What Is Diyu?
Diyu ( 地獄) is the realm of the dead or “hell” in Chinese mythology. It is loosely based on a combination of the concept of Naraka, traditional Chinese beliefs about the afterlife and a variety of popular expansions and reinterpretations of these two traditions.
Diyu is typically depicted as a subterranean maze with various levels and chambers, to which souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed when they were alive. The exact number of levels in Diyu and their associated deities differ between Buddhist and Taoist interpretations. Some speak of three to four “courts”; others mention “Ten Courts of Hell”, each of which is ruled by a judge (collectively known as the Ten Yama Kings); other Chinese legends speak of the “Eighteen Levels of Hell”. Each court deals with a different aspect of atonement and different punishments; most legends claim that sinners are subjected to gruesome tortures until their “deaths”, after which they are restored to their original state for the torture to be repeated.
According to ideas from Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese folk religion, Diyu is a purgatory that serves to punish and renew spirits in preparation for reincarnation. Many deities, whose names and purposes are the subject of conflicting accounts, are associated with Diyu.
Some early Chinese societies speak of people going to Mount Tai, Jiuyuan, Jiuquan or Fengdu after death. At present, Fengdu and the temples on Mount Tai have been rebuilt into tourist attractions, incorporating artistic depictions of hell and the afterlife. Some Chinese folk religion planchette writings, such as the Taiwanese novel Journeys to the Under-World, say that new hells with new punishments are created as the world changes and that there is a City of Innocent Deaths (枉死城) designed to house those who died with grievances that have yet to be redressed.
Ten Courts of Hell
The concept of the “Ten Courts of Hell” (十殿閻羅) began after Chinese folk religion was influenced by Buddhism. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor put Yama in charge of overseeing the affairs of Diyu. There are 12,800 hells located under the earth – eight dark hells, eight cold hells and 84,000 miscellaneous hells located at the edge of the universe. All will go to Diyu after death but the period of time one spends in Diyu is not indefinite – it depends on the severity of the sins one committed. After receiving due punishment, one will eventually be sent for reincarnation. In the meantime, souls pass from stage to stage at Yama’s decision. Yama also reduced the number of hells to ten. He divided Diyu into ten courts, each overseen by a Yama King, while he remained as the sovereign ruler of Diyu.
(in the Chinese calendar)
|In charge of
(see the Cold and Hot Narakas for details)
|1st day of the 2nd month||Life and death and fortunes of all humans||Believed to be Jiang Ziwen|
|1st day of the 3rd month||Sañjīva, Arbuda|
|8th day of the 2nd month||Kālasūtra, Nirarbuda|
|18th day of the 2nd month||Saṃghāta, Aṭaṭa|
|8th day of the 1st month||Raurava, Hahava||Believed to be Bao Zheng|
|8th day of the 3rd month||Mahāraurava, Huhuva, and City of Innocent Deaths|
|27th day of the 3rd month||Tapana, Utpala|
|1st day of the 4th month||Pratāpana, Padma|
|8th day of the 4th month||Avīci, Mahāpadma|
|17th day of the 4th month||Sending souls for reincarnation|
Main article: Youdu
Among the various other geographic features believed of Diyu, the capital city has been thought to be named Youdu. It is generally conceived as being similar to a typical Chinese capital city, such as Chang’an, but surrounded with and pervaded with darkness.
Eighteen Levels of Hell
The concept of the eighteen hells started in the Tang dynasty. The Buddhist text Sutra on Questions about Hell (問地獄經) mentioned 134 worlds of hell, but was simplified to the Eighteen Levels of Hell in the Sutra on the Eighteen Hells (十八泥犁經) for convenience. Sinners feel pain and agony just like living humans when they are subjected to the tortures listed below. They cannot “die” from the torture because when the ordeal is over, their bodies will be restored to their original states for the torture to be repeated. The eighteen hells vary from narrative to narrative but some commonly mentioned tortures include: being steamed; being fried in oil cauldrons; being sawed into half; being run over by vehicles; being pounded in a mortar and pestle; being ground in a mill; being crushed by boulders; being made to shed blood by climbing trees or mountains of knives; having sharp objects driven into their bodies; having hooks pierced into their bodies and being hung upside down; drowning in a pool of filthy blood; being left naked in the freezing cold; being set aflame or cast into infernos; being tied naked to a bronze cylinder with a fire lit at its base; being forced to consume boiling liquids; tongue ripping; eye gouging; teeth extraction; heart digging; disembowelment; skinning; being left naked in the freezing cold; being trampled, gored, mauled, eaten, stung, bitten, pecked, etc., by animals.
|#||Version 1||Version 2||As mentioned in Journey to the West|
|1||Hell of Tongue Ripping
|Hell of Hanging Bars
|2||Hell of Scissors
|Hell of the Mountain of Knives
|Hell of the Wrongful Dead
|3||Hell of Trees of Knives
|Hell of Boiling Sand
|Hell of the Pit of Fire
|4||Hell of Mirrors of Retribution
|Hell of Boiling Faeces
|5||Hell of Steaming
|Hell of Darkened Bodies
|Hell of Tongue Ripping
|6||Hell of Copper Pillars
|Hell of Fiery Chariots
|Hell of Skinning
|7||Hell of the Mountain of Knives
|Hell of Cauldrons
|Hell of Grinding
|8||Hell of the Mountain of Ice
|Hell of Iron Beds
|Hell of Pounding
|9||Hell of Oil Cauldrons
|Hell of Cover Mountains
|Hell of Dismemberment by Vehicles
|10||Hell of the Pit of Cattle
|Hell of Ice
|Hell of Ice
|11||Hell of Boulder Crushing
|Hell of Skinning
|Hell of Moulting
|12||Hell of Mortars and Pestles
|Hell of Beasts
|Hell of Disembowelment
|13||Hell of the Pool of Blood
|Hell of Weapons
|Hell of the Pool of Blood
|14||Hell of the Wrongful Dead
|Hell of Iron Mills
|Hell of Oil Cauldrons
|15||Hell of Dismemberment
|Hell of Dismemberment
|Hell of Darkness
|16||Hell of the Mountain of Fire
|Hell of Iron Books
|Hell of the Mountain of Knives
|17||Hell of Mills
|Hell of Maggots
|18||Hell of Sawing
|Hell of Molten Copper
|Hell of Weighing Scales
Some literature refers to eighteen types of hells or to eighteen hells for each type of punishment. Some religious or literature books say that wrongdoers who were not punished when they were alive are punished in the hells after death.
Among the more common Chinese names for the Underworld are:
- Difu ( 地府; pinyin: Dìfǔ; Wade–Giles: Ti4-fu3), “Earth Mansion”.
- Huangquan (simplified 黄泉; traditional 黃泉; pinyin: Huángquán; Wade–Giles: Huang2-ch’üan2), “Yellow Springs”, called yomi in Japanese.
- Yinjian (simplified 阴间; traditional 陰間; pinyin: Yīnjiān; Wade–Giles: Yin1-chien1; literally: ‘Yin dimension’), “Land of Shade”.
- Yinfu (simplified 阴府; traditional 陰府; pinyin: Yīnfǔ; Wade–Giles: Yin1-fu3), “Shady Mansion”.
- Yinsi (simplified 阴司; traditional 陰司; pinyin: Yīnsī; Wade–Giles: Yin1-szu1), “Shady Office”.
- Senluo Dian (simplified 森罗殿; traditional 森羅殿; pinyin: Sēnluódiàn; Wade–Giles: Sen1-lo2 Tien4), “Court of Senluo”.
- Yanluo Dian (simplified 阎罗殿; traditional 閻羅殿; pinyin: Yánluódiàn; Wade–Giles: Yan2-lo2 Tien4), “Court of Yanluo”.
- Jiuquan ( 九泉; pinyin: Jiǔquán; Wade–Giles: Chiu3-ch’üan2), “Nine Springs”.
- Zhongquan ( 重泉; pinyin: Zhòngquán; Wade–Giles: Chung4-ch’üan2), “Heavy Spring”.
- Quanlu ( 泉路; pinyin: Quánlù; Wade–Giles: Ch’üan2-lu4), “Road to the Spring”.
- Youming ( 幽冥; pinyin: Yōumíng; Wade–Giles: Yu1-ming2), “Serene Darkness”.
- Yourang ( 幽壤; pinyin: Yōurǎng; Wade–Giles: Yu1-jang3), “Serene Land”.
- Huokang ( 火炕; pinyin: Huǒkàng; Wade–Giles: Huo3-kang4), “Fire Pit”.
- Jiuyou ( 九幽; pinyin: Jiǔyōu; Wade–Giles: Chiu3-yu1), “Nine Serenities”.
- Jiuyuan ( 九原; pinyin: Jiǔyuán; Wade–Giles: Chiu3-yüan2), “Nine Origins”.
- Mingfu ( 冥府; pinyin: Míngfǔ; Wade–Giles: Ming2-fu3), “Dark Mansion”.
- Mingjie ( 冥界; pinyin: Míngjiè; Wade–Giles: Ming2-chieh4), “Dark Realm”, “Underworld”.
- Kujing ( 苦境; pinyin: Kǔjìng; Wade–Giles: K`u3-ching4), “Dire Straits”, “(Place of) Grievance”.
- Abi ( 阿鼻; pinyin: Ābí; Wade–Giles: A1-pi2), “Avīci”, the hell of uninterrupted torture, last and deepest of the Eight Hot Narakas.
- Zugen ( 足跟; pinyin: Zúgēn; Wade–Giles: Tsu2-ken1), “Heel”.
- Fengdu Cheng (simplified 丰都城; traditional 酆都城; pinyin: Fēngdū Chéng; Wade–Giles: Feng1-tu1 Ch’eng2), a reference to the Fengdu Ghost City.
Other terminology related to hell includes:
- Naihe Qiao (simplified 奈何桥; traditional 奈何橋; pinyin: Nàihé Qiáo; Wade–Giles: Nai4-ho2 Ch’iao2), “Bridge of Helplessness”, a bridge every soul has to cross before being reincarnated, they are said to drink the Mengpo soup(孟婆汤) at Naihe Qiao so they will forget everything in their current lives and prepare for reincarnation.
- Wang Xiang Tai (simplified 望乡台; traditional 望鄉臺; pinyin: Wàng Xiāng Tái; Wade–Giles: Wang4 Hsiang1 T’ai2), “Home-Viewing Pavilion”, a pavilion every soul passes by on his/her journey to the Underworld. From there, they can see their families and loved ones in the world of the living.
- Youguo (simplified 油锅; traditional 油鍋; pinyin: Yóu Guō; Wade–Giles: Yu2-kuo1), “Oil Cauldron”, one of the tortures in hell.
- Santu (simplified 三涂; traditional 三塗; pinyin: Sān Tú; Wade–Giles: San1-t’u2), the “Three Tortures”: Fire Torture (simplified 火涂; traditional 火塗; pinyin: Huǒ Tú; Wade–Giles: Huo3-t’u2), Blade Torture (simplified 刀涂; traditional 刀塗; pinyin: Dāo Tú; Wade–Giles: Tao1-t’u2), Blood Torture (simplified 血涂; traditional 血塗; pinyin: Xuě Tú; Wade–Giles: Hsüeh3-t’u2; literally: ‘spilling of blood’).
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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