The stages encountered during the internally directed evolution of consciousness, both of the individual on the microcosmic level, and of society or even the Universe as a whole, on the macro- level, is symbolized by the realms portrayed in the Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Illusion (Maya) or Rebirth. The ultimate goal is to transcend the cycle of Time and Ignorance, and arrive at the still, calm center, Enlightenment. Within the traditional version of the Wheel, however, the soul revolves around and around between the different realms for millions upon millions of rebirths, although the guide toward Enlightenment (Nirvana), symbolized by the Buddha, appears within each realm, and offers opportunity for attainment at any point in the cycle. Hence, the traditional ordering of cycle’s realms reflects the notion of a nearly perpetual repetition of cycle by the journeying soul, and proceeds as follows through the realms of: the Gods (or Heaven), Titans or Demigods, “Pretas” (or Hungry Ghosts), Hell, Animals, Humans, and then Gods again. A simplification of the cycle is also portrayed within many Tibetan paintings of the Wheel, in which a black pig (representing Ignorance or Fear), is chased by a Snake (representing Anger), chased by a cock (representing Greed or Desire), who is in turn chased by the original Black Pig. Obviously, Ignorance is viewed as the quality which is furthest from Enlightenment, and is the basis for all delusions.
The traditional ordering of the realms is somewhat problematic in that it makes no distinctions of value between the various realms. Obviously, it is more pleasant for a soul to exist in the Heavenly Realm than to suffer in Hell; however, in traditional depictions of the Wheel, all of the realms are equally distant from the Center (Nirvana), and the Buddha appears in each, offering the possibility of attainment. In fact, it is a tenet of Mahayana Buddhism that the Human Realm offers the greatest opportunity for attainment, although the most convincing explanation for this belief is one of anthropocentrism - that it is created by and for human adherents.
That the Buddha appears in each of the the realms, offering different means (suited to the denizens of each) of attaining immediate enlightenment is meaningful both in the sense that, under any circumstance, a direction toward greater spiritual evolution is possible, and also in that, though a being may be situated at a particular stage in the process, he may at any time connect to an essential self which transcends it all. An internally directed evolution, however, may not wholely rely upon a system which, though valid on an ultimate level, does not offer a sufficient practical description of the stages by which on may recognize progress, the means toward its continuation, and some notion of how future, higher levels of awareness should appear.
Starting with the traditional assumption that all of the realms contain delusion, we may consider two modifications of tradition: that some realms are more proximate to Enlightenment than others, indicating that a progressive evolution is possible, and that, generally, those “realm-stages” progress from those portrayed most negatively (as being the most painful) to those that are more pleasant, and onward, to final Enlightenment. We may envision these realm-stages as a sort of “onion” – a sphere of concentric layers, in which the soul moves ever-inward towards the center.
Outside of the sphere, before even the first stage commences, we encounter the “Neverness,” an abyss of utter ignorance, incomprehension, non-existence - Nothingness. It cannot be said to exist, so terming it an “abyss” is actually meaningless, though perhaps a better approximation than calling it a region, or realm. Approaching the “border” between Nonbeing and Being there lies an incoherent, unexpressed sense of amazement, reminiscent of the Biblical statement: “The Light shone through the Darkness, and the Darkness could not utter it.” It is a mental state which precedes even the utterance of “What?,” the primal query of the just-born infant. That first question, posed in the hope or expectation of an answer which does more than simply replicate the question in more complicated form, defines this border between non-existence and existence, between mental nullity and awareness. It is the foundation impulse which demands definition, of self, of universe, and of all existence, and it grasps at all that it is given – most obviously: a world of multiplicity in which the self interacts with stimuli within and without its corporeal form. This self attempts to attain a solution initially based upon an internal projection of its dominant interactions (those which were the most profoundly stimulating and well-remembered), and later by reflecting upon the possibility of a meaning, or essence, common to the cumulative range of experience, which may unite and encompass it all.
(c) Copyright 2009 by A. Rogolsky