If you are what you eat, you must also be what you think, feel, and say. Much like the way you can choose a new diet you can choose to change your outlook on life. The Buddhists have laid this idea out in a cool way but first we have to understand some things.
We live in a continual repetitive cycle of birth and death called Samsara. Samsara consists of 6 realms. These six realms are typically divided into three higher realms and three lower realms: the three higher realms are the realms of the gods, demi-gods, and humans; the three lower realms are the realms of the animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings. These realms can be described briefly as follows:
- God realm: the gods lead long and enjoyable lives full of pleasure and abundance, but they spend their lives pursuing meaningless distractions and never think to practice the dharma. When death comes to them, they are completely unprepared; without realizing it, they have completely exhausted their good karma (which was the cause for being reborn in the god realm) and they suffer through being reborn in the lower realms.
- Demi-god (Titan) realm: the demi-gods or Titans have pleasure and abundance almost as much as the gods, but they spend their time fighting among themselves or making war on the gods. When they make war on the gods, they always lose, since the gods are much more powerful. The demi-gods suffer from constant fighting and jealousy, and from being killed and wounded in their wars with each other and with the gods.
- Human realm: humans suffer from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, separation from friends, being attacked by enemies, not getting what they want, and getting what they don’t want. They also suffer from the general sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. Yet the human realm is considered to be the most suitable realm for practicing the dharma, because humans are not completely distracted by pleasure (like the gods or demi-gods) or by pain and suffering (like the beings in the lower realms). Among the six realms, the human realm is considered to offer the best opportunity to practice the dharma, thereby offering the best chance to attain liberation from samsara.
- Animal realm: wild animals suffer from being attacked, eaten, and raped by other animals; they generally lead lives of constant fear. Domestic animals suffer from being exploited by humans; for example, they are slaughtered for food, overworked, abused, and so on.
- Hungry ghost realm: hungry ghosts suffer from extreme hunger and thirst. They wander constantly in search of food and drink, only to be miserably frustrated any time they come close to actually getting what they want. For example, they see a stream of pure, clear water in the distance, but by the time they get there the stream has dried up. Hungry ghosts have huge bellies and long thin necks. On the rare occasions that they do manage to find something to eat or drink, the food or water burns their neck as it goes down to their belly, causing them intense agony.
- Hell realm: hell beings endure unimaginable suffering for eons of time. There are actually eighteen different types of hells, each inflicting a different kind of torment. In the hot hells, beings suffer from unbearable heat and continual torments of various kinds. In the cold hells, beings suffer from unbearable cold and other torments.
These are explanations that come from Buddhist cosmology, but we also have these realms inside of us, and through our thoughts, feelings, and actions manifest these in our real world. Noah Levine has done a great talk about this at the Against the Stream Buddhist Mediation Society, which he happened to podcast. I won’t try and cover the same material I would much rather have you get it straight from the source, but I do have some things to say about it.
These realms manifest in us in different situations, here are some (but not all possible) examples:
- The God realm manifests in us when we are smug and feel that we are above others.
- The Titan realm manifests in us when we bully, gossip, or slander others
- The Human realm is where we are when we are not causing trouble
- The Animal realm manifests in us when we are inhumane, lustful, or violent.
- The Hungry Ghost realm manifests in us when we, as Mick Jagger said, “Can’t get no… satisfaction”. Never enough food, never enough to drink, never fast enough internet, never enough Iron Man action figures.
- The Hell realms manifest in us when we are not mindful about our suffering and we let it take control of us. Depression, Mental Illness, and Chronic Pain are hells.
Now that we understand Samsara let’s look at what causes the problem. There are Four Nobel Truths that point out the fundamental issue.
- Dukkha: all temporary things and states are unsatisfying;
- The start of dukkha: yet we crave and cling to these things and states; thereby, we’re continuously reborn;
- The end of dukkha: if we stop craving and clinging, we won’t be reborn;
- How to end dukkha: by following the Noble Eightfold Path, namely behaving decently, not acting on impulses, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.
Wait what!?! There is a way out!?! Buddhists (and many non-buddhists) believe so. The Nobel Eightfold Path is the prescription that Siddhartha Guatama gave about 2600 years ago. The Eightfold Path can be broken down into three major sections.
- Ethical Conduct
“Wisdom” (prajñā / paññā), sometimes translated as “discernment” provides the sense of direction with its conceptual understanding of reality. There are two pieces in the wisdom category, Right View, and Right Intention.
Right View is seeing through and getting rid of illusions. Seeing the world, situations, and yourself in a honest and real way.
Right intention can also be known as “right thought”, “right resolve”, “right conception”, “right aspiration” or “the exertion of our own will to change”
For the mind to be unified in concentration, it is necessary to refrain from unwholesome deeds of body and speech to prevent the faculties of bodily action and speech from becoming tools of the defilements.
Right speech deals with the way in which aone would best make use of their words. In the Pali Canon, it is explained this way:
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
Right action can also be translated as “right conduct”. As such, the practitioner should train oneself to be morally upright in one’s activities, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to oneself or to others. In the Chinese and Pali Canon, it is explained as:
Right livelihood. This means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings. Think of it this way, if you are a vegetarian you might not want to be a butcher.
Concentration (“samadhi”) is achieved through concentrating the attention on a single meditation object. This brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience.
Right effort can also be translated as “right endeavor” or “right diligence”. In this factor, the practitioners should make a persisting effort to abandon all the wrong and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds. The practitioner should instead be persisting in giving rise to what would be good and useful to themselves and others in their thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought for the difficulty or weariness involved.
The four phases of right effort are:
- Prevent the unwholesome that has not yet arisen in oneself.
- Let go of the unwholesome that has arisen in oneself.
- Bring up the wholesome that has not yet arisen in oneself.
- Maintain the wholesome that has arisen in oneself.
Right mindfulness, also translated as “right memory”, “right awareness” or “right attention”. Here, practitioners should constantly keep their minds alert to phenomena that affect the body and mind. They should be mindful and deliberate, making sure not to act or speak due to inattention or forgetfulness.
Right concentration is also known as right meditation. There a many ways to do meditation. If there is interest I can do a post on that, or a web search would give you more information than you could ever process.
Much of this was taken from Wikipedia so that I could have the most concise way of putting it. Much of this is difficult to explain as it is learned through experience, but I didn’t disagree with their explanations.
Hopefully this will help you live a more harmonious life!