Heaven & Hell in Buddhism

by James Stuart
In Buddhism, the concepts of Heaven and Hell reflect the teaching that all things are impermanent.

In Buddhism, the concepts of Heaven and Hell reflect the teaching that all things are impermanent.

The Buddhist conceptions of Heaven and Hell are different from those of other religions. Rather then eternal reward or punishment for an individual's life on earth, Buddhist Heaven and Hell are temporary places where individuals are reborn according to the lives they lived on earth. Once they have spent a certain amount of time in one of these two places, the individual is again reborn.

Thirty One Planes of Existence

Buddhists believe that when people die and are reborn, they do not do so merely in this world, but in 31 distinct planes of existence. The concepts of Heaven and Hell correspond to several of these planes and rebirth in one is determined by the karma acquired during an individual's life. Good karma reflects positive actions, while bad karma accumulates when a person acts selfishly or hurts others. If a person accumulates a sufficient amount of good karma during his life, he will be reborn into Heaven. Although, if he has sinned, he is reborn in Hell. Although time in Heaven and Hell may last millions of years relative to time passed on earth, it is still temporary and comes to an end.

Heaven

Heaven is a plane of existence where individuals enjoy physical and sense pleasures as a reward for living a righteous life that exhibits Buddhist ethics. Although human beings still have a body, their physical form is more subtle and sensitive than their body on earth. Some Buddhist teachings suggest that individuals may exhibit supernatural powers in this plane. This plane of existence is also called Deva in Buddhism and a lifespan is much longer than it would be on earth. Similarly, there is another plane of existence above Deva called Brahma where humans transcend all physical and material sensations.

Hell

In Buddhism, Hell corresponds to several planes of existence below the one we are now living in. Depending on the type of negative karma a person accumulates in his lifetime, he may be consigned to a different one of these planes. In Buddhism, Hell is not permanent, because it is unfair to punish somebody eternally for mistakes one makes in this world. Instead, individuals learn a righteous path through suffering so that when they die, they will be reborn into a higher plane.

Other Interpretations

Many Buddhists do not subscribe to the the traditional notions of Heaven and Hell and choose to interpret Buddhist teachings differently. For many Buddhists, Heaven is simply a state of pleasure and Hell, a state of pain. According to this view, Hell and Heaven exist on earth and we should strive to live our lives in a state of peace and order where we can know Heaven. Conversely, if we become upset or live in pain, then we are experiencing Hell.

About the Author

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images