Maintaining the Five Precepts and Right View but Still Going to Hell?

The realm of Idle Chatter would certainly be hell for those seeking seclusion.


My interpretation is that the concept of naraya (hell) has been there originally, but was expanded on later with additions to the suttas, especially in the AN and the MN, less so in SN, culminating in ridiculous suttas like MN 130. I don’t have a clear idea of exactly in which suttas the original kernel was instrumentalized. But I feel that with some ‘genealogical’ work one at least could resverse-engineer the development the concept of hell(s) undertook. Maybe then the cracks would show more easily…

Do you draw a line somewhere between original (or at least plausible) and later instrumentalized conceptions?

Once again I remember a sutta I read, but cannot find it. It is where the Buddha says something to the effect that simple minded people think hell is an underground place of punishment, while wise people understand that anger is hell. It can be harmonized with other hellish texts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be. It may represent an earlier strain of Buddhism. Or that might be my wishful thinking, of course.

Part of me wants Thich Nhat Hanh to be right in this video, but it isn’t a view without problems of its own, because lying to people in order to frighten them into behaving properly seems to me to be a violation of sound ethics. On the other hand, perhaps it isn’t actually lying, more than a poetic license. Humans create tremendous suffering on earth that could be prevented by behaving differently, and perhaps all this suffering could be compared to the graphic imagery in the suttas.

In a primitive culture where alcoholism is a tremendous problem, and families are ruined and people experience death/deadly suffering because of it, is it unethical to say to someone, “if you pour someone a drink, you will be born without an arm in your next 10 000 lives”? It might help, but I still find it deeply problematic.

In certain forms of Mahayana Buddhism, it is acceptable to lie to a hunter who asks where the deer went, because compassion with the deer is more important than being truthful to the hunter. The precepts are viewed an abstraction of how enlightened beings generally behave, but not absolute rules to be followed in every single situation. An arahant will allways do the right thing, but we use abstract training rules because we lack the kind of perfected mind that can see the perfect course of action in any situation. There is some limited support for this in the suttas, as the Buddha does allow for harsh speech against Devadatta although a surface reading of the precepts suggests it isn’t allowed, and his opponents try to trap him with this. But generally the precepts seem to me to be pretty absolute.


Reminds me of a simple story. A general pulls a sword on a monk who goads him by saying that he is too dense to understand hell.
With the sword at his neck the monk says “now that’s hell”
The general sheaths his sword.
The monk say “now that is heaven”

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If it did exist could it be above ground, in space, like to the left of the screen here? I just heard when DN27 was explained to me that “hell realm has been obliterated” that’s when we all go to the realm of noble silence. That’s what I’m calling it anyway.

The picture is a screenshot. I have video recorded from the ISS live app. I just happened to be watching the sunset as the ISS was over the Atlantic an hour or so ago. It’s probably a dirty lens or a light refraction. But it’s good to keep an open mind.

I suppose most people can’t fathom the dark side, that’s why they can’t fathom hell.


I know a Forrest monk from the punjab. He was formerly a sikhi. In his village a woman died. She was stone cold dead.
I’m not sure how long later, (an hour I would guess) she came back to life. She told everyone two spirits had come and taken her to a big spirit. He shouted at the two smaller spirits “you idiots! You brought the wrong one”

Perhaps an hour after the woman had returned to life, a woman with the same name, in the same village, dropped dead.

Before this monk came along my teacher didn’t like the idea of a deity like king yama putting people in hell (I would call him a poor beholden deamon) . That was many years ago. I will have to ask him again. But there’s a time and a place to ask and I suspect the thread may be locked.


I see these kinds of [Edit: hell-declaration] statements as pointing out the general direction rather than declaring the actual destination. ‘This’ behavior leads towards heaven, ‘this other’ behavior leads towards hell. That is, all else being equal, were there no other inputs, heaven or hell would be the end result. But there certainly will be other inputs, countless other factors, reducing or obliterating or enhancing the effect of a particular action.

Train lines and other travel routes are often called by their final destination, but most travelers go only a portion of the route, not all the way to the end of the line; the final stop’s name simply serves to indicate the general direction.

If I take a New York City train from Atlanta and disembark after one stop, then I’ll have gone a short distance north, not all the way to New York. The name New York City simply serves to indicate that it’s the train headed north. Unless of course it’s an Express train leading straight to New York City with no other stops.

Idle chatter leads towards hell in the sense that it has the potential to take one a little way towards a bad direction; it would have a more noticeable impact, if any, upon someone of little merit than upon a person of great merit. Killing an arahant, however, is like an Express route to hell.


@brooks I just came across this video that I’ve posted as a new topic in the AV category. It covers some aspects of your question, and in particular the role of guilt as observed in NDE research.

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Well, past karma just sets up the circumstances. How we react to those circumstances is up to us in the present. If we approach things with friendliness, patience and creativity, then even when “bad” karma ripens, it need not knock us off our feet.

Remember that someone perfect in view (a stream enterer) can never be reborn in a low rebirth no matter what. So, our present outlook on life (“view”) has a huge impact on how we our past karma affects us.


I think it’s reasonable that ‘evil people’ don’t end up, rewarded:

Devadatta, for instance, who persuaded prince Ajatasattu to murder his father (who was a stream-winner), three times attempted to murder the Buddha and once succeeded in wounding him, and caused a schism in the Sangha; the last two actions are certain to lead to birth in hell. Maha Kammavibhanga Sutta: The Great Exposition of Kamma

Also if bad karma has negative results then it doesn’t make sense if very negative karma doesn’t result in a rebirth in a very negative realm (subject to ‘karmic average’, as discussed above). And since karma isn’t entirely ‘black or white’ there’s are gradations in the nature of the realms and even within one realm!

I think the Buddha used myths. They were accepted ‘currency’ to be used by religious teachers for what they considered to be correct. It promotes ethical behaviour in society among some, and perhaps not others. The fear of hell never motivated my practice.

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Of course, evil actions have negative consequences. I certainly don’t dispute that. One of Hitler’s biggest problems during world war II, was that the soldiers he had commiting war crimes like murdering whole villages with men, women and children as revenge for resistance fighters killing a nazi, was that mental hospitals in Germany were filled with german soldiers who completely broke down as a consequence of the actions they did. They litterally lost their minds. He had to stop using ordinary soldiers for these kinds of horrific acts, or he would have lost half his army to insanity. Like the Buddha said, the Dhamma is quite evident in the here and now.

It seems reasonable, given rebirth, that if these soldiers remained in this mental state of anguish and insanity until their last breath, their mental state will be conducive to a bad rebirth.

But, kamma is still cause/effect, and the idea that these people are going to suffer far worse tortures than even Hitler used, lasting not years, decades or even centuries, but for timespans as unimaginably long as millions, billions or trillions of years is wildly disproportionate to the negative actions they have actually commited. I do not believe reality is like that, nor do any NDEs lend credence to such a view.

It isn’t Buddhists I am concerned about. I think the vast majority of serious practitioners are either at least dhamma/faith followers, or stream-enterers++ because the Dhamma is well taught and highly effective in liberating sentient beings from suffering. However, wouldn’t you react if you knew there was a horrible torture chamber next door, where people constantly were subjected to unimaginably cruel suffering? Would you be able to sleep at night without doing the utmost to have the horror end?

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I’m not certain if this idea is endorsed in the EBTs.

I think while the last dying moment is significant, if we are to think how they will fare in the next life, how the person lived their entire life is more indicative. Commentarially the last dying moment has received much more significance.

I think the graphic descriptions are either mythic in nature- or they were images that were already well known.Suffering which is bad is however mentioned in the EBTs.


I believe it is mentioned in the EBTs the reason why stream enterers don’t go to hell worlds is because they keep their five precepts very well. Of course the right view, three broken fetters, generosity etc must help. “They can’t do any deed which would make them be reborn in hell, the animal realm…” SuttaCentral

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The definition of “any deed which would make them be reborn in hell” is not only the five precepts, but also includes covetousness, ill-will and wrong view: see the “Body Born of Deeds” Vagga of the Connected Discourses

Well, in nine days I ordain as a monk. For the benefit and welfare of all sentient beings who need a refuge, I am giving up my life to provide them, to the best of my ability, the refuge of Sangha and, to the best of my wisdom, the refuge of Dhamma.

But it’s not through such external things that one sleeps soundly. One sleeps soundly by removing attachments and anguish from their heart.


What about the suttas that essentially say that greed and ill will are not weakened until becoming a once-returner? Are there EBTs that say to be a stream-enterer one has to have become free of ill-will and covetousness first?

That said, the notion that ill will and greed aren’t weakened until the second stage of enlightenment has always seemed a little odd to me. That’s because I, like probably most practitioners, have experienced some lessening of these states with meditation and sutta study.

And best wishes for your intention to ordain. May you be successful!
with metta,

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Thanks, @viveka. I actually have been seeing this video quite a bit in my feed and have considered watching. Now I plan too!


Indeed. The way I see it is that self hate is the specific kind of ill-will that leads to hell. The way I understand it is that the stream enterer, by overcoming self-view, has overcome self-hatred and thus hell (even though she still has other forms of ill-will). Does that jive with your understanding?

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Not sure, Alex. The EBTs list a number of criteria in different suttas for stream entry, as I’m sure you know. I don’t recall a discussion of self hate related to stream entry in the EBTs. However, as you mention, overcoming identity view seems to be a part of stream entry, and it makes sense that one can’t hate what one doesn’t have a view of.

That said, I wonder if there’s a difference between identity view and self view? For example, Bikkhu Bodhi translates the relevant quality of stream entry as identity view. On the other hand, the EBTs seem to say we’re not freed from conceit until the final stage of enlightenment.

So, perhaps identity view is identifying with whatever form and aggregates we’re in at a given time. Overcoming this identity view could be seeing that this form is impermanent and thus not identifying with it, yet one may still have a subtle sense of self…I’m not sure.

Anyway, that’s another aspect of the enlightenment scheme laid out in the EBTs that are a little unclear to me: namely, the difference between identity view overcome in the first stage of enlightenment and conceit not overcome until the final stage of enlightenment.

I suspect we’ve slipped into a new topic here but I’m still too new to say for sure - seems it’s no longer about Five Precepts & Right View—> Hell, and now could be titled “What’s the Difference Between Self view and Conceit?” It’s probably been explored on this forum already, but in brief, yes, you’re on the right track.

The former, overcome to attain the 1st stage of enlightenment, is a powerful and extremely tenacious view that shapes one’s whole experience of one’s world. The latter, overcome only by the path of arahantship, is more the underlying experiential quality of “I am” and the subtle desire to continue to exist in some refined state (fine material angelic realm or immaterial godlike realm).

In this delightful sutta an elder, Ven. Khemaka, illustrated conceit as like the subtle odor still clinging to laundry after having washed it in any of the various mildly unpleasant substances used as soap in those days: Khemaka Sutta (SN22.89) While the elder was struggling to explain the difference between the self view that he had previously overcome and the residual conceit that he had not yet overcome, he attained full enlightenment, as did his listeners.


Thank you, Venerable Sudhamma, for the excellent sutta reference. Perfectly on point!

with metta,


If we are honest with ourselves we realise that we have done both good and bad kamma throughout our lives. As we progress on the path the good kamma should exceed the bad kamma. As children we have all broken all the precepts frequently. Keeping track of our life’s total karmic record is well nigh impossible. So even if your life is full of wholesome intentions and deeds in later years, I can well imagine going to one of the hells for my transgressions and going to one of the higher realms for my wholesome actions, however remember that in Buddhism neither Hell or Heaven are permanent abodes.