Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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mettafuture
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Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by mettafuture » Wed Jan 20, 2010 11:28 pm

In both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhisms, there are heavenly and hell realms.

I can believe in karma, and I can almost believe in rebirth, but my rational mind will not let me believe in heavens or hells.

The Buddha was an insightful man, and his following continues to give brilliant life advice to this day, but do I really have to take every word that was said in the Tipitaka, and in other texts, as "infallible gospel"?

Do unfounded concepts like the heaven and hell realms hurt the credibility of the dhamma? A side of me thinks it does. "How could an enlightened being believe in something so preposterous?!" But another side of me thinks "maybe these ideas are just baggage carried over from Buddhism's Hindu roots, and I shouldn't fault the teacher(s) for getting stuck with that. Buddhism does offer great life advice, afterall."

One of the reasons why I left Buddhist Tradition #1 for Buddhist Tradition #2 is because I found the heaven and hell teachings to be a MAJOR turn off. And, just today, I discover that the heaven and hell teachings are also in the Buddhist tradition that I follow now. :cry: Although most of the teachers within this sect don't even reference these places, or present them as metaphors, or reject them all together, I still don't like the fact that they are there! lol

What are your thoughts on the heaven and hell realms?

I really wish that I could just ignore that big rainbow colored gorilla sitting in my living-room, and focus on the teachings that work...
Last edited by mettafuture on Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:49 am, edited 3 times in total.

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bodom
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by bodom » Wed Jan 20, 2010 11:42 pm

I take comfort in the fact that both the heaven and hell realms are said to be impermanent. If i should happen to be reborn in hell (some stays are said to be very long) atleast i will not be there for eternity!

This is a good read:

The Buddhist Concept of Heaven and Hell

http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/wh ... ev/303.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

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mettafuture
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:53 am

Thank you for the reply.
bodom wrote:I take comfort in the fact that both the heaven and hell realms are said to be impermanent.
My brain won't let me believe in heavens and hells.


I think I have 2 main questions:
- If you're like me, and don't believe in literal heavens / hells, do you believe these concepts hurt the credibility of the dhamma?
- Can a Buddhist ignore the heaven / hell realms, and focus only on the rational teachings?

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:07 am

mettafuture wrote:- If you're like me, and don't believe in literal heavens / hells, do you believe these concepts hurt the credibility of the dhamma?
No, not at all.
mettafuture wrote:- Can a Buddhist ignore the heaven / hell realms, and focus only on the rational teachings?
Yes, but he'll get considerable backlash from "real buddhists" who will point out that he's not a "real buddhist".

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Guy
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by Guy » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:12 am

Hi MettaFuture,
mettafuture wrote:
I think I have 2 main questions:

- If you're like me, and don't believe in literal heavens / hells, do you believe these concepts hurt the credibility of the dhamma?

- Can a Buddhist ignore the heaven / hell realms, and focus only on the rational teachings?
I think the Kalama Sutta answers a lot of the doubts you might have. It is a discourse addressed to an intelligent and inquisitive audience. It's one of my all time favourite Suttas.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:17 am

Guy wrote:Hi MettaFuture,
mettafuture wrote:
I think I have 2 main questions:

- If you're like me, and don't believe in literal heavens / hells, do you believe these concepts hurt the credibility of the dhamma?

- Can a Buddhist ignore the heaven / hell realms, and focus only on the rational teachings?
I think the Kalama Sutta answers a lot of the doubts you might have. It is a discourse addressed to an intelligent and inquisitive audience. It's one of my all time favourite Suttas.

With Metta,

Guy
I would be wary of the kalama sutta. It's too often misinterpreted and misunderstood, and doesn't really say what most people think it says.

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by Prasadachitta » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:20 am

The way I see it, no matter how difficult and out of control a situation (mentally or otherwise) I find myself in, it can get worse. So I figure somewhere along that open ended spectrum of suffering is the edge of hell and beyond. The same goes for heaven only the other way round. This seems like a very straight forward way of mapping out the possibilities. Heaven and Hell arise in dependence on causes and conditions. Its the same for me and you. The conditionality of the way in which we exist can be managed and heaven and hell avoided. However given the immeasurable expanse of time it would be a logical assumption that we will eventually cross over into either heaven or hell at least for a time. I think this all has only symbolic meaning for you if you reject out of hand the idea that the causes and conditions which propel us through this life abruptly end with our death and no further ignorant consciousness arises in its wake.


Metta

Gabe
Last edited by Prasadachitta on Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by bodom » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:20 am

To piggyback off Guy:

"Make a proper investigation first. Proper investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself." Now I am even more pleased and satisfied when the Lord says to me:' Make a proper investigation first.' For if members of another religion had secured me as a disciple they would have paraded a banner all around the town saying: 'Upali has joined our religion.' But the Lord said to me:' Make a proper investigation first. Proper investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself.' ~ MI 139"

http://www.parami.org/buddhistanswers/kalama_sutta.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

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AdvaitaJ
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by AdvaitaJ » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:23 am

Mettafuture,

You've asked a number of good questions. I've been practicing for less than two years and, by nature, am extremely skeptical. I have a few theories I'll share, but first, I must point out that my belief (or lack thereof) has in no way discernible by me prevented me from gaining significant improvements in the quality of my life. So...whether hell or heaven exists or not, the Buddha's teachings have helped me in the here and now.

Disclaimers aside, the first possibility as I see it is that the Buddha believed in heavens and hells and devas, etc just as many in his time did, and they simply don't exist. Frankly, I find this option suspect in a person with such tremendous insights into the nature of humanity and our deepest drives and motivations which brings me to option 2.

The Buddha is acknowledged to have been a truly superior teacher. From a teacher's viewpoint, it is necessary to establish rapport with the students. It is possible that the Buddha used heaven and hell and deva metaphors in his teachings that today are presented as factual doctrine. Given the precept proscribing false speech, I can't believe the Buddha would explicitly make false statements, no matter how well intentioned. This option is the one I currently think is most likely.

Option 3 is that these realms and entities really do exist and we simply can't yet detect them with our vast technologies. Before dismissing this option too quickly, I have to remind myself of a couple of relevant facts. First, we (humankind) still don't have a complete and satisfactory explanation for the physicality of the universe. String theory, quantum mechanics, etc continue to fall short of explaining "everything" and frequently involve explanations of matter that only make sense in multi-dimensional terms. Second, a few hundred years ago, we knew the effects of certain forms of energy such as electricity, magnetism, gravity, etc but we didn't recognize these as forms of energy. So...it is possible that there remain unrecognized forms of energy and other dimensions of existence that the Buddha, and other sensitive persons, are/were able to interact with that are simply beyond our current technological ability to explain.

Finally, time and again I come back to Stream Entry and the removal of all doubts about the Buddha's teachings. The fact that it is so often described in this way tells me that there was a tacit understanding at the time that people would have a hard time believing Buddha-dhamma until they became Sotapanna. So, until then...I'm just very thankful for the benefits derived in the here and now which are more than enough to keep me going.

Regards: AdvaitaJ
The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.
Li Bai

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:50 am

Thank you for the replies.
seanpdx wrote:Yes, but he'll get considerable backlash from "real buddhists" who will point out that he's not a "real buddhist".
:tongue:
seanpdx wrote:I would be wary of the kalama sutta. It's too often misinterpreted and misunderstood, and doesn't really say what most people think it says.
This is very true.

A Look at the Kalama Sutta by Bhikkhu Bodhi
gabrielbranbury wrote:The way I see it, no matter how difficult and out of control a situation (mentally or otherwise) I find myself in, it can get worse. So I figure somewhere along that open ended spectrum of suffering is the edge of hell and beyond.
Do you see the heavens and hells described in Buddhist scripture as states of mind, or as physical places that are entered after death?
I think this all has only symbolic meaning for you if you reject out of hand the idea that the causes and conditions which propel us through this life abruptly end with our death and no further ignorant consciousness arises in its wake.
I've tried to believe in an afterlife for the sake of Buddhism. I wanted the philosophy to fit well without stress, worry, or doubt. But I can't make myself believe in something that even M-Theorists would reject.
AdvaitaJ wrote:Option 3 is that these realms and entities really do exist and we simply can't yet detect them with our vast technologies. Before dismissing this option too quickly, I have to remind myself of a couple of relevant facts. First, we (humankind) still don't have a complete and satisfactory explanation for the physicality of the universe. String theory, quantum mechanics, etc continue to fall short of explaining "everything" and frequently involve explanations of matter that only make sense in multi-dimensional terms.

A man sitting under a Bodhi tree was able to see more than the brightest minds in advanced physics, and the Hubble Telescope, combined? I can not buy that.

I think I know where my problem lies... Instead of looking at the Buddha as an ordinary man, I try to see him as being infallible. If I can look at the Buddha as a regular person, who had some good ideas, and some flawed ideas, it would be a lot easier for me to relax and continue my studies and practice.

It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to not be right about everything; no one is.
Second, a few hundred years ago, we knew the effects of certain forms of energy such as electricity, magnetism, gravity, etc but we didn't recognize these as forms of energy. So...it is possible that there remain unrecognized forms of energy and other dimensions of existence that the Buddha, and other sensitive persons, are/were able to interact with that are simply beyond our current technological ability to explain.
But is there any evidence to even suggest that the mind could be that powerful?

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:58 am

mettafuture wrote:Thank you for the replies.
seanpdx wrote:I would be wary of the kalama sutta. It's too often misinterpreted and misunderstood, and doesn't really say what most people think it says.
This is very true.

A Look at the Kalama Sutta by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Which also, I believe, misses some of the key features of the sutta.
I think I know where my problem lies... Instead of looking at the Buddha as an ordinary man, I try to see him as being infallible. If I can look at the Buddha as a regular person, who had some good ideas, and some flawed ideas, it would be a lot easier for me to relax and continue my studies and practice.
Indeed. He wasn't magical. He wasn't mystical. He was a person. A cool thinker, but still just a person. However, remember too that he wasn't a greek philosopher. He wasn't interested in ontological truths. Nature of reality? Who cares. Nature of experience is where it's at. ;)

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:03 am

seanpdx wrote:
mettafuture wrote:I think I know where my problem lies... Instead of looking at the Buddha as an ordinary man, I try to see him as being infallible. If I can look at the Buddha as a regular person, who had some good ideas, and some flawed ideas, it would be a lot easier for me to relax and continue my studies and practice.
Indeed. He wasn't magical. He wasn't mystical. He was a person. A cool thinker, but still just a person. However, remember too that he wasn't a greek philosopher. He wasn't interested in ontological truths. Nature of reality? Who cares. Nature of experience is where it's at. ;)
Woot. Good point, and well said. I'm feeling good now. I just need to stop trying to see the Buddha as a superman, and realize that it's okay for someone to not be right about everything.

Thank you for the reply.

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by yuuki » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:08 am

I'm currently studying the dhammapada, and there is a passage mentioning "hell" in the part that I've already covered:

idha tappati pecca tappati papakari ubhayattha tappati
papam me katan ti tappati bhiyyo tappati duggatim gato DhP 17

The evil-doer has remorse now and remorse later (after death?)
"I've done wrong," he laments, increasing his remorse, and goes to a bad destination. (translation mine)

It makes sense that acting wrongly affects the mind and can become a downward spiral that leads to "bad" places. Here the word for "bad destination" is duggatim, which in my source is broken down as du-, meaning bad as in dukkha, and gati which is a noun form of the verb gat- (to go) and can then mean existence, going, or destination.

I don't think there needs to be special thought given to the "hell" interpretation of words like this. What can hell be, physically, anyways? I choose to just leave it at that: wrong actions leave us worse off, in a worse destination or existence. This can happen before death, and I don't know what happens after death.

To lighten the mood, here is a link to the joke that introduced me to Buddhism. It's about heaven and hell, from a slightly different perspective. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZubVvvO914U" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; (Ajahn Brahm)

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by Guy » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:11 am

Hi MettaFuture,

It is important to understand that the Buddha was NOT a scientist, nor did He ever claim to be. His teachings were (and still are) aimed at recognizing suffering, identifying the cause, knowing the cessation and developing the Path leading to the cessation of suffering. If you expect the Buddha to be a leading physicist or astronomer then you are missing the whole point of His teachings. If you want to be free from suffering then it is in your best interest to practice the Noble Eightfold Path and see for yourself if the Buddha is indeed "right about everything" that he taught.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm

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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by DNS » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:15 am

mettafuture wrote: - Can a Buddhist ignore the heaven / hell realms, and focus only on the rational teachings?
There are many Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana) who see the hellish realms as simply mind states and not as physical places. This includes Ven. Dhammika, who has been a monk for over 30 years:
Many Buddhists believe that Māra is an actual being while others contend that it is really an allegory or a personification of negative states of mind. There would seem to be more evidence for this second opinion than for the first. This is apparent from the fact that the Pāḷi word māra means 'death' or 'bringing death' and that Māra's three offspring's are named Taṇhā, Aratī and Ragā, meaning Craving, Discontent and Lusting (S.I,124). Further, the Buddha describes the army that Māra used to attack him with as being made up of sensual desire, dislike, hunger and thirst, craving, sloth and laziness, fear, restlessness, gains, honor and fame, undeserved reputation and exalting oneself and disparaging others (Sn.436-8). This interpretation is further supported by the fact that Buddhism sees evil as thoughts, speech and action motivated by ignorance rather than the machinations of a force external to the human mind.
http://buddhismatoz.com/d/Devil.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

In my own opinion, I see them as both mental states and possibly physical places too. For now, it is not an important part of the practice and we will all find out soon enough when higher attainments are realized.

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