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The world of the hungry spirits resembles the real world, in which those who have plenty are concerned only with fulling their own bellies, ignoring the millions all around them who are starving. For a time right after the end of World War II, we Japanese lived on food provided by others. Without this aid we would have starved, yet already we have forgotten. Now when rice is imported from overseas, we say it does not taste good and throw it away. It is this kind of wasteful and ungrateful attitude that characterizes the hungry spirits of the Buddhist hell.

The next realm of being, that of animals, is an amoral world in which we ignore our own failings and criticize the failings of others. In this realm we are like the sumo wrestler who loses a bout and protests that the ring was too small, or the baseball player who fails to steal second base and grumbles that first and second base were too far apart. Unreasonable complaints and ignoring the rules of the game are characteristics of the animal realm.

The next realm, that of the asuras, is a state of constant friction and frustration, a world of unfulfilled desires. It is said that humanity is the master of all creation. The realm of human beings thus would seem the best place to be. But without support and guidance, human beings are like ships without compasses, drifting wherever the tides and winds take us, being snatched up by the gust of circumstances, read at any moment to be pulled back into the lower realms. In the realms of human beings the human mind is always swaying, affected by what ever it encounters.

The realm of heaven is certainly a place of joy, but it is a joy that can be only temporary. It is not the deep, quiet, and eternal joy that we can gain from the teachings of Buddha. Joy in the realm of heaven is a fleeting thing, quick to disappear, leaving behind the desolation of the drunkard who awakens from a bout of intoxication.

We bear within ourselves all of these realms yet we are unaware of their presence.

Our hearts and minds are constantly changing with every person we meet, with every event that takes place. To look into ourselves and be able to regard this turmoil with calm and forbearance: that is what it means to look at oneself with half-open eyes.

Take the time to stop and look into yourself. You can do it in front of the household alter or even while you are sitting on a park bench. Stop, say, once a week to examine yourself with half-open eyes. Ask yourself, "How am I doing these days? Have I been a bit too unrestrained? Am I being too antagonistic? Have I forgotten how to be sincere? Do not feel that you have to overcome the turbulence of your six inner realms; we all keep moving among these multiple realms. It is enough just to recognize your own human frailties.

The first of the two characters for the Japanese word zazen (meditation) means "to sit." It is an ideograph of two human figures on the ground facing each other,

One is the self that is tossed hither and yon by desires; the other is the self the discovers the inner buddha-nature. The dual self "sits" and debates in search of the true way of living.

Affluence is not measured by how many things have attained but by how much calms you can bring to carrying on this kind of debate with yourself.

Nikkyo Niwano

Buddhism for Everyday Life

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