Question: I read somewhere that there was a Buddhist hell, also places called “narakas”? Is that a thing? If so can you explain how it works?
There are six realms of existence in Buddhism: the three fortunate realms of human, deva (gods, or god-like beings), asura (demi-gods); and the three unfortunate realms of animals, hungry ghosts, and hell.
Depending on the school and tradition of Buddhism, some believe these realms are physical places that one is born into after death depending on their karma. However, most Buddhist traditions also agree that these realms are also just states of mind.
In brief: devas are beings whom are powerful, happy, free from suffering, and live a heavenly life. They are generally loving, generous, and compassionate.
Asuras are also beings whom are powerful, however, they are subject to the attachment of things like power, greed, pride, envy, etc. Asuras might have status and fame, but they are greedy, jealous, and selfish people.
Humans are the “middle class,” because they are subject to pain and suffering, but are also capable of love, happiness, and bliss.
As for the unfortunate realms; animals, hungry ghosts, and hell. They are all generally share the same characteristics. Animals would be beings that have an “animal-like” appetite for power, dominance, control, and are very territorial.
Hungry ghosts are beings who are selfish, care for no one’s well-being except their own, they are jealous and overly protective of their possessions and the possessions they can or try to obtain.
Finally, hell is the realm of the tormented, hatred, ignorance, and greed. It is a place that both fortunate and unfortunate beings may end up, depending on their situations and circumstances. A place of despair, loneliness, violence and anger.
With great practice and study, we realize that these are states of mind that we all go through in our present life. We all have moments of complete happiness and bliss, as well as moments of complete anger and despair, and then everything in between. So we learn and study these six realms so we can carefully distinguish the characteristics when we ourselves may end up in any of those states of mind. When we can recognize that we are being selfish and greedy, we can try to correct that by being generous and letting go of attachments. When we recognize that we are being angry and hurtful, we amend that with compassion and understanding.
Smile and be well!