The Eight Great Hells

1. The Hell of Revival 2. The Hell of the Black Cable 3. The Hell of Striking and Crushing 4. The Hell of Wailing 5. The Hell of Great Wailing 6. The Hell of Scorching Heat 7. The Hell of Great Scorching Heat 8. Avici Hell (the world of ceaseless suffering)


‘Naraka’ is a Sanskrit word meaning a world of suffering (hell). There are eight levels of Naraka, known as the ‘Eight Major Narakas’ or the ‘Eight Hot Narakas’. In his work, Essentials of Birth in the Pure Land, Master Genshin gave a detailed explanation of the states of Naraka that had been taught about in the Meditation on the Correct Teaching Sūtra and the Oceanlike Samadhi of Contemplation of Buddhas Sūtra as well as in Nāgārjuna’s Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Abhidharma, and Discourse on the Stages of Yogic Practice.

1) Sañjīva: The least harsh of the Eight Major Narakas. One day and one night is the equivalent to 9,000,000 years of the human realm, and beings here live for 500 years. It is taught that beings in this realm are born with hands consisting entirely of iron claws and they tear each other’s flesh apart.

(2) Kālasūtra: Situated beneath Sañjīva, here hell guards (demons) lay sinners upon hot iron, press hot iron ropes on them lengthwise and crosswise, and cut the sinners up along the lines using axes and saws.

(3) Saṃghāta: Situated beneath Kālasūtra, here hell guards herd sinners between two stone mountains and crush them, or they put them on a grindstone and use a mortar to crush them into a pulp. Asipatravana, the dagger- leaves forest Naraka, is also here.

(4) Raurava: Situated beneath Saṃghāta, here sinners are thrown into a large cauldron and boiled. After that, they are cooked in a fire pit.

(5) Mahāraurava: Situated beneath Raurava, here sinners go through the same kinds of torments as in the previous Naraka, but the level of suffering is ten times worse.

(6) Tapana: Situated beneath Mahāraurava, here sinners are crushed until flat on hot iron, thrown into a great blaze, and fire begins to spout from holes all over their bodies. In comparison to the fire of this Naraka, the fire of the first five Narakas is like snow or frost.

(7) Pratāpana: Situated beneath Tapana, here sinners go through the same kinds of torments as in the previous Naraka, but the level of suffering is ten times worse.

(8) Avīci: The harshest of all the Narakas. Situated beneath the previous seven Narakas, life here lasts for 80,000 kalpas, a single kalpa being 432,000,000 years long. Since sinners here get no break from suffering, this Naraka is also known as the ‘world of ceaseless suffering’. It is taught that those who commit any of the Five Grave Offences or slander Buddhism fall into the world of ceaseless suffering.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #38 | 2014, The Eight Great Hells

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The Buddhist Village Times #38​

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