How has Hell been described in the Vedas and Upanishads?
Whether Hell has mental torture or physical torture?
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First, there are no permanent hells in Hinduism. All hells are temporary, there are no deeds which lead to any permanent hell. Identifying ourselves with our bodies, we indentify the material world and material existence as reality and want to think of hell as a material place where our outer material sheath will exist. The outer sheath falls apart, decays, and does not go with the inner sheath at the time of death. Whether there is or is not a material 'place' is not the purvey of the vedas and upanishads. The focus and aim of the upanishads is Brahman and It's attainment. It is not on unnecessary descriptions of different hells whose very existence is not firmly rooted. Descriptions of various hells are in the realm of the puranas and in various commentators. The Chandogya Upanishad V.10.7-10 (here - https://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism) rather describes the rebirth of evil doers as rebirth in small creatures such as insects who suffer many painful births and deaths and rebirths that are numerous and difficult to get out of.
The Gita, 16.8-21 describes evil deeds and the results of evil deeds as falling into a terrible 'hell' (narake).
The Astavakra Samhita verse 1.11 (Swami Nityaswarupananda translator) says "He who considers himself free is free indeed, and he who considers himself bound remains bound. 'As one thinks, so one becomes' is a popular saying in this world, and it is quite true." In other words, if you are thinking of Brahman, Brahman you will become. If you are thinking whether a particular action will lead to hell or are thinking of hells, you'll go to hells.
Think of Brahman. Your mind cannot dwell on two things at the same time. If you are thinking of Brahman, you are not thinking of hells - and vice versa. Gita 9.30-31 (Swami Nikhilananda translator) says " Even the most vilest man, if he worships Me with unswerving devotion, must be regarded as righteous; for he has attained formed the right resolution. He soon becomes righteous and attains eternal peace. Proclaim it boldly, O son of Kunti, that My devotee never perishes." As Gita 6.30 says "He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, to him I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.
To my knowledge hells and their various names are first mentioned in detail in Manu Smriti. More elaborate descriptions are found in Puranas like Garuda Purana and others.
Vedas and Upanishads don't describe hells in details like it is done in Manu Smriti or various Puranas. Some Upanishads however just mention them.
Here are a few such quotes:
- He who relinquishing all desires has his supreme rest in the One without a second, and who holds the staff of knowledge, is the true Ekadandi. He who carries a mere wooden staff, who takes to all sorts of sense-objects, and is devoid of Jnana, goes to horrible hells known as the Maharauravas. Knowing the distinction between these two, he becomes a Paramahamsa.
The self is like a drop of water in the lotus (leaf). This is overwhelmed by Prakriti. Being overcome he is in a state of delusion and does not see the Lord in himself making him act. Content with the mass of constituents and confused, unsteady, in eager pursuit, smitten by desire, yearning, conceited, thinking ‘I am that, this is mine’ he binds himself by himself as in a net, he roams about. Elsewhere also it has been said. ‘The agent indeed is the Elemental self. The inner spirit causes actions by means of instruments just as iron pervaded by fire and beaten by workers is split into may, so, the elemental self pervaded by the inner spirit and pressed by Prakriti becomes many. The group of three aspects, assuming the forms of 84 Lakhs of living beings constitutes the mass of elemental beings. This is the form of plurality. The constituents are impelled by the spirit as a wheel by its driver. As the fire is not beaten (only the iron is), so the elemental self and not the spirit is over-powered. It has been stated: this body without consciousness has been generated by the sex-act – it is hell – has via the urinary passage, sustained by bones, covered with flesh and skin, filled with faeces, urine etc., -- it is a shattered sheath. It has been affirmed ‘Delusion, fear, depression, sleep, wound, old age etc., being full of these Tamasa and Rajasa traits (like desire), the elemental self is overwhelmed. Hence indeed, it inevitably assumes different forms.
Niralamba Upanishad metaphorically answers various questions like "What is heaven?" "What is hell?" etc.
(18) Who are animals and so forth ? (19) What is the immobile ? (20) Who are the Brahmanas, etc., ? (21) What is a caste ? (22) What is deed ? (23) What is a non-deed ? (24) What is knowledge ? (25) What is ignorance ? (26) What is pleasure ? (27) What is pain ? (28) What is heaven ? (29) What is hell ?
- (28) Heaven is the association with the holy.
- (29) Association with the worldly folk who are unholy alone is hell.
- (30) Bondage consists in imagining due to the beginningless latent impressions of nescience, ‘I am born, etc.’
III-13. A wise man, when disillusioned with the world, may become a mendicant monk; when a person has attachments he shall reside in his house. That degraded Brahmana who turns ascetic when he has attachments indeed goes to hell
VII-1. Then asked about the restrictions to (the conduct of) the ascetic, the god Brahma said to them in front of Narada. (The ascetic) being dispassionate shall reside in a fixed abode during the rains and move about for eight months alone; he shall not (then) reside in one place (continuously). The mendicant monk shall not stay in one place like a deer out of fright. He shall not accept (any proposal to prolong his stay) which militates against his departure. He shall not cross a river (swimming) with his hands. Neither shall he climb a tree (for fruits). He shall not witness the festival in honour of any god. He shall not subsist on food from one place (alone). He shall not perform external worship of gods. Discarding everything other than the Self and subsisting on food secured as alms from a number of houses as a bee (gathers honey), becoming lean, not increasing fat (in the body), he shall discard (the fattening) ghee like blood. (He shall consider) getting food in one house alone as (taking) meat, anointing himself with fragrant unguent as smearing with an impure thing, treacle as an outcaste, garment as a plate with leavings of another, oil-bath as attachment to women, delighting with friends as urine, desire as beef, the place previously known to him as the hut of an outcaste, women as snakes, gold as deadly poison, an assembly hall as a cemetery, the capital city as dreadful hell (Kumbhipaka), and food in one house as lumps of flesh of a corpse.
He becomes a Brahmavit (knower of Brahman) by cognising the end of the sleeping state even while in the waking state. Though the (same) mind is absorbed in Sushupti as also in Samadhi, there is much difference between them. (in the former case) as the mind is absorbed in Tamas, it does not become the means of salvation, (but) in Samadhi as the modifications of Tamas in him are rooted away, the mind raises itself to the nature of the Partless. All that is no other than Sakshi-Chaitanya (wisdom-consciousness or the Higher Self) into which the absorption of the whole universe takes place, in as much as the universe is but a delusion (or creation) of the mind and is therefore not different from it. Though the universe appears perhaps as outside of the mind, still it is unreal. He who knows Brahman and who is the sole enjoyer of Brahmic bliss which is eternal and has dawned once (for all in him) – that man becomes one with Brahman. He in whom Sankalpa perishes has got Mukti in his hand. Therefore one becomes an emancipated person through the contemplation of Paramatman. Having given up both Bhava and Abhava, one becomes a Jivanmukta by leaving off again and again in all states Jnana (wisdom) and Jneya (object of wisdom), Dhyana (meditation) and Dhyeya (object of meditation), Lakshya (the aim) and Alakshya (non-aim), Drishya (the visible) and Adrishya (the nonvisible) and Uha (reasoning) and Apoha (negative reasoning). He who knows this knows all. 4. There are five Avasthas (states): Jagrat (waking), Swapna (dreaming), Sushupti (dreamless sleeping), the Turya (fourth) and Turyatita (that beyond the fourth). The Jiva (ego) that is engaged in the waking state becomes attached to the Pravritti (worldly) path and is the particular of Naraka (hell) as the fruit of sins. He desires Svarga (heaven) as the fruit of his virtuous actions.