Let us speak of six realms of suffering. In the Bodhisattva vow we promise to free ourselves and all beings from suffering so it’s helpful to understand how we arrive at the place of suffering. Another line says we will destroy evil passions and seek only the good. The only way to destroy suffering is to seek that which is good. The good that we are seeking is the good that already exists inside of us. So we do not need to cultivate some mythical or idealized concepts about what it is to be good. There is a core of inner goodness inside each of us. This core of goodness is because we are the children of Divine Spirit. Seeking, knowing, and manifesting our inner truth destroys the six realms of hell that are otherwise waiting to ensnare us. We find this good by recognizing what we like about ourselves or others and cultivating those qualities.
Hell is not a place created by some deity in order to punish those who disobey his commandments. Hell is a habituated belief or set of thoughts regarding ourselves, our lives, and our interactions with others. We have been trained to suffer. We are trained to think of ourselves as sinners, someone who has problems, someone who can be diagnosed- psychologically, psychically, physically, or via personality tests on the internet. Therefore, many of us spend time asking ourselves- what is my problem? If we’re not asking ourselves that question we are asking it about others- what’s their problem. Once we identify a problem our mind wants to focus on it. What our mind or emotions focus on we respond to and because of this we create more of it.
The following information on the six realms of hell is not something else to worry about, feel guilty over, or create into a problem. It’s helpful to understand this information so that there can be awareness of the sources of suffering. When we’re aware that something is the cause of suffering we can develop a plan to change our thoughts or behaviors. So many times people are suffering and have no idea why certain things keep happening. As within the Buddha’s four noble truths- there is suffering, there is a cause of suffering, there is a way out of suffering, and a cessation of suffering.
Whether you are the demon or you believe others are torturing you the hell is within mind and the way out is self-awareness, mindfulness of thoughts, and the ability to see how we are taking the road to hell. No one is dragging us into suffering. We are conditioned to return time and again because our inner thoughts and unmet needs take us there. When this is recognized we can develop skillful means to stay out of the hole. This is the path of spirit.
Demon Realm– this is called the demon realm because the cause of suffering seems to come from outside of self. The people we associate with put us down, betray us, abuse us emotionally or physically, maybe we feel that they taunt and tease us. We always start out thinking that a new relationship, job, or place will be different and yet somehow it turns on us and once again we fall into suffering. We can see examples of this in repeated abusive relationships. Perhaps we created a relationship with an angry, violent person. Once we’ve left that relationship we feel safe to find someone who is very different. After a while the new companion turns out to be abusive as well- even if not in the same exact way. Someone cheats on their spouse; the spouse forgives them; the individual promises to be faithful and then down the road cheats again. We fall into relationships with people who have an addiction problem. At first they seem eager to quit the drugs or alcohol asking for our help and assuring us that our love is all they really need. But sooner or later the addiction calls and they go on a binge, apologize, beg, and stay clean and sober until the next time. We just know we are a victim of our own loving nature and never consider why we keep drawing these energies into our lives. We could be the one with an obsession with sex, drugs, alcohol or the thrill of extra-marital affairs. We mean to quit; try to avoid temptation; but we fall prey to our emotional need and greed over and over again. Of course, that’s not what we tell ourselves. We say we were sad, depressed, upset, that others don’t understand us, that we had abusive parents, etc. We make excuses and go to hell.
Hungry Ghost– A hungry ghost is an inner emptiness…not enough. This can take the form of not enough security, love, companionship, education, money, clothes, etc. We hoard the thing we are afraid to be without. An alcoholic or drug addict might hide a store of their necessary fix. An individual has a closet full of clothes but buys more- just in case. Someone has a half-a-million dollars in a retirement but they know that isn’t adequate and keep on working just another year or two. Another person worries that she will end up alone and forgotten even though she has a loving family and friends so she clings to those she has demanding reassurances that are never enough. Still another individual nags her spouse because he doesn’t spend enough time with her, doesn’t talk enough, doesn’t show enough affection, doesn’t really care.
No matter how much there is it’s never enough! Being a hungry ghost we see a pattern of insecurity, self-doubt, and a lack of confidence. There’s a fear that never goes away no matter how much evidence we are shown that our fear is groundless. Hoarders of all kinds have the hungry ghost hell- a nagging anxiety, panic attacks, times of profound emptiness, and a crippling fear of being without.
Animal Realm– This hell is one of truly being caught at the mercy of world events, cultural beliefs, and cruel people. These are the unfortunate souls who have no recourse and can’t change what is happening. This is the realm of survival because that’s all that’s possible. Children born into abusive families where they are burned, beaten, choked, locked in dark places, and often sodomized by the ones who should love them live in this hell. Domestic animals- neglected, chained, left without water and food, forced to have litter after litter of babies for the pet market, tortured, and maimed live in this hell. The population of a war zone where they are considered collateral damage, free game to be raped, tortured, insulted, and forced to flee because there is nothing to eat and no water to drink are living in this hell. Those who have no choice but to work from sunrise to sundown or longer just to maybe have shelter and food live in this hell. When there is no hope and no way out except death one is living in this hell.
Human Realm- This is an extension of the animal realm in that the individual is concerned with personal contentment. This contentment takes the form of attachment to eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, and sexual satisfaction. Whatever is required to satisfy those needs is considered ok. There can be an obsession with eating long past the time when the body is full. Ordinary food is not good enough one seeks after more and better adventures for the palate. Sleep becomes something that preoccupies the thoughts. (I’m are not talking about those who have been sleep deprived which is the animal hell realm.) This is someone who spends inordinate amounts of time napping. Many people at this time are possessed by a need to be entertained. They are unable to put down their cell phone or tablet long enough to have a conversation with another. Hours are spent in front of the television watching other people live virtual life. Video games are safer than friends. Going to the woods or the beach requires a motor home, an air conditioner, a generator, a television, and only staying where there is WiFi. Sex becomes important not just as a sharing in loving relationship but as proof of one’s prowess, or to satisfy a bodily craving. Comfort is paramount and anything that disrupts that comfort is met with anger or rejection. Hell breaks loose when any of these demands are unmet. There is nothing one would not sell or sell out in order to maintain personal comfort.
Asura/ Jealous God Realm– This is the hell of envy and jealousy. Most of us would say we are rarely jealous or envious of others and yet we say things like- I don’t know why I’m not appreciated I do as much or more than___. I wish I had the kind of money that ___ does, I don’t know why he’s always complaining. I never had a chance to get an education like___ if I had I’d be as successful as she is. It’s not fair that I have to work so hard when___ hardly lifts a finger around here.
When we complain about our life, our choices, our lack of opportunity, and use it as an excuse to fall into anger, depression, and critical judgments we are living in the Asura hell. Gossiping about others to make ourselves look good is this hell. Allowing irritation, frustration, and annoyance to fill up our thoughts about ourselves or others sends us to live in this hell. Whining of all kinds is part of this hell. Cruel thoughts and mean statements directed toward ourselves or others is part of this hell. Road rage, hate slogans, finding an enemy to destroy are all part of this hell.
Heavenly Realms- One would imagine, and we are often told, that the whole point of life is to arrive in the place of reward where nothing remains to be done and we rest on our accomplishments. People in this hell have already been there and done that. There is nothing further to strive for only maintaining the reward and comfort that has been inherited or earned. There is an abundance of money to do whatever is desired whenever it is desired. One is so rich and powerful that one can do and say whatever one likes and others have to put up with it. Entitlement and privilege without responsibility is part of this realm. As long as I get mine. The one with the most toys wins. Get all you can while you can. Look out for number one. My family, my people, my nation first. It’s all mind over matter- I don’t mind and you don’t matter. Nuke them all!
While most of us will never acquire enough money and power to become dehumanized by this hell the very desire to- win the lottery, inherit a million dollars, and possibly rule the world are markers on the road to this selfish and destruct path. The greatest dictators of all times were ridden with fear, distrust, and the arrogant need to destroy all that stood in their path. Living in the hell of the heavenly realm allows one to visit unthinkable horror on other living things. Clinging to what we have, becoming unwilling to share of what we have, we place our feet on this path to destruction of our soul.