The ancient Chinese concept of Hell after death

The Chinese have Dante beat. Dante only wrote about 9 circles of hell. The Chinese have eighteen levels. It makes sense in a gruesome way when you realize the Chinese also came up with a very slow and painful death by a thousand cuts, and then there’s the Chinese water torture. Where do you think the West came up for  waterboarding?

China Underground.com says, “Diyu, the Traditional Chinese Hell, based on Buddhism concept of Naraka, is an underground maze with various levels and chambers, where souls are taken after death to atone for the sins they committed when they were alive.”

Buddhism originated in India and when it arrived in China, it brought eighteen levels of hell with it. Over time, this belief spread across China.

Taoism, Buddhism, and traditional Chinese folk religions think that the souls of the dead must experience several tests before reaching the gates of hell, where demons demand money to enter, which might explain why many Chinese burn paper money at funerals to make sure beloved family members have enough for the journey through hell.

There are eighteen levels on this journey, and each level comes with a method to test for evil.

For criminals, the souls are heavy and the trip is long and painful. Chinese almanacs graphically illustrated the punishments while good souls were light and made the journey quickly.

Today, these beliefs are probably more alive in remote areas of rural China than urban areas where Mao’s Cultural Revolution had more of an impact getting rid of ancient beliefs.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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