Also known as The Ten Kings, or the Ten Judges of Hell; the Ten Kings of Hell are afterlife judges. They derive from Chinese Taoist tradition, filtered through Japanese Buddhism.
- Those who have clearly lived exemplary lives travel to Paradise.
- Those who have been clearly wicked travel to a punishment realm.
But what of those whose actions are more ambiguous? Those who may have performed both good and bad deeds while alive? Where do they go? That’s for the Kings of Hell to decide.
The Kings of Hell preside over a series of afterlife trials intended to determine the fate of the dead soul. The person’s actions while alive, both positive and negative are weighed, analyzed and discussed. Jizo serves as the defense attorney for dead souls and always attempts to present human actions in the best possible light. Final outcome, however is up to the Kings of Hell.
The Eighteen Levels of Hell
Chinese legends speak of the “Eighteen Levels of Hell”. Each court deals with a different aspect of atonement and different punishments; most legends claim that sinners are subjected to gruesome tortures until their “deaths”, after which they are restored to their original state for the torture to be repeated.
The concept of the eighteen hells started in the Tang dynasty. The Buddhist text Wen Diyu Jing mentioned 134 worlds of hell, but was simplified to the Eighteen Levels of Hell for convenience. Sinners feel pain and agony just like living humans when they are subjected to the tortures listed below. They cannot “die” from the torture because when the ordeal is over, their bodies will be restored to their original states for the torture to be repeated. The following is a list of common punishments and tortures in the hells:
- Mountain of Knives: Sinners are thrown off cliffs and land on mountainous terrain with sharp blades sticking out. Some depictions show offenders climbing trees with knives or sharp thorns sticking out of trunks and branches.
- Cauldron torture: Sinners are fried in cauldrons of oil.
- Dismemberment: Sinners are dismembered by various means, including sawing, slicing into half, mashing/pounding into pulp, being crushed by rocks/boulders, being run over by vehicles, etc.
- Grinding torture: Sinners are put into a grinding machine and ground into a bloody pulp.
- Burning: Sinners are set aflame or cast into infernos.
- Paolao torture: Sinners are stripped naked and tied to a large hollow metal cylinder with a fire lit at its base.
- Boiling liquid torture: Boiling liquids are forced down sinners’ throats or poured on parts of their bodies.
- Tortures involving removal of body parts or organs: Tongue ripping, eye gouging, teeth extraction, heart digging, disembowelment, skinning, etc.
- Ice World: Sinners are frozen in ice. Some depictions show unclothed sinners suffering frostbite in an icy world. Their bodies eventually fall apart or break into pieces.
- Scales and hooks torture: Sinners are pierced with hooks and hung upside-down. Some depictions show sinners having nails hammered into their bodies.
- Pool of Blood: Sinners are cast into a pool of filthy blood, where they drown. Blood spills from all bodily orifices.
- Tortures involving animals: Sinners are trampled by cattle, gored by animals with horns or tusks, mauled or eaten by predators, stung or bitten by poisonous species, etc.
- Avīci: The period of suffering in this chamber is the longest. It is reserved for sinners who have committed heinous crimes, including the Five Grave Offences.
Some literature refers to eighteen types of hells or to eighteen hells for each type of punishment. Some religious or literature books say that wrongdoers who were not punished when they were alive are punished in the hells after death.
The Five Grave Offences:
Ānantarika-karma or ānantarika-kamma is a heinous crime that through karmic process brings immediate disaster. They are called ‘anantarika’ because they are ‘an’ (without) ‘antara’ (interval), in other words the results immediately come to fruition in the next life, i.e. the participant goes straight to hell.
These are considered so heinous that Buddhists and non-Buddhists must avoid them. According to Buddhism, committing such a crime would prevent the perpetrator from attaining the stages of sotāpanna, sakadagami, anāgāmi or arhat in that lifetime. The five crimes are:
- Intentionally murdering one’s father.
- Intentionally murdering one’s mother.
- Killing an Arhat (fully enlightened being).
- Shedding the blood of a Buddha.
- Creating a schism within the Sangha, the community of Buddhist monks, nuns and pariṣā who try to attain enlightenment.
In Mahayana Buddhism these five crimes are referred to as pañcānantarya and are mentioned in “The Sutra Preached by the Buddha on the Total Extinction of the Dharma”.
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