A Guided Tour of Hell - A Graphic Memoir
by Samuel Berholz, illustrated by Pema Namdol ThayeShambhala Publications, Boston, Massachusetts © 2016 160 pp.
In this lushly illustrated, captivating, and worldview-enhancing memoir, Shambhala Publications founder and Buddhist teacher Sam Berholz recounts the events of a near-death experience in which he died and his mind stream was dragged into the nether regions. Stating that he withheld from publicizing his experience for ten years due to being embarrassed to admit to having been there, he now recounts with stunning vividness and charming frankness the account of his ordeal in hell. Unlike most of the other occupants of the infernal and frozen realms he traversed during his fortuitously temporary foray, he was not bound to the sufferings endured there for countless millenia, but was guided by a being of light - a Buddha of Hell, as he calls him - in order to bear witness and help other beings become aware of the potential for unfortunate rebirth amongst the denizens of darkness. Through this process he journeys through hot and cold hells and becomes acquainted with occupants and their unfortunate - and always self-centered - tales of damnation. The stories are personal yet generic, and ring true in the manner of mythology as well as that of possibility. Throughout the process of being introduced to different realms and suffering beings, he maintains a manner of compassion, developed over the course of a lifetime of Buddhist study and practice.
Berholz is a close student of two well-regarded Tibetan Buddhist masters, both since passed, and was endorsed by them as a teacher; his teachers were Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as well as CSS affiliate teacher Andrea Pucci's great mentor, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. Berholz's credentials are as respectable as they come within the Buddhist community, and through his Shambhala Publications (now run by his daughter), he has helped propagate the Buddha Dharma throughout the English-speaking world for over forty years. I find this account of his time in hell to be an honest and intriguing report from the front lines of samsaric existence. Despite the traditional warnings, many modern seekers discount the Buddhist teachings on the six realms as either childish or of purely psychological nature, dismissing the cosmological level of their meaning. While it is true that enlightenment transcends the cycling of rebirth through these realms, perhaps we should consider that more than just throughout the rest of our life - which is like a flash - our actions will play out through eternity, conditioning our experience, until we are released from egoity.
Indeed, what could be gained from denying the potential for post-mortem experience, other than either a blind descent into materialist sensualism or a naive intellectual approximation of liberation? It is within our very own mind that both this life and all future worlds manifest, and yet we cling firmly to the belief in a world around us independent of our complicity. It is this mind bubble which reflects all past and future worlds in its infinite chambers. Clinging to self-centered motivations and actions brings endless suffering to ourselves and creates the conditions for countless others' misery. Would this not perpetuate itself given that time itself is simply a mirror of our own mind as well? Berholz's vivid portrayal of what the worst-intentioned of us create for ourselves reminds us not to waste our time here, but to take each moment as a precious opportunity for compassionate spiritual activity and deep insight into the rootlessness of our own minds.
-- submitted by Matthew Sieradski
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