It's a long way back from hell...

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

It's a long way back from hell...

Postby chargingbull » Sat May 11, 2013 7:48 am

Hi all,

Apologies if this question has been asked before; if it has, please simply point me to where it has been address!

I have recently acquires the Dhammapada (ed. Gil Fronsdal) and the Visuddhimagaa (trans. Nanamoli) in order to better supplement my early wondering into this wonderful world of Theravada.

"...Reborn in the realms of woe, he is tormented all the more." (Dhammapuda, verse 17).

I love the central ethic of Buddhist doctrine, at how the victory of virtue is self evident for those who develop the mind to see it. However, I find it hard to reconcile that lower rebirths make it harder to accumulate merit, by product of their environment (aka "nasty places").

I'm not sure if I even feel much resonance with literal reincarnation, but it just seems cosmically odd that the favour is so very much stacked against beings...the cosmic arrow seems to point mostly downwards!

How do others here reconcile or find peace with this?

In Dhamma,

Rediculous Bull
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby James the Giant » Sat May 11, 2013 12:22 pm

In my experience, it makes more sense if you see it more psychologically than literally.
For example, if someone is in a psychological hell, they maybe involved with nasty people, poverty, pain, crime, drugs, maybe a bit of mental illness there too. And it's hard for people involved with that stuff to think about anything other than survival, or their own pain. There's simply no time for them to focus on cultivating merit.
So on that psychological level it works. It really is harder to create merit down there.
Personally I just ignore the bigger metaphysical level of actual hell realms. That's just way too far out for my secular brain to handle at the moment.
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby Ben » Sat May 11, 2013 2:52 pm

In light of the nature of the question, I've moved it to the general Theravada forum.
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby Coyote » Sat May 11, 2013 3:01 pm

I'm not sure how I would reconcile this if you take the descriptions of the other realms to be merely descriptive. But I think it is far better to see a practical value in such ideas as well as the literal. It seems to me that the Buddha taught "the way to hell is easy, way to heaven is hard" because it tends to inspire samvega and disenchantment with unskillful behavior, as well as strong effort towards skillful ways of behaving. Also considering the teachings in light of kamma makes this intention even more clear, to me.
Just my opinion, but it is how I see these teachings.
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby Benjamin » Sat May 11, 2013 11:06 pm

In my opinion, I think that it works best to simply act like it were literal for the sake of inspiring ethical choices. If I ask myself, "What if I knew rebirth was true, how would I act differently?", I know that I would be more inspired than normal to practice. For this reason I just take it as a working way to "frame" the world, and it seems to help keep me motivated in my practice. Literal hell is still hard for me to accept after endless days under strict Christian parents, though.
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun May 12, 2013 5:16 am

The way down to hell is easy.
The gates of Black Dis¹ stand open night and day.
But to retrace one's steps and escape to the upper air –
that is toil, that is labour.

¹ Black Dis is the Guardian of Hell.
(Virgil, the Aeneid, Penguin Hutchinson Reference)
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby chargingbull » Sun May 12, 2013 6:43 am

Thank you all- I appreciate the pragmatic use of the understanding now. I suppose, at more subtle levels of the mind and perception, it makes no difference whether it has ontological accuracy or not; it is a pathway designed to one straight and true to liberation.

I doubt the Buddha spent much time worrying about it ;)
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby binocular » Sun May 12, 2013 6:50 am

As for ontological accuracy: one can wonder how one can have ontological certainty to begin with, and whether one's current ontological (and epistemological) notions are really the most adequate possible.
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby chargingbull » Sun May 12, 2013 7:03 am

Agreed. What initially attracted me to Theravada was the focus on practice and self study. I have often thought that spiritual exegesis, whilst conducive to development of overall understanding and cultivation of inspiration, is at odds with the insight born from true meditation.

"Ah...wonderful! Another thing to let go of...." Ajahn Sumedho (paraphrased)

:)
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby dxm_dxm » Sun May 12, 2013 11:39 pm

There is no effect without cause. You were born here and exist for a reason and until that reason will disappear you will continue to be born and exist. When that reason will disappear you will not exist anymore and will enter nirvana. If you think that you were born here and exist without a reason then that implies that you could be born and exist in hell for 92834234 trillions of years without a reason or if hell seems too far fetched for you consider africa or having major depression etc.

Having thus accepting that we will continue to be born and exist in the future because we have not destroyed the cause for been born and existing here right now that implies that we could be born and exist in an innumerable states of existence, both good and bad, with access to dhamma or without. These innumerable states of existence were classified by buddhist in 6 realms but not all beings in a realm are the same, look how big the variance of happiness/sadness can be here on earth from one being to another. The extent to how bad or how good a state of existence can be is hard for us to imagine but we can resonably assume that it can be worse or better than here on earth and seen how bad some lifes can be here on earth is enough to scare the ... out of anybody.

If hell seems to far fetched consider a place where your dopamine and serotonine levels are lower than in a person having major depression, that won't seem so far fetched as beings freezing with their organs out of their bodies.
Also consider that any bad deed has a limited effect so been sent to hell for eternity would mean an infinite punishment for a finite cause. That implies that been sent to an eternal heaven or human realm etc. is also impossible.

The idea scares me very much too and budhism is way more pessimistic (and realistic) than the other religions but ignoring the posibility of been born and existing in "hell" won't make it disappear. Becoming a sotopana will :namaste:

PS: Our happiness is given ultimatly by the levels of some substances in our brain so hell could be a place where beings have low levels of those substances in their brains. For the same reason we have this complex external environment that rises and lowers those substances here on earth (a nice car, a wife etc.) we could have a complex environment that rises and lowers those substances in other forms of existence too, for example lying in freezing tempreture with your organs out of your body. We are not balls of light that are happy/sad here on earth so a complex environment that makes us be happy/sad should also exist in other realms of existence.
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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby BlackBird » Mon May 13, 2013 12:43 am

chargingbull wrote:How do others here reconcile or find peace with this?

In Dhamma,

Rediculous Bull


Quite simple really. You look at the life of your average house cat, and it's chances to give dana are very few. My cats were sometimes lavish with their affection and I believe that's meritorious, but even then, it pales in comparison to the opportunities I have to do good deeds. Cat's can't meditate, they can't hear the Buddha dispensation, all these things - Meditation especially, which the Buddha has said generates great amounts of merit- It is very hard for a cat to do good deeds on the scale that a human being can. So much less for a snail, or a worm - or a Mosquito (of which there are billions) How much less so a being suffering in hell who's being tortured all the time? How can he do meritorious deeds when he's suffering in uptmost pain?

The Buddha makes it pretty clear the Rebirth is literal, we just have to take him at his word if we can see the value in his teachings. Much of the Buddha's teachings are self evident, and he has said that his Dhamma contains no patchwork, it is all of the same nature - So literal rebirth is just something we have to take on trust, but it can be a very good tool to help spur good action by way of body speech and mind if we choose to let it.

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Re: It's a long way back from hell...

Postby ground » Mon May 13, 2013 4:01 am

chargingbull wrote:...
I love the central ethic of Buddhist doctrine, at how the victory of virtue is self evident for those who develop the mind to see it. However, I find it hard to reconcile that lower rebirths make it harder to accumulate merit, by product of their environment (aka "nasty places").

How do others here reconcile or find peace with this?

If you commit a crime you will be put to prison. Being in prison the possibilities for positive actions are significantly limited.
You can find common sense correspondences for all religious metaphors. Just do not become obsessed with religious imagery :sage:
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