The Flower Adornment Sutra,

Prologue, with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua

...The three Realms were just mentioned, and all living beings are found within them. To transcend the three Realms is to reach the Pure Land of Constant Stillness and Light, and it is to enter Nirvana Without Residue. But even though the Fixed Nature Sound Hearers and the Sound Hearers of Overweening Pride get beyond the three Realms, because the measure of their minds is small they cannot obtain ultimate Nirvana, and so much further undergo change birth and death.

The first of the three Realms is the Desire Realm, desire being what is defiled and not pure. All living beings within that Realm are born from sexual desire and die because of it, and revolve in the impurity of sexual desire rebirth after rebirth. The seeds and habits involved in their birth from sexual desire lead to their undergoing death from sexual desire as well. Take a look attachment any kind of living beings Ė is there one without thoughts of emotional desire? Any time there is emotional desire there is defilement and one is impure. Thatís why people who cultivate the Way need to:

Purify the mind and diminish desire.

They must keep their minds pure attachment all times and always be without thoughts of desire, decreasing and diminishing it. The reason people in the world get into trouble is form letting thoughts of greed and desire arise. When that happens they create all kinds of impure causes, and so reap all kinds so impure results. If you investigate it carefully, people have their own kind of desire, and so do creatures Ė each living beings, every kind of animal, has its own brand of craving. Any living being that has awareness, feelings and emotions has desire. But if you can have awareness, feelings and emotions yet be free of desire, then you have reached your basic substance, which is pure.

In the Desire Realm there is the greed of sexual desire, but living beings in the Form Realm do not have desire. Nonetheless they are still greedy for form and color and so still have a kind of attachment, no longer to desire like beings in the Desire Realm, but to form. Beings it the Formless Realm have gone beyond that and are no longer attached to form, but then become attached to formlessness and so are not yet able to attain liberation, for they still have hang-ups. If any attachments remain, whether to desire, to form or to formlessness, one cannot transcend the three Realms.

People can be very intelligent yet still be unable to put down desire. They may have every intention of letting go of it, but when it comes right down to it they donít let go. They may want to and want to be rid of it, but then not get rid of it, and instead become confused all over again. That happens because one lacks true and actual wisdom. If you had that kind of wisdom, you would put down desire the way you say you will. You would use the wisdom sword and sever emotional desire with one thrust of the blade. But you donít have the sword of wisdom, so you cat cut free and continue to be dragged around in the three Realms. One life your emotion is lighter and youíre born in the Form Realm. Another degree purer and youíre born in the Formless Realm. But then while there our thoughts of desire flare up again. You fall into the same old bad habits and start craving desire some more, and return to the Desire Realm. You keep making the rounds of the Desire, Form and Formless Realms over and over again on the six-spoked wheel of the six paths of rebirth: gods, asuras, people, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings, and you never get out. Thatís why the ancients said:

The three Realms have no peace,
Just like a burning house.

Thereís no more peace to be found in the three Realms than there is in a house thatís going up in flames. If you want to escape form them, you have to work hard and cultivate every single instant, and learn the skill of purifying the mind and diminishing desire.

Itís not easy to escape the three Realms Ė when you donít know the way to do it, that is. Once you know the method, you can escape from them. The ancients had a gatha which describes this:

The six desire heavens all have the five signs of decay.
The heavens of the third dhyana have the disaster of wind.
Even if one cultivates to Neither Thought Nor Non-thought
Itís not like going to the West and coming back again.

Where we live right now is included in the six desire heavens, all of which experience the five signs of decay. Although they are discussed elsewhere, we may as well repeat them here for those who are not familiar with them, and for people who once knew what they were but have forgotten. There may also be people who havenít forgotten the, but donít remember them clearly, so if asked what the first sign of decay is would answer by giving the firth, or if asked the firth would reply wit the third.

The Five Signs of Decay

The five signs of decay are the indications that a god is about to die. That first concerns the wreaths of flowers that gods wear on their heads. The flowers donít grow out of the ground or in the air, but spontaneously appear. When youíre born in the heavens you are adorned with a floral wreath on your head which is far more beautiful than crowns of precious jewels worn by kings on earth. However, when the five signs of decay appear, the flowers all dry up and the wreath falls from your head. Up to that time the flowers are always fresh and lovely, but when your time is up, the wreath disappears.

The next sing is that oneís clothes become dirty. Gods donít wear the same kind of garments as people heavenly raiment is extremely light, incredibly beautiful, and never has to be washed. You donít have to take it to the Laundromat to wash it and put it through the dryer. Even though those labor-saving devices save a lot of time, gods basically donít need them and donít have that kind of trouble. Their clothes simply stay clean and new all the time Ė until the five signs of decay appear and trouble comes along. Then their clothes get dirty and canít even be washed clean.

Also, the gods always smell good -- their bodies give off a kind of fragrance because theyíve cultivated pure Brahma conduct, held the five precepts and practiced the ten wholesome deeds. From not killing they have the precept fragrance of not killing. Not stealing, no sexual misconduct, no false speech and not taking intoxicants each have their own precept fragrance too. Itís not as among people who either smell like cattle or goats or reek of fish, and who let out a stench worse than a latrine when they remove their clothes, stinking like foxes or dogs. People donít smell clean and nice because they donít hold the precepts, so their bodies have a disagreeable odor. If they eat onions or garlic, they have that kind of smell, but most of the people here donít eat those kinds of things, and so this room doesnít smell like that.

I do have one disciple, though, who is really fond of onions. I asked him one day, ďWhy do you eat so many onions?Ē

He said, ďI donít. I donít eat them. I really donít.Ē He insisted on denying it.

I said, ďOkay, never mind. Just forget it if you donít want to admit it.Ē

Some time went by, and then probably he got enlightened. He came back and knocked on my door and said, ďI told you a lie.Ē

ďWhy did you want to lie?Ē I asked.

He said, ďI didnít want to tell you the truth.Ē After that he gave the details of his onion-eating and said he repented and wanted to be a good disciple in the future. Whether he will be or not weíll find out later.

Anyway, if you eat a lot of onions, your body will stink of onions. If you eat beef you will smell like cattle, mutton and youíll smell like a sheep, pork and youíll smell like a pig Ė and youíll smell like a dog if you eat dog meat. If you eat a great deal of some kind of flesh, in the future youíll become that kind of creature, because you join forces with it and form one substance. The reason the gods donít reek like cattle, sheep, pigs or dogs is because they hold the precepts and are strict vegetarians. Thatís why they are reborn in the heavens and always smell of perfume Ė until the third sign of decay appears, which is that their bodies start to stink and they lose their pleasant smell. When that happens the other gods avoid that god like the plague, holding their noses and giving him or her dirty looks as they go the other way.

Unlike people, gods donít ever perspire, and donít need fans Ė until the fourth sign of decay appears and their armpits start to sweat. Then they have b.o. and the other gods wonít have anything to do with them, which indicates they are about to fall. So there they are sweating and stinking and then they go nuts and donít know what to do with themselves. Itís uncomfortable sitting so they stand up, bounce around, then sit down again Ė only to get right back up. Thatís the sign known as not remaining in their seats. Gods for the most part are seated in Samadhi, but when their time is up they are like someone learning to meditate who canít stand sitting any more and has to get up and walk around. The god gets up and down but doesnít feel any better walking or standing than sitting, and is uncomfortable no matter what he does. Then the god falls. If his good karma ripens, he becomes a wealthy and respected person. If itís his bad karma, he turns into an impoverished ghost, a poor animal, or a destitute hell-being Ė itís not fixed. Thatís how the six desire heavens have the five signs of decay.

Then in the heavens of the third dhyana, when the disaster of wind arises, you have to fall. Even if you were to cultivate and reach the Heaven of Neither Thought Nor Non-Thought, it would not be as good as going to the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, and coming back again.

The Flower Adornment Sutra, Prologue, with Commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua