TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains images that may be disturbing for some. Reader discretion is advised.
….I don’t know, they always put that on TV shows. Anyway, if you’re the easily offended kind, here is a nice picture of flowers, and you can safely proceed to the X button. If not, read on.
I blogged about visiting the Chin Swee Cave Temple in Genting in my last post. It’s a beautiful place up in the hills, with giant deity statues and amazing views of the valley. But there’s a section in this Taoist temple that chronicles the ‘Journey to Enlightenment’, which explains the different levels of hell one has to go through before rebirth. In Chinese diyu or hell, there are said to be 10 ‘courts’ where souls go to face their judgment and subsequent punishments (similar to Dante’s Inferno).
Discounting the brutality of the punishments, the exhibit is actually a very interesting insight into Taoist/Chinese culture and mythology. Keep an open mind while reading this, ja?
Ready? Let’s go.
We begin in the First Hell Chamber, which is overseen by Qin Guang Wang. he manages a book which dictates birth and death in the mortal realm, determining if they’ll live a long life or die a premature death. He’ll also do ‘sorting’: so if you’ve done a lot of good deeds, you’ll go to the Heavenly Realm (ie heaven/ like a Chinese version of Nirvana). If you’ve done both good/bad, you’ll be sent to the 9th chamber to be reborn into the mortal realm and if you’ve been a real rotten egg… well, you know what awaits.
The ideal is, of course, to achieve Nirvana and go to heaven, but unlike in religions where you only get one shot at life, Taoists believe that you can be reborn many times over. As devotees, one should strive to do as many good deeds as possible not just to avoid hell, but be finally free of the rebirth cycle.
Taoist hell is a terrifying place with Hell guards and loads of suffering. Some of the prominent characters here are the ‘Guai Chai’ or Black and White Ghost Guards (picture above) who escort prisoners to the Underworld. Like Yin and Yang, they represent opposing forces of good and evil, balanced as a whole entity.
**More info here: Heibai Wuchang
In the right chamber there will be a mirror which shows the prisoner their past misdeeds. The Hell Guards will be there to keep an eye on the prisoners. They are depicted as fierce-looking demons, ready to mete out punishment with swords, spears, whips and chains. Two prominent Hell Guards that feature in every folklore is the Ngao Tao (ox head) and Mar Meen (horse face).
The second chamber of Hell is ruled by Chu Jiang Wang and is dubbed Reviving Hell. Kidnappers, doctors who intentionally caused harm through malpractice, those who caused disabilities in others, adulterers, and those who have committed suicide will be punished here after death, according to the placard written next to the exhibit. Not too sure what’s happening, but I think they’re drowning in their own blood (?)
It gets worse from here. Third chamber of Hell is ruled by Song Di Wang, and is called the Black Line Hell. Cheaters (does this mean my ex will burn? okay sorry. that was a joke, a bad one), disloyal and dishonest individuals, those who harmed others for self benefit, robbers and thieves will receive punishment here.
Uh, being gutted.
Oy vey, I think they are being pounded to death with a pestle. And the ladies are in a pool of blood with cobras.
This is the fourth chamber of Hell, or the Rounding Up and Crushing Hell… ah, now I get the pestle. People who evaded taxes, cheated in sales, disrespected the elderly, bullied poor folks, did not abide by the law, were prone to vanity, etc are punished here. I don’t know why the ‘rules’ are so specific that they would have punishments for people who didn’t pay taxes (??) but sometimes things get lose in translation from Chinese to English. Also, bear in mind that these are based on folklore and belief blended with religion, and are not from the religion per se.
Moving on, we have the Fifth Chamber of hell, or the Howling Hell. Those who haggled over fame and fortune (Kim K?), rapists, was stingy (??), liked to fight and gamble, was jealous of the kind hearted, those who shot poultry and birds, wrested away farm land or destroyed water sources will be punished in this chamber.
Again, don’t ask me why rapists and stingy people fall into the same category, because the punishment seems way harsh for the latter in comparison with rapists. I agree rapists should suffer everything and more besides, but hey, who hasn’t been stingy once in awhile?
For their sins, prisoners are tied to a fiery rod to burn.
The Sixth Chamber of Hell is controlled by Bian Cheng Wang, and is dubbed the Great Howling Hell. It’s not enough to call it Howling Hell, so they added a Great – so you can bet the punishments are really severe. Those who disregarded the gods and their teachings, violated ethical practices, committed vandalism (aiyah…) and wasted staple food will be punished in this hell. Again with the pestle.. and being sawed into half.
I understand the part about wasting staple food. Ancient China was an agricultural society and food sources were not always easy to come by, especially during famines. My bro and I were taught never to waste food, and we even have sayings to deter food wastage, like “if you don’t finish every grain of rice in your bowl, your spouse is gonna be pockmarked lol”. But vandalism? I’ve scrawled my fair share of stickmen on the school toilet doors. I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me.
Uh, more uncomfortable viewing.
This is the Seventh Chamber of Hell, or Heating Hell. No points for guessing what they do to prisoners there – they boil them alive. And saw their heads. Those who lived lavishly, gambled, practiced abortion , bullied the weak and fabricated truths will receive punishment here.
Filial piety is a pillar of Chinese culture, and those who disobeyed, disrespected or treated their parents badly will suffer in the Eighth Chamber of Hell, called Intense Heating Hell. They’ll be crushed by heavy slabs, or thrown into a pit of fire.
The final chamber is called Ultimate Torment Hell. It’s not even Torment, it’s Ultimate. Crimes: Abortionists, men who raped young girls (apparently there are separate hells for rapists and rapists of young girls, the latter considered more severe?) and ‘those who enticed young men’… whatever that means.
We’re almost at the end of the long and arduous journey. In the final Chamber, prisoners who have gone through their punishments will then be sorted to be reborn into the mortal realm. Even after punishments, if your sins are too severe, you might be reborn into an animal’s body in your next life. Else, you’ll become human again.
Prisoners will drink a liquid called ‘Mang Po Tong’ (Blind Woman’s Soup). The Blind Woman is a figure who helps souls pass on to the next life. Her elixir will wipe out all your memories, so you won’t have any recollection of who you are in the past and can start afresh.
Souls pass on through bridges into the mortal world. There are several categories that you can be reborn into, including Human, Mammal, Bird, Aquatic creatures (fish, turtles, etc) and Insects/invertebrate. The higher realm is of course, the Heavenly Realm resided by gods and deities.
…and that was the Journey to Enlightenment exhibit, although it was more a journey through hell.
I can’t say I agree with everything, but it’s not for me to judge. Different cultures/religions have different beliefs, and it pisses me off when someone says that one is better than the other. Understanding is more important than judging, I say.
Less trigger-ing pictures. Gorgeous mountain views.
From Hell to Heaven – ‘Fairies’ on clouds, pulling a carriage in which the Heavenly Mother or Wong Mo is seated.The scene shows preparations for her birthday celebration, where all the gods and deities come together in heaven for a feast.
Fook, Look,Sau – three deities that represents prosperity, wealth and status, and longevity.
Wong Mo’s birthday always features giant peaches, which grow in heaven and promises longevity. In Journey to the West, Sun Wukong the monkey wreaks havoc when he steals into the garden and ate all the peaches meant for Wong Mo’s birthday celebration.
Part of the temple complex.
Chin Swee Cave Temple is a great place to visit for the views, culture and architecture. Entrance is free, but donations are welcome. If you stay at their accommodations, the money is donated to charity.