Friday, February 19, 2010

Chinese Hell


"There is no end to suffering in here; stop sinning before it's is too late," reads an inscription, appropriate for Lent, at one of Singapore's more interesting tourist destinations — The Bloody Ten Courts of Hell. (Click on the link for a foreshadowing of what awaits those who fail to heed the inscription's warning.) The courts are the main attraction at the Haw Par Villa, built by the brothers who gave the world Tiger Balm. (Had only the makers of Mentholatum done something similar for my hometown!)

The near universality of belief in Hell is interesting to contemplate in light of what both Natural Theology and Perennial Philosophy teach, especially since many moderns wrongly label the idea as a relic of the "judgmental" (uncool) religious traditions of the West absent in the "non-judgmental" (cool) East.

Self-described "crypto-perennialist" Arturo Vasquez recently reminded us that "it is profitable to study other forms of religiosity and cultures, since... in them are embodied foreshadowing echoes of the Word of God" — On the inherent superiority of Western culture. He continues, "They also teach us concepts that we, in our sanitized, modern mentality, once understood but some time ago forgot."

So, the Chinese (and just about everyone else) were aware from time immemorial of the reality of eternal punishment, and in 1937 two Chinese-Singaporean brothers used their wealth to create not only "a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values" where grandmas could take their grandkids and scare them into behaving properly, but also, unwittingly, a place where souls might be offered "foreshadowing echoes of the Word of God" and His call to repentance.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous David said...

Not too many modern western Buddhists take hell literally; a good portion do not even believe in the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth. This is especially true among Zen Buddhists, and those who follow the very stripped down Vipassana tradition as promoted by such teachers as Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. Such things are often labeled as "cultural accretions" that are not essential to Buddhist teaching, or are simply metaphors for states of mind.

Back in my Zen days, I remember stumbling upon some journals from "The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas," a very large Chinese Buddhist temple complex in California and being shocked at how strict and conservative it was in its moral teachings. The journals all had a morality tale among the various articles; one that I still remember told about a man who killed ants by pouring boiling water on their nests. After death, he was reborn in hell and punished with boiling water.

It is noteworthy, however, that Buddhist hell is not a permanent state, even if it lasts for aeons, ones evil karma is eventually expiated and one takes birth in a more favorable realm. Buddhism also offers a variety of means to work off bad karma in this life and attain a more favorable birth in the next, such as in Amitabha Buddha's Pure Land, where ones attainment of enlightenment is assured.

9:40 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Sounds like Purgatory. I guess in Buddhism, if nothing's permanent, Hell wouldn't be either.

About Western Buddhism and the real deal, a humorous old post of mine look at a video (no longer up) with some surprises: Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, and Sex.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you have been to Singapore recently?

Jeong Ham

11:56 AM  

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.