Spirituality is a concept relating to the spirit – the soul – in common parlance. Cerebration and looking within, contemplation on things sublime make man think beyond the worldly, towards the more important than mere bodily living in this mundane world. It begins with the realization that there is an otherworldly domain and existence somewhere above. This intense thinking leads man to a number of feelings, doubts and queries which do not have answers and then there are not many who know them. The few who answer are the Gnostics, the knowing ones, the sages and seers.
Spirituality is a quality of mind, and a way of thinking, specially given to a human being. Exercising this faculty, man tries to mull and find the relationship between a human being, himself, and the Supreme Being. This attribute of mind leads man to a quest, a search, with yearning to delve deep into the complexities of life and existence. Man is unique in creation in that he is bestowed with discrimination, judgment and capacity to choose between several courses of action. Spirituality surfaces in man when he intently wishes to know the purpose of human life. When he is befuddled and is intent on trying to understand the declarations and caveats of his elders, teachers, the wise and the knowing ones, he is led into spirituality.
The goal of spirituality is just one according to our Hindu tradition: the release from bondage, the freedom from the birth-death-cycle. Spirituality in Hinduism makes it clear that acquiring liberation, salvation, mukti is possible only when the jeevi, the living being merges with the universal spirit; when jeevatma loses itself in paramatma. How can one achieve this merger or unification? We are given a route map to travel towards that goal. The Vedas Upanishads and our eight and ten puranas subtly suggest the ways.
In fact voluntary poverty is almost a precondition to spirituality. We are reminded of Jesus telling his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Celibacy, uprightness, a sharp sense of morality, a rare degree of equipoise and equanimity mark the spiritual exemplars. The monks in the order of Si Ramakrishna Paramahamsa stand testimony to this. Adi Sankara taught us: arthamanartham, bhaavaye nityam – money is evil, only devotion is ever lasting.
We read so much, learn so much, earn so much, and spend so much but not many of us go anywhere near real spirituality. This attitude of mind is a culmination of hard, painstaking effort. It is truly God’s gift. Service, Simplicity, Rectitude and most importantly, Prayer, these are the means for deserving and obtaining this superb and splendid gift from the SUPREME BEING.
Duality is built into the nature of life and existence. When you come to think of it, there has always been a point and a counterpoint – the obverse and the reverse to a coin. If there is light there is shade also. Alongside good there has been evil all the time and then after life there is death. The Hindu belief has it that the entire creation is an ‘appearance’. Man, the crown of creation, is invested with power, skills, heart, mind, intellect, passions and whims. He is capable of performing deeds both good and evil. He is given a conscience and a sense of judgment too.
Faith is a matter of one’s personality and in a ‘free’ social, political scenario and environment, individual liberty has come to be the distinguishing mark of ‘modernity’. Things have come to such a pass where ‘deviant’ marriages are accorded sanction. ‘Jnaanis’, the knowing-ones tell us that man is the architect of his own fate. They also tell us that a man is a creature, a plaything in the hands of circumstances. The Hindu belief has it that Man is born with vasanas, acquired and inborn tendencies, and also gunas, qualities, Satwa, Rajas, and Tamo gunas. Is Man ruled by an unknown fate or by his own Free Will? No one knows the right answer. Is there evil? What is evil? Are there paap and punya? Are there Sin and Merit? Yes and No. There is no definite laboratory tested and proven answer. The discussion whether it is all Predestination or Freewill goes on and on. Life continues. An answer will not be found. People grow more and more rationalistic, secular, fundamentalist or dogmatic. Life does not stop. Nor do the debates ‘Is Religion essential?’ ‘Is there is God?’ There are people, millions of them, who deny the existence of God. But not all deny the adjectives Good and Bad. Labels, categories and details may vary but none can deny the existence of good and it’s opposite and that there are people wise and otherwise.
Sin and retribution, fear and faith, devotion and reckless living are all aspects of thinking. Our epics dealt with all these both directly and obliquely. The human being has infinite mercy and infinite understanding. If this were so, why should there be Hell at all? Why that everlasting perdition for some? Is Hell a figment of imagination? Can Man do anything and get away with it? No, some believe that there are wages of Sin. Those in the past with no benefits of industrialization, mechanization and the myriad benefits of technology, perhaps, thought of keeping man within a fold of some disciplining and thought up the concept of Heaven/Hell, an intriguing duality. All civilizations worth the name had some kind of belief in this eternal, omnipresent duality. Arsha dharma – call it Hinduism if you will –, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, the major religions believed that there are wages of Sin
Varying depths of depravity lead to sins of varying degrees of heinousness and thus call for different intensities of retribution. Abstaining from sin would be possible by the sense of righteousness, which is another name for the moral sense given by faith in the Supreme Being. The righteous one practices restraint in word, deed and action. For those who have no faith either in god or righteousness, at least there should be fear of retribution to act as a deterrent. Organized religion is a mighty construct. mostly drawn from high intellect and intuitive inferences. These gave rise to scriptures, epics and several other genres of edifying literature.
Good is older than the hills and evil came into being only much later. This is what both Hinduism and Christianity make us believe. Satyayug is the aeon of pristine virtue. In the Hindu perspective, sin is punishable by being thrown into hell for the jiva to suffer torment. Mahabhagavat the scripture by Vyasabhagavan has been translated into many bhashas and of course into English too. Of the eleven hundred pages only four or five have been devoted to the description of the twenty-eight hells
Faith came into being with Man thinking deeply of matters relating to Birth and the inevitable end, Death. The immediate insight was that everyone born should die one day. Death has always been defying human understanding and it shall remain an enigma forever. This led to the belief that there must be something which is beyond surmise, which would perhaps be understood intuitively with some kind of deep and committed envisioning. When Good and Bad (never ‘scientifically’ defined’ categories) are posited, primarily the sense of right and wrong - through a specific sense we call religious sense – the Divine Supreme is posited. With that Good and Bad came to be understood in depth leading to the insight that in after-life, that is life after death, the being which has had a span of life would be assessed by his/her deeds. We the ordinary people think these are just relative terms but the seers knew intuitively they were not and left judgement to the Supreme Being.
Great sages and seers, ‘drashtas’, as they are called in our Devabhasha, wrote out long and inspired visionary experiences to reveal to us what they envisioned in an inspired effort to illumine what is dark in the likes of us. They invariably believed in a Supreme Being and showed time and again in their envisioned narratives what should be viewed as Good and what its dangerous opposite is.
Theism is a dynamics of thinking which believes in these intriguing concepts, intriguing because of lack of basic understanding. Belief and Faith are aspects of Theism. This cannot be served on a platter and this is where the concept of intimate one to one relationship with God through a mental state and contributory way of thinking called BHAKTI emerged. When bad is done, wrong is committed, it must be brought to book. It must be punished. This belief acts as a deterrent to bad deeds. While asking people to cultivate belief and have faith in God, the sages and seers went further to explain the consequences of bad deeds, also called evil-doings. This is what we now call a two-pronged approach to instill Faith. While detailing the fruits of right action and good deeds they also told us with deep concern how evil would be ‘punished’. In our languages we have ‘punya’ and ‘paapa’. The western world has near equivalents like “merit’ and ‘sin’.
While the conceptualization of hell is towards the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of Renaissance in the occident, the oriental visualization ages ago (reflected in Bhagavatham) appears to be more electrifying. It is inclined to more severe punishment for wrong doings. Shukamuni’s Tale Divine in Seven Days to Parikshit, whose days were strictly numbered, would act as a more powerful deterrent to evil doing.
We have descriptions of twenty-one frightful hells taamisra (thick darkness) andha taamisra (blinding darkness), raurava (frightful and loathsome), and mahaaraaurava (extremely frightful, loathsome), kumbhipaaka (potter’s kiln) and several others. In taamisra, those sinners who make fun of or ridicule others’ wives and children would be thrown into the pitch darkness. Andha taamisra would be the lot of those sinners who take a woman who already has a man of her own. Rauravas are those places where those who cheat others or be traitors for the sake of maintaining families. Mahaaraurava is the place where people who want to be on their own without paying heed to the suffering and travails of birds, beasts and other beings. Those who kill rats and creatures by ensnaring them would be thrown into the hell where they would be baked in potters’ kilns. The one who is treacherous to his parents or the pious brahmins would be thrown into the most dreadful hell called Kaalasootra. Here there would be sun overhead and flames underneath. The one who leaves the path of righteousness and the Veda would be punished with sword blades on both sides making any movement impossible. This is called asipattra forests. Kaalasootra naraka is the place for those who punish the not punishable. The servitors of Yama inflict these punishments. They break the sinners as simple sugar canes while they howl miserably. For teasing and joyously inflicting pain on animals and birds, the sinner would be thrown into andhakoopa where he would be treated as he treated the unfortunate. He who enjoys all his wealth eating and spending only for himself without sharing it with the needy, his kith and kin would be thrown into this. There is another severe punishment in the hell where a sinner is made to eat worms. This is called krimi bhojan narak. In Sandasa hell, those who commit theft of the property of the righteous are pierced with spears heated in heated orbs. For the madly lustful the narak is designed in such a way that the couple would stand intertwined, burnt endlessly and made to embrace melting hot statues of iron. For those who have intercourse with animals, the punishment is the most severe. Those sinners are pounded with trees with thorns sharp as diamond points. This hell is called vajra kantaka shalmali, Vytaraninaraka is for the lawless and who turn pashandas not following the Veda. Here crocodiles would chew the souls of sinners while they are made to list his sins. Here the sinner would have to be under blood, marrow, semen and the excreta eating and drinking them in that horrible and loathsome heat. The one and such as those who trains dogs and the like and then by killing makes a living in pride would be punished there. There are others hells in this category called, praanarodham where life-breath is intermittently stopped as punishment. Vishasanamu, laalaabhakshanamu, saarameyaadanamu, naveechirayambu are other hells where unthinkable and unimaginable punishments are meted out. Retah paanaamu is the most detestable hell where sinners are made to drink semen for making their wives do that in lasciviousness.
Besides these there are seven more for corrupt practices like bribe-taking, bearing false witness, violating the modesty of one performs a fire ritual, harassing animals for fun, glaring at a guest with angry looks, miserliness and so on. There are seven such and their names themselves are bloodcurdling: kshaarakardama, rakshogana bhojana, shoolasootra, dandashooka, navata nirodhana, saparya vartana and shoochee mukha.Those interested to know further can go to the second aashwaasa of the fifth skandha in Sree Mahaa Bhaagavatham in Telugu.
The Buddhist conceptualization of hell closely follows the Hindu perspective. There are said to be eight hells, though some did say there were ten and even more upto a thousand. Some Buddhists seem to have revealed at a later stage that the tortures and hells are figments of imagination, mainly of the sinners themselves. Khenpo Konthar, the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharma Chakra, had said, “From the Buddhist perspective, such a thing as hell does not exist.”
Though this is reassuring, Kshtigarbha Bodhisattva described hells extensively. Earlier there was a mention of the description of eight hells.
The first is the Hell of Repetition where murderers are sent. Those who kill for fun and pleasure inhabit this place. The second is the Black Rope Hell for those who kill someone while committing some other crime. It is important to note that in the group of killers each has to suffer though it is a sin committed by a group. In this hell big black birds would be plucking out the eyes, pulling out the tongues and pulling out the innards of the sinners. The tormented here are forced to drink molten copper would be stabbed again and again. Crowded Hell is for those who kill and steal and for those who are concupiscent libertines. Satyrs and nymphomaniacs suffer here for their transgressions. Fire Jar Hell is for those with sexual perversions and sins associated with sexual abuse. The organs of such are singed here. Those who indulge in sexual fantasies with others’ women will have their eyes scorched here. Those who are attached to the voices and laughter of others’ women will have their ears burnt here. The fifth is the Screaming Hell where there is a section called Great Screaming Hell too. Those who abuse intoxicants are thrown into this. The great one is for those who make use of voice and make sound to sow dissension. For those who cause divisions and cause disharmony there is a special torment. Snakes and vipers would be gnawing at them continuously. People who hold false views are tormented in hell of burning heat. False views include the negating of the karmic law and God. Diamond Beak Hornet Hell causes extreme pain to the sinner for he is made to drink the spurting blood after the beaks sting them. The seventh hell would be the lot of those who defile religion. This hell is called the Burning Hell of Stinging Worms. The worms thrust by force into their anus would travel up eating everything on the way to emerge out of the scalp. Hell of No Interval is the eighth where five types of premeditated killers of father, mother, holy man, the sangha and Bodhisattva.
Lotus Sutra 3, Sutta - Nipata and Kshitigarbha Sutra besides the teachings of Gelgupa monk Tenzin Sherab and Trijang Rinpoche contain references and description of hells.
Most important of these is the naming of the hells by Earth Store Bodhisattava, also known as Manjushri and Khsitigarbaha Bodhisattva. In a reply to Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, mahasattva, Manjushri replied that there is the Hell of Ultimately Relentless and another hell called Avichi, un-spaced, with no interval. Along with these he listed forty-four various other hells. He concluded saying: “Each of these hells contains lesser hells numbering from one, two, or three, or four, to hundreds of thousands. Each of these lesser hells has its own name.” The Bodhisattva tells the queen Maha Maya, “To quote the names of hells, the types of punishment and instruments used would take a period of one kalpa (aeon).”
( Buddhism Inputs: Courtesy Internet sources, khandro.net and siddham)
Things other worldly are to be thought of, contemplated upon and put in practice for the elevation of the soul.