An Introduction to the View of the Six Realms of Suffering
Human beings at their Essence are innately content, confident, at ease, in touch with a sense of joy and wonder, and live with a felt-sense of interconnection and perpetual self-nourishment. It is only when we leave human Presence that we enter into the “Realms” of suffering.
Sauhu’s Theory of Obscured Forms states: All desires that are not in line with natural cycles, societal confluences and one’s own nadi (fated, unique life trajectory) produce karmically binding activities of body, speech (energy), and mind. Over time these impulses, thoughts, feelings, words and actions produce “forms” – energy patterns with their own volition. These forms obscure our natural human inclinations and show up in our lives as thoughts, feelings and actions that are more like those of other realm beings.
These forms/entities have compulsions that will re-enforce their solidity. These compulsions masquerade as “our desires.” Desire inspires activities of body, speech and mind that successfully crystallize and empower the obscured form. This cycle repeats itself until, unless human Loving-Awareness is injected into the cycle, we can completely lose our humanity and become fully possessed.
We can literally be taken over by these other forms and exhibit the lifestyle of , say, a demon. This is what happens with “people” like Jeffrey Dahmer, who was completely vacant of humanity. Possession happens on a continuum from slight effect, to influence, to partial possession, to full possession. As we slide further down the scale towards full possession we lose the most unique characteristic of our humanity: free will.
If we use our free will to actually choose non-human actions then overtime we will lose our privilege of choice. Other realm beings are not free to choose – they are compelled to think, feel and act only in certain ways according to the laws of their realm. When we are compulsively out of control about anything we are skating down a slippery slope towards losing our humanity. It is said in the Dharma that human birth is most precious precisely because of the flexibility of human free will. As always, though, our greatest strengths can be a double-edged sword – it is imperative that we choose wisely.
Over time, consistently vacating our True Nature in favor of thoughts, feelings and actions that are not expressions of our humanity we experience suffering. This experience is so common that most of us accept it as our base reality, forgetting that our true source of human being is total and unconditional contentment, love, wisdom and compassion. Expressing anything else is a result of disconnection from our heart-source. We should not confuse what is normal with what is natural.
The experience of the Six Realms is so habituated for most of us that we actually have these forms encoded in our body, even at the level of our DNA. For this reason it takes more than a decision, and far more than is possible in psychotherapy, to recover our ultimate humanity and release our patterns of suffering. Accordingly, there are Six Realm Yogas that accompany this view and are designed to access the energy of these deep-rooted patterns for transformation to occur at the core of our being.
Once accessed, the energy is liberated and we are able to recognize that the root of our realm-compulsion is the same life-force as our natural human desire. In Sanskrit we call this Shakti or the sacred, feminine principle of creative dynamism. The tradition from which these practices come (classical non-dual Tantra) recognizes this sacred, feminine energy as Ultimate. Unlike many of the world’s spiritual traditions that demonize this powerful force (and therefore the feminine in general), we divinize Her.
The Goddess Durga, a representative symbol of this energy, is known to be the both the binder and the liberator. She is said to be so compassionate that she will always respect what makes us human: free will. She always gives us exactly what we really want. If we continue to choose activities of body, speech and mind that are inhuman – anger/hatred, greed, sloth, judgment, aggression, arrogance, depression – then we will use our creative force to expresses Shakti’s energy in a cramped, suffering fashion. However, if we use our free will to remain in Presence and unwind the accumulated tensions of previous poor choices, this same Shakti will be free to express our True Nature. This experience is, again, characterized as being inherently replete with Loving-Awareness, Wisdom and Compassion.
Due to our innate virtues we need not struggle to make ourselves virtuous. Rather we must remove the blocks to this natural human experience. Therefore, it is useful to understand the “Six Ways We Suffer” so that we can know what the human experience is NOT. This knowledge can then inspire us to do the practices necessary to liberate our energy under tension, revealing these inherent powers of compassion. Mere understanding of our predicament, without the means to access these deep energetic patterns (DNA, ancestral patterns, lifetimes of karmic momentum, parental/educational/societal conditioning, etc) will only result in impotent frustration, which will re-enforce the obscured form of one or many of the Six Realms.
The antidote to the hell realm is the recognition that human beings are inherently at ease, patient and able to “flow” with the circumstances of life as they are. But, when influenced by the “hell realm” we will think, feel and act as if the world is a place of persecution and that ours is a position of victim–stance. When we experience hatred of self and other and we lash out in nastiness as a desperate attempt to protect ourselves from our perception that life is inherently dangerous, then we are not acting human – we are living hell. Frustration, impatience, criticism, outright anger and a feeling of disempowerment characterize the hell realm being.
As with all the realm ways of being, our activities of body, energy and mind will range in expression from gross to subtle according to the frequency, intensity and duration of our realm-fixated thoughts, feelings and actions. In the case of hell realm we may be suffering extreme bouts of self-persecution/hatred, or a more subtle experience of a paranoid assumption that things will not work out well for us, etc.
All realm fixations are self-fulfilling prophecies that will conjure life circumstances to justify the validity of our realm-stance. The hell-realm fixated person will have plenty of “reasons” to say, “See! Life really is dangerous as it continues to victimize me. Everything is going against me! I have a right to be angry!”
Human beings are also innately content, with a felt sense that this is “just right” – just here and just now – without conditions or modifications. This state of being is a human virtue, always available and is the antithesis to the ghost realm fixation. When we think, feel and act like a ghost we haunt life – enough is never enough. The ghost realm is characterized by constant craving at its most extreme base, which can also show up as always needing to look for the next best thing, feeling that the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
This pattern creates a tremendous amount of suffering due to its insatiable appetites. The hungry ghost is never satisfied. Our self-image maker (ahamkara/ego), which we identify with as who we are, feels more comfortable with what is familiar – even if it is a pattern that generates tremendous suffering. We will actually contrive our experience in order to preserve the status quo, regardless of the enduring suffering that results from our habituated experience.
In this case, the hungry ghost will generate an experience of life that maintains the familiar state of dissatisfaction. When fixated, the hungry ghost will be averse to feeling content. They may even feel terror for that which can satiate them because a ghost who feels full is no longer a ghost and can no longer exist (ego-death). Human beings feel replete. Hungry ghosts feel empty, bereft. When the ghost realm “Essence-cramp” is liberated, we will enjoy the unconditional experience of contentment.
The “animal realm” is characterized by our experience of wanting to stay asleep. When we fear pain and effort and we choose to numb out we are acting more like an animal than a human being. A human being in Presence is innately awake, alert and up to the task. Effort and discomfort are necessary aspects of the human experience. But, the animal despises discomfort and would rather shut down than engage with the roughness of life.
This pattern doesn’t only show up regarding the avoidance of physical difficulties. One could appear to be a very hard worker or to be “okay” with physical pain, but shuts down when it comes to matters of emotional/spiritual discomfort – this is also an animal realm tendency. Laziness is not monopolized by couch-blobs. Someone who continuously keeps busy in order to numb out to the fear and dis-ease they would have to face when still, quiet and alone can also be said to be “lazy.”
Whenever we “don’t want to know”, want to “bury our heads in the sand” or disappear into endless work or a tub of ice cream and a double matinee we are influenced and/or possessed by the animal realm. By becoming possessed of ourselves, of our True Nature, we will be ever-awake (albeit relaxed), we will enjoy the process of hard work (without erring to the degree of struggle), and we will be actively engaged in all of life’s various aspects, inner and outer.
The human realm, or humanoid experience, is not the same as that of the human being. It is difficult to catch the subtlety of this difference because the human realm is what most of us take for granted as the fabric of life, i.e. the matrix. All of the Six Realms are perceptual filters – strategies for the ego to buffer the fear of imagined annihilation that may come with the enlightened state and/or death. But the human realm is the actual mechanism of perceptual filtering itself, which dissociates us from a direct and totally intimate life.
We experience our ideas, thoughts, beliefs and assumptions of life rather than life itself. We confuse the map for the territory. In the human realm the ultimate booby prize is understanding. We think that by explaining reality and intellectually grasping it we will be satisfied, safe, in control, etc. Even understanding this teaching could give one a false sense of security. We are terrified of the true power and chaos of nature so we attempt to harness Her through our intellectual prowess and our ability to solve problems. We grow attached to the tremendous pride we have in being “smart.”
Descartes highlighted the confused suffering of the human realm when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” This is not ultimately true, though the “thought-world”, a.k.a. “story-landia,” has become consensus reality for most. Unbridled human Presence is the antidote for not only the human realm, but for all realm fixations. This Presence can only be experienced – it cannot be understood, explained, talked about, or imagined.
Human beings are also innately harmonious and interested in the best for all. When we act like a “Titan,” though, we are both insecure and arrogant. We fight, struggle and compete to get ahead in an effort to mask our buried sense of unworthiness. The titan lives to struggle in order to prove self-worth. In the mythology that explicates these teachings the titans are seen to be insecurely jealous of the gods, knowing they are not quite that. Simultaneously, the titans look down upon the puny humans, reassuring themselves that they are at least far more powerful and superior than they. This dichotomy of insecure-jealousy and powerful arrogance creates the titan realm fixation.
The titan seeks worthiness through external accomplishments. As long as they continue their struggle to stay on top, to compete with neighbors and to get ahead no accomplishment will ever satisfy the void of unworthiness that constitutes the titan’s core. The modern disease, known as “keeping up (which really means “getting ahead of”) with the Jones’ ” in America, typifies this titan fight to prove its self-worth.
Working together, in harmony, as a community where all are for one and one is for all is the antithesis to the titan experience and the antidote to the titan’s suffering. In order to authentically accomplish, the titan must let go of the cramped version of their achievement-energy, which is characterized by paranoia, envy, excessive competitiveness, and a struggle for self-improvement. The titan has within her the strength and power to be a genuine heroine but will remain as if an arrogant bully so long as her interests remain primarily self-serving, ego aggrandizing, and insecurity masking.
There is innate value in human sobriety, “groundedness” and “keeping it real.” The god realm is characterized by the opposite: thoughts, feelings and actions that are geared towards constantly contriving a perpetual experience of love, light, and bliss – a.k.a. getting high. This intoxication is not limited to substance abuse, but can be a near-constant perceptual/emotional filter where we deny the existence of pain and difficulty and make “light” of everything.
Like the animal, the god abhors discomfort. The god does not go to sleep when faced with it, though, it simply denies that it exists and contrives the notion that it’s “all good.” The god realm is a dangerous delusion because it looks a lot like authentic spiritual teachings. The difference is that the god realm fixated person is contriving a lop-sided experience of “spiritual bliss” and is actually terrified of pain, discomfort and death. In truth, under the façade of a highly spiritual being, the person fixated in the god realm suffers extreme narcissism, prideful arrogance, blissful ignorance, and selfish pre-occupation.
The inherent human virtue of non-dual bliss that the god realm being attempts to contrive is revealed as an aspect of human Presence – it is not created. When we are fully with reality exactly as it is we are able to contact the Essential nature of pleasure/peace that is underneath BOTH experiences of relative pain and relative pleasure.
To fully arrive in human Presence and to be totally self-possessed one has to confront the enormity of the fear of death and abandon her/his tendency to strategically buffer the naked reality of her/his actual situation. When we do so we experience life as a perpetual, spontaneous re-birth arising fresh and new, each moment – free from projections of past and future fantasies. This experience is “who we are” and is characterized by a deep sense of unshakeable peace and joy. But, most of us have become habituated more to the experience of the Six Realms than we have to our True Nature.
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