In the Fifth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, there are specific hells for people who, for example, deviate from a bona-fide spiritual path and invent their own (SB 5.26.15). If these people are only committing mental crimes, it seems unfair and extreme that they should be punished by violently suffering in hell. Could you help me understand this better?
Regarding the hells described in the SB 5.26.15 for those who deviate from their own Veda-path (nija-veda-pathād anāpady apagatah) and who are pakhandas (pākhandam), here are the relevant points that distinguishes this statement from Christianity’s eternal hell for heretics:
- The Sanskrit words above may simply refer to one who is an impostor, who falsely assumes certain grave duties in society without proper training or conduct or understanding. There is no mention, for example, of hellish punishment for a Vaishnava that becomes a Buddhist, or a Sri Vaishnava who becomes a Madhva Vaishnava, etc. In other words, we don’t find the same kind of violent fanaticism that has been at the heart of Christian preaching for almost two thousand years.
- This hell-doctrine in the Bhagavatam never became a prominent feature of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or other Vaishnava movements, in the way it did in Christianity. For example, Prabhupada, his guru, and Bhaktivinoda hardly ever mention these things and never in the context of coercive, violent sectarianism.