The Mahavastu (great story)

by J. J. Jones | 1949 | ISBN-10: 086013041X

This page describes hell named kalasutra which is Chapter II-c 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-c - The hell named Kālasūtra

This hell, and so on up to “armed” and “aflame.” Here the warders of hell drive its inmates from under a verdant tree, and by means of the measuring rule of black wire[1] cut them into eight, six, or four parts. They go on to cleave the bodies of some from heel to neck, like a sugar-cane. They go on to cleave the bodies of others from neck to heel, like a sugar-cane. In this state the inmates suffer agonies beyond measure, but they do not die as long as their evil karma is not exhausted.

(18) As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn here? Those who in this world cause slaves to be shackled with fetters[2] and chains and force them to work, ordering the hands and feet of many to be pierced, and the nose, flesh, sinews, arms and back of many others to be slit five times or ten, are reborn here as the maturing of such karma.

But this, again, is no more than a principal cause of rebirth here. Those reborn here reap the fruit of still other wicked and sinful deeds. The warders of this hell beat and jeer at the inmates, who implore them, saying, “Kill us.”[3] In their many thousands these creatures stand benumbed with terror, as though bereft of life. Then in front of Yama’s myrmidons thousands of pieces of burning, flaming and blazing cloth fly through the air, and as they come near them the denizens of hell cry out, “Lo, they are on us.” The pieces of cloth come on and envelope the limbs of each one of them, burning their outer and inner skins, their flesh and their sinews, so that the whole of them is on fire. Thus their torn skin and their flesh and blood are burnt away. In this state they suffer agonies beyond measure, but they do not die as long as their evil karma is not worked out to its end.

Again, this is only a principal cause of rebirth there. Those reborn there reap the fruit of still other wicked (19) and sinful deeds. As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn there? Those who in this world have repeatedly caused human beings to be slain, and those mendicants, eunuchs, criminals and sinners who become recluses and usurp the monk’s robe and girdle, have rebirth here as a maturing of such karma.

Again, this is only a principal cause of rebirth there, for those reborn there reap the fruit of still other wicked and sinful deeds. Some have their skin torn into shreds from heel to neck, others from neck to heel, and others from neck to hip. In this state they suffer agonies beyond measure.

As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn there? Those who in this world cause the “hay-band” and the “bark-robe[4]” to be prepared are reborn there as a maturing of such karma.

The volume of blinding smoke that is everywhere in this hell, acrid, (20) pungent and terrifying, pierces outer and inner skin, flesh, sinew and bone, penetrates the very marrow of bones. All bodies become numbed and exhausted. Then they reel about for many a hundred yojanas, trampling on one another and stumbling. In this state they suffer agonies beyond measure, but they do not die as long as their evil karma is not worked out to the end.

As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn here? Those who in this world smoke the openings of the dens, burrows, enclosures, and traps of sāhikas,[5] monkeys, rats, and cats, and the holes of serpents, guarding the exits, or who suffocate bees with smoke, have rebirth there as the maturing of such karma.

Again, beings are reborn there as a maturing of various other wicked and sinful deeds, for what has just been said is only a principal cause of rebirth there. Those reborn there, and so on.

Why is this hell called Kālasūtra? The warders of this hell drive the denizens from under a verdant tree and cut them by means of the measuring line of black wire.[6] That is why this hell is named Kālasūtra, namely from what is done there.[7]

Footnotes and references:

1.

Kālasūtra, see p. 6.

2.

Senart prints hastinigaḍādibhi: “with chains used for elephants,” but, as Prof. H. W. Bailey suggests in a communicated note, the MS. reading haḍi should be retained here. The latter word occurs in Divy. 365 and 435 in the sense of “fetters.”

3.

Subhassū, an admittedly doubtful conjecture of Senart’s, which is adopted in the translation with much misgiving, especially as it involves the insertion of the words “who implore them.” The MSŚ. are practically all agreed in having śaṭhaṃsūti(kā), which might be interpreted as “offspring of rogues.” We could then render, “they (sc. the warders of hell) called them rogues.” The slight break in syntactical sequence involved in making nirayapālā (understood) nominative when it is in the instrumental case in the first half of the sentence is a peculiarity fairly common in the language of the Mahāvastu. The intrusion of the m between the two elements of the compound śaṭhaṃsūti(ka) is, of course, a difficulty, although there are several examples, both in Pali and in Buddhist Sanskrit, of the intrusion of this letter, to emphasise hiatus, as it were, and obviate the normal sandhi, e.g. adukkhāsukhamupekṣa (Lal, Vist. 439. 12). See Senart’s note on p. 395.

4.

It is a simple emendation to change erakavārṣika and cīrakavārṣika of Senart’s text into erakavartika and cīraliavāsika respectively, especially as some of the MSS. actually have the latter word. The reference is then to two of the methods of torture enumerated at M. 1. 87; A. 1. 47, and Miln. 197. The above translation of these terms is that of Lord Chalmers in Further Dialogues 1. p. 62. Woodward in Gradual Sayings, 1. p. 43, has “hay-twist” and “bark-dress.” Senart’s reading would make the sin to consist in making garments for the rainy season from grass or the bark of trees.

5.

An unknown animal.

6.

See above pp. 6, 11.

 

7.

Or, “according as it is to be described,” yathākartavyo. Kartavya is often used to refer to words that are to be supplied as understood.