Hell is absence of compassion
by oneself and for oneself,
by others and for others.
We may be surprised to hear how the Buddha[-to-be] first generated compassion in the hell realm. In one of his past lives the Buddha[-to-be] was born in a hell realm, pulling a carriage alongside another hell being, like two buffaloes pulling a heavy cart. Yama, the lord of death, sat in the carriage. When the other hell being became too weak to pull the carriage, Yama punished him by piercing him in the chest with a trident, causing him great agony, so he screamed.
The Buddha-to-be felt great compassion for this other hell being and pleaded with Yama, “Please let this sentient being go. Put his ropes over my head and I will pull your carriage myself.” Yama was ‘enraged’ and also pierced the Buddha[-to-be] with the trident, killing him. By virtue of the Buddha-to-be’s great act of compassion, his consciousness was transferred and he reincarnated in a god realm.
Think about it. It is no more logical to think “I am more important than this person” than it is to think “I’m more important than this insect.” Such a view has not one single logical reason to support it but is merely dictatorial and egotistical reasoning. An ant’s life may be of little consequence to us, but to the ant it is everything.
The Four Noble Truths: A Guide to Everyday Life
Lama Zopa Rinpoche