One of the problems faced the people of today as well as the people of the ancient time is the problem of a world beyond, or strictly speaking, the problem of heaven and hell.
It may be questioned: is there a world beyond? Are there heavens and hells? Regarding this problem, the Buddha replied to a brahman of Sâla village in Kosala kingdom as:
Because there is a world beyond, the view of anyone that there is not a world beyond is a false view of his. As there is indeed a world beyond, it is a false conception of his …… . As there is indeed a world beyond, if anyone says that there is not a world beyond, he makes mock of those perfected ones who are knowers of a world beyond.”
One who convinces others that there is not a world beyond, violates the true Dhamma, and exalts himself while disparaging others. “Indeed, before his good morality is got rid of, bad morality is set up. And this false view, false conception, false speech, the mocking of the ariyans, the convincing which is against true Dhamma, the exalting of oneself, the disparaging of others- - these are a variety of evil, unskilled states that arise thus because of false view.” One who has such a conception will bring the world to peril, since that conception will make him selfish and do everything as he likes. He will have an idea that after death he will not be born again, and thus seeks for the happiness regardless the misery and trouble of the others. According to Buddhism, there will be defeat in two ways for such an unworthy individual: 1) such a person will be condemned here and now by intelligent persons; and 2) after death he will arise in a sorrowful way (Apâya), a bad bourn (Vinipâta), the downfall (Dugati), and hells (Niraya).
In Buddhism, there are many regions of rebirth, or ways of life, the so-called “Gati”. In general, they are given as six, and are enumerated in the order of their superiority: The Gods (Deva), Titans (Asura), Man (Nara), Beasts (Tiracchâna), Tantalized Ghosts (Preta), and Hell (Niraya.) However, in Mahâsîhanâdasutta of the Majjima-Nikâya, the only five Gati (Region of Rebirth) is given. In that Sutta, the Titans are not separately represented.
Of these six Gati, the first three worlds are considered superior or good, and the last three inferior or bad. Heaven, the realm of gods, is the highest. Hell is the lowest. And of these six Gati, the highest and the lowest ones are the most interesting, since the conception of heaven and hell prevails in every religion including Buddhism.
Are there real heavens and hells? This Question is very difficult to answer, since we cannot see them. However, it is not wise to refuse to acknowledge all that we cannot see or experience. There are many things which are beyond ability to see and experience.
“Heavens” and “hells” are found in many Suttas of the Tripitaka. But these Suttas show us not only the heavens and hells of the world beyond, but also the heavens and hells at present, in ourselves, and in this world. As the Buddha said:
“Brethren, I have seen the hell so called, belonging to the sixfold sense-sphere. Therein whatever object one sees with the eye, one sees it as uninviting, not as inviting. One sees it as repulsive, not as charming. One sees it as ugly, not lovely. Whatever sound one hears with the ear….. Whatever scent one smells with the nose… . Whatever savour one tastes with tongue…. . Whatever tangible one contacts with the body… . Whatever mind-state one cognizes with the mind. He cognizes it as uninviting, not as inviting, as repulsive, not charming, as ugly, not lovely… .
“Brethren, I have seen the heavens so called of the sixfold sense-sphere. Therein whatsoever object one sees with the eye, one sees it as inviting, not as uninviting. One sees it as charming, not as repulsive, as lovely, not ugly. Whatever sound… . Whatever savour… . Whatever tangible… . Whatever mind-state one cognizes with the mind, he cognizes it as inviting, not uninviting.”
According to this Sutta, the heavens and hells are in ourselves. Our life may be both heaven and hell. This world is the world of both heaven and hell. “Heaven” is utter bliss, “hell” is misery. Hence, the world of men is a mixture of both heaven and hell. We are very lucky to be born as men, for thus we can enter the Path that sets us free.
As long as one does not cut off or at least reduce one’s ignorance, desire, and grasping, one must wander in this Samsâra, sometimes going to heaven, sometimes going to hell.
The fire of hell in this world is hotter than that of the hell of the world beyond, for the Buddha said: “There is no fire equal to lust (Râga).” And in Âdittapariyâyasutta, the Buddha said to the ascetics of Uruvelâ headed by Uruvela-Kassapa as:
“Monks, everything is burning… . The eyes, monds, is burning, material shapes are burning, consciousness through the eye is burning… . I say it is burning with the fire of passion, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of stupidity; it is burning because of birth, aging, dying, because of grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair. The ear… the nose … the tongue… the body… the mind is burning… lamentation and despair.”
In addition to this Sutta, the Buddha said to the monks:
“Monks, there is Hell called “The Great Distress”. Therein, whatsoever object one sees with the eyes, one sees it as repulsive, not attractive: as repellent, not as charming: one sees it as unpleasant, not as pleasant. (And so in the case of sound, smell, taste, tangible, and mental states.)
“There is indeed, monks, a distress greater and more fearsome. And what is that? Whatsoever recluses or brahmins understand not, as it really is, the meaning of: This is Ill (Dukkha), This is the ceasing of Ill (Dukkha-Nirodha), This is the practice that leads to the ceasing of Ill (Dukkha-Nirodha-Gâminî-Patipadâ).”
Moreover, the Buddha explained to Tâlaputta, the stage-manager, about the “heaven in the hell” as follows:
“In the case of those beings, manager, who aforetime were not free from lusts, but were bound with the bond of lust; who aforetime were not free from resentment, but were bound with the bond of resentment; who aforetime were not free from illusion, but were bound with the bond of illusion, --in such case, a player who on the stage or in the arena brings about lustful, resentful, or illusory states of mind, so that such beings become still more lustful, still more resentful, still more deluded, --being himself drugged and slothful, he drugs and makes others slothful,-- such a one, when body breaks up, after death is reborn in the Purgatory of Laughter (Pahâsa-Niraya).” Hence, it may be said the theaters, babareta, arena, and places like that, are the Pahâsa Hell.
Now we come to a consideration of the heavens and the hells of the world beyond.
According to the Mahâvagga of the Sanyutta-Nikâya, there are more and more living beings reborn in the hells, in the wombs of animals, and in the realm of Ghosts. Those reborn as men or Devas (gods), by contrast, are so few as to be comparable to the amount of dust picked up by the finger-nail, relative to the whole earth.
The problem of the heaven, the hell, the preta, and the asura, is a very perplexing one in Buddhism, since we ourselves know nothing about what they really are. One who really know these Gati is only the Sekha, the learner, who is at least a Sotâpanna, or one who reaches the stream of Nibbâna. Nonethelese, these Gati (regions of rebirth) should be considered as stated in the Buddhist text as much and carefully as possible.
 The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings, Vol.II, “Discourse on Sure”
(Apaóóakasutta), trans. by I.B.Horner, (London: Published for the Pali Text Society by the Luzac & Company, Ltd. 1957), P. 71.
 L.A. Waddell. The Buddhism of Tibet, (Lamaism, Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, Limited, 1959), p. 101.
 The Collection of the Middle Length Sayings, Vol. I, “Mahâsîhanâdasutta”, trans. by I.B. Horner, (London: Published for the Pali Text Society by the Luzac & Company, Ltd., 1954), P. 98.
 The Book of the kindred Sayings (Sanyutta-Nikâya), or Grouped Sutta, Part IV, “The Chapter of Devadaha”? trans. by F.L. Woodward, (London; Published for the Pali Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1927), p. 81.
 The Minor Antrologies of the Pali Canon, Part I, “Dhammapada: Verses on Dhamma, and Khuddaka-Pâtha: The Text of the Minor Sayings”, trans. by Mrs. Rhys Davids, (London: Oxford University Press, 1931), p. 85.
 The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-Piöaka), Vol. IV, tr. by I.B.Horner, (London: Luzac & Company, Ltd., 1951), p. 49.
 The Book of the Kindred Sayings (Sanyutta-Nikâya), Part V, trans. by F.L.Woodward, (London: Published for the Pali Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1930), pp. 379-380.
 The Book of the Kindred Sayings, Part IV, tr. by F.L.Woodward. p. 215.
 The Book of the Kindred Sayings, Part V, tr. by F.L. Woodward. p. 396-399
 Dhammapadaööhakathâ, PartIII, ed. by the Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya, (Bangkok: Rungruang-Dharm Press, 2495 B.E. (1952/3), p. 2.