One of the key practices on the path to liberation is the conquering and integration of the Six Realms, also known as six powerful ‘states of being’. In Buddhist tradition these realms have been singled out as particular aspects of our nature with the potential to bind us into suffering, or if overcome, to utterly free us from suffering forever. These realms are what is depicted on the Wheel of Conditioned Existence and forms one of the most priceless teachings on obtaining the keys to total personal liberation.
It should come as no surprise that historically realized beings were depicted in Tantric imagery with five or six skulls around their necks because the overcoming of these states takes more than just a regular dose of bravery to face, let alone master. Regardless of ones initial impression each of these states are equally ferocious in its ability to entangle us in a web of our own making from which few, if any, ever escape.
According to the teachings the realms consist of Hell, Hungry Ghost, Animal, Human, Jealous Gods and God Realms and before you jump to any conclusions it is important to remember that even the ‘higher’ realms are considered traps. These ‘realms’ are said to form part of a never-ending cycle of suffering, so even the God Realm turns into the Hell Realm and the only way to free oneself is to get OFF the wheel completely. Although the ‘human’ realm might cause one to think that this represents the actual human race with the others representing actual places or dimensions of existence as some more dualistic systems might like one to think, they are not. These are representations of moods, emotions that every human goes through at different times in their lives. Of course one can definitely see the concentration of these states of being more in some places than others, with for example a war zone being very ‘hell realm’ and Hollywood being typically ‘god realm’ in its expression.
Nevertheless each human regardless of their circumstances has to make the journey in one way or another through these states of being before total liberation is possible and the sooner we start the better. The more we try to avoid this, the more we remain at the mercy of our moods. It is up to the individual to determine how much longer they willfully choose to suffer. The jewels are scattered at your feet, now all you need is the balls to pick it up and run with it. This article serves as the first in a series that will deal with each realm by giving it to you as straightforward and free of cultural trappings as possible. Naturally we thought it appropriate to kick of the journey with the hardcore but undeniably juicy realm of Hell. The key to mastering the hell realm lies in the understanding and mastering of anger which is the archetypal emotion of this particular state of being.
Ignore at your own peril.
Everyone has been angry many times and we are all familiar with the wild, out of control rage that literally steams off us when we are in this state. The representation of the emotion of anger is symbolized in Buddhism as the realm of hell - the burn of searing, scorching flames or the biting intensity of freezing ice. When the Buddhists talk about hell they are not talking about an actual place populated by demons, instead they are describing the experience of ones own anger and how being in the grip of it effectively turns you into a ‘demon’.
Anger has consistently been demonized as an emotion because it is such a powerful and possibly destructive force with the potential to seriously upset the apple cart of society. This is why there are so many prohibitions around anger, but the problem with this is that the more it is suppressed the more it comes out in distorted and often dangerous forms. Either that or it eventually re-emerges in the individual as a mental or physical disease. Suppression is clearly not the answer then because when we suppress something natural we force it to come back at which point it is so out of control that the damage we take from it or cause with it, is way out of proportion.
It is said that you generate the same karma from hitting a wall, a dog or a human, so in reality it is not the act itself or the emotion that is ‘wrong’. Instead it is the degree to which we get stuck in the anger that is the problem because like all emotions it is meant to pass away again of its own accord, but by not allowing this natural process to occur all kinds of unnecessary consequences are put into play. Even so there is nothing going on that is actually ‘wrong’ per se and the ‘karma’ of getting stuck in anger ultimately boils down to the fact that WE continue to suffer. That IS the karma.
There is a lot of fear around the concept of hell, and so there should be as the implications for anger that is out of control is very messy. But it is not a place, it is a space of mind. If you want it to be a place and believe in it strongly enough it will be a place, the mind is the Wish Fulfilling Gem after all.
Anger is not bad, anger is just anger, as pure an emotion and appropriate in its place as love. I find anger very useful as a fuel to get me to do things or to protect myself or those I love. Anger only becomes a problem when you cease using it as a constructive force and get enmeshed in its folds at which point you literally become a demon in a hell of your own creation.
As quickly as you entered ‘hell’ you can exit it in the next moment as it passes away or you choose to drop it, depending on your clarity and commitment and this is the goal. To feel anger and to be IN it and not OF it is the ideal as then it can be used like clean burning fuel for a great number of uses, like spurring you on when feeling weak or tired. It really just boils down to the art of selective expression of ones anger. The wisdom energy of anger and hell is pure, diamond-like clarity, which can be used to cut like a knife through even the densest of delusions by seeing clearly what needs to be done at any given moment.
Let’s face it, for most people the intensity of suffering in ones own created hell is a strong spur to drive them to a place of liberation by laying down the anger or seeing it clearly as its pure state of clarity. The greater the suffering the greater the potential for liberation as if people are too comfortable they have no spur too drive them to leave wherever they are.
To put it simply when you are in an ‘out of control’ rage, you are in hell. You might even be enjoying it, but you are definitely not in control of it, so the demons are riding you, not the other way around. When you realize this and bring the anger under control you are the one riding around on your demon drawn chariot. Of course this not as easy as it seems because the energy of anger is quite intoxicating. The line between pure clarity and sloppy homicidal rage is very thin so the danger that it is crossed in a moment of dropping ones clarity is very real indeed. Once again practice makes perfect and since there really is no option but to learn to tame ones own demons the sooner one starts the process the better.
There are traditionally a variety of methods to deal with anger. The lesser Buddhist path (Hinnayana) urges one to cultivate loving kindness when we feel anger to antidote it, the Tantric path urges one to transform the anger by adding more anger to the point where it basically exhausts and thus nullifies itself.
Once again Dzogchen saunters in casually but oh so suave as the warrior path par excellence. It encourages those with the guts to engage it to ride high on ones own demon drawn chariot. There really is no choice either way since repressing it only ensures that it resurfaces at some inopportune time and place in ones life, taking one by surprise and down into the abyss from which it is often very hard to escape. With Dzogchen therefore one is fearless yet ever mindful not to drop our concentration lest we end up being ridden instead. Whatever you do just be present and aware, the price of dropping it is a first class ticket, straight to your personal hell.
There is no negative emotion to reject and no obscuration to purify,
Since everything without exception is mind,
Just as no darkness exists to be cleared from the sun’s orb
- Padmasambhava, Treasures from Juniper Ridge
If one can go into anger for a moment and come out if it in the next one has truly mastered hell and the demons are yours to command. From earth to hell and back again in a moment. Part of the dzogchen view is to abide completely in whatever comes up, and anger is no exception, albeit one of the harder things to master. To watch the anger arise in you as an impersonal thing, watch it inhabit you and then watch it pass away without identifying with it and following after it is the pinnacle of achievement. Sometimes all it takes is a single concentrated burst of anger to deter a predator, human or animal and then we can return to whatever mood we were in before we decided to embody the anger and let it play through us as one of our many luminous colours.
Should we feel that we are unable to do this then perhaps it is best to take the lesser path where we renounce anger and fight against its arising but this takes a long time and is the slowest path to enlightenment as we are fighting our very nature and the purity of the anger. Even when taking the lesser path if one progresses one would eventually have to deal with the truth that anger is a pure state anyway, at which point one has to de-condition everything one had to believe up to that point. Your choice, your life.
Once hatred is renounced, love cannot be discerned-
The single nature of the mind renounces nothing.
- Temzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Wonders of the Natural Mind
I am not advocating random violence but appropriate and controlled bursts of savagery expressed in the mood of clarity, something we have control over and are aware of as happening. Everyone will have their own relationship with anger and hence hell, which is traditionally associated with the element of water in Chinese astrology. What I am proposing is that we enter the arena from a point of empowerment realizing the anger is just one of our fine colours to be mastered and then expressed in a controlled fashion lest we end up pulling the cart ridden by our own demons.
The Buddhists say that the wrathful aspects are the most compassionate as they enforce understanding hard and fast. While the peaceful aspects are the most relentless, letting you play with the rope without interference until you hang yourself.
If only more people embodied the true form of anger which is Clarity, there would be a lot less delusion in the world, but in order to embody it you first have to understand its pure nature which is what this article is about.
From the dzogchen view since all is self you are only ever relating with your own energy anyway so there is little harm done either way. Yet you always want to be in control lest we be possessed by our own creations and end up as their bitch pulling the cart. If we master anger we have probably mastered one of the hardest parts on our path to freedom but it is ever a tricky beast ready to turn on us if we are not vigilant.
To watch the anger arising is the first step to mastering it, to not associate it with ourselves but more a part of ourselves which we embody and use like we would use a sword. The sword can be used to kill, to defend or if we are sloppy turned against us but it remains a sword, the intention and utility is what defines it and us in the process.
The keys to our personal liberation often lie buried deep in the pits of hell and this is where we have to go eventually to complete our liberation. I would argue that most of us HAVE to go to the depths to conquer our own demons by fully realizing them as aspects of self.
The diamond swords are all forged in hell, nowhere else has the intensity to create them. We cast them from the cries of the millions of dying babies of this world and the frustrations of lives unlived, melted together with our very selves to create something truly indestructible and savagely beautiful.
From the ashes of the Atomic Fires,