The Six Worlds:
Creating the Realms that Confine Us
If you go to any part of the Himalayan Buddhist world and visit the many temples and shrine rooms, you'll see some rather fearsome images. In one image, a huge fire-breathing monster holds up a great wheel in its claws. The monster is called yama-raja, the "Lord of Impermanence," and the wheel he holds up has come to be known in the West as the Wheel of Life.
The Wheel of Life is one of the most ancient, widespread and highly developed images in all of Buddhism. It tells us who we are and how things came to be as they are. It is a mirror to look into, and what we see reflected in it is none other than ourselves.
Like all great symbols, the Wheel can be interpreted in any number of ways and can be used for a wide variety of purposes. In the next few chapters we will use it to examine more deeply how our attitudes to money shape us and our world from moment to moment.
The Wheel is divided into four concentric circles. Each of these describes a particular aspect of the complex process by which we become what we are in any given moment.
The Wheel of Life can be used to shed light on any aspect of human behavior. Looked at from the mainly economic perspective it takes on a particular character. It becomes what we will call the Wheel of Money.
Let's look at each of the four circles in turn and see what they have to tell us about the world of money and how our attitudes to it form and re-form us from moment to moment.
The Six Worlds
The largest of the four circles that make up the Wheel is the third from the center. Further divided into six segments, each of these parts of the circle depicts a different world.
The topmost world is that of the gods. In this segment we see the gods at ease in their palaces, listening to music, drinking in the beauty all around them. Next comes the world of the jealous-gods. The sworn enemies of the gods, these fierce warriors live only for battle and trust no one. Then comes the world of the animals, where we see different beasts browsing, hunting or lying in the sun, doing what animals do. The bottommost world is a hell, where demons inflict all kinds of tortures and miseries on the anguished inhabitants. After that we see the hungry ghosts' world, a gray desolate realm peopled by beings in states of acute unsatisfiable desire. Finally we reach the human world, where we see all kinds of men and women going about their lives, working, studying, resting and playing.
This does not mean that only one of the six worlds need concern us humans. Far from it. We all experience all of these different worlds in the course of our money lives, sometimes in a single afternoon. To demonstrate, we introduce Maria, a computer programmer. Let's examine some of the different states of mind, different worlds even, that she passes through in that short space of time.
We meet her at the entrance to her apartment, a small backpack on her back and a tote bag in one hand. She's been working out at her gym and has just arrived home, feeling really satisfied. It's so good to exercise after a day's work; it makes her feel human again. After eight hours in front of her computer screen she can feel so numb. Her boyfriend's away on a business trip and if she's not careful she'll just spend her evenings blobbed-out in front of the television with pizza and a beer. Closing the apartment door behind her, she pulls a new pair of shoes from the tote bag and stares ruefully at them. That's her third new pair this month! What is it with her? She was determined to pass that new shoe store and go straight to the gym, but she'd glanced in the window, one little look, and there they were, so right for this spring, just begging to be bought. They looked so cute, and they'd be perfect with those new linen pants . . . Perfect? Now that she's home, they don't seem all that different from the first pair she bought this month, and she wasn't sure about the heel on those either . . . Why does she keep doing this, she asks herself, how many pairs of shoes does a girl really need? With a twinge of guilt, she thinks momentarily of the homeless man she saw sitting outside the store. What could he have done with the ninety-five dollars those shoes cost?
Mildly disgusted with herself, she stuffs her gym clothes into the washing machine, flops into her work chair and clicks on e-mail. For the past six months she's been working from home, programming for a major software company. The pay is good and at first she could set her own hours, which let her continue with her artwork as well as taking the odd coffee break with one of her many friends. But she misses the daily companionship of an office, and lately Tony, her team leader, has been pushing the team for more hours. The firm just lost a major client and budgets are being squeezed. Maria wants more compensation for the time she's putting in and she's e-mailed Tony to that effect.
She has mail. It's from work, and written in Tony's customary blunt style. There's no chance of a raise, don't even think about it. In fact, considering the pressure they're under right now, they should all stand by to contribute that little bit more.
Maria hits the roof. That jerk! He doesn't know what it's like living her life. And he doesn't care anyway. How can he ask for more? She hasn't painted in months. The twinges in her wrist may be the onset of carpal tunnel. She hardly sees another living person all day. . . .
She stomps about the apartment and kicks a few chairs. No, she's not having this anymore. No way. She's quitting. In fact, she's more than quitting. She's going to start a website for exploited people like herself. She'll show that dumb firm you can't treat people like this. Just wait till people read about their working practices. Tele-commuting? It's more like a sweatshop in your own apartment! There will be plenty of people with horror stories to tell, all she has to do is get networking!
Maria can't bear to be in the same room as her computer any longer. She storms out of the apartment, slamming the door, and pounds down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. Head down, shoulders hunched, she heads for the park. On the third steaming circuit of the lake something suddenly catches her attention. A clump of anemones sparkle in the sunlight. Yellow against green--the tones are just perfect. Maria stops in her tracks and stares. What an incredible spring light there is this afternoon. How could she have missed it? She raises her head. In a cobalt blue sky a single white seagull glides in circles above the lake. She feels the tension drain from her body as she leans on the railings, taking in the scene, feeling the breeze on her cheek, all thoughts of work evaporated.
She stands there for half an hour, strangely content, her mind still and clear--bright with the beauty all around her. Then suddenly, from nowhere, she knows just what she'll do. She'll quit all right, and start a website. But forget the revenge, what a waste. No, she's going to sell artists' materials on the Web. She knows there's a market out there, she'd use it herself. So would some of her artist friends, friends she hasn't seen in ages. Wouldn't some of them love to be involved! Yes--it comes to her in a flash, just how to structure the site . . . She can't wait to call her friends and tell them.
In the course of a not typical afternoon, we can see that Maria experienced a range of emotions and states of mind. If we look again, we'll see that she touched on each of the six worlds of the Wheel of Money in this short time.
Let's now look at each of these in turn.
The Animal World
At the end of her day's work, Maria was not feeling truly human. She was in an animal state of mind and if she hadn't taken herself off to the gym to clear her head she might have passed yet another evening blobbed-out in front of the television with a take-out pizza. In the symbolism of the Wheel, animals don't have much regard for anything beyond food, sex and sleep and so long as these needs are met, they are not bothered with much else. When we're in an animal state of mind, we can't think creatively. We live--and work--just to exist.
Maria had the self-awareness to know that at the end of eight hours staring at the computer, an hour at the gym would restore her to a human state.
We're in an animal state of mind with regard to money when:
* We're stuck in the same rut, doing a job that means little to us, spending eight hours a day, forty-eight weeks a year, watching the clock and killing time.
* We spend each Saturday afternoon walking down the same supermarket aisles, putting the same items in our baskets as we did last week and the week before and the week before, irrespective of price or quality, regardless of what goes into them and what effect they have on us or our environment.
* So long as we meet our bills, with a little over, we're happy. Because what else can you expect from life?
Do you ever get into an animal state of mind? What's that like for you? Describe what you do in the periods of your own animal existence. What causes you to enter the animal world? What causes you to leave it? Is it really as refreshing as it sometimes seems?
The Hungry Ghosts
As soon as she looked into the window of her favorite shoe store, Maria was impelled to buy yet another pair of shoes, even though they weren't quite right for her and she'd bought a similar pair just a few weeks before. She'd fallen into the world of the hungry ghosts.
The hungry ghosts are driven by intense neurotic craving. Neurotic, because the craving they experience is often the displaced desire for something else--something they are not consciously aware of. Wanting affection, not knowing how best to go about getting it, they crave chocolate instead. Perhaps that was what their mothers always gave them when she wanted to express her affection. But no amount of chocolate, however good it is, can meet our real need for affection and so that craving is never satisfied. The shoes she bought clearly meant something to Maria, but they stand for something else, something she's not aware of. No matter how many pairs she buys she'll never be quite satisfied.
Hungry ghosts are traditionally depicted as gray, emaciated beings with gross, sagging bellies and long, constricted necks. They have huge, staring eyes; tiny, pinprick mouths; and their overall experience is one of unfulfilled longing. Whatever food they manage to get into their mouths right away turns to excrement, ash or fire. Aching with thirst, when they approach the water that flows through their world it recedes from them. The meager fruit that grows on the spindly trees is almost always out of reach, and when they do manage to pluck and eat one it turns to swords and daggers in their bellies. Hungry ghosts can never get enough.
We ourselves become hungry ghosts when:
* We buy things, not because we need them, or because we'll need them later and the price is reduced, but just because we want to buy something, anything almost.
* We try to control our spending but splurge on luxuries almost against our own wishes.
* We're suddenly obsessed with having a new bathroom, or a new car (even though our current one is still running fine), or another dinner service, or an obscure kitchen gadget we saw advertised once, and we can't rest and can't think of anything else until we get it.
* We become preoccupied with our savings, checking the balance every week, not giving or spending more than we absolutely have to, piling up money purely for its own sake.
Can you recognize any of the above states in your own experience? In what other ways might you be a hungry ghost?
What happens to you in the hungry ghost world? What causes you to enter that world and what causes you to leave it? Has getting what you wanted in that state ever really made your life better?
The Hell Worlds
At all costs Maria tries to avoid engaging with the hell worlds. They're just too painful. She doesn't like to think too much about how the disheveled man sitting on the sidewalk outside the shoe store passes his nights, and what it must be like to live like that for nights on end, winter and summer. Whenever she starts to engage empathetically with the circumstances of homeless people, her mind just swerves away from the pain of it and she starts to think of something else. But even though she doesn't like to think about it, people like him are one of the reasons she keeps on working as she has. You must pay the rent!
Buddhism recognizes a number of different hell worlds whose occupants experience continuous torture and all kinds of deprivation, but none of these worlds lasts forever. There is no Buddhist equivalent of the idea of eternal damnation. But even though one may not live in a hellish state forever, the hells are terrible places to be.
Many people today find that the levels of stress associated with their work can produce quite hellish mental states. The stress builds up and up and they can't get rid of it. They come home feeling wired and leave for work the next morning all hyped up.
In the context of our money lives, we ourselves touch on the hell worlds when:
* We're trapped in painful jobs that we'd do anything to escape.
* We're bullied and harassed at work but can't quit.
* Our work generates intense levels of anxiety and tension that we cannot dispel.
* We're driven to keep going in our work purely out of fear of poverty.
Consider--have you ever experienced a hell realm? What causes you to enter a hell world and what causes you to leave it?
What would have helped you when you were in that state? Can you now do something for others who are in similar states?From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Mindfulness and Money by Kulananda and Dominic Houlder. Copyright © 2002 by Kulananda and Dominic Houlder. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.