Six Realms of Psychic Existence
The Realm of Hell
We can begin with the realm of hell, which is the most intense.
First there is a buildup of energies, of emotions, to a crescendo, so that at some stage we find it very confusing whether the energies are controlling us or we are controlling them.
Then suddenly we lose track of this whole race, and our mind is put into a blank state which is the luminosity. From that blank state an intense temptation to fight begins to develop, and that paranoia also brings terror.
Originally the paranoia and terror were supposed to fight against something, but one is not quite certain whom exactly one is fighting; and when the whole thing has developed, the terror begins to turn against oneself. When one tries to strike out, instead of fighting the projection one is striking inward.
It is like the story of the hermit who saw a leg of lamb in front of him, and wanted to pick it up and cook it. His teacher told him to mark it with a cross, then later he discovered that the cross was marked on his own chest.
It is that kind of notion; you think there is something outside to attack or fight or win over.
In most cases hatred is like that:
You are angry with something and try to destroy it, but at the same time the process becomes self-destructive, it turns inward and you would like to run away from it; but then it seems too late, you are the anger itself, so there is nowhere to run away. You are haunting yourself constantly, and that is the development of hell.
Very vivid descriptions of hell are found in Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation, and symbolically each intense torture is a psychological portrait of oneself.
In the hell realm you are not exactly punished, but overwhelmed by the environment of terror, which is described as fields and mountains of red-hot iron and space filled with sparks of fire.
Even if you decide to run away you have to walk over this burning metal, and if you decide not to run away you are turned into charcoal yourself.
There is intense claustrophobia, heat coming from all directions; the whole earth is turned into hot metal, whole rivers are turned into melted iron, and the whole sky is permeated with fire.
The other type of hell is the reverse, the experience of intense cold and snow, an icy world in which everything is completely frozen. This is another type of aggression, the aggression which refuses to communicate at all.
It is a kind of indignation which usually comes from intense pride, and the pride turns into an ice-cold environment which reinforced by self-satisfaction begins to get into the system. It does not allow us to dance or smile or hear the music.
The Hungry Ghost Realm
Then we have another realm of mind, that of the pretas or hungry ghosts.
To begin with we get into the luminosity by working up not aggression this time but intense greed. There is a sense of poverty, yet at the same time a sense of richness, contradictory and yet operating together simultaneously.
In the hungry ghost realm there is a tremendous feeling of richness, of gathering a lot of possessions; whatever you want you do not have to look for, but you find yourself possessing it.
And this makes us more hungry, more deprived, because we get satisfaction not from possessing alone but from searching. But now, since we have everything already, we cannot go out and look for something and possess it. It is very frustrating, a fundamental insatiable hunger.
It is as though you are completely full, so full that you cannot eat any more; but you love to eat, and so you begin to have hallucinations of the flavour of food and the pleasure of eating it, tasting it, chewing it, swallowing it, and digesting it.
The whole process seems luxurious, and you feel extremely envious of other people who can really be hungry and eat. This is symbolized by the image of a person with a gigantic belly and extremely thin neck and tiny mouth.
There are different stages of this experience, depending on the intensity of hunger:
Some people can pick food up, but then it dissolves or they cannot eat it; some people can pick it up and put it in their mouth, but they cannot swallow it; and some people can swallow it but once it gets into their stomach it begins to burn.
There are all sorts of levels of that hunger, which constantly happen in everyday life.
The joy of possessing does not bring us pleasure anymore once we already possess something, and we are constantly trying to look for more possessions, but it turns out to be the same process all over again;
so there is constant intense hunger which is based not on a sense of poverty but on the realization that we already have everything yet we cannot enjoy it.
It is the energy there, the act of exchange, that seems to be more exciting; collecting it, holding it, putting it on, or eating it. That kind of energy is a stimulus, but the grasping quality makes it very awkward.
Once you hold something you want to possess it; you no longer have the enjoyment of holding it, but you do not want to let go.
Again it is a kind of love-hate relationship to projections. It is like the analogy that the next-door neighbour’s garden is greener; once it becomes ours we realize there is no longer the joy or appreciation of beauty as we saw it at the beginning; the romantic quality of a love affair begins to fade away.
The Animal Realm
The animal realm is characterized by the absence of sense of humor.
We discover that we cannot remain neutral in the luminosity, so we begin to play deaf and dumb, intelligently playing ignorant, which means that one is completely concealing another area, the area of sense of humor.
It is symbolized by animals, which cannot laugh or smile; joy and pain are known to animals, but somehow the sense of humor or irony is not known to them.
One could develop this by believing in a certain religious framework, theological or philosophical conclusions, or by just simply remaining secure, practical, and solid.
Such a person could be very efficient, very good and consistent at work, and quite contented.
It is like a country farmer who attends to his farm methodically, with constant awareness and openness and efficiency; or an executive who runs a business; or a family man whose life is very happy, predictable, and secure, with no areas of mystery involved at all.
If he buys a new gadget there are always directions for using it. If there is any problem he can go to lawyers or priests or policemen, all sorts of professional people who are also secure and comfortable in their professions.
It is utterly sensible and predictable, and highly mechanical at the same time. What is lacking is that if any unknown, unpredictable situation occurs, there is a feeling of paranoia, of being threatened.
If there are people who do not work, who look different, whose whole lifestyle is irregular, then the very existence of such people is in itself threatening. Anything unpredictable fundamentally threatens the basic pattern.
So that apparently sane and solid situation without sense of humor is the animal realm.
The Human Realm
The human realm brings out another kind of situation which is not quite the same as the animal realm of surviving and living life.
The human realm is based on passion, the tendency to explore and enjoy; it is the area of research and development, constantly trying to enrich.
One could say that the human realm is closer psychologically to the hungry ghost quality of striving for something, but it also has some element of the animal realm, of putting everything into action predictably.
And there is something extra connected with the human realm, a very strange kind of suspicion which comes with passion, and which makes human beings more cunning, shifty, and slippery.
They can invent all sorts of tools and accentuate them in all sorts of sophisticated ways so as to catch another slippery person, and the other slippery person develops his or her own equipment of anti-tools.
So we build up our world with tremendous success and achievement, but this escalation of building up tools and anti-tools develops constantly, and introduces more sources of passion and intrigue.
Finally we are unable to accomplish such a big undertaking. We are subject to birth and death. The experience can be born, but it can also die; our discoveries may be impermanent and temporary.
The Realm of the Jealous Gods
The realm of the asuras or jealous gods is the highest realm as far as communication goes, it is a very intelligent situation.
When you are suddenly separated from the luminosity there is a feeling of bewilderment, as though someone had dropped you in the middle of a wilderness; there is a tendency to look back and suspect your own shadow, whether it is a real shadow or someone’s strategy.
Paranoia is a kind of radar system, the most efficient radar system the ego could have. It picks up all sorts of faint and tiny objects, suspecting each one of them, and every experience in life is regarded as something threatening.
This is known as the realm of jealousy or envy, but it is not envy or jealousy as we generally think of them. It is something extremely fundamental, based on survival and winning.
Unlike the human or animal realm, the purpose of this realm of the jealous gods is purely to function within the realm of intrigue; that is all there is, it is both occupation and entertainment.
It is as if a person were born as a diplomat, raised as a diplomat, and died as a diplomat. Intrigue and relationship are his lifestyle and his whole livelihood.
This intrigue could be based on any kind of relationship, an emotional relationship, or the relationship between friends, or the relationship of teacher and student, whatever there may be.
The Realm of the Gods
The final stage is the realm of the gods, deva loka.
Again, when the person awakes from or steps out of the luminosity, there is some kind of unexpected pleasure, and one wants to maintain that pleasure.
Instead of completely dissolving into neutral ground one suddenly begins to realize one’s individuality and individuality brings a sense of responsibility of maintaining oneself.
That maintaining oneself is the state of samādhi, perpetually living in a state of absorption and peace; it is the realm of the gods, which is known as the realm of pride.
Pride in the sense of building one’s own centralized body, preserving one’s own health; in other words, it is intoxication with the existence of ego.
You begin to feel thankful to have such confirmation that you are something after all, instead of the luminosity which is no-man’s-land.
And because you are something, you have to maintain yourself, which brings a natural state of comfort and pleasure, complete absorption into oneself.
These six realms of the world are the source of the whole theme of living in saṁsāra, and also of stepping into the dharmakaya realm.
This will help us to understand the significance of the visions described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead of the bardo of becoming, which is another kind of world.
There is a confrontation of these two worlds: the experience of the six realms from the point of view of ego, and from the point of view of transcending ego.
These visions could be seen as expressions of neutral energy, rather than as gods to save you from saṁsāra or demons to haunt you.