The Deva Realm
is reborn a god (deva) as a joint result of doing many good actions but
being proud. The good deeds - in particular acts of generosity and pure
conduct - bring splendour and wonders. The pride brings first a feeling
of natural superiority and then, when the good results come to their
end, unbearable sadness. The bodies and powers of the gods vary
according to their previous karma. Most have beautiful and naturally
perfumed bodies of light, upon which spontaneously appear garlands of
celestial flowers and various fineries. In delightful garlands and
palaces, they sport with their consorts and enjoy the most subtle
pleasures of the senses. A day in one of these heavens lasts for
hundreds of human years and the deva's lifespan is long indeed. But as
it approaches its end, the bodies start to produce unpleasant odours
and other gods avoid the fading deva. The flower garlands deteriorate.
Worse, the god can see his or her next incarnation, so tawdry, dark and
limited compared with its present condition. Heartbroken, incredulous
and overwhelmed by self-pity, they have nothing to do but await the
inevitable fall. Thus, the deva realm exemplifies the cycle of pride
however it manifests.
The Buddha manifests in this realm playing a lute delightfully. This represents the need to gain the respect and attention of the proud before any message can get through to them.
have good karma and are like demi-gods. Whereas the gods' good karma is
tarnished by pride, the asuras' is spoilt by jealousy and some people
refer to them as 'jealous gods'. Envying the superior joys and
possessions of the gods, the asuras wage war on the latter, in the hope
of deposing them and usurping their palaces. However, lacking the karma
to possess such splendour, they are defeated and humiliated. Jealousy
is like this everywhere, bringing the anguish of envy itself,
competitive battles and eventual defeat.
The Buddha manifests to the Asuras with a sword of primordial wisdom in his hand. This symbolises that the jealous respond primarily to force and need to learn to channel their competitivity into a quest for wisdom, defeating ignorance rather than other beings.
rare as a star in daytime, a human rebirth is considered to be the rare
result of much good karma. Sometimes compared to a wish-fulfilling gem,
it is considered the most precious existence of all, because of its
tremendous potential. Unfortunately, this potential is rarely exploited
and the gem is like a buried treasure. The majority of humans are so
busy with their desires and projects that they are not even aware of
spiritual possibilities. However, being exposed to more suffering than
are gods or demi-gods, humans do have a better chance of giving rise to
compassion: one of the most vital keys to spiritual development. Their
main sufferings are those of birth, ageing, sickness and death, along
with those of striving to fulfil their needs, not getting what they
want, getting what they do not want and preserving what they have.
The Buddha appears to humans bearing his alms bowl and staff, the symbols of the ascetic life. This shows them that, in their world of multiple choices, the finest option is to follow the way of the sage.
of them live in the sea" is the remarkable comment from early Buddhist
scriptures, in times when most people ignored the existence of the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans and had no knowledge of submarine life. One
is reborn an animal as a result of ignorance: fostering delusion rather
than truth. They fall into two main categories. Wild animals live in
constant fear and spend their time seeking food or eating each other.
Domesticated animals are enslaved by humans. Their nature is one of
submissive acceptance of their lot, the counterpart of the acquisitive
dissatisfaction of the Asura.
The Buddha appears to the animals bearing a book, showing that the only way out of stupidity is the development of clear reason and the cultivation of knowledge.
spirits, born into states of frightful deprivation through former
greed. With distended stomachs and needle-like throats, they search for
ages for food and then only find disgusting scraps, or else see their
find disappear before their eyes. Others manage to eat or drink but are
burnt by they ingest as though it were molten metal. Unlike humans and
animals, these spirits are aware of their former births and the greed
which threw them into this condition. Their destitution is the
counterpart of the complexity of possessions in the human realm. The
Buddha appears to them bearing gifts and bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, as
Khasarpani, feeds them soothing nectar. This symbolises the need to
draw the greedy and mean to truth by manifesting generosity.
like the Preta worlds, states of severe hallucination into which the
mind is thrown once it leaves the body and has passed through the
post-death experience. It is the bitterness and anger imprinted in the
mind, through past malevolence and hatred, which generate the hellish
environment experienced. Some of these nightmares take the form of hot
hells, with various agonies of burning and torture. Others take the
form of frozen wildernesses, in which frostbite is the worst enemy. All
seem to last for endless ages and many take the form of pain which
leads to death then revival, only to pass through the whole cycle again
and again. This is the opposite of the luxurious indulgence of the gods.
The Buddha appears in the hells bearing the flame of purification, a sign of finding liberation from suffering by relating to it in an enlightened way.
The Basic Poisons
Just as a
whole and healthy body loses its power when stricken by a tiny amount
of poison, so does the mind lose its limitless wisdom due to 'mind
poisons' (klesa) and thereby wanders in the confused illusions of the
six realms. There are three basic poisons - ignorance, craving and
hostility - represented by the pig, the cock and the serpent at the
centre of the wheel. The three poisons feed off each other, as do the
animals in the circle.
The Links of Interdependence
The twelve main stages in the cycle of rebirth are represented by the twelve icons forming the rim of the wheel:ignorance - the blind leading the blind