A Jew tries #contemplating the #Hell #Realms according to #Tibetan #Buddhism

As some of you know, I’m engaged in a mini-at-home #meditation #retreat in which I am attempting to #contemplate the experiences of beings who inhabit each of the six #Realms according to #Tibetan #Buddhism.

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I have spent the last two months wending my way through each of the “upper” five and am now on the final, sixth and “lowest” of the Realms, the #Hell #Realm. Problem is, I don’t believe in Hell. This is a very big obstacle to doing this practice.

The first time I ever heard about this cosmology was in a ten-day teaching entitled “The Bodhisattva Peace Training,” conceived of and taught at that time by His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, one of the last authentic meditation masters to have been trained in Tibet before the 1959 Chinese invasion. He and his immediate family successfully fled to India and he eventually made his way to the USA. I met him and attended this teaching in the late 1980s, when he had been in the USA for several years.

I was a skeptic. I was resistant. I was only there because some of the people I most loved and respected in the world were already studying with and living at this main center in northern California and others I knew and respected and cared for were also studying with him while living elsewhere, including the friend who attended this retreat with me. We both came to it from New Hampshire where we both lived at that time. However, she was not at all skeptical or resistant, having met Chagdud Tulku in 1983 and already been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for several years.

Samsaric Wheel 6 realms

I, on the other hand, came under duress. I felt coerced by my friends to “try this out.” But, what they meant was, DO IT. They were so convinced that this was “it” that they had sold everything to follow this teacher and live at this center, which they helped purchase for the community of practitioners, the sangha.

But I, like several others who came to this retreat who were refugees from the explosions that had just been occurring within Chogyam Trungpa’s Colorado sangha, felt more “no” than “yes” about the entire package. I listened, I took notes, I attended, I considered.

Some of what Rinpoche (which is what everyone called Chagdud Tulku because “Rinpoche” means “precious one” and is a Tibetan honorific reserved for well-respected teachers) taught made sense to me. Some of it even touched me deeply, resonated within my heart and echoed in my mind as if meeting old friends.

Then he got to the explanation of the Realms, specifically the Hell Realms, and I just sat there, stunned. The descriptions of the experiences of the beings relegated to living in these conditions for untold eons started with statements about how these beings had been cast into these lowest Realms due to their unfortunate actions, karma, in former lifetimes. Specifically, they must have committed murder, betrayal of high beings, or some other horrific acts to have “earned” this incarnational location.

I could live with the concept of karma just fine. Cause and effect, do this and expect that. It seemed a bit simplistic to me and somewhat castigating or threatening, but it had a kind of logic to it.

You and karma

However, the rest was harder for me to swallow. Impossible, as it turned out. Rinpoche told us that there were many types of Hells and talked in detail about their conditions: freezing, burning, cutting, piercing; being forced to do repetitive, arduous work (think: Sisyphus); having one’s skin flailed off, regrowing it, then having it flailed off again, repeatedly; walking around in as much pain as we would feel if someone were scraping a fingernail on our bare eyeballs. And, more. Any one of these experiences, we were being told, could last for what would feel to these beings like eons, with no hope of reprieve. The best protection was never to land there. Rinpoche admonished us: “Be virtuous.”

I resented this attitude, which assumed that I and other students needed to be motivated by fear in order to be motivated to become a Buddhist practitioner. As a life-long contrary, hearing this kind of talk tended to push me in the opposite direction entirely. Then, Rinpoche got even more specific about the kinds of acts that landed one in a Hell Realm and I became increasingly insulted, even outraged.

At one point, when we were invited to ask questions, I raised my hand and asked something like this: “Do you really expect us to believe that all of this is real? Aren’t these just stories you tell children to frighten them into being ‘good’?” Yes, I was that disrespectful, something I am not proud of at all.

Rinpoche’s translator stared at me as if I had just cursed at him. Rinpoche, however, was tranquil, unperturbed.

NOTE: Rinpoche understood English quite well at this point, but his spoken English was difficult for most of us to understand. Sometimes he had someone who knew both Tibetan and English so that Rinpoche could teach in Tibetan, but this translator was tasked with rephrasing his Tibetan-syntaxed and oddly-accented English into more familiar English structures for the rest of us. She would take copious notes or listen as he spoke, then rephrase what he said whenever he paused for her to do so.

After Rinpoche responded to my questions, her translation went something like this: “Rinpoche says, ‘The Hell Realms are as real as this one. It is just your karma making it so you and most of us do not usually see, hear, or experience Hell Realms’ conditions right now. Consider yourself fortunate. Your karma has provided you with a precious Human birth. Use it wisely.'”

This did not help me one bit. Not then, and not for many years. In fact, I was so turned off by this and other experiences at this retreat and with my practitioner friends that I avoided learning any more about Tibetan Buddhism for eight more years. I would go visit them, but as friends. I would even see Rinpoche, who traveled with one or more of them and came East to New York or Boston a few times during those eight years, but not to learn anything he taught. Just to visit.

When I finally became more open to it (another long story), in 1996, it still took me several more years to understand and accept, even tangentially, all this Realms information. Which brings me to now, twenty-five years after that first exposure to the Hell Realms. I’m still on the fence.

I believe and I don’t believe. I know it’s possible that many types of experiences exist in many dimensions or realms that most of us do not perceive. I just don’t completely accept the entire story of the experiences as depicted in Tibetan books and by Tibetan Buddhist teachers of what these Realms are like.

I’ve struggled with these last two months’ assignments, feeling worse and worse about my lack of confidence in depictions of the experiences of beings in the Realms. I go back and forth between acceptance and rejection of these “facts.”

I can allow that Humans can live hellish lives, or parts of our lives can be hellish. Certainly some illnesses, injuries, chemical weapons or other horrible acts of war bring many types of hell to people and animals subjected to them. Napalm, nerve gas, cancer, amputations and phantom limbs, the D.T.s all fit into these stories perfectly.

31-realms

For now, I’m sticking with that version. I’m just too Jewish or too American or too modern or too stubborn (maybe that’s redundant…) to believe in the Realms as depicted.

I do believe in the lessons they are meant to teach, especially the most important ones: Be grateful to be Human, to have been born (this time, anyway) into a life of relative ease and leisure. Be committed to continue to enact and amass more virtue in my life, both for others’ benefit and for my future karmic outcomes.

I can believe in the importance of gratitude and virtuous behaviors. I have thanked and thank again the late Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (who left that body in 2002) and my current teacher, Lama Padma Drimed Norbu, for putting up with my difficulties and teaching me, anyway. Here are photos of Rinpoche before he left that body and of his new incarnation, and Lama Drimed, below.

Chagdud Rinpoche

Lama Drimed

Meanwhile, I have about a week to contemplate the experiences of Hell, real or imagined. Here I go.

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#Desire Realm Torments and Teases

#Buddhist cosmology puts humans and animals together in what is translated as the #Desire Realm. The Realm I am #contemplating for this phase of my #retreat is The Hungry Ghosts (#Pretas) Realm, which comes “below” these two. Pretas are born into this Realm because of exhibiting strong possessiveness and desire in other lives. So, in all three of these experiences, desire is the culprit.

desire21

However, we can’t function without desire. Our motivations are rooted first in desire, even for the most altruistic intentions, until we are beyond all suffering and desire. Let me know when you achieve that; I haven’t met anyone yet who has. Even His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, speaks of anger and other common emotions that still arise for him. The major difference between someone at his level or close to that and most practitioners are two factors; how long the feeling lasts and what we do in response to it.

Most people, Buddhist practitioners included, get lost for a moment or longer (or forever, if the person has no skills or practice to deter it) in the intense emotions of the present circumstances. We also get lost in emotions from events in the past or while anticipating the future. Every interaction, everything that occurs is an opportunity to remember or forget.

desire defn

The best signs I can hope for in my life due to practice are to experience these emotions less frequently, less intensely and for shorter durations and not to get lost in them. The goal is not the journey. But, part of being in the Desire Realm as a human is to have goals.

What does it mean to “get lost” in emotions? For me, this part of the journey looks like this: when I’m lost, it means I forget about the nondual, oneness truth of all existence. I can’t feel my intention to benefit all beings. I lose track of my ability to feel compassion or to be even a little bit unselfish. I cling completely to the false reality of my tiny physical and ego-ridden self as if “I” am all that matters, or matter the most.

Then, equally importantly, when I do get lost, I am tasked with not condemning myself and not giving up. Learning to accept my failings, have compassion for my forgetting, recognize my humanness and even have a sense of humor about myself. I attempt to take myself more lightly while keeping my goals in mind.

Ruthlessness without condemnation is the key: being honest enough to face my foibles without falling into self-negating, self-deprecating messages. Actually, I’m doing pretty well with this part. I accept who I am at almost 60 years old much better than many people do.

Interestingly, the fact that I do not judge myself as harshly or frequently as others judge me has caused me a few problems. Apparently, misery loves company. Judgers want to see that their judgments have a negative effect. In my experience, when I do not take their derision or evaluations personally, they take offense. They claim I’m not listening, I’m not respecting them. They feel that I’m judging them.

What a strange set of illusions we share! My response to all that self-induced misery for those people is to feel compassion for their being lost and not get lost, myself. For refusing to allow their torment to bother me, I become unpopular.

love-irresistible-desire-irresistibly-desired

Oh, well. Luckily for me I stopped desiring popularity in adolescence. Wish the rest of the adults would grow up.

Until then, torments and teases in the Desire Realm continue and we do our best to ride them out and not make things worse. Join me in gentle humor at oneself and others (but keep your amusement about others to yourself if you want friends!).

Keep on.

Being a “next-thing” Junkie

Addictions are the topic of many blogs, research studies, journal entries, news reports and conversations. At this point in the Western lexicon, someone can be “addicted” to practically anything: drugs or alcohol, of course; shopping; gambling; sex; food, particularly sugar, caffeine or wheat; fame; books; porn; the internet; and, any of a million possessions, collections, hobbies or activities.

Turns out I am genetically or personally lucky enough not to have an actual addiction, even by the above standards (unless you count obsessions as addictions, which is another discussion). However, I am about to confess what I discovered during my first six-week #Buddhist #meditation #retreat: I am a “next-thing” junkie. Whatever I am experiencing, regardless of how wonderful it is, how much I like it, I am always looking to the next phase.

When I am swimming, I fantasize about what I’ll do when I am finished. When I am writing, I consider when I will eat and what. When I am in the shower, I wonder about what I’ll write that day. During a meditation session, whatever practice or portion of the text we’re in, I want to be in the next part. When I’m silent, I want to talk. When I’m in conversation, I long for silence and solitude.

When I’m celibate, I daydream about sex. During sexual encounters, I want to have the aftermath, the closeness and intimacy of the more emotional kind, to be finished with the physical part. On and on.

This is my version of being a “Hungry Ghost,” a #Preta, one of the creatures doomed to exist for however long karma dictates who have extremely large bellies and very constricted throats: constantly starving and thirsty but never able to be satisfied. That is my dilemma: I am never satisfied, or not for very long.

Preta

I am not unique. I am not alone. In fact, I am in this way more mainstream, more ordinary than I am in almost any other component of my unusual life. When I brought this discover to my great #Tibetan #Buddhist teacher in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen lineage of #meditation, Lama Drimed, he talked to me about the known 51 “mental factors” that are considered part of the possible experience of sentient beings.

Want to know how many ways we can be caught up in experiences, thoughts, feelings? Fifty-one. Count ’em.

Here they are:

THE 5 OMNIPRESENT (EVER-RECURRING) MENTAL FACTORS
1. Feeling (the first aggregate)
2. Recognition / discrimination / distinguishing awareness (the second aggregate)
3. Intention / mental impulse – I will …
4. Concentration / attention / mental application – focused grasping of an object of awareness
5. Contact – the connection of an object with the mind, this may be pleasurable, painful or neutral as experienced by the aggregate of Feeling.

THE 5 DETERMINATIVE MENTAL FACTORS
6. Resolution / aspiration – directing effort to fulfil desired intention, basis for diligence and enthusiasm.
7. Interest / appreciation – holding on to a particular thing, not allowing distraction
8. Mindfulness / Recollection – repeatedly bringing objects back to mind, not forgetting
9. Concentration / Samadhi – one-pointed focus on an object, basis for increasing intelligence
10. Intelligence / Wisdom – “common-sense intelligence”, fine discrimination, examines characteristics of objects, stops doubt, maintains root of all wholesome qualities.

THE 4 VARIABLE (POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE) MENTAL FACTORS
11. Sleep – makes mind unclear, sense consciousness turns inwards
12. Regret – makes mind unhappy when regarding a previously done action as bad, prevents the mind from being at ease.
13. General examination / coarse discernment – depending on intelligence or intention, searches for rough idea about the object.
14. Precise analysis / subtle discernment – depending on intelligence or intention, examines the object in detail.

THE 11 VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS
(Note that 18 and 19 are not necessary always virtuous. The first 3 are also known as roots of virtue.)
15. Faith / confidence / respectful belief – gives us positive attitude to virtue and objects that are worthy of respect. Three types are distinguished, with the last one being the preferred type:
a. uncritical faith: motivation is for no apparent reason
b. longing faith: motivation is by an emotionally unstable mind
c. conviction: motivated by sound reasons
16. Sense of Propriety / self-respect – usually the personal conscience to stop negative actions and perform positive actions
17. Considerateness / decency – avoids evil towards others, basis for unspoiled moral discipline.
18. Suppleness / thorough training / flexibility – enables the mind to engage in positive acts as wished, interrupting mental or physical rigidity.
19. Equanimity / clear-minded tranquility – peaceful mind, not being overpowered by delusions, no mental dullness or agitation
20. Conscientiousness / carefulness – causes avoiding negative acts & doing good; mind with detachment, non-hatred, non-ignorance and enthusiasm
21. Renunciation / detachment – no attachment to cyclic existence and objects
22. Non hatred / imperturbability – no animosity to others or conditions; rejoicing
23. Non-bewilderment / non ignorance / open-mindedness – usually understanding the meaning of things through clear discrimination, never unwilling to learn
24. Non violence / complete harmlessness – compassion without any hatred, pacifist
25. Enthusiasm / diligence – doing positive acts (specifically mental development and meditation) with delight

THE 6 NON-VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS

THE 6 ROOT DELUSIONS (Delusion is defined as any secondary mental factor that, when developed, brings about suffering and uneasiness to self or others.)
26. Ignorance – not knowing karma, meaning and practice of 3 Jewels, includes closed-mindedness, lack of wisdom of emptiness.
27. Attachment / desire – definition: not wanting to be separated from someone or something. Grasping at aggregates in cyclic existence causes rebirth & suffering of existence
28. Anger – definition: wanting to be separated from someone or something, can lead to relentless desire to hurt others; causes unhappiness
29. Pride – inflated superiority, supported by one’s worldly views, which include disrespect of others
30. Doubt / deluded indecisive wavering – being in two minds about reality; usually leads to negative actions
31. Wrong views / speculative delusions – based on emotional afflictions. Distinguished in 5 types: belief in the self as permanent or non-existent (as opposite to the view of emptiness); denying karma, not understanding the value of the 3 Jewels; closed-mindedness (my view -which is wrong- is best); wrong conduct (not towards liberation)

THE 20 SECONDARY NON-VIRTUOUS MENTAL FACTORS
Derived from anger:
32. Wrath / hatred – by increased anger, malicious state wishing to cause immediate harm to others
33. Vengeance / malice / resentment – not forgetting harm done by a person, and seeking to return harm done to oneself
34. Rage / spite / outrage – intention to utter harsh speech in reply to unpleasant words, when wrath and malice become unbearable
35. Cruelty / vindictiveness / mercilessness – being devoid of compassion or kindness, seeking harm to others.

Derived from anger and attachment:
36. Envy / jealousy – internal anger caused by attachment; unbearable to bear good things others have

Derived from attachment:
37. Greed / avarice / miserliness – intense clinging to possessions and their increase
38. Vanity / self-satisfaction – seeing one’s good fortune giving one a false sense of confidence; being intoxicated with oneself
39. Excitement / wildness / mental agitation – distraction towards desire objects, not allowing the mind to rest on something wholesome; obstructs single pointed concentration.

Derived from ignorance:
40. Concealment – hiding one’s negative qualities when others with good intention refer to them this causes regret
41. Dullness / muddle-headedness – caused by fogginess which makes mind dark/heavy – like when going to sleep, coarse dullness is when the object is unclear, subtle dullness is when the object has no intense clarity
42. Faithlessness – no belief of that which is worthy of respect; it can be the idea that virtue is unnecessary, or a mistaken view of virtue; it forms the basis for laziness (43)
43. Laziness – being attached to temporary pleasure, not wanting to do virtue or only little; opposite to diligence [25])
44. Forgetfulness – causes to not clearly remember virtuous acts, inducing distraction to disturbing objects – not “just forgetting”, but negative tendency
45. Inattentiveness / lack of conscience – “distracted wisdom” after rough or no analysis, not fully aware of one’s conduct, careless indifference and moral failings; intentional seeking mental distraction like daydreaming

Derived from attachment and ignorance:
46. Hypocrisy / pretension – pretend non-existent qualities of oneself
47. Dishonesty / smugness – hiding one’s faults, giving no clear answers, no regret, snobbery & conceit, self-importance and finding faults with others

Derived from attachment, anger and ignorance
48. Shamelessness – consciously not avoiding evil, it supports all root and secondary delusions
49. Inconsiderateness – not avoiding evil, being inconsiderate of other’s practice, ingratitude
50. Unconscientiousness / carelessness- 3 delusions plus laziness; wanting to act unrestrained
51. Distraction / mental wandering – inability to focus on any virtuous object

from http://viewonbuddhism.org/mind.html

So, the next time you are trying to “control” your mind, or meditate, or refrain from a particular thought or emotion, consider this: another one is likely to arise in just a moment and you might prefer it.

#Impermanence can be our friend.

Who is YOUR inner “Hungry Ghost”?

http://www.yogachicago.com/mar08/hungryghost.shtml

Amy Weintraub (bio and links, above and below) writes very personally about her own inner “Hungry Ghost,” known as Pretas in #Tibetan #Buddhism, the 5th of the 6 Realms I am contemplating for my home retreat.

I’m just beginning this phase of my #Tibetan #Buddhist, #Nyingma #Vajrayana #retreat and wanted some inspiration. Found it!

Her last paragraph, quoted below, was IT for me. I hope it inspires you, also, in whatever #meditation, #contemplation, or other personal #growth and #recovery practices you are engaged in for your own improvement. Best to you!

Today, I write from the memory of seeing the Hungry Ghost in the mirror. There are times, even now, where I see her everywhere, when any mindless action I take follows the old call-and-response pattern of my life. I thoughtlessly judge someone I love. I reach for a cracker when I’m not hungry. I pour another glass of wine. And behind all these actions, she looms, ready to devour, with that E.T. head and too-thin neck, refusing to see the great blossom of her belly beneath, recklessly craving more. No room for my lungs to take a deep breath. No room for my heart to feel compassion for my life. Over the years that we’ve lived together, I’ve learned two things. When I feed her, I am left ravenous and longing for more. When I embrace her with compassion, the wild yearning is pacified and, together, we have learned to dance. Sometimes, my Hungry Ghost still leads the dance, but more and more, it is compassion that leads the way.

Amy Weintraub, MFA, E-RYT (500), author of Yoga for Depression (Broadway Books) and founding director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, leads professional certification trainings in LifeForce Yoga for #Depression and #Anxiety for mental health professionals and #yoga teachers internationally. She is also a senior Kripalu teacher and mentor. Amy is featured on the CD Breathe to Beat the Blues and the first DVD home yoga practice series for mood management, the award-winning LifeForce Yoga to Beat the Blues. Her bi-monthly newsletter includes current research, news and media reviews on yoga and mental health. To sign up, go to http://www.yogafordepression.com. For more information, visit http://www.yogamind.com or call 773.327.3650. This is from a 2008 post, so not sure if it’s active, still.

Failing Without Failing at #Buddhist practice, part 452.

Last day #contemplating the Animal Realm for my #Buddhist #meditation #retreat

I do not know how to inhabit the mind or body or life of anyone but myself. Not really. I can pretend. I am imagine. I can sympathize. But, do I (or anyone) ever actually empathize, get inside the experience of another being and feel, see, think, sense it the way s/he/it does?

Well, if anyone can do this, I’d like to hear about it. I really can’t.

This part of my #meditation #retreat—#contemplations of the beings of the Six #Realms, as some of you may be following—starts with the “Gods” Realm; moves to the “Demi-Gods” or “Jealous Gods” Realm; then to the Human (I did almost all right with that one…); and now, my last day of the Animal Realm. Tomorrow I start trying to inhabit the “Hungry Ghosts,” or “Pretas” Realm. I end this section of the four-month retreat with the “Hell” Realm(s) (oh, yes; there are more than one of those!). I wasn’t ready to admit failure until the Animal Realm was about to end, so what does that say about my human arrogance, eh?

I just can’t become a squirrel, a dog, a fox, a minnow, an eagle, a spider—anything besides a human—with any credence or authenticity. I can fabricate, because I am a writer and I can use my fantasies to concoct whatever I want. But, actually, am I BEING a cat? NO.

Nor was I able to become a being that would be a deity of any description. I can predict I won’t be able to be a hungry or thirsty ghost nor any being inhabiting one of the many Hell Realms, either.

What keeps me going? Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist practices and meditation exercises in the Vajrayana tradition work even when the practitioner doesn’t understand or know what to do, does it incorrectly or incompletely, and basically messes it up. I know this because that has already happened for me with the preliminary practices (Ngöndro), all of the visualization/deity practices, and the first level of dzogchen (trekchöd). I knew nothing, didn’t even believe it all, didn’t understand most of it and it works, anyway.

What do I mean by “works”? Our main teacher, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, quoting the Buddha, would explain the signs of effective practice something like this: “If you are less angry and more patient, less selfish and more generous, if compassion arises even some of the time within you without effort, your practice is working. Keep going, either way.” People around me and my own assessments agree: my practice is working.

Why do these practices work even when the practitioner is a dolt, like me? Because these are not religious practices. They do not rely on someone’s beliefs to be effective.

Vajrayana practices (and most of Buddhist practices in any school or lineage) are scientific, tried-and-true, proven methods for training and taming one’s mind, opening one’s heart and developing spontaneous compassion, decreasing selfishness and anger, increasing patience and generosity and generally becoming a better, more beneficial person. Whether you like it, believe it, do it absolutely right or not, these practices succeed.

Think of Buddhist practice as medicine: does your belief in the drug or understanding of how it was created or the way it operates in your system really affect whether or not a prescription works? Of course not. You can be unconscious, an infant or demented and medicine still works.

Yes, perhaps everything is more powerful when we do believe, when we are comprehending. Certainly I know that the power of prayer and positive thinking has its place. But, I also know, from personal experience, that one’s inner feelings and doubts don’t really matter when the methods are effective. They just work.

Lucky for me, the only thing I need to contribute is perseverance. That I can do. I can keep going, maintain my commitment, continue the practices and hope for the best outcomes possible to benefit all beings. I am disciplined, if nothing else. Most of the time, that is.

I keep using the methods, taking the medicine. I made vows to do so and I maintain my vows.

Faith helps, for certain. I know that when the practitioner has deep faith in the dharma, the teacher, the practices, things go more smoothly and perhaps more quickly. Without at least some faith, it’s impossible to be motivated enough to maintain discipline. I do have faith in the teachers and the practices.

Pray and hope with me, if that pleases you. Have some faith in whatever you believe in. Continue. Support others to continue.

Thanks. I appreciate it. Onward.

#Buddhist #Meditation #Retreat part 4: Animal Realm contemplations

Some of you know I’ve been doing an at-home, part-time #Buddhist #meditation #retreat in the #Vajrayana #Nyingma #dzogchen tradition of #Tibetan #Buddhism for about two months and plan to finish on Tibetan New Year (#Losar) on March 2, 2014. This retreat consists of the preliminary practices, or #Rushan, for #T’högal. Some of what I’m learning and doing are only to be discussed with dzogchen teachers or similarly or advanced practitioners, but some I can talk about. I share what I am able and wish to in these blog posts.

This portion’s contemplation and prayers are on beings of the Animal Realm. Of all the 6 #Realms, as Tibetan Buddhists conceive of our shared illusory reality, the Animal Realm is the closest akin to ours, so close that Humans can co-exist consciously with Animals. This means we can readily see, smell, hear, feel, and taste Animals in our everyday existence. For most Humans, our senses are not so easily stimulated by beings of the other Realms.

The first time I heard teachings on the 6 Realms, as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought the teacher was being metaphoric or joking. I was so stuck in my senses’ ordinary experiences that I could not believe the other Realms actually co-exist with ours.

There are some Buddhists who do treat the 6 Realms as a metaphor. These meditators prefer to use these concepts to recognize the ways that humans experience all of the Realms’ conditions while being human rather than believing that there are actual beings living in each of the Realms. I leave it up to you as to how you conceive of the Realms and the beings’ experiences.

For me, it’s more important to contemplate those experiences and generate empathy and compassion for them, regardless of how they occur. The main characteristics that Tibetan Buddhists assign to Animals as distinct from Humans are explained in this way by Barbara O’Brien in her article on the Buddhist Wheel of Life (samsara, in Sanskrit):

“Animal Beings (Tiryakas) are solid, regular and predictable. They cling to what is familiar and are disinterested, even fearful, of anything unfamiliar. The Animal Realm is marked by ignorance and complacency. Animal Beings are stolidly un-curious and are repelled by anything unfamiliar. They go through life seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort. They have no sense of humor. Animal Beings may find contentment, but they easily become fearful when placed in a new situation. Naturally, they are bigoted and likely to remain so. At the same time, they are subject to oppression by other beings — animals do devour each other, you know.”
http://buddhism.about.com/od/tibetandeities/ig/Wheel-of-Life-Gallery/Animal-Realm.htm

I don’t happen to agree with this conceptualization of animals; I never have. I do not see all animals as “ignorant,” and some definitely have a sense of humor! They are certainly a lot less bigoted than most humans I know and know of. As for the being “subject to oppression” part, even devouring each other, we’d have to include humans in that activity, wouldn’t we?

Animals are also most certainly NOT “un-curious,” and many employ what Temple Grandin calls “seeking” behavior in their everyday lives. (Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals , Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). In fact, Grandin’s research proves that animals need more than their basic physical and psychological requirements to be met. Yes, animals need (or certainly would prefer) to be free from hunger, thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress. However, Grandin proves resoundingly that animals respond positively when allowed to use “seeking behaviors” and “play.” Some animals, particularly pigs and primates, can malinger, become self- or other-injurious, kill or even die without these outlets.

I spent a few weeks listening to this amazing book on CD this past summer, not yet knowing I’d be doing this retreat or contemplations this fall. Generally, I have not had a close relationship to animals or pets (except for others’ pets I happen to live with or encounter over the years). However, forging new relationships with animals via interspecies communication devices and aliens-humans encounters and relationships are central to my sci-fi novels in The Spanners Series, so I listened to Grandin’s book and watched the biopic about her early life (“Temple Grandin,” starring Clare Danes as Grandin; great movie) as research for my series.

Now that I’m in this section of my retreat, I find myself remembering many parts of both the film and the book, considering animals from Grandin’s perspective rather than Tibetan Buddhists’ concepts. Her philosophies, attitudes and understandings are closer to my own. I go further than she does, though: I am more in harmony with Douglas Adams, the late, sorely missed and amazing author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five-book “trilogy.” One of these volumes is entitled: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. In this, Adams posits the superiority and other-worldly origins of dolphins, which I have no trouble believing.

I also believe in the superiority or at least equality with humans regarding intelligence, compassion and creativity, of all forms of cetaceans, elephants, wolves and many primates, cephalopods and others in the Animal Realm. To me, it’s impossible to ignore or deny the ways elephants grieve and remember, wolves communicate with their packs, whales gather intentionally for fun and protection, and many other examples of animals’ social, altruistic, creative and communicative behaviors not at all inferior to humans’ activities. I also can’t ignore or deny how disappointed I am in the selfish, unintelligent and socially perverse ways of humans.

This week, as many vegans rail against humans eating turkeys as well as pigs, fish, chickens, cattle and whatever other animals humans eat, I have to remind myself and others of the inherent suffering in all existence, the nature of samsara, according to my Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Humans can’t survive without killing, even when it’s unintentional. We kill billions of beings every day in service to providing us with shelter, food (even vegan food), clothing, work, transportation, education, tools and entertainment. We can’t plow fields or harvest their bounty without killing. We can’t breathe or walk without killing. Every day and every night, all twenty-four hours of every day of our existence, we are murderers.

Contemplating this and Grandin’s book and life make me want to mitigate the suffering of animals, for sure. However, I do not pretend I or any human can eliminate it. We can’t eliminate our own suffering, either. What we can do is change the ways it occurs, lessen or alleviate it, and feel compassionate about it enough to respond appropriately and less selfishly.

So, if you are NOT a vegan, here is my advice: do not waste your animal food. Only purchase, cook/prepare what you and your loved ones will consume. Honor the spirits of the animals who gave their lives to feed you with prayers, thoughts, songs, smoke, herbs: something sacred. Be conscious as you spend your time this week and every week hereafter of the gifts animals give us and the ways we exploit these gifts. Be humble. Be grateful. Be caring.

I will try. I hope you do, also.

Compete, much? “Jealous Gods Realm” section of my #Buddhist #Retreat

Out of the “God Realm” into the “Jealous Gods Realm” for this next portion of my at-home #Tibetan #Vajrayana #Nyingma #Dzogchen #Buddhist #meditation/#contemplation #retreat. Week 3 of about 20 weeks.

The basic practice during these “Realms” weeks is to contemplate enough to “get inside the experience” of each of the Realm’s beings as if I am one, to recognize and inspire compassion in me for their suffering. Then, when I meditate on these experiences, I pray to alleviate their suffering, to purify their and my karma for rebirth in that realm.

I went to online teachings for inspiration so that I can share excerpts here. Check this out for a great explanation of the trials and tribulations of being a Jealous God, from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo (link below):

“[Jealous Gods are filled with]…competitiveness, egocentricity, and jealousy….[J]ealous gods do nothing all day long but … compete with one another….[T]hey are constantly waging war with one another….

“There is actually a terrible and immense suffering that comes with the jealous god realm. Even though you know you are powerful, you are powerful in an odd way… like the person who has built a fortress, an impenetrable fortress, and nothing can come in….[B]ut everybody knows you really can’t build an impenetrable fortress… [b]ecause death can come in, sickness can come in….Their kind of suffering is like that.

“…[They know] that the other gods are just as powerful and can come in…so they are jealously guarding their safety….[which] only increases the jealous god’s need to go out and attack the other guy, compete with the other guy, and get on top of the other guy. Their experience is warlike…. You win, you lose, you win, you lose….That is the experience of the jealous gods. They love to dominate others. That’s their habit.

“In the realm of the jealous gods, they are so concerned with their own safety and jealously guarding their safety, as well as competing with others for that safety, that they have not one moment with which to practice #Dharma. Dharma would be to them the same as if you were to, say, talk to a warrior type that was schooled only in being a warrior.

“Okay, back to Star Trek, whaddya say? Let’s say you talk to a Klingon, like Warf, and you say to Warf, ‘Yo, Warfy-baby, here’s what we need to do. Instead of you being a warrior with all your stuff on’ (you know, he wears all this stuff and looks pretty powerful) ‘why don’t you sit down and meditate gently, like a little girl? Why don’t you sit down and meditate very quietly, and in that way you can be very strong.’ What would Warf say about that? Warf would say, ‘Pleeease!’ Warf wouldn’t have time to hear about this.

“Neither would any warrior who was trained to think of being strong and protecting one’s turf, and only thought like that. Neither could a person like that ever think that meditation or Dharma practice or anything like that is strength… so they will push that away, not having time for it…. They simply don’t have the instinct and they will not practice Dharma. They just will not practice Dharma. They’re too busy.”

Since I’ve already established that this practice inspires intense identification with the beings of the realm being contemplated, I plan to invoke silence as much as possible when interacting with others to avoid getting into fights!

Wish me luck! No, CHEER ME ON! I WANT TO WIN! LIBERATION FOR ALL!

http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/the-realm-of-the-jealous-gods/