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What is the great ocean
most difficult to leave forever?
The three realms of cyclic existence,
which toss in waves of pain.
The "three realms of cyclic existence" refers to the three dimensions of unenlightened life, known as the realm of the senses (or realm of desire), the realm of form and the realm of formlessness. These realms are only unenlightened, of course, when experienced by an unenlightened being. They are often referred to collectively as "the wheel of life," for living beings circle through them from rebirth to rebirth until they eventually learn the lessons of life and achieve enlightenment.
The first of the three is comprised of the six realms of ordinary rebirth: the hells, ghost realms, animal world (including insects, fish, etc.), human world, world of the titans, and realm of the sense gods. Each of these is associated with one of the six root delusions or afflicted emotions. Respectively these are anger, attachment, instinctual behavior, arrogance, jealousy, and complacence.
Above these six realms are the seventeen god realms of form, likened to seventeen stages of meditative absorption; and, above these, the four realms of the formless gods, likened to formless stages of meditative absorption. High meditators who have not penetrated to the essence of wisdom are reborn into them.
Metaphorically the six realms of the sensory world represent cyclic processes resulting from the six distorted mind-states; the form level gods represent mentalactivity that, although profound, mistakes the nature of self; and the formless realms represent exalted spiritual mind-states in which the fruits of highest wisdom have not yet been achieved. In other words, the various realms are not only a map to the dimensions of rebirth, but also to everyday human experience.
Excerpted from Gems of Wisdom from the Seventh Dalai Lama by Dalai Lama VII Bskal-bzan-rgya-mtso. Copyright © 1999 by Glenn H. Mullin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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