I really feel like I can't be myself without feeling like I'm going to wander to hell after I've lived out my life. I'm so scared and desperate. I used to never want to settle for the ordinary, always wanting to live my life out to the fullest and working for all the pretty and nice things in life (without intentionally hurting other people) and just living a cosy, carefree and happy life as a vibrant, free-spirited girl but now I have so many reservations and I feel so, so scared.
Well according to The Buddha the vast majority of people go to hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts after death....very few ever go to a heavenly world or are reborn as a human (In Pansu Suttas The Buddha compares a small speck of dirt to all the land mass on Earth saying so few are ever reborn as a human or deva after death).
Birth as a human is extremely rare and gives one many opportunities like even achieving arahantship here and now but the majority of people will waste their existence away.
The majority of people are sinners or have done sinful deeds in some past existence.
The Maha arahant Moggollana for instance in some past existence killed his parents and that bad kamma followed him everywhere:
Depending on some evil friends, overpowered by lust and anger, being cruel-minded I slew my mother and my father too.
In whichever womb I’m reborn in hell or else among humans since I possess that bad karma I get murdered, head split open. (Tha Ap 4)
If such a great arahant in the past was a sinner why do you think yourself of such a bad person?
You may think that you yourself are a bad person but seemingly good people who practice things like painful austerities also go to hell (something like a career that causes one to experience painful feelings of stress, agony, boredom is like a painful austerity that one practices on a daily basis).
Very few people generate pleasant feelings or good kamma that leads towards higher worlds.
Since you are living as a lay person don't trouble yourself with speculative thoughts that cause mental agony rather trouble yourself with generating loving-kindness (metta), doing good deeds, avoiding the ten evils.
You can still be yourself, why not. When encountering lay people and householders The Buddha taught differently to instead do merit to achieve desires:
"Householder, the noble disciple who desires fame ought not to pray for fame or delight in it or passively yearn for it. A noble disciple who desires fame should practice the way conducive to fame. For when he practices the way conducive to fame, it leads to obtaining fame, and he gains fame either celestial or human."
"For one desiring long life, beauty, fame, acclaim, heaven, high families, and lofty delights following in succession, the wise praise heedfulness in doing deeds of merit." (AN 5.43)
Therefore you should produce merit, good deeds, generate loving-kindness, easily forgive and forget, in accordance to fulfill your desires.
Based on my reading of the suttas it looks like there's only a few ways to avoid the three lower destinations (hell, the animal realm, or the realm of ghosts):
- Have a Right View at the time of death
- Having already generated lots of merit in the past
- Generating merit (especially metta) here and now
- Avoiding the ten evils, unwholesome actions, wrong views
- Association with good company
- Being favored by higher beings
- Achieving higher states like the jhanas
- Developing iddhi
It seems however that many people perceived as good don't really generate pleasant feelings or good kamma thereby being more similar to the ascetics who practice painful austerities and almost never go to heaven after death (in MN 71 it's mentioned that only one ascetic in the past 91 eons went to heaven).
“Bhikkhus, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the mind-release of loving-kindness. The mind-release of loving-kindness surpasses them and shines forth, bright and brilliant." (Iti 27)
Unless willing and capable of achieving the jhanas, developing iddhi, and the six higher knowledges try to practice, concentrate, and meditate on metta (loving-kindness).
An easy mind-exercise is to hold your body still, close your eyes, and imagine loving-kindness filling your body, mind, and the world inside out.