Do Buddhists believe in a heaven and hell?
Yes. And no…. No, Buddhists do not have a heaven or hell in the sense of something in the afterlife. There is no reward or punishment at the time of death.
Yes, Buddhists have the concept of the universe that we call Samsara which describes the world we live in and it refers to this life (not an afterlife).
There are Six Realms of Samsara. In each Realm, there are beings who dwell among:
- Heavenly Beings
- Human Beings
- Ashura (Fighting Spirits)
- Gaki (Hungry Ghosts)
These are the Realms that we are constantly migrating through in our present life. One moment, we are filled with goodness and dwell among the Heavenly Beings. The next moment, we may be angry and dwell among the Fighting Sprites.
Buddhism always has been concerned with this life. While we are alive, we have to seek Enlightenment. The Buddha taught that knowing where we came from or what happens after death should not take up any of our energy.
In the story of the Poison Arrow, the Buddha asked: If we were shot by a poison arrow, should we first find out who shot the arrow, what kind of feathers were used, how big the bow was, or all kinds of other facts about the shooting? No, the Buddha taught. The first thing to do would be to remove the arrow.
For us, in this life, while we are alive, the first thing is to remove ignorance and selfishness so that we can come to understand Wisdom and Compassion.