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Barbara O'Brien

Thinking About the Six Realms

By August 2, 2012

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At Nyoho Zen, Koun Franz discusses the Six Realms. I was particularly struck by his explanation of the Animal Realm.

"Animals, for the purpose of this model, define their wants as needs -- that misunderstanding is their cage. If you've ever thought, 'I don't need to be kind/generous/articulate until I've had my first cup of coffee,' you've fallen into an animal state of mind."

Ouch. Anyway, I wanted to compare that to what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote in his commentary on the Bardo Thodol, but since I can't find my copy of the book (see previous post) I am going to have to wing it.

One of the intriguing things Trunpa said is that "animals" -- and of course, we are not talking about biology -- have no sense of humor. They tend to be bigoted and afraid of change. They have a very small and rigid "comfort zone," in other words.

Not being able to distinguish wants from needs is a new wrinkle to me, and I would have assigned that attribute to the Realm of Asuras.  Koun Franz says,

"Teenage boys fully inhabit the animal realm, aggressively hunting for sex -- real and imagined -- like sharks that can never stop swimming, single-mindedly feeding and feeding. Both asuras and animals are consumed by desires, but of very different kinds."

What about asuras? "Asuras, like everyone else, experience dissatisfaction. But unlike many others, asuras embrace that dissatisfaction as a kind of call to arms," Koun Franz says. More than anything else, asuras want to be devas. Unlike devas, who are able to wrap themselves in comforting luxury and remain (at least part of the time) soporifically self-satisfied, for asuras it's all about the battle to become a deva.

And they can never win, because no matter how much power and wealth they acquire, they are still driven to fight for more. Many well-known politicians and big-business tycoons are classic asuras.

But in the Animal Realm, the want that is mistaken for a need is more elemental, like sex, or the chocolate chip cookies in the pantry that are practically begging you to eat them, until you do. So that's the difference, I think.

Coming back to the animals' lack of a sense of humor -- biological animals, of course, often have a fine sense of humor. Just watch two dog friends play the classic canine game "I have a cool stick in my mouth and you can't have it," for example. If it were really just about a base urge to possess the stick, they might fight to the death over it, but they don't. They chase and tease each other in joyful fun.

What Trungpa's remark suggested to me are people whose idea of "humor" is just mean.  They tell jokes that are racist or make fun of people with disabilities, for example. "Humor" for them is a form of aggression, an expression of hatred.  Whenever someone excuses a hateful statement by saying, "it was just a joke," that's coming from the Animal Realm.

August 3, 2012 at 8:29 pm
(1) Tanukisan says:

//”Humor” for them is a form of aggression, an expression of hatred.//

I’ve seen this sometimes on FaceBook and Youtube; young men (usually) making parodies of or jokes about messages and videos from other young men (usually) expressing fear or despair, especially surround issues of sexuality. You see it in those who hack sites devoted to young people who have committed suicide, posting offensive images and/or comments; presumably, these are “funny” to the posters.

They seem to have no capacity for compassion. I’ve always attributed such behaviour to fear; either fear of seeming weak by showing you care, or fear of feeling painful emotions through sharing the pain of others. It is a distinctly human way of being an “animal”.

August 6, 2012 at 12:29 am
(2) chelsea says:

Yes, it is a joke until the joke is on you – sort of thing. It is a mark of the illusion of sepparation.

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