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Hell for non-Buddhists?

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  • Hell for non-Buddhists?

    Dear Ajahn,

    As I was reading the suttas, in this case the Mahasihanada Sutta (MN112), there is one minor recurring passage that grabbed my attention because it seemed so alien and un-Buddhist to me. This is Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation:

    "Sâriputta, when I know and see thus, should anyone say of me: 'The recluse Gotama does not have any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. The recluse Gotama teaches a Dhamma [merely] hammered out by reasoning, following his own line of inquiry as it occurs to him' - unless he abandons that assertion and that state of mind and relinquishes that view, then as [surely as if he had been] carried off and put there, he will wind up in hell."

    And this is repeated several times throughout the sutta in varying contexts. Now, I'm relatively familiar with the Majjhima Nikaya, so I have encountered this passage before, but when I read this sutta recently, I had to put the book down because it filled my mind with too many doubts. I'm sure the Buddha had his reasons for saying something like this, and maybe I'm just interpreting it the wrong way, but I can't help but feel reminded of the false dichotomy that lies at the heart of various other religions: "Either you accept our god and you're safe, or you reject him and you suffer (eternal damnation, where applicable)."

    This idea of non-Buddhists being morally corrupt does not seem to fit in with my interpretation of the Buddha's words. What would your take on this passage be?

    With metta,
    Dennis

  • #2
    Dear Dennis,

    I don't think the point of this passage is that one will go to hell simply because one has doubts about the Buddha. I think the point, rather, is that Sunakkhatta, the protagonist in this sutta, had been declaring these things about the Buddha in front of an assembly of people. In other words, he was deliberately trying to sow doubt about the Buddha's understanding. From other suttas it is clear that Sunakkhatta thought that psychic powers was what the spiritual life was all about, and because the Buddha had not shown him any psychic powers he rejected the Buddha and disrobed. Sunakkhatta was not able to grasp that the ending of suffering was a worthwhile goal! I think the severity of the kammic consequences may be due to the fact that the Dhamma has the potential to help people enormously, yet Sunakkhatta was causing people to turn away from this potential.

    With metta.

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