Six Worlds

There are six worlds. There are countless subdivisions of the six, but there are six. Now I’m going to disagree a little bit here maybe, with certain levels of Buddhist thought. But none of us can really explain it verbally, so maybe this is just a slightly different translation. Let’s look at it that way.

There are six worlds. There’s the world of enlightenment, the world of the unmanifest, the world of good intentions, the world of desire—that’s this world, the human world. There’s a world of astral spirits and beings that are very, very unhappy, and then there’s a world of such complete nescience, of such complete darkness, that one doesn’t even recognize that it’s a world.

The world of enlightenment is not a world per se in that, obviously, we’re discussing nirvana. It’s nonstructural, nonbonding, noncausal, nonatomic—no chemical makeup. It’s the extant portion of that which is. That’s where I happen to reside and come from. I’ve come from there to here, into a physical formation. But where I come from, there are no sunrises and sunsets, there are no todays and tomorrows and yesterdays. There’s none of this. There’s no duality. There are no other worlds. It’s a timeless, perfect, extant, non-bonding reality. Non-bonding means non-karmic. No cause and effect. No structural basis for anything. Buddhist tech talk—you understand.

So in the world of enlightenment, things just are things, except that they’re not things. Once again, we’re in nirvana; there’s no debating team. So if one becomes enlightened as I did in past incarnations, we leave the structural universes behind, and in a way we don’t even have past incarnations at that point because the form that had those incarnations has dissolved in the clear light of reality. Sometimes beings come forth from that particular realmless realm. That light incarnates and wanders around through the samsara, kind of looking at itself in various countless forms. We call beings who come from that realm, not that it’s exactly a spatial realm, “enlightened.”

Then we have the world of the unmanifest—the fifth world, or second, depends on how you’re counting. The world of the unmanifest is the undifferentiated reality. That is a world in which there is no form whatsoever. It’s the world of samadhi. It’s a world where there’s no dimension, but yet it has a specific existence as something that’s not manifest to the senses. When we say manifest, we mean apparent to the senses. Reality exists beyond the senses, obviously. Otherwise there would be no life. But the sense worlds cannot penetrate, or the senses cannot penetrate the unmanifest. The unmanifest is also different than what we would call the higher astral. The higher astral has formations; there is a sense of time there, although it’s completely different than the time here.

So we have the world of enlightenment—nirvana. We have the unmanifest, which is again pretty hard to talk about. That’s a world of dissolution, but dissolution is a finite state in its own way. Then down from that we have the higher astral—the realms of the happy spirits, the happy haunts, kind of like at Disneyland. Spirits with a sense of humor—the land of good intentions. This is, when one dies, this is heaven. Heaven is the higher astral. There are countless realms and dimensional planes, existences—they go on forever—that are very beautiful, where beings incarnate for a time, where they exist. Sometimes it seems to be timeless, but it does end eventually—which is why we call it structural—and these are the realms of the higher astral.

The unmanifest, which is next up, is not heaven. It’s beyond heaven. Beyond heaven is pure spirit. Heaven we think of as kind of a cloud, a kingdom, happy experiences, beings singing, laughing, being in ecstasy and meditation. You see it in the Buddhist thangkas, you know, where they’re all having a very, very serious party up in the higher astral. Everybody’s having a good time. But above that is the unmanifest. You can’t put that on a thangka. There’s no way to paint it. One can symbolically represent it, but the unmanifest is pure spirit. Yet spirit exists and is perceivable by itself, if by nothing else. It knows of its own existence.

The world of enlightenment doesn’t know of its own existence. We’re beyond both knower and known. There’s no conceptual identity whatsoever. Enlightenment is not even conscious of itself—it just is. There’s no way to talk about nirvana. It’s just riddles.

The world of desire, number four on our hit parade, is this world. That is to say, most of the beings we see on this particular planet or in this particular plane, as I prefer to think of it, are working out basic karmas in the fourth realm. This world is not a middle point in evolution. It’s one step down from the middle, in my opinion. There is no middle. The higher astral is one step up, if you will. But you know, Dante and a lot of people like that, and all the Christians, thought of the earth as directly in between the two opposites. Not at all. This is in a slightly lower state, if you will.

This is the world of desire and fulfillment, frustration. This is where one takes a body and one has experiences. And those experiences will determine whether one comes back to incarnate in this realm or one goes up a notch to the realm of the happy haunts, if you will, the happy astral spirits—you have a lot of good karma and you’ve evolved your causal structure. Or, of course, one can go down to the realm of the unhappy haunts, the realm of entities and what in Tibet they call the hungry ghosts. That’s a way of saying dissatisfied. They’re hungry; the images are that they go and eat food, but it doesn’t quench their hunger. It’s a way of saying that they’re always in total misery all the time. People in the desire realm are in total misery in a different way but at least once in a while, here you can go to Burger King. If you’re hungry you can get a burger, and it can be good. It might be bad. But it could be good! And you will be satisfied for an hour or two before you get hungry again.

One level down on the elevator of consciousness, and no matter how many burgers you eat, you’re just as hungry. Plus they never taste good. Here, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. On the other hand, of course, if you go up in the elevator of attention a level, then you’re in the world of enchanted tacos, you’re in the world of wonderful marshmallow ecstasy, hot fudge beyond—you’re in a world of happiness. No sense of dissatisfaction at all. None, in the higher astral; nothing but dissatisfaction in the lower. Here, in the middle of those two realms, some days you win, some days you lose. Some days you’re miserable, some days you get a little happiness.

Now if you go down, of course, below—if we hit the basement there, we go to the lower realms—again there are countless subdivisions of these basic six relative planes. Nirvana is not a relative plane, so it’s not as if this is a simple thing. There are endless realms in each one. Down in the basement, it’s very dark. There’s no light at all. And the word “pain” is inapplicable. Pain is something that we experience in the second and third realms, this world and in the lower astral.

There’s really no pain in the realm of the higher astral. A lot of spirits playing mini-golf having a good time—and of course in the unmanifest there’s no body anyway, there’s just the realm of pure spirit. And in parinirvana there’s only perfection, not even spirit. It can’t be comprehended by the mind, nirvana, it’s so wonderful. It’s so wonderful it can’t be comprehended by the mind.

To say “pure spirit”—you can kind of get a sense of what that is, if you’ve meditated for a number of years and you’ve had meditations where you’ve stopped your thoughts for a while and the ego has gone away and you’ve experienced a taste of samadhi or satori; you know a little bit what pure spirit is like. You only know of it afterwards in terms of remembrance, and the ego can’t quite remember it, but you’ve been there and you understand. You have that silent knowing of what pure spirit is. Nirvana has nothing to do with that realm of thought stoppage and samadhi. Nirvana is completely apart—“much better” in Western jargon.

The realm of—the lowest realm—again, it’s not exactly hierarchical but it’s a way of discussing it, these are just extant realities. But from a dualistic point of view, the bottom of the line, there is no bottom. The bottom line is that there is no bottom line. The lower extant realities go on forever and they’re places—I wouldn’t even say they’re places of suffering. They’re places of—in English there really are no words for this. We have special words in Tibetan and in Sanskrit and in some of the Indian languages for these concepts. We don’t have anything in English. Hell is not a good concept because hell implies a sense of beingness and going through suffering. Hell is very spatial, and there might be a good day there once in a while. The lower realms are just realms of complete—I don’t even want to say darkness. There’s a lack of knowing. There’s a lack of experience. I guess it’s what some people might think of death being like if after death there was nothing. It’s something like that. But yet there is a presence.

It’s not that the universe is torturing us because we’ve been good or bad. Life isn’t like that. There’s just cause and effect. That’s all there is. No one knows why. Lots of people have philosophical points of view on the subject, but regardless of their philosophical points of view there’s cause and effect. How you handle your karmas, how you orient to the experience of life, will determine the thoughts you think, the actions you engage in, the emotions you allow yourself to feel, what you meditate on, or if you don’t meditate—these variant things will determine where you end up.

Just think of it as a big ocean liner. And on the ocean liner there are six different possible ways of going, OK? There are the nicest cabins—just wonderful, great, staterooms, 24-hour room service, everything is great. You feel so good you don’t even feel—that would be the realm of pure spirit. Then there are just lots of fun—the tennis set, you know, the young couples on the honeymoon, that’s sort of the happy spirits. I mean just everything is wonderful for that period of time. It may not last a long time, but we’re on a nice honeymoon, lots of fun, we’re getting to know each other. No unhappiness. We’re just having such a good time.

Whereas pure spirit, we’ve got the ultimate cabin and everything is just wonderful. It’s not even a sense of happiness. It’s a sense of total peace. We’re in the right place being perfect. Everything is elegant but without the dry, dead boring elegance of the rich, but with an eminently powerful life force. There isn’t anything that isn’t perfect in the realm of spirit.

In the realm of the higher astral, it’s just fun. It’s just, we’re on the honeymoon and we love each other so much that we can’t keep our hands off each other and everything is wonderful. It doesn’t last, it’s a honeymoon. It’s a certain duration.

Of course, then we have the lower price cabins. And it depends on how you handle it. The view isn’t really great; they’re kind of small and cramped. If you were a very upbeat person, though, you would enjoy it. You’d say, “Gee, this is really nice. How wonderful, how fortunate I am just to have this nice cabin.” You’d fix it up a little bit, put a nice picture of the Buddha up, or Elvis Presley or somebody who inspires you. And in that cabin you’d feel great. Or you could be a miserable prick and just bitch about the cabin, how awful it is—“Nothing works out, I wish I had one of the ones upstairs.” It depends how you handle it. It’s humble, it’s simple. The dining room is not as sumptuous, the entertainment is not as great. But a person could have a good time there, or a person could be miserable, or go back and forth between the two, depending upon how they handled their emotions and their mind.

Then we have steerage. We’re down there where it’s not a lot of fun to be. It’s cramped, it’s uncomfortable, it’s basically awful. We never get to come above the deck. We never get to see the light and we’re just seasick all the time. We’re in a big room with countless beings and everybody is frustrated and pissed. It’s kind of like a mental institution, an asylum, where everybody is out of their minds and screaming and no two insanities are exactly the same. But what makes them all the same is that they’re in complete unhappiness.

All the way down on the bottom, well, you’re not even on the boat. You missed the trip. You’re in a level of experience that can’t be described. Nirvana is not the opposite of that at all. Nirvana has no opposite. Nirvana is just separate perfection without self, without even the knowingness of self. Experiencing self as pure spirit.

How you conduct yourself determines what happens. The state of mind you create and live in inside yourself produces these changes in mental states. In a sense, we always want to think of all of these conversations in terms of a spatial realm. That is to say, the higher astral is a place, the earth is a place, the lower astral is a place, the sub-world which goes on forever is a place, spirit is somehow a place and even nirvana is a place. Not really, they’re all coexistent inside your own mind.

We actually are all those realms. Not we as physical bodies or individual egos, but the deeper “we” within us is everything. You have to make the metaphysical leap in understanding to see that. You might be able to intellectually appreciate it or not know what I’m talking about. But if you make the metaphysical leap, you will just intuit how we can be these foolish human beings who have trouble sometimes making it through the day or every day, and yet at the same time we can be all of existence, manifest, unmanifest, parinirvana, everything.

How we direct our attention determines what we experience or “who” we even experience, since we are somewhat different in each realm. Yet as we know, there’s sort of a spatial world to a certain extent, or at least it appears that way to the senses. There’s this planet, another planet; this star, another star; this universe, another universe.

And when I say that the higher astral is endless, that the lower astral is endless, that the plane of desire is endless, those that appear to be spatial planes and that the worlds below the lower astral are endless—nirvana, of course, I can’t even say it’s endless. That’s too simplistic. I’m not kidding when I say that, I mean that’s the truth. We just grow so used to looking at the stars in the sky and planets and we think that that’s what big means. All the far-flung eternities put together doesn’t equal a parsec of nirvana, or even one of the higher astral planes.

Eternity is eternity. It’s forever, it’s endless, it’s perfect, it’s shining. Yet there is a system and a flow and an organization to the structure of the universe. Just like there’s a system and a flow and an organization to the human body, to atomic structures, to the elements. That system and flow is not apparent to one who cannot see beyond the senses because the senses can’t perceive it. But when you look with the eye of intuition, when you use the higher faculties, you can cognize, learn about and experience, in each realm, each aspect of the universe. So in the higher astral we perceive through the astral body, in the lower astral we perceive through another aspect of the astral body, in the desire realm we perceive through the senses, through the thinking mind, emotions, that kind of stuff. Perception alters according to the state of consciousness.

Now the reason I go through all of this is to give you an explanation of your options. In other words, the Christian system just says there’s heaven and hell and earth. And earth is in between heaven and hell. Oh, there’s this subvariant purgatorial situation you can go through—it’s like transient hell. You can kind of get the “Get Out of Jail Free” card and maybe get out, or go around, miss a few turns, roll doubles. But the Buddhist mind is more complicated than the Christian mind, obviously, so it comes up with more complicated—we have endless heavens, endless hells, endless earths, and then we have something lower than hell. We have endless subrealms that make hell look like Club Med and we have endless nirvana, which it can’t even be endless since it’s nirvana; it’s beyond such things as beginningless and endless.

It’s just more complicated. And we say that all those realms exist inside your own mind. Now it doesn’t mean they exist in the cells in your brain. That’s not what we mean by mind. That’s a very physical definition of mind. We see mind as that which we are, which is never definable. We can never define what mind is. There’s no way. We can never see it. We can only be it. Yet it’s forever and it encompasses all things. Except of course nirvana, which can’t be encompassed since it’s not a thing.

So now you know where you are. You’re somewhere in infinite mind forever. If you don’t know how the universe works and how to get around it, it can be very painful. When you understand the system and you realize that there is actually a system to life, to incarnation, to states of mind, then you can very intelligently make selections, and that will determine not only where you end up, how you end up, but who you end up as, or what, or as nothing.

The role of the Buddhist teacher, vis-a-vis the Buddhist monk in training, is to explain your options and to show you what creates karma. All our discussions are basically karmic until you’re fully engaged in samadhi, when you can go into the breathless state for an hour or two a day, where you basically don’t breathe and there’s no thought in the mind. Then at that point the teaching process changes, and we don’t really discuss karma, we start to discuss the nonbinding states of reality, which are above the higher astral.

Naturally we go to the higher astral sometimes in dreaming, if we have a discussion in dreaming. We might meet in the higher astral realm, which isn’t a dream, we’re just both in the astral body and we run into each other in a lovely realm and we have a discussion about the dharma or something going on in your life or just look at neat things that are pretty to look at just because it’s fun to do. It’s ecstatic. Or we might run into each other in a lower realm. If you happen to be there and I happen to be passing through, I might ask you what you’re doing there.

Enlightened teachers get all kinds of assignments. Sometimes we end up in the higher astral, sometimes we end up in the realm of pure spirit, sometimes we end up in the desire realms. Sometimes we go down to the lower astral to teach, you don’t really teach there, you just sort of are—because everybody is very confused there. They don’t understand anything. They just hate—themselves mostly. Sometimes you can even teach all the way down. There you just meditate because there’s nothing to say. Just by being there you try and send energy and understanding.

Why is the universe so complicated? Why does infinity embody itself forth in all this complexity? I have no idea. It’s not really a concern of mine. Philosophy is not a big subject for me. I’m more of a structuralist. I’m just interested in how things are, what are my options, how do I get there, that sort of thing. Some people just have more of a philosophical bent. I’m not particularly philosophical. I’m a structuralist. I just like to know how things work and what are my options. Who am I, what is there, is there any way out of here? Is there a better place, how do I avoid fucking up, that sort of thing. I’m very structural—no, people are all different! I’m very structural in my viewpoints, very non-emotional. Emotions are interesting, but I find them a little bit tedious, personally. They require a lot of energy to experience.

If I had my choice I’d hang out anywhere. I mean, it doesn’t matter. It’s all God, it’s all the same. There’s only nirvana for the enlightened. And everything else, even the gradated realities, are viewed as such. That’s when you read in the Tibetan books, they say “samsara is nirvana.” That’s what they’re talking about. The only person who can say that is somebody who is enlightened. And it can’t mean anything to anybody else, so they obviously just say it because they enjoy hearing how it sounds, since no one can possibly understand what it means. They don’t even understand it, they just are it. Enlightenment R Us, that sort of thing.

So it doesn’t really help to think about nirvana because you can’t. Even the realm of pure spirit is something that’s very ineffable, and when we experience it we don’t have a sense of experience of it because we have to transcend the ego to experience it. And we do that as meditation improves and you enter the breathless state in which there is no breathing, no conscious thought, and the ego dissolves in the clear light of reality. The clear light is the light above the spirit, the spiritual light of the fifth realm—or second, depends if you’re counting or not, and how.

So then, what one does with an explanation like this is, consider how big the universe is. It’s endless. Its realms are endless. Consider that behind all of this is a nonmoving force that we call spirit, which somehow makes all of this happen. It’s a big screen on which all of these images appear and it is the perceiver of these images, and beyond all of that, beyond the unmanifest creative force and all the manifest creative forces, there’s nirvana. Again, it’s not spatially beyond. But this is all perfect light. Clear light. It has no definite color. This is all perfect light. That’s all there is. But it is perceived by variant beings in variant states of minds and variant worlds. That’s how it all looks anyway.

With this information, the intelligent person begins to understand that there’s karma, and the state of mind that they’re currently dwelling in can instantly be modified at any time. And the realms to which one is born can be easily modified at any time. The study of Buddhism is essentially the study of modification—how we modify the state of mind we’re in, how we modify the realm we’re in. That’s really all it is. How to better one’s state of mind and better one’s place of existence, since it’s easier to study the dharma in higher realms. If we’re not in one, we find out how to get there, so we run into a Buddha that exists in whatever realm we’re in and the Buddha will explain—Buddha meaning one who is enlightened—how to get to the next realm where it’s easier to study all this, which would be the higher astral. Once you’re in the higher astral it’s a lot easier than it is here. But wherever we are, we meditate and we go beyond the realm we’re in and we experience beyond the senses the realms of perfection.

Buddhism always points you. There’s always a picture on a thangka of the Buddha with his hand pointed in a particular direction. There’s usually a big wheel in front of him if we’re doing the six worlds, which again I interpret a little differently. And he’s pointing beyond the wheel of all the realms. Now, I’ve included nirvana as a realm, so my wheel’s a little different than some of the others.

But—translation. He’s always pointing, he’s saying, “Look, don’t get involved here. You really don’t want to get involved here. Go to enlightenment, go to nirvana. Go directly to nirvana, don’t pass go.2 Don’t worry about the 200 bucks, it’s just a wrap—they’re just trying to hang you up while you’re collecting the 200 bucks, who knows what you’ll get involved with. You’ll meet a girl or a guy, you’ll get married, you’ll have kids, you’ll grow old together, you’ll be born into another realm where you’ll forget that there was even nirvana. You know, it gets complicated. Fifty billion incarnations from now, maybe you’ll remember the guy who told you to go get the $200, and what realm could he be in by now, and who could he be or what could he be? You’ll probably never catch up with him and even if you did, that would take another 50 billion incarnations to be involved with revenge when you could have been in nirvana, forever. You know, it’s complicated.

What you do with an explanation like this, I have no idea. But I think it’s nice once in a while to admire the universe in its complexity and its diversity, along with its simplicity and purity. There’s an understanding that one gains from all Buddhist thought and icons that cannot be explained in words. The purpose of all our explanations is not to have you understand anything, but for you to snap from the understanding of the intellect to the understanding of pure spirit, where you just know things. All our explanations work backwards.

You usually want an explanation in the West—you want to hear something explained so that you can understand it. We know that all understanding is illusory and fallacious, meaning it’s incomplete. So we don’t want understanding. We’ve had all the explanations. We’ve had life explained to us so many ways that it doesn’t mean anything any more and we know that all the explanations in the world aren’t going to give us the pure experience of ecstasy, of enlightenment.

So we use explanations backwards. We use an explanation to take you to a point where there are no explanations. If we explained absolutely everything in the cosmos, you will realize at the end of all of our explanations that nothing has changed for you and you’re still not a bit happier nor more aware. That then forces you, if you’re a go-for-it type, to jump beyond explanations to the realm of pure intuition and understanding, in which case we click up to realm five, the realm of pure spirit. That’s what a Zen koan is supposed to do—or really anything in Buddhism is pointed at taking you into not a conceptual leap, but the leap beyond conception.

All our explanations are not intended to explain anything but only to get you so frustrated with explanations, which all seem so wonderful in the beginning and prove to be so pointless as time goes on. All our explanations are designed just to kind of confuse you and get you so involved in explanations that finally you say, “I can’t take another explanation!” And you just sit down and meditate. And you stop your thought because you’re sick of hearing your thoughts trying to explain everything to you and rationalize and work it out, and everything—thought stops, the universe stops, and you’re in the realm of pure spirit and you just know.

Now you can stop there. Most beings do. Or you can go beyond spirit because even the explanation, even the sort of the nonexplanation of spirit—now I sound like Marshall McLuhan, right? Spirit is definitely a hot medium, right? Even the nonexplanation of spirit is a wrap. You see, now that you didn’t skip—you didn’t get hung up on the $200 and now that you own Park Place and everything else, and still, now you’re just stuck, you’re stuck with this board, and maybe you know how it works, maybe you’ve even—but you know, you’re still playing the game. Even if you’re winning, you’re losing in the game of life.

I mean you can’t lose for winning and you can’t win for losing. See what I mean? These explanations will drive you crazy! Make the ganglia twitch, right? So then, we don’t want to win, we don’t want to lose, because we realize after a while that we’re the same being and that they’re actually the same experience. There’s no difference between winning and losing. I mean, OK, you go to the track, you lose a lot of money, you win a lot of money, you say to the guy, “Hey, you trying to tell me there’s no difference between winning and losing? I went in with money, I came out with none. I went in with a little, I came out with more. Of course there’s a difference. What are you, stupid?”

What we mean is that they’re the same type of experience. Ultimately winning and losing are sensorial, affixed to an ego, blocked in time and space, and none of them ultimately make you happy for very long. If you’re going to win or lose you might as well win, I mean, let’s have some common sense. But winning eventually will turn into its opposite. It can’t sustain itself forever because everything changes. Beyond winning and losing we have a better experience and that’s the realm of pure spirit, and of course you can get stuck in that realm. If you’ve got to be stuck someplace, it’s not bad. Even the higher astral is pretty nice. But the realm of the dissolute, unmanifest, perfect reality—samadhi and satori are our terms—in which there’s only light and not even a sense of oneself perceiving light—that’s the higher astral—but just light extant of itself, in itself and through itself, that’s not such a bad place to get stuck.

Remember, it’s not a spatial place, it’s a place inside your mind. You see, it gets frustrating so that you’ll make a tremendous leap beyond all this discussion and this conversation to stop your thought, fold down the ego and be the pure beingness of the fifth realm. But no one can explain how to get to nirvana since no one remembers. Since no one is who they were when they went there. You give up being someone.

You see, that’s the fun of Buddhism. We do have a wild card in the deck that can’t be explained, that changes value continuously, and that’s enlightenment. That wild card is inside each one of us, if we could but find it. We’ve just sort of misplaced it. Or did it misplace us? You could go crazy thinking like this. Or you could become enlightened. Is there really a difference? Some say no, some say yes.

Life is an endless experience of God’s. And God doesn’t even exist in nirvana, yet God exists in other realms. What does all this mean? You’ll have to sort it out. But it does mean something. It suggests that there’s more to life than HBO or 99 channels. Life is infinite ecstasy in the planes of infinite ecstasy. It’s infinite suffering in the planes of infinite suffering. It’s infinite boredom in the planes of infinite boredom.

What all of this suggests is that you have a choice. Most people aren’t aware of that, they don’t even know that there are other things to choose, let alone that they can actually choose. Buddhism suggests that you have that choice—you are in the driver’s seat. Hertz or somebody has put you there. You have an absolute choice about what you experience in your mind.

The sense world is unchecked. Anything happens there. But within your mind you can experience nirvana, you can be, etcetera—there are no words. Spirit realm of pure unmanifest spirit, the higher astral, the lower astral, the desire realms or realms beyond cognition of nescience and darkness. Pain isn’t even a word. The other side of light. The absence of light. Light can be absent from itself. It’s a very interesting trick that creation can do.

I’ve journeyed through all these realms—because I like to travel. I just love getting around. And so do you, evidently. All of us are doing this forever, but it’s nice to wake up in an incarnation and realize that we have choices and conscious control and that we can better our state of mind and better our life both in the physical, astral, causal, and beyond. There is nirvana—inviting, shining, perfect, refulgent, unknowable, yet attainable. How interesting. What an oxymoron, from the point of view of reason. Yet as real as reality is.

Thank you.

2. Rama is referring to the game of Monopoly.