimes people are--according to the traditional teaching--I am going to give you my traditional bit in just a bit--but according to the traditional teaching, you can be born in the human realm but because you did quite a few negative things in your lifetime, you could be reborn in the lower realms of either the animals or hungry ghosts or possibly even hell being realm if you did something like murder your parents or something like that.

According to the Buddhist tradition, there are two things that are just really terribly not good. One is to try to hurt a Buddha physically. You cannot actually kill a Buddha because they cannot be killed until their time is up, but you can try to hurt them, like injure them or something. So trying to kill a Buddha is really, really bad, and the second bad thing is to kill your parents. According to the traditional understanding, you would probably go right over to the lowest realms.

But if you did very well in your life, you could go to higher realms, the demigods, the middle-class devas, or if you really, really did good, you could go to the upper-class deva's realm. Another translation could be angelic. You could be with the angels, because in Sanskrit, the word "god" does not mean the same thing as the word "god" in the Judeo-Christian understanding. We are not talking about the supreme Creator here. We are talking about very angelic beings.

All right. So because of ignorance, we go through cycles up and down, up and down, up and down, because you are born in a lower realm. You might choose to try to improve your life and do better, and then you would be born in a higher realm, but because you are in a higher realm, you might take it for granted and take advantage of the people, and then you would be born in a lower realm. It is up and down and up and down, the cycle of samsara, the wheel of existence and suffering over and over and over again. It feels endless.

But there is a realm beyond all these realms, and that is the enlightened realm with the Buddhas. And they actually exist within the realms as well as beyond the realms as well.

Now I'm going to give you my understanding of this teaching, because I personally believe that everything that has been passed on down to us from the Buddha has some value, whether it is literal value or symbolic value. I really do. I have not encountered any teaching yet that did not have some value on some level. I am always amazed by the Buddha's teachings. Wow. Everything seems to have value when I really look deeply into it. I find a lot of value in his teaching.

Now, to me, I do not personally believe that if you do some bad things in this life, like maybe pig out a lot, you'll be reborn as a pig in your next life. I personally do not believe that. I personally believe that we are on an evolutionary journey and so perhaps part of our existence came from mineral realm to plant realm to animal realm to sentient being, human-like realms, and I do believe that we can be born in other planets and other worlds as well.

But let's just say we are on the earth in this human realm. I believe that we will continue to progress in the human realm until we finally awaken and become enlightened, but while we are in this human realm, we do go through six kinds of human existences that correspond to these six realms.

When we are born into a lifetime where we are always poor and impoverished and never have enough, that is like being born in the hungry ghost realm. If we are born into a state of being where we do not have our full mental capacity, we are very, very kind of instinctual and just kind of do not know a lot, or we are surrounded by people that do not have a lot of education, that might be like the animal realm.

Or if we are born into a situation where there is a lot of suffering and war, death, disease constantly--all of this suffering--that could be like the hell being realm. And if we are born into the human realm, that would be like just the normal, you know, human realm, like maybe middle-class or something, and the demigod realm might be higher middle-class, you know, or upper-middle-class, and the god realm could be like being born into extreme wealth, like being the son or daughter of Bill Gates or something.

But not only can this correspond to a human lifetime, I also believe this corresponds to psychological states of mind that can occur in one day. So you might wake up one morning in the human realm and then you have a flat tire and you just feel, you know, really deprived of what you need to do that day, so you're in the hungry ghost realm, because you have to spend several hours trying to get the tire fixed, and you did not have lunch, so you're hungry, and you are in the animal realm. I don't know how you would correspond it. And maybe a cop gave you a ticket so you feel like you're in the hell realm. I do not know. Or something else. Maybe then you finally get to work and you find out your boss has given you a promotion, and you feel like you're in the demi-god realm, and then you come to sangha and meditate, and now you are in the god realm.

So these can be psychological states that you can go to all six even in just one day. But what I believe is the human realm is basically the realm of having your full mental capacity to make the choice to learn the Dharma and to follow and practice the Dharma. The hungry ghost realm, it is like when we are going through cravings and addictions. Have you ever met someone who might, no matter what people give to them or what gifts they have, just never feel satisfied? That would be someone living out a life in the hungry ghost realm.

Many people who are in addictions go through the hungry ghost realm. No matter what, it is like it is never enough. They never feel satisfied. I know some people who drift from religion to religion, from place to place because they never feel like they belong. They never feel like they are home. These are people who are living out a psychological state of mind in the hungry ghost realm.

People who are maybe living out in the animal realm right now could be those who are just living in survival mode, just trying to live day by day just to make enough to eat. Perhaps they do not really want to learn more about the Dharma. They do not want to educate themselves. Maybe they just live for food. They just live for sex. They just live for the moment without any thought of anything else.

Those who are maybe living at that hell being realm, maybe they are in some sort of very violent gang where there is constant killing and murdering and death and anger constantly. Who knows?

And then there may be those who are very, very content. They have everything they want there. They have a good family. They have money. They have a good job. They have a good body, good looks, everything they always wanted. They are always satisfied. They are always happy.

And then the demigod realm--this is the most interesting realm that I like to talk about--this is the jealous god realm. They have much more abundance than maybe the average human being, but they do not quite have everything like the wealthiest people do, so they are kind of like this nouveau riche, upper-middle-class, and they are always jealous. They have so much, but they want a little bit more, because the next-door neighbor has a better house, a better car. They have already so much more than the average person, but they are always jealous, always never satisfied, even though they have so much.

Male Audience Member: That is hungry ghost.

ChiSing: Exactly. It is hungry ghost living in riches. So this is very interesting--I find myself sometimes in this state of mind occasionally, right? Because in reality I have so much. I have so much abundance, and yet I do sometimes find myself feeling unsatisfied or jealous, you know? When we practice mindfulness meditation, we can be aware of our state of consciousness.

One of the practices of enlightenment--the Buddha gave us seven factors of enlightenment, and one of them was to know your state of mind, to know when you are feeling loved, to know you are feeling loved. When you are feeling jealousy, to know you are feeling jealousy. When you're feeling anger, to know you are feeling anger.

So the first step of transformation is to know what is going on, right? And so this is a practical practice to figure out what realm am I living in this moment right now, and what is my tendency? What is my tendency in this lifetime? What realm do I tend to like to kind of go back to over and over and over again? This is something you can mindfully investigate, and that is one of the factors of enlightenment, investigation through mindfulness.

So that is one teaching of the Buddha. I do not know if it is the most essential, but I am just going to give you 12 teachings of the Buddha that I enjoy talking about and sharing about. I hope this was helpful to you, and I hope all of you will try to appreciate what realm you are in.

And by the way, it is said that the human realm is the realm that is best suited for enlightenment because you are not distracted too much by physical poverty and pain and suffering and you are not distracted by the luxury either.

Did you know that people in the god realm actually do not have it so good either? They are almost as bad as the hell being realm--almost--because they have so much luxury that they may be tempted never to ever think about the next life. They may be tempted never to think about consequences of their actions. They may be tempted never to think about enlightenment or to improve their spiritual life because they are so distracted by the luxuries of their physical life. You see?

So there is a danger there, too. That is why I said that the human realm is the best realm possible, so I want you to go home tonight feeling grateful that you are all middle-class, most of you, because that is the best place to be. You are not distracted by too much of the lower realms and you are not distracted too much by the higher realms. You are in the perfect realm right here and now to investigate your life, to study the Dharma, to learn the Dharma, to practice the Dharma. So you have the best chance of becoming a fully enlightened Buddha and not just staying as an infant Buddha for so many lifetimes.

Another thing I want to say is you don't even have to believe in reincarnation or rebirth. You can reinterpret however you want, but use this teaching in the most practical way you can for your life so that you can continue to progress on the path. Thank you so much.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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