Monday, April 18, 2011

Hell as a temporary measure

Christian evangelicals – especially American ones – are known for their rigid adherence to the literal truth of the scriptures, but now we have one of them, Rob Bell, questioning the existence of hell as a place of eternal damnation. His views have stirred controversy, but in the Buddhist community, radical interpretations of hell have been around for some time. Eyebrows are raised at some of the more extreme views, but generally western (rather than ethnic) Buddhists tend to be even-handed in their approach to controversial issues.

The historical Buddha, Gautama Shakyamuni, was born into ancient Indian culture 2,600 years ago. Based on the principle of perpetual reincarnation, hell is a stopping point where souls burn off evil before proceeding to the next life.

In this respect, the Buddha's ideas about hell realms are similar to Bell's, in that they are not regarded as permanent – although time scales are vast, as human consciousness migrates through the after-death experience. They are recorded in lurid detail in the earliest Buddhist scriptures, the Pali Canon....

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