I heard one regarded by many a Buddhist teacher said, "Buddha will go to Naraka to save those suffering (tormented) beings, whilst those (monks, buddhists) will want to go to the Purelands. That (Buddha going to hell) is called Great Compassion."

Is this teaching correct, is it Buddha's teaching? I learnt that

  1. One should bear one's own deeds and consequences (karma), neither a father could bear on behalf for the son, nor a daughter for the mother;
  2. Buddha could not "give" enlightenment to anyone because enlightenment is reached by oneself;
  3. If one who hasn't cultivated enough merits, one would be born in one of the Eight Obscured Places (八無暇) that Dharma couldn't be heard; one of the Eight Obscured Places is Naraka.

Is this saying contradictory to 3)? Why is he saying this?

  • Edited the original question "Buddha will (vow to) go to Naraka to save those suffering (tormented) beings" by deleting the "vow to" which was what I added, after reading Tenzin Dorje's answer, noting that "vow to" could be too easy to confuse with Bodhisattva's vow and the notion of "superior intention". Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 13:50
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    "Will go" or "would go"? Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 17:58
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    @TenzinDorje Since Chinese is not with the "tense" in it's character, can't be sure. But what he meant is, going to Naraka to help is part of the job of a Buddha, so to speak. He meant while others (monks) are teaching Buddha's Purelands and helping us getting there, in fact Buddha also takes care of the Naraka beings, else this Buddha cannot really be the one with Great Compassion. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 12:08

3 Answers 3


As far as my study in sutta, Buddha did not go to hell to help beings in that world. They are considered to be "unfortunate" beings; among animals, hungry ghosts, and gods in arupa world because they do not have the strength or what it takes to understand dharma. However, in one instance, Buddha was so kind to a Naga (which considered to be a being in animal world) by telling him to observe 8 precepts on Upasatha days and he would become human faster. In one sutta, Buddha compared beings in hell to be like a person drowning in a cesspool not even a strand of hair above it to grab pulling him out.

For question number 3) not always necessary. In Migasala sutta, Buddha divided people into 10 groups, which one of them is;

Here, ânanda, a certain person is overwhelmed with hate and from time to time greed arises to him. He has heard something fruitful, has learnt something, has straightened his view and he personally has gained some release. After death he does not go to loss gains some distinction.

  • I have no idea about the 10 groups, but there is a phase 十圓滿 (10 Perfections [saṃpad ?] ), the "lucky factors" enabling one seeking enlightenment, 1/10 is being born as a human, these 8 & 10 always mentioned together. The 8 "Obscured Places" may relate to this Sanskrit term: aṣṭâvakṣaṇāḥ. One Sutra told that once a Naga morphed himself into a human thus accepted as a Bhikkhu but disqualified for during an afternoon nap his naga (snake/dragon) form was carelessly exposed, then Buddha established another rule that during Bhikkhu ordination one must answer a question: Are you a human? Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 11:55
  • Thanks for pointing out the Naga case. As far as Theravada Buddhism point of view, I never heard Buddha or his disciples go to hell to save other beings.
    – aknay
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 5:43

We say that when the Buddha was a bodhisattva, he vowed to go to Naraka to save beings suffering there. Compassion is the wish that others be free from suffering. Great compassion is the wish that all sentient beings be free from suffering. Superior intention is taking upon oneself to [do what it takes] free others from suffering and establish them in happiness. So, strictly speaking, here it is a case of 'superior intention'.

In the Tibetan Gelug tradition, we recite the Lamrim prayer of the Lama Chöpa every two weeks. At some point, it reads:

Even if I must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells of Avici for the sake of even just one sentient being, I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort to strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment and not be discouraged.

Still, as you say

  1. One harvest what one has sown / None can take someone else's karma upon him
  2. Buddha can not give enlightenment to others.
  3. Dharma is not heard in Avici. But there is a story of a hell being generating compassion for another hell being's suffering. According to that story, the other hell being was an emanation of a buddha, and he meant for the first to generate compassion so as to create a cause of happiness.

This does not prevent us from aspiring to take upon ourselves the suffering of others, and to give away our happiness and its causes (merits). And this is the whole point: we cultivate an intention, because this intention will be a cause of achieving enlightenment.

It is just like the perfection of generosity: the virtuous intention to give. One (arya bodhisattva) can cultivate the perfection of generosity, that is the intention, even when there are still needy people in the world. Cultivating generosity does not mean eradicating poverty. Similarly, taking it upon oneself to establish sentient beings in enlightenment does not mean establishing them in enlightenment. The best a buddha can do is turning the wheel of Dharma, out of his omniscient mind, and that turning will be but a condition (not the substantial cause) of others' enlightenment.

  • Thank you. I understand the part about "superior intention", that's similar to "Bodhisattva's vow of saving all sentient beings even there are numberless beings". (a contradictory, for "all" and "numberless" cannot be paired off). Maybe I should delete the bracketed "vow to" which is what I added, originally he said "will go to Naraka". I perceived when he said that he was criticizing the monks, in response to being criticized by traditional Buddhist sectors that he was not an ordained guru (上師/禪師), nor a monk. Thus he emphasized he was doing the work on the level of a Buddha. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 13:43

Lord Buddha has often preached about the hells and from his teachings it isn't apparent that he traveled there. However it is apparent that such beings are not capable of understanding or practicing merits. Therefore, it is unlikely Lord Buddha frequented hell to help those beings as they might likely be unable to receive it.

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