“To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell”
– Buddhist Proverb
Down an ordinary road about 60 miles outside of Bangkok you can explore hell. Scenes at Wang Saen Suk, aka Hell Garden, show visitors what happens when you fail to follow the right path of Buddhism. If your bad deeds outnumber your good deeds you’re in deep trouble.
Built in 1986, Darmon Richer took a trip to there. “I take you to Hell for 20 Baht,” said a man on a motorbike. Darmon accepted. And before long he was confronted with scenes of depravity and torture.
My Virgil left me by the entrance, where a great Buddha sat in watch over the gates of hell. From here it looked unremarkable; there were life-sized sculptures of men, women and animals, grouped to portray scenes of religious significance. A man was cutting off his hair in one diorama, while another man, presumably a saint of some sort, was slaying some mean-looking crocodiles. Here and there monks floated about, their orange robes wet from the storm, while a sign on the wall proclaimed, “Welcome to Hell!”
I followed the path around a corner, when suddenly the space ahead of me was opened up into a surreal tapestry of pain.
In Buddhism ‘Hell’ is known as “Naraka”. The good news is that souls are not there for all eternity, rather for as long as it takes for their bad deeds (negative karma) to be exorcised. How long that takes depends on how bad you’ve been. But any moment is too long, The place is drenched in blood and suffering.
Only one pit differs, and that is Avici: the ‘non-returning hell’. This deepest region of the underworld is cold rather than hot like the others, and reserved for those who take the life of their parents, a Buddha or an enlightened ‘Arhat’. Souls in Avici remain in torment until the birth of a new Buddhist era.
“If you meet the Devil in this life, don’t postpone merit-making which will help you to defeat him in the next life.”
– Sign at the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden
According to the Traiphuum Phra Ruang, the dead are brought before the ‘Death King’, Phya Yom, who informs you of your fate, after comparing your list of good deeds (inscribed on a gold plate) against any bad actions you have committed in life (listed on a scrap of dog skin). Animals have big part to play.
The demon closest to me had the head of a savage pig, and a plaque between its feet that read:
“Ones who make a corruption are punished in the hell, they are named as the spirits of the pigs.”
I walked through the dancing rows, reading the inscriptions as I passed. The ungrateful become tigers, the jealous rabbits, and those who instigate brawls become ducks. Stealing aquatic animals earns you a fish head, while those who steal cooked rice are named as the spirits of the birds. All are punished in the hell.
Ones who sell the habit-performing drugs are punished in the hell, they are named as the spirits of the cows…
Those who exploit and cause suffering to others are named as the spirits of the dogs; vandals are rats and tortoises undermine the authority of others, while those who destroy the areas of wilderness are named as deer.
Ones who are employed to put fire on the others properties are punished in the hell, they are named as the spirits of the snakes.
In the furthest corner of the garden, some figures were grouped about a tree. A nearby donation box read: “Ones who give alms and Yellow robs to the Buddhist Monks and build the Buddha’s immages will be born in the religious period of the next Bodhisattaya (Sri – Araya mettaraya). In his religion, there will have been a Kalapapluek Tree growing in the future world yielding which contain every thing one may wish for.”
These colossal figures were named as ghosts. The male was ‘Nai Ngean-Nai Ngean’, guilty in life of vice and disorderly conduct. The female ghost – ‘Nang Thong-Nang Thong’ – had made mistakes of “sexual intercourse, misconduct, mind without morality”.
Statues in the ‘Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden’ in Thailand. Photos by Darmon Richter.
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