Observing The Karma of All Beings


Buddha Sakyamuni’s mother, Lady Maya, reverently placed both her hands together and asked Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, “Saintly One, those beings of the worlds have different karma. What kind of retribution do they deserve?”


Ksitigarbha answered, “Some of the infinite lands have hells, the others do not. Some lands have women, the others do not. Some lands have the Buddhadharma, the others do not. Some lands have Sound-Hearers and Pratyeka Buddhas, the others do not. The hells do not all have the same retributions.”

Lady Maya asked Bodhisattva, “I would like to know what retributions the beings in the worlds will receive.”

Ksitigarbha replied, “Saintly mother, please listen and I will give you a general explanation.”

Buddha’s mother said, “Saintly One, please tell me.”

Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha told the saintly mother, “The criminal retributions are as follows:

若有眾生, 不孝父母,或至殺害,當墮無間地獄,千萬億劫, 求出無期。
Anyone who is not filial or does not respect his parents, or anyone who kills or hurts his parents will fall into Endless Hell for an indefinite period of time.

若有眾生, 出佛身血,毀謗三寶,不敬尊經,亦當墮於無間地獄,千萬億劫,求出無期。
Anyone who hurts or injures Buddha, slanders the Three Treasures or disrespects the sutra, will fall into Endless Hell for an indefinite period of time.

若有眾生, 侵損常住,玷污僧尼,或伽藍內, 恣行婬欲,或殺或害,如是等輩,當墮無間地獄,千萬億劫,求出無期。
Anyone who damages or steals from the temple, makes a monk or nun disobey the rules, practice sexual acts in a temple or kills people, will fall into Endless Hell for an indefinite period of time.

Anyone who pretends to be a monk or a nun but fails to keep the rules of Buddha in his or her heart, waste objects in a temple, cheats a follower of Buddha or goes against the Buddha’s discipline, will fall into Endless Hell for an indefinite period of time.

Anyone who steals money, food, clothing or takes anything from the temple without permission, will fall into Endless Hell for an indefinite period of time.”

Ksitigarbha continued, “Those beings who commit such crimes will fall into Endless Hell. It is impossible to ask for a momentary pause from these sufferings.”

Lady Maya asked Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha again, “Why are those hells called ‘Endless’?”


Ksitigarbha replied, “Saintly mother, there are eighteen big hells, then five hundred major hells which have different names and thousands of secondary hells with different names, too. All hells are within the Iron-Fence Mountain. Endless Hell is eighty thousand miles in circumference, ten thousand miles high, and the buildings and walls around it are made of iron. The hell is surrounded by a wall of flames making it impossible to escape. Within this hell, many secondary hells are connected together and they also have different names. There is just one hell here which is properly named ‘Endless’. This hell is made of solid iron, is eighteen thousand miles in circumference and its wall is one thousand miles high. Below and above is all burning fire. There are iron snakes and dogs chasing and breathing out fire along the wall.”


“Inside this hell is a bed that extends for ten thousand miles or more. One suffering here can see himself lying on that bed. And when thousands of people are suffering there, they each would see themselves lying on that bed, too. These are retributions for the bad karma caused by the offenders.”


“Furthermore, many criminal people suffer from all kinds of pain. The sufferings are as follows: There are several hundred or thousand skeletons and evil ghosts with sword-like teeth and lightning-like eyes dragging criminal people by copper claws. One kind of skeleton has hands like big iron spears that shoot through bodies, mouths, noses, bellies or backs. They throw criminal people back and forth through the air. Some skeletons put criminal people on the bed and let iron eagles peck at their eyes or iron snakes twist their necks. Nails are driven into their joints, and their tongues pulled out and ploughed through; their intestines are drawn and cut out. They are forced to drink molten copper and hot iron is used to brand them. These karmic retributions are for thousands lives and are all caused by the beings themselves. Having been through so much pain, they are still unable to leave the hells. Even though the hell has come to an end or has decayed, they will be conveyed to another hell. When the former hell has also decayed, they will be sent back yet again. These are the karmic retributions proceeding in Endless Hell.

This is a hell that is basically established for these five kinds of karmic retributions, so it is called Endless Hell. The reasons why it is called Endless Hell are:

一者, 日夜受罪, 以至劫數,無時間絕, 故稱無間。
First, the suffering continues day and night, and there is no end. Therefore, it is called Endless Hell.

二者, 一人亦滿,多人亦滿, 故稱無間。
Second, no matter how many people are there, either one or great many, the hell is always full. Therefore, it is called Endless Hell.

三者,罪器叉棒,鷹蛇狼犬碓磨鋸鑿, 剉斫鑊湯, 鐵綱鐵繩,鐵驢鐵馬, 生革絡首,熱鐵澆身,饑吞鐵丸, 渴飲鐵汁, 從年竟劫, 數那由他, 苦楚相連, 更無間斷, 故稱無間。
Third, the pains they suffer are without end. They use a variety of implements such as forks, sticks, eagles, snakes, wolves and dogs, mills, saws and files that pierce, pound, grind, saw and chop. Large pots, iron nets and ropes, iron horses and donkeys, and molten iron are used to boil and flay one alive, bind, and pour molten iron over one’s body. When they are hungry and thirsty, they are forced to swallow iron pellets and drink iron fluid. These sufferings will continue for countless years. Therefore, it is called Endless Hell.

四者, 不間男子女人, 羌胡夷狄, 老幼貴賤, 或龍或神, 或天或鬼, 罪行業感, 悉同受之, 故稱無間。
Fourth, regardless of race, sex, age, wealth, or whether dragons or gods, heavenly beings or ghosts, if any of them have karmic retributions caused by criminal behavior, they will suffer together.

五者, 若墮此獄,從初入時, 至百千劫, 一日一夜, 萬死萬生, 求一念間,暫住不得, 除非業盡,方得受生, 以此連綿,故稱無間。」
Fifth, anyone in hell will pass through many lives every day and night. It is impossible to rest even for a moment. They will never be reborn as human beings until all karma has come to an end. Because of this never-ending life and death, it is called Endless Hell.”


Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha told saintly mother, “I have described Endless Hell in general. If you want me to explain everything in detail about Endless Hell, I could not finish in one aeon.”

After listening to Ksitigarbha’s words, Lady Maya sorrowfully placed both her hands together, bowed in worship, then withdrew.

May the merits and virtues accrued from this work adorn the Buddha’s Pure Land, repay the Four Kindness above and relieve the sufferings of those in the Three Realms below. May those who see, hear and read this sutra bring forth the Bodhi mind and live the teachings for the rest of this life, then be born together in the Land of Ultimate Bliss.