Move over, Dante. The cruel, gratuitously layered tortures of the Narakas, or “hell realms,” rival those of any Abrahamic tradition. Unlike the latter, though, those Buddhist hells don’t last for an eternity—some only have durations of billions of years. Phew. —Eds.
The Intense Heating Hell
The beings in this hell are trapped inside blazing metal houses, and Yama’s henchmen impale them through the heels and the anus with tridents of red-hot iron, until the prongs push out through the shoulders and the crown of the head. At the same time their bodies are wrapped in sheets of blazing metal.
The Heating Hell
Here, countless being suffer by being cooked in huge iron cauldrons the size of the whole cosmos of a billion worlds, where they boil in molten bronze. Whenever they surface, they are grabbed by the workers with metal hooks and are beaten about the head with hammers, sometimes losing consciousness.
The Black-Line Hell
Here Yama’s henchmen lay their victims out on the ground of burning metal like so many firebrands and cross-rule their bodies with black lines—four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two and so on—which they use as guidelines to cut them up with burning saws. No sooner have their bodies been cut into pieces than they immediately become whole once more, only to be hacked apart and chopped up over and over again.
The Rounding-Up and Crushing Hell
In this hell, being by the million are thrown into vast mortars of iron the size of whole valleys. The henchmen of Yama, the Lord of Death, whirling huge hammers of red-hot metal as big as Mount Meru around their heads, pound their victims with them. These beings are crushed to death, screaming and weeping in unimaginable agony and terror. As the hammers are lifted, they come back to life, only to suffer the same torments over and over again.
Excerpted from Patrul Rinpoche’s The Words of My Perfect Teacher.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.