Tuesday, October 16, 2007


"L'enfer," wrote Jean Paul Sartre in his play, Huis clos ("No Exit"), "c'est les autres." Hell is other people. Mind you, he carefully crafted his characters to prove the point. And then there's the famous "War is hell" quotation from General William Tecumseh Sherman--though if you read the full text of the impassioned letter in which he expands upon this thought, you'll see how inadequate its famous abbreviation sounds. In any event, war--like Sartre's, like every other imaginable hell--is man-made.

My thoughts of hell, this morning, are inspired by watching only a few minutes (sadly, I would have liked to watch more, but my weary head dictated otherwise) of a program about hell on the History Channel. I had surfed there somewhat idly on my way to sleep, and was grabbed by the (man-made) images and words that have defined humanity's view of hell throughout the ages. It seems that most religions preach some form of hell, where the wicked are punished for their evil deeds in an afterlife. Regrettably, Budhhism is no exception. I checked with Access to Insight on the subject, and came upon these faintly risible verses--in translation by none other than Than Geoff. Here's one I thought should be heeded by those generals in Burma:

An ochre robe tied 'round their necks,
many with evil qualities
— unrestrained, evil —
rearise, because of their evil acts,
in hell.

Better to eat an iron ball
— glowing, aflame —
than that, unprincipled &
you should eat the alms of the country.

It does seems strange to me that those who preach the gospel of a loving God should envision one so cruel and vengeful in the afterlife. There had to be some way, of course, to control the behavior of naturally wayward human beings, and the threat of damnation to an eternity of torture seems like an effective way to maintain the upper hand.

The Evangelical Christians, it seems, have an interesting twist on the Sartrian concept: for them, "Hell is for other people"--i.e., not for me. Unconverted Jews join Muslims, Hindus, atheists--and, presumably, Buddhists--in the fires of hell. They, the Christians, get raptured away to heaven. Although they might want to take note of another of Than Geoff's translations:

Ashamed of what's not shameful,
not ashamed of what is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

Seeing danger where there is none,
& no danger where there is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

Imagining error where there is none,
and seeing no error where there is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

But knowing error as error,
and non-error as non-error,
beings adopting right views
go to a good

I'm all for heading for the "right destination", of course. But I believe in neither heaven nor hell. Except, of course, those made by man. How about you?


robin andrea said...

No heaven, no hell in my future. Well, really, no future either.

thailandchani said...

I believe they are states of mind... both heaven and hell. We can be living them in chunks or even simultaneously at times.

The standard concept of hell such as the ones depicted on that History Channel show are really just methods of social control. I have a hard time believing there is a physical place of either torment or eternal bliss.



Paul said...

A difference between Christian Buddhist concepts of hell is duration. Christian hell is eternal, Buddhist hell (at least one's existence in it) is limited.

Buddhist cosmology aside, I agree that hell is man-made for other people. More to the point: Hell is where people we don't like must go. How uncomfortable it would be to sit at the Banquet Beyond with all those irritable and loathsome folks who litter our lives.

What this means, of course, is we're all brimstone bound.

David said...

I remember a old Twilight Zone episode where this guy dies and goes to hell, which for him is having to sit for eternity in the livingroom of an elderly couple watching slides of their vacation in Hawaii. They were in heaven.

carly said...

David's entry fits No Exit. I saw an excellent production of No Exit about six months ago. It's the blackest existential idea of people making each other's lives utterly miserable. People deal with that according to their uncontrollable needs and desires.

Gee, I wonder if people who like being alone much of the time, are the least existential of all?

There are no good nor bad destinations. What matters is good or bad life. Heaven and hell are merely for rules of behavior.

When all is said and done, people just die. They don't go where a church or dogma says they do. I've watched good and bad people die, and they all pass in the same way, a way that seems to reveal that they go to the same place, back into the unknown entity of oneness and everythingness, just as water evaporates invisibly into air, where heaven and hell no longer matter.

And since a man's spirit is his connection to all this, it is of no concern what the unknown holds. Each man, good or bad, whether resigned or fearful, will, once his last breath lapses, greet the unknown in the same way.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I don't believe in a final destination, only in a continuous state of flux.

To have only one chance to get it right would doom all of us to the fires of Hell, if such existed.

In an orderly universe such as we likely inhabit, we return, over and over, slowly perfecting ourselves as we experience all there is over countless lifetimes.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.