One of the main concepts of Buddhism, and one that is
crucial to one’s understanding of Buddhist philosophy is the concept
of life condition. If you don’t understand the concept of life condition,
it’s going to be very hard to understand what an enlightened life
condition is; and that, after all, is what the practice of Buddhism
is all about.
Basic to the concept of life condition is a Buddhist
term known as the ten
worlds. The ten worlds are not physical places, but are nonetheless
real. They are momentary states of life that each person can exhibit
at any given time. When we refer to the concept of “life condition,”
we are referring to the ten worlds. The first six are ones in which
most people live all of the time. They are commonly known as the
“six lower worlds.” Let us remind everyone again that they are momentary
states of life. However, each of us has a “central tendency” associated
with one of them. That is, there is a particular life condition
that you will always go back to whenever there is a lack of internal
or external stimuli to activate a different one. So then, to describe
them, they are:
Hell. This state of life is
characterized by a feeling of hopelessness, sadness, depression,
lack of confidence, tiredness, the sense that nothing will change
for the better and that there is nothing anyone can do to change
Hunger. This is a feeling
of desire. It could be a desire for food, but usually denotes a
“need” for some external stimulus that the person in this world
thinks will result in their happiness. Examples of things that a
person might hunger for are cars, houses, money, someone, etc. In
the moment you are in the world of hunger, you are, so to speak,
a slave to your desires.
Animality. A person in
this world behaves like an animal in that they prey on those whom
they perceive to be weaker than them and cower before those whom
they perceive to be more powerful than them. Work environments are
perhaps the most common places where behaviors arising from this
world occur. A person in this world may pretend to willingly do
everything that their boss tells them and to respect their boss’s
authority while treating their own subordinates in a high-handed
or authoritarian manner. Another description of animality is contained
in the common phrase “the law of the jungle.” The struggle for power
becomes all consuming and fear of others with more power than you
debilitates you for the moment when you are in this world or life
Anger. The world of anger
is perhaps the most deceptively named of the ten worlds. It is a
condition of egotism and self-righteousness. Like animality, it
is a condition that is focused on power. Wars start from the collective
life condition of a nation centered in the world of anger. The concept
that was once popular in our country propounded, “We are America.
We are the best country in the world. We must fight to make the
world safe for democracy so that all others can be just like us.”
Dogmatism about religion, politics, relationships, etc. comes from
this life condition. All others are to believe you because of who
you are (your status and previous accomplishments) not because what
you are saying is necessarily reasonable or correct.
These four lower worlds, or life conditions, are known
as the four evil paths. That is because they tend to lead individuals
down to the lowest condition — the world of hell.
Those in the world of hunger, for example, after they
have exhausted all efforts to obtain what they desire and cannot
do so, quickly plunge into the condition of hell or hopelessness.
This is especially true if they believe that their desire is the
only means of attaining happiness for themselves. As for the condition
of animality, you also begin to feel helpless and hopeless unless
you have found a way to become the “top dog” in the most important
aspects of your daily life. Then you become entrenched in the world
of anger, thinking yourself superior to all others and forcing your
will on everyone around you. At that point, your unrelenting, yet
egotistical attitude will be met by those with more power. Or you
may be faced by those who can clearly point out your errors and
cause others, from whom you obtained your power of anger in the
first place, to lose respect and quit following you. Rich people
who flaunt their wealth, such as newly rich athletes, begin to feel
so powerful that they actually become outraged when some authorities
point out that they cannot break the laws about use of drugs or
other things no matter who they think they are.
Humanity (also called
Tranquility). This is another world that is somewhat difficult to
describe. This state is often mistaken for enlightenment, even by
Buddhists. It is a condition where you can use rational judgement.
You can carry on conversations and have dialogues without becoming
distraught about concerns for your own life or the lives of others.
This condition is actually the goal of many people. This is what
they strive for. They believe that if they could just become tranquil,
then they wouldn’t need anything else in their lives.
One of the problems with this world is that while in
it, you really can’t accomplish much of anything at all. Desire
causes people to take action, sometimes for good and sometimes for
bad. When people are in the world of humanity, they are absent from
desire. This can be a good thing, and usually feels good to the
person experiencing it. However, desire goes beyond selfishness
sometimes and extends to helping others. For instance, one might
feel a desire to stop animal abuse. In the world of tranquility
however, such a desire would be absent. So it becomes difficult
to get much accomplished while in this state, either for oneself
or for others.
So much effort is put forth to avoid emotionalism or
passion that, despite what you would think at first view, this world
is actually exhausting in that it is impossible to remain in without
just shutting out the realities of your life and the lives of others.
Rapture. The condition
of rapture, as the name implies, is one of elation or ecstasy. It
can be the result of a positive outcome within the world of hunger.
Obtaining what you wanted brings about a feeling of elation that
consumes you for the moment. A main characteristic of this condition
is that it is short lived.
Most people tend to cycle through these six lower worlds
over and over again without any hope of breaking free from them.
For instance, a person may hunger for a certain job, say to be a
rock star. They devote their lives to the goal (Namu) for several
years. When they reach their goal, assuming that they have the fortune
to do so, they at first live in the world of rapture. They may then
lose their stardom or become tired of it and the lack of privacy.
They will then fall into the world of hell or back into hunger for
some other circumstance they think will bring them happiness.
Another example would be of yearning for a new car.
After working hard to get the car and living in the world of hunger,
the person will switch to the world of rapture once they achieve
their goal. After a while, the good feelings about having a new
car fade. The person may then enter tranquility or even hunger again.
That is the constant cycle of the six lower worlds.
The person is easily manipulated by their environment, and their
happiness relies heavily upon their external success.
The preceding examples are cases of people with pretty
good fortune or who have made reasonably good causes in their present
or previous lives. A person who has made bad causes may have a very
difficult time ever escaping from hell or hunger. Such a person
will make further bad causes by committing crimes or perhaps even
suicide. We see such examples every day.
That leads to the next concept of the ten worlds. As
we had mentioned earlier, most people stay around a single world
most of the time. The world that a person hovers around is known
as their central life tendency. The central life tendency of most
humans is tranquility (a.k.a. humanity).
The important thing to understand about the concept
of the ten worlds and life condition is that it is relatively easy
to obtain external goals, but to change one’s central life tendency
is quite difficult. Even after obtaining a new car, a person will
shortly fall from the world of rapture into their old feeling or
life tendency. So, to be able to maintain a high life condition,
or central life tendency, is the most fortunate thing a person could
have. To raise one’s life condition, or central life tendency, is
also the most difficult thing a person can do.
Most people think that the fifth and sixth worlds (tranquility
and rapture) are the happiest states of life that anyone can achieve.
They strive to maintain one of these two worlds as much as they
possibly can. The fortunate ones are capable of staying in one of
those two worlds most of the time. Some people, on the other hand,
realize that there must be more to life and strive for an even higher
state of life, or life condition. That leads us to the next worlds.
Learning. As the name
of this world implies, the world of learning is exhibited when you
are gaining knowledge about the world around you or your life itself.
To begin to learn, that is to be in the world of learning, you must
exert effort. It is said that a seeking mind is the key to wisdom,
and you’ve probably heard teachers say that without effort on the
part of their students, learning will not take place. Put another
way, your external environment cannot make you learn. It can provide
great circumstances to learn, but it cannot make you learn or be
in the world of learning.
Realization. The world
of realization takes learning one step further. It requires even
more effort. Perhaps the easiest way to describe what takes place
within the world of realization is to look to the arts. Just because
you know the notes that a guitar can make doesn’t make you a great
musician. Similarly, your learning and knowledge about painting
does not make you a great artist. By internalizing the knowledge
and adding something of yourself and your creativity to it, you
can take your learning a step further and actually go beyond the
level of your teachers.
While these two worlds, learning and realization, are
much “higher” and allow you much more control than the six lower
worlds, they still have their shortcomings. First of all, to remain
for long in these worlds you must be somewhat self absorbed. They
are a limited sort of enlightenment that excludes most others. They
most frequently lead to the world of anger where the person can’t
understand why others can’t just do things as well as they do them.
They grow impatient with all the world around them. They think themselves
somehow superior because of their knowledge and the efforts that
they had to put out to get themselves where they are now. They have
little time or patience for others who won’t or can’t do what they
did. People in these worlds don’t care to waste their time convincing
others to follow their example. They believe that teaching others
won’t help them further their knowledge or the realization of their
art and self-expression anyway, so why bother.
Bodhisattva. The world
of bodhisattva is a naturally occurring condition of life, although
most people don’t think it is. Most people think that the term bodhisattva
applies only to Buddhists, but that is not true. It is the life
condition where you actually care about another person’s life more
than you do your own. Say, for instance, that there is someone in
the world who is trapped in a burning building. To make a decision
to risk your own life to save another’s is the condition of bodhisattva.
At the moment you decided to do so, you are in the world of bodhisattva.
You may not stay there very long, but it is an extremely powerful
good cause to make for your life. Because it is so hard to love,
to care, even beyond your own self protection and preservation,
it is a life condition that also yields a great cause and effect
within your life. If you were to constantly find yourself in situations
that gave you the opportunity to offer your life for the sake of
others, and if you constantly gave no thought to yourself or your
own self preservation, but freely gave of yourself, you would be
accomplishing an extremely difficult feat and would be making an
extremely good cause. But actually, in real life, even those people
such as emergency workers who have chosen to put their lives in
situations where they themselves may die trying to save others,
exhibit the life condition of tranquility, anger, or animality about
the career choice they have made. They do not consistently act out
of bodhisattva compassion where it is the love and concern they
feel for the person which instigates their every action. Actually,
the only way to consistently experience the world of bodhisattva
is by raising your life condition to the next and highest world
— the world of Buddhahood. The world of bodhisattva actually enhances
and strengthens the world of Buddhahood. In other words, they act
reciprocally to enhance each other. To quote Shakyamuni Buddha about
this “…Originally I practiced the bodhisattva way, and the life
span that I acquired then has yet to come to an end but will last
twice the number of years that have already passed.” (Shakyamuni
p.227) Both the story of heroic bodhisattva deeds, and the
deeds themselves, live on and on. The world of bodhisattva strengthens,
or you might say lengthens, the condition of Buddhahood.
(Enlightenment). This world, or life condition, is the most
difficult to explain. It is the condition of life that exhibits
infinite wisdom, strong life force and vitality, and tremendous
good fortune. Buddha wisdom here does not refer to knowledge. Everyone
has inherent wisdom. When you are in the right place at the right
time and do the right thing for your life and when your life just
kind of “knows” what to do, we say that you are in the world of
Buddhahood. When you chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, you are instantaneously
in the world of Buddhahood. Your conscious mind may not know it
at the time, but you are actually there. You exhibit what is known
as absolute happiness. Your life condition is not dependent on your
environment at that moment. For the moment, you have secured for
yourself a condition of pure joy, comfort and freedom, even in the
most unlikely of circumstances. Even in circumstances that others
would think that you couldn’t help but be suffering, the enlightened
life condition of Buddhahood won’t let you suffer. It’s really strange
to experience, but quite real and quite wondrous. To quote the teachings
of Shakyamuni again, “…[T]his, my land, remains safe and tranquil….
The halls and pavilions in its gardens and groves are adorned with
various kinds of gems. Jeweled trees abound in flowers and fruit
where living beings enjoy themselves at ease…. My pure land is not
destroyed, yet the multitude see it as consumed in fire, with anxiety,
fear and other sufferings filling it everywhere.” (Shakyamuni
p. 230- 231) Here, Shakyamuni is referring to the condition
of Buddhahood rather than a specific place. He is commenting on
the wondrous nature of the condition of enlightenment as it exists
in the real world.
The goal in Buddhism is to make enlightenment one’s
central life tendency. We mentioned before that a person’s ability
to make a certain world their central life tendency is the result
of causes that they have made in the past. Some people spend their
entire lives striving to break free from a central life tendency
of hell. For one to raise their central life tendency at all takes
tremendous effort, struggle, wisdom and good fortune. Therefore,
for a person to raise their central life tendency to that of enlightenment,
is an incredible struggle. It is not something that a person can
accomplish by simply trying to do it, or even by reading about how
to do it. A person needs help in breaking free from the negative
causes they have made in the past that keep them trapped in the
world, or life condition, in which they presently live. They need
something powerful enough to counteract all of the past bad causes
that they have made. There is only one cause that is powerful enough
to overturn any past negative cause and permanently raise a person’s
central life tendency. That cause is to chant Namu-myoho- renge-kyo
and teach it to others.
Within each of the ten worlds is the potential for each
of the other nine. This is referred to as the mutual possession
of the ten worlds. What it means in practical terms is that the
potential for Buddhahood exists within each of the other worlds.
You don’t have to scratch and claw your way up through each and
every one of the worlds to reach the highest or tenth world of Buddhahood.
As you become aware of your life’s tendency to cycle among the lower
six worlds, you can develop a seeking mind to escape from them.
Your efforts even to read this book about Buddhism are the cause
for you to break free from the six lower worlds’ grasp. When you
take the initiative to have a seeking mind, you ask questions and
are in the world of learning. As you internalize this information
about Buddhism, you may be in the world of realization, or you may
even seek out the means to end suffering for the sake of another
and be in the world of bodhisattva. If you chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo
as you study this text, you will find yourself in the enlightened
world (or Buddhahood) of learning, realization, or bodhisattva,
by virtue of the mutual possession of the ten worlds and the power
of chanting Namu-myoho-renge- kyo. Even if your karma has it that
your central life tendency is that of hell, as you chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo,
you will easily and quickly escape the sufferings of hell and find
yourself with a renewed hope for your own and others’ future. If
you fail to chant Namu- myoho-renge-kyo, though, you can never understand
or experience the world of Buddhahood in your own life. Chanting
Namu-myoho-renge-kyo is not about Buddha wisdom, it is Buddha wisdom.
As Shakyamuni Buddha said, “The true entity of all phenomena can
only be understood and shared between Buddhas.” (Shakyamuni
p.24) Therefore, the only way to do more than intellectualize
the concept of the world of Buddhahood is to start chanting Namu-myoho-
renge-kyo now and reveal the condition of Buddhahood within.
The accomplishment of enlightenment, or in other words,
making the world of Buddhahood your life’s central tendency requires
Buddhist practice. As we have stated before, the moment you chant
Namu-myoho-renge-kyo, your life is in the world of Buddhahood. The
moment you stop, your life returns to one of the other nine worlds,
which is a process dependent upon your karma. Here an analogy may
help you to understand the process of enlightenment. Suppose your
life is a piece of steel and chanting Namu-myoho-renge-kyo is like
a magnet. The instant the steel (your life) touches the magnet (your
chanting) it takes on magnetic properties. While actually physically
in contact with the magnet, the steel itself is magnetized. When
you release the steel from the magnet, the steel’s magnetic properties
go away. But repeatedly rubbing the steel against the magnet causes
the steel to retain the magnetic properties even after it is removed
from contact with the magnet. The practice of chanting Namu-myoho-renge-
kyo and studying and teaching Buddhism to others results in becoming
one with Namu- myoho-renge-kyo or, in other words, becoming enlightened.
When you chant for the first time, the condition of
Buddhahood may still be weak, just as the magnetic properties within
the piece of steel are weak after just touching the magnet. Therefore,
you may not be able to recognize the effect of Buddhahood. However,
the more time you spend chanting, the more consistently you chant
every day, and the more determined you chant, the more you will
see the various aspects of enlightenment emerging from your life.
You’ll begin to see yourself becoming happier, noticing
the things in yor environment more, noticing others around you,
taking more pleasure in everything you do, enjoying your life more,
inspiring others with wondrous new realizations, attracting people
to you, changing the way you do things and the way you view the
world, smiling more, laughing more, approaching new challenges with
fresh determination, being more vital and full of energy, being
more productive, feeling more confident, and increasing your inherent
wisdom from within, and on and on. There are thousands more benefits
that come from chanting, but we can’t list them all here. As you
chant, these traits will become stronger and more noticeable the
more you chant. This is what we call a strengthening of life condition.