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?

Postby 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?

Postby 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

: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 mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html
http://www.ajahnchah.org/

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

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:53 am


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

Postby seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:07 am


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

Postby Guy » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:12 am

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?

Postby seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:17 am


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

Postby 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?

Postby 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

: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 mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html
http://www.ajahnchah.org/

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

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

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:50 am


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

Postby seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:58 am


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

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:03 am


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

Postby 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 (Ajahn Brahm)

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

Postby 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?

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:15 am

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

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:39 am


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

Postby seanpdx » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:29 am


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

Postby 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?

Postby 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?

Postby 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
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ
sabbe sattā sukhita hontu


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