The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes hell named tapana which is Chapter II-g 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-g - The hell named Tapana

Many thousands of beings are confined here. (Vultures) drive them from under a verdant tree and devour them. When they have lost their flesh and are become mere skeletons held together by sinews, they swoon in their agony and collapse. But in order that their karma come to maturity, a cool wind blows on them, and their skin, flesh and blood grow again. When they are in this condition the warders of hell drive them in before them.

As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn there? Those who in this world build doorless enclosures with slippery and unscaleable[1] walls, where living beings are cut up with hunting knives, have rebirth there as a maturing of such karma.

As a maturing of what karma are beings devoured there? Those who in this world have caused living beings to be devoured by lions, tigers, panthers, bears and (25) hyenas are themselves devoured as a maturing of such karma.

As a maturing of what karma does a cool wind blow on them? Those who in this world scatter grain as bait for deer, buffaloes, hogs and wild cocks, saying, “We shall kill them for their fat flesh,” are blown on by the cool wind as a maturing of such karma. [2]

Why is this hell called Tapana? The denizens of it are burnt, hence the name Tapana[3] for this hell, which is surrounded on all sides by spits of red-hot iron. There the denizens are impaled and roasted, some on one-pronged spits, others on two-pronged spits, and so on up to ten. When one side is roasted, the other side is exposed. Indeed, some of them, as a maturing of particularly wicked and sinful deeds, turn round of their own accord. In this state they suffer agonies beyond measure.

As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn there? Those who in this world have caused living sheep to be fixed on a spit have rebirth there as a maturing of such karma. This again is only a principal cause of rebirth there. Those reborn there reap the fruit of yet other sinful and wicked deeds.

Footnotes and references:

1.

The reading in the text is listāpattiyāyam, which Senart prints with a question mark, and for which he cannot make a satisfactory restitution. The first part of this compound, however, seems certainly a mistake for lipta, a reading preserved by one MS; that is, the walls were “smeared” (lip) or allowed to become wet to make them slippery. Cf. M. i. 86, addāvalepanā upakāriyo, “slippery walls,” literally, “walls smeared with moisture.” The final part of the compound probably conceals apatha or apathin, “pathless.”

2.

See above p. 14, footnote 3.

3.

From tap, “to be hot,” “to burn.”