When Is It Irresponsible to Validate Fears?

From time to time, particpants in this forum will express deep dread about about their future lives, and the punishents or hells that they fear await them on account of the bad things they believe they have have done. In many cases, it appears they have no basis for these fears other than what they have been taught to believe by their religious traditions.

I think it’s sad that people manufacture these kinds of dreadful waking nightmares for themselves, and that it’s even sadder that their co-religionists validate and encourage the belief in the imagined objects of these nightmares. It dismays me that Buddhism is sometimes a path to the multiplication of needless suffering, rather than a path to liberation from suffering.

There seems to be much doubt and ambivalence about this whole topic, and about which elements of the early texts should be accepted literally or at face value, and which elements are best read as having a more symbolic value or significance. I have noted that some are of the opinion that rebirth involves only kammic fruition in future lives of kammic seeds planted in present lives, while others seem to accept that large parts of personal identity are also preserved so that the person experiencing the fruits will be the same person as the one who plants the seeds. Surely some caution is warranted when dealing with, and possibly reinforcing, fears and terrors about the future unknown?

What do people think about this issue? The discussion is wide open. No restrictions on participation or views expressed.

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None of them should be taken literally, at face value, on belief - but that is true about anything that you hear or read in life.

The problem is much wider, not only with religion, but politics, media, gossips, stuff you hear at school, etc. etc. Whatever “input” you get from other people, it should be questioned.

One of the more important lessons I learned in my life - and I’ve been learning it for a long time, and a hard way - is that most people don’t know sh*t about stuff. So you have to question it, and invest lots of time and energy to understand and know things for yourself. You have to believe in yourself, that you actually can know better than others.

But most important thing is to question.

Some religious folk wants you to live in fear of future? Why? How does it change your life? Are you happier living in fear? Do you want to live your life in fear?

Someone might tell you, that they know there are ghosts or other realms or rebirth, because they’ve seen or experienced it - should you believe them? Why? Even if they have seen something, how can you be sure that they know what they have seen?

I can tell you in all honesty: I have seen ghosts. Twice in my lifetime. And if I was less educated or lived 100 years ago I might actually believe that. But with current state of knowledge in cogitive sciences I have a better explanation for the stuff that I have experienced, an explanation that doesn’t need to make assumptions about existence of immaterial beings, an explanation that fits well with current scientific knowledge about human experience.

So did Buddha and his disciples see ghosts, devas, other realms? Quite possibly, yes. Were that really experiences of ghosts, devas, etc. ? I don’t think so, but in the end, everybody has to answer that to themselves, and no discussion is going to decide how it really is.


A very interesting topic. But I have to disagree with the above statement. Buddhas teachings (not Buddhism as a global religious structure) describes life as it is and shows a path to reduce suffering. How individuals put the N8fp into practice, the stage in their journey, this is what determines the degree of suffering. Once individuals understand how they cause their own suffering then they can work on reducing it.


Well, possibly. But I think there are many open questions about which portions of the Buddha’s views, at least as they have come down to us, really represent life as it is, and which are mistaken early conjectures about cosmic processes and life processes.


If this “whole topic” is rebirth, there really isn’t very much doubt and ambivalence in my experience both IRL and online. Very few Buddhists I’ve talked to have aired doubts about rebirth being part of the Buddha’s teachings. It’s just the ones that do tend to be very vocal—or at the very least they appear so to me.


Most certainly, but those questions will never, ever, ever be resolved. So if our concern today is the end of suffering getting too lost in that line probably won’t help all that much. At that point, as mpac, suggests the only real option remaining is to to check out how the teachings we have received and if we can apply them in such a way that leads to the diminishing and end of suffering.


focus on the 4 Noble truths - that is all that is required. :smile: The Buddha may have been the first to emphasise the K.I.S.S principle (keep it simple stupid)

Just to clarify… this is an established saying in English - I’m not calling anyone stupid lol



Well, sure, I guess if you restrict your intellectual intake to Buddhists, you will find relatively fewer doubts expressed about Buddhist doctrine. But even here, among these fairly like-minded folk, I have seen a lot of very different views expressed about the nature of rebirth.

This a really good point, thanks for making it. If it is fears specifically that are being validated as in “yes, you should be afraid”, then maybe that isn’t skillful. But if we are saying “yes, you should be concerned and dread the cycle of rebirth” then that is different. That gives you some agency in changing things.

People are very often paralyzed by guilt, shame, and fear particularly in the West. I am not sure how we turn that into discernment because the underlying process I think which causes this to be so dysfunctional is the judeo Christian background: if you do bad things you go to hell for all eternity. There is one lifetime and if you blow it, then that’s it for you.

Maybe this brings everything back to rebirth and kamma. For me that has taken some of the “fear” OUT of things but I do see it doesn’t work that way for a lot of people because they view it as disempowering rather than empowering.


I’m not so pessimistic, @Aminah. Anyway, it sounds like a counsel of despair: “We can never prove these hells don’t exist, so we have no choice but to accept their existence, and spend our time figuring out how to stay out of them.”

I’m sorry, but this doesn’t sound like a doctrine of liberation at all, but instead sounds like a system of psychological tyranny aimed at terrifying and controlling masses of fearful people, and enhancing the power of a hierarchy supposedly in possession of the magic power for getting out of these hells.

I don’t think Buddhism can manage to insulate itself from the intellectual developments of our era. Just retreating into a fundamentalist-literalist safe space isn’t likely to be effective. The world is out there.

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The majority of non-Buddhists don’t express doubts about Buddhist doctrine either. Or anything about Buddhist doctrine for that matter.

Different views, sure. But far fewer air doubts. And I think you’d only need one hand, maybe two, to count the members here who outright reject it.

Hmm, interesting… :thinking:… I know your reply definitely started out in response to words I used as you’ve quoted some of them. The thing is I can’t actually connect your version of what I said to what I said. Anyway, rather then get pulled into a bumpy ride of misrepresentations and the gravitational forces active in whoever’s personal mental fields, I’ll leave y’all to it.

All the best to you. :pray:


Well, you will find many more expressions of doubt if you are willing to include among the Buddhists a lot of those Bad Buddhists the traditionalists want to excommunicate. :slight_smile:

OK, I just mean I don’t think we should except the idea that the traditional doctrinal assertions about cosmology and life processes can never be resolved intellectually, at least with some degree of probability.

Disregarding your dramatic caricatures of persecution, it’s still a tiny minority of Buddhists. And when you include Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists, it becomes absolutely atomic.

I think some of the discussions we have had here suggest that under the veneer of doctrinal conformity, there is actually quite a lot of diversity of opinion about what rebirth actually consists in.

Reading @Aminah’s comments as stated in the original post I thought about the uncertainty in knowing/having a high confidence in a variety of views either way. I didn’t think about uncertainty as proving that hells don’t exist.

Your inference is plausible but it is also plausible that someone might think somewhat the opposite:

  • “we can’t prove the hells exist, we have some choice about accepting their existence and worrying about them, and in any case the wisdom of the rest of the dharma will tend to keep me out of them in the case that the hells do exist”.

While you are the expert on what you were thinking, this does appear to me to be an example of running too quickly up the ladder of inference.
A keener awareness of patterns of attributions and inference (fundamental attribution error, ladder of inference) helps me to “interrogate” my own thinking.

The practice suggested by the idea of a ladder of inference tends towards encouraging critical thinking and right (more harmonious and productive) speech.


:medal_military: FYI: “When Is It Irresponsible to Validate Fears?” – great question!


There is a lot of diversity of opinion about major Buddhist ideas like Nibbana, anatta, the nature of the arahant and those at other stages of enlightenments, jhana, and of course rebirth. Diversity of opinion doesn’t have to be grounds for doubt, though.

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Perhaps I misinterpreted them remarks. But what I understood him to be saying was that since we cannot prove those traditional doctrines to be mistaken, our best option is to accept the teachings as they have come down to us as a whole, and work with them.

That might not have been the intended interpretation. But if it was the intended interpretation, it would be a case of one version of the fallacy of appeal to ignorance: “P has not been proven false; therefore, it is reasonable to accept P.”

True enough, but if the interpretations become slippery enough, one can wonder how much of the original primitive idea of rebirth has been preserved.

If some person living in the future has inherited my kamma, but possesses none of my memories, the constituents of most of the sense of self that make me me, and the preservation of which makes up the experience of a continuing personal identity over time, then it what sense have I really been reborn? How is that different from a child who has inherited my wealth and my debts, but is a different person?

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