The Great Chariot

by Longchenpa | 268,580 words

A Commentary on Great Perfection: The Nature of Mind, Easer of Weariness In Sanskrit the title is ‘Mahāsandhi-cittā-visranta-vṛtti-mahāratha-nāma’. In Tibetan ‘rDzogs pa chen po sems nyid ngal gso’i shing rta chen po shes bya ba ’...

There are two kinds of Hells, hot and cold.

1) the Hot Hells

1.a) The Reviving Hell:

Now from the extensive divisions there is

1.a.i) A brief explanation of the sufferings of the Reviving Hell: Of the twelve hot Hells, the first is the Reviving Hell:

Over the blazing iron coals of the Hell of Reviving,
Beings meet and kill each other with their weapons.
A voice says, "Revive," and again they suffer as before.
They experience this until their karma is exhausted.

Over blazing iron coals, these Hell beings are gathered by their karma. They strike each other with sticks, battle-axes, iron clubs, disks and so forth. Seeing each other as hostile enemies, they seem to fight until all of them are killed. Then a voice from space says, "Revive," and right away they revive as they were before. They have to experience countless times the real suffering of being killed by their weapons. The Friendly Letter says:

Three hundred times a day by short sharp spears,
These are fiercely stabbed, and thus their pain,
When they enter into the agonies of Hell,
Are an unbearable rain of sufferings.
Even one such experience is unbearable.

1.a.ii) The measure of their lives

The measure of their lives is until their karma is exhausted. Briefly, as it says in the ordinary sutras:

Fifty years within the life of a human being
Are just a day for the four great gods who are kings of the world.
Their months are thirty such days, and twelve months make a year.
Five hundred such years are a day in the Reviving Hell.
They have to suffer for five hundred years of days like these.
The exact calculation of this, according to the sutras,
Is a hundred and sixty-two thousand times ten million human years.


The ordinary sutras of the Mahayana, the tantras, and the treatises say that by individuals' karma there being thin or thick[1] or in their transmigrating between lives, those who fall into that place are not taught to have one single certain measure of life. Strong antidotes may arise in their being and so forth, so that they suddenly transmigrate. It is said that someone who had attained to being something like a tantric master might have to remain for many kalpas, until released from karmic obscuration.  The Friendly Letter says:

Thus they experience quite unbearable suffering 
Over the course of a hundred times ten million years.
For as long as their bad karma has not been exhausted,
For that long they cannot be free of that life.

In the case of the viewpoint of the ordinary sutras, the Treasury of Manifestation of the Elements of Existence says:

In the six levels of the Reviving and so forth,
One day equals the lives of desire gods.

According to the account given in the Objects of Mindfulness and Discrimination of Karma (Karma- vibhanga :las rnam ’byed) fifty human years is one day for the great conquering kings of the four families. Thirty of these is one of their months, and twelve of these is counted as their year, and five hundred of those years is one day of the Reviving Hell. They suffer for five hundred such years. If one counts this in human years, the Objects of Mindfulness says:

Beings endure a hundred thousand times ten million years and 62,000 in the Reviving Hell.

1.b) The Black Thread Hell

The Hell below this is the Black Thread Hell[2]:

In the Black Thread Hell where they were ripped by blazing saws
They are stitched together, and where they were joined they are ripped once more.
Because of this, their suffering is terrible.

If we take a day of a 133 human years,
A thousand years of those is a day of the Black Thread Hell.
They live a thousand such years, which in human years
Is a total of twelve hundred thousand and ninety-six
Times ten million years, so the Teacher has taught.


The Spiritual Letter says:

Some are cut to pieces with saws, and, like that, others
Are cut apart by sharp and irresistible axes.

As for their lives, if 133 human years is counted as a day, a thousand years of such days is one day of the Black Thread Hell. They endure a thousand such years. If we count the same period in human years, the Objects of Mindfulness says:

The years of beings in the Black Thread Hell are twelve hundred thousand and ninety six times ten million years.

1.c) The Hell of Crushing and Joining

Below that

In the Hell of Crushing and Joining, beings are crushed to atoms
By mountains like horses, camels, lions, tigers, and so on.
The mountains part, and again they are living, as before.
In iron valleys pestles grind them into dust.
As they are being crushed, streams of their blood flow down.
Two hundred years are a day for the gods who are free from strife.[3]
Two thousand such twin-god years are a day of the Crushing Hell.
There they are said to suffer for two thousand of their years,
Or thirty trillion, nine hundred and eighty billion years.


The Letter to a Student says:

There are two long ram’s horns that are as big as mountains. 
Gathered between them their bodies are crushed and reduced to dust.
A wind that does not cool at all rises to restore them.
Then again they are crushed to dust like that a hundred times.

The Friendly Letter says:

Some are crushed like sesame seeds, And others ground fine like flour.

There are certain gods who, because they are free from fighting with the asuras, are called "free from strife," Aviha, and because boys and girls emerge from their loins together, they are also called the "twin gods." Two hundred human years make up one day for them. Two thousand of these days are one day in the Hell of Crushing and Joining. Beings there must endure two thousand such years. If this is divided in human years, the Objects of Mindfulness says:

Those of the Hell of Crushing and Joining endure 10,368,000 times ten million human years.


1.d) The Crying and Screaming Hell

Then below that:

In the Crying and Screaming Hell, beings are burnt in fires,
That is why they scream and wail in lamentation.
They suffer by being cooked in boiling iron cauldrons.

Four hundred years are a day for the Joyful Heaven gods.
Four thousand of these are a day of the Crying and Screaming Hell.
Their sufferings go on for four thousand of their years.
In human years this is a hundred and eighty trillion
Nine hundred and forty-four billion are also added to these.


The Friendly Letter says:

Some are burned by blazing embers continuously,
While they are being consumed, their mouths are gaping wide.
Some hell beings boiled in iron or great copper caldrons,
Are cooked like rice that is being made into soup.

The Letter to a Student says:

Some fall into great kettles full of boiling oil.
Others transmigrate to burning sand that gives off sparks.
They cannot see the ground on which they put their feet.

Four hundred human years are counted as one day among the gods of the Joyful (Tushita, dga’a ldan) heaven. Four thousand of these[4] are one day of the Crying and Screaming Hell. They endure four thousand such years. If one counts this in human years the Objects of Mindfulness says:

Those of the Crying and Screaming Hell live for 10,944,000 times ten million human years.


1.e) The Hell of Great Crying and Screaming

Also under that

In the Hell of Great Screams, in a blazing iron house,
They are burned in fires and hacked to bits by the Lord of Death.
Eight hundred years are a day for the gods who enjoy emanations.

Eight thousand of their years are a day in the Hell of Great Screams.
Their sufferings continue for eight thousand of their years.
This amounts in human years to three quadrillion,
Five hundred and fifty-two trillion, six hundred and sixty billion.


The Letter to a Student says:

When there is hellfire and smoke, by the overpowering stench,
The beings there become the color of the sky.
Tongues of flame are emanated like many hands
Pervading all of the circle of the directions of space.

Adorned with bare white bones, gathered into a terrible wreath.
The guards wear elephant skins, as a means of threatening them,
As they cry out in pain and fear "Kye ma! Kyi hud!

Some of the time great sparkling fires are emanated,
Rising and towering upward with an agonizing roar.
By day their voices peak in number and shrill volume
In the bones of their breasts, they very loudly scream and howl.
Not even kalpa fire rivals those where they fall.

Eight hundred human years are counted as a day of the Nirmanarati gods who delight in emanations, and eight thousand of their years are a day of the Hell of Great Screams. They remain for eight thousand of their years. As for the count of this in human years, the Objects of Mindfulness says

They have to endure the Hell of Great Screams for 663,552,000 times 10 million human years.

1.f) The Hell of Heat

Below that:

In the Hell of Heat beings are in an iron house.
Their brains are first exposed by using a short spear.
After that they are thoroughly beaten on with hammers.
Inside and out they are seared by blazing tongues of flame.

A day of the gods who delight in others’ emanations
Has the same length as sixteen hundred human years.
Sixteen thousand of these is a day in the Hell of Heat.
They suffer there for sixteen thousand of their years.
Which equals three billion and eighty-four million human years,
To which are added another hundred and sixty thousand.


The Letter to a Student says:

They see the noose of time in the hand of the Lord of Death
Poisonous snakes praise his lofty rank as he supervises.
Crows, gulls, ravens, and vultures peck out eyes and brains
From those who are there without the slightest hesitation.

Sixteen hundred human years is counted as one day by the Paranirmitavashavartin gods. Sixteen thousand of these are counted as one day in the Hell of Heat.  They endure sixteen thousand of their years, which in human years, as the Objects of Mindfulness says:

Those of  the Hell  of Heat endure this for 818,416 million times ten million human years.


1.g) The Very Hot Hell

Below this:

In the Very Hot Hell, within two stages of iron houses,[5]
They are burned in fire and then impaled by three-pointed weapons.
These emerge at their heads and shoulders, which then are wrapped with bandages.

They also suffer by being boiled in copper cauldrons.
The length of their lives is half an intermediate kalpa.
It is beyond being counted in terms of human years.
In four small kalpas the world arises and endures;
It is destroyed and there is nothingness.
The length of these four is equal to one intermediate kalpa.
One great kalpa is eighty intermediate ones.

A sutra says:

In the Very Hot Hell are a host of harms and blazing fires 
Their bodies are pierced by vajras and three pointed spears.
They are boiled in great copper cauldrons and tied in bandages.
They only rest while burned by fires within and without.

The measure of their lives is unfathomably long. In four stages the word arises, endures, is destroyed, and remains in emptiness. Each of these is counted as one intermediate kalpa. They live for half of such a kalpa. The Objects of Mindfulness says:

Those of the Very Hot Hell must endure their their experiences of suffering for half an intermediate kalpa.

1.h) The Uninterrupted Hell

Below that:

In the Uninterrupted Hell, in blazing iron houses
The hell beings loudly howl and wail in lamentation
The fire and those beings cannot be separately seen.
Just as the burning flame of a lamp will cling to its center,
There is just a spark of life in the center of the fire.

They have to suffer this for an intermediate kalpa.
Since there is no greater suffering that this,
It is called Uninterrupted, or the one that has no gaps.

The Letter to a Student says:

As dry grass burns from the heart, from their lungs burn blazing fires.
From throats and mouths repeatedly issue smoky flames.
As they fall from inner hunger, their innards stretch and they panic.
They produce an indescribable howling cry.

Wishing to be freed from all their great suffering,
Again and again, they watch from within the opening gates
Seeing other far off places, they wait until the gates open.
As soon as they go forward the gates shut tight again.

Then there is further pain of unbearable depression.
Like a falling rain of sharp and blazing arrows,
Then the guardians beat them with clubs, while tears flow down,
They are made to drink from a stewpot of molten iron
That is thickly wreathed about with blazing sparks

Smoke rises upward from the holes of their noses, mouths and ears
Until their eyes and brains are made ooze like cream.
Tongues of flame are burning everywhere on their brains,
Along with an accumulation of thick black smoke.
That fire, as if it were furious at those piled bodies,
Flares like dry piles of firewood that are being kindled.

The Spiritual Letter says:

Among the unbearable sufferings of all of these Those of the Uninterrupted Hell are worst of all.

The Analysis of Karma says:

At the gates of the Uninterrupted Hell is an iron mountain of 60,000 pagtse. The Hell beings, exhausted by getting by it, transmigrate to new lives. There are an immeasurable number of them, it is taught.

This is manifested by very heavy karma of having abandoned Dharma, broken samaya etc. The Objects of Mindfulness says:

Those of the Uninterrupted Hell transmigrate after having passed there an intermediate
kalpa. Even if they are born as a king, their powers will not be sound.

1.i) The summary of the meaning of these

Now there is the summary:

In each these different Hells that have been mentioned above,
The tongues of flame are seven times hotter than the last.
Each is lower, with greater suffering, than the last.
Beings suffer until their karma is exhausted.

As for these Hells that have just been described, the tongues of flame become seven times hotter from one to the next. The Analysis (rnam a’byed) says:

Hellfire from one to the next
Increases by seven times.
Likewise the sufferings
Are seven times the last.

More and more sufferings are stacked up, like blisters on top of leprosy. As if their sensations had became seven times stronger, their sufferings are also seven times stronger. They must endure this until their karma is exhausted.

1.j) The Occasional Hells

1.j.i) The Main Explanation of the occasional Hells

Included among these Hells are the following:

The occasional Hells may be in the mountains, trees, or sky.
In water, fire, or rocks, or in uncertain places
Live groups of beings, or just a few or single beings.
In those places they suffer their respective torments.
That is why they have been called "the Occasional Hells."

The beings of the occasional Hells are in mountains, rocks, water, fire, space, and so on, or in uncertain occasional places, like a pestle, rope, refuse rag, a burning piece of wood, or a log. There may be different kinds of beings together, or one alone. They may be hot, cold, wet, dry, ripped apart, cut up, boiled, whatever sort of suffering it may be, but each is unbearable. This may last half a day and night, just a moment, or for all eternity, since they suffer by the force of different karmas. Thus they are called “occasional.” The Vinaya Scriptures say:

Then the son of Maudgal, from reachng the end of the ocean, saw the Hells of the beings of the occasional Hells are in places like a pestle, a duster or a tree, very many of them, tormented by their sufferings. He said:

Within the realm of samsara, there is no happiness.
All beings are like the inhabitants of the occasional Hells,
All tormented by their individual sufferings,
As if they had been forced to live in a blazing land.

1.j.ii) In order to refute other kinds of confusions

As for refuting other kinds of wrong conceptions:

Some mistakenly say that the name "occasional"152
Is given as few are there, or since their lives are short.
But scorpions live for quite a while among the rocks.
And once there was an ephemeral Hell that had the form
Of five hundred shravakas gathering for their noontime meal.
It is said that they took up weapons and struck each other.

Some say are called occasional since each day they become non-existent. This is not the right sense here. From the time some of these were born in an iron house, until now it has been many years,and still they abide in this Hell. Having refuted that, nor is it that they are called occasional because these hell beings are alone and companionless.  When Droshinkye Nawajewari[6] arrived, in a monastery called Drawachen,[7] from the beating of a gandi,[8] as soon as 500 beings had taken the form of shravakas, they quarreled with each other, and resolved it with weapons. Then the moment the hostilities were over, they were no longer seen, so the scriptures say. That was the harm of that Hell.

1.j) The Neighboring Hells

1.j.i) The brief teaching.

Around the Uninterrupted Hell are sixteen others:

The Neighboring Hells are found by the Uninterrupted Hell.
They are found in each of its cardinal directions.
These are the Fire Pit Hell, the Hell of Putrid Stench,
The Plain of Weapons, and the River without a Ford.[9]
In all there are four times four—sixteen such Hells.

1.j.ii) The extensive explanation

There are six sections describing these, which open in whatever direction one turns.

1.j.ii.a)) The Fire Pit Hell:

To say a little about the Fire Pit Hell

Thinking that its gates have finally been opened,
Beings come forth from within the Uninterrupted Hell.
Seeing shady river valleys, they enter into the water.[10]

Having sunk into blazing coals up to their knees,
Their flesh is burned away, leaving bones as white as lotuses.
Then they revive as before. Their suffering is extreme.

First, their karma usually confines them in the iron houses of the Uninterrupted Hell, where sufferings of heat are afflicted with great pain. Then, thinking that the gates have opened, they flee. As they go out, they seem to see a pleasant shady ravine. About what they suffer there, driven in by iron dogs, the Letter to a Student says:

A crowd of torn people are driven by dogs with gaping jaws.
Long sharp fangs with vajra tips rip at their bodies.
They come to the bank of a river that cannot be crossed
Full of dismal ashes and licking tongues of flame.

While driven they are mutilated by cornered rocks,
Having sharp razor points that tear unbearably.

Because they flee into the river, their flesh and bones are burned, and then they revive again,

1.j.ii.b)) The second,

When they think they are free of that, here is what they reach:

As soon as they enter the cooling ponds that they have seen,
They sink in a putrid, stinking mire of rotting corpses.
Worms with metal beaks of copper, iron, and gold,
Pierce their bodies, and bore and tunnel into them.

The Letter to a Student says:

Some move about like little worms and insects.[11]
Because of the crowd their bodies are immobile.
Or else they rot away upon the fields.
Their lives are blocked by the trap of their karmic nature

They live without being even able to move.

1.j.ii.c)) The third

As soon as they return to the pleasant plains they have seen
They are cut to pieces by blazing daggers while still alive.

The Letter to a Student says:

Into a grove filled with razor branches with leaves of swords,
When they run exhausted, of course their bodies are wounded
They fall into wells, the vicious mouths of the Lord of Death,
Filled with three-pointed spears, and arrows, and sharp swords.

1.j.ii.d)) The fourth:

When they enter pleasant leafy groves, they are overcome,
By a forest of sharp swords stirred up by the wind.

The Letter to a Student says:

Enduring many torments difficult to bear
Day and night, their bodies are grievously destroyed.
As they go through thick green trees which they have formerly seen, They cannot help falling onto leaves of a hundred weapons.
More intimate than a man and wife they remain in destruction.

1.j.ii.e)) The fifth

Passing from there to a very pleasant mountain peak,
They see their former homeland, and go as if they were summoned.
Flesh and blood are scraped away with sharp iron spoons.
Vultures peck their brains, as they are climbing upward.

Then they think that they are called to descend the mountain,
And again they are scraped by the spoons, as when they first went up.
At the edge of the plain are men and women with sharpened beaks.
In the blazing embrace of these their suffering is extreme.
After that they are eaten by many dogs and jackals.

Then they think that there is a very pleasant mountain. When they go there, seeing the country where there were the men or women with whom each had formerly associated in sexual intimacy and people related to them, and thinking that they are calling, they ascend. Then, as they are scraped with iron spoons, the flesh and blood drops down. As they come down, they suffer the same pains of being scraped as when they went up. The Letter to a Student says:

When they quickly climb this unbearable height of shalmali trees.[12]
There is a host of thorns, facing downward, that scrapes them through.
With terrible pain, they destroy them inside, and then subside.

And also:

When they move down, the iron thorns are facing upward.

They experience them, many, rough and very sharp.
They pierce them to the core, just as they remember.

Then some of them, because of sensations in their bodies
Of blazing three pointed spears, are unable to descend.

At that time, by crows whose beaks are well-honed weapons,
They are driven along, while their entrails hang down and are scattered.[13]
Some fall into fearful pits of mountain chasms.


From all the women a hundred tongues of flame come forth.
They live intemingled with those sparkling wreaths.
Toothed like saws, these do not ever leave their bodies.

Lured into exquisite groves, men embrace and unite with them.

1.j.ii.f)) The sixth

Also having seen the cool streams of flowing rivers,
As soon as they joyfully go and are immersed in them,
They sink to their waists in hot ashes, and flesh and bones are consumed.
They see the guards of Yama[14] keeping them from the two banks.
There they have to suffer for many thousands of years.

The Objects of Mindfulness says:

When they go there, they see streams. As soon as they step into them up to their waists, their flesh is burned, and even their bones turn to powder and separate from them. When again they are revived, on the banks where they formerly were, the minions of the Lord of Death appear to be standing.

1.k) The instruction on eliminating those sufferings.

As for someone who is tormented by the great sufferings of the hot hells:
If someone in the Hells can remain unterrified,
And knows the nature of these endless samsaric torments,
Then that person will have the means of passing beyond them.

That is the instruction.

2) The Cold Hells

2.a) The eight cold Hells.

Now the sufferings of cold are explained:

There are also eight Hells where there are the torments of cold.
In extremely frigid places of snow and so forth,
Arbuda, Nirarbuda, Atata, and Hahava
Huhuva and Utpala, Padma and Mahapadma.[15]
In blackest darkness their bodies are frozen by swirling blizzards,
Devoured by living things with sharp and flaming beaks.
Until they reach the end of their karma they shiver there.

Afflicted by cold and snowy confines, black darkness, and black cold swirling winds, they are covered with blisters, and, when the blisters burst, with wounds. Except for sneezing "achu!" they cannot speak.

They lament, "kye 'ud!" but their teeth chatter, so that no speech can get out. They are wounded like a blue utpala lotus with fine roots and big petals turned inside out. Like a red padma lotus, they are split into four pieces. Like a big lotus they are split into eight pieces. From their wounds come fine streams of fluid. Insects crawl in and eat. As for their immeasurable sufferings from cold, the Letter to a Student says:

They[16] are many beyond example, exposing even their bones.
Their frozen bodies shiver, becoming shriveled and crooked. 
A hundred blisters rise with fluid, and as they break,
Insects ravage them with beaks as sharp as swords.
To their feet the fat and gore comes dripping down.
Their teeth chatter helplessly. Their head and body hairs tremble.
With damaged eyes, ears, and throats, they are tormented everywhere.
With bodies and minds that are stupefied to the very center,
They remain in those Cold Hells, and loudly cry and wail.

2.b) The explanation of the measure of time.

The time of their suffering in these eight Hells:

The length of their lives within the Hell that is called Arbuda
Is as long as it would take to empty out
A sesame store in Kosala[17] containing 200 bushels[18]
By removing only a single grain in a century.
In each of the other cold Hells, it is twenty times more than that.

The Objects of Mindfulness says:

If a storage bin of the city of Kosala was completely full of sesame seed without any gap, with a collection of sesame seed in a treasury of ten times twenty, measured in bre, the lives of the beings in the Blistering Hell are as long as it would take to empty it by removing one grain every hundred years. So the life and transmigration of the sentient beings of the Blistering Hell should be understood. As for the others, they must endure their great sufferings for twenty times that long.

In accord with this, the Abhidharmakosha says:

From within a sesame store every hundred years
Removing a single seed until they all are emptied, That is the length of life within the Blistering Hell.
The lives each of the others are twenty times that amount.

2.c) The Instruction of striving in the means of liberation from these Hells

Thus thinking of these immeasurable sufferings of heat and cold:

Beings with minds should then arouse their strength of effort
To conquer these merely mental worlds of Hell.

So it is taught. The Friendly Letter says:

Evil doers who hear of Hell’s immeasurable suffering,
Kept from them only while their breathing has not ceased,
And yet are fearless about them as empty phenomena
Would have to be possessors of the vajra nature

If having seen pictures of Hell and having heard of it,
Remembering, reading, or merely glancing at those pictures,
People are often stricken with unbearable fear,
Why speak of the experience of the actual ripening?

Footnotes and references:


srab mthug.


Usually it is said that on blazng iron ground the minions of the Lord of Death draw black lines on the bodies of the beings in this hell. Then they are cut to pieces along those lines. They are rejoined and the same thing happens over and over. some accounts call it the Black Thread hell, saying that after they are cut apart they are sewn together again with black thread.


Free from strife: Aviha : a’thab bral. Twin gods: yāma: mtshe ma’i lha. See explanation below.


Here, it does not say “years of such days,” as above.


They are tortured in iron houses that are each within another iron house.


According to the Mahāvyupatti the Sanskrit is variously renedered (-shrona kotī karnah:,(sona kuti kanna in

Mahāvagga V.13); it means Born under the star sravana with ten million ears.


Dra ba can. The meaning is probably “having latticed (windows).”


Wooden clacker.


Also known as the River of Ashes.


This is filled in from other descriptions. Literally it says “seeing nice shady pits.”


Or fermenting grain.


Iron trees of Hell with sharp leaves and thorns.


Following tshig mdzod chen mo, brang breng read breng breng.


The Lord of Death.


1 having blisters chu bur can; #2 having bursting blisters, chu bur rdol ba can 3 swo tham tham pa: teeth chattering 4 achu 5 ALAS!, kye hu 6 ut pa la ltar, like an utpala lotus7 pad ma, lotus 8 pad ma che, great lotus.


Their sufferings.


Guenther reads this as "the country of Magadha."


khal: #25-30 lb.

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