The Six Realms of Existence are not external locations,
but are conditioned experiences which manifest as a lifetime in a particular
body, in a particular realm. The development of these conditions are described
in the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination. The six realms have varying
duration, and may be experienced for just a moment, for a limited duration,
or for one or several lifetimes. In the human realm we can experience
the range of emotions that cause such experiences and existences.
(devas - The Shining Ones)
Image: A god, absorbed in contemplation, playing a string
instrument, surrounded by attendants.
The setting is a magnificent garden with trees and fruits suggesting
paradise, and the experience of sensual delights.
Symbolism: The temporal paradise depicted is achieved by
good deeds. The gods are enjoying continual pleasures and sensual
delights, but this eternity is an illusion. Eventually they are
subject to old age and death, and experience excruciating desperation
as they realise they will fall into the lower realms. Psychological
cause and experience: This particular style of confusion
is that of self-absorption, self-satisfied pride which may vary
in degrees and subtlety, from the highest absorptions of meditative
bliss, to mere sensual pleasure.
(asuras - The Joyless Ones)
Image: The powerful asura, sitting on his throne
in front of his palace that is similar to the god's palace, receives
a delegation of his soldiers. The wishgranting tree grows in the
realm of the asuras, but the crown and fruits grow into the realm
of the gods, who enjoy the fruit without ever having attended to
the tree. So the asuras wage a perpetual war, which they can never
Symbolism: The asuras' insatiable ambition and jealousy
never allows them to be content. No matter how much they already
have, they always want more. They deeply resent the gods' apparently
never ending happiness, and they live a life of war and misery.
Others' happiness is their frustration.
Psychological causes: This realm of confusion is characterised
by jealousy, comparing oneself with others, and fixating on the
superiority of others.
(manushyas - The Potentially Aware Ones)
Image: Humans going about their ordinary lives –
giving birth, burying the dead, working, ploughing the fields.
Symbolism: Humans are ruled by passion, and are subject to
the four great waves of suffering: birth, old age, sickness, and death.
Although they are no less confused than the other realms – and
experience all the various sufferings of samsara – because they
have the capacity for reasoning, this realm is uniquely favourable
to pursue the path of awakening, given that there has been a fully
awakened teacher, and the teaching has remained.
Psychological causes: Human confusion is distinguished by
thought and passion, as well as the entire variety of destructive
(tiriakas - The Ignorant Ones)
Image: Animals live in fear, oppression, and confusion.
All energy is directed towards satisfaction of physical needs and
self-preservation, and they have no ability to remedy their situation.
Symbolism: Animals embody the principle of ignorance
in that animals abide in set, predictable ways. They believe in their
senses, and rarely deviate from simple agendas pertaining to eating,
procreating, and survival.
Psychological causes: The psychology of the animal
realm is the gullible adherence to what the senses and desires crave.
It is lacking perspective, ignoring and refusing to go new ways.
(narakas - The Angry Ones)
Image: Yama the Lord of Death presides over a landscape
in which the inhabitants are being tortured by heat or cold, or by
a variety of painful conditions.
Symbolism: The hot and cold hells feature pain, torment,
torture and constant suffering inflicted by furious, vengeful hell
beings. All this suffering is a result of anger and hatred, and lasts
until the original unwholesome condition has been exhausted.
Psychological causes: The psychology of hell is that
of intense and self-perpetuating hatred and paranoia. There are no
external factors imposing this pain, it is the creation of the hateful
(pretas - The Insatiable Ones)
Image: Human-like creatures with bloated bellies
and thin arms and necks that populate a barren landscape. They can
go for hundreds of years without finding nourishment, and they mistreat
each other in various terrible ways.
Symbolism: Pretas are driven by an insatiable greedy hunger
and thirst that can never be satisfied or quenched. Nothing appeases
desire for more. Their small mouths and long and narrow legs frustrate
them and their hunger and thirst becomes even greater.
Psychological causes: Preta existence is that of miserliness
and the related fixation on the experience of poverty. It can also
be experienced in the context of plenty, in which nothing ever satisfies.