Spacious Passion

Chapter 4 – Coming up for Air

hell realms

The lowest and most violent of the realms are the hell realms, where psychosis is vividly and excruciatingly intense. Everything is perceived as hostile, which evokes an instantaneous response of aggression.

The fear which is experienced immediately manifests as aggression. The speed of this realm is so violent that action and reaction appear to be simultaneous.

Ngak’chang Rinpoche says of the hell realm, This is possibly not quite the situation to which John Lennon was referring when he sang about ‘Instant Karma’ but that describes hell well. Hell is where the self-defeating strategies of the five elements cycle so quickly that it becomes impossible to find respite. It becomes impossible to trust anything – and this is the one great hope. We cease to trust the samsaric patterns – but the slightest perceptual muscle movement provides feedback as instant agony. This total claustrophobic compression implodes into the utter exhaustion in which pain is accepted – and in that moment there is a chance. There is suddenly a difference between pain and respite from pain. A choiceless-choice emerges…

It seems almost impossible for a hell being to rise from this realm, because to do so would require a moment of space to enter the instantaneity of their existence. A split second of spacious reflection is required for the hell being to let go of fear and violence, and entertain the fleeting possibility of another state of being.

We plummet into the hell realms when our experience of the world is dominated by fear of attack. Are those young men on the bus looking at me in a hostile manner? Everything is seen as deliberate and personal. If something goes wrong I believe it was directly intended for me – and things are always going wrong. I expect people to hurt me, and act aggressively towards them in the belief that this will prevent them getting the chance.

In the hell realm my life is dominated by my aggressive attempts to avoid the expected aggression of others. When I do experience some happiness, hell perception means that I cannot trust it. I undermine it, perpetuating my hellish perception. Anger can be boiling and searing or it can be icy and penetrating, reflecting the symbolic representations of hot and cold hells.

We cannot engage in spiritual practice when we are generating hell realm perception. Our entire being is consumed by fear and aggression – we are completely identified with it. If we find ourselves in the unlikely position of encountering Dharma, we see it as threatening. We respond to its teachings with hostility – we heckle the teacher and ask sharp questions in a rude or rambunctious manner. We see the practice of others as intimidating and scorn them. We find their kindly response irritating and offensive. When anyone treats us with gentleness it aggravates us. We are unable to move from our position of distrust and fear. We do not have the capacity to embrace spiritual practice.