Heaven and Hell

Paradiso Canto 31 by Gustav Dore
Paradiso Canto 31 by Gustav Dore

A – Z Challenge – Day 8

Right Here, Right Now

The typical Christian notion of hell as a place where the sinners, hellions, and hypocrites among us go after they die, in order to roast in a burning fire pit forevermore, is humorous to me.

As if.

As if we need to travel that far to find hell.

Turn on the T.V. if you want to visit hell. Go to a prison. Walk through the South side of Chicago. Visit Calcutta or Hiroshima or the shanty towns outside Johannesburg. Look into the eyes of a child growing up around violence. Look into the face of a child who is hungry or homeless or cold.

Go to the V. A. Hospital or talk to a veteran about his war experience.

If you had any doubt beforehand, you won’t after talking to someone who is suicidal and afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Hell is right here, right now.


As a Buddhist, I believe hell is a life condition or life state.

Why is this distinction important?

Hellish people attract other people in a state of hell. Like attracts like. So, the deeper your suffering — and your focus on that suffering — the more likely it is that you will find yourself absolutely surrounded by whiners and complainers, depressives and drags.

“When you complain, you become a giant, living, breathing crap magnet.” ~ Vishen Lakhiani

Hell exists. I see it as a brutal, gut-wrenching guru. It instructs me to master my mind, rather than let my mind master me. It cautions me to be careful what I believe. Whatever the hell I am thinking is true, is not necessarily so. The life condition of hell wants me to grow. It longs for me to become a better human being.

Put simply, hell is a reflection of our hellish inner life. When we change that inner state, we can easily walk straight out of it.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Not that it is easy to make that sort of transformation. Especially in a world that loves fear and anger and negativity and strife as much as this one does.

Heaven. I’m in Heaven.

There’s a Buddhist parable that discusses the difference between mere mortals and Buddhas. When a mortal sees the Ganges river, he or she might simply see a dirty, polluted river.  However, when a Buddha sees the Ganges — where pilgrims wash and babies are baptized and ashes are sent to heaven — he sees ‘amrita’ or the water of the gods.

Same river.

When We Change, The World Changes

The lens through which we watch the world, colors and tempers the world we see. So as we raise our life condition through Buddhist practice, we gradually see the world as a lighter, brighter, more hospitable place. The world we’re viewing is essentially the same. What is different is us.

We live in the Buddha land. We can transform our surroundings simply by uncovering and revering the part of us that is divine and pure and beautiful. We all possess it.

Even monsters and maniacs, dictators and devils. We may have to bring in a backhoe to dig it up, but it is there.

So, when I see someone in a condition of deep suffering, I feel compassion and hope.

I hope that my encouragement can reach through their despair and help anchor them to the light they’ve hidden, even from themselves.

Lots of people are hiking the halls of hell these days, but I believe in their inherent ability to find their way home.

Keeping a Light On

So, I am keeping a light on for them, realizing they will emerge from that black forest when they are ready. I look forward to hearing the stories they’ll undoubtedly need to tell.

© 2014  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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