The 10 Courts of Hell

……… …… …… … … … …part 4.
I felt the main attraction of Haw Par Villa is the enclosed tunnel which takes you through the 10 courts of Hell.
I felt it was as highlight because it was fascinating to see what was considered a punishable and intolerable crime in old Chinese scripture – or at least how the Aw family interpreted this. Additionally, it was interesting to see how some of the severity of crimes were categorized and separated.
For instance, “Cheating during examinations” wasn’t found until the eighth court of Hell.. worse than “Abducting others” found earlier at the sixth court of Hell, and punishable by having your intestines ripped out!
A little harsh I would reckon – but I guess “kids these days” gotta learn somehow and fear seems to be most effective way.
It has gruesome depictions of the different aspects of punishments in hell for the bad deeds that were committed while living. It’s all contained in a dark long tunnel in the shape of a dragon.
The gruesome stuff starts from outside the tunnel.
The message on the stone reads – The sea of bitterness (depth of misery) has no horizons (is endless). Turn back and you will find shore.
It means that if you repent and change for the better, you can avoid the sea of misery. Else you’ll end up miserable like this.
This is Part 4 of 4.
To view the other parts of Haw Par Villa, feel free to click the links below!
It begins.
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The Gateway to Hell

Ox head & Horse Face
Ox head & Horse face are guards & escorts of the Nether World – The Ten Courts of Hell.
Ox head is a Soldier of hell, while Horse face is a wicked ghost. They both act as guardsmen at the entrance to Hell’s Gate.
When the spirits of the dead arrive, Ox head & Horse face would “chase” them into the Gates of Hell, one armed with a steel spear, while the other; with an ivory stick – to make sure the spirits don’t escape and face the various punishments they deserve.
These punishments are given out by the Yama(s) – the Emperors of Hell.

First Court of Hell

Yama: King Qinguang
In the First Court of Hell, King Qinguang conducts preliminary trials and each prisoner is judged according to his deeds in his past life. The “good” are distinguished from the “evil” and the King recommends appropriate reward or punishment. Punishment is then carried out in the various Courts.
Those with virtuous conduct in their past life will be lead over the ‘Golden Bridge’ to reach paradise.
Those whose past good deeds outweigh crimes committed will be sent to the ‘Silver Bridge’ to reach paradise.
Those who were evil doers in their past life will be sent to repent before the ‘Mirror of Retribution’ and then taken to a subsequent Court of Hell to be punished.

Second Court of Hell

Yama: King Chujiang
Crime & Punishment
Inflicting physical Injury, Conmen & Robbers: Thrown into a volcanic pit
Corruption: Frozen into blocks of ice
Stealing, Gambling & Prostitutes: Thrown into a pool of blood and drowned
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Third Court of Hell

Yama: King Songdi
Crime & Punishment
Ungratefulness, Disrespecting Elders & Escaping from Prison: Heart cut out
Drug addicts & traffickers, Tomb Raiders, Urging People into crime: Tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled
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Fourth Court of Hell

Yama: King Wuguan
Crime & Punishment
Tax dodger & Business Fraud: Pounded by a stone mallet
Disobedience to one’s siblings: Grounded by a large stone
 

Fifth Court of Hell

Yama: King Yanluo
Crime & Punishment
Plotted another’s death for his property or money & Money lenders with exorbitant interest rates: Thrown onto a hill of knives
The Viewing Home Tower above is for the evildoers to see how their relatives and family are suffering as a result of their wrong-doings.
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Sixth Court of Hell

Yama: King Piencheng
Crime & Punishment
Cheating, Cursing & Abducting Others: Thrown onto a tree of knives
Misuse of books, Possession of pornographic material, Breaking written rules and regulations & Wasting Food: Body sawn into two
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Seventh Court of Hell

Yama: King Taishan
Crime & Punishment
Rumors-mongers &  Sowing discord among family members: Tongue pulled out
Rapists & Driving someone to their death: Thrown into a wok of boiling oil
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Eighth Court of Hell

Yama: King Dushi
Crime & Punishment
Causing trouble for parents or family members & Cheating during examinations: Intestines and organs pulled out
Harming others to benefit oneself: Body dismemberment
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Ninth Court of Hell

Yama: King Pingdeng
Crime & Punishment
Robbery, Murder, Rape & Any other unlawful conduct: Head and arms chopped off
Neglect of the old and young: Crushed under boulders

Tenth Court of Hell

Yama: King Zhuanlun
In the Tenth Court, there is a “Wheel of Reincarnation” and the “Pavilion of Forgetfulness” (Meng-Po Pavilion).
After serving their sentences, prisoners arrive at the Tenth Court where King Zhuanlun passes final judgement.
The prisoners are then brought to the “Pavilion of Forgetfulness” where an old lady “Meng Po” hands them a a cup of magic tea which on drinking makes them forget their past lives.

Samsara

They will then go through the “Wheel of Reincarnation” – Samsara.
Depending on the prisoner’s past life, they would be reborn either as a human or an animal. Some would be reborn into a life of ease and comfort while others into sorrow and suffering.
Reincarnation
According to Buddhist belief, there are six possibilities for rebirth after death. One may be born as a god, a human, an asura, an animal, a hungry ghost, or a hell-dweller. The form of existence that one is born into depends on the karmic energy acquired in one’s previous life. Though the immediate goal of many human Buddhist practitioners is to be born in the realm of the gods, the ultimate goal is to escape the cycle of rebirth altogether.
The best possible destiny is to be reborn as a god. The word “god” might be a misnomer, though. A Buddhist god is different from gods of other religions. This being is not a creator deity and does not directly influence the lives of humans, though in folk practice many Buddhist will ask these beings for help in family or business matters. In orthodox Buddhism, a god is simply an existence higher than that of humans. Gods live in a more blissful state and for far longer than humans. Most gods will be born into even higher heavens or escape the cycle of rebirth, though it is possible for them to have a lower rebirth.
According to Buddhist teaching, there are twenty-eight levels of heavens that make up the dwelling places of the gods. These levels are spread throughout three realms. The first six levels are in the realm of sense desire which is the closest to the human realm, the eighteen levels in the realm of form, and the four levels in the realm of formlessness.
Buddhist artwork often depicts scenes from these realms. Those who follow Buddhist precepts hope to be reborn into one of these heavens. Chinese Buddhism offers something of a shortcut into heaven. In Pure Land Buddhism, a practitioner will regularly repeat the mantra “Nan mo a-mi-to-fo” meaning “Glory to Amitabha.” Anyone who does this, even evil people, will be reborn into the Pure Land.
Here they will receive instruction until they receive enlightenment. There are some beings who are able to escape from the cycle of rebirth, but choose not to. These are called Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas choose to be reborn again and again on the earth in order to lead others to enlightenment.
The divine beings best loved by Chinese people are Bodhisattvas who were once living on the Earth and are believed to be assisting people today in their search for enlightenment. In Chinese culture, the most famous is Avalokiteśvara which is the goddess of mercy: Guanyin. Avalokiteśvara is also believed to be the Bodhisattva each Dali Lama is a reincarnation of.
After the gods, the next possible rebirth is that of humans. While lower than the realm of the gods, in the human realm there is still a possibility of enlightenment. It was in the human realm that Sakyamuni, the historic Buddha and the bringer of the Dharma, found enlightenment and an end to rebirth.
The focus of Buddhism is largely on the human realm. Bodhisattvas are always reborn as humans, never as ghosts or animals. It is as a human that one has the greatest chance of changing one’s karmic energy.
An asura is somewhere between a powerful ghost and a weak god. Asuras are beings that, because they lived lives of jealousy, envy, or selfishness, could not be reborn as gods. However, they are still a step above hungry ghosts.
Though they have more power than humans, an asura is a worse rebirth because asuras are plagued by the vices that caused them to be reborn in this state. They are also jealous of the place of the gods. Because of this, it is difficult for them to earn the karmic energy to have a higher rebirth. Buddhists believe many of the beings other religions worship as gods, including some of the Taoist and folk gods of China, are asuras.
Though humans and animals live together, animals have their own distinct realm. They are able to see and, to some degree, communicate with one another just as gods and asuras do despite being in different realms.
Animals live in a state of ignorance, thought to have been caused by their willful ignorance when they were humans. Because they are ignorant of Buddhist precepts, it is difficult for them to gain a higher rebirth. Many Buddhist refrain from eating meat or buy and set free animals out of sympathy for them. In the minds of Buddhists, every animal is potentially a relative from another lifetime.
Those who were selfish in their human lives may be reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts. This realm sometimes has contact with the human realm. This is how ghost sightings or unusual events are explained.
The contact is not as strong as that between the human and animal realms, though. Humans may show sympathy to the hungry spirits by offering them food. Because of their greed in the human realm, they are unable to satisfy their desires in the realm of ghosts. When they try to eat, food burns up on their lips, earning them the additional name of “burning mouths.” During Ghost Month, many Buddhist temples hold the Releasing Burning Mouths ceremony to prepare food so that it can be eaten by these ghosts.
The worst possible destiny is to be reborn in one of the almost infinite number of Hells.
In the Buddhist Hells, it is believed that people will be tortured according to the wrongs they did on the Earth. According to some sutras accepted in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, it is possible to transfer merit to someone in a hell if one fears that a family member has been reborn there.
Many in the West have an almost romantic view of reincarnation, seeing it as offering additional options for better or more interesting lives.
 However, in orthodox Buddhist thought, all of the realms described above, including the heavens, are within Samsara. As such, none of them are an end goal of Buddhists.
All of Samsara is the result of sentient beings believing in their own independent existence.
The end goal of a Buddhist is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth through finding enlightenment, a true understanding of one’s own existence.
With the morbid side of it aside, I found this exceptionally interesting! My lesson has been learned – I will not be misusing books, or cheating during examinations any time soon!
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About Joshua Hideki

Hi! I’m Hideki. You can call me Josh! ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ

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