A View on Hell


:slight_smile: He expresses an opinion on hell. Truth?

I’m with the Buddha on this one. Hell exists, as much as this world exists.

Hell is in this world.

Dukkha is in this world, thats for sure.

If hell was invented by the church, then why did the Buddha (and many others) talk about it well before the advent of Christianity?

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I think his point is that people in many traditions have imagined paradises and hells awaiting them after death, and that moral and religious authorities of many traditions have found these ideas useful.

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“If we don’t think rightly, if we don’t practice rightly, we will fall back to being animals or creatures in Hell or hungry ghosts or demons. How is this? Just look in your mind. When anger arises, what is it? There it is, just look! When delusion arises, what is it? That’s it, right there! When greed arises, what is it? Look at it right there!”

Ajahn Chah


Sure, MN 60 and many other suttas suggest that the Buddha himself, as a moral and religious authority, found these ideas useful. It isn’t nefarious if the authorities themselves believe it and propound it out of a belief that it will be for the welfare of others to also take on such a worldview.


Perhaps that happens much of the time; perhaps other times the support for the doctrine is purely utilitarian. And perhaps there is some combination of sincere reasoned judgment, motivated reasoning and cynicism at work in religious institutions,

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My guess is that Hell and Heaven is something we think and talk into existence.

Personally I couldn’t done without my kind of Hell, because I had to make it real enough so it managed to scare the Hell out of me … so thank you Hell!



And whatever else, too. It’s curious that, in other religions, one’s spiritual journey is about escaping hell and, in Buddhism, ultimately is about escaping heaven and hell. In this sense, to the Buddha, samsara, all of this is already “hell”…heaven is hell, hell is hell, human life is hell.

“Bhikkhus, all is burning” – the Buddha


I’m pretty certain that is the case at least some of the time with religious leaders today, buddhist or otherwise. As far as we can tell from the texts though, the Buddha was being sincere and proclaiming heavens and hells on the basis of experiences he had while meditating, so it wasn’t based on motivated reasoning as far as I can tell.

Still, you might consider the reasoning in the suttas for adopting right view as being cynical, since the idea there seems to be that if you don’t believe that you will personally suffer after death for the bad actions you do, then you’ll be more likely to be bad.

And the definition of Cynical: believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.

In other words, in buddhism, morality is always aligned with self-interest, and is often taught as a way of looking out for # 1, so as to prevent people from engaging in an immoral or amoral YOLO lifestyle. Perhaps we should consider buddhist morality as a form of enlightened self-interest :sunglasses:

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We can’t really tell that, although it certainly is possible. We can’t read the Buddha’s mind through the texts. He might just have been telling his children the stories he thought would be most helpful to them. We’ll never know.

I believe most people are capable of being good to one another out of love and kindness, rather than self-interest.

The literary character known as the samana Gotama, the Buddha, the Tathagata, etc. in the texts is undeniably sincere and proclaiming based on direct experience. And the literary character is the closest thing we have to the historical character. And there isn’t really any good reason as far as I can tell to think that the historical character was not in agreement with the literary character regarding the basics of rebirth etc.

As for him telling stories to his children, sure it’s logically possible, but there are enough texts to suggest that such a thing would have been frowned upon as a form of dishonesty in ancient India. Given the commitment to truth professed by the literary Buddha, I doubt the historical Buddha just made shit up or that he infantilized humanity to such an extreme degree.

Sure, I think most people are also capable of horrific violence when that seems to be the best option to them. And heck, humans even get a kick out of violence, public execution used to be common entertainment, and still is on the internet.

I really don’t think living in fear is conducive to the expression of kindness in people. So I personally think its best not to terrify people with nightmares of post-mortem tortures for the existence of which we really have no firm basis.

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The Buddha himself starts out with gentle teachings, and only then proceeds to a harsh one or a mixed teaching. But I suppose it’s an empirical question whether the teachings on rebirth into lower realms are effective or not at helping people cultivate the happiness of virtue.

Part of me wants to suggest that for a person seriously engaged on the path, undergoing some form of the mythic hero’s journey, the extended narrative of rebirth and the danger of falling into states of woe is part of a grand motivating structure that many monastics at least have found helpful. Venerable Brahmali has mentioned somewhere that monks who don’t believe in rebirth are more likely to disrobe and I think that makes sense.

I do agree that for a sub-set of the human population prone to certain mental disorders, ideas of hell just cause them further mental anguish.

:slight_smile: Well how tactful of you.

Might I suggest that if a person sincerely believes that they are in danger of spending ages wandering the earth with their mouths sewed shut or whatever, and does not experience anguish, they probably have something wrong with them.

The fact that most people don’t have these reactions suggests to me that many people don’t actually quite believe the doctrines their religions teach and they verbally profess.

Yes, mythic journeys and all that - wonderful. I think most our spiritual and emotional growth would probably be stunted without the imaginative realms of mythopoetic art and fantasy.

One possible explanation for that is that they find it too difficult to endure emotionally the negative judgments of their more orthodox fellow monks. It’s pretty hard for one to live among people who find one shallow.

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Well, most of us do have something wrong with us, or at least less than ideal, and it isn’t necessarily our beliefs. Most smokers are well aware of the serious suffering that could befall them in the future if they continue their habit, but they continue nevertheless. Studies have shown that human brains often perceive future selves in the same way they perceive others, creating a disconnect that inhibits long term motivation.

Do you think that’s a deficiency or more a case of seeing things as they are? When we view a long conditioned process of skhandas as though they were all parts of a single integral self, aren’t we maybe constructing something that isn’t actually there?