The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | 502,133 words | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes sermon on the hells (naraka) which is Chapter II-a of the English translation of the Mahavastu (“great story”), dating to the 2nd-century BC. This work belongs to the Mahasanghika school of early Buddhism and contains narrative stories of the Buddha’s former lives, such as Apadanas, Jatakas and more..

Chapter II-a - Sermon on the Hells (naraka)

imaṃ lokaṃ pāralokaṃ satvānām āgatiṃgatiṃ |
cyuti-upapattisaṃsāraṃ saṃbuddho svayam addasā || 1 ||

1. The Enlightened One himself looked on this world and the world beyond, on the coming and going of men, on the round of passing away and coming to be.

āvajjanto saphalatāṃ karmaṇāṃ prāṇasaṃśritāṃ |
yathāsthānaṃ vipākaṃ ca svayam avabudhye muniḥ || 2 ||

2. The Seer himself reflects upon and understands the peculiar fruition of acts which is bound up with the nature of man,[1] and the place wherein they come to fruition.

so abhijñāya ākhyāsi narakān aṣṭa gautamaḥ |
pratyakṣadharmā bhagavāṃ sarvadharmeṣu cakṣumāṃ || 3 ||
saṃjīvaṃ kālasūtraṃ ca saṃghātaṃ dvau ca rauravau |
athāparā mahāvīcī tapano ca pratāpano || 4 ||

3. Gotama, the Exalted One, the seer with clear insight into all things, has in his understanding named the eight hells (naraka), Saṃjīva, Kālasūtra, Saṃghāta, the two Rauravas, Mahāvīci, Tapana and Pratāpana.

ity ete aṣṭau nirayā ākhyātā duratikramā |
ākīrṇā raudrakarmebhiḥ pratyekaṣoḍaśotsadā || 5 ||

4. Thus are these eight hells named. Hard are they to traverse, being strewn with the consequences of terrible deeds. Each has its sixteen secondary hells.

catuḥkalā caturdvārā vibhaktā bhāgaśo mitā |
udgatā yojanaśataṃ samantāt śatayojanaṃ || 6 ||

5. They have four corners[2] and four gates. They are divided up and well laid out in squares. They are a hundred yojanas high, a hundred square.

ayaḥprākāraparikṣiptā ayasā pratikubjitāḥ |
teṣām ayomayī bhūmiḥ prajvalitā tejasāyutā || 7 ||

6. They are encircled by a wall of iron, with a vault of iron above. The floor is of hot and glowing iron.

sadāyasaphālāsphārā āvasathā durāsadā |
romaharṣaṇarūpā ca bhīṣmā pratibhayā duḥkhā || 8 ||

7. Habitations hard to dwell in are they, being everywhere expanses of iron boards,[3] hair-raising, fearful, terrible, and full of woe.

mahadbhayaṃkarā sarve arciśatasamākulā |
ekaiko yojanaśataṃ ādāye saṃprabhāsati || 9 ||

8. (10) All the fearful hells are filled with hundreds of flames, each of which spreads its glow abroad a hundred yojanas.

yatra satvā bahū raudrā mahākilviṣakārakā |
ciraṃ kālaṃ patappanti api ca varṣaśatāni api || 10 ||

9. Here the many fearsome beings, the great sinners, burn a long time, even for hundreds of years.

ayomayehi daṇḍehi sthūlanarakapālakāḥ |
hananti pratyamitrāṇi ye bhonti kṛtakilviṣā || 11 ||

10. With scourges of iron the ruthless warders of hell (naraka-pāla) mercilessly beat those who have sinned.

teṣām ahaṃ kīrtayiṣyāmi girā yam anupūrvaśaḥ |
śrotum ādāya satkṛtya śṛṇotha mama bhāṣataḥ || 12 ||

11. These I shall tell of in well-ordered words. Give ear and attentively hear me as I speak.

saṃjīve satvā niraye ūrdhapādā adhośirāḥ |
pralaṃbayitvā takṣyanti vāsīhi paraśūhi ca || 13 ||

12. In the Saṃjīva hell beings hang with their feet up and their heads down, and are trimmed with axes and knives.

tato nakhehi tīkṣṇehi āyasehi svayaṃbhuhi |
anyamanyaṃ vivādenti kruddhā krodhavaśānugāḥ || 14 ||

13. Carried away by frenzy of anger they fight among themselves, using their own sharp claws of iron.

asino cāparā teṣāṃ tīkṣṇā hasteṣu jāyitha |
yehi cchindanti anyonyaṃ praduṣṭamanasā narāḥ || 15 ||

14. Sharp knives also grow from their hands, and with them these utterly demented beings rend one another.

teṣāṃ sīdanti gātrāṇi śītalavāta ūhatā |
sarvāṅgajvalanas teṣāṃ pūrvakarmavipākataḥ || 16 ||

15. Though their bodies collapse under the cold wind that blows on them, yet all their limbs are afire as they reap the fruit of their past deeds.[4]

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtam abhijñāya tathāgato |
saṃjīvam iti ākhyāsi āvāsaṃ pāpakarmaṇāṃ || 17 ||

16. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature, called this hell Saṃjīva, a bourne of evil deeds.

saṃjīvāto ca nirmuktā kukkulam avagāhiṣu |
hanyamānā samāgamya dīrghamāyatavistaraṃ || 18 ||

17. (11) Released from Saṃjīva they plunge into Kukkula. Foregathering there they are tortured for a long stretch of time.

te khu tatra pradhāvanti yojanāni anekaśo |
dahyamānā kukkulena vedentā bahuduḥkhakaṃ || 19 ||

18. There, in Kukkula, they run about in flames for many a yojana, and suffer great misery.

kukkulāto ca nirmuktāḥ kuṇapam avagāhitha |
dīrghapadātivistīrṇaṃ te vidhvaṃsitapauruṣā || 20 ||

19. Released from Kukkula these broken[5] men plunge into Kuṇapa, a vast expanse spreading far and wide.

tam enaṃ kṛṣṇaprāṇakā agnitīkṣṇamukhā kharā |
chaviṃ bhittvāna khādanti mānsaśoṇitabhojanāḥ || 21 ||

20. There, asses[6], swarthy brutes, with mouths breathing fierce fire, rend their skin and devour and feed on their flesh and blood.

kuṇapāto ca uttīrṇā drumā paśyanti śobhanā |
haritān patrasaṃchannās tān āyānti sukhārthinaḥ || 22 ||

21. When they have passed out of Kuṇapa they catch sight of pleasant trees, and in quest of relief they make for the shelter of their verdant foliage.

tam enaṃ kulalā gṛdhrā kākolā ca ayomukhā |
ārdravṛkṣe ca varjitvā khādanti rudhirakṣatāṃ || 23 ||

22. But there, hawks and vultures and ravens, with beaks of iron drive them from under a green tree, and devour their torn and gory limbs.

yadā ca khāditā bhonti asthīni avaśeṣitā |
punaḥ teṣāṃ chavimānsaṃ rudhiraṃ copajāyate || 24 ||

23. And when they have been devoured until their bones alone are left, their skin and flesh and blood grow once more.

te bhītā utpatitvāna alenā lenasaṃjñino |
asipatravanaṃ ghoraṃ hanyamānā upāgami || 25 ||

24. In their terror they run away, and deeming there was refuge where there was none, come all stricken to the terrible forest where the leaves are swords.

tato kṣatā ca ārtā ca bahurudhiramrakṣitā |
asipatravanā muktāḥ yānti vaitaraṇīṃ nadīṃ || 26 ||

25. (12) When they have escaped from the sword-leafed forest, wounded, racked, and steeped in blood, they go to the river Vaitaraṇī.

tena tām avagāhanti taptāṃ kṣārodakāṃ nadīṃ |
teṣāṃ ca aṅgamaṅgāni kṣatāni pratividhyata || 27 ||

26. There they dive into the river’s hot and caustic water, which pierces all of their tortured limbs.

tato ’ṅkuśehi viddhitvā āyasaiḥ yamapauruṣāḥ |
utkṣipitvā nadītīre bhuṃjāventi ayoguḍāṃ || 28 ||

27. Then Yama’s[7] myrmidons gaff[8] them with hooks of iron, fling them on the river bank and give them pellets of iron to eat.

tāmralohaṃ ca śulvaṃ ca āpāyenti vilīnakaṃ |
tam eṣām antram ādāya adhobhāgena gacchati || 29 ||

28. They give them molten red copper to drink, which passes through their inwards down to their lower parts.

etāni pāpakarmāntā narakāṃ pratipadyitha |
akṛtvāna kuśalaṃ karma vāmamārgānusāriṇaḥ || 30 ||

29. Evil-doers, those who follow the wrong way and do not perform the right deed, go down into these hells (naraka).

ye ca pāpāni karmāṇi parivarjanti yoniśaḥ |
ekāntakuśalācārā na te gacchanti durgatiṃ || 31 ||

30. Those who wholly eschew sinful deeds, those whose conduct is wholly virtuous do not pass to the bourne of ill.

tasmā dvirūpaparyāyā karmā kalyāṇapāpakā |
pāpāni parivarjitvā kalyāṇaṃ ācare śubhaṃ || 32 ||

31. Therefore the qualities of deeds are of two kinds, good and bad. Avoiding the bad, one should practise the good and fair.

kālasūtrasmiṃ narake ārdravṛkṣe va varjitāḥ |
sūtrayitvāna teṣāṅgā vāsīhi paraśūhi ca || 33 ||

32. In the Kālasūtra hell beings are driven from under a verdant tree and their limbs are hacked[9] with hatchets and axes.

tato ayomayā patrā dīrghakālasutāpitā |
dahantā pīḍayantā ca gātreṣu pariveṣṭitā || 34 ||

33. Then plates of iron heated a long time are pul round their bodies, burning and torturing them.

dahitvā pīḍayitvā ca ayopatrā vighaṭṭitā |
āvṛṃhitaṃ chavimānsaṃ rudhiraṃ ca prasāraye || 35 ||

34. (13) When they have been burnt and tortured in this way, these plates are taken off, which causes the skin and flesh to come off in shreds and the blood to flow.

tato pārṣṇīhi pāṭetvā yāva adhikṛkāṭikāṃ |
kālasūtrasmiṃ narake bahū api saṃghaṭṭati || 36 ||

35. Then the warders of hell (naraka) rend them from heel to neck, and many do they dash against one another in the hell Kālasūtra.

bhairave andhakārasmiṃ vārtā yatra na dṛśyati |
dhūmasaṃghātasmiṃ tasmiṃ narake osaranti ca || 37 ||

36. After this they fling them into the smoking hell of terrible darkling Saṃghāta, where no unscathed[10] men are seen.

te ca tatra pradhāvanti yojanāni anekaśaḥ |
anyamanyaṃ ākramantā badhreṣu paramantraśaḥ || 38 ||

37. There they run about in their milliards[11] over many a yojana, assailing one another with leaden thongs.

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtaṃ abhijñāya tathāgataḥ |
kalasūtraṃ idaṃ vakṣe āvāsaṃ pāpakarmiṇāṃ || 39 ||

38. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature named this hell Kālasūtra, a bourne of evil-doers.

saṃghātasmiṃ ca narake mahatā parvatā adho |
teṣām antarikaṃ satvā mṛgavaśo praveśitā || 40 ||

39. From the surface of the hell Saṃghāta mountains rise up on both sides.[12] In between these mountains beings are herded in immense numbers.[13]

te pi śailā samāgamya satvānāṃ karmapratyayā |
pīḍayanti bahu prāṇāṃ agniskandhanibhāni ’va || 41 ||

40. And these stony mountains come together through the working of men’s karma, and crush many beings like so many fire-brands.

pīḍitānāṃ ca gātrāṇāṃ bahuṃ sravati śoṇitaṃ |
śarīrasaṃbhrame cāpi pūyanadyo pravartitha || 42 ||

41. Blood flows in streams from their crushed bodies, and from this confused pile of crushed bodies issue rivers of pus.

āyasāsu ca droṇīṣu ayomuśalakoṭiṣu |
subhanti pratyamitrāṇi api varṣaśataṃ bahuṃ || 43 ||

42. (14) Merciless creatures beat them up in iron tubs with iron-tipped pestles, even for many a hundred years.

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtāṃ abhijñāya tathāgataḥ |
saṃghātam idam ākhyāsi āvāsaṃ pāpakarmiṇāṃ || 44 ||

43. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature, named this hell Saṃghāta, a bourne of evildoers.

rauravasmiṃ ca narake oruddhā janatā bahu |
agnismiṃ prajvalitasmiṃ śabdaṃ kurvanti bhairavaṃ || 45 ||

44. Large numbers are imprisoned in the hell Raurava, which is ablaze with fire, and make a terrible lamentation.

yadā ca agnir nirvāti atha tūṣṇībhavanti te |
punar agnismiṃ prajvalite nirnādanti mahatsvaraṃ || 46 ||

45. When the fire is put out they become silent. When it flames up again, they resume their loud cries.

dvitīyo pi ca ākhyāto rauravo romaharṣaṇaḥ |
nirantakūlanarako gambhīro na samuttaro || 47 ||

46. Another hell (naraka) also has been called Raurava, horrible, shoreless, abysmal, and impassable.

tatra daṇḍaṃ gṛhītvāna sthūlanarakapālakā |
subhanti pratyamitrāṇi api varṣaśataṃ bahuṃ || 48 ||

47. There the ruthless warders of hell (naraka-pāla) with scourges in their hands mercilessly strike them, even for many a hundred years.

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtaṃ abhijñāya tathāgato |
rauravaṃ iti ākhyāsi āvāsaṃ pāpakarmiṇāṃ || 49 ||

48. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature, named this hell Raurava, a bourne of evil-doers.

tapanasmiṃ ca narake taptaloho samudyataḥ |
niḥsvanante ca saṃtaptā agniskandhasamā duḥkhā || 50 ||

49. In the hell Tapana red-hot iron is prepared for them, and the wretched beings, burning like firebrands, cry out.

tatra pāpasamācārā oruddhā janatā bahu |
pacyanti pāpakarmāntā ye bhonti kṛtakilviṣāḥ || 51 ||

50. Imprisoned here are many men of wicked conduct. Evildoers who have sinned are here roasted.

tāṃ pakvamātrā saṃkhinnā khādenti sunakhā bahu |
pravṛddhakāyā balino mānsaśoṇitabhojanā || 52 ||

51. (15) As soon as they are done and rendered inert many dogs, great-bodied flesh-eaters, devour them.

yadā ca khāditā bhonti asthīni avaśeṣitā |
atha teṣāṃ chavimānsaṃ rudhiraṃ ca upajāyati || 53 ||

52. When they are devoured until their bones alone are left, their skin and flesh and blood grow again.

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtam abhijñāya tathāgataḥ |
tapanam idam ākhyāsi āvāsaṃ pāpakarmaṇāṃ || 54 ||

53. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature, named this hell Tapana, a bourne of evil-doers.

pratāpanasmiṃ narake tīkṣṇaśūlā ayomukhā |
mahato agniskandhasya parvato bhayabhairavaḥ || 55 ||

54. In the hell Pratāpana there are creatures armed with sharp pikes, and having jaws of iron. There is a fearful mountain, one great solid mass of fire.

tatra pāpasamācārā āvṛtā janatā bahu |
aṇvanti pāpakarmāntā machā kaṭhallagatā yathā || 56 ||

55. Here many people of sinful conduct are confined, and these evil-doers leap like fishes stranded on the sand.

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtaṃ abhijñāya tathāgataḥ |
pratāpanan ti ākhyāsi āvāsaṃ pāpakarmiṇāṃ || 57 ||

56. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature, named this hell Pratāpana, a bourne of evildoers.

tato avīcī narako ekāntakaṭuko duḥkho |
mahanto taposaṃtapto arcisaṃghagaṇāvṛtaḥ || 58 ||

57. Next, the hell Avīci, everywhere searing, evil, immense, red-hot, full of dense flames.

ayoguḍā hi agnismiṃ yatha-r-iva saṃtāpitā |
evaṃ avīcī narake heṣṭā upari pārśvato || 59 ||

58. On all sides, above, below and athwart, the hell Avīci is like masses of iron heated in fire.

jātavedosamā kāyāḥ teṣāṃ narakavāsināṃ |
paśyanti karmadṛḍhatāṃ na tasmāt bhoti no gatiḥ || 60 ||

59. The bodies of the denizens of this hell (naraka) are like fire. (16) They realise the stability of karma and that there is no escape for them.

te ca tatra pradhāvanti dṛṣṭvā dvāram apāvṛtaṃ |
api niṣkramaṇaṃ yasmā asti mokṣagaveṣiṇāṃ || 61 ||

60. Seeing the gate open they rush to it, thinking that perhaps there is escape this way for them as they seek release.

yeṣāṃ ca pāpakaṃ karma avipakvaṃ purā kṛtaṃ |
na te labhanti nirgantuṃ nirayāt karmapratyayā || 62 ||

61. But as their sinful karma has not borne all its fruit, through the effect of this karma they do not win a way out of hell.

evaṃ śāstā yathābhūtaṃ abhijñāya tathāgataḥ |
avīcim iti ākhyāsi āvāsaṃ pāpakarmiṇāṃ || 63 ||

62. Thus has the Master, the Tathāgata, understanding its true nature, named this hell Avīci, a bourne of evil-doers.

Footnotes and references:

1.

Literally “joined to beings”—prāṇasaṃśritā.

2.

Reading catuḥkarṇā or catuḥkoṇā for catuḥkalā of the text. The Pali equivalent is cotukaṇṇo (A. 1. 142; M. 3. 167).

3.

Āsphārā is here translated “expanses” on the analogy of the use of pharitvā in the corresponding Pali gāthās: Samantā yojanasatam pharitvā tiṭṭhati sabbadā ti (l.c). Compare, also, Sanskrit sphārita, “swollen out,” “spread out,” etc., from sphārā (2) (see Monier-Williams, s.v.) Phāla is to be equated with Pali phāla (2) " an iron board,” “slab,” etc., rather than with Vedic phāla “ploughshare.” This seems to give a more natural sense than the version proposed by Senart, “toujours déchirés (labourés) par des socs de fer.”

4.

The text here is very uncertain.

5.

Vidhvaṃsita.

6.

Kharā, so translated to get a parallelism with the “birds” of line n, p. 11, and the “dogs” of line 1, p. 15. (The translator owes this suggestion to Prof. H. W. Bailey.)

7.

Yama, the god of the dead; in Vedic mythology presiding over the departed fathers in heaven, but in classical Sanskrit supervising the torments of the damned in hell.

8.

Literally “pierce,” viddhitvā, viddh being, according to Senart, “un nouveau thème de la racine vyadh.”

9.

Literally “sawn.” Sūtrayitvāna, which seems to mean properly “lashed” or” bound” with the kālasūtra, “ the measuring line of black wire” (see note p. 6), preparatory to being sawn.

10.

Vārtā for vārttā, with the verb dṛṣyati sing, for plural (as often happens in this text). Or read vārto.

11.

Paramantraśa: Senart refers to Schiefner, Mélanges Asiatiques, IV, p. 639.

12.

Reading ubhato = ubhayata: for mahatā, as Senart suggests.

13.

Mṛgavaśa: Senart again refers to Schiefner, op. cit., p. 637 note.