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Naraka (Sanskrit: नरक) or Niraya (Pāli: निरय) is a term in Buddhist cosmology usually referred to in English as "hell", "hell realm", or "purgatory". The Narakas of Buddhism are closely related to diyu, the hell in Chinese mythology. A Naraka differs from the hells of Abrahamic religions in two respects: firstly, beings are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment and punishment; secondly, the length of a being's stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long.
A being is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her accumulated karma and resides there for a finite period of time until that karma has achieved its full result. After his or her karma is used up, he or she will be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of karma that had not yet ripened.
Physically, Narakas are thought of as a series of cavernous layers which extend below Jambudvīpa (the ordinary human world) into the earth. There are several schemes for enumerating these Narakas and describing their torments. The Abhidharma-kosa (Treasure House of Higher Knowledge) is the root text that describes the most common scheme, the Eight Cold Narakas and Eight Hot Narakas.
- Arbuda (頞部陀), the "blister" Naraka, is a dark, frozen plain surrounded by icy mountains and continually swept by blizzards. Inhabitants of this world arise fully grown and abide lifelong naked and alone, while the cold raises blisters upon their bodies. The length of life in this Naraka is said to be the time it would take to empty a barrel of sesame seed if one only took out a single seed every hundred years.
- Nirarbuda (刺部陀), the "burst blister" Naraka, is even colder than Arbuda. There, the blisters burst open, leaving the beings' bodies covered with frozen blood and pus.
- Aṭaṭa (頞听陀) is the "shivering" Naraka. There, beings shiver in the cold, making an aṭ-aṭ-aṭ sound with their mouths.
- Hahava (臛臛婆) is the "lamentation" Naraka. There, the beings lament in the cold, going haa, haa in pain.
- Huhuva (虎々婆), the "chattering teeth" Naraka, is where beings shiver as their teeth chatter, making the sound hu, hu.
- Utpala (嗢鉢羅) is the "blue lotus" Naraka. The intense cold there makes the skin turn blue like the colour of an utpala waterlily.
- Padma (鉢特摩), the "lotus" Naraka, has blizzards that cracks open frozen skin, leaving one raw and bloody.
- Mahāpadma (摩訶鉢特摩) is the "great lotus" Naraka. The entire body cracks into pieces and the internal organs are exposed to the cold, also cracking.
Each lifetime in these Narakas is twenty times the length of the one before it.
- Sañjīva, the "reviving" Naraka, has ground made of hot iron heated by an immense fire. Beings in this Naraka appear fully grown, already in a state of fear and misery. As soon as the being begins to fear being harmed by others, their fellows appear and attack each other with iron claws and hell guards appear and attack the being with fiery weapons. As soon as the being experiences an unconsciousness like death, they are suddenly restored to full health and the attacks begin again. Other tortures experienced in this Naraka include having molten metal dropped upon them, being sliced into pieces, and suffering from the heat of the iron ground. Life in this Naraka is 1.62×1012 years long. It is said to be 1000 yojanas beneath Jambudvīpa and 10,000 yojanas in each direction (a yojana being 7 miles, or 11 kilometres).
- Kālasūtra, the "black thread" Naraka, includes the torments of Sañjīva. In addition, black lines are drawn upon the body, which hell guards use as guides to cut the beings with fiery saws and sharp axes. Life in this Naraka is 1.296×1013 years long.
- Saṃghāta, the "crushing" Naraka, is surrounded by huge masses of rock that smash together and crush the beings to a bloody jelly. When the rocks move apart again, life is restored to the being and the process starts again. Life in this Naraka is 1.0368×1014 years long.
- Raurava, the "screaming" Naraka, is where beings run wildly about, looking for refuge from the burning ground. When they find an apparent shelter, they are locked inside it as it blazes around them, while they scream inside. Life in this Naraka is 8.2944×1014 years long.
- Mahāraurava, the "great screaming" Naraka, is similar to Raurava. Punishment here is for people who maintain their own body by hurting others. In this hell, ruru animals known as kravyāda torment them and eat their flesh. Life in this Naraka is 6.63552×1015 years long.
- Tapana is the "heating" Naraka, where hell guards impale beings on a fiery spear until flames issue from their noses and mouths. Life in this Naraka is 5.308416×1016 years long.
- Pratāpana, the "great heating" Naraka. The tortures here are similar to the Tapana Naraka, but the beings are pierced more bloodily with a trident. Life in this Naraka is 4.2467328×1017 years long. It is also said to last for the length of half an antarakalpa.
- Avīci, is the "uninterrupted" Naraka. Beings are roasted in an immense blazing oven with terrible suffering. Life in this Naraka is 3.39738624×1018 years long. It is also said to last for the length of an antarakalpa.
Some sources describe five hundred or even hundreds of thousands of different Narakas.
The sufferings of the dwellers in Naraka often resemble those of the Pretas, and the two types of being are easily confused. The simplest distinction is that beings in Naraka are confined to their subterranean world, while the Pretas are free to move about.
There are also isolated and boundary hells called Pratyeka Narakas (Pali: Pacceka-niraya) and Lokantarikas.
In Buddhist literature
Descriptions of the Narakas are a common subject in some forms of Buddhist commentary and popular literature as cautionary tales against the fate that befalls evildoers and an encouragement to virtue.
The Mahāyāna Sūtra of the bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (Dìzàng or Jizō) graphically describes the sufferings in Naraka and explains how ordinary people can transfer merit in order to relieve the sufferings of the beings there.
Chinese Buddhist texts considerably enlarged upon the description of Naraka (Diyu), detailing additional Narakas and their punishments, and expanding the role of Yama and his helpers, Ox-Head and Horse-Face. In these texts, Naraka became an integral part of the otherworldly bureaucracy which mirrored the imperial Chinese administration.
- Bon Festival
- Ghost Festival
- Hell Bank Notes
- Ox-Head and Horse-Face
- Ullambana Sutra
- Yama (Buddhism and Chinese mythology)
- Thakur, Upendra (1992). India and Japan, a Study in Interaction During 5th Cent. – 14th Cent. A.D. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 8170172896.
- Alexander, Jane (2009). The Body, Mind, Spirit Miscellany: The Ultimate Collection of Fascinations, Facts, Truths, and Insights. London: Duncan Baird Publishers. pp. 150–151. ISBN 9781844838370.
- Malik, Akhtar (2007). Survey of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries. New Delhi: Anmol Publications. p. 50. ISBN 9788126132591.
- Morgan, Diane (2010). Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 73. ISBN 9780313384523.
- "诸经佛说地狱集要" (in Chinese).