1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Boundless Loving Kindness and the Hell Realm

By August 7, 2012

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FWBO, Creative Commons LicenseSince the recent mass shooting in a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, a fairly clear picture of the shooter has emerged. The public record shows us that Wade Michael Page, 40, was involved in white supremacist and other hate groups. He also had lost jobs and been discharged from the military because of a drinking problem. He was killed on Sunday by police.

I've been thinking about Mr. Page in light of the Six Realms. Traditionally, the Six Realms were places into which one is born because of past karma. The more useful way to understand the Six Realms, I think, is as places we create with our own projections. And we aren't always living in the same realm; it changes as we change.

So if we appear to be in a hell realm, or deva realm, or animal realm, etc., it's because we are creating it. And this brings us back to Mr. Page and the realm in which he may have lived.

On the Bhavachakra, or Wheel of Life, the Animal Realm and Hell Realm are nearly always portrayed side-by-side. Animal beings (who are not necessarily biological animals) tend to be fearful of change or anything different. The most mild-mannered "foreigner" is perceived by animal beings as a potential dangerous predator. Animal beings tend to retreat to familiar places to be with their "own kind."

And then there is the Hell Realm. Or, I should say, realms. There are countless different Hell Realms. Some are frozen and brutally cold. Others are worlds flame and rivers of molten metal. Some are full of swords and other sharp things that cannot be avoided.

Metaphorically speaking, a frozen realm being might be living a miserable life but feel powerless to leave. He is frozen in his misery. But flaming realm beings often are consumed by anger, and relentless anger is the primary force driving their lives.

It's likely we'll never know why Wade Michael Page chose to target Sikhs. But to do such a thing indicates he was living in a flaming hell realm, angry beyond reason. From what can be pieced together about how he was living his life, it appears the white supremacist "cause" was all he cared about.

I started out talking about the Animal Realm, because that realm is marked by bigotry. An animal being tends to see anyone who is not "his kind," however he defines that, as a threat. It's not that far to walk to a place where violence against the "other" feels justified.

In the Bhavachakra, in each realm there is a bodhisattva ready to help the beings there. Our challenge is to be that bodhisattva whenever the opportunity arises. I'm not saying we should all drop what we're doing and do skinhead outreach. Sometimes just demonstrating that one doesn't have to be angry, or fearful, or greedy, might be enough to help someone who is ready to be helped.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is sometimes called the bodhisattva of the Hell Realm, although he travels to all of the realms. In Chinese iconography he is dressed as a simple monk with bare feet, signifying that he is ready to go where he is needed. Stay open; strive to be ready.

(Image: FWBO, Creative Commons License)

August 7, 2012 at 3:50 pm
(1) Justin Whitaker says:

It’s wise to see him and others like him in terms of the ‘lower’ realms/severely disturbed mental states. It focuses us on the real issue, in Buddhist terms, of mental states. We are all afflicted, in so far as we are in samsara. But some are so much worse off. This is where we need to look, not so much at demanding better security or tougher sentencing or stricter gun laws.

In my college town, a young man was just beaten horribly with just fists for being gay and recently, nearby, another man was threatened with a knife for being black and had to fight back – both in what should have been perfectly safe places.

We need to expand our ways of dealing with these mental states.

August 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm
(2) Echo Victor says:

So, which realm is it, where ones gains, then loses…constantly? The frustration realm?
And, are the realms we inhabit a result of this life’s Karma, or another?

August 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

So, which realm is it, where ones gains, then loses…constantly? The frustration realm?

That may depend on what it is you’re gaining or losing.

And, are the realms we inhabit a result of this life’s Karma, or another?

Some teachers might say both; but I think this life generates enough karma to keep us busy. You don’t have to wait for another life to be affected by karma created now.

August 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm
(4) CL says:

Great post and travelogue through the ever-shifting six realms.

Again, as in the terrible and senseless act(s) of violence we are still dealing with in Colorado, this brings to mind another realm, that of ‘alienation.’ The more our culture supports the “buffet-style life-style” whereby you can choose exactly what insidious advertisers target you, digital access to whose lives one wants to spy on, digital access to those whose material possessions one wishes to covet, access and acceptance into any number of hateful, greedy, or ignorant philiosophies one wants to support the dogmatic notions of (that they already believe in), and so on….in that kind of cocoon-like cultural matrix, the ‘shooters’ are mass-produced, away from any notion of common sense or common good (ie. subcults of white supremicist rock bands should not be permitted to hold music festivals), left alone to meet the conditions whereby the many ‘parts’ they’ve been collecting for a while, polishing, refining, act in unison, bringing to fruition the single-minded goal of American exceptionalism…..an exceptionally violent and senseless end.

I think the ‘alienation’ begins when the mind is left to sleep or one is utterly convinced that those six realms are some permanent state. Of course, there is very little within our mass culture that would be courageous enough to actually confront these issues before they happen….time after time. Ultimately, there are too many impediments, whether they be mind-numbing drugs, devices, stresses, etc…to develop a good common-sense in maninstream society.


August 8, 2012 at 4:24 am
(5) Hein says:

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is one of my favourite Bodhisattvas. The courage to take vows and “save” beings from hell realms is one of things that impressed me most about Ksitigarbha. His (or its) other characteristics of patience, stillness, hardness and vastness (like earth), deepness and profundity (like womb) serves as an inspiration.
On a lighter note:
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva with his shaven head would be the ideal for any skinhead outreach

August 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm
(6) Ted Varley says:

When will America ever learn ? Hardly a week goes by without some wierdo running amock with guns and killing so many innocents….. or are they, was this their Karma that caused their death, had they acted simarly in previous lives ? Wade Michael Page will no doubt suffer badly in countless lives he has ahead of him, but what made him kill all those people together in front of him ? What bought them all together to suffer the same fate. If this was the Karma of all the Sikh Gurdwara victims, was it also Wade Michael Page’s Karma that urged him to do it, dispite having free will ? It seems that the Sikhs had to suffer their terrible demise.
Can you help me Barbara ?

August 9, 2012 at 10:43 pm
(7) Barbara O'Brien says:

Ted — “or are they, was this their Karma that caused their death, had they acted similarly in previous lives ? … It seems that the Sikhs had to suffer their terrible demise.” No no no no no. Do not go there. Do. not. go. there.

First, the historical Buddha very explicitly warned us not to speculate about the past karma causing present effects. In any given moment there are infinite number of karmic threads coming together, and you’ll make yourself crazy trying to understand it.

Second, judging people as you are suggesting creates evil karma that will come back to bite YOU. Seriously, thinking this way creates very evil karma, and you are creating it. Don’t judge the Sikhs; look to yourself.

Third, good behavior does not give you a get-out-of-tragedy-free card. It’s no guarantee that you won’t ever be in harm’s way or suffer misfortune. Karma is NOT a cosmic criminal justice system that rewards good people and punishes bad people. Karma has no more moral sense than gravity. Here’s a perspective from a Theravadin monk that explains it better than I can.

Karma comes from your own choices, not from some cosmic puppet master. In Buddhism, karma is NOT fate, and past karma can be mitigated by present karma. In other words, in Buddhism, having done XX amount of bad stuff in the past does not doom you to suffer XX amount of bad stuff in the future. So, past evil karma did not pre-ordain that Mr. Wade go into a gurdwara and shoot people. His own thoughts and predilections were creating the hell realm he lived in, but he could have chosen to change his life by changing his thoughts. He could have chosen not to shoot people.

August 10, 2012 at 8:13 pm
(8) mickeypamo says:

I would suggest that an explanation of collective karma can be explained as to the violence against the Sikhs.

August 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

mickeypamo — I’ve heard some teachers say in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as collective karma. Other teachers say there is, but even then, it’s a perilous thing to speculate about (see my comment #8). It’s not something we can know, and ascribing an unfortunate event to “collective karma” comes awfully close to blaming the victim. The only skillful response is non-judgmental compassion.

August 13, 2012 at 6:50 am
(10) Dave says:

Concerning slavery of blacks, what happened is the inhabitants of the old negro cities sold country negros to white slavers. In other words civilised black people sold other black people to civilised white people. All of this was done between civilised people. What price civilisation?

August 13, 2012 at 7:22 am
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

Dave — I don’t understand how your comment relates to the topic. Not skillful.

August 13, 2012 at 6:56 am
(12) Hein says:

Is it only we in the West or is a universal tendency to ascribe some or other explanation for the workings of karma?
I agree; speculating about things in others and one’s own life takes matter no further. Skilfull non-judgmental compassion should extent first to one’s self and then to others, otherwise you will be in some of other hell realm and unable to have compassion for others.

August 13, 2012 at 7:01 am
(13) Hein says:

Dave said: In other words civilised black people sold other black people to civilised white people. All of this was done between civilised people. What price civilisation?

Why do you want to concern yourself about the past about situations and people you cannot do anything about? My suggestion: accept that it happened and move on…that is the only way to liberate yourself.

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