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The Buddhist View of Hell and the Ten Worlds

Updated on October 20, 2011

I expect that many of us brought up in a Christian tradition generally think of hell as that nasty hot place somewhere beneath the ground where we will go if we are naughty. I'm sure in the Middle Ages that this would have been an acceptable idea, but given our increasing knowledge, this is no longer a viable view of Hell.

So what or where is Hell ?

13 Century Buddhist, Nichiren Daishonin, whose followers now form a lay Buddhist organisation, Soka Gakkai International, commented on hell as follows:

"First of all, as to the question of where exactly hell and the Buddha exist, one sutra states that hell exists underground, and another sutra says that the Buddha is in the west. Closer examination, however, reveals that both exist in our five-foot body."

So Nichiren is saying that Hell is not a place at all, but is a state of mind and body which we all have the capacity to manifest, and as I'm sure someone who has suffered with severe depression would tell us, this Hell is very real and affects our everyday life.

Nichiren in fact tells us that there are 10 key states of life which we flit between from day to day or event moment to moment.

In the space of an hour we can go from feeling bad as we wake up tired having not slept well, happy when a cheque arrives in the post but bad again when we step outside to go to work in the car only to find it won't start and we have to walk in the rain, and happy again when our neighbour offers us a lift.

That is just one very simple example and I'm sure we, individually, can think of many more.

It is important to note that in the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, all states of life have a positive and negative aspect, even Hell. Though it is inevitably very difficult to see this at the time, the state of Hell gives us an insight into the suffering of others and causes us to have more empathy with them.

So that is just one of the Ten Worlds which are all a potential within us. So what are the remaining nine?

they are:

  • Hunger: A state of desire which when achieved is usually replaced with yet another desire leading to unfulfillment .. The positive of this state is that we all have desires .. without the desire for food or sex for instance, the human race would dissapear.
  • Animality: This is where we act from a selfish viewpoint with no thought as to the consequences of the outcome (an example could be cheating with a friends' partner and destroying a life long friendship for a few moments of pleasure).
  • Anger: This is fairly self explanatory as we all know what anger can do, however anger against injustice or poverty etc can cause us to take action to rectify the situation so therefore has a positive aspect.
  • Tranquility: This is a state that I suspect a lot of people would love to acheive and there's no denying that contentment is a nice thing. However this can often result is our lack of drive to do or try new things and just end up 'ticking along' until we die without having acheived our full potential.
  • Rapture: This is a state of overwhelming joy ... for example, a big lottery win would have this effect most probably, however of course, this state is by its nature, temporary and unsustainable. This state is sometimes also referred to as 'Heaven' (Once again confirming that Heaven is not a place, anymore than Hell is).
  • Learning: This is sometimes referred to as one of the 'four noble paths' as, unlike the previous ones, we have to make a conscious effort to attain them, rather than just being a victim of circumstance. A person in this state has a thirst for knowledge, often looking for a deeper meaning to life. The negative side of this is someone who, through knowledge, uses it to feel superior to those around them.
  • Absorption: This is similar to the above but involves putting into action the learning process. This may be something as simple as someone who watches a dance video putting the moves into practise or it could be something more significant. However, as we have seen, putting knowledge into action is may not have the positive consequence we hoped for. An example of this would be the development of the Nuclear Bomb.
  • Bodhisattva: This is the state where we devote ourselves to the care and well being of others. This of course is a very noble thing and may seem to be entirely positive. However, there have been many cases where people have done this but entirely neglected their own life, often feeling bitter and resentful in later life.

and finally and most importantly

  • Buddhahood:This is the state of enlightenment. To many this may indicate a state of peace and escapism from outside problems. However, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin teaches that this is a life state that we all have within us and is a life state based on Wisdom, Courage and Compassion and is wholly positive. He teaches us that we can reach this state by chanting 'Nam Myoho Renge Kyo'.

As mentioned before of course, we don't stay in one state for long and flit between them moment by moment, however Nichiren taught that all the other nine worlds are contained within Buddhahood, by which he means that we can use all of these states to reveal our most positive aspects, both for our own benefit and that of others.


Romancing the Buddha: Embracing Buddhism in My Everyday Life
Romancing the Buddha: Embracing Buddhism in My Everyday Life

A personal and sometimes humorous look at one mans experience of this buddhist practise

Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth & Death: . . . And Everything in Between, A Buddhist View Life
Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth & Death: . . . And Everything in Between, A Buddhist View Life

An excellent book answering many questions by President of the Soka Gakkai, Daisaku Ikeda

The Reluctant Buddhist
The Reluctant Buddhist

A personal journey of their path to Buddhism by British TV presenter William Wollard



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    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      Nice and interesting article you actually shared in here.

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 6 years ago

      Voted this up and as useful, I liked the writing style, as it is easy to read and good at explaining the subject.