No matter what, you are a Buddha in the making. No matter what. Before
I talk on the six realms of existence according to the Buddhist
teachings, I would like to preface with a personal story of the
Buddha's and bodhisattva's personal care for me, which I am
sharing with you not to focus on me, but to remind you that the same
that is true for me is the same that is true for you. You have
personal care and attention and support from Buddhas and
bodhisattvas. You do.
About 12 years ago, I started the Buddhist path. And I started to
learn Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings. Shakyamuni Buddha was the
Buddha, the historical Buddha of 2,600 years ago in India, who started
the whole Buddhist movement, at least in this particular time
period. It is said that there were Buddhists beforehand, but that is
in prehistoric times. I do not know anything about that. All I know is
in our historical period now, our recorded history, he was the first
Buddha that we knew about.
And so I began to learn his teachings through the beautiful teacher
Thich Nhat Hanh, began to read his story through the wonderful book
Old Path, White Clouds, which if you do not have yet, you must get. It
is our Bible. Every night I would read a chapter--which is only about
3 pages each or so--before going to bed, and I would be right there
with the Buddha as he went through his life and his teachings and his
encounters with people. And after several months, I finally finished
it, and I felt that Shakyamuni Buddha was a real human being that I
could relate to and that I could know that he is very real.
Then a few years ago, another Buddha began to grow in my consciousness
and awareness: Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light, who
shares his support, his pure land with as many beings who want to be
supported by him. I have been so happy to practice the practices of
the pure land tradition blending with my Zen tradition that I learned
from Thich Nhat Hanh and of course other traditions that I've also
been practicing over the years as well--Theravada Buddhism
especially--as I ordained twice for temporary monastic ordination in
that tradition. And now more recently, learning more about the Tibetan
Buddhist tradition through having a Buddhist monk from the Tibetan
tradition here at the center, Tashi Nyima.
And now in the last month or so, another Buddha began to grow in my
consciousness and awareness. I woke up one day about six or so weeks
ago and I just had to find out more about Medicine Buddha. I have
heard about Medicine Buddha. I mean, there are so many Buddhas. That
was the Buddha I particularly was just--I woke up with this
sense, and so I Googled "Medicine Buddha" and the Medicine
I wanted to learn the mantra. I just had to. And I found it online,
which you heard earlier this evening, a Tibetanized version, and then
I researched to find out what is the original Sanskrit, and I finally
found it. And then I learned it. I learned how to chant it in one day.
And later that evening I went to the Barnes & Noble bookstore with a
couple of friends. We looked at different things: music, some
magazines. Then I went to the religion section, the Buddhism section,
and I just kind of scanned the books, and I saw one book in
particular. I've seen it before. I knew the author. I had actually met
the author before, Lama Surya Das. But this one--it was the book
Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be, an appropriate title for
anyone going through midlife or at least approaching it.
And I opened it up, and I just opened, and there on the top of the
page was the Medicine Buddha mantra. And that whole chapter was about
Medicine Buddha. Of all different chapters, that was the one I opened
to, and I just felt so happy because I knew that was the sign from the
Buddhas that I have personal care and attention from the enlightened
ones--that it was the Buddhas themselves that--or bodhisattvas--who
knows? Some beings of infinite light--that put into my mind when I
woke up the desire to learn the Medicine Buddha mantra, and that
evening confirmed to me that I was being led, just as I was led two
years ago to start the Dallas Meditation Center.
During meditation, I just suddenly had this powerful thought about
checking out this building and to kind of just throw it out there
amongst friends to see what they thought about possibly maybe starting
the center. That was an inspired thought. I know that now. The fact
that all of you are sitting here in this beautiful practice is proof
to me that was not my own ego's idea. It came from the Buddhas.
If that had anything to do with my ego, I would have been too scared
to do it financially, you know, in this economy. But every single
office in the building is now filled with practitioners and
tenants. Isn't that wonderful? Let us just hear a clap for the
Buddhas. Yay! I am grateful to all of you who pledged a monthly
donation, and if you haven't yet, I encourage you to do so so you can
get all the good karma and the flow of wonderful merit.
And so I just wanted to share about the Medicine Buddha and the mantra
with you so you have some extra support in your practice. We have the
Shakyamuni Buddha and the wonderful true teachings of enlightenment,
and we have the wonderful support of Amitabha Buddha and all the
Buddhas related to Amitabha, all the bodhisattvas who are his helpers,
including Avalokiteshvara and Kuan Yin bodhisattva. We have all that
support of infinite light and grace and love, and we have the Medicine
Buddha and all of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas related to him.
We have all the support of not just spiritual enlightenment help, but
also support in the practical matters of living in the physical world,
support in having health in our body, support in having health in our
minds, support in having health in our relationships--practical
support in the nitty-grittiness of earth life here and now. The
Buddhas are not just for ultimate reality and mindfulness. Also the
Buddhas help us with the nitty-grittiness, the down-to-earthness of
our everyday crazy human life here and now.
So we have all the support, all the support. So let us take advantage
of the support, open our hearts through meditation and mindfulness and
chanting and service and supporting one another. This is how we
receive that support. We give to receive. That is how we do it. So
give yourself the gift of practice regularly.
Now to my topic for the evening, the teaching of the six realms. But
before we do, since this is still on the board, let us chant one more
time the Medicine Buddha mantra.
(Everyone chants Medicine Buddha mantra)
So according to the Buddha's teachings, there are basically six
categories of realms of existence in the universe in which beings can
take physical form or semi-physical form. We are very familiar with
the human realm, and we also know of the existence of the animal
realm. We coexist with the animals here on the planet.
According to the Buddha's teachings, there are also four other realms
of existence. There is the hungry ghost realm. I don't really like the
word ghost, but oh well. And then there is the hell realm, the hell
being realm. These are English translations of Sanskrit words, and I
do not particularly like the English translation. I am going to use
them anyway, because I have not come up with better words yet. There
is also the demigod realm and the gods realm. I also do not like those
translations either, but I will use those anyway.
Now, because beings continue to be born and die and be reborn over and
over and over again, they manifest themselves in their particular
realm based on their actions in a particular life that have
consequences and ramifications. So action in Sanskrit is karma, so
whatever you do in your mind, the thoughts and your speech, your words
and your body actions, they have an effect, a reverberation in the
universe. And so they take you into manifesting in different realms.
So sometimes people are--according to the traditional teaching--I am
going to give you my traditional bit in just a bit--but according to
the traditional teaching, you can be born in the human realm but
because you did quite a few negative things in your lifetime, you
could be reborn in the lower realms of either the animals or hungry
ghosts or possibly even hell being realm if you did something like
murder your parents or something like that.
According to the Buddhist tradition, there are two things that are
just really terribly not good. One is to try to hurt a Buddha
physically. You cannot actually kill a Buddha because they cannot be
killed until their time is up, but you can try to hurt them, like
injure them or something. So trying to kill a Buddha is really, really
bad, and the second bad thing is to kill your parents. According to
the traditional understanding, you would probably go right over to the
But if you did very well in your life, you could go to higher realms,
the demigods, the middle-class devas, or if you really, really did
good, you could go to the upper-class deva's realm. Another
translation could be angelic. You could be with the angels, because in
Sanskrit, the word "god" does not mean the same thing as the word
"god" in the Judeo-Christian understanding. We are not talking about
the supreme Creator here. We are talking about very angelic beings.
All right. So because of ignorance, we go through cycles up and down,
up and down, up and down, because you are born in a lower realm. You
might choose to try to improve your life and do better, and then you
would be born in a higher realm, but because you are in a higher
realm, you might take it for granted and take advantage of the people,
and then you would be born in a lower realm. It is up and down and up
and down, the cycle of samsara, the wheel of existence and suffering
over and over and over again. It feels endless.
But there is a realm beyond all these realms, and that is the
enlightened realm with the Buddhas. And they actually exist within the
realms as well as beyond the realms as well.
Now I'm going to give you my understanding of this teaching, because I
personally believe that everything that has been passed on down to us
from the Buddha has some value, whether it is literal value or
symbolic value. I really do. I have not encountered any teaching yet
that did not have some value on some level. I am always amazed by the
Buddha's teachings. Wow. Everything seems to have value when I really
look deeply into it. I find a lot of value in his teaching.
Now, to me, I do not personally believe that if you do some bad things
in this life, like maybe pig out a lot, you'll be reborn as a pig in
your next life. I personally do not believe that. I personally believe
that we are on an evolutionary journey and so perhaps part of our
existence came from mineral realm to plant realm to animal realm to
sentient being, human-like realms, and I do believe that we can be
born in other planets and other worlds as well.
But let's just say we are on the earth in this human realm. I believe
that we will continue to progress in the human realm until we finally
awaken and become enlightened, but while we are in this human realm,
we do go through six kinds of human existences that correspond to
these six realms.
When we are born into a lifetime where we are always poor and
impoverished and never have enough, that is like being born in the
hungry ghost realm. If we are born into a state of being where we do
not have our full mental capacity, we are very, very kind of
instinctual and just kind of do not know a lot, or we are surrounded
by people that do not have a lot of education, that might be like the
Or if we are born into a situation where there is a lot of suffering
and war, death, disease constantly--all of this suffering--that could
be like the hell being realm. And if we are born into the human realm,
that would be like just the normal, you know, human realm, like maybe
middle-class or something, and the demigod realm might be higher
middle-class, you know, or upper-middle-class, and the god realm could
be like being born into extreme wealth, like being the son or daughter
of Bill Gates or something.
But not only can this correspond to a human lifetime, I also believe
this corresponds to psychological states of mind that can occur in one
day. So you might wake up one morning in the human realm and then you
have a flat tire and you just feel, you know, really deprived of what
you need to do that day, so you're in the hungry ghost realm, because
you have to spend several hours trying to get the tire fixed, and you
did not have lunch, so you're hungry, and you are in the animal
realm. I don't know how you would correspond it. And maybe a cop gave
you a ticket so you feel like you're in the hell realm. I do not
know. Or something else. Maybe then you finally get to work and you
find out your boss has given you a promotion, and you feel like you're
in the demi-god realm, and then you come to sangha and meditate, and
now you are in the god realm.
So these can be psychological states that you can go to all six even
in just one day. But what I believe is the human realm is basically
the realm of having your full mental capacity to make the choice to
learn the Dharma and to follow and practice the Dharma. The hungry
ghost realm, it is like when we are going through cravings and
addictions. Have you ever met someone who might, no matter what people
give to them or what gifts they have, just never feel satisfied? That
would be someone living out a life in the hungry ghost realm.
Many people who are in addictions go through the hungry ghost
realm. No matter what, it is like it is never enough. They never feel
satisfied. I know some people who drift from religion to religion,
from place to place because they never feel like they belong. They
never feel like they are home. These are people who are living out a
psychological state of mind in the hungry ghost realm.
People who are maybe living out in the animal realm right now could be
those who are just living in survival mode, just trying to live day by
day just to make enough to eat. Perhaps they do not really want to
learn more about the Dharma. They do not want to educate
themselves. Maybe they just live for food. They just live for
sex. They just live for the moment without any thought of anything
Those who are maybe living at that hell being realm, maybe they are in
some sort of very violent gang where there is constant killing and
murdering and death and anger constantly. Who knows?
And then there may be those who are very, very content. They have
everything they want there. They have a good family. They have
money. They have a good job. They have a good body, good looks,
everything they always wanted. They are always satisfied. They are
And then the demigod realm--this is the most interesting realm that I
like to talk about--this is the jealous god realm. They have much more
abundance than maybe the average human being, but they do not quite
have everything like the wealthiest people do, so they are kind of
like this nouveau riche, upper-middle-class, and they are always
jealous. They have so much, but they want a little bit more, because
the next-door neighbor has a better house, a better car. They have
already so much more than the average person, but they are always
jealous, always never satisfied, even though they have so much.
Male Audience Member: That is hungry ghost.
ChiSing: Exactly. It is hungry ghost living in riches. So this is very
interesting--I find myself sometimes in this state of mind
occasionally, right? Because in reality I have so much. I have so much
abundance, and yet I do sometimes find myself feeling unsatisfied or
jealous, you know? When we practice mindfulness meditation, we can be
aware of our state of consciousness.
One of the practices of enlightenment--the Buddha gave us seven
factors of enlightenment, and one of them was to know your state of
mind, to know when you are feeling loved, to know you are feeling
loved. When you are feeling jealousy, to know you are feeling
jealousy. When you're feeling anger, to know you are feeling anger.
So the first step of transformation is to know what is going on,
right? And so this is a practical practice to figure out what realm am
I living in this moment right now, and what is my tendency? What is my
tendency in this lifetime? What realm do I tend to like to kind of go
back to over and over and over again? This is something you can
mindfully investigate, and that is one of the factors of
enlightenment, investigation through mindfulness.
So that is one teaching of the Buddha. I do not know if it is the most
essential, but I am just going to give you 12 teachings of the Buddha
that I enjoy talking about and sharing about. I hope this was helpful
to you, and I hope all of you will try to appreciate what realm you
And by the way, it is said that the human realm is the realm that is
best suited for enlightenment because you are not distracted too much
by physical poverty and pain and suffering and you are not distracted
by the luxury either.
Did you know that people in the god realm actually do not have it so
good either? They are almost as bad as the hell being
realm--almost--because they have so much luxury that they may be
tempted never to ever think about the next life. They may be tempted
never to think about consequences of their actions. They may be
tempted never to think about enlightenment or to improve their
spiritual life because they are so distracted by the luxuries of their
physical life. You see?
So there is a danger there, too. That is why I said that the human
realm is the best realm possible, so I want you to go home tonight
feeling grateful that you are all middle-class, most of you, because
that is the best place to be. You are not distracted by too much of
the lower realms and you are not distracted too much by the higher
realms. You are in the perfect realm right here and now to investigate
your life, to study the Dharma, to learn the Dharma, to practice the
Dharma. So you have the best chance of becoming a fully enlightened
Buddha and not just staying as an infant Buddha for so many lifetimes.
Another thing I want to say is you don't even have to believe in
reincarnation or rebirth. You can reinterpret however you want, but
use this teaching in the most practical way you can for your life so
that you can continue to progress on the path. Thank you so much.