In their own image

The Wheel of Samsara

Buddhists believe that within the circle of Samsara into which we are born there are six realms, one of which is the god realm. Classically, the god realm is one in which bodiless beings experience total  satisfaction for 1,000 years, only then to run out of merit and find themselves reborn in the lower realm of hell, their exalted term in the god realm exhausted.

In more conventional terms, we can envision the six realms of Samsara as psychological states through which we move, moment to moment. Thus is it that the god realm, with its satisfaction and self-assuredness is available to each of us. It never lasts, of course; as we get used to having what we want when we want it, we then find ourselves hurt, angry and resentful when life fails us, which it always does. If the morning paper’s not delivered on time, I move from god realm to hell realm in an instant.

The god realm sense of entitlement is available to everyone, but often is the domain of the very rich and famous. “The Donald,” Mayor Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, Meg Whitman and the like; make a list of the wealthiest and most famous people in the world and you’ll find many residents of the god realm. They acquire power, make rules, command others, and take action. With the power of great wealth at their disposal they, like gods, attempt to create a world in their own image.

Denizens of the god realm like to pal around with other gods, of course, and the worlds they create become playgrounds of the gods. I was recently in East Hampton on Long Island in New York to commit my mother’s ashes to the waves of the Atlantic. A mile down the beach we happened upon a massive 100,000 square-foot single-family home (the largest in America) featuring five-story Roman columns at the entrance and a 200-stall basement parking garage. Surrounded by walls, video surveillance cameras and roving guards, it seemed to me as much a prison as a home for its godly residents.

When residents of the god realm decide to create a new playground, there is often little that can be done to stop it. The gods buy influence, appointments to civic bodies, legal expertise, public relations campaigns, and can bury communities under reams of paper. Little in the way of land use law pertains to the common wealth and rights of a community; private property on the other hand is given deep legal protection. All that remains to a community is the political will of its elected representatives and the language of its general plan and development code, not much compared to what the gods can buy.

Many in the god realm cannot feel or understand the needs of others. They think their godly existence is the very best existence and that all other beings aspire to the god realm; they cannot imagine being satisfied with less. Accordingly, they create a world that fits their god realm desires and are confused and dumbfounded when they encounter opposition to their plans.

The great irony, of course, is that the desires of the god realm contain the seeds of the hell realm. Everything will be lost. Power and wealth expire with us, and ultimately are nothing. For this reason it is said that the suffering of the god realm is the most terrible suffering of all.

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