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

Post by mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:39 am

yuuki wrote: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.
I really hate to point this out, but there are very clear examples in the Tipitika where the Buddha does describe hell as a place one enters after death.

"It is from having known it myself, seen it myself, realized it myself that I tell you that I have seen beings who — endowed with bodily good conduct, verbal good conduct, & mental good conduct; who did not revile noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — at the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destination, the heavenly world."

"I have seen beings conquered both by receiving offerings & by not receiving offerings — their minds overwhelmed — at the break-up of the body, after death, reappearing in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell.'"

-- Iti 3.22


I think the Buddha, or who ever wrote that, was just a product of the time. For the lifestyle teachings, they looked to personal experience and the insights that came about through meditation. But to fill in the blanks about death and the afterlife, the probably referenced the dated Hindu philosophy that was widespread at the time. But this is not a bad thing. Most of the teachings, particularly the ones on how to live, are very solid. I just need to keep telling myself this. lol.
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)
:lol:

Nice.
Guy wrote: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.
Will do.
David N. Snyder wrote:
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:

http://buddhismatoz.com/d/Devil.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Thank you for that.
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.
You're right. I know I shouldn't worry about this, but it keeps popping into my mind like a hindrance during meditation. I need to reconcile the whole heaven / hell thing so that I can just move on and continue with my practice.

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

Post by seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:29 am

mettafuture wrote: You're right. I know I shouldn't worry about this, but it keeps popping into my mind like a hindrance during meditation. I need to reconcile the whole heaven / hell thing so that I can just move on and continue with my practice.
No reconciliation necessary. Just stop clinging to the question entirely. *grin*

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

Post by yuuki » Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:19 am

An aside about heaven and hell, which might give one a reason to believe in them: why not commit suicide?

That would bring a quick end to suffering.

There are very many quick, painless ways to do it, and it's easy to set it up so that there is as little as possible thinking about it before it happens. It's certainly easier than battling with the hindrances for the rest of your life.

This is the common view of death: sensation and awareness ended.

Here I remember that the Buddha's teaching is often a middle way between two unsatisfactory teachings. I can think of two lines of thought:

(1) The prevalent view of his day of reincarnation, that permanent souls transmigrate from body to body until uniting with Atman.
(2) The nihilistic view that with the dissolution of the brain and sense faculties, there is a lack of sensation and awarness.

I tend to think that after death there is neither sensation nor non-sensation. I think the Buddha answers this directly when asked what happens to an awakened being upon death.

So the middle way between (1) and (2) that I think the Buddha offered was rebirth, along with realms (mind states) that can receive various types of kamma upon death. The point of disappearance from the world(s) is somewhere between the moment of death (as in (2)) and eternity (as in (1)).

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

Post by salmon » Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:27 am

Rather than forcing yourself to accept something you are not ready for, you should just focus on what you are...and let nature take it's course. When you are ready, you will be ready.

Don't give up on the Buddha because he is aware of something you aren't. Don't conform Buddhism to your beliefs. Open your mind to the teachings of Buddhism instead.

Here's an adapted story my teacher told us when we got excited about devas and petas.

Imagine living in a town with only white Caucasians. You've never stepped out of the town, and you've never had guests from outside of town. One day, someone tells you that he's just came back from a trip and has met people of different skin colours, an Indian, a Chinese and an African.

Having not seen another person of a different skin tone before, you wouldn't believe they existed. If one day you made a trip out or you get some guests, then you will realized that there are people of other nationalities (and skin colours) out there and it's perfectly normal.
~ swimming upstream is tough work! ~

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

Post by withoutcolour » Thu Jan 21, 2010 5:04 am

I sometimes have trouble with this too...
So the way I rationalize it is: I have a general belief that there is a possibility that other realms or dimensions or planets with live on them exist. Who is to say that planet earth within our spectrum of seeing/hearing/perceiving is the only inhabited place in existence? There's always a possibility that more is out there in one way or another, be is hell realms or heaven realms or aliens or alternate dimensions. Not to get all sci-fi on you.

The possibility of lower rebirth and higher rebirth are important, I'd say, in Theravadin Buddhism, though. Otherwise, what is the point of recognizing kamma? If not being born into higher/lower/any realms, where are we to be reborn (if at all)? I don't think you need to necessarily believe in heaven realms where the devas that live there live for five hundred great eons, or what have you, but I think it is definitely necessary to believe that our kamma leads to different levels of rebirth.

Best of luck with this.
-wc
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by Prasadachitta » Thu Jan 21, 2010 6:12 am

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.
Hi mettafuture,

I see physical location as only a contributing factor in what sort of state of mind arises. I guess the answer to your first question is I dont really think its much of a relevant distinction. All I need to know about Heaven and Hell is how they relate to my experience. In other words, what is the most directly pragmatic distinction being communicated by the concept. Asserting or imagining the physicality or lack of physicality of future conditions is wasted energy.

I am not really certain how you relate to the word "believe". I dont really like to use the word too much myself. You say you have "tried to believe", but this doesn't make much sense to me. As far as Im concerned all you need to do is accept that you have no idea and do it without allowing this acceptance to blunt your desire to know for yourself. It also helps to accept that there are more realized beings than you (Buddha) who see reality in a way which defies the ability of language to adequately model for us. We need to put serious effort into using the conceptual models as a guide to see for ourselves. Certainly "wanting philosophy to fit" sounds a bit problematic. Fit with what? Fit with your assumptions about reality?

Set it aside and practice. If its like a gorilla with christmas lights all over and dancing around then I think it is clear you have not set it aside.

I wish you well

Gabe
"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 Ben » Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:08 am

Hi mettafuture,
mettafuture wrote: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...
The standard advice given to someone such as you who has a difficulty with this or that concept is "to put it to the side" and concentrate on practice. Maintain sila, develop samadhi and panna and let penetrative insight reveal the nature of reality to you. But right now, we're all caught in the same intractable bear-trap of samsara and the only way to free ourselves in practice.
metta

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

Post by Sanghamitta » Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:38 am

Ben wrote:Hi mettafuture,
mettafuture wrote: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...
The standard advice given to someone such as you who has a difficulty with this or that concept is "to put it to the side" and concentrate on practice. Maintain sila, develop samadhi and panna and let penetrative insight reveal the nature of reality to you. But right now, we're all caught in the same intractable bear-trap of samsara and the only way to free ourselves in practice.
metta

Ben
Thats the one. :thumbsup:
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by vinasp » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:04 am

Hi everyone,

There are three realms which, taken together, are the "cosmos" as understood at the time. These three realms consist of thirty-one "planes" each with its own class of beings.

It is possible that the word "loka", usually translated as "world" in fact means cosmos in some contexts. There are many passages which speak of the cessation of the world. For example :

"That end of the world wherein one is not born, does not grow old or die, pass away or reappear, that I declare, is impossible to be known, seen or reached by travelling. But, friend, I do not declare that one can make an end of suffering without reaching the end of the world. Friend, I do proclaim that in this very fathom-long body, with its perceptions and consciousness, is the world, the world's arising, the world's cessation and the path leading to the world's cessation." A.N. II. 48

In some passages "world" is substituted for "suffering" (dukkha). In other passages the "five aggregates of clinging" are said to be suffering. One interpretation would be that the five aggregates of clinging are the world or cosmos. All three are said to cease.

Belief in the reality of the three realms is only "clinging to views" and would be expected to be eliminated at some stage on the path.

Best wishes, Vincent.

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

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:12 am

Whether one believes it or not, the orthodox teaching of Buddhism is that evil doers are liable to rebirth in hell, and the good are liable to be reborn in heaven.

Rejecting the basic tenets of Buddhism may harm one's credibility as a genuine follower of the Buddha. Being doubtful about what is beyond one's personal experience will not harm one's credibility at all.

The Buddha did not "believe in" heaven and hell — he had no need to believe in them since he knew them by his direct knowledge.
Sāmaññaphala Sutta
"With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: 'These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, and mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, and mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.'
Never mind attaining psychic powers and the four stages of the path, even to practise meditation effectively requires a high degree of faith or well-placed confidence (saddhā). The Dhamma is described as something beyond reasoning and speculation, that cannot be realised by intellect and logic.

When you are in pain during sitting meditation, the logical thing to do is to change your position. The wise thing to do is to change your attitude, and to investigate the pain to understand its true nature. What are its causes, and how does it come to cessation? Without understanding the cause of suffering, no liberation is possible.
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by Cittasanto » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:31 pm

is it a pragmatic truth, or a metaphysical truth?
if it is metaphysical it is an absolute, if pragmatic it has a practical purpose, if you look at MN117
"Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view. And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no priests or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view.

"And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents [asava], siding with merit, resulting in the acquisitions [of becoming]; and there is noble right view, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

"And what is the right view that has effluents, sides with merit, & results in acquisitions? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are priests & contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is the right view that has effluents, sides with merit, & results in acquisitions.

"And what is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, the path factor of right view of one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is free from effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view.
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by Heavenstorm » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:51 pm

mettafuture wrote: Can a Buddhist ignore the heaven / hell realms, and focus only on the rational teachings?
Heaven and Hell realms are rational teachings in the sense that they correspond to a state of mind of sentinel beings at the time of death. And more importantly, the most fundamental part of our mindstreams are said to continue after death in the form of bhavanga or rebirth linking thought moments. To suggest otherwise, is either risking falling into nihilism or non existence, one of the two extremes or embracing the "soul" theory from non Buddhist religions.

And because of our rebirth consciousness, a consequence of a being experiencing a negative mindset of great fear, greed, guilt, delusion and hatred prior to the moments of death, will be a negative or lower realm manifesting in the next life (Only after a short period of seventeen moments of thoughts) corresponding to that experience. Similarity, for a being who attained Jhana, he had ridden himself of aversion and desire in a coarse way. Therefore, his rebirth will be in the form realm as there is nothing in the desire realm that could bind his mind at the time of death.

Since there is generally speaking four/five types of jhanas, in Buddhist cosmology, we have a corresponding four/five general classifications of form realms excluding the pure abodes. The argument can be made for the four formless Jhanas.

In short, Dharma is rational in the sense that its not built on wild fantasy but based on real mind experiences and records by practitioners, yogis, Arahants and Buddha over the centuries. In fact, I would argue that its irrational to ignore or reject some aspects of Dharma just because the mainstream worldly society don't believe in the "unscientific stuffs" and that one doesn't even try making an effort to understand or mediating on them.

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

Post by jcsuperstar » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:55 pm

if one is worried,or thinking about heavens and hells too much than one isn't really following to the Buddha's instructions very well now is s/he? one should remain mindful of the present moment at all times, in all positions and situations. speculations will just lead one into a thicket of views, lost wandering forever.... when the Buddha spoke of such places he wasn't telling stories to impress us or scare us but rather to point us back to the present moment and to urge us to be ever mindful. he taught only dukkha and the cessation of dukkha, and it is in this context we should view heavens and hells.
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Post by PeterB » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:20 pm

jcsuperstar wrote:if one is worried,or thinking about heavens and hells too much than one isn't really following to the Buddha's instructions very well now is s/he? one should remain mindful of the present moment at all times, in all positions and situations. speculations will just lead one into a thicket of views, lost wandering forever.... when the Buddha spoke of such places he wasn't telling stories to impress us or scare us but rather to point us back to the present moment and to urge us to be ever mindful. he taught only dukkha and the cessation of dukkha, and it is in this context we should view heavens and hells.
There is much more to the Buddhadhamma than " living in the present". Bhikkhu Pesala's post above is simply mainstream Theravada Buddhism. No more and no less. As Ben says if we are not ready for any particular aspect of Dhamma, then put it to one side. What we are not free to do is pick n' mix from what we are comfortable with. The Buddha quite clearly spoke about hell realms and heavenly realms, we cannot simply rationalise that away because we have decided before exploring any deeper that Buddhism is " rational" in any modern sense.

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

Post by Khalil Bodhi » Thu Jan 21, 2010 4:36 pm

:goodpost: Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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