If you have the time, this might be worth a read: Hell and Heaven in Theravada Buddhism
by Phramaha Somjin Sammapanno (Wanjan)
The purpose of this thesis is to study the concepts of hell and heaven in Theravada Buddhism by means of the sources which are Tipitaka scriptures, world science scriptures and some modern Buddhist literary works, to present the theory confirming that the hells and the heavens really exist as both lodging places and mental states, and to give the pictures of the development of the concepts of hell and heaven in Theravada Buddhism from ancient age to present.
In studying, the subject matter is divided into 5 chapters. An examination begins with an interpretation the worlds as the worlds of formation and location. Then the researcher shows that the ideas of worlds-beyond are related to the ideas of Four Kinds birth in Buddhism. Finally, the researcher will take the concepts of hell and heaven in Tipitaka scriptures, world science scriptures and modern Buddhist Literary works to an investigation.
World science scriptures can be viewed as an idea reflection of the 10th–15th century Buddhists, and modern Buddhist literary works as a belief reflection of the contemporary Buddhists.
As the results of study, we find that there are so many hell and heaven stories in Tipitaka scriptures. Only in the eighteenth volume of Tipitaka scriptures the hell is mentioned forty-six times, and heaven Seventy-five times. It is Remarkable that these hell and heaven statements usually denote the places where a sinful or virtuous man will take place after death. There so few hell and heaven statements in Tipitaka scriptures denote hells and heavens as the mental states or give the detailed pictures of the hells and heavens as in world science scriptures.
In world science scriptures the hells and heavens are mentioned as lodging places only. Comparing the concepts of hell and heaven in Tipitaks scriptures with the concepts of hell and heaven in latter scriptures, we find that there are some misconceptions about hell and heaven among some Buddhists who wrote latter scriptures.
The concepts of hell and heaven in modern Buddhist literary works can be divided into two groups :
1.Hells and heaven both lodging places and mental states.
2.Hells and heavens as only mental states.
According to the researcher, these different concepts are not contradictory. The hell and heaven teachings are the basic Themes of Buddhism. Though no one can empirically verify the hell and heaven statements in Buddhism, but by a coherence of the teachings related to hell and heaven concepts in Buddhism we can say that the hells and the heavens have their significance as a factor Kamma and Rebirth.http://www.mcu.ac.th/En/thesisdetails.php?thesis=253301