Question: During a casual discussion with friends about Buddhism, a friend mentioned that many monastics end up suffering in hell. Is it so?
Answer: There is this equivalent line that has been going around for a long time already, that says ‘地狱门前僧道多’ (Before hell’s gates are many [Buddhist] monastics and Taoist priests). From research, it seems like this line came from those who wanted to insult Buddhists and Taoists. It is not in any sutra, which would surely discourage monkhood if present.
A fair way of looking at it, as Buddhists, would be that proper monastics who abide by the precepts and fulfil their duties of study, practice and teaching as expected will NOT go to hell. In fact, they will create much merits for better rebirths or go towards liberation. Going to hell will apply only to wayward ones who do not have proper conduct while expending the supportive efforts of many lay Buddhists, and possibly poisoning their minds with wrong teachings, that lead them away from liberation, even to hell.
Those who insist that monastics will mostly go to hell, without qualifying as above are in effect slandering, and they themselves risk going to hell, be they Buddhists or otherwise, laypersons or monastics. It would be in effect saying that most monastics, including ancient great masters, are liars, and that the Dharma taught by them, from the Buddha is false. This is slander of the Triple Gem – the most serious slander possible.
That said, in this Dharma-Ending Age, there will naturally be more wayward monastics, who are not true monastics at all, who become ‘monastics’ with wrong motivations and lack of Dharma understanding. But again, it is wrong to make the sweeping statement that most monastics will go to hell. Those who break any precept seriously will karmically go to hell – be they of any faith, or without any faith. One of the easiest ways to go to hell is to speak with slander recklessly, as this might erode the faith of many in what and who is right.