Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

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Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Mon May 24, 2010 3:11 pm

I think when Buddhist teachers want to be very careful about turning off western audiences, they say that the hell realms are "just states of mind."

I've heard some people give ambiguous answers which seem to imply that they are both physical places and mental states.

Since Buddhism is all about the mind, I've never heard a Buddhist argue that the hell realms are only physical places which are unrelated to states of mind.

What is your understanding of this?
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Astus » Mon May 24, 2010 3:20 pm

I think it was in northern Hinayana groups where the idea appeared that the hell realms are mental projections on a certain level, thus explaining the existence of the beings torturing those born there. Then such a view was later took up by Mahayana thinkers. Nevertheless, the hells are (also) physical places just like any other realms. IIRC, it is located somewhere under Jambudvipa, but not sure.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Mon May 24, 2010 3:39 pm

Astus wrote:I think it was in northern Hinayana groups where the idea appeared that the hell realms are mental projections on a certain level, thus explaining the existence of the beings torturing those born there. Then such a view was later took up by Mahayana thinkers.

Astus wrote:Nevertheless, the hells are (also) physical places just like any other realms. IIRC, it is located somewhere under Jambudvipa, but not sure.

Does this mean that these hells are located in another galaxy in our universe, or are they located in some other dimension? Or did you simply mean a very ordinary interpretation like "warzones and prisons on Earth are basically hell realms"?
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Astus » Mon May 24, 2010 4:13 pm

Jambudvipa is this continent where we live, where Shakyamuni appeared. So the hells are under us (physically), similarly to Christian hell.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Mon May 24, 2010 4:21 pm

Astus wrote:Jambudvipa is this continent where we live, where Shakyamuni appeared. So the hells are under us (physically), similarly to Christian hell.


Well then that has to be in another dimension because no scientist will find hell by drilling into the Earth.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Astus » Mon May 24, 2010 4:33 pm

Well, Buddhist cosmology is a bit outdated with a scientific eye. However, we don't have (yet) the means to dig too deep into the earth.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 24, 2010 5:05 pm

Astus wrote:Well, Buddhist cosmology is a bit outdated with a scientific eye. However, we don't have (yet) the means to dig too deep into the earth.


I once watched this IMAX documentary where they showed these boiling volcanic pits of acid at the bottom of the deepest parts of the oceans.

Sure enough there was life down there. Lifeforms living in complete darkness in boiling conduits of acid under great atmospheric pressure.

Now from a Buddhist cosmological point of view, they're all sentient beings. It is possible to be reborn down there.

I think one question to ask when asked if hells are real is the quality of our own present physical reality. It seems real, but under analysis it becomes more and more illusory. Likewise for the dwellers of hell realms it seems so real, yet it is illusory.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby shel » Mon May 24, 2010 5:32 pm

Huseng wrote:
Astus wrote:Well, Buddhist cosmology is a bit outdated with a scientific eye. However, we don't have (yet) the means to dig too deep into the earth.

Lifeforms living in complete darkness in boiling conduits of acid under great atmospheric pressure.

And we are to assume that the lifeforms living deeper in the earth are suffering more than, for instance, us? or am I missing the point? Lifeforms live in all sorts of environments. To creatures living under the polar ice caps we are living in hell, relatively speaking.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Mon May 24, 2010 6:29 pm

The next question is whether the beings in hell have physical human bodies or some other types of bodies.

I'm quite sure that we wouldn't find a penal colony full of people if we drilled deep into the Earth. However, if we we reborn there as some tiny bug that kept getting stomped on, burned, and ripped apart, I would find that more believable.

Another aspect to talk about is the timespan that one spends in hell. In the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, it talks about one day in hell being equal to something like a million earth days (I don't remember the exact number). Is this length of time actual or just a perception? (i.e. "A watched pot never boils, and furthermore, a watched pot really never boils if you're observing it while being impaled on a red-hot spear while vultures rip out your innards.")
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby kirtu » Mon May 24, 2010 7:05 pm

Luke wrote:I think when Buddhist teachers want to be very careful about turning off western audiences, they say that the hell realms are "just states of mind."

I've heard some people give ambiguous answers which seem to imply that they are both physical places and mental states.


What is the difference between a mental experience and a real place? We create the karma to experience various realms. In this sense all the "real places" are compulsively arisen mental fabrications.

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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Mon May 24, 2010 9:52 pm

kirtu wrote:What is the difference between a mental experience and a real place?

To me the difference is the degree of clarity and the length of time spent there.

In my dreams or daydreams, the visual details are often hazy and not as sharp and clear as the details of what I see when I'm awake. Also, dreams don't last very long. I might dream that I spent a few days somewhere, but I've never dreamt that I spent a whole lifetime somewhere. These details separate mental states from everyday experience for me.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Dexing » Mon May 24, 2010 10:48 pm

Luke wrote:I might dream that I spent a few days somewhere, but I've never dreamt that I spent a whole lifetime somewhere. These details separate mental states from everyday experience for me.


Dharma practice is exactly to break this sort of ordinary view, to realize that the everyday experience of this whole lifetime right here on earth is a dream, then to use that clear view to function for the benefit of all beings, to help awaken them from this dream so they will stop fighting for self and material, perpetuating Samsara.

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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby mudra » Wed May 26, 2010 11:44 am

I think there are a few questions here which pertain to this question of hell realms.

1. what is "real"? Even as "real" humans we project on to our world enormously. But what and how experience it, the kind of intelligence we have in this type of experience is called "human". And we see it as very real. Yet an animal/insect in the same space has a very different "reality". Are they not both real for each type of being? Which one is "just a state of mind"?

2. Are not all our skandhas/aggregates the scope of our experience? Do we, as samsaric beings experience anything beyond our skandhas?

3. As samsaric beings, do we ever have any lasting "true perceptions" unmixed with conceptions/images etc?

4. We can even inhabit the same space as other beings and have totally different experiences, why does a geographic location matter?

5. Do we really for one minute believe that Buddhist cosmological models are meant to be geographical?

6. Is not true that according to Buddhist view some beings, the gods of formless realms, only have four skandhas? (Just Nama and no Rupa) Where would that put them geographically?

7. Is it true that if we can't see it, it doesn't exist?

I can think of some more questions, and none of them (or their possible answers) for me point to there being no actual hell realm experience, none of them rule out the possibility of immense torturous suffering over huge periods of time.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Wed May 26, 2010 4:08 pm

mudra wrote:1. what is "real"? Even as "real" humans we project on to our world enormously. But what and how experience it, the kind of intelligence we have in this type of experience is called "human". And we see it as very real. Yet an animal/insect in the same space has a very different "reality". Are they not both real for each type of being? Which one is "just a state of mind"?

I knew I should have left the word "real" out of the title....I just wanted a practical, clear answer about Buddhist cosmology which avoided hair-splitting.

Let's say that there is a category which is called "real enough" to avoid the difficulties of the absolute idea of "reality." What makes something "real enough" to me, is that all my senses get a huge amount of sensory information from it and I can interact with it. My dreams are not "real enough" to me because the images are often not clear and I rarely experience tastes or smells in my dreams; it's this lack of sensory input that makes them not "real enough" for me.

mudra wrote:4. We can even inhabit the same space as other beings and have totally different experiences, why does a geographic location matter?

Because right now, as an ordinary human being, I have a geographical location. I understand other concepts in relation to what I am now. Location is central to human thinking.

The key question is whether hell is a physical place (perhaps populated by non-human beings), or just a poetic way of describing the ordinary animal and human suffering on this planet (i.e. "The tiger fell into a volcano and is experiencing extreme pain so we could label that experince as 'hell.'")

mudra wrote:5. Do we really for one minute believe that Buddhist cosmological models are meant to be geographical?

I don't know. Some people seem to. I haven't made up my mind yet.

mudra wrote:7. Is it true that if we can't see it, it doesn't exist?

Of course not. I never stated that I think hell does not exist. I'm just trying to understand its nature, its location, and the nature of the beings which exist there.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby shel » Wed May 26, 2010 5:42 pm

mudra wrote:I can think of some more questions, and none of them (or their possible answers) for me point to there being no actual hell realm experience, none of them rule out the possibility of immense torturous suffering over huge periods of time.

3. As samsaric beings, do we ever have any lasting "true perceptions" unmixed with conceptions/images etc?
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed May 26, 2010 7:47 pm

Dexing wrote:
Luke wrote:I might dream that I spent a few days somewhere, but I've never dreamt that I spent a whole lifetime somewhere. These details separate mental states from everyday experience for me.


Dharma practice is exactly to break this sort of ordinary view, to realize that the everyday experience of this whole lifetime right here on earth is a dream, then to use that clear view to function for the benefit of all beings, to help awaken them from this dream so they will stop fighting for self and material, perpetuating Samsara.

:namaste:


Wow Dexing, you nailed it again. I agree, what we call "normal consciousness" is a trance state. :bow:
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby tatpurusa » Wed May 26, 2010 8:06 pm

As far as I understand all lokas are products of mental projections, including our own.
Different beings percieve the "same" object in completely different ways, depending on the consistency of their karma.
Directions like below, above etc., and time itself are mere mental projections too.

Minds of sentient beings not being able to deal with the ambiguity, simultaneity and coincidentality of "reality as it is," cut it up into arbitrary, but for them processable pieces of information (concepts), corresponding to their karmic composition.

Thus lokas, samsara, concepts and karma are inseparable expressions of fundamental avidya.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby Luke » Wed May 26, 2010 8:33 pm

shel wrote:
mudra wrote:3. As samsaric beings, do we ever have any lasting "true perceptions" unmixed with conceptions/images etc?


A lot is implied in that line, so I'm going to break it down:

As samsaric beings do we have any "true perceptions"? - Probably not, outside of certain experiences of advanced meditators who have realized the true nature of their minds.

But then I could create the definition of "true enough perceptions." In daily life, these last long enough to be convinced by them (if I'm standing in a hotel, it won't all of a sudden disappear, even though in a few years it may be torn down). So it depends on the definition of "lasting." If by lasting you mean "permanent," then no, of course no ordinary perceptions are permanent.

As far as perceptions without conceptions go, I think that most if not all of our perceptions are indeed overlaid with our own conceptions/mental images. However ordinary reality is still solid enough and believable enough in many situations.

For example, if I stand on the Earth and hold up an apple and let go of it, it will fall to the ground every time whether I'm hallucinating and visualizing it as a demon's head or whether a person in the distance thinks I'm actually dropping a pear because I'm surrounded by pear trees. I guess what I mean is that the underlying pattern (the object falling) remains consistent even if the minds of the observers might distort the surface details.

A colorblind person sees a red mug differently than a non-colorblind person does, but it will hurt both of them if you smash it over their heads. Underlying patterns which are the same most of the time define "ordinary reality" for me.

I don't know if gravity qualifies as a part of what Buddhist scholars would call "reality," but understanding such scientific laws is probably as close as an ordinary person can get to something which might be called "true perception" (outside of meditation, of course).
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed May 26, 2010 9:08 pm

Luke wrote:
But then I could create the definition of "true enough perceptions."


I have thot about this and it must necessarily be so. If our false self/world concepualization were completely false, touching the real at no point whatever, there would be no way out of samsara, you just couldnt get there from here.
The quote "things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise" from the lankavatara sutra comes to mind.


Luke wrote:
For example, if I stand on the Earth and hold up an apple and let go of it, it will fall to the ground every time whether I'm hallucinating and visualizing it as a demon's head or whether a person in the distance thinks I'm actually dropping a pear because I'm surrounded by pear trees. I guess what I mean is that the underlying pattern (the object falling) remains consistent even if the minds of the observers might distort the surface details.


idk if thats a good example or not, it might be possible that someone could be so fascinated by the intricacies and complexity of the working of the hand as it dropped the apple that the dropping of it was missed entirely.


Luke wrote:
I don't know if gravity qualifies as a part of what Buddhist scholars would call "reality," but understanding such scientific laws is probably as close as an ordinary person can get to something which might be called "true perception" (outside of meditation, of course).


Maybe, could be that science is just a collective agreed upon system of samsaric delusion. It does make the delusion seem a little more systematic and comforting tho :) It might be that at bottom all the things science depends on, sequential time, space, distance, etc are just mental formations.
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Re: Buddhist hells: Real places or just mental states?

Postby shel » Wed May 26, 2010 10:53 pm

Luke wrote:
shel wrote:
mudra wrote:3. As samsaric beings, do we ever have any lasting "true perceptions" unmixed with conceptions/images etc?


A lot is implied in that line, so I'm going to break it down:

As samsaric beings do we have any "true perceptions"? - Probably not, outside of certain experiences of advanced meditators who have realized the true nature of their minds.

But then I could create the definition of "true enough perceptions." In daily life, these last long enough to be convinced by them (if I'm standing in a hotel, it won't all of a sudden disappear, even though in a few years it may be torn down). So it depends on the definition of "lasting." If by lasting you mean "permanent," then no, of course no ordinary perceptions are permanent.

As far as perceptions without conceptions go, I think that most if not all of our perceptions are indeed overlaid with our own conceptions/mental images. However ordinary reality is still solid enough and believable enough in many situations.

For example, if I stand on the Earth and hold up an apple and let go of it, it will fall to the ground every time whether I'm hallucinating and visualizing it as a demon's head or whether a person in the distance thinks I'm actually dropping a pear because I'm surrounded by pear trees. I guess what I mean is that the underlying pattern (the object falling) remains consistent even if the minds of the observers might distort the surface details.

A colorblind person sees a red mug differently than a non-colorblind person does, but it will hurt both of them if you smash it over their heads. Underlying patterns which are the same most of the time define "ordinary reality" for me.

I don't know if gravity qualifies as a part of what Buddhist scholars would call "reality," but understanding such scientific laws is probably as close as an ordinary person can get to something which might be called "true perception" (outside of meditation, of course).

Hi Luke,

I was more interested in the lasting aspect of what Mudra wrote. Does "immense torturous suffering," which is delusion, ever last for "huge periods of time"?

I guess it's not clear what a "huge" period of time is, or how and why a sentient being could be kind of frozen in a state of immense torturous suffering. And if a sentient being were frozen in this condition, indeed, they would be frozen and all but dead. Likewise, a sentient being could be frozen in a state of bliss and be all but dead.
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