Fear in the Six Realms
by Lama Dudjom Dorjee
Regardless of which of the six realms we enter, they are all bound by the fear of their inherent pain and suffering. Until our accumulated negative karma is exhausted, the fear of suffering and pain will not disappear. Even the happiness and great pleasure experienced by the sentient beings that inhabit the god realm are temporary. Due to this state of impermanence, these beings that live temporarily as gods experience terrible fear the moment they realise that the positive karma they’ve accumulated from previous virtuous actions has begun to run out and their descent back into the lower realms has begun.
Due to the positive karma that has brought them to their higher level of existence in the god realm, beings there have the ability to see seven days ahead of time which realm of samsara they will be falling into next, and the fear that their unimaginably pleasurable existence is about to end is compounded by the clear view they have of the suffering they will experience in the lower realms in the future.
In the demigod realm beings experience terrible fear due to their constant state of warfare; they are perpetually locked in battle with their foes, destroying each other in combat. Here in the human realm we experience suffering from our fear of old age, sickness, and death. Due to our own accumulation of negative karma, birth in the human realm creates for us an existence in which these three types of suffering are unavoidable. Although the human realm is the best realm from which to attain liberation from the cycle of samsara, if we fail to practice virtuous action in this life, our suffering will continue because we’ll remain trapped within the six realms.
In the animal realm beings experience the constant fear and tension of not knowing where they will get their next meal, as well as the fear of being eaten as someone else’s next meal! Sure, animals don’t speak our language, and they seem to have dull minds, but that does not mean they do not experience great fear as a result of their samsaric experience (that is, the constant threat of being eaten by another).
The preta realm is inhabited by hungry ghosts that constantly experience great suffering from the fear of starving to death or dying of thirst due to their previous life’s greed and lack of virtuous acts, such as generosity.
In the hell realms beings experience unbelievable extremes of scorching heat and freezing cold as a result of the negative karma accumulated through their acts of terrible anger, hatred, aggression, and violence toward other sentient beings.
We see from this overview of the suffering experienced in each of the six realms that, until we have not only purified the negative karma accumulated from past actions but also cleansed ourselves of all negative emotions which cause us to act in negative ways and plant even more seeds of negative karma, we will remain locked in this cycle of inescapable suffering and fear.
It’s true that, relatively speaking, some realms and their particular conditions are better than others, but as long as we exist within the six realms of samsara we live in the constant fear of their inevitable suffering.