003 The three realms and the fruit of liberation


To liberate is to eliminate the self and the self-belongings in the three realms

In the last unit, we introduced the realization in Buddhism. In this unit, we will introduce the relation between the three realms as well as the six-paths of rebirth and the fruit of liberation. Why do we talk about the three realms and the six paths? This is because the three realms and six paths of rebirth is where we all sentient beings live.

First, we need to understand what the world we live in looks like. We need to know the place where we are in the dharma realm so that we can know what to do and where to go next. Thus, we need to know the relation between the three realms as well as the six paths and the fruit of liberation. Please take a look at the following graph.

The relation between “the states, karmas, and fruits of the three realms and the six paths” and “Tathagatagarbha”

In the graph, we can see the interrelations among the states of the three realms and six paths of rebirth, the karmas they correspond to and the fruit of liberation they correspond to. Besides, the graph also indicates their relations with Tathagatagarbha.

Behind these relations exists Tathagatagarbha. When looking at the graph, please keep in mind that the three realms and the six paths of rebirth belong to the cause-and-effect of the mundane world, while the realization of liberation fruit belongs to the cause-and-effect of the transmundance world and that the formation of these causes-and-effects is backed up by Tathagatagarbha.

The three realms are the desire-realm, the form-realm, and the formless-realm. The six paths of rebirth are : the hell, the hungry ghost, the animal, the human, the asura in heavens, and the deva. These six paths of rebirth were traditionally considered only to?belong to the category of the desire-realm, so when talking about the human vehicle and the deva vehicle, very often we only talk about the desire-realm.

If we talk about the liberation, we need to focus on the content of the deva in detail. Besides the asura in heavens and the deva, there are, in fact, the four-dhyanas devas in the form-realm, namely First Dhyana deva, Second Dhyana deva, Third Dhyana deva, and Fourth Dhyana deva.

Up these devas, there are the formless-realm deva, including the infinite space, the infinite vijnana, the nothingness, and the neither perception nor non-perception. The liberation, which we talk about, is to liberate from transmigrating the cycle of births-and-deaths in the three realms and the six paths.

First, let’s see how karmas correspond to the three realms and the six paths. We can know that what we have done in this lifetime corresponds to the path where we will be karmically driven in the next life. Take the lowest rank, the hell for example; it is the karmic fruit of committing five heinous crimes and ten evil karmas. The five heinous crimes are the patricide, the matricide, killing an arhat, breaking up the sangha, and shedding the Buddha's blood (People can not kill Buddha because Buddha has tremendous merits, virtues, and power).

If one commits these crimes, he will fall into a hell because the benevolence of parents, arhats, Buddhas, and sangha community to sentient beings are the greatest. If one offends the person who kindly helps and treats us, he will come down to a hell. This is because Tathagatagarbha, based on this karma, will help to drive the sentient beings to the hell, making them involuntarily come down to the hell.

If one commits a bad karma fiercely, he will come down to Fierce Fire Hell because what he has done corresponds to fire. Similarly, if one is callous, he will correspond to Frozen Hell.

Because Tathagatagarbha, based on our mental actions and karmic actions, will help us to be reborn to the six paths which we respond to. Up the hell lives the hungry ghost. Unlike the sentient beings in the hell committing five heinous crimes and ten evil karmas, hungry ghosts have had no food since they were born due to their grave karma of stinginess.

Up the hungry ghost is the animal. As we can see, the karma of sentient beings in the animal path is stupidity. Their karma of stupidity is grave. Take cats and dogs for example; it will normally take us a lot of time to teach cats and dogs to learn a designated skill and sometimes, they even fail to acquire it. Therefore, we can learn that the sentient beings in the animal path are stupid because of their grave karma of stupidity.

In terms of evolution of biological complexity, cats and dogs are categorized into higher organisms. Compared with cats and dogs, the lower organisms in the animal path have much graver karma of stupidity, having difficulty discriminating and understanding all kinds of things in the world.

Now, let’s move on to humans. The reason we can be reincarnated as humans is due to the pure karma of keeping precepts. We humans know that it is immoral to kill each other. Unlike other animals, humans won’t kill each other once confronted with others because we have a sense of morality. The sentient beings will be able to be reborn to the deva because they have practiced the ten virtuous actions. If one is easily out of temper, he will become an asura in heavens. If one can control his temper and further endure humiliation, he will become a celestial being in the desire-realm deva.?

It is the sentient beings in the six paths that have a close interaction with humans. They are visible and tangible to us. Take the deva for example; celestial beings also interact with humans because they want more people to be reborn to the deva so as to have fun with these people. Therefore, they hope humans can practice the ten virtuous actions so that there will be more and more people becoming their families and relatives. In order to achieve this, they will come down to the human world to help people learn the ten virtuous actions.

Another sentient beings, which also interact with people, are hungry ghosts because their material resources are scarce and they live a very hard life; thus, they hope to interact with people, hoping us to offer them some food and drinks. Let’s make a distinction between celestial beings and ghosts. If they teach us good things and don’t ask us to offer them food and drinks, they are celestial beings. On the contrary, if they help us , but ask us offer them food and drinks in return, they are ghosts. The food they usually ask to pay back is meat, such as chicken, duck, beef, and lambs, which are not favored by celestial beings. Gods from deva don’t like meat because the material resources in deva are far better than those in the human world. Therefore, to celestial beings, the meat we eat is as stinky and filthy as the feces eaten by maggots. We can hardly accept feces as food. Similarly, celestial beings will not regard chicken, duck and other animals’ bodies as food. However, the hungry ghosts like these food, for their material resources are so scarce and bad that they even eat human’s feces, urine, blood, and tears as food. They like these food due to the lack of material resources.Thus, from the food they eat, we can make a clear distinction between celestial beings and hungry ghosts. Now that we have known that hungry ghosts’ blessed rewards are fewer than humans’ and their wisdom is inferior to humans’, we should not believe in their teaching and guidance because they lack merits, virtues and wisdom. What we can do for them is to offer them some food.

Now, let’s move up to the form-realm deva, also called First Dhyana. The devas in the First Dhyana Heaven need the karma of practicing Samadhi (meditative concentration). If they want to further their cultivation and practice, they need to eliminate the karma of the physical body. If they want to achieve the Samadhi of the form-realm deva, they need to eliminate all the attachments to the desire-realm. The most apparent attachment to the desire-realm is the attachment to food and drinks. In the desire-realm deva, there are such subtle food as nectar (amrita) and the sexual desire. If one wants to be reborn as a form-realm deva, he needs to eliminate the desire for food and drinks as well as the sexual desire. Upon eliminating these desires, he will activate First Dhyana, and even activate Second Dhyana. As a consequence, if we want to judge whether someone has any levels of Dhyana realization, we can see whether he has eliminated the attachment to the desire-realm or not. This is the basic principle in the dharma-realm.

Therefore, once eliminating the attachment to the desire-realm, the monastic practitioners (sramanas) and Brahmans were reborn to the form-realm. They were even able to be reborn to the formless-realm once they had eliminated the attachment to their physical bodies. But, no matter where they were reborn, they were still transmigrating in the cycle of births-and-deaths in the three realms because they had strong self-attachment, thus making them unable to liberate from the cycle of births-and-deaths.

Next, let’s see the content of liberation. Speaking of the karma of liberation, it should transcend beyond the three evil paths. As we can see, there is no liberation in the three evil paths. How about the human world? If one doesn’t want to fall into the three evil paths, he should convert to the three-jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) and keep the five precepts (no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no lying, and no taking of alcohol). Without doing so, he will easily fall into the three evil paths.

If one wants to realize liberation-fruition in the human world, he, at first, has to eliminate the three fetters. In order to attain the first-fruition liberation, also called Srotaapanna (stream-enterer), one has to eliminate the three fetters.

The liberation-fruition of the sound-hears (Sravaka Arhats):?

1.To attain the first-fruition liberation, also called Srotaapanna, one should eliminate the three fetters.

2.To attain the second-fruition liberation, also called Sakridagamin, one should have less greed, anger, and ignorance.

3.To attain the third-fruition liberation, also called Anagamin (non-returner), one should stay away from the attachment to the desire-realm.

4.To attain the fourth-fruition liberation, also called Arhat fruition, one should eliminate the attachment to the three realms.

What is called the three fetters? The three fetters are first to eliminate the self-view, secondly to eliminate the misconceptions about precepts, and thirdly to eliminate the skeptical views about the true reality. We won’t talk about the content of the three fetters today; instead, we will have another teacher explain its content in the following chapter.

After the first-fruition realizer eliminates the three fetters and attains the liberation, he can liberate himself from the cycle of births-and deaths after transmigrating seven times between the human world and the deva world. Then if he wants to advance to the second-fruition, he must conquer the attachment to the desire-realm and finally eliminate it. By doing so, he will become so-called the second-fruition realizer, who will become Sakridagamin if reborn to the human world once again. If he eliminates the attachment to the desire-realm, he will activate First Dhyana. If he can activate First Dhyana, being reborn as a? form-realm deva, he will no longer eat the human food. He can realize First Dhyana after eliminating the sexual desire, so he will rely on Samadhi joy as food and he will be a neutral body without male and female sex organs once reborn as a form-realm deva.

If one eliminates the self-view and realizes First Dhyana, he will be entitled as the third-fruition realizer. Regarding the content about how to eliminate the attachment to the desire-realm and how to advance to the second-fruition and the third-fruition, we won’t talk about it now because other teachers will explain it in detail to you in the following chapter.

Therefore, the third-fruition realizer, also known as Anagamin, has stayed away from the attachment to the desire-realm and will not? be reborn to the human world after his death, while the second-fruition realizer will be reborn to the human world once again after his death.

The fourth-fruition realizer, after attaining the third-fruition, has already been able to attain the liberation. If he wants to attain the liberation within a lifetime, he must further become an arhat with the fourth-fruition liberation. That is, he must eliminate the attachment to the desire-realm, the form-realm and the formless-realm. If he can eliminate all the attachments to the three realms, he will be able to liberate himself from the states of the three realms.

Three categories of arhats with the fourth-fruition liberation:

1.The arhat with wisdom-liberation, also known as the time-bound liberator.

2.The arhat with dual-liberation, also known as the non-time-bound liberator.

3.The arhat with the three insights and the six supernatural powers, also known as the top sound-hearer

The arhat with wisdom-liberation is also known as the time-bound liberator because his liberation, entering the nirvana, is confined by the time and he has no ability to immediately liberate from transmigrating in the cycle of births-and-deaths in three realms. Why? This is because he is not fully equipped with the four-dhyanas-eight-samadhi. Without the four-dhyanas-eight-samadhis, he fails to abandon the body (die) immediately. Therefore, we know that the third-fruition realizer and the fourth-fruition realizer must have the Samadhi (meditative concentration) because what he has practiced and realized corresponds to the state of the form-realm and the formless-realm and is beyond the desire-realm. Thus, we know that wisdom and Samadhi (meditative concentration) must be acquired in practicing and learning Buddhism. In terms of Samadhi (meditative concentration), our association published a book called “Buddha-Remembrance without Appearance”by Venerable Pings Xiao. This book introduces a simple and clear way to practice Samadhi. That is to remember Buddha without appearance by which we can avoid the ties to images, sounds and words. If one sticks to images, sounds and words, he will easily attract ghosts. Therefore, many people, unaware of this, will be easily possessed and disturbed by the devils when practicing Samadhi (meditative concentration). In light of this, our venerable teacher, Pings Xiao, specially established a practice method called “Buddha-Remembrance without Appearance” by which one will be able to safely practice Samadhi (meditative concentration) without images, sounds and words. If you want to practice Samadhi (meditative concentration), feel welcome to come to our lecturing places to get this book free of charge. With regard to the content of Samadhi (meditative concentration), another teacher will introduce it to you in the following chapter.

Speaking of the arhat with wisdom-liberation, we know that he is a time-bound liberator. Therefore, he needs to advance his practice and realize Four-Dhyanas-Eight-Samadhi. After completely practicing and realizing Four-Dhyanas-Eight-Samadhi, he will be able to acquire Extinction Samadhi. That is, apart from Four-Dhyanas-Eight-Samadhi practiced by non-Buddhist schools, he needs to further acquire Extinction Samadhi. After acquiring Extinction Samadhi, he has the ability to liberate himself anytime. The non-time-bound liberation means that he can freely choose the time to liberate himself. Unlike the arhat with wisdom-liberation who needs to wait to liberate himself, the arhat with dual-liberation can decide when to liberate himself (abandon his body = die) based on his level of Samadhi realization. For instance, when confronting the tough living environment, the arhat with wisdom-liberation will be unable to liberate himself immediately; instead, he needs to stand the tough environment until he dies. However, the arhat with dual-liberation can immediately choose to die based on his wisdom and level of Samadhi realization. This is what we called the non-time-bound liberation.

In the liberation-fruition of sound-hearers, the arhat, who has the three insights and the six supernatural powers, is ranked the highest .The three insights are the insight about divine eyes, the insight about knowing previous lives, and the insight about extinction of vexations. The six supernatural powers are the supernatural power about divine eyes, the supernatural power about divine ears, the supernatural power about knowing other’s thought, the supernatural power about knowing previous lives, the supernatural power about unimpeded bodily action, and the supernatural power about extinction of vexations. A non-Buddhist is able to only master the former five supernatural powers. He fails to master the supernatural power about extinction of vexations. What is the extinction of vexations? It refers to the vexations of the three realms. If he can annihilate all the vexations in the three-realm, he will acquire the supernatural power about extinction of vexations.

There is a distinction between the three insights and the six supernatural powers. Take the insight of divine eyes and the supernatural power of divine eyes for example; the non-Buddhists, like sramana (monastic practitioner) and Brahmans also have the ability to master the supernatural power of divine eyes, with which they can observe the phenomena in the dharma-realm, but they fail to know the cause-and-effect behind the phenomena. If one can know the causality, he is believed to have “insights.” If not, he is at best said to have “supernatural powers.” For example, a non-Buddhist with the supernatural power of divine eyes once saw a fish in the river and observed that the fish was reborn to the deva world after its death, believing that the fish could be reborn to the deva world because it had soaked in water. Therefore, he set up a precept called “water precept,” in which one should be soaked in water every day in order not to be reborn to the human world and further get liberated by being reborn to the deva world. However, this is a wrong causality inference. A person with the insight for the divine eyes would observe that the fish was reborn to the deva world after its death because its karma of being an animal was over. Due to its past unrealized virtuous karma of being a celestial being, the fish was reborn to the deva world after its death. He could correctly make the inference that the reason the fish was reborn to the deva world was because it just realized its past ten virtue karmas, not because it had soaked in water.

Therefore, the difference between the insights and the supernatural powers lies in whether the person knows the causality behind a phenomenon or not. With the insights, one will know causality behind a phenomenon so that he will not be deluded by the phenomenon. Therefore, we can know that the arhat with the three insights and the six supernatural powers will know everything in the three realms and the six paths. Having fully known the states of three realms and the six paths, he can definitely attain ultimate liberation.

In “Miscellaneous Agama Sutra [Samyukta Agama] Vol.12,” it reveals that the arhat will achieve the dharma of non-arising in the future. Although the arhat will achieve the dharma of non-arising (entering nirvana) in the future, he can already observe all the states of the three realms and the six paths and further eliminate all the attachment and desire to the three realms and the six paths, so he knows that he is sure to attain ultimate liberation in the future. Therefore, the arhat with the three insights and the six supernatural powers attains the liberation by using realization method.

We can know that the realization of the arhat can be transcended. For example, the arhat with wisdom-liberation can be transcended by the arhat with dual-liberation, which is still ranked below the arhat with the three insights and the six supernatural powers. We know that the states of all arhats, even the one with the three insights and the six supernatural powers, can be transcended because Buddha-Bodhi Vehicle is topped above them. Let’s call it a day! In the next chapter, we will introduce “Four Nobel Truths.”


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