Daoist Hell



Daruma Pilgrims Gallery


Daoist Hell

"The Classic of the Yellow Court"
Huangting Jing
Scroll by Liang Kai (c. 13th century)

from the Weng Collection
a pictorial representation of Daoist salvation from Hell

Detail showing the Holy Ancestor releasing Wang Jie from a jail

Read more here
© Orientations Com, May 2007


Ancient Taoism had no concept of hell, as morality was seen to be a man-made distinction and there was no concept of an immaterial soul. In its home country China, where Taoism adopted tenets of other religions, popular belief endows Taoist Hell with many deities and spirits who punish sin in a variety of horrible ways. This is also considered Karma for Taoism.

© Wikipedia about HELL CONCEPTS in variuos religions


The structure of Hell is remarkably complex in many Chinese and Japanese religions. The ruler of Hell has to deal with politics, just as human rulers do. Hell is the subject of many folk stories and manga. In many such stories, people in hell are able to die again, but no one seems to care about the apparent contradiction.
(Note: the strong influence of Buddhism on Chinese and Japanese Hells means that this is not necessarily a contradiction.)

Unlike some opinions on Biblical, Jewish and Islamic Hell, the Chinese depiction of Hell doesn't necessarily mean a long time suffering for those who enter Hell, nor does it mean that person is bad. The Chinese view Hell as similar to a present day passport or immigration control station. In a Chinese funeral, they burn a lot of Hell Bank Notes for the dead. With this Hell money, the dead person can bribe the ruler of Hell, and spend the rest of the money either in Hell or in Heaven。


Visions of Taoist hell at the Dong Yue Temple in Beijing.


Realms of another world


The Dong Yue temple in Beijing, with shrines assigned to every possible responsibility, has an uncanny resemblance to modern bureaucracy.
The structures of power in China's present and that in the Taoist hereafter are identical: both worlds are run by middle-level bureaucrats with a penchant for paperwork in triplicate.

The commonalities between the Taoist netherworld and that of the mortal world of contemporary China may not be immediately apparent to most. However, a visit to Dong Yue temple, an unobtrusive building set off a traffic-choked thoroughfare in central Beijing, not only offers insights into this improbable connection but further suggests that the help of a few Taoist Gods may be just what the doctor ordered to help China's current communist leadership confront its most pressing challenges.

The temple is a feast of polytheism, featuring a smorgasbord of Gods, Goddesses, Demons, Immortals and Saints inhabiting multiple realms of heaven and hell. What a quick walk around the shrines that line Dong Yue's main courtyard reveals is that the structures of power in China's mortal present and that in the Taoist hereafter are identical: both worlds are run by middle-level bureaucrats with a penchant for paperwork in triplicate.

Distributed duties

The temple's shrines, of which there are no less than 76, are thus labelled "departments" and each department is displayed with a head-mandarin Under Secretary seated comfortably atop a pedestal with rows of supplicants bearing paperwork and offerings queuing up along the sides.

Demon headed gate-keepers whose main job is to keep petitioners at bay from the badly-lit rooms are only one more feature that the here and hereafter share, or so Dong Yue would lead us to believe.

Pride of place amongst the temple's shrines goes to the Department of Signing Documents, which an accompanying explanatory plaque divulges to be the department in charge of "all writing, authenticating, signing and sealing of documents". But the red tape is only beginning. Next door is the Signature Department which your correspondent learnt is the "headquarter of all signature departments in the nether world. Its function is to sign and approve documents or verdicts passed by different departments prior to their execution".

A stroll down the corridor reveals the Department of Petty Officials (who are ordered by the department chief to be "selfless, kind and benevolent") which itself stands next door to the Evidence Department for Issuing a Warrant, in charge of "investigating and collecting evidence to avoid harming innocent people".

Back in the world of men, as of January of this year, China returned the sole right to hear death penalty appeals to its Supreme People's Court after a gap of more than two decades. The reason: a slew of high-profile cases in which it was revealed that the authorities had executed innocent persons for crimes they never committed. One could almost hear the Evidence Department for Issuing a Warrant's chief clucking his disapproval from above.

But this particular Department Head isn't the only one whose help the Chinese leadership could use today.

For example, two of the more formidable challenges Beijing is grappling with at the moment are corruption and illegal land seizures. For Taoist Gods, on the other hand, these very same problems are easily enough dealt with.

Guilty parties are swiftly dispatched to the Department of Confiscating Unwarranted Property, whose purple-headed guardian monster bears a particularly nasty spiked mace, or in the case of venal bureaucrats to the Department for Official Morality in charge of "the morality of officials" and of ensuring they are "honest, resist corruption and enforce the law strictly."

As your correspondent continued her inspection of the temple she came across the Measurement Department, which she learned is in charge of ensuring that "traders abide by rules of fair treatment and refrain from cheating by undercutting the weight and size of the merchandise". The Taoist netherworld certainly has better anti-dumping measures in place than even post WTO-accession China. It could have market economy status anytime it wanted.


And as China's environment continues its rapid deterioration — 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China according to the World Bank — the State Administration for Environmental Protection could learn much from the Taoist Department for Flying Birds, Department for Preserving Wilderness and the three separate Departments for Mountains, Rivers and Wind, all to be found within Dong Yue's tree-shaded environs.

The Plague Performing Department (in charge of performing plague on miscreants), Department for Implementing 15 Kinds of Violent Death (including clubbing, battle, fierce animals and revengeful murder), Department of Insect Birth (in charge of men who are reborn as cicadas, mosquitoes or flies as punishment for bad karma) and Department of Wandering Ghosts (responsible for ghosts that may have lost their way) are a little harder for Beijing to find practical uses for, but with some imagination (and of course a proposal signed and verified in quintuplicate) one never knows.

Down the ages

DONG YUE is a Taoist temple originally built in the 13th century. It fell into disrepair after China's last emperor was overthrown in 1911 and was ransacked during the Cultural Revolution. But in 1999, after a five-year-long restoration process, it was once again opened to the public, although as a museum of "folk religion" rather than as a functioning place of worship.

Taoism along with Buddhism and Confucianism is one of China's three main traditional religions. It is deeply mystical and the esoteric theology is difficult to grasp for the layperson but over the centuries its practice took on a hybrid form including Buddhist elements, Confucian ethics and animistic rituals.


There are nine sacred lamps for the nine abysses in the nine hells.

The saviour from suffering in hell is Jiuku Tianzun 十方救苦天尊.
Heavenly Lord of Salvation from Misery in the Ten Directions



Tai Yi Jiu Ku Tian Cun (Heavenly Worthy Tai Yi
The Savior from Suffering)

Tai Yi is one of Taoism's most important Gods, and is one of the highest rulers in the 10-stage Taoist Hell. Upon death, all human souls must appear before Tai Yi and be sentenced. Tai Yi is frequently depicted riding on a nine-headed lion. He generally carries a vase in his left hand and a sword in his right. The vase is filled with a cleansing holy water, while the sword is used to subdue demons and punish the wicked.
Taoists believe that they can improve their fate if they repeatedly call Tai Yi's name.
Tai Yi's birthday is the 11th day of the11th lunar month.


Taoist Hell

PHOTO © by samneeman


Downstream between Chongqing and the Three Gorges, one of the first spots travelers arrive at is Fengdu Ghost City, located on the north bank of the Yangtze. The Mingshan Mountain (home to the Ghost City) here has long been regarded as a significant destination for Chinese Taoists.

Legend has it that the mountain is seen by many to be the area where the deceased soul goes after his death. A series of temples have been built here, each representing different aspects of hell according to Taoist belief. The temples are dominated by statues, frescos and carvings of the ghosts and devils who are believed to govern Taoist hell.Locals gather here to pray for a good afterlife and re-incarnation in their next life.

© Ctrip.com China


Hell Concepts in Japanese Buddhism
Mark Schumacher

Daruma Museum LINKs

Jigoku Bosatsu 地獄菩薩

Enma, Emma, the King of Hell 閻魔天、閻魔王


No comments: