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Are Six Realms Of Buddhism Real?!?

DaltheJigsawDaltheJigsaw Mountain View Veteran
edited November 2011 in Philosophy
I personally do not believe that the six realms are actual "places" that exist outside of ourselves. That being said, I do not know for sure that they do not exist outside ourselves but I'd rather focus on the here and now then what "might" happen. I see these "realms" as states of consciousness being in our present awareness created by the power of our deluded minds. After all we are not just reborn upon our physical death--we are reborn a new each moment of our lives in the here and now. It seems to me that the concept of these realms being "out there" somewhere is a bit unskillful. That is because this idea appears to fortify the unskillful view that there are "places" that are separate from our existence in the here and now. There is no "out there." It seems to simply create worry and trepidation of ending up in a "Hell" which spurs people to follow the Dharma for the wrong reasons--out of fear and desire.

That being said I'd like to move on to the actual "realms" and show how they are working right here and right now.

First I wish to address the "God realm." This is the state of a false sense of "getting it." It is a false reality because there is nothing "to get." We experience this "realm" when everything is going our way. We have everything we could ever want or need--we lack for nothing. We avoid anything that doesn't being us happiness and affirm our feeling of permanent greatness that is manufactured by our ego-mind. This breeds arrogance and pride. We cease to follow and practice the Dharma because we feel that we have "arrived" and thus no longer need to meditate, etc. However, eventually that "happiness" fades and we are left with nothing to show for our "wealth" because we are preoccupied with nothing but our personal satisfaction. We have done nothing to help others with our great blessings and that leaves us feeling empty, hallow and lonely inside. When this realization occurs we struggle to maintain our God-like state by grasping. Thus, inevitably the more we do this the more we suffer which of course leads to falling into the "lower states of being" and the cycle of samsara continues.

http://thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com/2007/07/are-six-realms-of-buddhism-real_02.html

Comments

  • cazcaz Veteran
    Well we can see other humans and we can see animals, Some can also see the spirits so thats 3 out of 6 so yes they are real in a conventional sense. Buddha wasnt lieing.
  • MindGateMindGate United States Veteran
    edited November 2011
    Well we can see other humans and we can see animals, Some can also see the spirits so thats 3 out of 6 so yes they are real in a conventional sense. Buddha wasnt lieing.
    Wha... wat?

    So, because we can see animals and humans - and some people claim to see ghosts (and we are simply taking their accounts on faith and we don't try to put any kind of scientific understanding to this phenomenon) then that is proof that the six realms (gods, demons, hungry ghosts, humans, animals, and hell beings) literally exist?? :scratch:
  • GuiGui Veteran
    I don't think it really matters. It's how they are in our minds that matters. So if they are a thought or a perceived physical reality or a crazy idea; the reality, as I see it, is they exist. Haven't I at times felt to be in any of these realms myself? Of course. Why do we place such emphasis on reality being material?
  • cazcaz Veteran
    Well we can see other humans and we can see animals, Some can also see the spirits so thats 3 out of 6 so yes they are real in a conventional sense. Buddha wasnt lieing.
    Wha... wat?

    So, because we can see animals and humans - and some people claim to see ghosts (and we are simply taking their accounts on faith and we don't try to put any kind of scientific understanding to this phenomenon) then that is proof that the six realms (gods, demons, hungry ghosts, humans, animals, and hell beings) literally exist?? :scratch:
    You'd have to be pretty silly to imply that Humans and Animals dont literally exist in that sense so thats 2 out of 6 and as for the 3rd there is a growing amount of investigation in to this area of phenomena not to mention shared witness of this phenomena. Some people dont accept rebirth because they are materialist however if one studies Buddha's insights its fairly easy to dispell false understandings the eyes cannot ascertain everything.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited November 2011
    If we are in psychological hell or physical hell what is the difference? I think thats a great teaching on the god realm.
  • GuiGui Veteran
    When realizing liberation, all realms are the same no matter the so called level. It's just that the human realm is best suited for realizing liberation.
  • Well we can see other humans and we can see animals, Some can also see the spirits so thats 3 out of 6 so yes they are real in a conventional sense. Buddha wasnt lieing.
    Wha... wat?

    So, because we can see animals and humans - and some people claim to see ghosts (and we are simply taking their accounts on faith and we don't try to put any kind of scientific understanding to this phenomenon) then that is proof that the six realms (gods, demons, hungry ghosts, humans, animals, and hell beings) literally exist?? :scratch:
    Science is limited to what is perceivable to the untrained physical senses. Yoga opens other potentials for perception in the human being that cannot be necessarily measured by current physically limited scientific methods. I think it's arrogant to limit ones view of reality to what modern science has deemed factual, which is always changing anyway. Current theories in quantum physics with the 10 dimension and string theory stuff is nice to see in order to understand the possibility of consciousness beyond the 5 general senses.
  • Then again, meditation and opening of deeper levels of perception is even better to see through application of spiritual pursuit, and experiencing directly this multi-dimensional universe. There is definitely mind beyond brain! For me, it's not blind faith. Tashi Delegs!
  • My understanding is that traditionally, Tibetans took them to be real, but there are also more advanced teachings that say they're to be understood as states of mind. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The realms can be viewed both ways.
  • cazcaz Veteran
    My understanding is that traditionally, Tibetans took them to be real, but there are also more advanced teachings that say they're to be understood as states of mind. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The realms can be viewed both ways.
    All Valid traditions of Buddhadharma see them as being real as this experience is now in fact if we where to take out all aspects of literal rebirth from Buddha's teachings you'd be left with a very patchy set of instructions as this teaching is a consequence of previous teachings.
    Actually these advanced teachings on the nature of phenomena make it fairly clear that everything we see now is an experience of the mind having no self existence but being dependently originated so one cannot argue that this reality we experience now is any less real then a Hell or a God realm one may experience after the mind exits the body at death. A proper understanding shows that the materialists who grasp at this appearence as being real if they where to investigate could not find any more valid existence to this then a Hell or God realm but it doesnt negate the fact that something without Inherant/Self existence is appearing to mind !
  • I'm revisiting this thread, in view of a question that's come up on another thread: what would happen to our rebirth process if "our world" were to end? I assume the process would continue in other realms, in other parts of the universe.

    @caznamyaw Your analysis is very sophisticated, and I don't doubt that you're ultimately correct, however, this level of understanding is beyond the average Tibetan. My statement still stands, that many Tibetans do take them to be real. I think the answer to the OP's title question, is "all of the above" variations.
  • It's not outside of yourself. Although it's not real but it has the effect of affliction that seemed so real :thumbsup:
  • cazcaz Veteran
    I'm revisiting this thread, in view of a question that's come up on another thread: what would happen to our rebirth process if "our world" were to end? I assume the process would continue in other realms, in other parts of the universe.

    @caznamyaw Your analysis is very sophisticated, and I don't doubt that you're ultimately correct, however, this level of understanding is beyond the average Tibetan. My statement still stands, that many Tibetans do take them to be real. I think the answer to the OP's title question, is "all of the above" variations.
    Again what is real ? What we call real is just an appearance to mind. No appearance has Self nature. If we where to fall asleep and dream of a pureland or hell realm would this appearance be any less real if we failed to wake from this dream ? The more we become familiar with ordinary appearance the more we grasp at it and make them appear to be real and self existing. While the laymans understanding may not be perfect it is fine for one to say that according to them it is REAL because it appear that way.

    Do not throw away Buddha's teachings they are born of insight and correct understanding, Throw away your own Ignorance and seek better understanding of what the Buddha is teaching.
  • shanyinshanyin Novice Yogin Sault Ontario Veteran
    ive seen what was probably a deva so in my opinion yeah they're real

    the real is unreal
  • Dreams are a good example of something everyone--including scientists--believe are real, even though there's zero proof that a person is seeing what they say they're seeing in the dream. Yes, we can correlate measurements of brainwaves and chemical activity and so forth to look at what level of sleep they're experiencing, but as far as what they experience in their dream--or that they're experiencing anything at all--all we have is their word.
  • @caznamyaw I'm not throwing away any of the Buddha's teachings, you may have misunderstood my point. I'm simply saying that traditional Tibetans believe the realms are real. Few receive the higher teachings. This has nothing to do with me or what I believe vis-a-vis the realms. The can be and have been interpreted both ways. Here in the West we're fortunate; we have much easier access to teachers than the common folk in parts of India or in Tibet.
  • Dreams are a good example of something everyone--including scientists--believe are real, even though there's zero proof that a person is seeing what they say they're seeing in the dream. Yes, we can correlate measurements of brainwaves and chemical activity and so forth to look at what level of sleep they're experiencing, but as far as what they experience in their dream--or that they're experiencing anything at all--all we have is their word.
    This may be changing soon :)

    http://www.aolnews.com/2010/10/28/dream-recording-and-playback-comes-closer-to-reality/

  • What do you mean by real? Think about it. :cool:
  • That they exist as physical places and conditions. Like Christians who believe a fiery hell and a heaven among the clouds filled with angelic beings. Belief that these things are meant to be taken literally rather than symbolically.
  • cazcaz Veteran
    @caznamyaw I'm not throwing away any of the Buddha's teachings, you may have misunderstood my point. I'm simply saying that traditional Tibetans believe the realms are real. Few receive the higher teachings. This has nothing to do with me or what I believe vis-a-vis the realms. The can be and have been interpreted both ways. Here in the West we're fortunate; we have much easier access to teachers than the common folk in parts of India or in Tibet.
    No I didnt misunderstand you CW it was general advise :) The realms are real from a certain point of view but this understanding is fixed once emptiness is understood. However people should not misunderstand that because objects and phenomena do not possess self existence it doesnt mean they do not appear.
  • Dzongsar Khyentse states:

    "So we have six realms. Loosely, you can say when the perception comes more from aggression, you experience things in a hellish way. When your perception is filtered through attachment, grasping or miserliness, you experience the hungry ghost realm. When your perception is filtered through ignorance, then you experience the animal realm. When you have a lot of pride, you are reborn in the god realm. When you have jealousy, you are reborn in the asura (demi-god) realm. When you have a lot of passion, you are reborn in the human realm." ~Dzongsar Khyentse (2005), p. 2-3.

    And from Khandro.net:

    Khenpo Karthar, abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, has said that "From the Buddhist perspective, such a thing as a hell does not exist in absolute reality." Nevertheless, he continues, alluding to the law of karma, "As long as we have serious patterns of aggression, no matter how strongly we might like to believe there is not such a realm or psychological state, we will still experience it because we have the cause for the consequences."

    Khenpo Karthar goes on to say that it is similar to beings in other realms trying to understand the human one. It is difficult to accept because their existence [their kind of suffering] seems real to them, and ours does not.

    At least in the human realm we have the possibility of seeing the nature of illusion; for those in the hells, experience is " ... so continuous, so intense and claustrophobic, that it does not even give them a break where they could think, 'Maybe this could be different.' "

    And, a transcript of a teaching by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen (Drikung Kagyu):

    "There is no special place called 'vajra hell.' It is no different from the hell realms described earlier. This is simply terminology used in the Vajrayana system for emphasis. You will see things like vajra master, vajra disciple, Vajrayana, vajra samaya, and vajra seat. Don't take these things so literally. " ~ courtesy Ani Trinlay

    http://www.khandro.net/doctrine_hells.htm

  • From Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection By Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho (Dalai Lama XIV), Dalai Lama, Thupten Jinpa, Richard Barron:

    "[T]here is a discussion in Buddhist cosmology of the six states or classes of beings in Saṃsāric existence. To take one example, the hell realms are described as realms of intense torment and suffering. The Buddhist teachings point out that the direct cause of such rebirth is anger in our own mind.

    In a way, there is a connection that we can see. Whenever you get angry with someone, you feel hot all over. Your temperature rises. You go red in the face, and you can even give yourself a headache. In the short term, there are very disturbing effects to anger. When that becomes such a habitual pattern that it produces rebirth in hell, the being there experiences, as a result of that pattern, an environment that is on fire, an environment that is totally hostile, totally destructive. We should not consider this as an external place where people are sent as a punishment. It is a distorted appearance or projection in the minds of beings in those states, caused by their karmic patterns." (pp 206-7)
  • SileSile Veteran
    edited December 2011
    You could think of people being tortured in prison, for example.

    Every day they are beaten, starved, etc., within the walls of that prison. Yet the guards are also within the walls of that prison, and they are not beaten or starved.

    Where is "hell?" Only in an individual's cell, then? Yet, when a guard or janitor enters the cell to work or clean, he does not personally experience hell, so hell can't be in the cell, either. Hell must be to a large extent, then, in the daily experience of the person experiencing hell.

    But even then, not everyone experiences the same things the same way. Someone used to eating very little may experience less suffering when being underfed, than someone who has never missed a meal. So even the same, exact outer cause cannot be said to be the same experience for two different people.

    So, a great deal of suffering must be in the mind itself.

    Even in modern terms, we can see that defining hell as a "place," rather than an experience in the mind, is difficult.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited December 2011
    @compassionate_warrior, indeed it depends on view. we have a conditioning to think dreams are real and the 'physical' world is not. I have had dreams where I felt physical pain. Awake I have had hallucinations. As affected by technology and the scientific method in our society this is very alien. But not so alien in buddhism. The mind only school or cittamatra (sp?) school of thought (not a school of Tibetan buddhism just a school sorta philosophy)... makes a good case. Indeed I find mental experience to be fundamental and 'real' is something that is constructed after the fact.

    I can recommend a good book on the various views on emptiness: Khenpo Gyamptso Tsultrim Rinpoche's: Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.

    I'll just conclude by saying that if you view buddhism through the lens of scientific materialism you really have a tough job and you'll really have to kind of invent your own buddhism. Of course it is not bad to do just that! The dalai lama said that if science proves buddhism wrong (conclusively) then buddhism will have to change.

    Last note: I am not saying that there is a 'real' hell. I am saying the whole notions of 'real' doesn't really say anything. Of course experience is mental. Name one thing you have ever experienced that was not mental!


  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited December 2011
    From what I've read, Tibetans and Mongols took these realms to be real. They didn't receive regular teachings from monks or other teachers. There's a good description of traditional life in Andrew Harvey's "Journey to Ladakh". It's only on festival days that the local lama or abbot gives public teachings. In old Tibet, elite families would pay for a monk to come and teach in the home, but most people couldn't afford this. They didn't have books on Dzogchen, they didn't know Dzongsar Khentse Rinpoche, there was (and still isn't, in remote areas) youtube, or sanghas for weekly lessons. A people who, even after leaving Tibet and resettling in the West, believed in mountain, tree and earth spirits would naturally take the realms literally, I think. Only monks would receive teachings to the contrary, and even then, according to many reports, only the top 10% would get teachings. The others spent their time memorizing prayers and books without being told the meaning of what they were memorizing. We take a lot for granted, because of modern conveniences and the popularization of Buddhist traditions in the West. It can be hard to imagine what life is like for ordinary Tibetans in Asia. My 5 cents' worth.
  • Dakini, the lack of education is indeed the case but we must consider the reason for that. In their part of the world they lacked the industrial or cultural revolution to enable a more advanced education.
  • That's not the point, Jeffrey. I was addressing the topic of why they believe the realms are real, that's all. Now, in the West, Tibetans have easier access to teachers, so I'd think they've received these other teachings.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited December 2011
    I was just pointing out that no such thing as an institutional barrier to education exists. There is the potential to educate more people that the form skanda (mountains, rivers, arms, legs) is not real (3 marks).

    I do think that there is a form skanda associated with hell. But that form skanda is not real in any case. Hell is actually created via attachment to skandas. Hell itself is actually just a deeply twisted nature of clarity. Anger when transformed is always a clarity to work with obstacles. For example I am angry at my bank. When I passify my anger I can open to the situation and find the needed information and people to solve my problem. I attain the vision needed to solve problems.

    I think many members on our forum actually make the point for why these teachings don't get to everyone. To a lot of people they do not take to emptiness teachings. They are very difficult. Its even part of the bodhisattva vow not to teach them in a case when the would destabilize the recipient. Having your 'world' kicked out from under you can lead to even more kleshas (hells) and wrong views. I recently read some scriptures in which the lineage (teachers, sangha, energy) is appealed to in order to dismiss kleshas and dispell wrong views. Its important to find the support needed to challenge 'business as usual' ego/gaining mind.




  • Emptiness is indeed a difficult concept to get. I can relate to that.

    I guess I was only saying simple folk have simple beliefs. Whether or not that means that the realms are "real", just because some people believe they are is a different question. Maybe what traditional Tibetans believe isn't that relevant to the OP.
  • shanyinshanyin Novice Yogin Sault Ontario Veteran
    I read this "Dharma note today:

    "Are the Various Realms Real?

    This question, although natural enough, is hopelessly naive. Before we can even begin to answer it we need to get some inkling of what exactly "reality" is anyway. And that is far from a straightforward question.

    We could turn this question on its head and ask just how real is this familiar human realm we live in? It is a plain fact that everything we know and experience is a product of our sense organs. We never know the external world itself, but only our fabricated image of it, built up by the mind from incoming sense data. The ultimately real remains an elusive abstraction.

    Some writers have tried to explain away the various realms as purely psychological states. There may be some truth to this, so long as we are consistent enough to include the present "reality" as well. It is certainly true that we can access heavenly and hellish mind-states while in the human form. But that does not at all preclude the possibility of arising after death into a more intense and inclusive form of those states.

    To deny categorically the possibility of heaven and hell being, in some sense at least, real, is to be very narrow-minded. Who can say what possibilities exist within the universe? Why should the limit of the familiar be the limit of the real?

    Finally, it should be noted that the Buddha himself was quite clear on this question.

    Since there actually is another world, one who holds the view "there is another world" has right view. (Majjhima 60)

    It is known to me to be the case, that there are gods. (Majjhima 100)

    There can be no doubt of the sense in which the Buddha taught about karma, rebirth and the various realms.
  • cazcaz Veteran
    A good way that is always compared when being taught is with dreams, When studying emptiness a student comes to know that what we percieve is no more real then a hell realm or a god realm, Yes this very reality we percieve is no more existant then any other of the 6 realms. It is only through the force of Ignorance that our human life appears to be solid and existent and similarly it is only through their Ignorance and Karmically created form that a Hell being or a God comes to experience the fruit of their actions. Their existence is no more real then ours and likewise our existence is no more real then theirs. Do not mistake the fact that when teachers talk about these realms they are always of the position that they appear and this appearance is dream like the same as our very life.
  • Emptiness is indeed a difficult concept to get. I can relate to that.

    I guess I was only saying simple folk have simple beliefs. Whether or not that means that the realms are "real", just because some people believe they are is a different question. Maybe what traditional Tibetans believe isn't that relevant to the OP.
    But...is it really up to us to declare someone simple? So often with language barriers, we assume someone is simple, mainly because we can't have a conversation with them in adult-level Tibetan, nor they with us in adult-level English. Even the "simplest" Tibetan is usually aware of the instructions for dying, which say to see all frightening images as merely projections of your mind. If at all possible, people have monks come to read from The Great Liberation Through Hearing, which tells the dying person this and many other "it's only your mind" instructions. Many poor Tibetans have heard this read time and time again (often more so than urban, educated Tibetans, in fact). I would argue that a super-traditional Tibetan is likely exposed to these instructions more frequently than a less-traditional Tibetan.

  • Well, I guess we'll have to take a poll of Tibetans, then. I've read in more sources than I can remember that many believe the realms are real. And "real" means by conventional reality. The realms are as real as the mountain and tree spirits that have always been part of the tradition. Maybe belief in those is fading now, but it was going strong with many in the first wave or two of Tibetans to go into exile. Nothing is permanent, so maybe their beliefs have changed. I think it's possible to believe both: that the realms are real and we'll end up in them after death, and that during the current lifetime, our suffering is in our mind.
  • cazcaz Veteran
    What you dont seem to be getting is that this existence isnt percieved as anymore real then that of any other realm, Its just an appearance to mind. So it function in a conventional manner.
  • Culturally, a Tibetan is likely to be raised with a reminder that "Mountains/hell realms are a projection of the mind." But I agree, the fact that there have to be constant reminders (an entire book of reminders, read for days on end, in the case of Great Liberation Through Hearing) show that even someone raised with this concept has to work hard to counteract the mind's natural tendency to see everything as solid. I just think even the "simplest" Tibetan is more likely to encounter this teaching, from an early age, even just anecdotally, than the most educated Westerner, since it's a basic part of Tibetan culture (and not a basic part of Western culture).

    But I agree that when we talk about mountains/realms, we're all likely to refer to them as things and places. Even the teachers often refer to them as places, while accepting that they're states of mind:

    "In fact I have seen some extraordinary cases of masters, like one master called Kunu Rinpoche...so when [Kunu Rinpoche] went to ask about the different bardos, like the ones that are spoken of in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, this lama came back to say that what was extraordinary for him...the way he spoke, it was like as if he was there. It was like somebody living in London giving a direction to Central Park West, or somebody living in San Francisco giving directions to Golden Gate Bridge. It was as if he was actually there...what was the greatest teaching for this lama was that if you really understand and go deeper into your own mind, in fact life and death and all the different bardo states are nowhere but in the nature of your mind. Unfortunately at this juncture we only understand a very partial, superficial aspect of mind, and we only understand a little bit about mind. We have not really delved into the depths of consciousness, of the nature of mind." (Sogyal Rinpoche, interview with Jeffrey Mishlove)

  • Isn't one of the reasons the realms are taught--and there are extensive teachings specifically on the hell realms, the different kinds of hell realms--is to provide an incentive for moral behavior? If people believe they may go to a hell realm after death, or that they could be rewarded with existence in a higher realm, they'll pay more attention to the karmic consequences of their choices in life. These teachings on hot hell, cold hell, hungry ghosts, etc. don't go over well with Western followers who are former Christians, because they recognize them as scare tactics. But I've been told by academics with extensive experience in Tibetan communities that Tibetans believe the hells and the heavenly realms are places they will experience after death.
  • Not only moral behaviour. My teacher who is a lama said that when she was studying as a nun she found it odd how much they talked about the hell realm. She asked the teacher why and he said that it was so she did not waste her time at the market and so forth. I think in the west they use a different program, but in traditional cultures you already have a huge faith in the dharma. Thus one need only be shown the dangers of samsara. In the west we get depressed regarding the hell realm perhaps or just having no confidence in the dharma it isn't the first step for us. Usually in the west meditation is the first thing taught because you can 'taste and see' for yourself and get some of that faith that they grow up with in the east. Think how many westerners have inate faith in Jesus? Isn't that amazing? In the east they have faith in buddhist practice and they just need to be reminded not to waste their life.


  • Well said, Jeffrey. This is what I've been getting at.
  • SileSile Veteran
    edited December 2011
    Isn't one of the reasons the realms are taught--and there are extensive teachings specifically on the hell realms, the different kinds of hell realms--is to provide an incentive for moral behavior? If people believe they may go to a hell realm after death, or that they could be rewarded with existence in a higher realm, they'll pay more attention to the karmic consequences of their choices in life. These teachings on hot hell, cold hell, hungry ghosts, etc. don't go over well with Western followers who are former Christians, because they recognize them as scare tactics. But I've been told by academics with extensive experience in Tibetan communities that Tibetans believe the hells and the heavenly realms are places they will experience after death.
    During the intermediate bardo, unless enlightenment is achieved, the teachings are that one progresses through this bardo experiencing different phases, including the "peaceful and wrathful deities" phase. But there's also the possibility of rebirth in a lower or higher realm, including animal realms, hell realms, etc. But all these realms are here in this same world--just as someone reborn as an animal is in this world again, so one reborn as a hell being is still in this world (whether visible to most, or not). I think it might be the "visibility" aspect that's confusing us; we consider most animals visible to the naked eye, whereas most hell beings aren't considered visible to the average naked eye. But invisibility isn't taken to mean that a being is not in this world - simply that they're invisible, or less visible, to some beings in other realms here.

    Another confusing factor might be the proposed existence of other world systems, but that would be different from the issue of realms here in our own world system.

    And again, at their root, all these things are projections and the result of misunderstanding reality; it's simply that our minds tend to project things this way.

  • Not only moral behaviour. My teacher who is a lama said that when she was studying as a nun she found it odd how much they talked about the hell realm. She asked the teacher why and he said that it was so she did not waste her time at the market and so forth. I think in the west they use a different program, but in traditional cultures you already have a huge faith in the dharma. Thus one need only be shown the dangers of samsara. In the west we get depressed regarding the hell realm perhaps or just having no confidence in the dharma it isn't the first step for us. Usually in the west meditation is the first thing taught because you can 'taste and see' for yourself and get some of that faith that they grow up with in the east. Think how many westerners have inate faith in Jesus? Isn't that amazing? In the east they have faith in buddhist practice and they just need to be reminded not to waste their life.



    I think one reason we might get depressed in the West is due to our cultural tradition of hell being a place of eternal suffering, whereas no condition in Buddhism is eternal.

    That's a good discussion to have with Tibetan teachers - the different picture "hell" conjures in the mind of a (Christian-influenced) student.

  • SileSile Veteran
    edited December 2011
    Not only moral behaviour. My teacher who is a lama said that when she was studying as a nun she found it odd how much they talked about the hell realm. She asked the teacher why and he said that it was so she did not waste her time at the market and so forth. I think in the west they use a different program, but in traditional cultures you already have a huge faith in the dharma. Thus one need only be shown the dangers of samsara. In the west we get depressed regarding the hell realm perhaps or just having no confidence in the dharma it isn't the first step for us. Usually in the west meditation is the first thing taught because you can 'taste and see' for yourself and get some of that faith that they grow up with in the east. Think how many westerners have inate faith in Jesus? Isn't that amazing? In the east they have faith in buddhist practice and they just need to be reminded not to waste their life.



    I think one reason we might get depressed in the West is due to our cultural tradition of hell being a final, inescapable place of eternal suffering, whereas no condition in Buddhism is inescapable or eternal.

    That's a good discussion to have with Tibetan teachers - the different picture "hell" conjures in the mind of a (Christian-influenced) student.



  • I don't believe in the hell realms. I think they are scare tactics. The Tibetan Buddhists say they are real as do the Theravadin. The Zen teachers vary. Nonin over on Zen Forum says that they are not real. I love how Caz says all valid traditions consider them real, as if all traditions were valid in the first place.
  • I believe it is safe to say that this would be the same as asking if karma is real. I do not know if karma or the six realms is real or not, but I can imagine that living in the human realm can sometimes feel like paying back a debt. If the "debt" is real than I sure would not want to create any more.
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2011
    It's an interesting question. One reason is that the Buddhist idea of worlds or realms (loka) can be taken both literally (i.e., as external realms of existence) and metaphorically (i.e., as mental states).

    They're definitely real in the sense of various pleasant and unpleasant mental states that we mentally take birth into, which is something we can easily observe for ourselves. For example, BuddhaNet's introductory essay, "Introduction to Buddhism," gives a good explanation of the realms in this way:
    If ego decides it likes the situation, it begins to churn up all sorts of ways to possess it. A craving to consume the situation arises and we long to satisfy that craving. Once we do, a ghost of that craving carries over and we look around for something else to consume. We get into the habitual pattern of becoming consumer oriented. Perhaps we order a piece of software for our computer. We play with it for awhile, until the novelty wears out, and then we look around for the next piece of software that has the magic glow of not being possessed yet. Soon we haven't even got the shrink wrap off the current package when we start looking for the next one. Owning the software and using it doesn't seem to be as important as wanting it, looking forward to its arrival. This is known as the hungry ghost realm where we have made an occupation out of craving. We can never find satisfaction, it is like drinking salt water to quench our thirst.

    Another realm is the animal realm, or having the mind like that of an animal. Here we find security by making certain that everything is totally predictable. We only buy blue chip stock, never take a chance and never look at new possibilities. The thought of new possibilities frightens us and we look with scorn at anyone who suggests anything innovative. This realm is characterised by ignorance. We put on blinders and only look straight ahead, never to the right or left.

    The hell realm is characterised by acute aggression. We build a wall of anger between ourselves and our experience. Everything irritates us, even the most innocuous, and innocent statement drives us mad with anger. The heat of our anger is reflected back on us and sends us into a frenzy to escape from our torture, which in turn causes us to fight even harder and get even angrier. The whole thing builds on itself until we don't even know if we're fighting with someone else or ourselves. We are so busy fighting that we can't find an alternative to fighting; the possibility of alternative never even occurs to us.

    These are the three lower realms. One of the three higher realms is called the jealous god realm. This pattern of existence is characterised by acute paranoia. We are always concerned with "making it". Everything is seen from a competitive point of view. We are always trying to score points, and trying to prevent others from scoring on us. If someone achieves something special we become determined to out do them. We never trust anyone; we "know" they're trying to slip one past us. If someone tries to help us, we try to figure out their angle. If someone doesn't try to help us, they are being uncooperative, and we make a note to ourselves that we will get even later. "Don't get mad, get even," that's our motto.

    At some point we might hear about spirituality. We might hear about the possibility of meditation techniques, imported from some eastern religion, or mystical western one, that will make our minds peaceful and absorb us into a universal harmony. We begin to meditate and perform certain rituals and we find ourselves absorbed into infinite space and blissful states of existence. Everything sparkles with love and light; we become godlike beings. We become proud of our godlike powers of meditative absorption. We might even dwell in the realm of infinite space where thoughts seldom arise to bother us. We ignore everything that doesn't confirm our godhood. We have manufactured the god realm, the highest of the six realms of existence. The problem is, that we have manufactured it. We begin to relax and no longer feel the need to maintain our exalted state. Eventually a small sliver of doubt occurs. Have we really made it? At first we are able to smooth over the question, but eventually the doubt begins to occur more and more frequently and soon we begin to struggle to regain our supreme confidence. As soon as we begin to struggle, we fall back into the lower realms and begin the whole process over and over; from god realm to jealous god realm to animal realm to hungry ghost realm to hell realm. At some point we begin to wonder if there isn't some sort of alternative to our habitual way of dealing with the world. This is the human realm.

    The human realm is the only one in which liberation from the six states of existence is possible. The human realm is characterised by doubt and inquisitiveness and the longing for something better. We are not as absorbed by the all consuming preoccupations of the other states of being. We begin to wonder whether it is possible to relate to the world as simple, dignified human beings.
    And this psychological interpretation is supported by the suttas themselves. For example, we find passages like these in AN 4.235 (notice the qualifier 'like'):
    And what is kamma that is dark with dark result? There is the case where a certain person fabricates an injurious bodily fabrication, fabricates an injurious verbal fabrication, fabricates an injurious mental fabrication. Having fabricated an injurious bodily fabrication, having fabricated an injurious verbal fabrication, having fabricated an injurious mental fabrication, he rearises in an injurious world. On rearising in an injurious world, he is there touched by injurious contacts. Touched by injurious contacts, he experiences feelings that are exclusively painful, like those of the beings in hell. This is called kamma that is dark with dark result.

    And what is kamma that is bright with bright result? There is the case where a certain person fabricates a non-injurious bodily fabrication ... a non-injurious verbal fabrication ... a non-injurious mental fabrication ... He rearises in a non-injurious world ... There he is touched by non-injurious contacts ... He experiences feelings that are exclusively pleasant, like those of the Beautiful Black Devas. This is called kamma that is bright with bright result.
    As for the literal existence of these realms, I can't say. It's certainly possible, and it's often fun to speculate about them (I've even heard stories of people who could see beings from these others realms); but I think it's ultimately more useful to focus on what we can experience for ourselves, in the here and now, and use our practice to try and find a true and lasting happiness inside.
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