Sunday, September 19, 2010

Questions & Answers on the Netherworld II

The following is an interview of Mr Li Shu by his good friend Lin You Xiang. It is called "幽冥问答录" in Chinese. Mr Li had worked as a Judge in the Netherworld in the beginning of the previous century, and wished to share his experiences with his close friends. This interview was written down many decades ago and gives a very detailed, first-hand account of life in the ghost realm.

Q21: In dishing out punishment in the netherworld, are there any situations of passing the wrong judgement?

A: Never. In the netherworld they have clear and detailed records of the misdeeds of every sinner. Because of the hard evidence available, we could always provide a fair and just judgement.

Q22: We have so many thoughts passing through our heads everyday and in one lifetime they can be beyond count. We ourselves can not remember whether those thoughts are good or evil; how then can the officers in the netherworld record with such detail? Won't it be too tedious?

A: For inconsequential thoughts arising and passing away in quick succession, they won't be recorded down. However if one focuses one's mind on something, constantly thinking of it, be it wholesome or unwholesome, then such thoughts will be recorded down by the officers even if they do not translate into real action. If one actually acts upon them, then the merit and demerit recorded will be all the more clear and obvious.

Q23: Will those great cultivators of the Dharma be judged in the netherworld as well?

A: The netherworld court is only in charge of those being weighed down by some serious karma, or ordinary run-of-the-mill people with no significant good or evil karma. For those great cultivators, they are immediately reborn in the Pure Land or the heavenly realms. There's no need for them to go through the netherworld, nor are their names recorded in the books there. If for some reason their rebirth is delayed and they end up in the netherworld, all the officers will also stand up to receive them. Their spirits become larger and larger as they approach the bench, reaching as high as the roof. Once their names are called, they will ascend to the heavens right away and there's no way we can detain them.

Q24: Are there any foreigners in the netherworld? If so how can you communicate with each other? If there are none, then where do they go to be judged after they die?

A: When I was a judge, it was the Geng Zi year and the 8 allied armies conquered Beijing. Many local and foreign soldiers and civilians died in the war. Thus we saw a small no of foreigners in the netherworld court, but somehow we could still understand their languages. I also dealt with a commander named XXX and several loyal people who sacrificed their lives for the country. I saw with my own eyes that they rose up to the heavenly realms without need for any trial. Since there are so many different netherworld courts in the different regions of China, I think it is not unreasonable to assume that the same situation applies to countries in Europe and America.

Q25: Why do the netherworld government regularly invite humans to work there?

A: Because the rich and noble people usually have many guardian deities in their houses, as well as young and healthy servants emitting a strong level of Yang energy. It won't be easy for the ghost soldiers to go near them when they're about to die. The same applies to those military commanders who are about to die in camp, but are surrounded by all sorts of weapons and young soldiers on guard. That's why they need the spirits of the living humans to go through those barriers and arrest the dying person.*

*Live spirits are not affected by Yang energy.

Q26: For those people who died a violent death, with body parts missing or mutilated; are their ghostly forms any different from those who died normally?

A: Well actually their form is complete, no different from other ghosts. However their faces appear a little blur and there are blood stains visible on their injured parts. They also look sorrowful and pitiful, like they are in a lot of pain.

Q27: Is there a time when ghosts die and disappear from that realm also?

A: Yes. The oldest ghosts I saw were from the Song and Yuan dynasties*. But I have never met any ghosts from the Tang dynasty or earlier. Most probably they have exhausted their lifespan and passed away from the ghost realm. Unless they become Immortals or Buddhas, otherwise none can live forever.

*The oldest ghosts were around 800-1,000 yrs old.

Q28: Human appearances change and age as they grow from young to old; is it the same for ghosts?

A: The ghosts' appearances are the same as when they passed away from the human world. They do not seem to age as they grow older.

Q29: Is there day and night in the netherworld, and can we see the sun, moon and stars?

A: There is day and night like the human world, but one can never see the sun, moon and stars there. It is as if one is constantly stuck in the foggy weather in Sichuan province or the sandstorms in Northern China - there's never any clear sunny day in the netherworld. Everyday from 8am to 11am, all the ghosts will be hiding in the cool, dark areas as they are afraid of getting burned by the rising Yang energy in the morning. They will start to go out only after noon time.

Q30: Are there 4 seasons in the netherworld as well?

A: Yes, however it is not as hot in the summer and much colder in the winter as compared to the human world.

Q31: Is there food and drink in the netherworld? The paper money that we burn for the ghosts, can they be used to buy stuff there?

A: Yes. They eat many kinds of vegetables* and they do use the money to buy stuff.

*Vegetables that are thrown away in the human world become food for the ghosts.

Q32: Do ghosts need to eat 3 meals a day?

A: No, every time they eat, they will be full for a few days. So they eat much less regularly than humans.

Q33: Do ghosts need to sleep?

A: Well I do see beds and blankets but I never saw any of them sleeping. They will just walk around and close their eyes to rest for a short while. That is sufficient sleep for them and they don't need to sleep 7-8 hrs like us humans.

Q34: Are there street markets and shops there?

A: Yes but only on a minor scale, much like our small town shops. What is sold there are mostly food, drink and misc day to day items. There are no grand shopping malls like in the human world.

Q35: Can the ghosts and deities consume the food and drink that humans offer to them during religious ceremonies?

A: Yes, but they can only consume the smell of the offerings, not physically eat them. For example during summer if there are 2 identical bowls of food and we offer one bowl to the ghosts and keep the other bowl, the food that has been offered will surely rot first. Why? Because its "energy" has already been consumed by the ghosts.

Q36: Which food is better? Human or netherworld food?

A: Netherworld food can't be compared to human food.

Q37: Are there family relations for the ghosts in the netherworld?

A: Yes, but they might not be the same as what they used to have in the human world. Because they also have marriage and children in the netherworld*.

*That's why there are stories of ghosts who ask their human relatives to marry them through a netherworld marriage ceremony, usually performed by a Taoist priest.

Q38: Do ghosts live around their graves in the human world?

A: They do.

Q39: Is is painful for a person who just died and the spirit is separated from the body?

A: Most people are sick when they are about to die. When they die and their spirits leave their body, it is no different from opening the door and leaving a house. If they think about the suffering experienced due to sickness, they will feel that dying is a form of release. However if they still cling on to their dear ones or their wealth, they will find it hard to die as their spirits refuse to leave their bodies. That is where they experience the worst pain of death. For those who are by nature dispassionate, who feel little clinging to their family or possessions in this world; they will be able to pass away with ease, just like taking off one's clothes.

Q40: For the monks and priests who chant scriptures for the deliverance of the departed, are there any real benefits for the dead?

A: It all depends. For those who have performed great merits or committed heinous sins, they will immediately be reborn in heaven or hell and thus they have either no need or cannot receive the benefits of the chanting. Only those ordinary beings who have neither significant good nor evil karma will actually benefit from it in the netherworld. Then again the level of cultivation for the person chanting also plays an important part. A sutra recited once by a high level monk or filial descendant is 10 times better than one recited by an ordinary monk. An ordinary monk who puts his utmost sincerity and respect into chanting will also be able to generate great benefit for the dead. If an ordinary monk recites without any sincerity at all, then there is hardly any benefit to speak of. It is best to chant sutras for the dead within 49 days of their deaths. Beyond that they might have been sent to be reborn in other realms and the merits won't be able to reach them so easily.

**To be continued..**


Anonymous said...

It was known in the beliefs in taoism that, those aborted babies will grow with age in the ghost realm, and subsquently some of those ghost babies grew and wanted the living to arrange ghost marriage (Q/ans.37)

A,(Q/ans.28)stated that the ghosts doesn't seem to be grow or aged. Isn't it contradicting?

B.The burning of joss paper seems to be different from the buddist point of view which they discard the beliefs that it is of any use to the dead. Why is it so?

What is your view on these (A and B)?

Wayne Woo said...

I'm not sure about whether aborted babies will grow into adult ghosts or not, but if a person dies an adult, he will probably remain as an adult ghost until the end of his ghost lifespan.

As for burning joss paper, Buddhism does not state that they are of no use to the dead. They are only of use if the dead person is reborn in the ghost realm. If they are reborn in any other realm, then those joss paper burned would go to waste. As such Buddhism discourage the burning of joss paper, but encourages the chanting of major sutras instead, cos the merit generated will benefit the dead no matter where they are reborn.

Anonymous said...


When are you posting the 3rd or all chapters for this interview?? I'm eagerly waiting ah..


Anonymous said...

Sometimes there are errors or wrong view in many Buddhist books, particularly those from eastern part of Asia. E.g. indication of eternal soul, Buddha residing in western pure land and attainment of Buddhahood just because of ability to travel to Hell and Heaven.

I hope Buddhist can distinguish between Taoism and Buddhism in these so called Buddhist books. There is a fine line between hallucination and special ability astro travel.

Darren said...

The wrong views here, can be corrected if we have the right view. Going through the stories, I do not found them going against the teaching of Buddhas. But of course, in Taoism, they are striving to attain rebirth in Deva and Brahma realm, in which they called it the enlightenment state.

However, the question of Buddha and Buddha Land existence have recently been quite convincing to me, eventhough i'm a practicing Theravadian, and partly Mahayanist. One of them was the story of Ajahn Mun seeing Buddhas and meeting Arahants of the past who came and preach to him the Dharmas.

To believe that nothing exist after attainment of Nibbana, is not a right view.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Sometimes there are errors or wrong view in many Buddhist books, particularly those from eastern part of Asia. E.g. indication of eternal soul, Buddha residing in western pure land and attainment of Buddhahood just because of ability to travel to Hell and Heaven.

I hope Buddhist can distinguish between Taoism and Buddhism in these so called Buddhist books. There is a fine line between hallucination and special ability astro travel.

This view is obviously wrong view! It is a kind of "speculation" at best!

One should not forget the advices ancient ancestors always taught: Try to get the message the words are carrying, not the words themselves!

Which Buddhists' books that have no errors!?

In which parts of the world do Buddhists' books contain no errors? Western parts of Asia, Europe, North America? Which parts?

Written tripitaka were recorded in 1st-century BCE, more than 300 years after the Buddha and Ven. Ananda had passed away. From that time till today, more than 2,000 years, who can be sure that all have been copied down correctly, authentically!? And so, if for some reasons some books contain some errors, do these errors render those books useless!?

If one wish to stay on the safe side, then don't use any Buddhist books at all! because all books are man-made. And men are widely recognized as being NOT-perfect!

Even if one were lucky enough to get a non-error book, one still must discard it when reaching the "other shore". This is explained clearly in the Diamond Sutra, not a personal speculation.

We use the word "believe" to indicate something that we have not yet had personal experience. But once we hace experienced it, "we" then know it, not have to "believe" in it any more.

In truth, there was a historical Buddha, namely Gautama Buddha. But also in truth, there is no such things as "buddhism" or" taoism". It may provide some convenience in communication. But at the same time, it may also give rise to many wrong views. So, beware of words!

Remember: The Buddha never ask us to believe in anything until we have experienced it, re-examined those expewriences to see if they are good at the beginning, good at in the middle, and good in the end, until then we accept it.

So, one should worry about one own view, one own perception, and one own intention to keep oneself away from "halucination" or wrong view. Samsara has been full of sorrows from beginning. Didn't the Buddha declare it from the beginning?

hoangkybactien said...

Hi Wayne,

i just post a comment (#6) and did type my nick name in, but some how it showed anonymous.

Can you help replace the word anonymous with my nick "hoangkybactien".

Thank you.

Darren said...

Hi Hoangkybactien,

I think it is a little too fiery back there, which is not really necessary, as Ánonymous post was intended on the good side. It wont be fair on him/her.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your understanding. I am not at all offended by the attack. It is everyone's right to disagree with another person.


Anonymous said...

May I know from which religion / book / scriptures this was based on?