Life in the Six Realms

Chenrezig
Chenrezig

OM MANI PADME HUM

A Teaching by Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

In order to understand the Buddha’s teachings one has to understand cause and effect relationships, and in order to understand cause and effect relationships, one has to understand the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. In this nation we are actually afflicted with both nihilism and eternalism. Culturally we have absorbed them. They are part of our mindstreams, they are prevalent throughout our culture, and they are hard to spot.

Eternalism is the belief that we will continue as we are, based on a belief in our self nature and its continuation. It is like postulating a stick with one end: it begins at some place and then continues on forever. Nihilism is the belief that nothing essentially exists. It says that things come together in some sort of natural, physiological way or through some chemical means, but that there is no real order to it or no context within which an evolutionary pattern exists. It is the belief that there is nothing outside what one sees with one’s eyes or feels with one’s hands or smells with one’s nose. It is the belief in the possibility, in our case, of experiencing cause without experiencing effect.

This is not the textbook definition of nihilism, but it is the description of nihilism as we experience it within our minds. For instance, it is possible for us to know the teachings of the Buddha and to see their logic, yet have our actions and lifestyle be inconsistent with that belief. We may understand that compassion reaps good results and brings us closer to enlightenment, so we exhibit kindness and have faith. Yet within our minds we think judgmentally about others and hold hatred and desire. We think that it is acceptable to act kindly toward a person even if at the same time we are thinking we would like to have that person’s clothes or that we don’t like that person. This is actually a form of nihilism, because we feel that what matters is what people see, not understanding that even what remains in our thoughts and feelings also produces results. We don’t really understand that cause and effect relationships occur from the subtlest levels to the grossest of levels, and are the underlying fabric of cyclic existence. We do not understand, therefore, our own nature and that all things are an emanation of our minds. We practice nihilism constantly because we believe that the only thing that is counted somehow in the book of countings (whatever that might be) is that which is seen and can be judged by others.

We are content to live with that kind of thinking, never realizing the terrible results that it produces. We continue to engage in activity that is not conducive to enlightenment, because we do not understand the depth and profound effect that cause and effect has upon us. We may act in a kind way when people are watching but in our minds, in our secret places where no one is watching, we are selfish, judgmental, uncaring, and jealous. All of these qualities we allow to exist within our minds, and we do not understand that if they exist within the mindstream they will also somehow appear in our physical reality. Holding hatred in our mindstreams, or jealousy, selfishness, grasping, feeling needy constantly, feeling that we must have something in order to be content, acting in a selfish way that is inconsistent with the Buddha’s teaching, these things produce the same results that physical activity of that kind produce, even though we may not see right away the effects that will surely ripen.

The Six Realms of Cyclic Existence

The Buddha teaches us that there are different causes that we hold within our mindstreams that create the circumstances by which we are reborn in the six different realms of cyclic existence.

Contrary to the popular New Age philosophy that says we always achieve a higher rebirth, or that since we are human beings now we can always count on being human beings in future incarnations, the Buddha teaches that we achieve rebirth according to the content or fabric of our mindstreams. For example, if we hold a great deal of hatred or anger, we can be reborn in the lowest realms called hell realms. These realms are extremely uncomfortable; they have a great deal of heat and fire or extremes of cold that are unbearable. It is so unbearable there that it is impossible to practice. It would be like trying to meditate while someone is sawing off your knee. All you can think about is yelling and screaming and how to get out of there quickly. That is the nature of the hell realms.

If you experience a great deal of desire, grasping, and neediness, you will be reborn in what is called the hungry ghost realm. This realm is so filled with longing that the nonphysical beings there have mouths as tiny as a pinhole and their stomachs are as large as Mount Mehru. It is impossible to satisfy them. It is the experience of insatiability. Beings there are so empty and unable to take in what is needed.

If we experience dullness, stupidity, or ignorance, we will be reborn in the animal realm. Animals are considered to be incapable of the kind of thought necessary to make fully aware decisions. They fall prey to whatever sufferings man might visit upon them. Oxen that must pull heavy carts all day with very little nourishment, animals that must endure testing, these animals are unable to save themselves and they suffer horribly. Animals in the wild are eaten or helplessly pursued by bigger animals. Even our pets do not know how to take care of themselves. If we feed them they are fed, if we forget them they are forgotten.

To be reborn in the human realm is considered the most auspicious of circumstances because here it is possible to practice the Buddha’s teaching and experience true awakening, Although it takes a great deal of merit to be reborn in the human realm, there is also a negative cause for human rebirth, and that is doubt. As humans we constantly experience doubt. It is so pervasive that we do not understand how great our doubt is. If we really examine ourselves, we will discover that we think and feel differently from the way that we believe intellectually. We may follow a certain philosophy, but we never follow any philosophy consistently because we are so filled with doubt. It is the same in following Buddhist teaching. We will follow it externally, but not consistently until we have come very close to realization and can understand for ourselves fully and completely about cause and effect relationships.

If we experience a great deal of jealousy and competitiveness, if we have a warlike quality to our minds, we will be reborn in what is called a jealous gods’ realm. Beings there have a great deal of power with super-normal experiences. They are very strong, competing constantly in war. There is no peace, no security, no time to think or feel or love. There is only a constant need to guard oneself against hurt and attack, and a compulsive need to be aggressive about maintaining whatever you have that seems to be yours.

The last of the six realms is the gods’ realm. It is considered to be the highest realm because it is the most pleasurable and the most blissful. The beings there are extremely beautiful with gorgeous fragrances, brilliant colors, and music that is so pleasurable that if we were to hear it, there would be instant healing. Bodies of the gods are pure and perfectly sweet. There is not a bit of decay, sweat, bacteria, aging or any processes that produce the foul smells we have. It is beauty beyond what we can understand, completely free of ugliness or decay. Pride is the main cause for being reborn here, and even though the gods live for thousands of years, life is not permanent there. It actually takes a tremendous amount of good karma and pure virtue to be reborn in the gods’ realm, but while there you use up all your accumulated good karma very fast, like a big V8 engine burning gas going up hill. Suddenly after a very long life span, decay sets in. One’s accumulated virtue becomes exhausted and death approaches. It is horrible to them because they who have experienced nothing but beauty, sweetness, bliss, gorgeous music, and celestial food are about to experience terrible suffering. This impermanence is the predominant suffering of the gods’ realm.

We as humans have within our mindstreams all of the seeds of the peculiar sufferings and the unfortunate qualities associated with the six realms of cyclic existence. The Buddha cautions us not to take this teaching symbolically, but to take it absolutely. He could actually see the six realms and could remember having lived in those realms. Having achieved the precious awakening, he was able to recall how he moved from these realms into enlightenment The head of our lineage, His Holiness Penor Norbu Rinpoche, has said that if you could only part the curtains of your inability to see, if you could only see for one moment what the six realms of cyclic existence were like and how you have come and gone in each of the realms, and what you have experienced and what you are yet to experience because of the qualities inherent in your thinking  if you could understand this you would do nothing but recite the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM again and again. You would never stop.

The mantra of Chenrezig is OM MANI PADME HUM. Chenrezig is the Buddha of Compassion, and has within his mindstream a clear and pure crystal awareness, which is the same as the mind of enlightenment. Inherent within that mindstate are the qualities that bring about the end of rebirth in all of the six realms. Constant mindfulness of Chenrezig, and learning to generate one’s mind as Chenrezig through the use of visualization, mantra, recitation and pure intention, can bring about the end of rebirth in cyclic existence, even in one lifetime.

The logic here is that in the practice you are the one who generates yourself as the Bodhisattva Chenrezig. You accomplish this pure mind state in order to be of benefit to sentient beings. The real end of suffering therefore can be understood as your capacity to generate yourself as that Bodhisattva of Compassion, thereby becoming the cause for the end of all suffering. In so doing, one brings about the end of one’s own suffering as well.

The mantra of Chenrezig, which is OM MANI PADME HUM, has six syllables. Each syllable has the ability to eradicate causes for rebirth in each of the six realms, because the mantra itself and each of the syllables is considered to be a miraculous condensation of wisdom. Through the activity of Guru Rinpoche we are able to experience in the hearing or reciting of the syllables and visualizing ourselves as Chenrezig, the perfect purification of the causes for rebirth in all of the six realms of cyclic existence. This is absolutely possible. It is promised that if you practice this every day you can achieve the end of rebirth in the lower realms. And if practiced in conjunction with other practices it is part of a proven technology to end suffering in all of the realms.

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: HH Penor Rinpoche God Realm

 

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

Next, consider the gold realm. Gods remain in their realm where they experience immeasurable bliss and happiness for long periods of time. They all have their own palace and gardens, wish-granting trees, and celestial food; everything in their external environment is inconceivably wonderful. Internally they experience only happiness and bliss throughout the entire course of their life. Eventually they exhaust their karma for that rebirth. Prior to that, the dying clairvoyant gods see the place of their future rebirth, which in most cases happens in the hell realm. They take such a rebirth due to having exhausted all tainted virtue that brought them rebirth in the god realm, and then nothing remains for them except an abundance of weighty negative karma. The vast storehouse of merit they once possessed is spent, and they have nowhere to go but to the lowest hell realm. Seeing the irreversible fate that awaits them, and knowing it is too late to reverse that, they experience tremendous suffering. They are powerless to reverse their karma of having to fall from the celestial realm of the gods to the lowest realms in existence.

Buddha therefore taught that there is not even a needle point’s worth of true happiness in samsara. Now you can understand the meaning of that teaching. Even if there is happiness, it always changes because it is impermanent. Happiness in samsara occurs as the result of the karma produced to cause it. Once that cause and result are exhausted, that happiness becomes something else, which is why the term cyclic existence is used to express the nature of life in the six realms. Sentient beings pass from rebirth to rebirth, revolving on this endless wheel of changing realms in dependence on their own karmic accumulations.

If your hair were suddenly to catch fire, you would immediately, without hesitation, try to put out that fire. Likewise, by understanding that cyclic existence is by nature permeated with suffering, and by understanding that it can never be anything other than that, you should immediately, without hesitation, focus on putting out the fire of cyclic existence. Focus totally on effort to extract yourself from this endless suffering of cyclic existence, so that you can achieve the state of permanent bliss and happiness, the state of fully enlightened buddhahood.

Thus it is taught that in order to be successful in reversing strong attraction and attachment to cyclic existence, we must practice dharma. Through the practice of dharma we can reverse attachment to existence and gain more momentum toward liberation, to the point where we realize the state of permanent bliss and cease to return to samsara.

The Suffering of Cyclic Existence

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Faults of Cyclic Existence”

So this is not particularly a pleasant subject.  Every part of you will resist talking about it; every part of you will resist internalizing it. But at this point you have to exert a little discipline. You have to begin to use discipline by examining, really, whether or not the things that you have done to attain happiness have ever really lasted. You should examine whether positive thinking or any of the things that you have done, or falling in love, the things that have made us happy, whether the happiness has carried through into the rest of our lives, and whether it has lasted for our whole lives so far. You can really look at it that way. And then maybe from that point of view, you may be able to gradually introduce yourself or discipline yourself into thinking about the faults of cyclic existence.

The faults of cyclic existence are obvious in some ways. According to the Buddha’s teaching everything in cyclic existence, every experience—life, death, joy, pain, happiness, unhappiness, poverty and wealth, having and not having, all the different experiences that we experience—all of them are impermanent no matter what the particular experience that you have is. Whether it is blissful and wonderful; whether, as in the Breck commercial, you are experiencing one of those love affairs where you bound across the field at each other every day, and it is always sunny and flowers in the field; and you catch each other rapturously in each other’s arms and smouchy, smouchy and all that kind of stuff. Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. That is most certainly impermanent, even if you are extremely beautiful, so beautiful that you could remain happy if you just got up and looked at yourself in the mirror because you are so beautiful. There are some people who are that beautiful. I haven’t met too many and I am not saying whether anybody here is that beautiful. But anyway there are people who are that beautiful, that all you have to do is look at yourself and you just go ahhhh!  Even that is impermanent. Especially that is impermanent. And defying the law of Estee Lauder, eventually it will go away.

The joy of having children: It is such an incredibly joyful experience to know that you can have a child, and to have a child sleeping peacefully in your arms and looking up at you with those beautiful little eyes, and tiny little rosebud mouths with a little trickle of milk coming down the side. So blissful. And then they become teenagers. That is impermanent. All of the things that you can experience… There is my teenage son over there. I am saying this for his sake. All of these things are very blissful and very wonderful, but extremely impermanent. Also suffering is extremely impermanent. ‘This too shall pass’ philosophy works. It works because everything is impermanent. It also works for happiness. That is the problem. Both the happiness and the suffering are impermanent.

Any pain that you feel, any suffering that you feel, any longing that you feel, even lifelong poverty is impermanent, because at the end of that life of poverty one will die. And after dying maybe you will be reborn rich. Who knows?  But your particular circumstance, whatever it is, is always impermanent. That is the only thing that is consistent about cyclic existence, impermanence. According to the Buddha’s teaching.

Each of the six realms of cyclic existence… (If you are interested in hearing what those realms are you can purchase tapes that we recorded here. There was a workshop recently given in which I described the six realms of cyclic existence according to the Buddha’s teachings.)   Anyway, in each of the six realms, there is a particular kind of suffering that is associated with that realm; and it has to do with the particular karma that it takes to be reborn in that realm. Each of these realms is different and unique, and they all have impermanence in common. They all have their cyclic nature in common. They arise from cause and effect and the cause and effect is continual and begets the next cause and effect. One begets the other. It is a constant begetting of more and more cause and effect. So they have that in common. But each particular realm has its own form of discomfort and suffering.

According to the Buddha’s teaching, you experience rebirth because of desire. Because of desire you are born into one of the six realms. Rebirth is experienced because of desire due to the belief in self-nature being inherently real. Now that is Buddhist lingo for ego. Actually due to the grasping of ego as being inherently solid, due to that grasping and perceiving phenomena as being external because of that grasping to ego as being inherently real, due to the belief in the division or distinction between self and other because of the belief in ego as being inherently real, due to that kind of faulty perception, one revolves in an illusory state, a state that seems to us very, very real. And that illusory state is cyclic existence.

Due to the desire that is associated with the belief in self-nature as being inherently real, we continually achieve or experience rebirth. According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is not necessarily a linear experience. We comfort ourselves with a very current idea that one progresses in a linear way. You should understand that this is a very new philosophy. This is not what the older religions, the ones that are more established, the ones that actually give the accomplishment of enlightenment, necessarily teach. Any form of Buddhism that has appeared in the world has taught that one experiences rebirth because of the karma of the mind and not necessarily in a linear progression. The idea of linear progression is new. If you think that is the only way in which birth is achieved, you should at least give yourself the opportunity of examining some alternative philosophies. The new idea associated with linear progression seems to be: Now that I am a human being, I will always be a human being or better; that I have come to this point and this is the level that I am at and I will always be at that point or better. So I am doing good. I am okay.

This is faulty reasoning. You are not taking into account that you have lived countless lifetimes. Countless lifetimes. You can’t name the time when it started. We are talking about aeons and aeons of cyclic existence. Such a long time that you have experienced rebirth that you have had many, many different lifetimes in many, many different forms. It is impossible to experience the ripening of all of your karmic causes, of all of the karma that you have accumulated over a period of time. It is impossible to experience all of those ripenings in one lifetime. Impossible. It is simply not dense enough. It is not possible. It would be like trying to put an ocean full of cause and effect relationships into a cup. It is simply not possible. So that being the case, you have lots and lots of latent karmic causes that have not ripened and cannot ripen, will not ripen, in this lifetime. So according to that thinking, all of us actually have the karma for being reborn in the lowest, hellish realm. And we also, all of us, have the karma for being reborn in the highest god realms.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Jealousy

Jealousy

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

The next realm is the jJealous gods realm. The jealous gods realm is actually the war-like gods, the competitive gods. We have stories about them in our old testament, don’t we? We have stories about a god that is very jealous and war-like. We have stories about Old Testament,not Buddhist but Christian-Jewish Old Testament. The jealous god realm consists of gods who are very willful and very bossy and very competitive; and they really want things done their way, now. And if you don’t do it, kaboom, thunderbolt to you pal, turning you into salt or something like that. They are constantly fighting each other. They are constantly doing things that make you look at them and say, “Get a life.”  I mean I wouldn’t do some of the things that they do, and what do I know? They act like three year olds. (She looks up at the ceiling in anticipation of retaliation. laughter)  Don’t you hope that I would get away with that? If I got struck by lightening, though, it would prove what I just said, maybe.

Anyway, there is terrible suffering in the jealous gods realm; and that suffering is the suffering of warfare and competitiveness; and it is ongoing. It never ends. There is a violence there; there is a constant, violent outpouring there. It is a very strong war-like energy. They are not particularly happy. They are happy in some ways: They have lots of riches, and they have lots of people underneath them. I guess that makes them happy. They are actually always engaging in some kind of very active war-like activity; and therefore they are not happy and eventually they die. All of these realms are impermanent. They all begin with birth and end with death.

So what is the cause of being born in the jealous gods realm?. The cause of being reborn in the jealous gods realm is jealousy, competitiveness and jealousy—that kind of arrogance, ego kind of thing. Have you ever seen people like that? Have you ever been like that? Have you ever seen people who just think they are so glad that they have it and you don’t? Have you ever seen people who sort of set themselves up in a very high place and they really engage in activity to try to get as much money as they can, and they compete and they really like the game? Think of the movie Wall Street. Remember that a few years back? That kind of thing. That is jealous god activity right there, a perfect example of what is going to happen. The people involved with that when they take rebirth could very likely end up in a jealous gods realm. They were like gods, and they were always engaged in that kind of competitive activity.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Mixed Karma of the Human Realm

doubt

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

Now we are getting to the egg yolk. Actually the optimum life is to be born as a human,. even more than the god realm. Interestingly the god realm seems to be more fun. Wouldn’t you rather have a nice cool glass of the elixir of life?. Or would you rather have a glass of water? Now I know the answer to that. You monks and nuns, it’s been a long time since you have had anything to drink. You would like a nice elixir of life, wouldn’t you?. So, it seems like you would want to born in the god realm. The interesting thing about the human realm is that it does have definite suffering, which you have seen (and I have explained what the suffering is). Plus it particularly has the suffering of old age, sickness, and death. They don’t mention taxes. Maybe they didn’t have them when the Buddha was here. You might escape taxes, but you will never escape death. Maybe that is why he didn’t mention it. Even though those sufferings are present in the human realm alone, there is the peculiar meshing of karma, the peculiar evolution of karma that comes together in a certain way that we can practice the Dharma. We can make a choice and practice compassion. We can practice meditation on emptiness. We can practice Dharma in such a way as to achieve realization. We have this kind of queer mixing, or spaciousness, in our mind. In some cases it is not spaciousness, but it is just that the karma is ripening in a certain way that we can practice.

The teaching says that we have time to practice. Time to practice means what? ? Time in our minds to practice, not time in the day to practice. Anyone can get so busy that you don’t have time in the day to practice; but if you can conceive of time to practice, you have time to practice. You can make time to practice. In the animal realm, there is no time to practice because they are too busy being ignorant and fearful. In the hell realm, there is no time to practice because they are too busy suffering horribly. You can’t practice, you can’t think about compassion, if someone is bonking you over the head. You can’t think about compassion, or burning up in a burning house. In the hungry ghost realm, there is no thought of practice because all you can think about is need—I need, I want, I want, I want. But in the human realm, one can consider practice. There is space to practice. In the god realm, one cannot practice very well either because you are too busy enjoying bliss. You are so filled with bliss all you have to do is drink water. Why would you want to practice? All you have to do is touch something and it feels like waves of bliss. Why would you want to practice? Why you would want to practice is that all of these six realms are impermanent, even the god realm. In the human realm, though, you can practice. We too have sufferings—old age, sickness and death.

What causes us to be born in the human realm? Two things: A lot of merit and virtue that we have accumulated in the past through eons and eons of cyclic existence happened to pull together in one big puddle and ripen in such a way as to produce a human rebirth. But there is also non-virtue that produces a human rebirth. If we had total virtue, if that was all that we had, we’d just wake up one day enlightened, I guess. But that is not what happened. We got reborn in the human realm. What is the non-virtue that accounts for a human rebirth?. The main non-virtue that produces human rebirth is doubt. Doubt. You don’t believe that, right? I knew that. See what I mean. The main suffering of the human rebirth results from doubt as well. And that is why it is possible for so many of us to have with the auspicious opportunity to meet with the Dharma, to meet with the human condition with which we can practice. And we don’t practice. We don’t. If you really believed, if you understood that these six realms of cyclic existence exist, if you understood about your death, if you understood the cause and effect relationships that bring about an auspicious rebirth, if you understood what it takes to produce enlightenment, that is what you would do. You’d practice. But you have doubt, and that is why you don’t do it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Animal Realm: Ignorance

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

The next realm is the animal realm. Now we have a strange understanding of the animal realm. We think, ‘Now that won’t be so bad.’  I have actually had people say to me, “I wish I could be a dog in my next life so that people would pet me.”  And I go, “Oh, no. Please don’t say that because you are not going to be a dog. You are going to be a hungry ghost.”  Don’t do that. That kind of neediness, that kind of idea,… You don’t want to express that. Let’s understand the animal realm better.

It isn’t like our little puppies and our little kitties and our little birdies. It isn’t cute little fluffy stuff like that. You have to think about what the animal realm is really like. Animals are completely at the mercy of the higher life form of humans. They are completely at the mercy of one another. In animal realms, there is the predator and the victim. And even amongst those animals that do not engage in that kind of activity, they are victimized by their own stupidity. I think about the bullocks in India. They have to pull these huge carts. Their owners whip them all day long in order to make them pull these huge carts; and they decorate their horns and think of them as their objects. They are their objects; and really they are more valuable than their wives because the bullocks can make it possible to pull these large amounts of things that the owners need to pull in order to make their livings. So I think about that kind of suffering. I think about camels that are ridden across deserts, not ever being able to go where they want to go. I think of horses that are never permitted to do what they want to do, never permitted to live naturally. I think about even our own domestic pets that are at our mercy as to whether or not we remember to feed them, whether or not we remember to take them to the vet. It’s our decision whether or not we want them fixed. It’s a dog’s life. It is a terrible thing to be engaged in the animal realm, because in the animal realm the chief suffering is that of ignorance. An elephant, for instance, could easily escape from a man who was dominating it, you see, in order to make it work all its life; but the elephant is too stupid to know that. It is too stupid to understand that. The human has developed a method to demonstrate his mastery, and therefore the elephant, although it is ten times bigger than the human, thinks that it is a victim of the human. That kind of stupidity leads to terrible suffering.

Animals in the animal realm are constantly fearful. They are constantly fearful of being eaten. All of their instincts guard against being eaten. They are constantly fearful of being left without food. They are constantly fearful. There is no space in their minds other than the fear that they have; and that fear is the result of ignorance.

So, do we have any ignorance in our minds, do you think?  Now, I don’t mean ignorance like you didn’t go to college. Not like that kind of ignorance. But the ignorance that makes you say, “Where did the day go?”  That dullness that makes you go through a day and you get the impression that you rode or skimmed on the surface of that day. You just kind of skimmed, just kind of floated on it, and your mind didn’t dig in anywhere in particular too much. You sort of ran around in your head a little bit. And then maybe you spent another day where you kind of floated on the sensuality of that day. I ate, and I slept. I spent time with my family, and I spent time with my husband or wife. And put on some new clothes. I worked and it felt good to work; or maybe it didn’t feel so good to work, and it felt like this. That kind of dullness where you don’t say, “Yo, let’s look at the faults of cyclic existence and figure out what we can do to make this day count.”  That kind of dullness is the kind of dullness that will cause us to be reborn in the animal realm. That dullness and ignorance.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Hungry Ghost Realm

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

The next of the lower realms is the realm of the hungry ghosts.  The hungry ghosts actually have a traditional appearance and they are described in this way, but again you must understand that this is us looking with eyes that are born having to distinguish between subjective and objective.  These are the eyes that are born in the realm of duality. So keep that in mind when their description is given.  The description is that of beings that have very, very, very tiny mouths—they are said to be about the size of a pin, just a tiny opening—and great big stomachs, and these stomachs are empty.  They are not able to take in the amounts of nourishment that they need.  This is the picture that we are given.  The reality of the realm of the hungry ghost is that they experience extreme need, extreme hunger, beyond what you feel when you have big Mac attack.  Way beyond that!  We are talking hunger like you have never felt.  It is a different color of hunger entirely.  Have you been real, real hungry?  Have you never been real, real hungry in your life?  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life.  I’ve been real, real hungry in my life, and I remember how that felt.  I remember being so hungry once that I could feel my blood sugar doing wacko things and I actually had the feeling of panic.  I was that hungry that you feel panicky because your body is just telling you, “I need food now!”

So you imagine that there is that kind of hunger, with that kind of panic and need, times more than you can ever imagine.  That would be the feeling of a hungry ghost.  It is extremely needful.  Now you say to yourself,  “Please! I worked out my whole life and for me to be reborn with a tiny little mouth and a big, big belly like that… That definitely is not going to happen to me.”  So you think that that’s not going to happen?  Well, you have to examine yourself from a different and more subtle point of view.  Let me ask you if you have ever gone through a period in your life when you were extremely needy.  “Oh no, not me.”  Right?  Extremely needy?  For women that happens at least once a month, right?  And for men I think it happens about every 48 hours.  Now they get needy in a different way, but it’s basically also, “Do you love me?”  We have within our mindstream the potential for tremendous neediness and graspiness.

O.K., this is a little bit less painful.  Have you known a person in your lifetime that was compulsively, neurotically, unsatisfiably needy?  Have you known a person like that?  Haven’t you had from that person the feeling that this hole is just too darn big to fill?  You feel like you’re throwing it in and throwing it in and throwing it in and trying to love and trying to give them something, and they’re still whining.  It never ends; and you spend the rest of your life doing this and nothing happens.  The hole never fills up.  Well, that is the kind of cause that results in a rebirth as a hungry ghost—a person whose habitual tendency is simply wrapped around self-absorption and what they need.  I need, I need, I need.  Can you gimme gimme gimme?  They see every other being in their life as a prop, a prop by which they can achieve satisfaction.  They use people as props in order to achieve satisfaction.  You know we’ve all gone through periods in our lives when we’ve done that, haven’t we?  Absolutely.  We have used other people for our own satisfaction.  Absolutely, and for many of us, we made careers out of it.  Right?  And maybe still, maybe still.  We have seen how people can wrap their whole lives around graspiness and neediness; and every time they meet with somebody it’s like you can hear the suction.  You can just hear it.  You feel like the blood is coming out of your pores.  And that’s the kind of person you instinctively stay away from because literally you can feel your energy being sucked into them.  Haven’t you felt that kind of thing?  You can feel the energy being sucked into them. And it’s true.  If you could see it with different eyes, your energy would be sucked into them.  That’s true.  That kind of cause, that kind of habitual tendency that the person might experience, or if it’s you, you might experience, would result in rebirth as a hungry ghost.  Particularly, also, it is the kind of person who is against and has no compatibility with compassion and generosity.the person who is chronically, without hesitation, selfish to the bone.

Now you may think, “Are there really people like that?”  Oh, ho ho, yes.  I remember once, I’ll tell you this briefly, this story..  In New York once I went to give a teaching, and I remember walking into the room and thinking, “Oh no.”  You know, a lama does develop the ability to sort of intuit who we’re talking to, and I remember walking into the room and going “NO-O-O!” because I could see that it was going to be very, very difficult. And sure enough, here we were in New York and I was talking about the most benign [subject]. I wasn’t talking about hell realms.  I would never be dumb enough to talk about hell realms in New York!  You guys want to hear that you have to come to Poolesville!  So anyway, I was talking about the most benign and charming—talk about white picket fence!—subject that you could possibly think of: kindness.  Talking about Bodhicitta.  I was talking about how, in the most fundamental way, kindness makes one feel.  Really, being kind to others makes one feel better.  I was talking about how developing the habit of kindness brings this result, just kindness.  I was talking about Bodhicitta being consistent with our own nature.  And I swear to you not one, but on different occasions, three women stood up and argued with me about the validity of kindness.  This one woman in particular said, “This is ridiculous.  Kindness has no place in my life. I mean you have to get what you want!  I don’t see the point of what you say.  This is whoosh.  Tell me something real!”  That is literally what happened.

I remember just feeling this compassion for them, for what can the result of that be?  What do you think their next experience is going to be like?  Do you think they’re going to fall into the lap of mother love?  Do you think that kindness is going to be just heaped on them in their next life?  I don’t think so.  I don’t see how that’s going to happen.  So these poor people are up against the wall, and they don’t even realize it. And in her haughtiness, she defended what was going to make her suffer horribly.  So you see there is that kind of thing operating in the minds of sentient beings.  There are some people that categorically refuse and reject the idea of kindness and benefitting others. In fact, it is not inconsistent with all of the world religions, that we should take equal responsibility with ourselves as with other sentient beings.

There are even types of teaching that the Buddha has taught that are meant for that kind of person who cannot appreciate compassion, who is not even set up to hear the word ‘compassion’.  The Hinayana point of view: yeah we’re taught to be kind to others, but not in an aggressive way.  We’re taught to do no harm.  That’s different from saving sentient beings from suffering.  So there are sentient beings that have no capacity for kindness or generosity, you see?  And so the result of that kind of mental state is to be reborn as a hungry ghost, experiencing only need.  Only being able to experience that which comes toward oneself, literally not having the chip, the computer chip, to be able to send out.  It would be like a computer that has no printer.  Everything happens internally, in a way.  Do you see what I’m saying?  Nothing goes out.  This person is not wired to send out anything; and that comes through having only the habitual tendency of self-absorption and selfishness. And the result is life as a hungry ghost.  In the hungry ghost realm, it isn’t that there is no food. It is that they are so weak because of the habitual tendency of their mind  has produced this weakness. Literally their arms and legs are like threads.  They cannot get over to where the food is.  They cannot get there.  The only thing big about them is their stomachs. And even if they could get there, their little mouths would not be able to take in enough.

Plus, it is said that even when they see food, if they can (we’re not talking about sea food here), even if they do see some food, they cannot get to the food. And if they somehow manage to get to the food, it then will turn to… Like this glass of water here.  I have the karma for this water to refresh me.  Water, little bit of lemon—pretty good.  If I were a hungry ghost in the hungry ghost realm, even if I were able to make it to that water (and I would feel the need for it very strongly), the water would be like a glass of pus or something, horrible and repulsive, literally, sewage or something horrible and repulsive.  It would turn to that before you reached it.  And that’s because of the habitual tendency of our mind.  How different from sewage is the need to only satisfy oneself and not care at all for the condition of other sentient beings?  To take from others and never give?  How different is that than sewage?  You see?

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: Adjusting One’s Mind

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The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

First, [during the preliminaries] one adjusts one’s intention [in order] to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction. There are three ways to do so, by developing repulsion or weariness toward the suffering of samsara, by developing an attraction to enlightenment, and by transcending the two extremes of samsara and enlightenment through vowing to maintain the middle way.

When considering the first step to adjust the mind, one cultivates repulsion and weariness towards samsara as antidotes for strong attraction to worldliness, to ordinary phenomena, to one’s own life, wealth, and endowments, and to one’s friends and loved ones. Through cultivating weariness toward the suffering of samsara, we learn about impermanence come to understand the impermanence of all worldly phenomena.

Of all worldly phenomena, whether great or small, nothing is permanent and nothing endures. Therefore, when you find yourself attracted to or attached to the happiness of existence, you must bring to mind the faults of existence. Consider that not even a single phenomenon is permanent, no matter how great, wonderful, or powerful it may seem. Consider especially how once that phenomenon [you associate with a happy existence] changes, you will experience nothing but suffering as the result. That way you can move your mind away from having strong attachment to impermanent phenomena and begin to change your habit of always following apparent phenomena based on [experiencing] temporary pleasure and attachment.

Think, for instance, about sentient beings that, due to anger and aggression, have accumulated the negative karma to fall to the hell realm. Those beings have accumulated tremendous negative karma that will keep them in the hell realm indefinitely. In that realm, unable to establish any positive causes at all, they will experience nothing but intense suffering. Think about the eight hot hells, the eight cold hells, as well as the peripheral hells surrounding them. Although it is inconceivable, think about the suffering that sentient beings in those hells must endure.

Then consider the deprived spirit realm. Think about the beings that accumulate an abundance of negative karma through the passions of avarice and strong desire. The result of such accumulation is rebirth as a deprived spirit. There are different categories of deprived spirits, such as outer and inner ones, but essentially they all endure inconceivable hunger and thirst that is insatiable. Furthermore, they never die from that; they just continue to suffer indefinitely, without ever being satisfied.

Next, consider the animal realm. Negative karma accumulated through the passion of delusion produces the result of an animal rebirth. Animals suffer from basic delusion and ignorance, mistreatment by humans, and being preyed upon by one another. From the largest to the smallest, those who are as large as mountains to those smaller than the tip of a needle, all suffer from basic stupidity and ignorance, so they are unable to escape and are unable to do much more than just endure the karma in that rebirth until it is eventually exhausted.

Then consider rebirth that is so difficult to obtain: that of a human being. Compared with the three lower realms of existence, human life seems very blissful; nevertheless, there is great suffering in the human realm. Human beings suffer from confinement in the womb and from the process of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, and some as adults. Some die alone and unwanted or in an untimely manner.

In addition to the four great rivers of suffering human beings experience–birth, old age, sickness and death–humans experience compounded suffering. For example, humans suffer mistreatment at the hands of their enemies, and they suffer when they lose their loved ones. In fact, they suffer from fear that precedes the actual events themselves. Humans also suffer from not getting what they want and from having to accept what is not desired, because then they have the fear of losing that. Against their will, humans endure all these unexpected consequences.

Many people think that after they die and leave this life they will easily return as a human being. Many believe they will just be able to return to a happy state of existence, such as the one they might now be accustomed to. That is a mistake. I can guarantee that unless you have the specific karma to do so, you will not take another birth as a human being. Without the karma that creates the causes for it, the result of human rebirth is impossible. Make no mistake about it.

What Creates a Hell Realm?

  1. Anger

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “The Foundation of Bodhicitta”

The realms of cyclic existence are depicted in . the Wheel of Life and Death.   The Buddha teaches us that there are six realms. Now one of the reasons that people like to become Buddhist and to get away from Christianity is they don’t like the idea of heaven and hell. Guess what?  Guess what?  But here in Buddhism we view it a little bit differently.

This is the hell realm. This is a noxious picture. I don’t want to describe it to you because you are new and you are delicate. But it is rough. It is rough. In Buddhist tradition, we are taught that there are hot hells and there are cold hells, and there are people-cutting-each- other-up hells; and there are horrible burning things and yucky terriblenesses. And if you look at this picture, you will see terriblenesses that you cannot believe. I don’t mean to make light of the hell realm. I personally have no intention of going there, that is why I am working very hard to create virtue. But anyway these hell realms are considered to be very difficult. In Christianity if you are not saved, you will go to hell, I think. I am not sure; I am not a very good Christian. I am not any kind of Christian actually, and so I don’t really know exactly what the teachings are. In Buddhism, this hell realm here is arrived at due to hatred and anger. Now think about that for a minute. Do you think that it is so inconceivable that one will experience a hellish rebirth? That’s what we consider in terms of rebirth—not that you go to hell forever but [that you will experience] a hellish rebirth. Is it so inconceivable that due to hatred and anger you will experience a hellish rebirth?

Think about the capacity to experience nightmares. Have any of you ever had a nightmare?   Where you were suffering horribly?  Did you ever dream where a monster was after you?  Did you ever dream where somebody really hurt you?   Maybe you even dreamed that you hurt somebody else. Most of the time we project, though, our own hatred and we dream that somebody is hurting us. Everyone has had nightmares, different kinds of nightmares—nightmares like monsters getting us and even getting stuck in a burning house, or nightmares of falling, or nightmares of not being able to get ourselves out of a situation. Have you ever had a nightmare where you were stuck and unable to run and you were suffering greatly because of that or even stuck in some horrible tight place? Something like that. People have described many different kinds of nightmares. When you are in that nightmare are you saying, “Heh, I am having a nightmare, no problem. I’m out of here. As soon as I wake up, I am going to have my cereal.”  No. You are thinking,” Aah!  Let me out!”  That is the same as a hell realm. The mind can produce a short event like that, of being stuck in a nightmare. The mind can produce amazing, elaborate nightmare scenarios.. For some reason, students love to tell me their dreams. It is just unbelievable what some of you dream. It’s just like you all should have cameras and movies. You would put a Friday the 13th to shame.

So if it is possible for the mind to create a scenario of a nightmare, then you must understand that it is possible for the mind to experience rebirth in a hell realm. It is the same thing. The same capacity is at work there. Psychologists say that nightmares are probably due to fear, probably due to anxiety, probably due to hostility. And Buddhists say that rebirth in a hell realm is due to the same thing basically; But we tend to think more that this kind of rebirth is produced due to hate and anger. The mind experiences its own hate and anger projected outward on a screen in the same way that your own anxiety is projected outward on a screen in your dream experience. So that is how it happens. Just as you have the capacity to have been reborn as a human, each one of us has the capacity to be reborn in a hellish realm while we have anger. So long as there is even one drop of anger in our minds that capacity is there. Anger is the seed of that unfortunate lower rebirth. That anger is the seed of that low rebirth. You don’t think you have anger?  Let someone back you into a corner, you come out fighting every time. Let someone put you down, let someone treat you in a way that you don’t think is right, let someone challenge your ideas, then anger comes up. So we all have it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

 

What is a Bardo?

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

Having given rise to these ideas and begun to think about the other realms in the six realms of cyclic existence, let’s talk about death.

Now, first of all, there are a couple of points that I want to bring out, and these points could not be brought out better than the way they are brought out in a particular book. For any of you who are interested, this is an excellent book to read. It’s called Death and the Art of Dying in Tibetan Buddhism, by Bokar Rinpoche. The reason why I especially like this is that it is actually not taken from any one text. It is taken from a grouping of teachings that this lama gives in a very conversational way; and like I’ve told you, I think that Westerners really understand conversational teachings better. That’s my perception anyway. I do feel that that happens. He gives these teachings in a very conversational way, and he gives them often in question and answer form; and that seems to be very useful for students The way that he gives these teachings  is very approachable and very clear,. So I would like to use a little bit of the way that he approaches some ideas, so that you can get them a little bit better.

We have talked about the six realms of cyclic existence. Now we are going to be talking about the six bardos. You should understand, first of all, what  bardo isWe start with the bardo of living. The bardo of living starts at the time of birth and ends with the time of death, or just before the time of death. We think of that as the bardo of living. So the way that our minds think, we think, “Let’s see, October twelfth, nineteen forty-nine, that’s when my bardo of living started. And when is it going to end? We don’t know that yet. So I have a date here, and someday we’ll have a date here.” You see? And that’s what we think. We think bardo goes from October twelfth, nineteen forty-nine, to whenever that is.

Now another lama would laugh with me as to how silly it is to think that way. Since we as sentient beings don’t have that kind of teaching, we don’t know how funny that is; but that’s pretty funny because it’s a very confused and superficial and erroneous way to think of the bardo. The bardo is not actually a period of time that starts with this and ends with that. The bardo is passage. It is passage and the way that passage appears to us. Bardo is a way of describing movement or passage. It is a way of displaying display, in a sense, or a way of seeing the display of display. Generally it is said that there are many different kinds of bardos, because there are as many bardos as there are individual experiences. If you think about it, you could, literally, sit down to a meal and call that the bardo of dining. Absolutely. There would be nothing wrong with doing that; that is the bardo of dining. It does have a beginning moment, and there are causes and results within the bardo of dining. What you eat will affect your body. What is that? “An instant on the lips, forever on the hips,” that kind of thing. So there is a cause and result even within that small bardo. But that’s a bardo. The bardo of sitting in class. The bardo of entering into class. You incur causes and results while in class due to the force of your listening—how you listen, what you think when you listen, what your intentions are. You are creating cause and effect relationships that begin and end within a certain passage. That is a bardo.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

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