We can each ask ourselves: 'What life-condition am I in?'
Perhaps we feel happy, or sad, or neither. Perhaps there is something on our minds, something we hope to obtain, or achieve, something that drives us in a particular direction. Nichiren Buddhism has a very clear way of explaining the different ways that we feel and respond to the world around us. It is a principle often referred to as 'the Ten Worlds'.
Each of the Ten Worlds or life-states are ways that we respond to what is going on in our lives. We have each one of these states latent in our lives, it is just a question of how and when they are stimulated and become manifest.
Let's start with a calm, rational state called 'Tranquillity'. Sometimes it is also called 'Humanity' but I would like to stress its calmness and reasonableness. When we are in this state, things in the world appear to be 'just right'. It's the ideal life-condition to be in on holiday, when we can recharge and recover from the challenges of life. We all need to experience tranquillity, but too much can be a problem, and can lead to laziness. This is also the time to point out that we will see a positive and negative side to most of these worlds and extreme laziness is the negative side of tranquillity.
Imagine you are resting on a sunny afternoon, having a nice, tranquil experience, when the neighbours put on some music which is not only too loud, but of a sort which you would normally avoid. The life-state of tranquillity will probably have been replaced by some kind of annoyance, even perhaps a restrictive feeling of suffering. This could be the world known as 'Hell'. Unlike the hell which some cultures or faiths describe as being underground, this is a very real experience where we feel imprisoned by our circumstances.
Or rather than the neighbour's music, perhaps you receive a pleasant message on your phone - someone you are fond of has told you that they love you and as a result your heart sings! This is likely to be the world of 'Rapture' (also known as 'Heaven'). This might be followed by a desire to see that person, and the yearning is likely to be a manifestation of the world of 'Hunger'. This is not just a condition that is to do with the desire to eat food, but can also be about relationships or other objects and ways that we think we can improve life. There is also a world in which we operate on the level of our more basic animal instincts, and this world, perhaps unsurprisingly, is known as 'Animality'. Perhaps if the noisy neighbours had a reputation for causing trouble our instinctive reaction would be fear that they might react dangerously to any complaint. If instead we feel superior to our neighbours -perhaps because we have a disdainful opinion of their choice of music - then this sounds rather like the world of 'Anger'.
This world is not about being angry, instead it is usually quite a quiet world, but one that is dominated by our small ego and therefore demonstrates arrogance and contempt.
By looking at tranquillity, hell, rapture, hunger, animality and anger, we have briefly considered what are commonly considered the six 'lower' worlds. These are worlds that we experience due to the things that happen in our environment and it is just a question of our personal buttons being pushed.
There are also four 'higher' worlds which require effort for us to experience them. 'Learning' and 'Realisation' are states where we are trying to improve our lives, either by studying the wisdom and experience of others, or through our own insight into life. Then there is the compassionate and altruistic state of 'Bodhisattva1 in which we make efforts to take away the sufferings of others and to replace it with something more positive. Finally, we have the dynamic and creative world of 'Buddhahood' in our lives, characterised by courage, compassion, wisdom and life-force. This world of Buddhahood is the only one that is purely positive.
Having introduced these ten states, the next thing is to acknowledge that life is much more complicated than humans having just ten ways of operating. A great Chinese Buddhist thinker known as T'ien-t'ai1 observed that people tend to have one of these worlds as their 'basic' life-condition and that they then experience the world through the 'lens' of that basic world. For example someone who is incredibly laid-back might have 'tranquillity' as their basic condition, and then they will experience rapture, hunger and anger in a tranquil way. Someone else who is fiercely driven by their ego will experience tranquillity, hell and animality through the 'lens' of their anger state. When I first started to read about Buddhist principles, it was this aspect, known as 'the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds' which really grabbed my attention. The implication is that rather than ten, there are a hundred worlds at play in each of us. This principle provides an extremely sophisticated analysis of human psychology, and explains a lot about how we each behave and how different people can react differently to the same situation.
The aim of Buddhist practice is to establish the world of Buddhahood as our fundamental life-condition, and then to experience the other worlds through that state. The Buddha has all of the worlds including anger, hunger and rapture, but they are states that create value rather than being self-centred or destructive.
T'ien-t'ai then demonstrated how these worlds become manifest in our lives, and he applied the principle of the mutual possession through the mechanics of a principle called 'the ten factors' found in the Buddhist teaching known as the Lotus Sutra.2 How do we know a person's life-condition? We can usually see it in their face, or in their appearance. We will hear it in their voice and in the things they say. We will see it in the influence of the causes they make, or in the effects of those causes. A person who is motivated by their hunger will behave very differently from someone motivated by altruism (or the world known as Bodhisattva}. A person in tranquillity will react differently to a person in the state of hell. T'ien-t'ai said that when the hundred worlds are applied through the ten factors, there are a thousand factors.
T'ien-t'ai also explained that at each moment this process is happening in each of us as individuals, and also in those people around us and in the place where we live. He described these three aspects of the individual, society and our environment as three distinct yet inter-connected realms. This analysis shows us what the collective life-condition is for a person and the circumstances around them. He concluded his thinking with the name of this principle as 'three thousand realms in a single moment of life'.3
Despite the apparently complicated mathematics required to get to this figure of three thousand realms, the most important aspect of this principle is to ask this question: What is in my heart right now? What life-condition am I in at this moment? Is it hell, hunger or anger? This principle says that there are three thousand possibilities in this moment, and then in the next moment another three thousand possibilities. What life-condition, then, would I like to be in? Would I like to be in the life-condition of Buddhahood? This is the importance of the 'single moment'.4
Because it explains the relationship of our own personal life-condition with that of the inter-connected world around us, this principle explains how we are empowered to make a change to what is going on in life.
If I would like to experience life through the condition of Buddhahood, I can. Nichiren Daishonin explained precisely what is necessary for us to experience this. I just need to make the causes in this moment to stimulate the Buddhahood that is in my life. Then as I reveal my Buddhahood, I am in a position to influence the life-condition of people around me, and the place where I live. As I establish Buddhahood as the main life-condition that I experience, endless possibilities emerge. The powerlessness described at the start of this article becomes a thing of the past. The power of the individual changes from being an insignificant aspect in the midst of huge institutions, and through the web of interconnectedness becomes the catalyst for extraordinary change.
The principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life teaches us that the change of life-condition of an individual is a cause for the change of the world itself. I am no longer powerless. I have and can access great power. And that power will have great influence. This principle teaches me that my inner change changes the world. I affect the people around me, as well as the place where I find myself. As I reveal my value-creating potential, and encourage others to reveal their infinite potential too, the world will change.
The world of the early twenty-first century might appear to be in a mess. Conflicts may be continuing pointlessly around the world. But as we view this present situation through the lenses first of dependent origination (also `the web of interconnectedness’), and then three thousand realms in a single moment of life, we can see how the causes and conditions of the lower life-conditions, often called the three poisons of greed, anger and foolishness, have led us to the present time. Then we see that this time is the perfect time for us to be drawing on our infinite inner potential to show the power and influence of enlightened human beings to make a change in the world.
The most important factor as we make this shift from a world where the prevailing mood is one of powerlessness to one where individuals feel empowered to make a valuable contribution to changing the situation is this: the inner determination of the individual. A question for all of us is to ask: Am I determined to challenge myself to transform the three poisons in my own life into the Buddha's courage, compassion, wisdom, dynamism, creativity and life-force? As Daisaku Ikeda writes:
Each human life, together with its environment, is an expression of the fundamental life-force of the entire cosmos. It follows that any change in the inner life-condition of a single human being can, at the deepest level of life itself, exert an influence on other human lives.5 •
Also known as Chih-l (538-597). The founder of the T'ien-t'ai school of
Buddhism in China.
The ten factors (listed in chapter 2 of The Lotus Sutra) are: appearance, nature,
entity, power, influence, internal cause, relation (or external cause), latent effect,
manifest effect, and consistency.
Jp, ichinen sanzen
The word'ichinen'is often heard in the sense of'determination'or'commitment'
to a goal.
Words of Wisdom, Buddhist Inspiration for Daily Living by Daisaku Ikeda,