A Sunday Afternoon Stroll Through Hell

When your landlord asks to take you to lunch on a Sunday afternoon, you expect a laid back time at a local restaurant. Maybe even a picnic on the beach. But, this is Thailand, so instead I spent the day in the back of a truck ascending a mountain overrun by monkeys and descending into the agony of Buddhist hell. Khao Sammuk, or Monkey Mountain, was our first venture. Our landlady, Khunjai bought us a bag full of corn, which the monkeys stole right out of our truck bed, and a bushel of bananas which we fed to the little thieves anyway.

The Hell Garden of Wat Wang Saen Suk is a wonderfully macabre place where Dante’s Inferno meets Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The temple is replete with statues depicting the torture inflicted on those who go to Buddhist hell–each gruesome punishment in the underworld is befitting of the vice committed on earth. A vision of divine revenge and poetic justice actualized, similar to the contrapasso depicted in Dante’s Inferno. In virtually every direction you look, there is another lost soul being tormented in the most fascinating and unfathomably horrific way. There is no break for intermission between these endless scenes of desperation and ruthless barbarity. Bulging eyes, protruding ribs, dejected, disfigured faces. Castrated genitals, gushing entrails, impaled figures hopelessly begging for mercy. Wang Saen Suk was dark and disturbing, and I loved every inch of it.

I was unaware that a belief in hell existed in Buddhist religion. But, apparently this is the place where reincarnated souls are born if the hell-keeper decides they have defied the Five Buddhist Precepts in a former life. The Five Precepts are as follows:

1.  Do not kill.

2.  Do not steal.

3.  Do not engage in improper sexual conduct.

4.  Do not make false statements.

5.  Do not drink alcohol.

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The monkeys run these streets.

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Overfed and underpaid.

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Banana boy

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A Chinese temple we passed en route to the top of the mountain.

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King of the mountain.

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Rachel feeding one of the monkeys at the Khao Sammuk peak.

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A monkey predictability snatching bananas from Kira.

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Friend or foe?

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Our landlady, Khunjai.

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Sometimes I use my feet to eat too.

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Right before the corn theft. Monkeys perched on our truck, scouting out our rations.

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In medias res.

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Monks and meat.

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In the front of the temple, tranquil scenes and statues representing the Buddha.

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Scenes depicting the story of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment.

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Scenes depicting the journey of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment.

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The path of piety.

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An enlightened Buddha at peace in Nirvana. His story is meant to show the rewards devout Buddhists will receive for living a righteous life.

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Nearly immediately after viewing the scene of Buddhist heaven, one is confronted with these two ghastly 30-ft figures–one man, one woman, both sinners being punished for their wrongdoings on earth.

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Below the giant figures, sinners are burned in a cauldron of boiling water and are prodded by spear-bearing demons.

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“Ones who make merit go to heaven; ones who do bad go to hell, plunging themselves into the hot copper pans and being stabbed by the hell-keeper with the spears everyday.”

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“Ones who make a corruption are punished in the hell. They are named as the spirits of the pigs.”

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“Ones who get involved with the habit performing drugs and the intoxicants are punished in the hell. They are named as the crustaceans.”

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“Ones who pull the others’ legs are punished in the hell. They are named the spirits of the snakes.”

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Ones who sell the habit-performing drugs are punished in the hell. They are named as the spirits of the cows.”

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“Rev. Malaya, the Lord Buddha’s disciple, went to visit the underworld of the Dead: the ruler of the kingdom and the hell-keeper looked up the lists of the dead and then sent ones who did good to the heaven and ones who did bad to the hell.”

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The Thai version of hell, called narok, is different from the Christian Hell in that souls do not go there after they die, they are born there as punishment for sins committed in a former life.

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With the best of them.

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“It is said that once you die hell’s keepers will judge your actions. All your virtues are written down on a gold plate while your sins are noted on dog skin.”

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“The ghost named Nang Thong-Nag. Thong was a woman who made mistakes in the areas of sexual intercourse, misconduct, and mind without morality. After she died, she became this ghost.”

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Mel and her druggy crustacean friend.

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A crow pecking at a doomed soul’s viscera.

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A pig spirit being dissected by a demon with a cleaver.

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Bedlam.

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“Ones who violate the second one of the Five Buddhist Precepts–stealing, cheating or destroying others’ properties–will receive castration.”

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“Ones who violate the second one of the Five Buddhist Precepts–stealing, cheating or destroying others’ properties–will receive castration.”

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I missed the description of this punishment. A former glutton perhaps?

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Up close pig discectomy.

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“Ones who violate the third one of the Five Buddhist Precepts–infringing the sexual intercourse, being paramour with others’ wives or husbands–are chased up a tree by vicious dogs and angry demons wielding spears.”

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“Ones who get involved with partaking the intoxicants and mistake bad for good will be the departed spirits as shown in this picture.”

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“Ones who get involved with partaking the intoxicants and mistake bad for good will be the departed spirits as shown in this picture.”

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“Ones who get involved with partaking the intoxicants and mistake bad for good will be the departed spirits as shown in this picture.”

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“Ones who get involved with partaking the intoxicants and mistake bad for good will be the departed spirits as shown in this picture.”

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“Ones who live without the clemency and donation and do not observe the Five Precepts and who do not know bad or good action will be departed spirits after their deaths, as shown in this picture.”

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“Ones who live without the clemency and donation and do not observe the Five Precepts and who do not know bad or good action will be departed spirits after their deaths, as shown in this picture.”

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I think she said something wrong.

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“The penalty for killing baby in ovum.”

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Rev. Malaya went to the netherworld to save all hell-beings from the sin and came back to tell their relatives to make merit in order to donate the offerings dedicated to the deceased.”

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Rev. Malaya went to the netherworld to save all hell-beings from the sin and came back to tell their relatives to make merit in order to donate the offerings dedicated to the deceased.”

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“The penalty for killing a husband who was a good father.”

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“The penalty for sexual misconduct in the form of raping.”

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A tortured soul being cast into the boiling cauldron of sinners.

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Hell’s Keeper, Death King Phya Yom.

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“…You all should believe that the hell and the heaven really exist. They are not worthless. These drawings of the departed spirits are only one part of the hell. Punishing the hell beings in the hell has been left for many forms. Human beings: you all do not live without uncareiessness, do not commit the bad action be not being to ‘the hell punishment.’ In the future, you should be as such. Do not complain whenever you face.”

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On the way out of the temple, balance is restored.

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Bite-sized Buddha.

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Cerberus, guard dog of the underworld.

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Nang Talani, the Holy Mother Earth Goddess. In Thai legend, when the evil Mara comes to distract Buddha from reaching enlightenment, Mother Earth transforms into a woman with long hair. From these long locks, she twists a deluge of water to wash away Mara and his demons and protects the Lord Buddha.

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A most deceptive smile.

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The sign reads, “Welcome to Hell.”

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