World Scripture


The following passages describe the lower realms of hell. Some say that hell is but a state of mind, yet as anyone knows who has experienced the pangs of intense loneliness, remorse, shame, guilt, or loss, such states of mind can be excruciatingly vivid. Furthermore, it is said that in the spiritual world it will not be possible to avoid such feelings, as is usually done while in the body, through such devices as forgetting, rationalization, or losing oneself in sense-pleasures or drink. There is no respite from unpleasant feelings, which remain to torture the unfortunate soul continually. To describe such pain, which is beyond comprehension, scriptures use concrete images: burning fire, boiling water, bitter cold, being crushed, hacked and dismembered, trampled, burned, and eaten alive.

As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolators, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.

1. Christianity. Bible, Revelation 21.8

There is a stream of fire from which emerge poisonous flames.
There is none else there except the self.
The waves of the ocean of fire are aflame
And the sinners are burning in them.

2. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Maru Solahe, M.1, p. 1026

Hell is before him, and he is made to drink a festering water, which he sips but can hardly swallow. Death comes to him from every side, yet he cannot die--before him is a harsh doom.

3. Islam. Qur'an 14.15-16

Maru Solahe, M.1: Cf. Madaghishloka, p. 347. Qur'an 14.15-16: Cf. Qur'an 11:106-07, p. 517; 14:42-52, p. 1100; 39:68-75, p. 348; 69:13-17, pp. 1098f.

Hell will lurk in ambush
to receive home the arrogant,
who will linger there for ages.
They will taste nothing cool in it nor any drink
except hot bathwater and slops,
a fitting compensation
since they have never expected any reckoning
and have wittingly rejected Our signs.
Everything We have calculated in writing.
"So taste! Yet We shall only increase torment for you!"

4. Islam. Qur'an 78.21-30

After their lifetime's end
They will enter the Avici hell,
For a complete kalpa;
Reborn at each kalpa's end,
They thus go on revolving
Unto innumerable kalpas;
When they come out of hell,
They will degrade into animals,
Such as dogs or jackals,
With lean-cheeked forms,
Blue-black with scabs and sores,
The sport of men;
Moreover by men
Hated and scorned,
Ever suffering hunger and thirst,
Bones and flesh withered up.
Alive, beaten with thorns,
Dead, with shards and stones;
By cutting themselves off from the Buddha seed,
They receive such recompense.

5. Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 3

He went from there to the east. There men were dismembering one another, cutting off each of their limbs, saying, "This to you, this to me!" He said: "O horrible! Men are here dismembering one another, cutting off each of their limbs!" They replied, "In this way they have treated us in the other world, and in the same way we now treat them in return." He asked, "Is there no expiation for this?" "Yes, there is." "What is it?" "Your father knows it."

6. Hinduism. Satapatha Brahmana 11.6.3

Qur'an 78.21-30: See previous note. Lotus Sutra 3: Avici hell is the most severe of the Buddhist hells. In this passage, 'such people' means those who treat the Lotus Sutra with disrespect or who maltreat its followers. They will suffer the inevitable effect caused by accumulating such bad karma. Satapatha Brahmana 11.6.3: In this passage the sage Bhrigu is given a tour of hell. Later, his father Varuna explains the expiation for these sins through offering the fire sacrifice, the agnihotra.

Some of the sinful are cut with saws, like firewood, and others, thrown flat on the ground, are chopped into pieces with axes. Some, their bodies half buried in a pit, are pierced in the head with arrows. Others, fixed in the middle of a press, are squeezed like sugarcane. Some are surrounded close with blazing charcoal, enwrapped with torches, and smelted like a lump of ore. Some are plunged into heated butter, and others into heated oil, and like a cake thrown into the frying pan they are turned about. Some are thrown in the path of huge maddened elephants, and some with hands and feet bound are placed head downwards. Some are thrown into wells; some are hurled from heights; others, plunged into pits full of worms, are eaten away by them....

Having experienced in due order the torments below, he comes here again, purified.

7. Hinduism. Garuda Purana 3.49-71

Then the man of unwholesome deeds boils in water infested with worms. He cannot stay still--the boiling pots, round and smooth like bowls, have no surfaces which he can get hold of. Then he is in the jungle of sword blades, limbs mangled and hacked, the tongue hauled by hooks, the body beaten and slashed. Then he is in Vetarani, a watery state difficult to get through, with its two streams that cut like razors. The poor beings fall into it, living out their unwholesome deeds of the past. Gnawed by hungry jackals, ravens and black dogs, and speckled vultures and crows, the sufferers groan. Such a state is experienced by the man of unwholesome deeds. It is a state of absolute suffering. So a sensible person in this world is as energetic and mindful as he can be.

8. Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 672-76

There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame." But Abraham said, "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us."

And he said, "Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment." But Abraham said, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." And he said, "No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent." He said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

9. Christianity. Luke 16.19-31

Garuda Purana 3.49-71: Vv. 49-54, 71. Regarding the last verse: the Eastern conception of hell in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism is analogous to the Christian concept of Purgatory. There is no eternal damnation; hell is a place to expiate evil karma with the end that the purified soul can again advance to a higher plane of existence. Cf. Markandeya Purana 13-15, p. 981. Sutta Nipata 672-76: Cf. Tibetan Book of the Dead, p. 347; Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 4.28-35, p. 392.

In the garden of the city of Sieu-Shui-Siuen, there once lived a man by the name of Fan Ki, who led a wicked life. He induced men to stir up quarrels and lawsuits with each other, to seize by violence what did not belong to them, and to dishonor other men's wives and daughters. When he could not succeed easily in carrying out his evil purposes, he made use of the most odious stratagems.

One day he died suddenly, but came back to life twenty-four hours afterward and bade his wife gather together their relatives and neighbors. When all were assembled he told them that he had seen the king of the dark realm who said to him, "Here the dead receive punishment for their deeds of evil. The living know not the lot that is reserved for them. They must be thrown into a bed of coals whose heat is in proportion to the extent of their crimes and to the harm they have done their fellows."

The assembled company listened to this report as to the words of a feverish patient; they were incredulous and refused to believe the story. But Fan Ki had filled the measure of crime, and Yama, the king of hell, had decided to make an example of him so as to frighten men from their evil ways. At Yama's command Fan Ki took a knife and mutilated himself, saying, "This is my punishment for inciting men to dissolute lives." He put out both his eyes, saying, "This is my punishment for having looked with anger at my parents, and at the wives and daughters of other men with lust in my heart." He cut off his right hand, saying, "This is my punishment for having killed a great number of animals." He cut open his body and plucked out his heart, saying, "This is my punishment for causing others to die under tortures." And last of all he cut out his tongue to punish himself for lying and slandering.

The rumor of these occurrences spread afar, and people came from every direction to see the mangled body of the unhappy man. His wife and children were overcome with grief and shame, and closed the door to keep out the curious crowd. But Fan Ki, still living by the ordeal of Yama, said in inarticulate sounds, "I have but executed the commands of the king of hell, who wants my punishment to serve as a warning to others. What right have you to prevent them from seeing me?"

For six days the wicked man rolled upon the ground in the most horrible agonies, and at the end of that time he died.

10. Taoism. Treatise on Response and Retribution, Appended Tales