As the old Buddhist parable goes: Nothing is Permanent. That would indeed be a wonderful thing as the permanence of dissonance, from ourselves and from the world around us, would be a frightening scenario if such a thing existed through eternity and all forms manifested within. As I struggle to grasp and cling to the life of stability and the facade of happiness — with varying degrees of success and outlook – I travel back to a time where there was absolute and permanent understanding of the universe and my place in that universe. Though, like perceptions of happiness, this understanding — this epiphany — would merely be a facade as well. Yet there is still much to be gained from our conceptualizations and schema of life constructed deep within our minds, be they facade or not. It is our own dissemination of such facades, not prevailing culture at large, that ultimately determines the world we see before our eyes. Through war, poverty, environmental devastation and corrupt systems of societal control; our world is tainted and distorted as we lose grasp of our places and the actions that may one day ameliorate an end to that suffering, for the concept of all life being suffering is not permanent nor absolute, but is merely a limitation of conceptual continuity and thought.
The Devas are around us — be they particles and atoms that surround and consume us or any other energy that escapes our sights. In the traditional Buddhist construction, the Devas are but merely a little more advanced than us humans. Awaiting passage to new forms of lives or just existing in the fringes of this world, the devas are in part a diva as we know it, though without the ability for adornment and praise.
Perhaps a westernized version of this concept would be the idea of angels. Though the deva is not here to guard against forces of harm, but rather existing in this state of impermanence until the next round begins. But what does this concept have to offer as we wade through the seas of confusion and discontent? Perhaps nothing at all as we may or may not arrive in that world. Perhaps this is the world of the deva and human was something from long ago, though I would think the deva might be a little less apt for violence and mayhem. Of course this is just conjecture and reverie, only as real as we care to make it; not material, but the esoteric construct of something greater than us, though that belief leads to apathy as we hope to obtain greater peace and space in coming worlds rather than transforming the current world into our own world of devas — but merely a phase of life it may be.
As we circle through the forms of life and existence, the Asuras come next; the demigods. Consumed with war and conflict — somewhat similar to the human condition — the Asuras are not considered to be a happy rebirth. This brings us to the next world on the wheel: The World of Humans — that would be us (supposedly). Not a particularly welcome world, though the only world where one can leap into enlightenment. Marked by all manners of universal emotional consciousness, the human, lacking the power and contentedness of the Devas and Asuras, is cursed by consciousness, making us aware of the profound suffering that marks this period in this form in our cycle. Fear, helplessness and anguish are the hallmarks of the human condition and are easily exploited by those who have squirmed there way through the boundless systemic creations meant to divide, antagonize and oppress. So in this sense, the tangible and material Asuras could quite possible be among us in our human form, as we are goaded into division and war based on religious/spiritual dissonance and the quaint notions of nationalism.
Spinning through the wheel, we find the world of the animals. Think of these animals as every living thing around us that has not developed the intellectual schema to create a divide, or a schism, of disconnectedness that us humans ostensibly create to separate ourselves from what we perceive to be the natural world. The animal world still suffers and feels pain and sadness, though within the prisms of what we — the human — determine to be a very basic and detached level of suffering. Perhaps the animal form is more appealing in some ways as contentedness of existence is more obtainable as the animal, in whichever form it might exist, is often blissfully unaware of the dangers lurking in the shadows — not so with us humans.
As we complete the circle, the lowest forms of existence, the world of pretas and the world of hell (or purgatory if you will) are the least desirable forms to find oneself in. The preta — the hungry ghost — was a particularly greedy and jealous person in the human form, being re-born as a ghost invisible to our human eyes, yet suffering far more than the human form as they are hungry and thirsty, yet cannot find food or water; when they find food and water, they cannot swallow — a constant cycle of need unfulfilled. The Pretas are free to move about, unlike the inhabitants of the world of hell who are confined below the earth to suffer for previous deeds in their various forms of existence, though this hell is not eternal in the western sense, as it is possible to move beyond this form and be reborn into a higher form — though if one finds themselves there, they should expect to stay for quite a while.
While I’ve explored the Wheel of Life in a very simplistic and westernized sense, I sometimes find solace in believing that our permanence on this earth and in this form is but temporary, and greener pastures await — or perhaps not. This isn’t to say I believe in a heaven or hell by any stretch, for those are human constructs that exist to keep us miserable and content in our misery as we believe suffering will eventually end, making our lives on earth one of complicity and blind ignorance to those who exploit us and our material and emotional resources for their gain. In a sense, the Buddhist conceptualization of life has some similarities to that of the major monotheistic religions, though they teach us that this is the one absolute state of existence we find ourselves in, and we have no other options when this state ends other than heaven or hell. While I don’t actually believe Buddhism to be any more of an absolute truth than any other philosophical or spiritual construct, I like the options they present far more than Christianity, Islam and Judaism, because having options is always better than limitations.