“Hell” Realms: No Exit from Suffering


Before getting back to the issue of physical pain, I want to talk a bit more about suffering, from a traditional mindfulness mythology, namely that of Buddhism.  According to certain Buddhist teachings, every day we go to Hell, as well as 5 other psychological “realms” that include Heaven as well as others.

Regardless of whether you believe in a literal, metaphysical Hell, this notion of a daily visit through “Hell realms” may resonate or be useful for you in some way.  In this kind of thinking, we are viewing Buddhism as a kind of psychology, a map of the human experience.

What is a so-called Hell Realm?

It is the experience of no-exit from suffering, endless torture.

On some days, we may experience Hell in a very mild way.  For example, it may feel like endless torture to be kept on-hold on a customer service call.  We may experience painful thoughts of self-doubt that seem like they will never end; even if they are present only mildly, that can seem a bit Hellish.

On other days, we may enter a more obviously Hellish psychological space.  Feeling “totally stuck” and mired in anger, depression, or anxiety would be examples.  Anyone who has felt utterly hopeless at some times can understand how that experience can be like Hell on Earth.

In Buddhist teaching, any “realm,” that is, any psychological state, can be an excellent place in which to practice mindfulness.  Buddhism teaches that all psychological states will eventually pass, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant.  Our Western equivalent is the simple adage that “This Too Shall Pass.”  Our wonderful book of Ecclesiastes, if I recall correctly, captures this notion in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Since all psychological states pass in time, there is no need to push any of them away, nor to cling to any of them. In fact, this pushing-away and clinging is EXACTLY how we cause unnecessary suffering in our lives.

In Western psychology, we now have a notion of Acceptance, or Willingness, that is very similar.  Openness-to-Experience would be another way to talk about this attitude.  If we are willing to be in Hell, even Hell can be a workable place, even Hell can be a place where we can learn things.  If we are willing to suffer, even terribly, for what we believe, life can flow again, and the state of torture will pass in time, ON ITS OWN SCHEDULE, not on ours.

Are you willing to go to Hell?  Anyway, it can’t be avoided, so could we learn something by practicing mindfulness while we are there?

I say, “Hell Yes!!”




Filed under Pain and Suffering

3 responses to ““Hell” Realms: No Exit from Suffering

  1. Pingback: Transforming Rage into Vigor | Portland Mindfulness® Therapy

  2. Anonymous

    It sounds like a double-bind scenario.
    No matter what you do—it’s wrong, and you’re going to be punished.

    • I’m so sorry it’s taken me 2.5 years to reply to this comment! The blog has moved to portlandmindful – dot – com, so I’ve not been monitoring this old blog… catching up on responding to comments! 🙂 In response, yes, there are “double-binds” in our Human life — the “good news” of Buddhism and similar approaches is that these seeming double-binds are TOTALLY ILLUSORY and the products of our own cognitive mechanisms, our own minds. So there is really no Hell, no double-bind, but it takes many hours of mindfulness practice (usually) to glimpse this aspect or reality.

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