The way of men is harmony,
With merit and error interspersed.
On virtuous deeds you rise; offenses make you fall.
It has nothing to do with anyone else at all.
The realm of asuras is dangerous, but what about the realm of people? There are both good and evil people. The way of men is harmony. People are harmonious beings who are capable of getting along with anyone.
However, those who become human beings are neither completely good nor completely bad. Beings who are completely good are reborn in the heavens, while those who are thoroughly bad become animals or hungry ghosts or fall into the hells. People have both merit and offenses. When a person’s merit is greater than his offenses, he will be born into a rich and distinguished family, but one with small merit and heavy offenses will be born into a poor family. Between these extremes are a thousand differences and a myriad distinctions. Therefore, the verse says: With merit and error interspersed. They have some merit, and they also have some offenses; they are neither extremely yin nor extremely yang. Beings with a preponderance of yin become ghosts. Those who are mostly yang become gods; they don’t become humans.
Human beings can ascend to the heavens or fall into the hells. If you do good deeds, you ascend; if you commit offenses, you fall. So the verse says: On virtuous deeds you rise; offenses make you fall.
It has nothing to do with anyone else at all. Other people cannot tell you to fall into the hells, make you a ghost, or cause you to become an animal. It is entirely up to you. What you create you must endure. You must suffer the consequences of your own actions.
Eager animals feed on greed,
Never sated by a lot.
They take what’s black as white
And can’t distinguish wrong from right.
The seven Dharma Realms discussed above are the better ones. If you wish, you can enter them to try them out—put on a play—but you shouldn’t play around with the remaining three Dharma Realms. If you try these out, you may not be able to escape. It is said that once you lose your human form, ten thousand eons may pass before that form can be obtained again. It’s very dangerous; you shouldn’t treat it as mere play-acting. One of my disciples compared it to putting on a play, but he doesn’t really understand what’s going on.
There are billions of animals, an infinite variety—flying, crawling, swimming, or walking—in the sky, on land, and in the water. The species of birds and flying animals alone number in the millions, and land animals are not a few, either. There are millions of land animals ranging from small rodents through cows, horses, deer, and bears to the mighty elephant. In the water are seals, water buffalo, sea horses, manatees, and a myriad variety of swimming creatures.
We could never thoroughly study and understand all these animals. Even Ph.D.’s in the areas of zoology, biology, and related fields who do extensive and continuous research have no way to know all the animal species in the world. If they know a thousand, they don’t know eleven hundred. If they know eleven hundred, they don’t know twelve hundred.
Although someone might claim to know them all, how can he be certain that someone doesn’t know more than he does? It’s impossible to be sure. We have no way to completely know all the species of animals. Even the number of different kinds of insects would be hard to determine. When examined like that, wouldn’t you say that the world is multilayered and infinite, infinite and multilayered?
Beings become animals as the result of one thing: greed. Eager animals feed on greed. For them, no matter what it is, the more the better. A little won’t do. They are insatiably greedy; they never get tired of more.
Since they are never sated by a lot, they can’t tell that black is black. They say, “Oh, it’s white!” They take what’s black as white. Because they are greedy for everything, they have no conceptions we consider reasonable—even to the point that they are greedy to eat excrement. The more excrement a dog eats, the better it likes it. People wonder how it can eat such filth, but the dog finds it more savory with every mouthful. That’s how they are—never sated by a lot! That’s an example of taking black as white: They delight in something that is basically unpleasant. Greed can extend even to the desire for more sickness. One sickness is not enough; they want two. They also want to take more medicine.
And they can’t distinguish wrong from right. Animals are not clear about right and wrong, because they lack the ability to reason. How did they get that way? Simply through greed. They become muddled, and ignorance envelops them so that they become totally oblivious to anything rational.
Take heed, and don’t be greedy. People who have left the home-life should not be greedy for money, but some say “the more the better!” Such greed puts you in grave danger, and it is easy to become an animal as a result.
“People who have left the home-life can’t fall,” you may say.
If they don’t cultivate according to the Buddha’s precepts, they will fall even faster. The ancients had a saying, “Many of those standing at the gates of the hells are Sanghans and Taoists.” All the old Taoists and Buddhist monks who were greedy are waiting at the doors of hell saying, “Quick! Send me to the hells. Hurry up and let me come in!” Once in, it’s a lot of fun inside. They think the hells will provide good entertainment, so they go there. But once they arrive they realize it is not a game.
To be continued