Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hell realm

Week 1: the hell realm

Apportion your meditation session as follows:
rest with the breath for 1/3 of your meditation time,
do the following contemplations for 1/3-1/2 your practice session,
gain rest with the breath for the balance of your session. 

The hell realm is about anger and hate, fire and ice. The only way you know to connect with anything is to oppose it. No joy, no humor, no pleasure, no human warmth of any kind. You are utterly alone, against everything, and everything is against you. 

The hot hells describe the subjective experience of anger. Anger is like fire, every cell a ball of raging incandescent flame. Anger is like a red hot spear, piercing your whole body. Anger is like red hot rocks, tumbling down on you and carrying you down to the depths of hell. When anger takes hold, anything and everything is a threat, to be struck down, killed, demolished and destroyed. You have no friends. You have no allies. You trust no one. You would like to reduce the whole world to a mass of black cinders, quietly smoking in a hellish ruddy glow, and then stand glowering in the smoldering ruins. But it is usually the world that destroys you, and you end up fighting the same battles over and over again, to no avail.

The cold hells describe the subjective experience of hate—cold, hard, unremitting. Hate freezes you from the inside out. Your heart is ice. You cannot let even a ray of sunshine in. Anything different, anything new, is a threat, because it requires you to move. Even the slightest movement, whether in your heart, in your body, or in how you view the world, is excruciatingly difficult, and painful beyond endurance. 

During the day, take opposition as your attention alarm. Every time you say no, directly or indirectly, every time you take an oppositional stance, no matter how justified, check your body, heart and mind. What happens in your body? What feelings arise? What stories run?


Next 6 days: alternate between hell realm and titan realm

Continue to do the hell realm meditation. The titan realm and the hell realm are both based in anger. As a titan, you are angry at those who you deem to be better than you. As a hell being, you are angry at everything. During your meditation period, recall occasions when you were angry, for either reason, and rest in the experience of that anger.

During the day, for the first day, go about your life as a hell being. Everybody is out to get you. Don’t trust anyone. Take everything anyone says or does as an attack, even if it’s just a friendly greeting. Notice the effect this posture has on you, on how you relate to people, on how you see others, and, conversely, how they relate to you. 

The next day, go about your life as a titan. Notice where others are better than you, whether in athletic ability or artistic talent, good looks or popularity, money or status, fame or good fortune. You want to be better than them! That you are not infuriates you. Notice what the envy does to you and to how you relate to others.  

Again, alternate one day as a hell being, one day as a titan for the six days.

Next 6 days: alternate between hell realm and god realm

In your regular meditation sessions, continue to explore what it is like to be in hell, to be consumed by anger and hate. Notice how you experience time when you are angry. When you lose your temper, you destroy the world in a flash, but the anger keeps coming back, again and again. It seems to go on forever. With hate, time passes slowly as you sit cold and alone, unable to move, hating the world around.

During the day, on day one, go about your life as a hell being. You are either seething, sitting on a volcano about to erupt and send streams of molten lava that burns everything in its path, or frozen, in hatred, unwilling and unable to change the implacable hatred you direct at everything around you. How quickly does the day go by? 

The next day, go about your life as a god. You are so far above it all that there is no conflict in your life. If anything like conflict arises, you rise above it. It’s beneath you to engage it. 

Both the gods and hell beings are completely consumed by their emotional reactions. Gods are self-absorbed to the exclusion of external awareness, whether the absorption is in their own pleasure or in the serenity of extraordinary states of stillness. Hell beings are absorbed by their environment, to the exclusion of any internal awareness.  

Alternate one day hell being, one day god for six days. 

Next 6 days: alternation between hell realm and human realm

In your practice sessions, continue to explore the hell realm, how you see and experience life when you are possessed by anger and hate. From time to time, imagine that you do not encounter any opposition. Neither the other beings around you nor the environment fight back. There is no one to fight, nothing to battle. What happens now?

During the day, go about your life as a hell being, angry at everything, blaming everyone and everything around you for any difficulties you have in your live, seething inside at the injustice of it all. The next day, go about your life as a human, focusing on what you want or what you want to do. Savor the enjoyment when you are able to bring it about. 

For the six days, alternate one day as a hell being, one day as a human.

Remaining days of the month: awakening in the hell realm

In the hungry ghost realm, Buddha, the possibility of waking up, takes the form of the Lord of Death, the ruler of the hell realms. He is the arbiter of karma, and the mirror he holds reflects to all beings the consequences of how they have lived their lives.

Again enter the hell realm. Let anger or hate consume you. Everyone you encounter is a threat. Everything in the environment is a source of pain. You react to the threats, the aggression, the hostility all around you with anger that rages in every cell in your body. Rest in that experience. Rest so deeply that you are able to be in that experience and be at peace. Then look at what is angry. Look at what hates. There is a shift, and in that shift you touch a knowing that anger cannot touch. Rest in that knowing as the anger continues to rage in you. That knowing becomes a light, crystal clear in its intensity. It permeates your body, all the anger in you, and the whole realm of hell outside you, with all the aggressive creatures and hostile elements in the environment. Everything and everyone dissolve into that light and you rest there.

Dissolve the hell realm into light two or three times, and then rest in the light.

During the day, pay attention to how you speak. One of the best ways to know when anger is rising in you is to listen to your voice when you speak as if you were listening to another person. You are immediately aware when an edge has crept into your voice, or a tone of sarcasm, or a dead tone, indicating that you have shut down. As soon as you are aware of anger rising in you, ask these three questions:

• What am I opposing in this situation?
• Do I have to oppose it?
• Is opposing called for at all right now?

These questions break the enchantment of the hell realm. The first question puts you in touch with the oppositional posture. The second question reveals if it is an emotional reaction, as it almost always is. The third questions whether opposition, and anger, are relevant to the situation at hand. With these three questions, you step out of the hell realm into a greater awareness and freedom.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hungry ghost realm

Week 1: the hungry ghost realm

Remember to apportion your meditation session as follows:
  • rest with the breath for 1/3 of your meditation time,
  • do the following contemplations for 1/3-1/2 your practice session,
  • gain rest with the breath for the balance of your session. 
The hungry ghost realm is the world of greed. Bring to mind an occasion when you felt greedy. Look at how greed expresses itself in your body. The body tightens. Hands and arms tense, preparing to grasp or hold. The throat constricts. The nostrils flare. The eyes dart here and there, scanning for something to take. You feel an impulse to reach out and snatch or grab what you can. 

Now look at what emotions accompany greed. Want, neediness, certainly. But also fear, harshness, and even cruelty. The stories, too, are all about “I have to have this,” “It’s mine,” “You can’t have any,” and so on.

When you are consumed by greed, you see the world as a desert waste. You cannot see or find anything to ease your hunger or slake your thirst. You search desperately, oblivious to others, scrambling, fighting, clawing to find something, anything, to ease the desperate need inside. If you find a crumb of bread or a desiccated pea, your mouth is so small you cannot eat it. When you pick it up, it rots in your hands. When you touch it to your lips, it scorches them. A drop of water becomes a fiery fluid, burning your mouth and your body from the inside out. Greed is so intense that if we do find a small piece of what we are looking for, our desperation is magnified.

Next 6 days: alternate between hungry ghost realm and human realm

Continue to do the hungry ghost meditation. In particular, feel how insatiable greed is. Greed arises when a want is mistaken for a need. No matter what you want, you can never have enough, not enough food, money, attention, affection, security, status, etc. Feel how greed is a blackhole, swallowing everything it can draw in, but without any satisfaction or satiation. 

During the day, for the first day, go about your life as a hungry ghost. Any time you notice that you want something or are attracted to something, make it a need. You have to have it! What is it like to live life that way? When you make everything a need— something you have to have for your survival, for your emotional well-being, or to establish who you are—how often are you able to get what you think you need? How do people look at you? How do you look at other people? With greed, we see others as objects whose only function is to fulfill our own needs.

What is the difference between the hungry ghost realm and the human realm? The human realm is based in want. You want things to be different from how they are. That want keeps you busy, but every now and then, you do get what you want. For a short time, at least, you experience enjoyment and relief. The want is satisfied, and that feels good. It doesn’t last, and you are soon back working for this or trying to get that. In the hungry ghost realm, however, there is never any sense of satisfaction, no relief, no moment of enjoyment. You are driven, driven, driven. You can never rest, and that insatiable sense of lack constantly prods you and keeps you moving. 

The next day, go about your life as a human. As a human, you always want things to be a little different from how they are, a little more of this, a little less of that. There are things you want, but you know you don’t need them, not at the level of survival, emotional well-being, or identity. When you have what you want, savor the satisfaction and enjoyment for a few moments, before you move on to your next project. When you are not able to get what you want, you feel disappointment and frustration, but you know you can live with it.

Again, alternate one day as a hungry ghost, one day as a human for the six days.

Next 6 days: alternate between hungry ghost realm and titan realm

In your regular meditation sessions, continue to explore what it is like to be a hungry ghost, to be consumed by greed. In particular, feel how volatile it is, how it takes hold of you and so distorts your perception of what you need that nothing can possibly satisfy it. Let yourself feel the crazed volatile nature of greed, without letting it take you over.

During the day, on day one, go about your life as a hungry ghost. Everything you touch turns to dust. Nothing works out. You are driven by desperate need. You can never have enough. Any good words from others, any success or achievement, or any good fortune falls into the black hole of your need for attention and appreciation and makes no difference to how you feel. You desperately hold onto what little you have, even though you don’t find any of it in the least bit comforting or satisfying.  

The next day, go about your life as a titan. You have to be better than everyone else. Notice where others are better than you—athletic ability or artistic talent, good looks or popularity, money or status, fame or good fortune. Then work harder, play harder, exercise harder, do whatever you can to demonstrate that you are at least their equal. 

Envy and jealousy and greed and neediness are all hair triggers for reactivity. Almost all the demons in the Tibetan tradition come from one or other of these two realms. They represent emotional obsessions arising from a sense of lack, of not having enough.

Alternate one day hungry ghost, one day titan for six days. 

Next 6 days: alternation between hungry ghost realm and god realm

In your practice sessions, continue to explore the hungry ghost realm, how you see and experience life when you are consumed by greed. From time to time, imagine that you have everything you want and everything you need. You are able to eat and drink. Food does not turn into a putrid mess when you touch it. Water or wine does not turn into a fiery fluid when you drink it. Your body goes not recoil or tense when you pick something up. You enjoy the pleasures of aromas and flavors. No matter how much you grasp, there is always more. As a hungry ghost, how do you react to this change?

During the day, go about your life as a hungry ghost, angry, frustrated, never able to get what you want  or need. The next day, go about your life as a god, swimming in luxury, every want or need fulfilled before the thought is complete in your mind, every person you meet there only serve your every whim, able to rest completely at ease in a bliss that seems to endure forever.

For the six days, alternate one day as a hungry ghost, one day as a god.

Remaining days of the month: awakening in the hungry ghost realm.

In the hungry ghost realm, Buddha, the possibility of waking up, is symbolized by Flaming Mouth, the queen of the hungry ghosts. When her greed is appeased by offerings from the monastic sangha, all her subjects in the hungry ghost realm are also appeased.

Again, enter the hungry ghost realm and let the experience of greed arise in you. Make it as vivid as you can, feeling the grasping quality in every cell in your body. Rest in that all-consuming greed. Now look at what experiences greed. You may experience a shift in which you touch a clear empty knowing that knows the greed and is at peace at the same time. Let that knowing permeate your whole being, your body, heart and mind. Let that knowing take the form of intense clear light that permeates everything you experience. The whole hungry ghost realm dissolves in that light.

Dissolve the hungry ghost realm into light two or three times, and then rest in the light.

During the day, notice when your inner hungry ghost asserts itself. Whenever you think, “I need that,” pay attention. As soon as you notice that kind of thought, check your body. What is happening in your body? Usually, you notice a bit of tension, and under that tension, a feeling of being threatened, threatened by lack, loss, or deprivation. Notice other reactive emotions that arise, anxiety, fear, harshness, even cruelty. These emotions may be fleeting, but any of them may be the door through which you step into the hungry ghost realm and are consumed by needing and grasping. When you feel any kind of grasping or neediness, ask these three questions:
  • What am I trying to get in this situation?
  • Do I have to get it?
  • Is getting called for at all right now?
These questions break the enchantment of the hungry ghost realm. In particular, they put you in touch with how the impulse to grasp is almost always not in keeping with what is actually going on in the situation. Something has triggered the reaction of greed in you, and you have fallen under its spell. 

The aim of these meditations is not to make us averse to greed. It is to know the experience of greed, to know it so deeply that we know what it is, a movement in mind. When we experience greed as a movement in mind, we are in touch with a knowing that greed does not touch. As with other emotional reactions, greed loses its power as a drive. We have discovered the possibility  of experiencing it without either acting on it or suppressing it. That is freedom.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Animal Realm

Week 1: the animal realm

Remember to apportion your meditation session as follows:

  • rest with the breath for 1/3 of your meditation time,
  • do the following contemplations for 1/3-1/2 your practice session,
  • again rest with the breath for the balance of your session. 

The animal realm represents instinct. All your attention is focused almost exclusively on basic needs. Am I safe here? Where is there food? How do I mate? How do I avoid pain? One way to appreciate how the animal realm operates in you is to pick three or four different animals and imagine what life is like as that animal. Meditate on domestic animals—a horse, an ox, or a pet dog, for instance. How susceptible are you to training and conditioning? Why do you submit to it? How much control do you have over your basic drives? What happens when you encounter something outside your training or conditioning? Why, when you are bigger, stronger, faster or have quicker reactions, do you tolerate the conditions you live in and the way you are treated? Be the animal, inhabit the animal, and look at these questions from that perspective.  Then look at your own life and see where and to what extent you see and function in similar ways.

Then move to wild animals. Again, pick three or four. What is it like to be a mountain lion or a heron? What about a mouse or a song bird? What about a worm or a fish? You are exceedingly skillful and effective in the areas where your biological and environmental conditioning applies. But you are still up against the indifference of Mother Nature. You have to eat and you are going to be eaten, one way or another, depending on where you are in the food chain. You are driven to mate, but how do you do that? You control very little about your environment, sun, wind, rain, or ice. What happens when you encounter a situation outside your conditioning? Or when the vagaries of Mother Nature push you outside your regular habitat and habits? How do you react? Again, look at your own life and see where and to what extent you function in similar ways.

Both domestic and wild animals rely heavily on routine, from daily routines to seasonal routines. During this month, pay attention to the routines in your own life, whether at home or at work. Pay attention to the quality of your attention when you are engaged in routine activity. Are you doing it in your sleep, as they say, or are you really paying attention to what you are doing?


Next 6 days: alternate between animal realm and god realm

During your meditation period, continue exploring what it is like to be different animals. Be quite specific and imagine your life as one particular animal, a snake or frog, perhaps, or a dragonfly. What catches or draws your attention? What do you ignore? What do you not even notice? Then look at your own life, and see where and to what extent your own attention is directed by basic impulses, particularly in what you do not notice and what you ignore.

During the day, on day one, go about your life as an animal you have worked with in your meditation. Try to navigate your life as that animal, paying attention and reacting to what catches your attention and ignoring or paying no attention to what is outside your conditioning. Where does it work? Where does it not work? When it doesn't work, what does that animal tend to do? Try to stay with that animal for a whole day. Do this with both a domestic animal and an animal in the wild.

The next day, go about your life as if you are in the god realm. The world is your oyster. You are entitled to whatever you want. Assume that everyone you encounter is there to serve you. Ask people to indulge your every whim and fancy. Now, as a god, what do you not notice? What do you ignore, even if you do notice it?

The animal realm and the god realm are both based in ignoring. The animal ignores what is outside the scope of its conditioning. The god, being above it all, ignores the existence of lesser beings.

Alternate one day animal, one day god for six days.

Next 6 days: alternate between animal realm and human realm

Continue to do the animal realm meditation, imagining being specific animals and exploring how they live in their particular worlds. What do you do when a need has been met? Do you even know when a need has been met? Food is so scarce for some animals that, given the opportunity, they just keep eating. What is it like to live with limited awareness?

What is the difference between the human realm and the animal realm? An animal, in general, acts on what it perceives it needs in the moment. Humans, again generally speaking, are more able to project their desires into the future and figure out how to satisfy them. They plan, scheme, and work at fulfilling their desires.

During the day, for the first day, go about your life as if you are an animal. Animals are creatures who follow routines, whether the routine is seasonal migration, mating rituals, making the rounds of one's territory in search of food, or the routine cats and dogs establish in domestic life. If your routine is disrupted, you seek to re-establish it as quickly as possible. You don't think much about the future. In fact, you can't even imagine it. Fear of loss and hope of gain only enter the picture in the very short term.

The next day, go about your life as a human. As a human, you always want things to be a little different from how they are, a little more of this, a little less of that. You are constantly busy, figuring how to have what you want, and how to change what you don't want. You can anticipate the future, and that causes hope and fear to arise, but that hope and fear are all about the future, not what is happening right now.

Again, alternate one day as an animal, one day as a human for the six days.

Next 6 days: alternation between animal realm and titan realm

In your practice sessions, continue to explore the animal realm, a world based in instinct and conditioning, a life based in routine, a life in which awareness is limited past and future are overshadowed by immediate circumstances. From time to time, consider how you react when your routines are disrupted, your survival threatened, or you are pushed to the edge by another animal. Note how fierce and competitive you can become when your food, your territory, or your standing in the herd is challenged or threatened.

During the day, go about your life as an animal one day, following your routine, whether the routine is determined by the day, the month, or the year, minding your own business unless the world intrudes. The next day, go about your life as a titan, so envious of what others have that you take it as a mortal challenge that they might be better in someway than you.

For the six days, alternate one day as an animal, one day as a titan.

Remaining days of the month: awakening in the animal realm

In the human realm, Buddha, the awake mind, is symbolized by the Steadfast Lion who is free from any kind of threat, unchallenged wherever he goes. His thunderous roar wakes animals out of the sleep of instinct and conditioning and inspires them to be aware of the totality of their experience.

Again, enter the animal realm and the life of routine, attention only to the immediate present, driven by instinct with little thought or reflection. Then touch the knowing present even in instinct, the clear empty knowing that embraces everything you experience. Let that knowing permeate your whole being, your body, heart and mind, banishing the darkness of conditioning, just as sun banishes the darkness of the night. Let that knowing take the form of intense crystal clear light that permeates everything you experience. The whole animal realm dissolves in that light.

Dissolve the animal realm into light two or three times, and then rest in the light.

When we lose touch with where we feel alive and awake, we fall into a dull routine. Routines themselves are not the problem. The problem is the loss of connection with the wakefulness inherent in every moment of experience. When we lose touch with that alive quality, our instincts and conditioning take over. We go into survival mode, blindly performing the routines that maintain our existence. We do whatever we have to do to survive. We do not bring our intelligence, insight, creativity, and energy to our lives. We go through the motions of life, as it were, concerned only with our survival in the limited world into which we have fallen. If that world is threatened, our reactions can be fierce, but we are protecting only our dullness. During the day, when you feel challenged or threatened, or when you feel you are just going through the motions of life, ask these three questions:

• What am I trying to survive in this situation?
• Do I have to survive it?
• Is surviving called for at all right now?

These questions break the enchantment of the animal realm. As with the other realms, when the spell is broken, you may experience a bit of a shock. You soon see, however, the limitations of the world in which you have been living. You see many more possibilities. You feel a renewed energy and vitality. Your mind is open and aware, with a completeness that is both of full of peace and full of possibilities at the same time.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Practice Guidelines. for the Six Realms

During your regular meditation period, rest with the breath for 1/3 of your meditation time. Then do the following contemplations for 1/3-1/2 your practice session. Then again rest with the breath for the balance of your session. During the day, observe and note in yourself  the characteristic struggles associated with each realm. 

Human Realm

Week 1: the human realm

During your regular meditation period, rest with the breath for 1/3 of your meditation time. Then do the following contemplations for 1/3-1/2 your practice session. Then again rest with the breath for the balance of your session. During the day, observe and note how wanting and the struggle to be satisfied arises in you, and in others. In particularly, note the arising of like, dislike, and don't care in you. Note how they translate into attraction (wanting), aversion (wanting something else), and indifference (can't be bothered).

The human realm is about wanting. You want this, you want that. You seek enjoyment, the feeling of fulfillment, warmth and relaxation that arises when your desires are satisfied. Without it, there is a sense that something is missing. Whether its sexual desire, hunger, or thirst, that enjoyment does not last very long. When you buy something that you have wanted for a long time, enjoyment typically lasts three days. Three days! Maybe you enjoy status or recognition. Maybe you enjoy the feeling of safety, security, or fulfillment. The story is always the same—if I had this, I would be happy. But it's not true. You always want more of something, and if not more, then something different. There are many kinds of wanting, but there is no end to it. 

In the classical texts, the human realm is characterized by the four great struggles—birth, old age, illness, and death. Most of us don't remember our birth, but it probably isn't very pleasant. We are squeezed through a narrow channel and dropped into a totally new environment. We have no idea how to function and we are utterly dependent on others. The struggle begins. 

Our life is largely made up of the four lesser struggles of the human realm—not being able to have what you want, not being able to keep what you have, not being with those you want to be with, and being with those you don't want to be with. Most of your time and energy goes into trying to resolve these struggles. Even if we manage to procure what we want, our enjoyment is only temporary. If we manage to be with the people we want to be with, problems and disagreements inevitably arise. As human beings, we have an extraordinary ability to make a mess of good situations, and it's almost always because of wanting, wanting things to be different from what they are. 

Old age is not something we choose. It is something that happens. If old age is a distant prospect for you, you only have to look at how the elderly struggle to know that it's not much fun, either. If it isn't a distant prospect, you know the struggle of old age already, and there is nothing more to say. Illness in the modern era is something that most of us encounter only occasionally—the exception more than the rule. It wasn't always so, and the advent of a pernicious virus has now woken us up to the struggles and anxiety that illness has always brought to the human condition. As for death, we are biologically, psychologically, socially and culturally conditioned to avoid death. Everything in our being moves us to struggle against it. 

If you dig a little deeper, you may find that a sense of missing something pervades everything you experience, except for those brief moments when you find enjoyment. But if and when you find a respite from that missing, how long would you or could you stay there?

Next 6 days: alternate between human realm and hungry ghost realm

During your meditation period, continue with the human realm mediation, feeling the wanting that arises from the feeling of something missing and savoring the enjoyment that comes when your want is satisfied. From time to time, bring to mind how your life has been shaped by wanting, whether it is want for human connection, for relationship, for a job, a book, a car, a dress, or a good conversation. 

The difference between the hungry ghost realm and the human realm is that the hungry ghost realm is based in need (real or imagined) while the human realm is based in want. If you do not have what you need, you do not survive. If you do not obtain what you want, you may be inconvenienced, but your life and well-being are not threatened. When a need is fulfilled, you may experience relief but you do not experience enjoyment. When you have what you wanted, you do experience enjoyment, at least for a time. 

During the day, on day one, go about your life as a human. In particular, take note of how much time and energy go into wanting what you don't have, wanting to keep what you do have, wanting to be with certain people, and wanting not to be with other people. Whenever you feel enjoyment during the day, savor the feeling. Take note of how much time and energy you put into seeking enjoyment, assuaging that feeling that something is missing. Explore how long you are able to stay with the enjoyment. What happens in you when it dissipates?

The next day, go about your life as if you are in the hungry ghost realm. Take every want as a need. You need this. You need that. You have to have it! Without it, you are not going to survive, you are going to be crushed emotionally, or your sense of who you are, your identity, is going to be damaged beyond repair. You feel threats at every turn. You grasp whatever you can and even as you hold it in your hands or stuff it down your throat, it's never enough.

Alternate one day human, one day hungry ghost for six days. 

Next 6 days: alternate between human realm and animal realm

Continue to do the human realm meditation and pay attention to how you the experience of wanting. What are the body sensations associated with wanting? What emotions come up? What are the typical stories that run? What happens when your desire is fulfilled? How do you experience enjoyment in your body, emotionally, and in your mind? Also, take note of how long the feeling of enjoyment lasts and how it dissipates and is replaced by another want. 

What is the difference between the human realm and the animal realm? An animal, in general, acts on what it perceives it needs in the moment. Humans, again generally speaking, are more able to project their desires into the future and figure out how to satisfy them. They plan, scheme, and work at fulfilling their desires. 

During the day, for the first day go about your life as a human again. When you want something, figure out a way to satisfy your desire. What needs to happen for that to come about? Wait until the conditions are right? What is it like to wait? When the conditions are right, put your plan into action and see what unfolds. If you are successful, savor the enjoyment. How long do the feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction last?

The next day go about your life as if you are an animal. As soon as you feel you need something, try to bring it about. Here, you are not acting like a hungry ghost, driven by insatiable greed. You want something and you try to get it. If you can't, you give up and try to get something else, or you just accept that you can't get it right now. If you are hungry, for instance, experience the hunger. If you have nothing to eat, what is it like to wait until food comes along? Life is in the immediate present. You are only aware of what is right in front of you and right around you. You cannot project your wants or needs into the future. Right here, right now, but limited to what you have been conditioned to notice and seek. 

Again, alternate one day as a human, one day as an animal for the six days.

Next 6 days: alternation between human realm and hell realm

In your practice sessions, continue to explore the human realm, a world based on satisfying wants and desires, satisfying that feeling of missing something, and constructing more and more elaborate systems to do so. From time to time, consider that you are in a different world, a world in which you want for nothing, a world in which that feeling of missing doesn't arise. Everything you could possibly want or need is readily accessible and available. Would you enjoy such a world? What would you do in it? 

During the day, go about your life as a human one day, feeling your desires, satisfying them to the extent possible, and savoring the feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment. The next day, go about your day as if you were in hell. Whatever you want, something or someone blocks your way. Your wants bring you into conflict. The world is against you in every way. Take note of what body sensations, the emotions, and the stories that arise. 

For the six days, alternate one day as a god, one day as a being in hell.

Remaining days of the month: awakening in the human realm

A manifestation of Buddha (awakening) is traditionally pictured in each of the six realms. In the human realm, Buddha takes the form of Buddha Shakyamuni, the buddha of our age who lived 2500 years ago. In the human realm, Buddha Shakyamuni sought freedom from the struggles of old age, illness, and death. He found a peace in which he could experience desire, anger, and all the other emotional reactions and know directly that these emotional reactions were movements in mind, that, like everything else in the world, they come and go on their own. In that knowing, there is a wholeness. There is no sense of something missing.

Again, enter the human realm and touch your desires. Then touch that knowing. Let that knowing permeate your whole being, not only your body, heart and mind, but everything you feel and everything you experience through the senses, everything you see, hear, taste, touch or smell. Some people find it helpful to let that knowing take the form of light which permeates everything they experience, light so intense that the whole human realm dissolves into light.

Dissolve the human realm into light two or three times, and then rest in the light.

During the day, recall that wanting arises from a feeling that something is missing. Enjoyment arises when our desires are satisfied. In that enjoyment, we feel whole and complete. Most of us build our whole lives around the dream of enjoyment, in one form or another. Whenever you are aware of wanting or desiring, consider these three questions, one after the other in this sequence:

• What am I missing in this situation?
• Do I have to miss it?
• Is missing called for at all right now?

These questions break the enchantment of the human realm. You may feel that someone threw cold water in your face, or that you are waking up from a dream or deep sleep. You see the world differently. You are content in a way that you may not have experienced before, and there is a peace and freedom in that contentment.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

What are the six realms?

The question "Do the realms actually exist?" is, to be a bit technical, a category question masquerading as an ontological question. Consider the question, “Are the six realms products of the human imagination?” Few would argue that they are not. Thus they exist, at least as products of the human imagination. The better way to phrase this question is: in what category do we put the 6 realms? Are they possibilities of actual experience? Are they descriptions of actual beings? Are they metaphors for subjective experience? Are they a nexus of energy in which we are caught, a bottomless pit from which there is no apparent way out, otherwise called samsara?

It is very hard to say definitely what is or is not for the simple reason that we cannot know what this experience we call life actually is. Chuang Tzu pointed this out a couple of thousand years ago. "Am I Chuang Tzu dreaming that I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tzu?" I love how the end of Box Trolls takes a look at this problem, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3h7p0NckTKc

A friend and colleague of mine says that we don't have to believe that these realms exist, but we should practice with the idea that it is possible that they do. Is this a version of Pascal's gambit? Not really. It’s more about not believing that what we know through our senses, through our reasoning, or through our conditioning is the final word on everything.

For the purposes of the meditation  I describe in these postings, I am definitely interpreting the six realms as metaphors for the subjective experience of emotional reactions and the worlds they project. In the same vein, rebirth can be seen as a metaphor for how we move from one projected realm to another, many times every day, as different emotional reactions come and go. For most people in our culture, it is a big step to consider the six realms describe possibilities of existence. That resistance makes it more difficult for us to engage viscerally the experiences of the six realms. It all feels a bit like make-believe. On the other hand, if we take the realms as descriptions of the subjective experience of the emotional reactions, it is easier for us to move right into the experience of realm: feel the grasping quality of greed, how anger burns us from the inside out, how hate makes the slightest movement excruciatingly painful, etc. We don’t get hung up on wondering “Is it real?” We can move into the physical experience of emotional reaction. To change our relationship with these emotional reactions, to free ourselves from their tyranny, we have to be able to not only recognize but stand in and experience the visceral physical operation of the reaction itself.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Titan Realm

Week 1: the titan realm
The essence of the titan realm is “I am better than you.” It’s about envy and jealousy. It is based in the belief that you have to prove that you are the best of the best, whatever arena you are in. If you can build a bigger business, have more friends, win more contests, be more famous, or make a better mousetrap, you can claim the place in the world that is rightfully yours. You are deeply jealous of those who you know are not as good as you, but they have more—more money, more friends, more status, more strength, or more fame. You are constantly comparing what you have or what you have done against what others have or have done. Whether it is status, wealth, or fame, power, intelligence or ability, good works, elegance or kindness, it is always a contest, a contest you never seem to win. What you do have in terms of money, property, regard or beauty feels empty. Know matter how much you achieve, the horizon of your ambitions constantly recedes and you are left struggling and striving, driven by an envy or jealousy that never lets you rest.

When you read through the more detailed traditional accounts of the titan realms, you will notice that the descriptions are usually the shortest. Envy and jealousy spread their poisons insidiously—Iago, in Shakespeare’s Othello comes immediately to mind—but there is little more that needs to be said. The poison of jealousy spreads through the resentment, anger and aggression that it engenders. In contrast to jealousy, which is about the threat of loss, envy is about the threat of not having or being enough. That internal sense of not being enough drives the ambition, the aggression, the ruthless need to achieve, whatever the cost to yourself or those around you

Next 6 days: alternation between titan realm and hell realm
During your meditation period, continue with the titan realm mediation, feeling how the the need to achieve, the need to prove yourself, tyrannizes your life. From time to time, recall instances during your life when you knew you were better than others, but they were promoted, they had the deals that made their lives easy, they were recognized for their modest (in your eyes) achievements, and they lived in ways that you could only dream about. 

During the day, on day one, go about your life as a titan. All you notice is where others have more than you. It may be athletic ability or artistic talent, good looks or popularity, money or status, fame or good fortune. It makes you angry, but you cannot do anything about it. The next day, go about your life as if you are in hell. Even though all may be well in your life, you cannot enjoy or even appreciate any of it. It does not matter how well your day is going, life is still horrible. Every interaction is a simmering conflict. You cannot trust anyone to do anything good for you. You seethe with rage at the unjustness of it all. Both realms have a common base in anger.
Alternate one day titan, one day hell being for six days. 

Next 6 days: alternation between titan realm and hungry ghost realm
Continue to do the titan realm meditation and pay attention to envy and its counterpart jealousy.  In particular, notice how quickly reactivity takes over, how quickly you are to compare yourself with others, how quickly stories about injustice, unfairness, shame, and need jump into your mind. 
For one day, go about your life as a titan again. Be better than everyone else and show it in every way you can—work harder, play harder, exercise harder. Have the answer to everything and do everything in your day better and faster than anyone else. The next day go about your life as if you are an abject loser, a hungry ghost. Everything you touch turns to dust. Nothing works out. You are driven by desperate greed. You can never have enough. Any good words from others, any success or achievement, or any good fortune falls into the black hole of your greed for attention and appreciation and makes no difference to how you feel. You desperately hold onto what little you have, even though you don’t find any of it in the least bit comforting or satisfying. Envy and jealousy and greed and neediness are all hair triggers for reactivity. 
Again, alternate one day as a titan, one day as a hungry ghost for the six days. 

Next 6 days: alternation between titan realm and animal realm
In your practice sessions, continue to explore the titan realm, a world based on competition, rivalry, and achievement. From time to time, consider that you are in a different world, a world without competition or ranking. There is no you are better than me or I am better than you. Who would you be? What would you do? Many people find the prospect disorienting. They lapse back to old patterns of behavior just to confirm their identities.
During the day, go about your life as a titan one day, striving and competing in everything you do. The next day, go about your day as an animal. You function automatically, doing what you are used to doing, what you are know how to do. Envy, jealousy, comparison, competition don’t enter your mind at all. You have no awareness outside your conditioning, You do what is right in front of you and what you need to do
For the six days, alternate one day as a god, one day as an animal.

Remaining days of the month: awakening in the god realm
A manifestation of Buddha (awakening) is traditionally pictured in each of the six realms. In the titan realm, Buddha takes the form of Takzangri, head of one of the titan clans. He holds a sword and with it, breaks the titans’ obsession with aggression and envy.
The point here is that even in all-consuming envy, there is still a clear knowing that is unaffected. You can touch that knowing at any time. 

Again, enter the titan realm and then touch that knowing. Let that knowing permeate your whole being, not only your body, heart and mind, but everything you feel and everything you experience through the senses, everything you see, hear, taste, touch or smell. Some people find it helpful to let that knowing take the form of light which permeates everything they experience, light so intense that the whole titan realm dissolves into light. 

Dissolve the titan realm into light two or three times, and then rest in the light. 

During the day, recall that envy arises from comparing who we think we are and our position in the world to others. That envy drives us to try to achieve what we think we should have. Whenever you recognize that something you say or do is about achieving, bring these three questions to mind, one after the other in this sequence:
  • What am I trying to achieve in this situation?
  • Do I have to achieve it?
  • Is achieving called for at all right now?
These questions break the enchantment of the titan realm. Depending on the situation, they may open up new possibilities or leave you dazed and confused. Whatever arises, stay with your intention to experience how envy and jealousy operate in your life—without being taken over by them. Do not be distracted by your own reactions. When you step out of the world of comparison, competition and achievement, you see the world differently. You may discover a quiet joy in taking care of the simple things in life, a joy that has always been there, but to which you paid little attention.