The purpose of contemplating Hell is to instill a sense of dread. In this case, dread of Samsara. It is a rational fear that our fortune of being human is not guaranteed. There is always a possibility that we might commit a wrong and end up being reborn in Hell.
In other words, contemplating the various hells prevents us from becoming haughty. It is meant to motivate us to be diligent in our practice. Just as a successful businessman has to be vigilant about his business and not become complacent. He is always mindful that his fortune might be bankrupt. In that manner, he plans and built different safeguards for his wealth and business.
As Dharma practitioners, we have to do likewise. Therefore, we contemplate on various topics to make ourselves grounded in our commitment to become enlightened.
Previously, we learn how to check our minds in relation to Dharma practice, we also learn how to examine the teachings that we receive. Here, we check if we are becoming complacent and comfortable with Samsara.
Positive habits learned through Buddha Dharma usually result in many improvements in our lives and everything seems fine, sailing along. From career to family, to personal health. This can easily give us a false impression that life is beautiful and Samsara is good.
If you do not buy the idea of Hell, you can still practice this contemplation. In this case, simply think of hell as a state of intense mental suffering. In regards to cold hell, imagine a state of mental anguish whereby we are bitterly alone. Life seems dark. Nobody in the world seems to care about our intense anguish and the intense “coldness” from the world is ripping us apart into fragments and pieces. However, we are incapable of reaching out for help because we are passively angry. We lock ourselves into a downward intense spiral of “coldness of being”. The more we become passively angry with ourselves and the world, the worse that “coldness” become. For those who have experienced such a mental angusih in life, you will probably recognize what I am describing.
But for most of us with a healthy mental state, it is hard to imagine that kind of intense mental suffering or living hell as described above. Therefore, it becomes more practical for us to imagine a plane of pure torture in a cold hell.
According to the ancient text, life in the cold hells are extremely long. (for “modern” Buddhists who are averse to the concept of physical hell, just understand this idea of intense suffering whereby one minute seems like an eternity.)
Beings are reborn there “magically”. That means not through a womb or an egg or moisture. It is a spiritual state of being that is like a manifestation.
The beings there are frozen with blisters arising on their body and in some hell, the coldness increase multi-fold that the blisters burst. The blood becomes frozen and the skin becomes blue. The pain is unbearably painful. One can only tremble in helplessness, teeth clenched with anguish and an occasional cry of anguish escape our lips. There is only darkness and no Sun to provide warmth in the sky. Strong cold winds tore through the air and rips into one’s body. Tearing us into shreds.
Then we re-emerge or manifest over and over again to suffer the same torture until our bad karma is exhausted.
From the above contemplation, we should appreciate that Samsara has such a state of intense suffering. As long as we are unenlightened, there is always a risk for us to be living in hell.
Therefore, we should not forget our practices but be diligent.
Note: This practice intentionally stirs up a sense of fear in our minds. The subject of that fear is a fear of Samsara. Therefore, just contemplating hell is incomplete. Becoming obsessed with hell and fearing it is not the objective.
Ultimately, enlightenment means freedom from fear. So don’t tread the wrong way. To counteract this fear, we need to then focus on our practice to become enlightened. In that manner, enlightenment is the light at the end of the tunnel.
When we practice our precepts, do mental training, and strive to be positive, our lives become better. Then we may become complacent. Then we think about the faults of samsara. Then it loops back to a life-improvements, so on and so forth. So you see, it is supposed to bring us “upward” and become happier as we practice along. The practice and the reward is side by side.
May all be well and happy.