Monday, August 28, 2017

Contemplating the suffering of hell beings

 There are eight hot hells and eight cold hells. According to Shakyamuni, and various Buddhist masters who explained them, these eight hells have their own adjacent or neighboring hells (utsadas[1]): 

“There are eight hells there that I have revealed, difficult to get out of, full of cruel beings, each having sixteen utsadas; they have four walls and four gates; they are as high as they are wide; they are encircled by walls of fire; their ceiling is fire; their sun is burning, sparkling fire; and they are filled with flames hundreds of yojanas  high.”[2]

Another type of hell are also the temporary hells (pradesikanakara in Skt), which were created through the actions of one being, two beings, or many beings. As Vasubandhu explained, their variety is great and their place is not fixed, so they can be found in rivers, mountains, deserts, and elsewhere[3].

Before entering into any explanation of these hells I think it is very important to mention that all the tormentors, “hell wardens” or terrifying beasts who are sometimes described as applying punishment, are not living beings, but manifestations of the evil karma of those born there. Thus, even if they are real for the the inhabitants of hell, they do not have an existence of their own. Vasubandhu clearly explained this in the 4th stanza of his Vijnaptimatravimsaka[4] and he stated the same in his Abhidharmakosabhasyam

In my description of these hells I guide myself especially after Yogacarabhumisastra (Yugaron) of Asangha, Abhidharmakosabhasyam (Kusharon) of Vasubandhu and Ojoyoshu[5] by Master Genshin, who himself quoted the above mentioned Masters and works, as well as various sutras and treatises.

The Eight Hot Hells

Hell of Repetition or the Reviving Hell
1. Hell of Repetition or the Reviving Hell
The inhabitants of that hell see each other as mortal enemies and furiously fight with one another with huge and inconceivable weapons created by their karma, until everyone is cut into pieces. As Master Genshin said in the Ojoyoshu:

“Whetting their iron claws they proceed to scratch each other’s eyes out and lacerate the flesh on each other’s thighs until the blood runs out and the bones are exposed. […] they cut their flesh into slices with sharp swords as fish is sliced in the kitchen.”

When they all lie dead, a voice from the sky of that hell says: “Revive!” and they immediately come back to life and restart their fight. The time they spend in that hell is described by Genshin as follows:

“One day and night in the realm of the four Deva Kings[6] is as long as fifty years of human life, and life in the realm of the Deva Kings lasts five hundred years. But one night and one day in this hell is equal in length to the length of life in the realm of the Deva Kings, and the victims have to remain in this hell five hundred years.”

Hell of Black Rope
2. Hell of the Black Rope
The beings born in this hell, due to their evil karma, are seized by the hell wardens, laid down on the ground made of burning metal and marked with “hot iron cords in both directions as a carpenter makes marks with his line”. Then they are cut into pieces with burning saws and iron axes or disemboweled with swords along these lines. As soon as their bodies are thus cut into pieces, they immediately become whole once more and the process repeats itself over and over again.

Master Genshin also described another torment for those reborn in this hell:

“Sometimes they [the hell wardens] spread nets made of innumerable hot iron ropes and drive the sinners into these, and then an evil wind begins to blow which wraps the fiery nets around the sinners roasting the flesh and charring the bones. On the right hand and the left are high iron mountains. On the top of these mountains are fastened flagstaffs made of iron and an iron rope is fastened at either end to these staffs and thus stretches from one mountain top to the other. Beneath this rope are placed in a row a number of large caldrons filled with a boiling, steaming substance. The sinners, with heavy burdens fastened on their backs, are forced to walk across on this rope, and naturally they cannot help from falling into the boiling caldrons below. In these they are boiled for a long time till bones and flesh are reduced to an indistinguishable mass.”

The time they spend in that hell is described by Genshin as follows:

“A hundred years of human life are equal in length to one day and night in the Toriten[7], and in this heaven life lasts a thousand years, but the length of life in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three gods is equivalent to only one day and night in this hell and here life lasts one thousand years. Those who have destroyed life or who have stolen anything fall into this hell.”

Hell of Assembly or the Rounding-Up and Crushing Hell
3. Hell of Assembly or the Rounding-Up and Crushing Hell
Master Genshin described this hell as follows:

“In this hell are numerous iron mountains arranged in pairs so as to face each other. There are in this place various ox-headed and horse-headed hell wardens who are armed with all sorts of pronged iron sticks and clubs which serve as instruments of torture. With these they drive the sinners before them and make them pass between the pairs of mountains, whereupon these mountains come together crushing the victims till the blood oozes out and covers the ground.

Then again there are iron mountains tumbling from the sky which crush the sinners into fragments like grains of sand. Sometimes the victims are placed upon a rock and crushed with another rock.”

Other texts say that sometimes the mountains facing each other turn into the flaming heads of various animals which the hell-beings have killed in their past lives and who now throw themselves into one another, catching the poor people in the middle and crushing them to death. Again, like in the other hells, when the dwellers die, they are revived and the torture starts again as described above.

The time they spend in that hell is described by Genshin as follows:

“Two hundred years of human life are equal in length to one day and night in Yamaten[8] where life lasts two thousand years, but one day and night in this hell is as long as life in Yamaten and in this hell the victims must remain two thousand years. Murderers, thieves, and adulterers fall into this hell.”

Hell of Lamentations
4.   Hell of Lamentations
Here the beings are roasted in buildings of hot metal with no exit, or they are boiled and poured molten copper into their mouths which burns up their internal organs.  
The time they spend in that hell is described by Genshin as follows:

“Four hundred years of human life are equal in length to one day and night in Tosotsuten[9], and in this heaven life continues for four thousand years; but the length of life in Tosotsuten is equivalent to only one night and day in this hell and here life lasts four thousand years. Murderers, thieves, adulterers and drunkards fall into this hell.”

5. Hell of Great Lamentations
In this hell, the wardens put a multitude of victims into metal sheds with double walls blazing with fire and beat them with various weapons. The doors are all sealed and the beings there howl in pain thinking that even if they succeed in getting past the first door, they cannot get through the second. According to Genshin, “murderers, thieves, adulterers, drunkards and those who use evil language fall into this hell.”

The time beings spend there is described as follows:

“Eight hundred years of human life are equal in length to one day and night in Kerakuten[10] where life lasts eight thousand years, but one day and night in this hell is as long as life in Kerakuten and here life continues for eight thousand years.”

6. Hell of Scorching Heat
In this hell beings suffer by being cooked in huge iron cauldrons filled with molten bronze. Whenever they surface, they are grabbed by the hell wardens with metal hooks and beaten in the head with hammers until they lose consciousness. This lose of consciousness are their only moments of respite when they do not feel pain, but as it does not last long, the suffering is felt again and again.

Master Genshin described other terrifying scenes from the Hell of Scorching Heat:

“The hell wardens seize the sinners and make them lie on the ground, which is made of hot iron. Sometimes they make them lie facing upward and sometimes downward, all the time beating and punching them from head to foot until their flesh is beaten into a pulp. Sometimes they place them on a large roasting shelf made of iron and heated to an intense heat. Thus they roast them in a raging flame. Turning them over first on one side and then on the other, they roast them until they are burned thin. Sometimes they fasten them on a large iron skewer, sticking these through them from the bottom to the head, and scorch them thoroughly till the flames enter the vital organs, their joints and bones, eyes, noses and mouths. Then again they place them in a large cauldron and boil them like beans. And sometimes they place them on the upper floor of an iron house and cause raging flames of hot iron to envelop them from all directions, thus consuming even their bones and marrow".

To make us aware of the destructive power of the fire manifested in this hell, Master Genshin provided us with a comparison:

“If one should put a portion of this fire as small as the light of a firefly into this world of ours it would consume this world in a short moment. What must, then, be the suffering of these sinners whose bodies, tender like budding grass, are being burned in this hell! The victims in this place look longingly up at the fires in the preceding five hells, for these seem by comparison cool like snow or frost”. 

The time beings spend there is described as follows:

"Sixteen hundred years of human life are equal in length to one day and night in Takejizaiten[11] in which heaven life lasts sixteen thousand years, but the length of life in Takejizaiten is equivalent to only one day and night in this hell and here life continues for sixteen thousand years. Murderers, thieves, adulterers, drunkards, those who use vile language and heretics fall into this hell.”

Hell of the Great Scorching Heat
7. Hell of the Great Scorching Heat
In this hell the beings are blocked inside blazing metal houses where hell wardens impale them through their heels and the anus with tridents of hot iron until the prongs push out through the shoulders and the top of the head. In the same time their bodies are wrapped in sheets of blazing metal.

According to Master Genshin, who himself quoted various sacred texts, the hell wardens, taking each sinner separately, torments him saying: “Are you frightened as you hear the cries and see with your eyes? How much more then will you be terror-stricken when your body is burning like dry grass and tinder! However, the burning by fire here is not that of a literal fire but rather the hot passion of your evil karma. The burning of fire may be extinguished, but the burning of evil karma cannot be put out.”

This passage is extremely important because, as I repeatedly said, it shows that the fire of hell, the various places of terror which were described above and will be described in the following lines, as well as the hell wardens themselves, are manifestations of the sinners own karma. This is the reaping result of the suffering they inflicted on other beings. The various hells exist because of the evil karma of beings - it is the evil energy of their actions manifested in terrifying forms to torment them.

As Master Genshin said, “the power of evil karma which the sinners have created for themselves suddenly hurls them into this raging flame” of that hell.  “Among all winds the wind of karma is the strongest, and it is in this way that the wind of karma of men’s evil deeds drags them to their doom.”

According to him, “Murderers, thieves, adulterers, those who use vile language, heretics and those who degrade nuns who keep the precepts of purity”  fall into this Hell of Great Scorching Heat.

The time beings spend there is half of an intermediate kalpa, which is a period of time very hard to measure in human years.

Avici Hell
8. Hell of Suffering without Interruption (Avici)
This hell is at the very bottom of the World of Desire and is the worst among all the hells. Nowhere in the world of desire or in any world can be found more suffering like here.
The fire in this place fills everything and there is no space left untouched. It is so violent that the bodies of the victims and the fire become indistinguishable. There is also not the slightest interval when the suffering of beings ceases. Their number is impossible to calculate, but although they hear the cries of pain made by other people, they cannot see them. All the torments of the previous hells are experienced here in more horrific ways.
After describing the various sufferings in this hell, Master Genshin said:

“The suffering in this hell is a thousand times greater than the combined sufferings of the preceding seven great hells and their separate places. The suffering in this hell is so severe that the victims envy the victims in the Hell of Great Scorching Heat, for the suffering in the latter seems to them like the pleasures in Takejizaiten. If the beings under the four heavens and the beings in the six Devalokas[12] of Kamadhatu[13] should smell the stench of this hell they would perish utterly. The reason is because all the victims of this hell are filled with putrefaction. […] If a person should hear all about the sufferings in this hell he could not endure it and it would kill him. How terrible, then, it must be! Not one-thousandth of the horrors of this Avici hell has been told, for it cannot be described. No one could listen to the description, nor can it be compared with anything else. If anyone should describe it thoroughly or listen to a full description of it, he would vomit blood and die”. 

Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said:

"Just as among all kinds of happiness
The cessation of craving is the king of happinesses,
So among all kinds of suffering
The suffering of the Avici Hell is most fierce.

The suffering of being viciously pierced
With three hundred lances for a full day
Cannot compare, cannot even be mentioned,
With the least sufferings of hell."[14]

People who committed the five gravest offenses, who slandered the right Dharma, denied the law of karma, made light of the Mahayana doctrine and made other grave karmic sins, are born in this hell. Life there is a whole intermediate kalpa. 

Neighboring hells (ustada)

Yogacarabhumisastra (Yugaron) of Asangha and Abhidharmakosabhasyam (Kusharon)[15] of Vasubandhu, also describe the neighboring hells (“ustadas”) which are attached to the previous eight great hells, at each of their four exits. Bodhisattva Vasubandhu said:

"What is the meaning of the word utsada? They are called utsadas because they are places of supplementary torment: in the hells the damned are tormented, but they are additionally so in the utsadas. [...] After having been shut up in the hells, the damned then fall into the utsadas."[16]

The trench of fire (Kukula):
When beings emerge from one of the eight hot hells, they see something which looks like a shady trench, but when they enter it, thinking that they finally found a place for hide, they discover that it contains a fire that reaches to their knees. This consumes their skin, flesh and blood when they put their feet in there, but reappears when they take it out.

The mire of excrements and putrescent corpses (Kunapa):
When they emerge from that trench, they see a river and urged by thirst they rush toward it, only to realize it is in fact, a mire of excrements and putrescent corpses of humans and animals, filled with all kinds of water beasts and worms with iron beaks which devour them.

The plane of razor blades (Ksuramarga):
When they emerge from that swamp they see green plain but when they arrive there, they realize that the grass is composed of sharp razor blades which pierce their feet to the bone. This also heals itself when they raise their feet, and is cut again when they step on the grass.

The forest of swords (Asipattravana):
When they escape from that place, they rush toward a beautiful forest, which when they get there it is revealed that the leaves of the trees are swords which grow on their metal branches. When the wind blows, those swords fall on those’ beings and cut them into little pieces, which are then devoured by the infernal Syamasabala dogs. When nothing remains of their bodies, they reappear and are cut again and again.

The hill with Śalmali trees
The hill with Śalmali trees (Ayahsalmallvana):
Then the beings arrive at the foot of a hill with Śalmali trees. At the top of this hill they see their former lovers, with whom they performed sexual misconduct, calling on them. Filled with the desire to be reunited with them, they start climbing, but the leaves of the trees point downwards and are piercing their flesh. When they reach the top, instead of their loved ones they are met by birds with iron beaks which tear out and eat their eyes. Then they see again their loved ones calling on them from the foot of the hill. Down they go and now the leaves turn upward, stabbing them in all places of the body. When finally they reach the object of their desire, it turns into a hideous metallic women or men who embrace them and start eating them alive. 

As Vasubandhu points in his Abhidharmakosabhasyam, the plane of razor blades, the forest of swords and the hill with Śalmali trees constitute a single utsada or neighboring hell because they have in common punishment through injury.

The river of boiling water and burning ashes:
When the beings finally emerge from the hill with Salmali trees, they reach the river Vaitarani, of boiling water and burning ashes, which encircles the great hell.
Master Vasubandhu describes their sufferings there:

“On both sides of the river there are persons armed with swords, lances and javelins, who push back the damned who would get out. Whether they plunge into the water or emerge, whether they go up or down the current, whether they traverse in the two directions or are tossed about, the damned are boiled and cooked, as the grains of sesame or corn poured into a cauldron placed over the fire”.[17]

            In the Mindfulness of the Right Dharma Sutra[18], which was much used by Master Genshin, there is a somewhat different description of the neighboring hells. I will present them too, as they are quoted by Genshin in his Ojoyoshu. I mention that these are only a fragment of the hells described in that sutra.

Thus, among the neighboring hells of the Hell of Repetition or the Reviving Hell there are:

- The Place of Filth which is “filled with hot dung and filth which is very bitter in taste and full of worms with hard bills. The sinners are put into this hell and forced to eat this hot dung while the worms crawl all over them, chewing and piercing their skin, gnawing their flesh and even sucking the marrow from their bones. Those who have killed deer or birds fall into this hell.”

- The Place of the Revolving Sword which is “enclosed with black iron walls ten yodjanas in height. It is filled with burning fire, in comparison with which an ordinary fire seems like snow. When the body comes into contact with this in the slightest way it shrivels up as small as a mustard seed. In this fire hot iron sticks rain down in heavy showers. There is in this place also a forest of swords which are so sharp that a hair or even the sign of a hair coming in contact with them is cut into fine bits. How much more then is this the case with the bodies of sinners! Sometimes the swords fall down like a large waterfall from the sky. So great is the confusion of agonies here that no one can endure it. Those who have destroyed life with a covetous spirit fall into this hell.”

-  The Place of the Fiery Caldron where “the sinners are put into an iron caldron and boiled like one boils beans. Those who have killed, cooked and eaten animals fall into this hell”

-  The Place of Much Suffering where there are “innumerable trillions of pains. We cannot describe these in detail. Those who have bound people with fetters, beaten them with rods, compelled them to make long journeys, cast them down steep places, suffocated them with smoke, frightened children and, in short, all those who in any such ways have caused others to suffer, fall into this hell.”

 -  The Place of the Black Calm where “the sinners are in pitch darkness and they are constantly being wasted with a dark fire. Then a raging storm begins to blow which forces Diamond Mountain to clash with the surrounding mountains so that the bodies of the sinners are crushed between them and the fragments are scattered like grains of sand. After this a hot wind blows which cuts like a sharp sword. Those who have killed sheep by suffocating them with fire and those who have killed turtles by crushing them between tiles fall into this hell.”

-  The Place of No-Joy where there is “a big fire which burns the bodies of sinners day and night. There are in it birds with red hot beaks, dogs and foxes whose cries are so blood-curdling that the hairs of the victims stand on end. They continually come and gnaw away at the bones and flesh of the victims which lie around in a confused mass. Worms with hard snouts pierce the bones and suck out the marrow. Those who have blown shells, beaten drums and made dreadful noises, or those who have killed birds and beasts fall into this hell.”                                           

-  The Place of the Most Severe Suffering which “is located on the edge of a steep cliff where sinners are continually burning in a fire of iron. Those who have ruthlessly killed anything fall into this hell.”

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of the Black Rope, there are:

- The Place of Crying-Receiving  Pain where “the sinners are placed on a precipice immeasurable yodjanas in height. They are tied together with black ropes of hot fire and when they have been thus lashed together they are pushed over the brink. As they fall they strike on the fiery ground below, which is studded with sharp swords as numerous as the blades of grass. Thereupon dogs with jaws of flaming iron chew them into fine bits, and though they cry out for help none are saved. Those who have been teachers of the Law but who have explained it with evil prejudices, thus failing to give the truth and indifferent to the consequences […] fall into this hell”.

-. The Place of the Dreaded Eagle where “the hell wardens, wielding their iron clubs with great wrath, strike the sinners suddenly and do violence to them day and night. Sometimes they brandish their flaming iron swords and slash the victims, or drawing iron fiery bows with arrows affixed they cruelly shoot them, all the time driving them forward. Those who with a covetous spirit, have bound or killed others in order to rob them of their possessions, fall into this hell.”

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of Assembly or the Rounding-Up and Crushing Hell, there are

- The Evil-Seeing Place where “those who with violence have committed fornication with other men’s children fall into this hell and receive its tortures. The sinners think they see their own children in hell tortured by the hell wardens who take iron sticks and iron gimlets and thrust these into their privates, or using iron hooks they thrust them in and pull them out of the vagina. The sinners seeing this suffering of their children are filled with longing and pity for them so great that they cannot endure the sight. But if one compares the suffering caused by seeing this with the suffering caused by being burned in the fire, it is not one-sixteenth as great. After being thus tortured by seeing their own children ill treated they receive the suffering in their own bodies. First the hell wardens stand the victims on their heads and boil them in a fluid of molten copper which runs in at the anus and through the internals, thus burning the vital organs and finally running out from the mouth and the nose. The above mentioned kinds of suffering, namely, the suffering in heart and the suffering in body, continue for immeasurable hundreds of thousands of years.”

- The Place of Much Suffering where “are doomed to suffer such men as are guilty of sodomy. Here the victim, seeing the man he lusted with, embraces him with a passion like a hot flame which completely consumes his body. After he has died he comes to life again and runs away in great terror but only to fall over a terrible precipice where he is devoured by crows with flaming beaks and by foxes with mouths of flames”.

- The Place of Enduring Suffering where “must suffer those who have stolen and violated other men’s wives. The hell wardens seize the sinners and hang them with heads downward from the branches of trees. Beneath them is a raging flame which completely consumes their bodies. They come to life again and then are burned as before. When they cry out in agony the flames enter their bodies and consume the vital organs. This suffering continues for immeasurable hundreds of thousands of years. Further description of this is found in the scriptures”.

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of Lamentation there are:

- The Hell of Fire and Worms where those who have sold alcohol diluted with water fall into this place and “their bodies are afflicted with the four hundred and four diseases. The power of one of these diseases is such that in a single day and night it would destroy all the inhabitants of the Four Islands[19]. From the bodies of the victims come out worms which eat up the skin, flesh and marrow.”

- The Place called Cloud-Fire-Mist where “those who have forced women to drink alcohol and then violated them bringing them to shame fall into this hell, and they are tortured with a flame which is twelve hundred feet deep. The hell wardens lay hold on them and force them to walk through this fire until they are consumed from head to foot. When they seem utterly destroyed the hell wardens call out: “Revive! Revive!” and they come to life again. Then they drive them through the fire again just as before, and thus without any intermission in their suffering this is kept up for immeasurable hundreds of thousands of years.”

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of Great Lamentations there are:

- The Place called Receiving-Baring-Suffering where “the sinners’ mouths and tongues are nailed together with hot iron nails so that they cannot cry out”.

- The Place called Receiving-Limitless-Suffering where “the hell wardens cut out the victims’ tongues with hot iron shears. After they have been cut out they grow on again but only to be cut out again. They also pull out their eyes just as they do their tongues, and without any intermission they slash their bodies with knives. These knives are so sharp that they can cut even iron and stone. How easily, then, do they cut human flesh! Such various and innumerable sufferings are the lot of all those who have used evil language. There are many such teachings in the scriptures.”

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of Scorching Heat there are:

- The Place called Fundarikiya where “the bodies of the sinners are roasted in a flame until there is not a spot as large as a mustard seed which is not burned.
All the people in this hell keep saying to one another: “All ye, come quickly, come quickly! Here is the Lake Fundarikiya. Here is water to drink. Here is the cool shade of a wood.” Lured on by these words, the sinners rush forward, but on either side of the road are pits filled with fire into which they all fall and where they are consumed skin and bone. After a little while they come to life again and the terrible heat makes them long for the water and so they press on until they enter the place of Fundarikiya. Now the flames of Fundarikiya are five hundred yodjanas in height. When the victims have been burned to death in this flame they come to life again after a little while, and then this process is repeated as before. Into this hell fall all those who have starved themselves to death in the hope of thus earning their way into heaven, also those who have taught this heresy to others”.

- The Place called Dark-Fire-Wind  where “the sinners are carried up into the sky by an evil wind, and as they have nothing to which they can cling they are twirled around and around like the wheel of a cart so that they become invisible to the eye. And while they are being thus twirled around and around another wind arises which is sharp like a sword and which cuts them into pieces as small as grains of sand and then scatters the fragments in all directions. By and by the fragments come together again and the victims come to life once more but only to be cut up and scattered as before. This process goes on endlessly. In this way are punished all heretics who hold the view that all existence is divided into Things Permanent and Things Impermanent and the view that the Impermanent is the body and the Permanent, the Four Great Elements”.

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of  Great Scorching Heat there are:

- A place which is filled so completely with flames that “there is not a spot as large as the eye of a needle where there is no flame. Those who have violated pure laywomen fall into this hell”.

- The place called Fully-Receiving-All-Suffering where “the hell wardens, taking out their swords of flames, skin the victims from head to foot and then, without cutting the flesh, they place the raw skinned bodies on the hot iron ground and roast them. Then they pour over them molten iron. In this way they are tortured through immeasurable ten million thousand years. Those who have deceived nuns by giving them strong drink and destroyed their souls so that they have become immoral fall into this hell; also those who have corrupted women with riches”.

Among the neighboring hells of the Hell of Suffering without Interruption there are:

- The place called Iron-Plane-Fox-Eating-Place. Here, “over the bodies of the sinners in this place the flames of fire rage for a distance of ten yodjanas. Among all the hells the torments in this hell are the most severe. Iron tiles rain down upon the victims, crushing their bodies and pulverizing their bones. Foxes with flaming jaws continually come and devour them. In this way the victims are tormented without ceasing. Those who have set fire to pagodas and temple buildings, burned images of Buddha, burned the homes of priests and burned the bed-room furniture of priests, fall into this hell."

- The place called Black-Vomit-Place where “the victims are so hungry and thirsty as a result of the heat which burns their bodies that they devour their own flesh. When, however, they have apparently consumed themselves they come to life again and begin once more to devour themselves. There is in this place a black-bellied serpent which coils itself around the bodies of the sinners and then gradually devours them from the feet up. Then again the victims are placed in a hot flame and roasted, or they are thrown into a large cauldron and boiled. Their bones and flesh are melted like ice in the spring, and this mass, mingling with the fire, unites to make one huge, raging flame. In this way the victims must endure inconceivable tortures of one kind and another for millions of years. Those who have stolen anything offered to a Buddha and eaten it, fall into this hell”.

- The place called Rain-Mountain-Gathering- Place. This is “an iron mountain one yodjana in height which  falls on the victims pulverizing them like fine dust. After this they come to life again but only to be crushed a second time. There are here also eleven flames which completely enfold the victims and burn them.

Sometimes the hell wardens take their swords and slash the bodies of the sinners all over and then pour molten lead into the wounds. Then again the sinners are afflicted with the four hundred and four ills, and in various ways they are tortured for immeasurable millions of years. Those who have stolen and eaten offerings made to a Pratyeka Buddha fall into this hell”.

- The place called Embado where “there is an evil bird called Emba. The size of this bird is that of an elephant. It has a bill like a sword and this sends forth a flame. Seizing the sinners it carries them with flapping wings high up into the sky and, after soaring about for a while, drops them so that they plunge down like huge boulders and with such violence that their bodies are broken into hundreds of thousands of bits. But the fragments assemble again and the victims come to life, only, however, to be seized a second time and carried up and dropped. Their feet are lacerated by sharp swords with which the road is studded as thickly as growing grass. Dogs with teeth of flames come and gnaw and then devour them. In such ways they are tortured without ceasing. Those who plotted against others and starved them to death fall into this hell. Further accounts may be found in the scriptures”.

The Eight Cold Hells

            These hells are located on the same level as the Eight Hot Hells, but in comparison with them, where fire is dominant, here the karmic environment is composed of snow mountains and glaciers, and the winds are ravaging blizzards. All the beings born there are naked and experience the following torments[20].

1. Hell of Blisters (Arbuda)
In this hell various ice blisters erupt on the body of the beings while they are submerged in extremely cold water or blasted by the wind.

2. Hell of Burst Blisters (Nirarbuda)
Here the blisters become open sores.

3. Hell of Clenched Teeth (Atata)
Here the teeth of the beings are tightly clenched due to extreme cold. Master Vasubandhu explains that “atata” indicate the noise that the damned make under the bite of the cold, thus the name of this hell[21]

4. Hell of Lamentation (Hahava)
In this hell the beings greatly lament while their tongues are paralyzed and find it difficult to breathe or scream. This hell too, has its name after the specific noise made by the tormented beings.

5.  Hell of Groans (Huhuva) 
Here the voices of beings are cracked and long groans escape from their lips. It is again a hell named after the sound of pain specific to those born there.

6. Hell of Utpala-like Cracks (Utpala) or the Blue Flower Hell
The skin of beings born there is blue and splits into four petals-like pieces.

7. Hell of Lotus-like Cracks (Padma) or the Lotus Flower Hell
Here the red raw flesh of beings becomes visible, and the cold makes it split into eight pieces, which makes it look like a lotus flower.        

8. Hell of Great Lotus-like Cracks (Mahapadma) or the Great Lotus Hell
Here their flesh turns dark red and splits into sixteen, thirty-two and then into innumerable pieces, thus looking like a large lotus flower. Worms penetrate the cracked flesh and devour it with their metal beaks.

According to the sacred texts the lifespan in the first cold hell lasts as long as it would take to empty an extremely large container filled with sesame seeds by removing a single grain every one hundred year. The lifetime and suffering in the following seven cold hells is progressively twenty time more. 

            The Jatakamala[22] describes that the beings in the cold hells dwell in darkness:

"In the future life of a nihilist
A cold wind will rise in that place of absolute darkness.
Since it will make you so ill that even your bones will be destroyed,
Who will want to enter there to help you?"

In his Letter to a Disciple, Master Chandragomin[23] said:

"An incomparable wind pierces your bones;
Your body shakes and freezes; you bend over and shrivel.
Hundreds of blisters rise and pop.
Creatures born from them eat and claw you; fat, lymph, and
marrow ooze out.

Exhausted, teeth clenched, all hair standing on end,
You are tormented by wounds in your eyes, ears, and gullet.
Mind and body stupefied by pain,
You dwell in the cold hell and emit a pitiful wail."[24]

The Ephemeral Hells

            The ephemeral hells adjoin the hot hells and cold hells, but they also exist in other regions, too. Master Vasubandhu said:

“There are the pradesika (ephemeral) hells, created through the force of individual actions, the actions of one being, of two beings, of many beings. Their variety is great; their place is not determined: river, mountain, desert, and elsewhere”[25].

The suffering experienced in these ephemeral hells varies considerably in both time and place. Thus, beings condemned by their own evil karma to rebirth in them may be trapped inside a stone, encased in boulders, held on the bottom of various lakes, boiled in hot springs, frozen in ice and glaciers, burnt in fire, eaten alive by various worms and insects, etc. Some also suffer by identifying their bodies with objects that are constantly put to use, such as mortars, brooms, doors, mats, hearthstones, pillars, ropes, etc.

There are many sacred texts in which the causes for birth in these ephemeral hells are presented, like appropriating or exploiting the property of the sangha, requiring large amounts of money for teaching the Dharma or for blessings, sacrificing animals, stealing from the public funds, adultery, and so on.


            Now, after reading and contemplating the above descriptions and explanations of the various hells, we should all ask ourselves individually, what if I will be born in these hell realms? How could I endure such a horror and pain!

Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said in Letter to a Friend:

"Sinners who hear of the boundless sufferings in the hells
Separated from them only until the mere termination of their
breathing -
And are not completely terrified,
Have hearts as hard as diamonds.

If you are frightened merely by seeing paintings of hell,
By hearing of it, recalling it,
Reading about it, and by representations of it,
What need to mention experiencing the fierce actuality of it?"[26]

Please take each one of the specific sufferings in the hells and think deeply on them. Wouldn't you better accept Amida's helping hand that is extended to you out of His infinite Compassion and escape those places of torment?

[1] According to Jeffrey Hopkins' Tibetan-Sanskrit-English Dictionary, the term “utsada” means “neighboring hell”. Bodhisattva Vasubandhu also uses this term in his Abhidharmakosabhasyam.
[2] Bodhisattva Vasubandhu, Abhidharmakossabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p 457.
[3] Abhidharmakosabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p 459
[4] Edition translated in Muse'on, 1912, 53-90; the Tibetan, edited and translated by S. Levi, 1926
[5] Genshin’s Ojoyoshu – Collected Essays on Birth into the Pure Land,  translated from Japanese by A.K. Reischauer and published in “The Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, second series, volume VII, 1930”  Rearranged and republished for free distribution on
[6] The realms of the various gods will be explained in the next pages, after all other type of beings are discussed.
[7] Toriten is the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods.
[8] Yamaten is the Heaven of Good Time (Yama in Skt)
[9] Tosotsuten is the Heaven of Contentment (Tusita)
[10] Kerakuten is the Heaven of Enjoyment of Pleasures Provided by Themselves (Nirmana-rati).
[11] Takejizaiten is the Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Manifestations by Others (Paranirmita-vasa-vartin).
[12] The six Devalokas are the six realms of the gods in the World of Desire.
[13] Kamadhatu is the World of Desire.
[14] Letter to a Friend, by Nagarjuna as quoted in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 169.
[15] See Abhidharmakosabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p 457-458
[16] Abhidharmakosabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p.458
[17] Abhidharmakosabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p.458
[18] Saddharmasm tyupasthana Sutra (Shobonenjogyo) – Mindfulness of the Right Dharma Sutra was translated from Sanskrit to Chinese by Gautama Prajnaruci between 538 and 543. This sutra explains the causes of rebirth in the six states of existence. It was much used by Genshin in his Ojoyoshu.
[19] Four islands means Japan with its four major islands.
[20] Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher (Boston: Shambhala, Revised edition, 1998), page 68.
[21] AbhidharmakoSabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p. 459
[22] Jatakamala - 'The Garland of Birth Stories' by master Aryasura describes thirty four of Buddha Shakyamuni's previous lives. This passage from Jatakamala was quoted in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 167. Many Tibetan scholars identify master Aryasura with the master Ashvaghosha.
[23] Chandragomin (Skt. Candragomin) - a famous Indian master and scholar from the 7th century and a lay practitioner, who famously challenged Chandrakirti to a debate in Nalanda that lasted for many years. His writings include Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow and Letter to a Disciple.
[24] This passage from Chandragomin's Letter to a Disciple, was quoted in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 167.
[25] Abhidharmakosabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2, p. 459-460.
[26] Letter to a Friend, by Nagarjuna, as quoted in The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, volume I, by Tsong-kha-pa, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York, p. 168.

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