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Six Realms of Existence
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Six Realms of Existence (30 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
December 21, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

According to Buddhist teachings, there are six kinds of realms in which sentient beings roam around in a lifetime after lifetime. I find this a very helpful teaching, but I do not necessarily take it literally. So you can decide how metaphorical, how literal you would like to interpret it. We all seem to be in the human realm, but there is also the animal realm and what is called the hungry ghost realm. But I don't like that. Let's just say hungry spirit realm. I think that helps. And then there is also the hell realm. It is not very popular.

But there are also other realms. There are the deva realms and the asura realms. Let me see. How can I best put it? You can think of these as mainly a spirit realm and an angelic realm. You can think of it that way. Asura, basically they are in a very spiritual realm almost like the angels. They have all kinds of spiritual pleasures. I mean, they have beautiful bodies of light, just like the devas. And the devas of course are these godlike angelic beings who are very, very beautiful and have everything they want basically. They're just very, very beautiful beings of light.

The difference between these two is that devas are very peaceful in these angelic realms, whereas asuras, well, it is kind of like the devas are like the upper class, and the asuras are like the upper-middle class. They are not quite upper class, so even though they have a lot, they're always jealous. So there is a tendency to jealousy and sometimes wanting to fight for more than what they have. So they're kind of always constantly jealous of the devas, so that is sort of the story.

So, these are six different realms that sentient beings tend to cycle through, and let's see. The human realm—well, to me, the human realm is like the middle-class beings. The animal realm is characterized by a lot of survival and fear. Humans have just a blend of both the heavenly and the other, lower realm, the higher and lower. These humans are a mixture, and humans are characterized by human knowledge and intellect. So we have reason, which we use a lot to help ourselves. Animals have a lot of instincts and survival and a lot of kind of flight or fight fear.

Hungry spirit is a realm where there is this constant craving and hunger. So basically, these are the beings who are constantly craving. It is kind of like addiction, and the image of a hungry spirit is constantly hungry, constantly wanting things, constantly desiring but not being fulfilled. So it is like images that they have these big mouths and these big stomachs but these tiny, tiny little straw-like throats. They're just so tiny. They want so much, but they can't seem to get enough. They're constantly hungry, constantly desiring. So desire is a major aspect of this one. And then the hell realm is characterized by violence and anger and suffering.

So these are different kinds of realms you can think of as a literal or metaphorical. I tend to think of it as kind of both literal and metaphorical. I don't think that we necessarily have to go through all of these different realms personally, but I think that there are certain planets or worlds in the universe where different beings are learning different lessons that might seem more like these kinds of characteristics, you know?

But I like to think of both of these as a space of mind that you can go through in a day, right? When we are meditating and we feel so peaceful, it is as if we are just dwelling in the deva realm. When we are in sort of a survival instinct mode, that is kind of like our animal realm. When we are in a kind of craving modality or even just like our little addictions that we have—some of us have more than others. We all have an addiction of some sort, but some more than others. And so when we are in that craving and we are not satisfied, that is like the hungry spirit realm. And of course, if we get very angry, we even resort to violence. Or, we are just in deep, deep suffering, agony and suffering. That would be like hell consciousness. When we are doing pretty good, but we are really jealous of others who may have a little bit more than us, then we're kind of in the asura realm. And then of course when we are just being the average human being, and we're just kind of in the middle, and we are also relating a lot to using our minds to solve our problems, then you can say that is characterized by the human kind of realm of consciousness.

So you can think of these as six states of consciousness. You can also think of these as six different kinds of lives. So, you could say that all of these could be human beings, but when we are born into a lifetime that is generally characterized—we could be born into a lifetime where we are in a war zone, or we could be where our whole life growing up is all about war and violence. Or maybe we are born into a lifetime where our main theme is addiction. Or maybe our main theme is just survival or just kind of living just to eat or eating just to live or whatever. Maybe our lifetime is very, very high upper-middle class or upper class, where we basically have everything that we want. Or maybe we are kind of like upper-middle class or famous, nouveau riche or whatever, and we have a lot. We have a lot more than most people, but we are still not satisfied. We are still jealous, and we're always kind of looking over to those who have more than us, etcetera.

So you can think of these as different types of lifetimes in general. So why was this teaching presented? I think it is just to help us to really reflect on cause and effect. And you know, I personally think that once we enter into human consciousness, I don't really think that we go backwards into the animals. Maybe some people do, certain politicians, but I think in general I don't really believe that. I believe that to me, once you get into human consciousness, it is about progression. I don't think that we go back into a smaller consciousness like an animal.

But why was it taught like this? I believe that the teaching helps us to realize that we are not separate from other beings. So if you have this understanding that you are related to the other species, and it is not just about humans, but we are all related in some way, then that helps us to have more compassion in our actions toward how we treat other species. So I think that this teaching was also to help show that the animals are related to us in some way, and we need to have compassion. But I personally do not believe that humans go back and forth through all these different things. I think we stay human but we may have characteristics of these realms as a human.

And you see, the thing is samsara means the wheel of rebirth, and so sometimes you may be born—by the way, the optimal consciousness is the human consciousness according to this because you have—see, the thing about the deva realm is that it sounds so good and so nice, right? Because you get really lazy, very lazy. You get very apathetic because you have everything you want, and you don't practice. And so because you do not practice and you have everything you want, you take things for granted and you start living a life that is not necessarily about benefiting others. It is just about yourself, so you actually get more and more attached to ego. So it is actually not an ideal realm either, even though it looks like it from the ego point of view, oh, man, to have everything I desire. But the problem with that is once your good karma or merit runs out, then it goes into the process of dissolution into the next birth. If you're not careful, you can drop down into the lower levels, right?

And the contrast between the deva realm and any other realm is so big that it feels worse than dropping down from the human to hell realm because you're so used to this wonderful angelic heavenly pleasure. To drop anywhere else is just so much suffering for that kind of being. So we have to be careful. As we go through lifetimes, sometimes we are born into a very wealthy and happy existence, but if we're not careful, we don't take advantage of that kind of lifetime and we become greedy and we become apathetic to others, so we don't care about the suffering of others because we just have our own rich, wonderful life.

Guess what is going to happen? In your next life, you may drop down to a lower class, maybe a human birth that has a lot of confusion or suffering or whatever. So you may go from upper class to lower class and then depending on what you do in that lower class kind of life, if your response is to better yourself, to love yourself and love others and learn how to live a life of compassion and to deal with whatever you have in a positive way and to build up to a good life with whatever you have, and you live a life of generosity despite being in poverty, guess what? You know, in your next life, if you accumulate so much good and positive karma and merit, it creates the next life a lot better.

But here's the problem. Unless you are practicing spiritual practice in these lifetimes, you'll just go up and then down, up and then down, etcetera, because you are wandering. That is why we need to have spiritual practice, spiritual intention, spiritual vows, because that, even though we forget most everything else, that will still be there in the deepest part of our consciousness in each lifetime, and so it will keep moving forward.

So this is one way of looking at it. Of course, Buddhist teachings on rebirth and reincarnation are quite intricate and they range, have different ranges. Some Buddhist schools basically almost teach just that we do reincarnate. There is some spiritual part of us that reincarnates over and over again. But then there are other aspects of the Buddhist teachings where there is no actual self to reincarnate. Reincarnating is the energy of our choices. The energy of our choices is what gets transferred into another life, and then that next life has to basically bear the consequences of our choices in this life. So it is almost like we do not personally reincarnate, but all the energy of our actions and choices is transferred. Because it does not just all go nowhere. It goes somewhere. So it goes into otherwise. That is one way to look at it.

And then there is a Zen way of looking at it, which is, well, whether or not there is an afterlife or not, whether or not there is reincarnation or not, this much is true: Whatever we do in our mind, speech, and body has a ripple effect. And so, it goes on and on and on through many and affects not just the individual life. But everything that we think, say, and do has a ripple effect.

So anyway, I am just presenting to you that there are different ranges of possibility. And I think the reason why is because reality is way more amazing than we can fathom with our human consciousness. So if you're going to pick a different teaching, make sure that that teaching isn't just theoretical, because what good does a theoretical teaching do for people? You have to find the practical aspect of the teaching.

So what is the practical aspect of this teaching? It is to be aware of your state of consciousness and that nothing is permanent in your state of consciousness. So that is why in Buddhism, hell may be a terrible state of consciousness, but it is not permanent. There is no such thing as eternal hell. Thank goodness, right? But you can create hell from your choices. You can create hell for yourself and others, so hell is not an impossibility. It is a possibility through our choices, but it's not permanent.

Through our choices, we always can create new circumstances, new manifestations. There is always the choice of this present moment here and now that can change everything. So Buddhists do not believe in predestination or final fate. Each moment of the here and now is actually a new moment, fresh. Through our choice, if we have a powerful practice, we can actually completely liberate ourselves from any of the past and create a new future.

Now, what are some of my personal beliefs based on my practice and reflections? Well, I believe personally that we do have a soul, but the Buddha's teaching is that we should not think of our soul as something solid, but that they are interbeing with all other beings. But I do believe in it, and I think it is helpful to use the word soul. So I do believe that we are all souls and that we come to this earth life. Then there are many, many different possibilities in the universe. You can go to different realms and worlds and universes, but I think most of us come back to this earth planet over and over and over again until we learn everything we want to learn from here.

But here's the thing. When we come, we are given the gift of forgetting, and I believe it is on purpose. I believe that we are born into different kinds of circumstances as male or female or gay or straight or black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever, as poor or rich or middle class, and it is not all about, well, the circumstances are shaped almost as like reward or punishment. It is not about that. It is more about what is the lesson that your soul is wanting to learn. So just because someone was born in a poor situation, it does not mean it is because of something negative they did. It may be just the optimal circumstance for their particular lesson they are wanting to learn.

So, sometimes our soul chooses to learn something like how to be compassionate in the midst of bad relationships. So that means that you're going to have to accept that you're going to have a lot of not-so-good relationships, and that is not a bad thing. But it is something that your soul wanted to learn. How can I learn having so many not good relationships how to have compassion through it? So don't think of it as like, oh, I did something wrong. That might just be the lesson that you are learning.

Or if you have a lot of history of illness or something, it is not necessarily about punishment. It may be that your soul wanted to give others an opportunity to learn, and it may be not so much about yourself learning something. Maybe you decided, I want to give these particular souls in my family the opportunity to learn how to be compassionate caregivers, because perhaps you realize that in their development as souls, they didn't always have lots of opportunities in their other lifetimes to practice compassion. So here you are, giving them lots of opportunities to practice compassion in caregiving. So you're actually helping them because they are now building these lessons in compassion.

But here's the thing. Even though I may believe that Buddhism is closest to the truth, souls aren't always born into Buddhist situations or Buddhist lifetimes, are they? But they can still be cultivating their spiritual life. To me I think the reason why we are thrown into all these different religions is because if there were only one religion that was correct, it would be very, very sad. But I think that the point is not that the religion that you are born into is supposed to be perfect, but rather that you have two responsibilities in the religion that you are born into. One is to learn whatever is helpful and useful in that religious upbringing, learn how to take that and discard the rest. And the second thing is if you decide to stay in that religion as an adult, how can you help to improve it little by little?

You see? Because of all the more enlightened beings are born into only one religion and not the others, it would be really hard for the others to evolve. But I think that many enlightened and awakened beings are born into all the various different religions to help improve them all slowly, to lift the consciousness of each religion, and also to learn how to bear with—because some of our soul lessons are my goodness, I was born into a fundamentalist religion or something, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. That is something your soul chose so that you can learn what it is like to deal with that situation.

I personally believe that—I've been under deep hypnosis a couple times where I got in touch with the glimpse of maybe a past life. I don't know for sure, but I saw myself as a fundamentalist Mormon. And I did not treat the mentally ill members of our community very well. I just thought they were demon possessed. And also I didn't realize how rigid I was and how negatively it affects other people. In this lifetime, I get to feel what it is like when I'm in a whole family situation where everyone is very, very conservative religiously, and here I am the only one in my whole family that is way out of that framework.

But instead of complaining, I realize now, well, I needed to learn what it is like to have compassion. And there are other things in my life right now where oh, okay. So I am learning how hard it is to be different in certain ways from others, and I'm learning how hard it is. So it is creating opportunities for me to have compassion. So, oh. Okay.

So this season, I want to encourage you to look at everything not as punishment or even reward but as opportunity. Opportunities for learning and also for teaching, opportunities for serving, opportunities for growing, opportunities just to change your consciousness, and then to appreciate where you are at. Appreciate that, you know, this is your particular income. This is your particular health. This is your particular lifestyle. This is your particular place that you are living. This is your particular set of circumstances. And to see it not just as something negative, but rather ah, this is the perfect opportunity my soul created for me to have optimum learning of whatever lessons that I was choosing to learn. You see?

So don't be like an asura always jealous of the devas, thinking that that is really the real goal of life is to have everything you want monetarily and everything else. That is not the goal. The goal is to fulfill your soul's intention of what it wants to learn, whatever that is, and however that take shape, you see? Because to your soul, it would be a tragedy if you only just did your human goals of getting wealthy and healthy and being happy and that is it, and yet you did learn any of the things your soul decided it would be good to learn in this lifetime. Then this would be a tragic lifetime, a loss. Only what matters is not your human's ego desires about what it means to be happy, only what your soul desires. Only what your soul desires. What your soul desires is certain lessons to learn to help evolve your consciousness and the consciousness of the whole planet. That is what matters. So learn to accept wherever you are at and then know that you aren't stuck there either. That you can constantly transform through your choices.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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