The Realms of Samsara

The Realms of Samsara

by Jeffrey Brooks

In heaven everyone is so happy to see you. They are delighted to catch a glimpse of you as you approach. They welcome you with tears of love. You feel the same toward them. The look on their faces, the grace of their bodies, the re-connection with people you love after not seeing them for a while, even if these are people you have never met before, or saw yesterday, is so wonderful.

That is how people feel about other people in heaven. That is how they got to heaven.

If you feel that way you will not hurt people or wish them ill or speak badly about them. You will act for their benefit, with their happiness first in your mind. And they will do the same for you.

The titans in their world, just below the heavens, can see the golden light streaming down through the clouds that block their view of the heaven realms. They can see the majestic mountains rising through the clouds. But they cannot see the tops of the mountains. And the mountains cast long shadows into their world. The titans know that up there everyone is happy and beautiful and serene and they just hate that. They want it. It is not fair. They do not know that it is a result of the past actions of the inhabitants in these worlds. That the mental habits of these people produce the conditions of their lives. They think that battle will tip the odds in their favor. So they take a break from contending against each other, and like Hollywood producers and movie stars, conspire together for a short time, against the people they envy. Then, for as long as their self-interests converge, they attack, sinking deeper into turmoil, calculation, conspiracy and exhaustion.

In the world of animals there is fellowship between a very few. A flock or a herd will travel together, but to all other species, all other flocks or herds, they feel no connection. To each animal, beyond their own tribe, all others are predators or prey, competitors or nothing.  To some degree they take care of their own eggs or hatchlings, and they mate. But mostly they eat others or are eaten by them, and most live their lives alone, occupied with the search for food and safety.

In the hungry ghost world everyone is isolated. Hungry ghosts live alone in a barren land, desperately hungry, goaded by thirst on an endless, fruitless quest for something to eat or drink. They are disappointed again and again, after crossing miles of blank desert arriving at the edge of what from far away looked like a lake they discover it was nothing but a mirage, now vanished, leaving them again desperate and unsatisfied. The karma that produces life in the hungry ghost realm is greed, and the selfish pursuit of things that cannot satisfy you, and being mean to others in order to get these things. People who are drug addicts or porn addicts or whose life is measured in money, whose unquestioned ideal is nothing more than “more” have a taste of the bleak obsession of the world of hungry ghosts.

In the hells there is no kinship, and no solitude. Any encounter with another person inspires instant, blazing hatred. On landing in the hells the being looks around and is immediately seized with overwhelming rage. The being will pick up anything they can find and start swinging and stabbing, trying to hurt or kill whoever they see. The others are doing the same to them. And that’s just the entryway. From then on, for as long as they stay, in each encounter, depending on the condition of their mind and the residue of the actions that brought them there, they will be tormented to a degree which is incomprehensible to people in this world. The karma that brings people to this condition is a radical separation from others, and cruelty toward them.

The human realm is very different. The karma that brings us here is very rare and good, but it is mixed.  Anything is possible. We can learn. We can discover that our lives are governed by our actions and that the conditions in which we place ourselves, the people we associate with, the things we value, and everything we do, think and say, form our lives.  We are free, not trapped by pleasure or pain, but free: We can learn. We can practice. We can choose. We can be heroes. We can save ourselves and others from suffering and protect them from harm.

These descriptions of the six realms of existence have a single through line – the regard for others. In Buddhism this is an essential part of our method.  Dedication to the well being of others is our path to freedom from suffering, and to freedom from the ignorance that creates suffering.

If we practice courage and kindness in this human world we will face difficulties. But we can bear even the greatest difficulties with equanimity if we know what to do and what to avoid; if our training is strong enough to do it; and if we understand the rewards of the path of a true hero.

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