Against Using Hell to Keep Spiritual Practitioners In Line

I'm a Shambhala refugee. This doesn't mean, as a Buddhist practitioner might suggest, that I "go for refuge" in Shambhala. No, I've fled the kingdom to seek refuge in another place.

So it was quite an eye-opener to read this very long, but well-thought-out article on how various Buddhist teachers use the threat of hell to keep people in line. It reminded me that, as one who also fled Christianity in my youth, there is a common theme here. The clergy preaches one thing, and practices quite another.

If belief in hell were so powerful a deterrent, regardless of whether it "just exists," as many Tibetan teachers proclaim, or whether God created it as a place to punsish the wicked, why do so many prominent teachers, priests, and so on all commit acts of violence on their congregants, students, and so on? How does this belief actually help?

For now, I continue to practice, and will hold any judgment about such existential questions as to whether there is a hell realm, the truth of reincarnation, etc., until I have actually had a verifiable experience of remembering past lives. This is, I suppose, as good a reason to keep practicing, as any.

Ethics, as we Unitarian Universalists like to say, stands on its own. You don't need the threat of hell or the promise of heaven to know the value of being a just, kind person. There's plenty of evidence that it's also good for you to be good in this lifetime. That should be enough.

And if you believe in the law of karma, that works, too! However, it's not strictly necessary. Thankfully, the two aren't in conflict whatsoever.


Tags: humanity