the six realms of existence
link to wheel-12
download the drawing of the six realms - blank out the images in each
of the six sectors and have each person draw their own interpretation
of the states of existence
Characterised by- Pride; Complacency; Intoxication
'I've got everything that I want; there's nothing more I need."
The Heaven Realm is one of bliss and pleasure - there is little reason
for the inhabitants of heaven to look beyond their comfortable and carefree
existence to undertake religious training. Intoxicated by pleasure.
they can ignore the harsher realities of life. However, when their good
karma is exhausted, they are forced out of heaven to be reborn again
- probably in less favourable circumstances.
The Heaven Realm shows that pleasure and bliss are transitory and so,
although it looks to be a very desirable place to be, like the other
realms it offers no lasting refuge. The Buddha in this Realm plays a
musical instrument to rouse beings from their complacency.
Consider: Beautiful sights and sounds; Ideas of Heaven ... Foreign holidays
etc.; Tennyson's 'Lotus Eaters'; We can be roused from our complacency
by, for example, art - truths revealed through things of beauty i.e.
Opera shows tragedy;
Asuras (Jealous Gods):
Characterised by.- Jealousy; Resentment; Ambition.
"I'll do anything to get what I want"
The Asuras are power seekers who try to get what they want by force.
Their realm is divided from the Heavens by the "Wish-Fulfilling Tree"
which has its roots in the Asura realm but bears its fruit in Heaven:
the Asuras are trying to get the fruit by force by chopping the tree
down. Because of their ambition and envy they spend their time in competition
and warfare without a moments respite - which means that most will never
seriously consider religious training.
The Realm of the Asuras points out the painful futility of competition
and warring as a means of finding happiness - whatever is gained has
to be constantly defended. The Buddha in this Realm holds a sword, the
symbol of Wisdom, to show beings to seek understanding and insight rather
Consider: Ruthless big business; Competing with others to have the best
job, biggest car etc; Fortress mentality that needs to guard what it
has gained; Circumstances can be Buddha - e.g. stock market crash;
Characterised by:- Desire; Freedom of choice; Dissatisfaction.
"I don't want this, 1 want that".
In the Human Realm there is the constant attempt to maximise pleasure
and minimise pain. But we find that no pleasure can be made permanent,
and the unpleasant cannot always be avoided. We vacillate between the
four pairs of opposites - gain & loss, fame & disgrace, praise & ridicule,
elation & sorrow. This vacillation can lead to frustration which in
turn may raise the question, "What is there that will truly satisfy?"
It is this which motivates the religious quest. And so this realm is
considered to be the best one for religious training. The Buddha in
this Realm appears as a Monk to show beings the possibility of the religious
path, the way of non-attachment.
Consider: Pursuit of the pleasurable, avoidance of the unpleasant; The
ups and downs of our ordinary daily lives; No sooner is the desired
thing gained than it begins to be scorned; The life of the monk;
Characterised by:- Ignorance; Domination of instinctual drives.
"I want food, sex. territory and sleep". The Animal Realm is one of
blind and passive surrender to basic instincts. These become our reasons
for living. We are driven by our basic needs, and we strive to satisfy
those needs without allowing ourselves to be distracted. This Realm
is therefore characterised by willful ignorance of the true spiritual
state of things: hence the Buddha in this Realm holds a Book to awaken
awareness, thought and reason.
Consider: This is mine; my possessions; my pleasures are the most important
thing; Wildlife programmes which show creatures killing and eating each
other; We can be roused from this state by being aware of those who
Characterised by - Greed; Insatiable cravings; Addictions.
"I want this, I need this, 1 have to have this".
This is the realm of intense craving. The Hungry Ghosts are shown with
enormous stomachs and tiny necks - they want to cat, but cannot swallow;
when they try to drink. the liquid turns to fire, intensifying their
thirst. The torture of the hungry ghost is not so much the frustration
of not being able to get what he wants. rather it is his clinging to
those things he mistakenly thinks will bring satisfaction and relief.
The Buddha in this Realm holds a Bowl from which the 'gifts of the gods'
are distributed. This is to entice the hungry ghosts to desire for the
Truth which is the only way that the deepest longings and hungers can
Consider: 'Gollum' from Lord of the Rings; The obssessive nature of
Video Games; Addictions of various sorts; We can be helped in this Realm
by our willingness to 'look up', to see beyond our obssessions.
Characterised by:- Rage; Torment; Despair
"I'm in pain, I'm suffering".
In Buddhism there is no judgement or punishment by an external deity.
The pains and tortures experienced here are the consequences of habitually
and willfully choosing to indulge greed, anger and delusion. Yama again
appears in hell, holding up a mirror to show beings the results of their
wrong actions. The Buddha in this Realm holds a flame to show that fire,
as well as burning, can also purif y.
Consider: Torture, starvation, physical pain; Being bullied; Concentration
camps; Blind rage; We can be liberated from this realm by patience,
acceptance and contrition;