Hot blooded kindness is what roots us in this precious human rebirth

talk on the six realms, New York, 28th of March, 1994

Ngak’chang Rinpoche

In 1993 His Holiness the Dala’i Lama said that he no longer believed in the existence of the six realms as actual locations. Maybe now we can all relax. Maybe now we can explore this subject in terms of our own patterns and projections. This might offend the more traditionally minded; however, from whatever position you may wish to adopt – even from the point of view in which the six realms are actual locations – it needs to be understood that they are all contained within each other. Even from the medieval point of view there are six realms within each of the six realms and so on into infinity. That’s the bad news. Merely being human doesn’t make my rebirth a ‘precious human rebirth’ – it rather depends on whether I entrench myself in conditioning, or whether I allow my constructs to be challenged. However, there is some good news: you don’t have to die physically to be reborn and gain a precious human rebirth. This can be attained at any moment – by recognising that we’re trapped in a web of patterns; and that at the very least, we’re ambivalent about whether we want to remain with those patterns or not.

I don’t believe that any of you have actually come here to learn how to see reality in terms of a medieval Indian model, however quaint or colourful that might be. For example, according to Indian cosmology, there is some kind of paradisical venue called ‘the god realm’. Then there’s ‘the hell realm’ – a scenario in which all kinds of horrific torture and unimaginable pain are taking place. These worlds, as distinct locations, are not very useful to those who have already been introduced to hell in childhood – by whatever means… But as models of mind-states, the six realms are actually very useful indeed. Hell is actually here and now. You don’t have to look very far to find it either. You only have to look at the newspaper to find hell. You only have to look at the advertisements to find the god realm [laughs], or at least the insinuation that it’s possible to coax it into existence … I would like to explore with you what these six realms actually are in terms of human experience – because they are actually very real. They are totally alive in all of us, in terms of different ways of reacting, or conjuring with duality. They are different speed settings on the circular self-defeating mechanism of samsara.

Hell is a state where, in an attempt to avoid pain, you cause yourself as much pain as possible. We can witness hell happening in the world. It’s in the news and in the streets every day. It’s taking place all the time. Hell, in the Buddhist sense, is subdivided, like a mall or a department store – we can select our torture in excruciating varieties. We get to use all our credit cards with impunity, because in hell… buying and paying back are instantaneous. We pay for pain with pain; and there’s always more pain in the account to pay for as much pain as anyone wants to buy.

There are a lot of different types of hell; but mainly, they divide into the hot and cold hells. The hot hell, being the worst type, is where we’re in so much pain that we lash out at everything. But in lashing out, we only succeed in hurting ourselves further. And the more we hurt ourselves, the more we lash out. It’s as if you were being boiled alive… apart from the fact that you’re not being boiled alive – it simply seems that way. Then, as soon as you get used to being boiled, the bottom falls out of the cauldron and the next boiling cauldron is a hundred thousand percent hotter. This hell condition is one in which the experiential situation becomes so intense that the only response to it is to create further intensity. The intensity feeds on itself and becomes searing… then it becomes more searing… then it becomes more searing… and just when you think that it can’t get any more searing… it gets more searing! The more searingly intense it becomes, the more intense the response has to be. We’re battling with our own intensity, but we don’t realise it. We feel as if it’s the outside world with which we’re battling. You feel that the intensity is on the outside coming toward you, rather than that you’re creating it. It’s a situation of intense paranoia. It’s a situation of intense fear. ‘Hell’ is when our reaction to intrinsic space becomes highly claustrophobic. Everything becomes a threat. Anger is projected onto the outside world and it reflects back. We react to our environment as if it were hostile, and immediately it becomes hostile.

Q Can you get to this place through any of the five elements in terms of obscuration?

NR Well… from one perspective, you could say that hell is the result of an intensification of the water element neurosis, the result of anger. Anger is the root of the hell realm, but really all the elements manifest within it. You can’t really split the six realms into locations according to element because they all contain all of them.

Q So… the claustrophobia of hell is all this shit coming at you from all directions?

NR Indeed… to use a fecal analogy… It’s when it hits the fan – all of it, the consequence of every samsaric bowel movement you’ve ever had in all your past lives. How hard it hits depends on the speed at which the neurotic element patterns are cycling. With hell it’s not just experienced as the tepidly evacuated feces of day to day frustration; it’s molten burning feces – but it might not actually be there at all… It’s merely that we might perceive it as being there. It may appear as if it’s coming at us from all directions, because we’re throwing it.

Q So everything we look at poses a threat, because we perceive the phenomena of our experience as threatening?

NR Yes. We react with aggression to protect ourselves, but our aggression simply creates more fear and more threat. We begin to treat everything as a threat; and whatever we treat as a threat, becomes a threat. The world begins to reciprocate our fear and aggression in more and more overt ways.

Q Can you give an example, Rinpoche?

NR Well… I think someone is going to do or say something to hurt me – so I act towards them in such a way that they start wanting to do something to hurt me. In this case the aggression might not have been there in the other person; I may have just created it out of my own paranoia. If I have a feeling that someone doesn’t really like me, and start to act toward them in a suspicious manner… if I continually over-react to any slight jest with hostility – whoever it is, is probably going to start disliking me.

So… I have this sense of my own reality and I project that personal reality onto life. And then… life starts to reflect it back to me. Hell is when that process becomes a closed loop. Then the closed loop becomes a tourniquet… Hell, isn’t it? But we’ve all been there in one shape or form. It’s when you trip over and hurt yourself, and you feel as if life has done it to you on purpose, so you hit the wall with your fist or kick a hole in the back door and hurt yourself further. Then you get distracted by the pain and bring your head up under the cupboard door that you left open. The sharp corner gashes your forehead and a trickle of blood runs down onto your clean white shirt – the only clean shirt you have left, and you’re supposed to be going to a business meeting. You try to sponge it off but the dishcloth is full of coffee grounds and now you’ve got a massive brown espresso stain. You rip the shirt off to wash it but you do it with such violence that you tear it. Then in utter frustration and incredible fury you smash your head through the window and end up having to go to casualty to get stitched up [general laughter apart from Ngak’chang Rinpoche who doesn’t even smile]. Actually, this really happens. A man told me this story about himself – people really do this kind of thing.

Then… there’s the cold hell. In the hot hell, there’s a frantic and frenzied lashing out; but in the cold hell you become catatonic – completely and utterly frozen. You become exhausted. You cannot fight anymore. You just lie there almost paralysed and inert. To some degree pain has become the norm, and so however terrible it may be, it has some quality of infinite duration that lets you know very clearly that you’ve lost. There’s no winning at all. At this point it becomes possible to slump onto the ground, even though the ground itself is full of pain and fear. This is a lesser degree of psychological pain where you just don’t move, because any kind of movement is going to cause more pain, even the movement of your paranoid mind-moments. Any kind of openness to any possibility of anything at all simply shuts down. You shut down from all possibilities because all possibilities contain pain. You cut yourself off from your own projections of pain by refusing to move. The projection remains, but you cease to interact with it. The pain appears to be ‘out there’ and you can either attempt to fight with it or not. So you choose not to fight, because fighting merely causes pain.

With the hot hell the pain seems to be encroaching without any kind of remission, so you have to attack it – as you would if you were being boiled alive. But with the cold hell the pain simply sits there staring at you like a beast of prey. It’s just there… a vast brooding presence. It cannot be escaped; you can only contract into yourself. The pain has become a static landscape in which you are frozen and motionless. It’s still pain, but there’s worse pain out there, that can be escaped by avoiding all interaction. There could possibly be better positions you could adopt, but you’re never sure if other positions just contain worse pain.

Q Is this the pain of isolation?

NR Any kind of pain at all really. But this is largely the pain of not being able to cope with anything. Because however you try to cope causes pain.

Q Can that be physical as well?

NR Yes. But physical pain happens as a result of our painful projections. Naturally if you’re in a state where something really horrible is happening to you, and you get so completely frightened by it that you start lashing out at everyone, then that is going to cause you physical pain in the end. Or if you’re in physical pain, and you actually thrash out; you rip the skin off your hands, and have to be restrained. You’re actually lashing out in order to fight off pain, but in the attempt to escape pain, you end up with more pain. Not only do you have the physical pain of whatever your condition happens to be; but, you also have your bleeding knuckles where you’ve been punching the wall.

These realms are all either greater or lesser experiences of pain. They are the process of the dualistically distorted elements as self-defeating cycles, either speeding up or slowing down. The most terrible hot hell is ‘instant karma’, and the god realms are interminably deferred karma. With the god realms the self-defeating cycles of the dualistically distorted elements are very, very slow. You don’t experience any repercussions in terms of how you are for a long, long, long time. In the lower realms you experience these repercussions faster and faster. The six realms are six versions of the five cyclic elemental neuroses. They cycle faster or slower depending on the degree of intensity of your commitment to proving that you’re: solid; permanent; separate; continuous; and, defined. In the god realm the elemental cycles are enormously protracted. In hell the elemental cycles are practically instantaneous. In looking at the elements, it’s crucial to understand how it is that they undermine themselves.

Q Can you give an example?

NR Well, say you see this very, very nice thing in a shop. You lust after it, because it’s the most fabulous whatever that you’ve ever seen. What makes it so delicious is that you can’t really quite afford it. So you have to think about it a lot. You have to think about how much more perfect your life would be if you had this wonderful thing. The more you think about it, the more wonderful it seems, and the drabber your life seems without it. So you save up for it. You cut back on your expenditure in certain ways, or you just go wild with your charge card and hang the consequences [laughs]. You go and get it. Then it’s yours! But as soon as it’s yours … it’s not quite the same. You want it because you feel some kind of fundamental isolation inside yourself, and you need to unify with some focus of comforting or lascivious proximity … You want to unify with this object of desire; but as soon as you have it – it disappears. It disappears because you own it – it has entered your world and has therefore become you, or become part of you. What made it so desirable was that it was not you; it was other. So as soon as you draw it into your world – vvvvvttt – it’s gone. But it does take a little while for it to disappear. At first it’s a joyful thing – the leather jacket; the cowboy boots; the car; the lover; the bagel; the leopard-skin pillbox hat; the Buddhist book; the Irish wolf-hound; the Gieves and Hawk shooting coat; the Mississippi gambler’s vest; the .44 Colt Anaconda; or whatever it is. You’re in blissful union with it, you’re dancing jubilantly with it, but after a while it just merges back into the grey nondescript fabric of daily appearances. It lasts for a period of time, then it ‘disappears’.

In the hell realm everything is instantly gone. As soon as you have anything at all, it’s gone – and it bites you savagely as it goes! It disappears immediately it’s glimpsed and leaves you with emotional third-degree burns. The aching need for any thread of respite is a tortured craving that is punished continuously in the cruellest possible manner. All hope disintegrates immediately in its arising. Every possibility of alleviation of pain is brutally crushed. With each of the elements that function in the hell realm the self-undermining process speeds up to an unendurable pitch, in which there is no option but endurance. And the endurance is a continuous battle in an attempt to suffer less, even for a fraction of a second. In the hot hell it becomes terminal velocity. So these six realms are six different styles of acceleration or deceleration.

Q Is there a ‘why’, to why they speed up?

NR Certainly. Speeding up is caused by struggling – by fighting reality in order to suffer less, or in the attempt to return to some lost peace or pleasure. Slowing down is caused by relaxing – by giving up the fight with reality, and letting go of the need to regain anything. Struggling causes acceleration; relaxation causes deceleration. And that choice always exists in the moment. When you have a situation, you can either react to it in terms of trying to manipulate it or control it, or you can go [sigh] okay I’m not going to react to this with my first idea. I’m not going to break your nose for asking this question. This is immediately what I want to do but I’m not going to do that, I’m going to sit with it for a while, and I might even give up my response. That’s a thing that is always there. The way that one moves between the realms is always through struggling, which means manipulating or trying to control; or relaxing and accepting the situation, actually giving the situation space. The idea of acceptance is’nt always quite so helpful. Because it sounds like the way to improve, or the way to become liberated is that you just accept everything that happens. Maybe a better word than acceptance is allowing space. You might decide to act on something, but you might not act immediately. The desire to act immediately on something that you feel is threatening is always out of habit, because that’s the first thing that comes up. You know: this arises so I destroy it; I’ve got to get rid of this threat.

You can’t say, well maybe this is’nt a threat. Or maybe it’s a threat that is okay. Maybe this person is asking me a question and it sounds threatening but maybe I can answer it. As soon as you have a ‘maybe’, there’s space. When it’s definite: ‘This is an attack on me, I’m just going to destroy this person, I’m not going to answer this person, I’m going to humiliate the person instead so that they won’t ask me another question.’ There’s that quality there of vvvvtttt! It’s just there – and that instantaneous response may be very close to an aspect of realisation. You could say it’s like spontaneity. But it’s the total opposite of spontaneity: it happens immediately but it’s not spontaneity, it’s complete claustrophobic habit. There’s no space in which there could be any other possibility. So saying ‘maybe’ or ‘I wonder what this is’ or ‘how should I respond to this’ – all those reactions are straightaway a space in which you can feel what you’re feeling and you can have a choice of how you’re going to react to that. This happens all the way up and down these realms.

So that’s the hot hell and the cold hell. Then there’s the hungry ghost realm. These realms are a lot easier to understand when you view them in terms of acceleration and deceleration. So now we’re decelerating. What happens takes longer to come back. The hungry ghost state arises out of the cold hell. You eventually have to relax from the position of being frozen, or of maintaining rigidity. You relax because you can no longer relate to how you are maintaining your rigidity. When you relax out of the hot hell you stop lashing out and as soon as you stop lashing out you feel better. But then you freeze, because you dare not move lest you provoke that ever-escalating intensity again. You don’t venture into any other fields of experience that present themselves, because they all look like pain. So you freeze everything in order to survive. You maintain the tension of that frozen state by refusing to move even if there’s a good possibility that some situation might be preferable. You don’t move into it because you’ve learnt that freezing keeps you safe. Naturally it’s an effort to remain frozen, because opportunities are always arising. The enlightened state is always flashing through, even in hell! And whenever this happens one has the opportunity to respond – to move or cooperate with it. When you relax in that sense of opportunity, something new always opens up. It always starts out feeling like a big risk.

But when you first sense that there is some opportunity that seems more nurturing, you enter into the hungry ghost realm. You taste something different and become very hungry for positive experience. The problem is that it’s a completely self-obsessed state. You have no interest or respect for what you’re going for; you just want to devour things. Because there’s no basic respect for what is being devoured, there’s no compassion in the relationship with it. When there is no compassion in your relationship with phenomena, whatever you devour turns into poison. Whatever you drink turns into something disgusting; traditionally you’d say it turned into liquid fire. This is the kind of analogy that’s given of the hungry ghost, the yidag. The yidag is a being with a huge mouth and a very thin neck. It can get a hell of a lot into its mouth but it can’t swallow anything. Whatever it sees looks good, so it eats it – but then it always turns out to be bad. It turns out to be really vile! It turns out to be bad because of how it’s crammed into the mouth. It’s a little bit like going to some amazing restaurant where the food is wonderful but you slather all over the table cloth and dribble on the waiter’s arm. Then when the meal arrives you stuff it into your mouth so fast that you choke on it. You end up spitting it across the room and vomiting on the carpet because you want to stuff it all down at once. Bits of half-digested food get lodged in your nostrils, which makes you choke even more. You’d probably die if someone didn’t beat you on the back. No matter how tasty it was, it would cause you pain because that’s what happens when you turn into some kind of human vacuum cleaner. You can’t possibly swallow food as quickly as you’d like to swallow it. There’s so much in your mouth that you can’t swallow, but you can’t take it out either, because you’re starving. So this is the quality of being a yidag. I nickname yidags ‘intellectuals’ because that’s what intellectuals do – they gorge themselves on information and then regurgitate it all over each other.

Q Is that a little bit like the fire element would you say?

NR In one way yes. All the elements are contained within each of the realms – and like all the elements, the fire element eventually exhausts itself. When the hungry ghost state exhausts itself, you have the opportunity to stay with that space of exhaustion, because exhaustion means that habit stops for a moment. Then at that moment you can either just regenerate the habit or you can remain in that space. So it’s important to look at this in terms of opportunity. There are always opportunities for realisation. And these are built into the process of exhaustion and struggle: you struggle for a while until you can’t struggle anymore, till you become exhausted, and then there’s a space. And you either retract from that space and regenerate the same pattern or you can just rest in that space for long enough to realise there’s something else. If you stay in that space what usually happens is you get addicted to your style of relationship with that something else. Because it’s preferable to where you were. You needed the space to see it, but having seen it, you don’t dance with it but instead you grab it. And that forces a new kind of distorted relationship on you, or you create it from your experience of what is preferable.

Q I’ve lost track of what the ‘it’ is in there…

NR ‘It’ is the possibility of a new kind of relationship with phenomena. In the hot hell it is just terrifying, everything is burning, everything you touch burns you. Not only does it burn you but it’s the sense in which you can’t stay away from these areas of fire. They seem to be coming toward you, so you seem to have no choice but to fight with them in order to fend them off. So ‘it’ is how you perceive yourself in relation with the phenomenal world, in terms of your existence and non-existence. ‘It’ is your relationship with your own reality. ‘It’ is not just the external world but also your inner reality. ‘It’ is how you relate with yourself… in a sense. ‘It’ is how you perceive yourself to be, in the context of your entire environment. This is the ‘it’… and there are six different possibilities of how that relationship works.

Q So the thing that you get addicted to is the style of relationship of the realm that you’re going toward and that’s how you get stuck there?

NR Well… yes and no. It’s either the one you’re going toward or the one you’ve just left – but somehow you can’t really see either properly. One is made possible through relaxation, and the other you lose through struggle. Everything exhausts itself… and always, at the point of exhaustion, we can either relax or start to struggle again. That may sound mysterious in some way – but you can find that moment every time you meditate. That is actually what meditation is.

Q What is exhausted in the god realm?

NR The pleasure exhausts itself – in terms of its very even texture. That evenness of texture cannot last forever, because it is antithetical to any kind of roughness or disturbance. And if you then enter into struggle to regain that silky seamless-stocking sensation, you lose it. Trying to regain it automatically puts you back into the jealous god realm. Trying to get there puts you somewhere else. That’s important to understand: going for pleasure, or circumstances that you latch onto in terms of experiencing pleasure, is fine. But these circumstances only last for a certain period of time, then they exhaust themselves. If you attach yourself to them when they’re dissolving, then that state of mind automatically creates a lower realm of being, a more painful or accelerated aspect of experience. When the hungry ghost realm – this yidag realm – exhausts itself, you have a moment in which you can say: “Yah fine, whatever I eat gets stuck in my throat, whatever I drink burns me, it’s all the same – I’m going to stop chasing it and whatever comes along, if it comes along I might look at it a bit longer and well, I won’t stuff it down as quickly because I know it’s not going to do me any good.” Then this is called the animal realm. There’s no sense of humour about this realm, really. Because you know it’s going to taste horrible whatever it is so that’s not very amusing. It’s not even ironic – there is no irony in the animal realm.

You slow down at the level of textural comparison – you don’t really want to know much about your sense fields in terms of esthetics. The sense fields are just there and whatever comes into them comes into them. You respond to what comes into them purely according to volume. There is no space for mixed messages. If you receive mixed messages they just remind you of pain – you become frightened and have to attack. But you’re not addicted to that, you can also just lie there. If nothing frightening comes along you don’t attack – things are rather black and white. The form of exhaustion that is typical of the animal realm is terminal boredom. There is so little coming out of anything that exhaustion occurs purely because you’re not fed by the pain of contrast anymore. Everything tastes the same, so the fear falls away from the idea that everything is going to turn into pain. It becomes possible to distinguish between things: certain things actually do taste better than others, and if you sample them slowly enough you can decide what you’re going to spit out. You don’t actually have to eat it whatever it is – there are things that are preferable. That’s called the human realm. There’s some degree of choice in the human realm – and it increases in variety the more it is explored. And with the human realm arises a sense of humour.

Q What is the connection between distinguishing taste and sense of humour?

NR Sense of humour is basically the ability to juxtapose, so distinguishing is saying, well this is green and that is blue, and you see them together and there’s a choice about which one you’d like. Then when you see someone going for the one you don’t like, that’s immediately amusing in some way. When it’s possible to eat lox and bagels and someone’s eating porridge, that’s really rather funny. Because you can see someone going for what they think is pleasure – it’s pleasure for them but not for you. Humour comes out of that disparity. That’s an intrinsic irony. Humour comes out of being able to discriminate. Because there’s not only you discriminating, there’s everybody else discriminating and you’re aware that they all know that they can discriminate.

Q So this is discriminating awareness…

NR No, just discrimination. Basic discrimination on the level of: “I like it!”, “I don’t like it!” In the animal realm you don’t really want to be bothered to make some kind of philosophy out of your preferences – that is far too sophisticated. But in the human realm it becomes possible to make philosophy out of discrimination, which then becomes the basis of relating to your world. Then you associate with those who share your philosophy. We communicate and miscommunicate at the same time; and this is where humour comes into the picture. The juxtaposition causes a shift in thought patterns – a momentary disorientation. That’s why communication can be very amusing to humans in the human realm. Humour is very useful because it creates a certain sense of space – the more humour the better! We can even laugh at ourselves. I can say: “I just did something really stupid! I fried my cravat along with the tagliatelle.” But I have to have the space to see that as funny. It’s also a relief, because hey, I don’t have to pretend I never do things like that, and these people laughing about my error are not mocking me. They’re laughing with me, because they also do things like that.

The human realm is the place where we can begin to practise, and where we can realise the non-dual state. There’s not too much pain, and not too much even-textured pleasure. If there’s too much pleasure, and its silky pervasiveness becomes somehow idyllic – in an almost sickly sweet manner – there’s no sense in which we can practise. There’s no sharpness; no bitter-sweet; no astringent variation… there’s no alternation; no pungent whiff of cordite; no visceral poetry… We need that in order to practise. Also … when there’s too much pleasure, there’s not enough humour. Humour disappears when things become too easy and uniform in their tranquil mellowness. This is why a lot of humour comes out of unpleasant conditions – there’s irony there. Humour is a natural part of establishing constructs. When we work with constructs, we get let down by them. Then we create more sophisticated constructs because we realise that the previous construct had flaws. The previous construct was too simple – it didn’t work very well. We have to make our constructs more sophisticated in order to get the pleasure we want. So we think: ‘Ah, it’s not as simple as just having a relationship with a man or woman; I have to be more specific than that. They have to be even-tempered.’ So we find someone without a bad temper but then discover that they’re depressed. So we think: ‘Right… they’ve got to be both even-tempered and cheerful. That’s the answer!’ And then we find they’ve got some other problem. They’re even-tempered and cheerful, but they don’t like our tastes in music, furniture and decor. So we think: ‘Right…’ And so it goes on. We have to specify more and more exactly what it is that’s going to give us pleasure. We create more and more sophisticated concepts for how to make life work. In the human realm we really feel that it is possible to make it work.

But the human realm also exhausts itself. The exhaustion arises out of the sense of success. We discover that we can make life work pretty well – then we can begin to get a little tricky. We stop working so hard, but we begin to strategise and theorise about the long-term prospects of the truly impossible dream. We’re aware that there are people who really have done this. They’ve really worked the number out very well, and we can’t quite understand how. It would seem that they’ve just totally given up and yet they got to the god realm by giving up… But that seems utterly implausible; because when we try to give up – nothing happens. The god realm doesn’t happen. The Cadillac doesn’t pull up and take us off to the private jet; the bank account is not unlimited. So we have to work out a policy of pretending to give up, whilst engaging in a lot of highly furtive manoeuvring. And it becomes very tricky. The gods seem to be saying: “Well … in order to be successful, just be yourself. That’s what I did.” And we say: “Is that really what you did? You were just yourself and everybody loved you? They gave you all this money? They bought your book? They bought the film rights? And all you did was be yourself? You didn’t try?” So we’re looking at the god realm – we have a view of the god realm – but we don’t quite understand how the gods got there. This gives rise to a sense of very deep suspicion about everything – that something very, very subtle has to happen for us to move from ‘here’ to ‘there’, and no matter how carefully we examine the situation, we can never get any closer. The god realm is always a thousandth of an inch beyond the dimension of all our constructs …

Q So we’d be suspicious about our pleasure too?

NR Yes. Because everyone’s telling us to relax: “Hey… just relax, kid… it’ll be all right.” And we think: ‘Damn! If I relax it’s going to be terrible!’ But we see that they’re so relaxed… How can we get to that relaxed place by relaxing; there must be some other way of doing it than by relaxing – because when we relax, we just miss opportunities! We can’t quite believe that relaxation works that way. There’s this kind of paranoia that comes in with the jealous god realm, because we think there must be some very special trick to the god realm. So we spend a lot of time furiously analysing everything. We look at the god realm from outside wondering how to get in there. Exhaustion is merely realising that we can’t get in there. And, what is more, there’s no purpose at all in trying to get in there. Then – to our surprise – there we are. Getting there is achieved simply by giving up trying to get there. When we give up struggling we find that everything is, actually, delightful…

But it’s still in the realm of duality, because ‘I’ had to give up on getting ‘there’. The god realm is the slowest point in the samsaric cycle of decelerating elemental patterns. This is almost complete and utter deceleration; which is why the god realm is so protracted. You just remain there with everyone agreeing with you… because you’re so fantastically wise, so fantastically untouched by anything. Nothing you do seems to rebound in an unpleasant way… You’ve watched yourself achieve enlightenment. You have followers, devotees, and they all think you’re wonderful. They think you’re wonderful, because you know that you’re wonderful. You know you’re wonderful because everyone around you says: “Hey, you’re wonderful!” And you say: “Gee thanks. Well… I always knew that – but charming of you to notice, I’m sure.” You say wonderful things to people, and they say: “That was wonderful!” And you say: “Yes, of course, that’s because you are wonderful too, if only you could see it as I see it. Everything is wonderful!” They think that’s very, very wonderful, and they say: “That’s really the most wonderful truth we’ve ever heard!” And you say: “Yes, the wonder of everything is reflected in me because I see that I am no different from this wonderfulness.” Then they say… [Rinpoche yawns in a deliberate manner]

Q The danger of the god realm then is boredom?

NR No [yawns] because everything’s wonderful.

Q There’s a danger there though, is’nt there?

NR Oh yes [laughs] a very wonderful danger! It exhausts itself because you get totally intoxicated with how wonderful you are, with how wonderful everything is. What happens in the traditional god realm analogies is that one day you start to smell a trifle ripe. When that happens, the other gods start looking at you and saying: “Phew… your celestial deodorant is wearing thin.” They really don’t like that, because if they associate with you they might start to smell too. The other gods start shunning you. Your devotees leave in droves, and suddenly – instantly – you’re in the jealous god realm again. Then you struggle to get back, not realising that struggling is what characterises the jealous god realm.

Q If you’d had the realisation to say: “So I smell – fine, that’s wonderful, this smell is great, everything has the same taste …”

NR Then you would be a yogi or yogini, rather than a god realm bliss kid. But you’re not actually realised so there is the very strong possibility of things not being wonderful. You bathe in everything becoming more and more wonderful, and that can begin to seem as if you’ve attained enlightenment… But then there’s impermanence… and things are’nt so wonderful anymore. They could even start looking terrible. You create a cocoon out of your own sense of ‘realisation’. You take your own wisdom seriously and you have this feeling that you deserve all this, whatever this is, that you are as wonderful as everyone says you are. You believe it. And because you believe it, you reflect it outwards. You look more wonderful because you’ve accepted your own wonderfulness. And everything is nice and perfect and flowing and nothing is ever… rough or hard or spiky.

Q So in all the realms, there’s this energy that is subject to entropy, dissolution, like all of a sudden you’re a god and then there’s something where you begin to dissolve and there’s an odour that’s almost self-arising in itself…

NR It has to be. It’s within every level of the samsaric dimension of experience. Samsara is entirely based on projection, and all projection has a finite duration. You see, the feeling of being wonderful comes from the fact that we project it outward onto everything else. Once we do that, it’s projected back to us, and we relate to it as if this ‘wonderfulness’ or seemingly perfect pleasure was the ground of being. So if people stop regarding us as wonderful, we start to feel some slight doubt about our wonderfulness…

Q So in the god realm there’s still karma?

NR It’s a realm of samsara, so there’s always karma.

Q And chance?

NR Sure. There is always chance. Karma is form, and chance or chaos is emptiness. If there were no chance… there’d be no emptiness. If there were no chance, then karma would mean predestination. If karma were predestination then enlightenment would have to be the result of karma. If that were true then there would be no purpose in practice. So… you can create a seemingly ideal situation and you can be seemingly ideal within that seemingly ideal situation but it doesn’t last forever… nothing does. Only emptiness is forever [laughs]. But then there’s form, and if form is not emptiness, then the six realms start all over again.

Q What would happen if you took the attitude that you were going to play things as they came along rather than grasping – playing. Would that just be another form…?

NR Yes… but when you do that you can seem to succeed. Life becomes better and you move into the god realm and then you begin to take ‘yourself’ seriously.

Q So you couldn’t play with the god realm…

NR No. The only way you can play is from the realised state. You see, when you begin to relax… when you just deal with everything as it comes along… the process of karmic deceleration simply follows from that. Then, as you move to higher realms, you gain some sort of very amorphous wisdom. You create fewer negative situations. But your ‘wisdom’ still exists in duality. There’s a concept of who it is that has becomes enlightened: ‘I’ have become enlightened! The god realm is defining yourself according to the outside world, which temporarily reflects your sense of ‘enlightenment’. I become ‘God’ in a sense, the creator of the universe, because everything is a reflection of ‘Me’. So instead of being responsive to everything, which means I’m not central – ‘I’ become central. Wherever ‘I’ look it’s Me. And everything is perfect, until it stops being perfect. It’s the closest you can come to enlightenment without being enlightened. The god realm is when ‘I’ become enlightened. You say: “I am now enlightened and here ‘I’ am observing ‘Myself’ in the whole universe out there…” It becomes My creation, because My relationship with every aspect of it is Me. But it’s not particularly interactive because everything comes to Me, everything supplicates Me, everything worships Me from all angles [laughs]. That becomes a really big problem… because there’s no sense of humour. If there was any sense of humour it would be too utterly boring to endure.

Q In what way is everything perfect, if it’s not perfect?

NR Because beings appear to experience suffering. But from the god realm you see beings experiencing suffering and you just smile a trifle wistfully, and say: “Ah, the world of illusion… How perfect that whatever is happening, is simply happening.”

Q What’s the difference between this attitude and: ‘Whatever happens – may it happen’, one of the Three Terrible Oaths that are spoken of in the Dzogchen tradition?

NR ‘Whatever happens – may it happen’. When you say: “Ah, the world of illusion… How perfect that whatever is happening, is simply happening” – you’re saying: “Whatever happens – may it happen – out there in My universe where nothing effects Me.” I think that is the big difference. In the god realm you would really be saying: “Whatever appears to be happening – may it continue to appear to happen, because illusory suffering and illusory bliss are all the dream of Brahma.”

Q So in the god realm there’s very little space for compassion because there’s very little space… or there’s too much space?

NR Both. There is space, because there is always space. But in the god realm, space is not really experienced as space – but as an expanded sense of the extensiveness of Me. The neurotic claustrophobia of samsara has become vastly attenuated… There’s a great deal of ‘spaciness’ in which one can become some sort of cosmic ‘space-case’. This is not creative space; rather, it’s the space of self-orientation. It’s the space of relaxed yet almost unbounded self-obsession.

Q In what way can that be space? It sounds like some sort of enclosure.

NR Sure. It’s some kind of enclosure. It’s just a very, very large enclosure. The enclosure has become so large that it feels infinite. You simply can’t see the horizons anymore. You can travel around in this space almost endlessly. You can view everything within it.

Q So where is the problem?

NR Well… as ‘God’… you’re always coming from the central headquarters of your own realisation of being ‘God’. You eventually realise that you can’t control space. It just takes a long time for that to become apparent. As ‘God’ you cannot relate to space outside the concept of it being ‘My realisation’ or ‘My enlightenment’. Being ‘God-realised’ is referred to as being the subtlest of all delusions. If you become ‘God-realised’ then everything becomes ‘God’, and then of course… everything becomes you. Until… you realise it is’nt you. And later… you realise that you are’nt even you. Then you start getting worried… [laughs]

Q How do the six realms relate to the elements? Trungpa Rinpoche identifies the realms with the elements, but there are five elements and six realms… How does that work out?

NR The realms do have qualities of the elements but you can’t divide them exactly into the elements. There are realms where certain elements predominate, but each realm contains all five elements. The five elements perform their cyclic patterns in each realm. The difference between the realms is more a question of the speed at which the elemental patterns cycle. When I talk about the cyclic pattern of the fire element – there’s an object of desire. You go after it. You grab at it. You pull it towards you… And then it disappears because ‘I’ own it – it has becomes ‘me’ through becoming ‘mine’. That obviously doesn’t happen immediately – it takes a period of time, and that period of time differs according to the realm. For the psychologically average individual – if you see something you like, you go out and buy it. Then you enjoy it for a while. Then gradually the novelty wears off. But in the hungry ghost realm you see it, you go for it, and vvvvvvp! immediately it changes into a source of pain and disappointment. The cycle speeds up. That is a quality of the fire element operating in the human realm and in the hungry ghost realm. Then there’s the hell realm, which manifests more of the water element of anger. In the human realm anger manifests in this kind of way: someone makes me angry. They make me so angry that I get into a fight. It may turn out to be grievous bodily assault, but the police won’t get me immediately. Maybe it takes a while for due process of law to take place. But in the hell realm you lash out and hurt yourself immediately! Then you lash out again as a way of getting over the pain – but in doing so you hurt yourself again! With the hell realm the pain escalates until the only reality you know is intensity. So you create greater, and greater, and greater intensity.

In comparison, the god realm is incredibly diffused. You never laugh in the god realm. You never cry in the god realm. You just grin – very, very, softly. And there’s New Age music playing… But let’s get back to hell. There’s the hell of the locked ward, where you’re in a strait-jacket to stop yourself damaging yourself. That’s obviously an extreme state, and maybe most people won’t be able to relate to that personally. But there’s also the hell of having an argument with somebody you love – where you cause yourselves more and more pain through hurting each other in order to be happy… That’s also hell. But we’re not locked into these hell states all the time. We pass through them… they exhaust themselves, and maybe we get some sense of space. Then we’re happy again because we’ve been distracted from the claustrophobic intensity of our patterning. We pass through the six realms minute by minute – hour by hour – day by day… We continually cycle through the processes of relaxation and struggle. If we recognise these patterns as they arise, we can begin to develop some degree of suspicion about them. If we can entertain the discomfort of this suspicion – there’s immediately some sense of space there.

Q How can we stay in the human realm and avoid either falling into the intensity of lower realms or floating into the sort of blissed-out disconnection of the god realm?

NR We stay in the human realm by allowing ourselves to be touched by the pain of others… and by not becoming too spiritual so that we lose the ability to laugh. Hot-blooded kindness is what roots us in this precious human rebirth.