The Mahavastu (great story)

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

This page describes hell named avici which is Chapter II-h 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-h - The hell named Avīci

Note: There is a lacuna in the text here, representing the heading and introductory matter of the section.

Why is Avīci so called? Flames from its eastern walls beat against the western (26); from the western wall they

beat against the eastern. Flames from the southern wall beat against the northern; from the northern wall they beat against the southern. Flames leaping up from the ground beat against the roof, and from the roof they beat against the ground. The whole of this hell is beset with flames, and the many thousands denizens of it burn fiercely[1] like firewood. In this state they suffer painful, violent, severe and bitter agonies, but they do not die until their evil karma is worked out to the end. Thus, their suffering is determined in accordance with[2] what they have stored up by their conduct[3] in the past when they lived as humans.

Again, this is only a principal cause of rebirth there. Beings reborn there reap the fruit of yet other sinful and wicked deeds.

As a maturing of what karma are beings reborn there? Those who kill their mother or father, or an Arhan, or show malevolence to a Tathāgata or shed his blood, have rebirth there as a maturing of all such wrong courses of conduct.

Beings are also reborn there as a maturing of various other sinful and wicked deeds.

This hell is called Avīci for this reason. The denizens of it suffer bitter, violent, and severe agonies, nor, as in the other hells do the warders set the terror-stricken denizens to various tasks, nor does a cool wind blow here as in the other places. Here, then, in the great hell Avīci they suffer painful, violent, severe and bitter agonies. That is why this great hell is named Avīci.[5]

(27) Here ends the sūtra[5] of the Mahāvastu-Avadāna called the “Chapter[6] on Hells.”

Footnotes and references:


Literally “brilliantly,” vicitram. Senart, however, takes the word to mean here “de différentes façons,” i.e. “burning on all sides.”


Abhisamādayitvā, cf. Pali samādaya and samādayitvā in the same sense.


Abhisaṃskṛtam, cf. Pali abhisaṅkhāra and saṅkhāra.


I.e., it is so called because of the unintermittent nature of its torments.


Cf. Pali Dict., s.v. avīci “[Bsk. avīci, a + vīci (?) “no intermission” or “no pleasure (?),” unknown, but very likely popular etymology].”


Pali sutta.



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