Faults of Cyclic Existence

[Adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999. —Ed.]

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 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 the 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 processes of birth, illness, disease, and growing old and the decline in their faculties, until eventually they experience the suffering of death and of leaving everything behind. Humans are subject to all kinds of indefinite circumstances and situations throughout the course of their life. Some die at birth, some die as infants, some as adolescents, 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. They even suffer from acquiring what is 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 rebirth 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.

Next, consider the god 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 to suddenly 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.

From “THE PATH of the Bodhisattva: A Collection of the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva and Related Prayers” with a commentary by Kyabje Pema Norbu Rinpoche on the Prayer for Excellent Conduct

Compiled under the direction of Venerable Gyatrul Rinpoche Vimala Publishing 2008

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




Hell realm z.about.com

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Why P’howa?”

According to the Buddha’s teaching, there are six realms of cyclic existence, and I will begin with what is called the lowest of the realms.  Now generally, when Westerners hear about the different realms, oh, we love the high realms.  Those are our favorites.  But the lower realms scare us a bit.  Westerners don’t want to hear about the lower realms, because they are associated with something archaic that their mothers told them, or that their old preachers told them sometime in the past.  Every world religion has a story about a result that will occur if one engages in a lifelong non-virtue, or even in temporary periods of non-virtue, every single world religion that has the kind of strength to have lasted through fads and trends and teachers that say they have it, and then they drop dead just like everybody else and there is no good result.  Every world religion has a teaching about this result from non-virtuous behavior so for those of you that are uncomfortable about this, I’m sorry.  Here’s what you need to do.  Get out of it.  Get out of cyclic existence.  That’s the point.  That’s why we’re having this teaching.  If you don’t like the idea of the result of your non-virtue, don’t commit it.  If you don’t like the idea of sinking to a lower realm or experiencing any of those lower realms, create the causes for not sinking to a lower realm.  First let’s learn about the realms.

Again, we’re walking through a room with the lights turned on.  You want the lights on so that you can get around it.  The difference with the Buddha’s teaching is that we are taught a method to avoid this [experiencing a lower realm].  We are taught a method to purify the causes.  There is method.  There is long-term method that is geared for a certain result, like the ability to turn the light on.

Of the six realms, the realm that we will speak of first is the rebirth in the hell realm.  There are many sentient beings that are now, even as we speak, revolving helplessly in the hell realms.  I guess the Christian idea of hell is a place under the earth where things are burning.  That is not the idea that we have here.  The hell realms are varied.  They are varied in their condition.  There are, in fact, extremely hot hell realms and there are Dharma texts in our bookstore [that tell about them]. I don’t feel the need to go into that at any great length at this time because that isn’t technically what we are about at this time; I’m going into this in a condensed form, but there are the hot hell realms, and the hot hell realms are all results that are associated with the cause of hatred, extreme hatred, the kind of virulent hatred and attitudinal hatred that many people allow to remain in their mind.

A perfect example of that kind of hatred would be the Ku Klux Klan kind of mentality you see, or the Hitler kind of mentality, the kind of mentality in which hatred simply pours out of the pores.  There is such a strong habitual tendency of hatred that simply is unconditional negative hatred instead of unconditional positive regard.  It is habitual.  It is constant.  It is simply an outpouring of hatred.  This is associated with the cause of truly torturing and hurting others. There have been many throughout time who have tortured and mutilated the bodies and lives of others in a horrible way that we, living  middle America lives, really can’t imagine except through what we’ve read.  There are, of course, other certain heinous sins that also result in the rebirth in the most difficult of the hells. Those heinous things are the murdering or killing of one’s mother and father, the murdering or killing or harming of one’s Guru, the murdering or killing or harming or drawing blood of a Bodhisattva.  That is not to say that if you were taking a blood sample for the health of the Bodhisattva, … Well, people would not exactly be standing in line for that job would they!  No, but that would not be intentional harm, like really harming a Bodhisattva, someone who could bring enlightenment to others. Harming or taking that one out of the world is considered to be a heinous crime because it actually literally changes the future of the world.  It changes the world in a negative way.  It prevents the world from moving forward in its evolution, in its continuum.

For extraordinary non-virtue, for those really extraordinary sins, there are the hell realms consisting of the extremely hot hell realms and the extremely cold hell realms. Characteristic of both the hot and cold hell realms is that there is no respite from the suffering.  There is no respite from the suffering.  Literally, when one takes rebirth in the cold realms, one will be reborn in inconceivable cold with no protective clothing.  What will happen to oneself will be the experience of what we think would happen to ourselves if we were to be suddenly now naked in an extremely cold realm.  That is to say, the skin would freeze, crack open.  Things would happen strangely to our bodies and you would think that that would be the end of it.  But in these very cold hell realms, until the non-virtuous karma is exhausted, one continues to reappear even after death from cold has occurred, and that is the same with the hot realms.  Continuously apparent, there is no respite.

There are other forms.  There are the individual hells; and I can tell you for a fact that I know, through my own perception, that this is true.  I have seen this sort of thing and this is the kind of thing that people mistake as being ghosts.  Often you go to a house and at a certain time of night you will hear footsteps or you’ll hear a door creaking or you’ll hear chains rattling, whatever it is that people hear, that sort of thing.  Probably what has happened there, although not exclusively, but probably what has happened there is that there is a sentient being stuck in an individual hell realm.  This is the hell realm that is individual to the person’s experience, whatever their expected experience is. It’s according to the content of the mindstream, their consciousness, their habitual tendency.  Write that word down somewhere in your notes, or remember it—habitual tendency. That will come up again and again during the course of your practice as a Buddhist. Due to the force of their habitual tendency, they will remain and this kind of hell realm is the result of again, extreme non-virtue, but it is also a non-virtue that is mixed with ignorance and a determination to remain ignorant.

Think about that, because you have done this.  Think about this now.  The determination to remain ignorant is the one where you make a decision to go away from pursuing wisdom and pursuing your method, your path.  And you just go, “It’s too hard.  I don’t like this.  It’s not easy for me, I don’t want it.  Hard.  And I’m just a little kid and I have to play some more.”  When you do that, you are actually turning your mind away from Dharma and you are committing a very strong non-virtue. The other one is, “I don’t have to learn that.  I know enough to get by.  I’ll just read…, Who was that one that wrote about death and dying?  A non-Buddhist.  They wrote that you see a tunnel and you see a white light.  Do you remember who that is?  I’ll just read Ross’ book and I’ll be fine.  Maybe I’ll read it, if I have time, but I really like to read other books better.”  And this kind of thing.  You have this kind of idea.

Sometimes, I’ll see a person in class with ‘attitude’ written all over their heads, and have no idea why they’re here.  Why did they come?  I don’t know, but they have attitude written all over their head; and the attitude is actually like putting yourself in chains because you are absolutely setting up that you are not going to have a positive rebirth, that you can sit in the presence of what could possibly be your own root guru, or at least a guru, a teacher, and just simply turn your mind away.  Literally, what you would be doing there is to make your mind like a bowl filled with poison so that the milk that pours in there is tainted, and then you are responsible for tainting the milk within your own mind.  So that kind of thing is the kind of thing that leads to rebirth in the individual hells.  That kind of ignorance.  That is an ignorant move to make.  It is born of ignorance.

The individual hells are very strange, very unusual.  I can describe a couple that I know of personally.  One good example would be of an individual who perceives themselves to be stuck in the opening and closing of the door. Of course this is all relative and it is all a deluded perception.    This is the kind of person that perhaps would remain stagnant within the course of their lives, locked themselves in, did not grow, wouldn’t grow, would not challenge themselves to go the extra mile and be kind towards others, remained extremely self-absorbed.  They literally shut their eyes during the course of life.  Again, that sounds pretty mild in terms of a sin.  You could commit worse sins, but we are talking about sins against one’s own nature and those are important.  Those are very important.   So this person would be stuck in the opening and closing of the door and would experience the door being closed on them and would experience the door being opened again. They would experience it as though their bodies were literally stuck in that, again and again.

I have also seen sentient beings that are literally stuck walking up and down a hall.  That’s it, walking up and down a hall.  They are stuck calling, calling, calling for someone.  Literally they go through bardo—and this will make sense for those of you that have taken the teachings. They will go through the bardo state: They will go through the experience of the white Bodhicitta, the experience of the red Bodhicitta.  They will go through the experience of the appearance of the Dharmadhatu that is experienced as blackness.  They will go through the re-awakening of the perception of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  They will go through the reawakening of the perception of the wrathful deities. Then they will enter into the bardo of becoming, and in the bardo of becoming they will immediately experience rebirth. It will be very disconcerting because suddenly they will be walking up and down a hall, trying to reach the others that they were so attached to.  Those of you that have very strong attachments on a human level, try to imagine what this would feel like.  They will continually try to reach out for the others and they will sort of see them, but sort of not see them because they are not really there.  Try to imagine seeking the safety of a loved one, and it changes all the time.  You don’t understand.  That’s the kind of experience of someone in an individual bardo. They experience walking up and down the hall, literally, almost seeing safety and then feeling all of the feelings that would go with doing that endlessly.  So that is the kind of experience that one might experience if one were to engage in a non-virtuous life and not practice Dharma. And it happens.

Now what we’re talking about today, once again, is the antidote.  The purpose of talking about the disease is so that we can explore the antidote.  The antidote should not be taken without an understanding of the disease.  These kinds of life forms will also be registered.  From our point of view they will seem like repetitive ghosts doing the same kinds of things again and again and again.

There are many different kinds of hell.  There are hells of entrapment.  There are hells of destruction in which one is literally cut up and then reassembled and all kinds of things, and they go according to the level of non-virtue that one has committed.  Compared to the amount of sentient beings that are now physical as humans, the amount of sentient beings locked in those hells is inconceivably more.  We cannot understand how many more beings are locked there than are now approaching awakening on the physical human level listening to Dharma.  We cannot imagine how many of those there are.

Sometimes as one finishes the karma that has brought them to a lower hell realm, they will then go on to a higher hell realm which is less uncomfortable.  What we are talking about is a playing out the grosser and heavier non-virtue and then cleaning up the more subtle and more lightweight non-virtue.  One may graduate from one experience in the hells to another.

You may think, “Well this is inconceivable to me.  I can’t understand that.  Being stuck in a doorjamb? No way.  Hell no!  Frozen?  No.  Hell no!  Frozen, burned up?  Come on, that stuff doesn’t sound realistic to me.  I can’t believe in that.”  Well, let me ask you if you’ve ever had a nightmare?  Who has had a nightmare?  Will you raise your hand if you have ever in your life had a nightmare.  Just pretty much everybody.  That means that your mind has the capacity to manufacture a hell.  So for you to say that there is no such thing and you will never end up there, after you’ve had a nightmare, it goes to show that you’re not thinking. Because if you can manufacture a nightmare, that is not different from manufacturing a hell realm.  It is the same thing.  The seed, the content, the potential is within the mindstream and it is due to non-virtue.  That’s what it is.

So you know that that’s possible.  You have been there in a very small way.  When you have a nightmare you literally are, in a subtle way, reborn from the bardo of dreaming into this bardo of experience, which is also part of the bardo of dreaming. You are kind of reborn from one subtle element, one subtle level, to another.  And this is the very same thing that happens in a much grosser and denser level for that person who is unprepared for death, which fortunately is not going to be you.  Right?  Good.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved