Yama and the ill-fated being

In some Buddhist traditions there are Ten Kings of Hell, but the most prominent one is known as Yama. It is revealed in the suttas that Yama was himself reborn in hell because of his own former actions; pining for his former state as a human he yearns to be able to hear the Buddhadharma from the lips of the Blessed One and thus be liberated from his suffering:

At one time it occurred to King Yama: “Those that do evil deeds in the world are subjected to a variety of punishments like these. O that I might acquire human status and that a Tathāgata might arise in the world, a perfected one, a fully Self-Awakened One, and that I might wait on that Lord, and that that Lord might teach me dhamma, and that I might understand that Lord’s dhamma.” (MN III.187)

In the Devaduta Sutta: The Deva Messengers, Yama as Lord of the Underworld interrogates a condemned being as to whether or not he is aware of the messengers of the gods, the Devadhūtas—personifications of the five-forms of existential suffering: birth, old age, illness, a thief who is punished by whipping, then finally a rotting corpse. Claiming ignorance to all of the karmic associations, the ill-fated being listens to Yama continuing his interrogation that traditionally sums-up the prominent karmic proclivities that condemns one to the status of a hell-being. The verses are worth reading and pondering upon as [no one] is exempt from its teaching:

“Then the hell-wardens, seizing (such a being) by the arms, present him to King Yama: ‘This is a man, your majesty, with no respect for mother, no respect for father, no reverence for contemplatives, no reverence for brahmans, no honor for the leaders of his clan. Let your majesty decree his punishment.’

“Then King Yama interrogates & interpellates & castigates the man regarding the first deva messenger: ‘My good man, didn’t you see the first deva messenger that has appeared among human beings?’

“‘I didn’t, lord,’ he says.

Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t you see among human beings a tender baby boy lying prone in its own urine & excrement?’

“‘I did, lord,’ he says.

Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t the thought occur to you — observant & mature: “I, too, am subject to birth, have not gone beyond birth. I’d better do good with body, speech, & mind”?’

“‘I couldn’t, lord. I was heedless, lord.’

Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, through heedlessness you did not do what is good with body, speech, & mind. And of course, my good man, they will deal with you in accordance with your heedlessness. For that evil kamma of yours was neither done by your mother, nor done by your father, nor done by your brother, nor done by your sister, nor done by your friends & companions, nor done by your kinsmen & relatives, nor done by the devas. That evil kamma was done by you yourself, and you yourself will experience its result.’

“Then, having interrogated & interpellated & castigated the man regarding the first deva messenger, King Yama interrogates & interpellates & castigates him regarding the second: ‘My good man, didn’t you see the second deva messenger that has appeared among human beings?’

“‘I didn’t, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t you see among human beings a woman or man eighty, ninety, one hundred years old: aged, roof-rafter crooked, bentover, supported by a cane, palsied, miserable, broken-toothed, gray-haired, scanty-haired, bald, wrinkled, with limbs all blotchy?’

“‘I did, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t the thought occur to you — observant & mature: “I, too, am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging. I’d better do good with body, speech, & mind”?’

“‘I couldn’t, lord. I was heedless, lord.’

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, through heedlessness you did not do what is good with body, speech, & mind. And of course, my good man, they will deal with you in accordance with your heedlessness. For that evil kamma of yours was neither done by your mother, nor done by your father, nor done by your brother, nor done by your sister, nor done by your friends & companions, nor done by your kinsmen & relatives, nor done by the devas. That evil kamma was done by you yourself, and you yourself will experience its result.’

“Then, having interrogated & interpellated & castigated the man regarding the second deva messenger, King Yama interrogates & interpellates & castigates him regarding the third: ‘My good man, didn’t you see the third deva messenger that has appeared among human beings?’

“‘I didn’t, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t you see among human beings a woman or man diseased, in pain, severely ill, lying in her/his own urine & excrement, lifted up by others, laid down by others?’

“‘I did, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t the thought occur to you — observant & mature: “I, too, am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness. I’d better do good with body, speech, & mind”?’

“‘I couldn’t, lord. I was heedless, lord.’

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, through heedlessness you did not do what is good with body, speech, & mind. And of course, my good man, they will deal with you in accordance with your heedlessness. For that evil kamma of yours was neither done by your mother, nor done by your father, nor done by your brother, nor done by your sister, nor done by your friends & companions, nor done by your kinsmen & relatives, nor done by the devas. That evil kamma was done by you yourself, and you yourself will experience its result.’

“Then, having interrogated & interpellated & castigated the man regarding the third deva messenger, King Yama interrogates & interpellates & castigates him regarding the fourth: ‘My good man, didn’t you see the fourth deva messenger that has appeared among human beings?’

“‘I didn’t, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t you see among human beings kings —catching a thief, a criminal — having him tortured in many ways: flogging him with whips, beating him with canes, beating him with clubs; cutting off his hands, cutting off his feet, cut off his hands & feet; cutting off his ears, cutting off his nose, cutting off his ears & nose; subjecting him to the ‘porridge pot,’ the ‘polished-shell shave,’ the ‘Rāhu’s mouth,’ the ‘flaming garland,’ the ‘blazing hand,’ the ‘grass-duty (ascetic),’ the ‘bark-dress (ascetic),’ the ‘burning antelope,’ the ‘meat hooks,’ the ‘coin-gouging,’ the ‘lye pickling,’ the ‘pivot on a stake,’ the ‘rolled-up bed’; having him splashed with boiling oil, devoured by dogs, impaled alive on a stake; cutting off his head with a sword?’

“‘I did, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t the thought occur to you — observant & mature: “It seems that those who do evil actions are tortured in these many ways in the here & now. And how much more in the hereafter? I’d better do good with body, speech, & mind”?’

“‘I couldn’t, lord. I was heedless, lord.’

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, through heedlessness you did not do what is good with body, speech, & mind. And of course, my good man, they will deal with you in accordance with your heedlessness. For that evil kamma of yours was neither done by your mother, nor done by your father, nor done by your brother, nor done by your sister, nor done by your friends & companions, nor done by your kinsmen & relatives, nor done by the devas. That evil kamma was done by you yourself, and you yourself will experience its result.’

“Then, having interrogated & interpellated & castigated the man regarding the fourth deva messenger, King Yama interrogates & interpellates & castigates him regarding the fifth: ‘My good man, didn’t you see the fifth deva messenger that has appeared among human beings?’

“‘I didn’t, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t you see among human beings a woman or man, one day, two days, or three days dead: bloated, livid, oozing with lymph?’

“‘I did, lord,’ he says.

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, didn’t the thought occur to you — observant & mature: “I, too, am subject to death, have not gone beyond death. I’d better do good with body, speech, & mind”?’

“‘I couldn’t, lord. I was heedless, lord.’

“Then King Yama says, ‘My good man, through heedlessness you did not do what is good with body, speech, & mind. And of course, my good man, they will deal with you in accordance with your heedlessness. For that evil kamma of yours was neither done by your mother, nor done by your father, nor done by your brother, nor done by your sister, nor done by your friends & companions, nor done by your kinsmen & relatives, nor done by the devas. That evil kamma was done by you yourself, and you yourself will experience its result.’

“Then, having interrogated & interpellated & castigated the man regarding the fifth deva messenger, King Yama falls silent.*

[*In Asian Buddhist kingdoms, there was a custom that when a king was sentencing a criminal to death or to be tortured, he would not actually express the sentence, but would simply fall silent. The Commentary counsels that if a student asks not to hear the description of hell (which follows from this point), a teacher should teach the student meditation and then wait until the student has reached stream-entry before returning to the description of hell. (Translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)]

The ill-fated one then is handed over to the hell-wardens and experiences excruciating torment. For example:

“Then the hell-wardens torture [the evildoer] with what’s called a fivefold imprisonment. They drive a red-hot iron stake through one hand, they drive a red-hot iron stake through the other hand, they drive a red-hot iron stake through one foot, they drive a red-hot iron stake through the other foot, they drive a red-hot iron stake through the middle of his chest. There he feels painful, racking, piercing feelings, yet he does not die as long as his evil kamma is not exhausted.

“Then the hell-wardens lay him down and slice him with axes. Then they hold him feet up & head down and slice him with adzes. Then they harness him to a chariot and drive him back & forth over ground that is burning, blazing, & glowing. Then they make him climb up & down a vast mountain of embers that is burning, blazing, & glowing. Then they hold him feet up & head down and plunge him into a red-hot copper cauldron that is burning, blazing, & glowing. There he boils with bubbles foaming. And as he is boiling there with bubbles foaming, he goes now up, he goes now down, he goes now around. There he feels painful, racking, piercing feelings, yet he does not die as long as his evil kamma is not exhausted…

Interesting how the second-set of tortures resembles those described in the Notes from the Iron Stupa Series:

Entranced, Ernst Schäfer fell into a subterranean mind-stupor and found himself spiraling-downwards into an unimaginable well of darkness. Twilight began to dissolve away the numbing miasma as he lay paralyzed on the bottom of some infernal cavity. Demons of the pit appeared and, lifting his immobile frame, sent him headlong into a fiery cauldron of scalding-liquid as they fiendishly watched his slow descent into this molten-hell.

Ernst Schäfer belched-out in inconceivable agony as one of the demons sliced-off his head, chopped his body into small pieces, and mixed the dissolving elements as if stirring a toxic stew. There the demons boiled his body for an indefinite period before draining the remains into a cavernous-stream that emptied out into a nearby river…

Notice from the exchange in the Sutta that even though one might “inherit” karmic proclivities from their kinfolk and forebears, each soul is still responsible for one’s actions, regardless of any influence from outside agencies, either human or divine, and will pay the penalty if not heeding the consequences of such actions—becoming, as such, an ill-fated being.

This entry was posted in Buddhist Hells and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enter Captcha Here : *

Reload Image