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WHERE IS HELL?


I noted earlier that the Buddha's half-opened eyes show that he is looking within himself even as he gazes out at the external world. What does it mean to look within oneself? What are we supposed to be looking for?


Buddhism teaches that the world after death is divided into six realms, one of which is hell. In the past, hell was the awful fate that awaited those who did evil. In other worlds, the threat of hell was a moral incentive to do only good. The Japanese word for hell, jigoku, originally referred only to the underworld of the dead. After the Buddhist concept of hell was introduced, however, the ancient Japanese who saw hot steam billowing out of the crevices in the earth trembled at the thought of being consigned to the fires and boiling liquid that surely must be the source of the steam. A long time ago, this was enough to deter many a person from evil, but not today.

Today's hell is the hell of the mind. It appears perfectly normal on the surface but seethes with murderous rage underneath.

Buddhism teaches that we are trapped within the six realms of existence--in ascending order, hell; the realms of hungry spirits (covetousness), animals (ignorance), asuras (disputes), and human beings (normality); and finally, heaven (joy). In Japan, the traditional emphasis on these six realms of existence and our inability to escape their confines has given Buddhism a bleak and gloomy image. I think we need to redefine Buddhism in terms to which contemporary people can better relate and which we can apply to make ourselves better human beings.


The six realms of existence are not mysterious places to which we go after death but exist right now within our own hearts and minds. As the great priest Nichiren said, "Ask where to find heaven and hell and the answer is within our own bodies."


Nikkyo Niwano

Buddhism for Everyday Life



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