Translated by: Andrew Yang
A friend once said to me, “The hell described in Buddhist scriptures is so shockingly unimaginable. It would be too brutal to use these instruments of punishment torturing sinners! In our human world we have no such horrendous miseries. Human civilization simply does not allow these barbarous, stupid, sadistic means to exist.”
But really? Is there no hell in the human world? Unfortunately, there is. Sadly, however, you are not aware of it. If you go to an abattoir or a food market, or visit the kitchen of a restaurant, you will see the slaughtering going on, of cattle, sheep, pigs, ducks, chickens, fish, shrimps, crabs, you name it. Some restaurants advertise “live seafood”, “live monkey brain”, “flame over drunk shrimp”, or “lobster sashimi” as their proud “house dishes”, yet the cruelty involved is no less than “hanging upside down, cutting, chopping, dicing, mincing, skinning and roasting alive, frying, stewing, smoking and grilling” in hell, as described in Ksitigarbha Sutra. What difference is there? Aren’t they just what literally goes on in our world?!
History tells us that human civilization has in fact been inseparable from war, riots, persecution and genocide. It is all because humans have slaughtered animals and eaten them for food for far too long, and have thus formed a deeply entrenched savage mindset.
It is true whatever causes are set in the human world, they give rise to appropriate effects in hell. Just as there are in this world anger, stupidity, greed, lust, arrogance, stealing, and killing, so in hell there are punishments such as pulling out the tongue to plough over it, extracting intestines to chop with a file, filling the mouth with molten copper or roping around the body with hot wire. In fact, these kinds of torture and acts of cruel punishment in hell are found in the human world as well, and their degrees of ruthlessness and brutality are nothing but comparable to each other.
Take China for example, its long-established means of physical torture were indeed quite outstanding in terms of their variety, cruelty of corporal punishment, and level of the miseries inflicted. Have a look at stories of China’s ruthless officials who gained notoriety, in the criminal law section of books such as The Great Collection of Books Ancient and Modern, Imperial Readings of Taiping Era, and Twenty-four Histories. As early as the time of the ancient sages Yao and Shun over 4,000 years ago, there were already many methods of torture and execution, including chopping off a nose or ear, castration, face branding, cutting the body in half at waist, chiseling open the skull, five chariots pulling the body apart all the way to beheading.
Both Volume 84, the “Corpus of Intelligent Torture” in The Great Collection of Books Ancient and Modern and The Book of Benevolence by Wu Erxun (1621-45) list ways of physical torture designed by tyrants and their ruthless officials against criminals and political opponents since the Spring and Autumn Warring States Periods. They range from the lighter ones of flogging, whipping, caning, shackling and claustration, the common ones such as cutting off arms, feet, the nose and genitals, and gouging out eyes, to the more severe ones of death by a crossbow, hanging, extracting intestines, death by frying and boiling, death by being bound to a hollow cylindrical filled with burning charcoal, skinning, chopping the body in half at waist, five chariots pulling the body apart, body dismemberment, and decapitation. These contrivances of torture and butchering are even more horrifying than those in hell named by Buddhist scriptures. They have been wreaking havoc to human civilization for thousands of years, causing great pains and tremendous suffering to countless individuals and their families.
Indeed, laws in the human world can hardly be of absolute fairness and justice, for reasons of politics, culture, ethnic traditions, personal perspectives and emotions and other factors. All along in China’s history, conviction of one person for a crime has frequently implicated their exhaustive network of family, relatives and friends. Who knows how many innocent people perished, for instance, during the literary inquisitions of the Yuan, Ming, and even Qing dynasties?! In hell, by contrast, it is the one person committing a cause who generates the karma and no one but that individual reaps the reward. Is not this karma system in hell, never giving anyone a wrongful treatment, far fairer than the system of crime and punishment in our world?!
Mankind’s greatest enemy is their own deluded mind which, once motivated by anger, stupidity, greed, lust, arrogance and so on, helps them commit vast amounts of evil including killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, libel and slander, lying, doublespeak and deception, thus inducing karma for all sorts of pernicious consequences in hell. The Medicine Buddha jeweled Repentance Liturgy has this to say,
“Sentient beings, buried in filth and covered by darkness, know not what causality is and therefore they repent not. Driven by anger, stupidity and greed, they commit killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and many other misdeeds. The filth they leave behind is countless and the evil karma they cause accumulates without their knowing. In the end they cut short their own longevity and ruin their own prosperity. Their children die off before they do and they themselves die nine types of violent death. Since they have planted seeds for all the miseries extant in the realms of beasts, hungry ghosts and hell, sooner or later they reap the exact bad fruits, nothing more, nothing less.”
All in all, as long as sentient beings continue to do evil, there will be misery in hell. To eliminate hell, then, we must start by elevating people’s mind and purifying it.