Brief Information for Beginners:
Extracts from the internet and books. (May blessings and appreciation go to the authors of these articles)
In Buddhism, there are ten states of existence, which are referred as the Ten Dharma Realms. Each Dharma realm has its own characteristics; and its existence is attributed to the retribution of individual beings.
The upper four realms are known as the Four Holy Realms. These four states of existence are beyond birth and death and liberated from the Samara. Each of these realms has its own retinue.
(a) Four Holy Realms 四圣境界
- Praetyka-Buddha (Those enlightened to conditions)
- Sravaka (Sound-Hearer Arhat)
The lowest six realms are known as the Six Paths or Six Realms of Rebirth. These six states of existence are subjected to birth and death, and then rebirth for many lives. One's state of existence depends on one's karmic activities.
(b) Six Realms of Rebirth 六道轮回
- Deva. Heaven beings who are kind and wise but have not perfected themselves on the 10 wholesome deeds. There are three types of heavenly beings.
- Asura Is the Realm of good Nature Spirits. It is a collective term for Yaksas, Raksasas and other demons. This realm is formless. They have cultivated goodness and performed good deeds, but very combative and get angry very easily. They love to compete and fight, because they have not rid themselves of anger.
- Ghost. Beings live in the atmosphere of anxiety, illusion and fear. Their desires are never satisfied
- Hell. Suffering is most severe, continuous and everlasting. Those beings must have committed unforgivable and evil deeds, with no regret or repent
With evil karmic power, one will be born in the lowest three realms, known as Three Evil Path (of transmigration), Examples: the hells, hungry ghosts, and animals.
The Realm of animals has its own retinue which is made up of many different kinds of animals. Then there's the category of hungry ghosts with its own different particular kinds of hungry ghosts. Lastly there is the realm of hell-beings, and its hundreds of thousands of different varieties of hell-beings.
With good and kind karma, one will be born in the upper three realms, known as Three Good Paths (of transmigration). Examples: Asura, Human and Deva
1. Hell 地狱
Suffering is most severe, continuous and everlasting. Those beings must have committed unforgivable and evil deed, with no regret or repent. The evil karma determines their existence in hell. They suffer until they are completely attributed or the evil karma vanishes. However, for those who committed the Five Offences (deadly sins), they will stay in hell without any specific time to be liberated.
The Five Great Sins 五 罪
The FIVE Unpardonable SINS which will lead Beings into the Relentless (Avici) Hell where for thousands of billions of eons they will seek escape in vain.
- Beings who are not filial to their parents, even to the point of harming or killing them,
- Beings who shed the Buddha’s blood, slander the Triple Jewel, and do not venerate Sutras,
- Beings who usurp or damage the property of the Eternally Dwelling, who defile Bhikshus or Bhikshunis, who commit sexual acts within the Sangharama, or who kill or harm beings there,
- Beings who seem to be Shramanas (monks & nuns) but in their minds are not Shramanas, who destroy the things of the Eternally Dwelling, who deceive lay people, who go against the precepts, and who commit many other evil deeds,
- Beings who steal the wealth and property of the Eternally Dwelling, including its grains, food and drink, and clothing, or who take anything at all that was not given to them
The performance of good or bad deeds, symbolise one's ascending to the heavens or descending to Hell under the law of karma. It is not the judgement of any Buddhas or gods, nor is it the judgement of any Supreme God; it is in respect to everyone's wishes and it manifests accordingly. In the eyes of the good people there is no Hell, because they do not have karma with it. In the eyes of the bad people, there is a manifestation of Hell, because Hell is the manifestation of their minds. Simply, it is one's own conscience punishing one's own sins.
The sufferings of Hell include unlimited coming alive and dying within a single day. The hell that has the most suffering is the Avici Hell. The suffering of Avici Hell is clearly described in the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha Sutra.
The first suffering is uninterrupted time, meaning there is no rest. The suffering is continuous, there is no respire for even one minute or one second. The second suffering is uninterrupted space. In Avici Hell, space is filled with one or many persons. If there is a lot of space, a person will multiply himself until he occupies all the space. So this hell can be full with only one person. The third is uninterrupted suffering. One has to suffer all the kinds of suffering in the world. There is no hell which has more suffering than this Avici Hell. Such suffering is called unlimited suffering. The fourth suffering is uninterrupted grade, meaning this hell does not differentiate, whether one is a god in heaven, a human in the human realm, a hungry ghost within the ghost realm or an animal within the animal realm. If one "qualified", anyone can enter Avici Hell and receive the same treatment. The fifth suffering is uninterrupted life. There are numerous lives and deaths within a day and a night, and, between one life and one death, one suffers.
2. Ghost 鬼
In this realm, most of the ghosts always live in the atmosphere of anxiety, illusion and fear. Their desires are never satisfied. The hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throat is as narrow as a pin, but their stomach is as large as a drum.
Apart from hungry ghosts, there are also Yaksa, Raksa, Spiritual Ghosts, etc.. Spiritual ghosts are dwelling in the nature, e.g. trees, mountains and seas, and protecting the creatures, while Yaksa and Raksa are evil, malignant and violent.
If one wants to avoid descending into the Realm of the Hungry Ghost, one has to learn to control one's desires. One cannot have an insatiable desire. In general, the desires of humans are for money, sex, fame, food and sleep.
If one desires wealth, one should reason that life only lasts for several decades, and that this body is illusive and will soon vanish once one dies. One should be satisfied once one has enough money to spend. One should not enslave one's body and mind to constantly pursue wealth causing a disturbance in one's body and mind and making one a slave to acquisition. Such a person, when he or she dies, will most likely fall into the Realm of the Hungry Ghost because of insatiable desire. If we constantly contemplate this, erroneous thoughts in desiring wealth will slowly disappear.
An insatiable desire for sex is also one of the greatest desires of humans. If one wants to avoid it, one should cultivate the meditation on impurity. Impurity means the impurity of the physical body. Outwardly, the body is beautiful. Inside are bones covered with offensive smelling meat. The sensual enjoyments of sight, smell, sound and taste are only temporary. The beautiful body is fleeting, like dew, a dream, a bubble or lightning. We must not become attached to such illusive beauty, for such attachment is a major obstacle in our cultivation. Everything should be viewed naturally - not because beauty has moved our hearts. In this way, we will not be greedy towards the temporary enjoyments of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.
Concerning fame, few people in the world remain unattached to it, especially in the face of the ancient saying, "People strive to prove their worth, and the Buddha strives to prove His honour." The problem concerning fame is pronounced. Think about this: throughout history, how many people have pursued fame and fought for it? And how many of them can really be remembered? The world is changing all the time and sentient beings transmigrate and regenerate.
Life on earth is even shorter; very soon it will be all over like bubbles and the dream flower. Even the physical body does not last forever, much less fame and honour. If one does not exist, where is one's foothold for fame? So, whether it is slander or praise, we should follow our conscience to uphold our integrity and avoid asking for fame. Then the greed for fame will subside and an honourable name will be formed from generation to generation.
Indulging in the desire for good food will become serious. It seems to be a small matter, but the harm it will cause is great. We cannot have unrestricted desire for good food because, if we have insatiable appetites and are constantly changing our taste, it will be very easy to commit killing [of an animal]. Furthermore, indulging in too much in food increases the cruel side of our nature and encourages our animalistic sexual desires. This will become a major obstacle in our cultivation. Therefore, it is better to treat food lightly and consume only pure food.
Next, we must consider the fondness for sleep. We have to put a limit here, too. If we are overly desirous of its comfort, it will encourage laziness and increase drowsiness. The mind will veer off the righteous path toward evil. Isn't this horrible?
Hungry ghosts are hungry all the time, if they find food and put it into their mouths, it will change into flames, burning their mouths. They are starving, yet they cannot eat. So "hunger" is the major suffering, and that is why this realm is called the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
The Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a form of punishment for greed. This is one of the three lower realms of existence (the other two are the Animal Realm and Hell).
It is a special path. All the beings within the Six Realms which do not belong to any other five realms are categorised in this path. Animals can exist in all other five paths.
Animals have minimal intelligence and consciousness. They live in adaption to the nature. As their behaviour follows instinct without deliberation, their karma is neutral, i.e. neither good nor evil.
We frequently see the behaviour of animals. Many animals fight with each other and many also consume each other. Animals also suffer from hunger and disease. Furthermore, they suffer the hot, cold, windy and rainy fluctuations of the weather. This kind of suffering is hard for humans-the supreme beings of all creatures to imagine. The deaths of animals are full of misery. Mostly they are pursued and killed by their same species or a different species. Mosquito, flies, lice and worms die of disintegration. Chickens, ducks, fish, goats and pigs are killed and cooked. Almost everything that flies in the sky, swims in the sea, or crawls on the earth, cannot escape becoming the food of humans. Even earthworms have caught the attention of humans. It looks as if even earthworms cannot escape ending up as a main dish on restaurant menu!
4. Asura 修罗
It is a peculiar path in the Six paths. In terms of material enjoyment and psychic power, it is similar to Deva. However, in some aspects, it is even worse than Human Path. The male Asura is extremely ugly, while the female is as beautiful as an angel. The male Asura always fights with each other as they are cruel and furious. They are proud of themselves, and reluctant to learn and practise the Buddhist teachings.
Asuras is a collective term for Yaksas, Raksasas and other demons. This realm is formless. Generally speaking, asuras have cultivated goodness and performed good deeds. But they are very combative and they get angry very easily. They love to compete and fight. Because they have not rid themselves of anger, they are not qualified for entering heaven and, hence, they fall into the Realm of Asuras. These ghosts and spirits, though they have benevolent thoughts, do not have peaceful days because they are so competitive.
So, in order to avoid falling into the Realm of Nature Spirits, one must retain a heart that is compassionate, righteous, in compliance with propriety, honest and benevolent.
5. Human 人道
It is the Dhama realm which we are most familiar with. In this realm, we have both happiness and suffering. It is a material world, and the mind activities are always connected with the principles of matter. Joy and happiness are limited as freedom is also limited by the body and other sensual organs of a man. On the other hand, suffering can be the main cause or condition to allow man to possess a kind heart, thus to pursue the Buddhist Way. In this respect, Human Path is better than Deva Path.
Actually, even if one wants to be reborn as a human, it is not that simple. At the minimum, one has to observe the Five Precepts in order to be reborn as human. The Five Precepts are:
1) Avoid killing. One has to have compassion for all kinds of animals and birds. One should love them and protect them from being killed;
2) Avoid stealing. One should not steal or take by force even something as small as a blade of grass or a flower, without the consent of the owner. Love thyself and be honest;
3) Avoid illicit sex. Practice monogamy. All those who act against propriety and abandon themselves to carnal pleasures are considered to indulge in illicit sex,
4). Avoid lying. If one distorts Truth or confuses justice with injustice, these also constitute lying;
5) Avoid intoxicants. It is acceptable to use wine as a medicine. Otherwise, if one drinks and gets drunk, it becomes a major source of evil. Therefore, it is better to stay away from intoxicants in order to avoid causing evil.
6. Deva 天人
It is a heaven for those who are wise and kind as the retribution for their good deed. Their major desires will be satisfied. In this path, it is divided into Three Heavenly Realms, namely Desire Heaven Realm, Form (or Rupa) Heaven Realm, Formless (or Arupa) Heaven Realm. In the Desire Heaven Realm, the living beings have strong desire in material and can be easily and fully satisfied with enjoyment. In the Form Heaven Realm, the living beings are not interested in material. Instead, their bodies and mind pursue the spiritual happiness, such as philosophy, music, art and meditation. In the Formless Heaven Realm, the living beings do not attach to the material nor their own bodies. They are free from any hindrances, and they live in a state of joy, freedom and psychic power. It is the wisdom and the karma of the Deva to determine which heaven realm they live in.
If ordinary people want to ascend to the heavens, they have to practice the Ten Wholesome Actions. Once they have perfected themselves in the Ten Wholesome Actions, they are qualified to ascend to heaven.