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

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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...
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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:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Postby 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?

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

Postby 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
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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

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

Postby 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?

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
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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:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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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
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Re: Do the heaven/hell realms hurt credibility of the dhamma?

Postby 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?

Postby 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?

Postby 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?

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

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

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

Postby 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 (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

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?

Postby 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?

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.
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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.
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