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Switch to Forum Live View A few questions about Buddhism -- please help!!
3 years ago  ::  Aug 05, 2011 - 12:54AM #1
Hatshepsut
Posts: 11
Hello all! :)

My name is Amber.  I'm 19 years old, I am so, so close to calling myself a Buddhist.  There is but one barrier which stops me.  I hope to break down this barrier.

I was beginning to read a book called "The Story of Buddhism," by Donald S. Lopez Jr., and I came accross something that confused me.  It was in the very first paragraph of the first chapter.  I read, "The beings of the universe have been reborn without beginning in six realms, as gods, demigods, humans, animals, ghosts, and hell beings."  

My impression of Buddhism is that one is reborn throughout many lives based on their karma, and if this person reaches enlightenment, they are no longer reborn but enter in to nirvana.  I also read in another book about Buddhism (I can't remember what it was called) that Gautama Buddha greatly discouraged speculative thinking about the abstract workings of the universe which can come to no ultimate conclusion, and focused on the logical workings of life.  Now, if that is true, then why do Buddhists believe in "hell beings"?  How can one ever possibly know about "six realms"?

I googled the question, "Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?", which is, I suppose, my ultimate question here.  Each answer I got from google said "yes."  I am so confused.  I was under the impression that there are two states, according to Buddhism -- the state of being in nirvana, and the state of not being in nirvana.  Am I wrong?

So, to get right down to it, here are my questions.  

Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?
If so, do you have to believe in heaven and hell in order to be Buddhist?
If Buddhists believe in heaven and hell, then what is the Buddhist interpretation of these states?  Are they like the Christian heaven and hell, or do they have different meaning?

I take issue with the existence of "heaven and hell," "hell beings," and "six realms" because I am not the type to believe in things that cannot be proven.  However, I love Buddhism, and what I have learned of it, and I do intensely wish to call myself a Buddhist.  But if calling myself a Buddhist means I have to admit to things I don't truly believe, then I'm not sure what I'll do.

If you can help me with this, I would be so grateful.  I've been having a really hard time with it recently. 

Thank you! :)
-Amber 
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3 years ago  ::  Aug 06, 2011 - 12:14PM #2
Yeshe_Dawa
Posts: 2

Hi Amber!


There are many types of Buddhism, just like there are many types of Christianity. Some branches believe in hell worlds. Some Buddhists think these worlds are literal worlds that you are reincarnated to, others think they are a state of mind. Some Buddhists disregard all supernatural phenomena at all and are very close to atheists. Others can sound almost like Hindus or pagans. Buddhism is a broad range of beliefs. If you feel an affinity for the core teachings, then you can probably find a branch that's suited for you.


Peace and blessings,


Yeshe


 

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 09, 2011 - 2:54PM #3
etoro
Posts: 564

According to the great Chinese Buddhist Sage Tien tai, on the basis of the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra taught that a single moment of mental cognition (phenomena) consists of a universal law that comprises a formula which includes all ten worlds (the six lower worlds plus the four upper worlds) plus the underlying Laws of existence which gives rise to these ten states of life. In the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra the Buddha reveals to Shariputra, the wisest of all unenlightened disciples the following ten principles which underlay all appearances (mental and physical). 


“O Śāriputra! The Tathāgatas can, through various methods, skillfully
illuminate the Dharma with gentle speech and gladden the hearts of the
assemblies.


“O Śāriputra! To put it briefly, the buddhas have attained this immeasurable,
limitless, and unprecedented Dharma. Enough, O Śāriputra, I will
speak no further. Why is this? Because the Dharma that the buddhas have
attained is foremost, unique, and difficult to understand. No one but the
buddhas can completely know the real aspects of all dharmas—that is to say
their character, nature, substance, potential, function, cause, condition, result,
effect, and essential unity.” 


These ten factors or suchnesses are the underlying marks of all states of life, manifested things and their interrelatedness.


In explaining the true nature of all things the great master of the Lotus Sutra Nichiren quotes the masters of an earlier era when he says,


"The Great Teacher Miao-lo comments
on this as follows: “The real
aspect invariably manifests in all phenomena,
and all phenomena invariably
manifest in the ten factors. The ten
factors invariably manifest in the Ten
Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably
manifest in life and its environment.”
T’ien-t’ai commented, “All phenomena
consisting of the ten factors,
Ten Worlds, and three thousand realms
are entities of the Lotus Sutra.”
The Great Teacher Nan-yüeh says,
“Question: What does Myoho-rengekyo
represent? Answer: Myo indicates
that all living beings are myo, or mystic.
Ho indicates that all living beings
are ho, or the Law.” T’ien-t’ai also
says, “The Law of all living beings is
mystic.” (www.sgilibrary.org/pdf/047_0417.pdf)


 

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 10, 2011 - 2:26PM #4
vacchagotta
Posts: 298

Aug 5, 2011 -- 12:54AM, Hatshepsut wrote:

Hello all! :)

My name is Amber.  I'm 19 years old, I am so, so close to calling myself a Buddhist.  There is but one barrier which stops me.  I hope to break down this barrier.

....

Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?
If so, do you have to believe in heaven and hell in order to be Buddhist?
If Buddhists believe in heaven and hell, then what is the Buddhist interpretation of these states?  Are they like the Christian heaven and hell, or do they have different meaning?

I take issue with the existence of "heaven and hell," "hell beings," and "six realms" because I am not the type to believe in things that cannot be proven.  However, I love Buddhism, and what I have learned of it, and I do intensely wish to call myself a Buddhist.  But if calling myself a Buddhist means I have to admit to things I don't truly believe, then I'm not sure what I'll do.

If you can help me with this, I would be so grateful.  I've been having a really hard time with it recently. 

Thank you! :)
-Amber 



Hi Amber,


Firstly, to answer one of your central questions, Buddhist heaven and hell are not like Christian heaven and hell.  You noted one of your sources that heaven and hell are part of the six realms.  You also noted another that in Buddhism there are two states Nirvana and not Nirvana.  Keeping it very simple, both of these statements are compatible and true in the basic uncomplicated belief of Buddhists.  The six realms are simply put the state that is not Nirvana, they are unrestful wandering in various states and rebirth, and none of them are permanent, not even heaven or hell. To put an end to this wandering and to no more come to any state in the six realms is Nirvana. So, being more complicated about it, one could even say that Christian Heaven, conceived as eternal rest and bliss, is more like Buddhist Nirvana than Buddhist heaven, and Christian Hell, conceived as eternal suffering and strife, is more like the Buddhist conception of all Samsara.  But comparisons are so complicated.  It's easiest to just say the words "heaven and hell" in Buddhism and Christianity are just not the same.


This moves us forward to the more difficult of your questions.  Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?  Many many Buddhists do believe in rebirth and heaven and hell as described above, but there are so many nuances to such beliefs varying in the individual and in the form of Buddhism referenced.  Without applying any weight to the fact, the belief in rebirth is  traditional and goes back as far as any body of recorded teachings from  the Buddha goes.  However, many other Buddhists do not believe in such things.  To discuss all these variations gets very complicated!


Do you have to believe in rebirth and heaven and hell?  An even more difficult question because it involves not only teachings on rebirth itself, but also teachings about belief itself.  For me there are three possible answers to the question, a simple yes, a simple no, and then a strange in-between. 


Part of the Buddha's project, to me, was to oppose mere belief and emphasize achievment of real knowledge and truth.  However, perhaps ironically to the skeptic, part of the real knowledge that the Buddha claimed to have and aimed for his disciples to seek was that karma and rebirth were actual and that people and all beings, after they die, assuming they have not achieved Nibbana (S. Nirvana), are reborn according to kamma (S. karma).   So, far from being a philosophy of rejecting anything not of this earth and this life, the Buddha's doctrine was in significant part a confirmation of many traditional beliefs while at the same time a condemnation of the fact that such religious truths had become for their adherents merely a belief with no confirmation in knowledge, and consequently with many elements of non-truth.  And all at the same time, the Buddha advocated a form of faith in him and his teaching.  Yet again, for any issue of faith, one "safeguards the truth" by admitting that it is a matter of belief when it is a matter of belief.  Not to mistake belief for knowledge. 


My personal take on it is that you don't have to believe in any doctrine, but for me the important question became whether or not I understood what the Buddha was really saying, regardless of what I believed.  That for me was the first project, because if I didn't really listen to the Buddha's teaching for what it was, to his argument about what he claimed to have discovered, then it wasn't worth being a Buddhist (for me).   Because I felt like all of what Buddhism became is based on what can be found in the earliest scriptures, the sanskrit Agamas and the Pali suttas, I sought the core of what Buddhism taught in the Pali scriptures.   And they represent a fairly early strata before significant schisms.  It is not that there are not interpretive dilemmas within the corpus of suttas.  There are certain issues on which there are varying interpretations.  But for me personally they present the most coherent and intelligible body of doctrine.  I don't want this point to become a matter of sectarian squabbling, this is just what is best for me. 


Undertaking this project of just listening to the Buddha and seeing what he had to say according to the suttas, it seems clear to me that therein the teaching is explicit on rebirth and takes it as true, literally "without doubt" (there is even a sutta about accepting rebirth as true and which states unequivocally that it is true called "Apanṇṇaka" meaning "certainly true; without doubt; incontrovertible").  Some people don't interpret them this way, but I can't personally conscience any other reading for my own self.  To me what they say is pretty clear and interpretations which obviate rebirth require some complications I don't agree with.  But that's aside.  Furthermore, more generally apart from any specific teaching on rebirth, for me the whole doctrine of the Buddha summarized in the four noble truths  only makes sense in a context of samsara as a cycle of rebirth.  So if I resist the doctrine of rebirth, I start not to see any rationale behind any of the four noble truths, especially not those that indicate what suffering is and indicate an escape from it, or how they all tie together into a coherent doctrine of salvation.  And for me, the rationale is the start of the path.  It is the "right view" and "right intention" so to speak. 


So the simple "yes" answer would be that Buddhism does not make sense without rebirth so why be Buddhist if you cannot believe it might be part of what the Buddha really found true.  The simple "no" answer is that the Buddha emphasized what you can and do know over what you can and do believe and even went so far as to teach that if you follow the path correctly you will achieve what it aims at regardless of what you believed.  The "in-between" answer I think is fairly representative of the difficult position the Buddha was in (how do you teach people to discover a very profound religious truth?) and takes into consideration all of the above including valid elements of faith and orthodoxy.  On the issue I recall something from Plato about "right opinion" and "right knowledge" that strikes me as very much compatible with the Buddha's teachings.  Right opinion and right knowledge are equally useful in terms of practicality, but we still know that knowledge is superior as confirmed truth.  Following directions to a destination is a case of me putting confidence in a "right opinion" (hopefully! but how would I know for sure? I have to put some trust in) rather than one of me knowing the way.  Until I arrive at the destination and confirm that the directions were right, I have a belief or an opinion in the destination, yet I still arrive at that destination all the same whether I'd already been there and acheived true knowledge or are just following a map (having a "right opinion").   For me Buddhist faith is like this.  On the other hand, if I throw away the map because I reject the notion of having any beliefs, I'm likely to get lost. :D 


Anyways, if you can make sense of the Buddha's teachings for yourself without a doctrine of rebirth, "more power to ya" as they say; we might thus not agree on many things, but as you mentioned we can agree there is Nirvana.  :D


in friendliness,


V.

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 11, 2011 - 3:10AM #5
Bhakta_glenn
Posts: 788

Aug 5, 2011 -- 12:54AM, Hatshepsut wrote:

Hello all! :)

My name is Amber.  I'm 19 years old, I am so, so close to calling myself a Buddhist.  There is but one barrier which stops me.  I hope to break down this barrier.

I was beginning to read a book called "The Story of Buddhism," by Donald S. Lopez Jr., and I came accross something that confused me.  It was in the very first paragraph of the first chapter.  I read, "The beings of the universe have been reborn without beginning in six realms, as gods, demigods, humans, animals, ghosts, and hell beings."  

My impression of Buddhism is that one is reborn throughout many lives based on their karma, and if this person reaches enlightenment, they are no longer reborn but enter in to nirvana.  I also read in another book about Buddhism (I can't remember what it was called) that Gautama Buddha greatly discouraged speculative thinking about the abstract workings of the universe which can come to no ultimate conclusion, and focused on the logical workings of life.  Now, if that is true, then why do Buddhists believe in "hell beings"?  How can one ever possibly know about "six realms"?

I googled the question, "Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?", which is, I suppose, my ultimate question here.  Each answer I got from google said "yes."  I am so confused.  I was under the impression that there are two states, according to Buddhism -- the state of being in nirvana, and the state of not being in nirvana.  Am I wrong?

So, to get right down to it, here are my questions.  

Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?
If so, do you have to believe in heaven and hell in order to be Buddhist?
If Buddhists believe in heaven and hell, then what is the Buddhist interpretation of these states?  Are they like the Christian heaven and hell, or do they have different meaning?

I take issue with the existence of "heaven and hell," "hell beings," and "six realms" because I am not the type to believe in things that cannot be proven.  However, I love Buddhism, and what I have learned of it, and I do intensely wish to call myself a Buddhist.  But if calling myself a Buddhist means I have to admit to things I don't truly believe, then I'm not sure what I'll do.

If you can help me with this, I would be so grateful.  I've been having a really hard time with it recently. 

Thank you! :)
-Amber 




The ideas you have discussed are really quite advanced in Buddhism. One may begin with simpler ideas:



Dhammapada


Verse 183:


Not to do evil, to cultivate merit, to purify one's mind - this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.




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3 years ago  ::  Aug 11, 2011 - 1:15PM #6
Hatshepsut
Posts: 11

Thank you, everyone, for answering my questions so thoroughly!


 


The difference between Buddhist heaven/hell and Christian heaven/hell definitely seems more vast than I'd previously known.  In this light, and according to the definition that suggests that Buddhist heaven/hell is largely about rebirth and takes place in the mind, I certainly agree with it 100%.  My issue was not with the idea of rebirth in any way -- such a thing has always made sense to me ever since I first began my research.  Rather, my issue was with what a Buddhist heaven/hell could have meant; I was afraid that the definition would fall along the same lines of Christian heaven/hell.


 


Vacchagotta said, "...one could even say that Christian Heaven, conceived as eternal rest and bliss, is more like Buddhist Nirvana than Buddhist heaven, and Christian Hell, conceived as eternal suffering and strife, is more like the Buddhist conception of all Samsara.  But comparisons are so complicated.  It's easiest to just say the words 'heaven and hell' in Buddhism and Christianity are just not the same."  Noted, and I am fascinated by the parallels you did bring up.


 


Just so I can be clear -- I'm not trying to make sense of the Buddha's teachings without doctrine of rebirth at all.  As I mentioned before, my aim was to dissect the idea of heaven and hell, and to ask someone the generally accepted definition of thse words as they related to Buddhism.  If, in Buddhism, heaven and hell always meant the same as they do in Christianity, then I would have had a problem, because I don't believe in heaven/hell as physical places that are separate from this world/earth/realm/whatever.  I simply don't.  However, the idea that heaven and hell are mental states in which we find ourselves fluctuating between on a regular basis -- well, that I can get behind.  I would rather think of heaven and hell in a metaphorical sense rather than a literal one.  And this, it seems, is what many Buddhists do.


 


So, here I have a new question I suppose.  If I believe in rebirth, in nirvana, and in heaven/hell in that they are states of mind, and if I believe in the dharma and the sangha, and if I live my life according to the way that the Buddha has opened up for us, and if I am compassionate, mindful, and aware -- can these things make me a Buddhist?  I suppose this is more of an abstract question, but I believe the answer is yes.


 


Again, thank you all for responding. :)


 


-Amber

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 11, 2011 - 1:17PM #7
Hatshepsut
Posts: 11

Aug 11, 2011 -- 3:10AM, Bhakta_glenn wrote:


Aug 5, 2011 -- 12:54AM, Hatshepsut wrote:

Hello all! :)

My name is Amber.  I'm 19 years old, I am so, so close to calling myself a Buddhist.  There is but one barrier which stops me.  I hope to break down this barrier.

I was beginning to read a book called "The Story of Buddhism," by Donald S. Lopez Jr., and I came accross something that confused me.  It was in the very first paragraph of the first chapter.  I read, "The beings of the universe have been reborn without beginning in six realms, as gods, demigods, humans, animals, ghosts, and hell beings."  

My impression of Buddhism is that one is reborn throughout many lives based on their karma, and if this person reaches enlightenment, they are no longer reborn but enter in to nirvana.  I also read in another book about Buddhism (I can't remember what it was called) that Gautama Buddha greatly discouraged speculative thinking about the abstract workings of the universe which can come to no ultimate conclusion, and focused on the logical workings of life.  Now, if that is true, then why do Buddhists believe in "hell beings"?  How can one ever possibly know about "six realms"?

I googled the question, "Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?", which is, I suppose, my ultimate question here.  Each answer I got from google said "yes."  I am so confused.  I was under the impression that there are two states, according to Buddhism -- the state of being in nirvana, and the state of not being in nirvana.  Am I wrong?

So, to get right down to it, here are my questions.  

Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?
If so, do you have to believe in heaven and hell in order to be Buddhist?
If Buddhists believe in heaven and hell, then what is the Buddhist interpretation of these states?  Are they like the Christian heaven and hell, or do they have different meaning?

I take issue with the existence of "heaven and hell," "hell beings," and "six realms" because I am not the type to believe in things that cannot be proven.  However, I love Buddhism, and what I have learned of it, and I do intensely wish to call myself a Buddhist.  But if calling myself a Buddhist means I have to admit to things I don't truly believe, then I'm not sure what I'll do.

If you can help me with this, I would be so grateful.  I've been having a really hard time with it recently. 

Thank you! :)
-Amber 




The ideas you have discussed are really quite advanced in Buddhism. One may begin with simpler ideas:



Dhammapada


Verse 183:


Not to do evil, to cultivate merit, to purify one's mind - this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.








 


Ah yes -- thank you for reminding me not to jump ahead of myself. I do have a rather inquisitive mind :)

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 12, 2011 - 5:04PM #8
Bhakta_glenn
Posts: 788

The Six Realms of Existence in Buddhism.












 

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 13, 2011 - 5:26AM #9
Bhakta_glenn
Posts: 788

Amber


Won Buddhism is a Mahayana School of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism.


The subject of Buddhist Cosmology [Six Realms of Existence] is taught within the context of Dharma. Essentially, Buddhism Teaches Mental Development. Whilst it may be the case that everyone has Buddha Nature [Mahayana Buddhism], it is not the case that everyone has realised what this is. If they had, there would be no need for Buddhist Teaching, and the world in which we live would be a very peaceful place.


Whilst it is possible to read many books about Buddhism, it is also benficial to listen to Dharma Talks. This website has produced a series of Videos containing Dharma Talks which begin with the Eightfold Noble Path, The Fourth Noble Truth:


www.wonbuddhist.org/dharma-talks/video


Whilst this website provides a Zen Buddhist Glossary of Buddhist Terms, which may prove helpful when trying to understand Dharma:


www.zenguide.com/principles/zen_buddhism...


This link provides information about Zen and Buddhism, which provides a context for the subject of Buddhist Cosmology.


May all beings live in peace and harmony


May all beings be happy

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3 years ago  ::  Aug 14, 2011 - 2:56PM #10
Hatshepsut
Posts: 11

Thank you, Bhakta_glenn, those videos and sites you linked me are extremely helpful. :)

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