The six ways of emotional reactivity

This week’s verse in Reflections on Silver River, Ken McLeod’s translation of Tokme Zongpo’s original text 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva is based on something called The Six Realms.

In Wake Up to Your Life, McLeod gives precise, detailed explanations of how The Six Realms can be used as an experiential metaphor to examine the habituated ways we tend to see the world when unconsciously stuck in habituated emotional reactions. These six worlds of projected emotion correspond to those universal reactive emotional patterns that give rise to six different ways of interpreting our experience.

Twenty five hundred years ago, the experience of each of the six universal emotional reactions was taught as living in a particular realm: hell beings live in anger, hungry ghosts live in greed, animals live in blind instinct, human beings live in desire or craving, titans live in jealousy, and gods live in pride.

Ken McLeod brings these ancient metaphors to life, making them tangible and vivid:

“When we experience the world through anger, we see everything as an enemy and fight our way through life. We live in hell.

With greed, we see the world as unable to satisfy our needs and strive to satisfy an insatiable neediness—the eternal hunger of the hungry ghosts.

With blind instinct, we relate to the world through instinct only and strive to limit discomfort. Like an animal, we do only what we are conditioned to do.

Desire leads us to see the world as a place of pleasure. We pour energy into activity in order to gain the means to enjoy life. As human beings, we are always working to obtain what we want and to keep what we have.

Jealousy is based on a perception of personal deficiency. We strive to overcome that perception through achievements and victories in order to demonstrate that we are equal to, or better than, anyone else. We are like titans who wage futile battles against the more powerful gods.

With pride, we feel that the world is our oyster. We feel superior to others and strive to maintain the feeling, materially or emotionally. Like gods, we are convinced of our rightness and superiority.”

(146, Wake Up to Your Life)

Here’s Verse 8:

The suffering in the lower realms is really hard to endure.
The Sage says it is the result of destructive actions.
For that reason, even if your life is at risk,
Don’t engage in destructive actions — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.

All the best,
Matthew and Paul

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