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Buddhism and Sentient Beings

posted Sep 5, 2015, 6:52 PM by Reno Budd

Buddhism and Sentient Beings

- 23aug15  - Rev. Shelley Fisher  -


- Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu -


Welcome again to Reno Buddhist Center -   Happy to see you all this morning.  A special welcome to new visitors - I know it takes great courage to visit a new  place and experience new ways of thinking - Great Job!  We are happy you are here.


For me  - I can’t believe this is the last Dharma talk of the summer! Where has the time gone?


Today we bring to mind Buddhism and all sentient beings.  Buddhism is unique in the way it values all creatures big and small as precious joyful beings.  

From the Lankavatara sutra the Buddha said….
  ...wherever there is the evolution of living beings, let people cherish the thought of kinship with them, and, thinking that all beings are to be loved as if they were an only child…

We believe that all sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, and avoid suffering.  And that all sentient beings have buddha nature.


In Dharma school with the kids we usually read a Jataka tale.  These are stories - like the reading today - of the Buddha’s previous lives.  The Jatakas contain thousands of stories where humans and animals interact - as we saw sometimes the is an animal.
One story of animal helpfulness to the Buddha is told in the Naaga Sutra [Udāna]. The Buddha left Kosambi in disgust at the quarreling monks there and went to a nearby jungle where he spent a few days sitting at the foot of a sal tree. A bull elephant similarly sought out the seclusion of the jungle and seeing the luminous tathagata he cleared the grass around the Buddha and brought him water in his trunk (Ud.41). A helpful interaction.  The story is about animals being kind and helpful.  But it also shows that noble beings (enlightened sages and great elephants) share a common appreciation for silence and solitude.     

A monk once told the Buddha he was being disturbed by a large flock of beautiful birds roosting nearby. The Buddha suggested he go to the birds three or four times a night and ask them for a feather. The birds would, he said, soon get sick of these continual request and go somewhere else. The monk did as he was advised and sure enough, the birds left (Vin.III,147).   The monk then missed his beautiful friends. The Buddha used this incident to warn his students not to be always asking people for things.

    The most famous story of the Buddha and an animal is the Nālagiri incident….
Once, in an attempt to kill the Buddha, his evil cousin Devadatta arranged for a dangerous rogue elephant called Nālagiri to be released in front of the Buddha. With his tail up and trumpeting, the bull elephant charged the Buddha. Seeing the furious Elephant coming, the Buddha sent warm thoughts of loving kindness to Nalagiri.  The elephant was suddenly transformed from fury into docility. He approached the Buddha, knelt down and the  Buddha stroked its head (Vin.II,195).


This shows the view of Buddhists toward all creatures. Dear friends all. It is commonly said in Buddhism….


All Sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, and avoid suffering.  All sentient beings have buddha nature.  


Let me explain a few of these ideas….


We talk about sentient beings in the universe and it may not be clear what we mean.   A sentient being is any being that feels.  They don’t have to feel the way we do - with ideas and thoughts. But any being that feels - the worm, or the fly, or even a clam is a sentient being.

And we say in the universe because we don't limit the  meaning and  truth of Buddhism to just our little blue marble in space.   The Buddha taught that the Dharma applies in all the universe, in every world system.


Many of us have animals as companions. Cats and dogs and birds live with us and share their unique perspectives with us everyday. Their kindness, their loyalty and sometimes their indifference are great comforts to us. They are other sentient beings so we care for them.


All sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, avoid suffering.  All sentient beings have Buddha nature.  


When I say “born into”  my meaning may not be clear.  Please remember that  rebirth is something different from Reincarnation.

Reincarnation is where an eternal soul or essence, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body [human or other].   We Buddhists don't believe in reincarnation.

Since we see that no permanent self or essence exists we use the term Rebirth.  Rebirth is part of the continuous process of change.  If we consider it we are not only reborn at the time of death, we are born and reborn at many moments of existence.  We are a flowing together of causes and conditions.    So we say beings are born into the six realms.  

Our understanding of 'rebirth' is like a line of dominoes tipping over, each one causing the movement of the next, the movement is existence in samsara.   The tipping is our delusion of the Self.  That leads to  the next birth.   The movement stops when the cause is interrupted. When the mind is still, the dominoes stop falling, the movement of rebirth ceases: Bhodi Svaha!

Our birth is influenced by our our karma - our actions and habits - if we have tended toward the good we expect a better birth, if we have been less good, then we expect a less good outcome. But only a Buddha can see the causes and conditions of birth clearly.

All Sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, avoid suffering.  All sentient beings have Buddha nature.


What are the six realms?  I’ll list the realms of existence for the most pleasant to the less pleasant…  They are the realm of the ..

  1. Gods (Devas)

  2. Titans or demons (Asuras)

  3. Human

  4. Animals

  5. Hungry ghosts (Pretas)

  6. and for want of a better word - Hell - This has many aspects but all are very unpleasant.

[ If you want to draw a being one of these realms - hand out crens]

Dr. Matsunaga recommended understanding these in the best way for you.  I’ll describe them in a little story Rev. Matthew wrote - but these can be more symbolic too.  We understand these realms to be states of being we are be born into.   

There once was a little being named ? - Chester - over thousands of rebirths he experienced all of the 6 realms...

Once he was very cruel and was reborn in the hell realm. He was horribly tortured in many ways, suffering was his only experience in this very hot place. But it was not forever - when Chester’s bad karma was worked off.  He was born into another realm.   Some of us have felt like Chester before.  Everything hurts; its all suffering - driven by uncontrollable forces.

Once he was very greedy - he wanted more and more of everything - and the he was born into  the realm of the  Hungry ghosts - This is an unhappy place - he was bound to the edge of human existence like a ghost. All the time he felt his craving - But he couldn’t satisfy it.   Pretas have huge bellies and tiny mouths. So chester would eat but never felt full.   Always wanting.  Never satisfied.  Chester was miserable.   Well this is pretty obvious - we have all been overcome with the insatiable desires - just like Chester we were living in the Preta realm.   But it was not forever - when Chester’s bad karma was worked off.  He was born into another realm.   

Once Chester was very thoughtless and acted by doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted w/o caring for others - and he was born into the Animal realm - In the animal realm he was driven only by basic impulses and was used to pull a big wagon.  He didn't really like it. He didn't even have awareness of himself as Chester. No spiritual life exist for him.  But it was not forever - when Chester’s bad karma was worked off.  He was born into another realm.     There are times when we all act without much thought.   We are exploited by the strong ones and have little recourse.

One time Chester was quite good - and he was reborn as a Titans (Asuras] - He felt very competitive all the time. He enjoyed being a powerful superhuman creature.  But he had good and bad qualities. He got very jealous sometimes and often fought with the other titans.  This was not forever - when Chester’s good karma was used up, he was reborn elsewhere.  

One time Chester was born in the realm of the gods is Gods (Devas) - It was lovely - he was able to do and to manifest anything he thought of.   He had little interest for the Dharma since he had everything he wanted.   It lasted a long time.  But it was not forever - when Chester’s good karma was used up he was reborn elsewhere.    Sometimes we feel charmed and absolutely able - like devas. But it doesn't last.

One time Chester was born in the realm of Humans - although he often suffered, he felt lucky because he had insight into the Dharma. This was a most fortunate state because he awakened the desire to be enlightened: Bodhichitta.
He had insight and experience of both joy and suffering and realized that his only real way out of the story was to take refuge in Amida Buddha and let himself be guided toward rebirth in the western Pure land. Where he was enlightened.   And then returned to the six realms to help others…..The End.

All Sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, avoid suffering.  All sentient beings have Buddha nature.

What is Buddha Nature?

This is a classic Buddhist question - worth a lifetime of study- or at least a whole Dharma talk some time soon.   

What is Buddha Nature?

Tatagata-gharba or  Buddha-dhatu  - Luminous mind - Buddha Nature is the deep and essential quality inside every being.  It is our true connection to all that is - was - or will be.  Buddha Nature is the ultimate, pure, ungraspable, inconceivable, irreducible, unassailable, boundless, true and deathless essence of the Buddha's reality, the very core of the sublime nature of the universe. All beings have it.


All Sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, avoid suffering.  All sentient beings have Buddha nature.

Because of this we love all living beings - not just humans. We practise loving kindness towards every sentient being. The Buddha teaches that we should do no harm.  Right action is not harming. When we see that every sentient being is just like us, making their way through existence - hopefully toward the Dharma and release from the ocean of births and deaths we find great compassion for them.   In the infinite expanse of time that little creature might have been our mother or brother or teacher.  How can we harm him?  We are all connected in a great ocean of compassion.


So we say - All Sentient beings born into the six realms, seek happiness, avoid suffering.  All sentient beings have Buddha nature.

Please join with me in saying - just repeat after me...

May all beings be happy;
May all beings free from harm:
May all beings receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill their heart


- Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu -
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Thanks to:



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The realm of the gods is Gods (Devas) - This is a lovely state we are able to do and manifest anything we can conceive.   But suffering and attachment exist here too and as with all births existence in this realm is temporary depending on our karma.  Symbolically - this is like flying first class or being the at the spa.  Even being born in America is very god like compared to  most of the world.

Titans (Asuras] - this is a realm of very competitive beings - powerful superhuman creatures with good or bad qualities. Prone to jealousy and fighting but also capable of great compassion. Symbolically - this is a state of being we experience where winning and defeating others is our prime focus.

Humans - although humans suffer, this is a most fortunate state because humans have the greatest chance of enlightenment. Our insight and experience of both joy and suffering guide us toward the Dharma in a way that no other realm experiences.

Animals - The animal realm is driven by basic impulses and exploitation.  These beings do not have self-awareness needed to reach enlightenment. The spiritual life does not exist for them. Symbolically - there are times when we all are driven and without much thought we act.   We are exploited by the strong ones and have little recourse.

Hungry ghosts - The realm of the hungry ghosts (pretas): these are unhappy beings - bound to the margins of human existence. They are unable to leave because of strong attachments. They can’t satisfy their craving, pretas have huge bellies and tiny mouths. Always wanting.  Never satisfied.  Symbolically -  well this is pretty obvious - when we are overcome with the insatiable desires we are living in the Preta realm.

Hell realms: beings in hell are horribly tortured in many ways, suffering is the  only experience in these realms. But its not forever - only until bad karma is worked off.  Symbolically -  some of us has experienced this realm. Everything hurts, it is all suffering driven by uncontrollable forces.


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