A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir


As described at Shambhala Press:

Take a trip through the realms of hell with a man whose temporary visitor’s pass gave him a horrifying—and enlightening—preview of its torments. This true account of Sam Bercholz’s near-death experience has more in common with Dante’s Inferno than it does with any of the popular feel-good stories of what happens when we die. In the aftermath of heart surgery, Sam, a longtime Buddhist practitioner and teacher, is surprised to find himself in the lowest realms of karmic rebirth, where he is sent to gain insight into human suffering. Under the guidance of a luminous being, Sam’s encounters with a series of hell-beings trapped in repetitious rounds of misery and delusion reveal to him how an individual’s own habits of fiery hatred and icy disdain, of grasping desire and nihilistic ennui, are the source of horrific agonies that pound consciousness for seemingly endless cycles of time. Comforted by the compassion of a winged goddess and sustained by the kindness of his Buddhist teachers, Sam eventually emerges from his ordeal with renewed faith that even the worst hell contains the seed of wakefulness. His story is offered, along with the modernist illustrations of a master of Tibetan sacred arts, in order to share what can be learned about awakening from our own self-created hells and helping others to find relief and liberation from theirs.

A most worthwhile reading experience. A creative rendering of a contemporary Dante’s Inferno, with the “Buddha of Hell”—like Virgil—doing the guiding along a most vivid labyrinthine journey through the hell-realms. Like Dante’s denizens, those in this Buddhist inferno are so placed due to their own peculiarities and propensities and states of mind in life, for instance there are those who were politicians, artists and scientists. The following passages provide a taste of this hellish trek:

“With a great sucking noise my consciousness was pulled through a central channel, and the extremely vast hellscape appeared before me. The ground was crystalline ice from which blue hot flames emerged from the outer edges. All was hot. All was frozen. Everything ignited with hellfire. Underneath the frozen icy expanse were innumerable forms of hell-beings, mummified into the ice but at the same time ablaze.

It came to me later that this initial experience was in fact quite auspicious, in that I had fallen into the palm of the Buddha of Hell. Through simultaneously feeling the textures of fire and water that he displayed to me, there arose an experience of nonduality, which brings freedom from the addiction to dualities of all kinds—self and other, form and emptiness, samsara and nirvana. Knowing this was the saving grace that allowed me to traverse hell under the Buddha of Hell’s guidance and was simultaneously the catalyst that could liberate any being that found itself in this forsaken realm.

The phenomenon of the hot hells can be simply described: everything is unbearably hot to unbearably hot. It is all unbearable… There is no letup of any kind. There is no equivalent of water, no equivalent of a cool breeze…nor anything that could give comfort or relief to those stuck in the hot hells. The degree of heat, claustrophobia, and crowding, the utter distress and despair, is monumental. The hot hells are impossibly jammed beyond capacity with human beings, animals, ghosts—beings of all kinds, all stuck in their habit-bodies, all suffering, and at the same time angry that they are suffering. An environment of constant panic is stirred by the flames and the surges of ever-stronger heat. The more the anger at being stuck increases, the hotter the hell becomes.”

The weighty-volume (8.2 x 0.6 x 11 inches) itself is marvelous to hold and read—the pages smooth and shiny, like white silk. Also it vividly lives up to its title, as the accompanying graphics are colorful and captivating.

Highly recommended!

I purchased my copy at Amazon:

A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir

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