Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “eight cold hells” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

The eight cold hells

i) The Arbuda hell:

In the Arbuda hell, people are plunged into a body of water where a pernicious wind blows so that their skin is torn off, their hair falls out, their tendons broken, the flesh torn, the bones broken and the marrow runs out. When they recover their wholeness, the damned undergo the same punishment again from the beginning. In their previous lives, these unfortunates had stripped human beings during the winter months, or stolen fuel and fire from people in the grip of the cold; or else they had been wicked nāgas, angry and full of hate, who had caused a rain of hail and ice to fall to annoy humans; or else they had scorned and slandered the Buddha, his disciples or people who were observing morality; or else they had committed grave sins by their four actions of speech. For all these reasons they fall into the Arbuda hell.

ii) The Nirarbuda hell:

It is the same in the Nirarbuda hell. But whereas the Arbuda hell has several “holes” (arbuda)[1] by which one can sometimes leave or enter, the Nirarbuda hell has no holes, and there is no means by which one can leave or enter.

iii-v) The Aṭata, Hahava and Huhuva hells:

In the three hells, Aṭata, Hahava and Huhuva, the damned shiver in the biting cold wind, unable to open their mouths, and these hells are named after the groans which are heard there.

vi) The Utpala hell:

[177c] In the Utpala hell, the ice and mud are like a blue lotus (nīlotpala).

vii) The Padma hell:

The shape of the Padma hell is like a red lotus.[2]

viii) The Mahāpadma hell:

The Mahāpadma hell is the dwelling-place of Kiu kia li (Kokalīka).[3]

Footnotes and references:


Other etymologies are found in the texts. This hell is called arbuda because those who are there are like bubbles (arbuda) or like thick clouds (ambuda), or because the cold wind produces blisters on their bodies. Cf. Hôbôgirin, Abuda, p. 8.


According to the Kośa, III, p. 154, Utpala and Padma indicate the shape taken by the damned: they are like a blue or red lotus. According to the Chinese sources studied by Beal, Catena, p. 63, the inmates of Utpala and Padma are covered with spots resembling blue and red lotuses respectively.


For Kokalīka, see above, p. 806F.