From the video : Yogis of Tibet (forward to 34:30 mins onwards)
Drubwang Rinpoche :
“Now I have meditated for a very very long time, it is very difficult for me to exactly reflect back and count the years that I have meditated. The reason for this is because although I do appear like a human person outwardly, my mental state is so different, different in the sense that my focus on mundane things is not consistent. When one meditates, from the very day when one decides to go on solitary retreat, one has made a conscious decision to endure all kinds of losses (of) good clothing, good food, name, fame, prestige, all these things, one must be ready to forgo and give up. We are rationed the barest minimum amount of water and roasted barley flour for our sustenance so that we may be able to sit in the meditation posture. Only once in a week, we would have the smallest possible amount of food for our sustenance. You have to persistently make a consistent effort and undergo all kinds of hardship. Without undergoing hardship, one would not be able to experience the mental state of all the glorious past masters. When I meditate, I can see all my former lives, I’ve been born in the realm of hell, I’ve been born as a hungry ghost, I’ve been born many times as animals. All these things become very very clear when one is in meditation. I have gone through the three lower realms of existence many times. In my meditative absorption, I always go through the bardo or intermediate gap which is to say between death and rebirth but there isn’t a great deal of point going into these. When one understands this life and the lives after as one, to such a person, there is no need to go into these nitty-gritty things. When one’s body is already dismantled in one’s meditation, there is no question of death or discarding one’s physical body.”
Comments: There are some proponents around who say that the lower realms in Buddhism are merely metaphors for a psychological state of mind and so forth. Some people even discredit the Buddhist notion of future lives and rebirths. Such people may even consider themselves Buddhists and/or teachers. We have to understand, no matter how distasteful it is to imagine that we can take rebirths in such ‘low’ states of immense sufferings, the Buddha explained only the truth. We should not take whatever we like from the Buddhist teachings and then construe the rest as we please. This will not help you in your understanding and progress at all.
The lower realms are very real to us and we definitely have the possibilities of taking rebirth in them. Although it is true that the lower realms are based on mind, but our current reality now as humans is also based on mind. Just as we experience joy and sorrow now, so too will we experience suffering to a great degree when we are in the lower realms.
Karmic forces shape our perceptions all the time. For instance, on a superficial level, we can see that several people looking at the same cloud may perceive it in different shapes, or several people when faced with a similar situation may have vastly contrasting reactions to it. Some people enjoy going into water to swim while some people have a phobia of water. These are all shaped by our habits and karmic propensities.
On a deeper level, our dreams at night are shaped by our deeply entrenched habits from the past. When we die, our present vision as humans end because the present karmic forces have exhausted itself. We then experience the next vision based on our latent karmic propensities. It is akin to having fallen asleep and then experiencing some dream. Falling asleep is like the process of death which dissolves the present karmic vision while dreaming is like the formation of the next vision. We can call this next vision the ‘next life’ or ‘rebirth’. After they die, some people will have human visions, some have animal visions, some have hellish visions. Due to our lack of realisation of their true nature, we will grasp at them as real and suffer accordingly until the karmic forces is once again exhausted (which may take a very long time in the lower realms) and then death occurs and the next vision arises again. This endless cycle is called samsara.
There are no limitations to our karmic visions and rebirths, just as there are no limitations to the kind of dreams you can have at night. The determining factor that shapes these visions is the karma in our subtle mindstream. For example, a person who has deep habits of anger in him may easily give rise to the hellish visions of endless suffering. In Buddhism, we categorize the different kinds of visions according to their predominant characteristics and these are commonly known as the six realms.
We should understand that these teachings are not to scare you into practising Dharma but they show how karma works. We should then utilise Dharma teachings to develop positive habits, purify all negative habits and ultimately to liberate all habits. I thought that the above teaching by Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche will be useful for us to reconsider any mistaken views we are holding on to about cause-and-effect and rebirths.