Chapter 3: Contemplation on the Karmic Connection between Sentient Beings

At that time, Lady Maya, the Buddha's mother, with palms joined, asked Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha respectfully, "O Holy One, what will be the retribution for different karmas created by the sentient beings of Jambudvipa?"

Ksitigarbha replied, "Regarding the thousands of myriads of worlds and lands-in some there are hells and in others there are none. In some there are women and in others there are none. In some there is Buddhadharma and in others there is none. Likewise, this applies to the presence or absence of sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas in the various worlds. Thus, there is not just one category alone that describes retribution for sin in the various hells."

Lady Maya addressed the Bodhisattva again, saying, "I still wish to hear about the kinds of retribution induced by following evil paths in Jambudvipa."

Ksitigarbha replied, "O Holy Mother, please listen; I shall speak briefly on this subject."

The Buddha's mother said, "Please do, O Holy One!"

The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha then addressed the Holy Mother, saying, "In southern Jambudvipa, the retribution for various sins is as follows: If someone should fail to fulfill his filial duty toward his parents or, at worst, kill or harm them, he will fall into Avici Hell, where he will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should shed the blood of a Buddha, ridicule the Three Jewels or fail to respect the sutras, he, also, will fall into Avici Hell, where he will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should encroach upon or steal the property of some Buddhist establishment, slander bhiksus or bhiksunis, indulge his carnal lust in a sangharama, or kill or harm others, then he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should pretend to be a sramana and yet actually is not one at heart, but, on the contrary, abuses the establishment, cheats the laity, violates the precepts and commits all kinds of evil, such a person will fall into Avici Hell, where he or she will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should steal from the establishment any property at all-grain, rice, other food or clothing-or take any kind of article whatsoever without permission, he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release."

Ksitigarbha concluded, saying, "O Holy Mother, anyone committing such sins will certainly fall into Avici Hell, where he will suffer incessantly, without remission for even one instant."

Lady Maya addressed Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha again, asking him, "What is that hell known as Avici?"

Ksitigarbha replied, "O Holy Mother, the hells of various worlds are situated inside the great Cakravada (ring of iron-enclosed mountains). There are eighteen major hells. Also, there are five hundred secondary ones with different designations, and there are, in addition, hundreds of thousands of lesser ones, each one having a different designation as well. One of these is the unique hell which is known as Avici. As for Avici Hell, its dreadful walls circumscribe more than eighty thousand miles, are ten thousand miles high and are made entirely of iron. Fiery flames shoot out of these walls, covering them entirely from top to bottom and, again, from bottom to top. Iron serpents and iron hounds spit out fiery flames and chase about, running along the hellish walls in an east-west direction.

"There are torture-racks in this hell. When just one person alone takes his punishment, he can see himself lying prone with his body stretched out over the entire rack. When thousands of myriads of people all take their punishment together, they, in like manner, can also see themselves, each one, lying prone there with their bodies stretched out, covering the entire rack. Such is the way of retribution for sins induced by various karmas. Moreover, these sinful people suffer all sorts of other tortures and afflictions. Hundreds of thousands of yaksas and other wicked demons have teeth-like swords and eyes like lightning flashes, and with hands that look like copper claws they drag these miserable sinners to their punishment. Other yaksas hold great iron spears, hurling them at these miserable people, some hitting their mouths and noses and others hitting their bellies and backs. They toss these miserable people into midair and catch them again, throwing them onto the racks. Also, there are iron hawks to peck out these miserable people's eyes. Furthermore, there are iron serpents to strangle these miserable people. Long nails are driven into their various limbs and joints. Their tongues are pulled out. Their intestines are ripped out and torn to pieces. Molten copper is poured into their mouths. White-hot iron is wound into their bodies. They die myriads of times and then are revived again myriads of times for further torture. Such is the retribution of karma.

"Very aptly, this hell-torture must last millions of kalpas without a date for acquittal or release. When this hell-realm of the world is annihilated, these miserable sinners will transmigrate to live and suffer in another realm. When that other realm is annihilated also, they will, in turn, transmigrate to yet another realm. However, when all these transmigratory realms are finally annihilated, they must continue to transmigrate yet again until they return to this realm, which will take form once again. Such is the retribution for sin should one fall into Avici Hell.

"Furthermore, this hell is known as Avici because it is conditioned by five factors. What are the five?

"Firstly, the punishment is meted out day and night, kalpa after kalpa, without a moment's interruption or relief. Thus Avici.

"Secondly, one person can fill it completely, and many people also can fill it completely. Thus Avici.

"Thirdly, there is punishment using such devices as forks, clubs, hawks, serpents, jackals, hounds, mills, grinders, saws, chisels, files, choppers, boiling pots, iron nets and cords, and iron mules and horses. Other hideous tortures and punishments force these miserable beings to cover their heads with their own skin after being flayed alive, after which hot molten iron is poured onto their bodies; and when they are hungry they are forced to swallow chunks of iron and drink molten iron when thirsty. This unimaginably horrible torture goes on and continues throughout years and kalpas numbering in nayutas. In this manner they suffer continuously with no cessation whatsoever. Thus Avici.

"Fourthly, irrespective of whether these sinners are male or female, barbarian or civilized, whether young or old, noble or mean, whether nagas or gods, devas or ghosts-all will receive the retribution of sinful karma. Thus Avici.

"Fifthly, if a person falls into this hell, he will die myriads of times and be revived myriads of times each day and each night from the time of his initial entrance unto hundreds of thousands of future kalpas, and he will never have any relief or rest whatsoever from his suffering and torture even for one instant. It is only with the exhaustion of his sinful karma that he will finally be able to gain rebirth. Owing to such continuity of suffering and torture, this hell is, therefore, known as Avici."

Then Ksitigarbha addressed the Holy Mother, saying, "Avici Hell, roughly speaking, is just as I have described it to you. To completely and exhaustively describe the torture devices, the punishment and the hideous suffering there could not be done even if one were to talk as long as one kalpa."

Having heard this, Queen Lady Maya was saddened. She made obeisance with palms joined and withdrew.