Lesson Nine: More Lives Than One

(bhcheah) #1

4.Rebirth Into Heavens and Hells

It is not necessary that a being must be reborn
as a human being nor is earth the only habitable
spot in the universe. Birth can only occur in any
of the thirty-one Planes of Existence. Twenty-six
of these planes are states of joy or heavens,
four are suffering planes or hells, and one is the
human plane.*

Buddhists believe that there are dark states of
suffering and despair. A person who is heavily
burdened with guilt is reborn in hell and must
remain there until he has suffered for the
results of his evil deeds.

A person who has performed good actions can
be born as a human being, where he has the
opportunity to gain the knowledge leading to
deliverance. A person can also be reborn into
bright states of joy or heavens, where the good
man, who is not yet ripe for Enlightenment,
enjoys the fruits of his meritorious actions.
Rebirth can only be stopped when perfect
wisdom and moral purification, Nibbana, has
been attained. Otherwise a person has to
undergo the rounds of births and deaths in

A night is long to a sleepless man,
And a journey is long to a weary traveler;
The wandering in Samsara is long to a man
Who does not know the Sublime Truth.

[Dhammapada 60]

Unlike some religions that teach that heaven is
an eternal reward and hell is an eternal
punishment, Buddhism teaches that these
states are impermanent like all other
conditioned states. And a person who has done
wrong actions is not condemned to eternal
torture. It is a natural moral law that the
punishments and rewards are commensurate,
with the actions that cause them.

Even if a man were to be the worst possible
sinner all through his life, (which is after all
measured in earthly time) it would hardly be
justified condemning him to hell for all eternity
and it is not in human nature to be consistently
badin every person, no matter how evil, there
is some good in him.
Likewise, no ordinary man during his lifetime
could be so free from wrongdoing as todeserve
eternal bliss in heaven. He has to undergo
moral purification of mind and action by
undergoing repeated trial and development in
the world of sensedesires through repeated
births, until he is finally purified completely.
Buddhism shows that it is the individualwho
passes judgement on himself in the very act of
performing a deed. It is he who sends himself to
heavenor consigns himself to hell.
Not only are there heavens and hells beyond
this world, but' heavens and hells canbe found
in this very world itself. They are states we can
recognize around and within us. When a man is
suffering extreme pain or is darkened by hate
and anger, he is in hell. When he is happy with
religious joy or contemplation of something
pure and beautiful, he is in heaven. What are
heavens and hells, if not mere states of mind?
ls suicide a cure for suffering?
No one can escape the consequences of one's
evil deeds. It is stated in the Dhammapada: Not
in boundless space, not in the midst of the sea,
not in the depths of mountain chasms can a
person find a spot to escape the consequences
of his evil deeds.

*See K. Sri Dhammananda, What Buddhists
Believe (BMS) p. 117
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