Yama, All-Devouring Time, and the Six Realms
Pure consciousness generates the material world out of its Self as the appearance of the non-self.
Why would I want to appear to myself as the non-self? So that by experiencing what I am not, I may awaken ,through contrast, a clear experience of what I Am.
I get lost in the forms of maya to realize the formless essence of who is getting lost. This is the very purpose of the game of creation.
Divine Consciousness projects worlds of desire out of its own energy and then perceives them for only one reason: to awaken the perceiver. This is why the Biblical creation story proclaims, "God said, Let there be light, and there was light: and God saw that the light was good." The divine Self was liberated by seeing.
What awakens the taste that dissolves all craving and attachment? Only the Self-reflection of consciousness. Consciousness must taste her own Self-luminosity, unalloyed with any object of perception, to repose in her essence, and enjoy liberation. Yet this awakening from bondage is only possible through bondage, in a world of forms paired in opposites that both attract and repel her awareness.
In perceiving, "I am not that, not that, not that," consciousness awakens and declares, "So-Ham: I Am This!" In Western scriptures (Exodus 3) this awakening is represented through the story of Moses, where consciousness reveals itself as "I Am that I Am." I Am is the very name of God, the self-awakening of awareness in the burning tree of Moses' own nervous system.
Once liberation is gained, consciousness continues to dwell in the world of objects without attachment, craving, or fear. Every perception is an enlightenment, a refresher in awakening. The poetry of William Blake so clearly describes this all-important difference between experience in bondage and freedom:
"He who binds to himself a joy
doth the winged life destroy.
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
dwells in eternity's sunrise."
In the Yama Mandala, there are six realms where our awareness may be reincarnated, depending of course on our karma. Yet these very forms of bondage become doors of liberation. We may take this mandala literally, or we may take it as a symbol of our present experience: the way our attention gets drawn into various limitations through desire.
It is important to note that this paradigm of limitation and bondage is not "world denying" or "nihilistic." It does not make value judgments. Heaven is just as binding as hell. And earth is the school of liberation! The mandala just describes the world as it is, giving it meaning and purpose.
The six realms portrayed in the mandala are: (1) heaven of the gods, (2) heaven of the demi-gods, (3) earth, (4) animal realm, (5) realm of Pitris, or "hungry ghosts," (6) and hell of the demons. All are realms of bondage, where consciousness limits itself through absorption in the forms of the non-Self.
Even the gods are in a delicious dream, enjoying heavenly delights of the subtle senses. And the demi-gods dwell in a delirium of envy and competition. The animals are completely absorbed in sensation, with little or no self-awareness. While the hungry ghosts are lost in craving and addiction. Like figures in Dante's purgatory, their forms embody their karma: they are conceived as having huge heads and bellies, with thin delicate necks, constantly straining to take it what their senses crave.
At the center of the mandala we see the curious image of a cock pursuing a snake pursuing the tail of a pig, in a perpetual circle. These are the "three poisons" that drive us from lifetime to lifetime in the endless cycle of karma. The three animals symbolize craving, anger, and dullness, the mental states that cloud pure consciousness and lead to bondage in the six realms.
Outside the wheel is a clear blue sky: the boundless realm of liberation, the clarity of pure awareness grasping no form. The mandala depicts the figure of Buddha floating in this sky. The path out of the circle rises like a wispy trail from the earthly realm.
Why can the path to liberation not arise from one of the other six realms? No, not even from the heaven of the Gods! For it is only possible to gain liberation through human incarnation. Only here can we experience life in combined opposites, awakening Self-awareness. The Gods are too absorbed in pleasure, without pain, to gain liberation from both.
According to Buddhist teaching about this great Yama Mandala of all-devouring Time, even gods and angels must be reborn on earth to gain liberation. "Why would the heaven of the gods be a realm of bondage?" one might ask. Because soft chains of gold are still chains. The chains of limited experience bind consciousness to form, even when the form is the seductively sweet experience of paradise. In heaven, a god may delight in the fragrance of a celestial rose for ten thousand years, absorbed in sensory delight. Yet this experience still binds consciousness to form, and distracts the Self from the taste of its formless essence, the bliss of boundlessness. The Gods are those who have yet to learn the deepest lesson of all: bliss and pleasure are completely distinct.
Detail from the Yama mandala, the realm of demi-gods,
who are still caught in subtle desire, envy and pride.
The rishis who devised this mandala remind us that even heavenly beings eventually grow restless, yearning for they know not what, because their awareness is still bound by craving the pleasures of the non-self. Eventually, an intuition arises in them, whispering, "There must be something more, more than even this paradise!" Then that god is reborn on earth, where liberation is possible.
In the human realm, the contrast between the Self and non-Self is greater than in heaven, but not so great as in the other realms. To put it simply, only in the human realm is there an equilibrium between spirit and matter. In the "lower" realms, the bondage of matter prevails. In the heaven realms, matter is too subtle and dreamlike to provide contrast with the Self. But on earth, there is neither constant pain nor constant pleasure. Opposites are balanced in such equilibrium that a Path opens up in the axis between them. Treading that delicate razor's edge between antipodes liberates the experiencer from the experience.
Here on earth, pain holds hands with pleasure, sorrow accompanies joy. It is easier to get un-stuck from the world of sensation when one has a hangover the morning, after a pleasant party, than to live in a world where the feast goes on for a thousand years with no adverse side effects!
A "Son of God" incarnates here to be liberated on the cross of paradox. His liberation spills a radiant force-field that blesses multitudes. It is only in this human form that we realize formlessness. It is only here, at the center of the cross, that we learn to repose in the Self, tasting that which is beyond gain or loss.
Reposing on the milk ocean of pure consciousness, Vishnu witnesses worlds arise and dissolve like bubbles, just as you may witness your own dreams yet know, "I am awake inside." Vishnu is merely a representation of the Witness within us, who is "in the world but not of the world." Vishnu is our own awareness liberated from bondage to form, yet ever flowing in the midst of form, enjoying what arises and dissolves without attachment. Such a liberated awareness has no personal craving or fear, but wills only what heals and awakens others.
Western intellectuals often misunderstand this teaching as "world denying." It bears repeating that this teaching does not deny the world, but celebrates a world awakened! A world awakened to the Self, through perceiving the non-Self. This teaching describes the real purpose of creation.
In liberated consciousness, wherever we are in this world, we are at home. We experience the best lesson possible for us at each moment. Consciousness invites us to participate in the manifestation of its wholeness through seeing and acting. The Self has constructed this dream for one reason: our awakening. Each moment arises just as it should be to give us the next step in letting go of something we were grasping.
This teaching honors the Creator, a Creator who pervades yet out-shines her creation. And that Creator is each one of us. In awakened Self-repose, we enjoy the world without projecting into it those limiting fears and desires that debase our creation into a culture of addiction, violence and greed. As the Awakened, we truly "love our neighbor as our Self," seeing clearly that our neighbor is our Self. For we penetrate the veil of the non-Self, and it dissolves, letting pure Awareness shine through as the essence of all creation.
Therefor, it is really only through Self-realization that our political and economic conflicts will be resolved. One can do no greater service to humanity than to touch one's own heart and awaken the bliss of the Self. Then our actions are spontaneously directed to helping others awaken. Only in a world of awakened beings, who see their neighbors as their own Self, is peace possible.
Friend, no object is more radiantly beautiful than the subject. Taste the diamond at the center of your heart. This is cessation of desire, the end of bondage.
Jai Guru Dev.