The Chinese Imperial Ceramic Artwork Found In Indonesia ( Continiu )






Dr Iwan Suwandy , MHA

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The Three Pure One OF the Taoist Trinity

San Qing (Taoist Trinity) refers to three supreme Gods respected by Taoism, including Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning, Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure and Celestial Worthy of the Tao and its Power.


Taoist TrinityTaoist Trinity

Worship for the Taoist Trinity dates back to the 4th century. In fact, it is an avatar of philosophic idea, and the reflection of the cosmism supported by Taoism.

 The Jade Pure One

The Jade Pure One (Chinese: 玉清; pinyin: Yùqīng), also known as “The Universally Honoured One of Origin”, or “The Universal Lord of Primordial Beginning” (Chinese: 元始天尊; pinyin: Yuánshǐ Tiānzūn)

The Supreme Pure One

The Supreme Pure One (Chinese: 上清; pinyin: Shàngqīng), is also known as “The Universally Honoured One of Divinities and Treasures”, or “The Universal Lord of the Numinous Treasure” (靈寶天尊, Lingbao Tianzun).
“In terms of worldview, the emergence of the Shàngqīng revelations signifies a major expansion of Taoism. Where the celestial masters had added the pure gods of the Tao to the popular pantheon, Shàngqīng enlarged this to include an entirely new layer of existence between the original, creative force of the Tao, represented by the deity “yuan shi tian wang” (heavenly king of primordial beginning), and created world as we know it. This celestial layer consisted of several different regions, located both in the far reaches of the world and in the stars, and imagined along the lines of the ancient paradises Penglai and Kunlun. It was populated by various divine figures: pure gods of the Tao who were emanations of original cosmic qi; immortals who had attained celestial status through effort and the proper elixir…”
The Supreme Pure One is associated with yin and yang and was responsible as the custodian of the sacred book. Shangqing also calculates time and divides it into different epochs.

The Grand Pure One

The Grand Pure One (Chinese: 太清; pinyin: Tàiqīng), also known as “The Universally Honoured One of Tao and Virtues” or “The Universal Lord of the Way and its Virtue” (道德天尊, Daode Tianzun) or the “Grand Supreme Elder Lord” (太上老君, Taishang Laojun).
It is believed that Taishang Laojun manifested himself in the form of Laozi. The Grand Pure One is also the treasurer of spirits, known as the Lord of Man who is the founder of Taoism. He is the most eminent, aged ruler, which is why he is the only Pure One depicted with a pure white beard.
“There seem to have been a number of stages in the process of Laozi’s eventual deification. First, the legendary figure began as a teacher and writer whose image eventually blended with that of the Yellow Emperor when Laozi came to be identified as a confidant of royalty. Traditional accounts, such as the life-story summarized earlier, transformed him into a cultural hero whose mother conceived him virginally. By the mid-second century C.E., Laozi had become the deity who delivered to Zhang Daoling the revelation of a new religious faith, giving rise to the Celestial Master’s school. His image was still not complete. Next, perhaps, also around the second or third century CE, Laozi seems to have been identified as a creator god who also enters the world to rescue humanity from tribulation. Laozi was now capable of incarnating himself, almost like Buddhist bodhisattva. Not long thereafter he joined the triad of the Three Pure Ones, and finally Laozi emerged as the chief divine person. We have here one of the more interesting examples of apotheosis, or deification, in the history of religion.”
According to Daozang, The Universally Honoured One of Tao and Virtues had manifested many various incarnations to teach living beings, and Laozi is one of his incarnations.
Each of the Three Pure Ones represents both a deity and a heaven. The first heaven is Yu-Qing, and it is found in the Jade Mountain, The entrance to this heaven is named the Golden Door. “He is the source of all truth, as the sun is the source of all light”. The Grand Pure One (Lao-Jun) rules over the heaven of Tai-Qing. The Supreme Pure One (Ling-Bao Tian-Song) rules over the heaven of Shang-Qing. The Three Pure Ones are often depicted as throned elders.
Schools of Taoist thought developed around each of these deities. Taoist Alchemy was a large part of these schools, as each of the Three Pure Ones represented one of the three cinnabar fields of the body: jing, qi and shen. The congregation of all three Pure Ones resulted in the return to Tao.
The first pure one is universal or heavenly chi. The second pure one is human plane chi and third pure one is earth chi. Heavenly chi includes the chi or energy of all the planets, stars and constellations as well as the energy of god (the force of creation and universal love). Human plane chi is the energy that exists on the surface of our planet and sustains human life and the earth force includes all of the forces inside the planet as well as the five elemental forces.

In Taoism’s opinion, the Taoist Trinity lives in a far and mysterious fairyland, and governs countless other Gods while supervising the social life of human beings. Among them, the Celestial Worthy of the Primordial Beginning has the highest status, which is the creator of the whole world, like Chinese Lord. As for the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure, he is fit for the demand of lower-class people. The Celestial Worthy of the Tao and its Power is mostly regarded as the primogenitor of Taoism, Lao Zi.

Common Taoist temples all have their statues placed. The temples specially built for them are called Palace or the Hall of Taoist Trinity. Usually the Celestial Worthy of the Primordial Beginning is placed in the middle, symbolizing the original state of the world. On his left side is the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure, who holds a hermaphrodite mirror, symbolizing the world that has just come out of the muddleheaded status. On the right side is Celestial Worthy of the Tao and its Power, who holds a fan that is painted with a hermaphrodite mirror, symbolizing the beginning status when the world was first created. In the Taoist art, the content about the status and paintings of Taoist Trinity is abundant. Today, a lot of excellent works are kept.


 TOAD Liu Hai

 The Daoist (Taoist) Toads Page

The toad is an auspicious animal in East Asia, especially in its three-legged form. Although associated specifically with China’s Daoist traditions, toads have long been a well-known symbol in Chinese culture generally, and throughout East Asia as well. It is known by a variety of names. In Chinese, for example, it is known today as hama 蛤蟆, but numerous variations on this name are possible, such as 蝦 蟆, 蝦蜍, 蟾蜍. In Japanese one word for toad is gama 蝦蟇 (pronounced gamo  in some places), as well as hikigaeru 蟇蛙 and ibogaeru 疣蛙 (“wart frog”). A gamaguchi 蝦蟇口 (“toad mouth”) is a coin purse.

The Toad in the Moon and the Legend of Chang-e 嫦娥

(Chinese mythological and legendary figures)

You may not know that a huge toad, often depicted with only three legs, lives in the moon (actually, more commonly it is a large white hare, but lets not worry about that story here). According to legend, Chang-e, was the wife of supernatural archer Hou Yi 后羿 (ca. 2500 bce in traditional accounts). Hou Yi obtained an elixir of immortality from the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu 西王母) to enable him to remain forever on guard against certain cosmic problems (the details of which need not concern us here). But Chang-e stole the elixir and fled to the moon. In this version of the tale, Chang-e is a symbol of vanity and arrogance (another version). Apparently, she regarded herself as the most beautiful woman in the world, treated Hou Yi (and everyone else) with contempt, and thought that if anyone were to attain immortal life it should be her. The Queen Mother of the West became angry upon hearing of this theft and turned Chang-e into a toad (sometimes depicted with four legs, often with three). Chang-e remains in that state to this day. This moon-toad-Chang-e is sometimes depicted pounding medicine, using a large mortar and pestle (though often a hare replaces the toad in this particular  image). The idea here is that the toad was condemned forever to compound and re-compound the elixir that Chang-e stole. This point leads to two deeply-rooted notions about toads in China. First, toads are symbols of longevity (along with pine trees, peaches, gourds, certain mushrooms, and many other things). Second, toads are thought to have medicinal properties. Toad skin, for example, might cure infected wounds and certain rashes when applied to them directly or as “toad grease” (There is also a Mt. Tsukuba Toad Festival in Japan). Also according to traditional accounts, it is possible to extract material from toads that can be made into a pill to alleviate heart conditions.

Associations with Daoist Immortals and Recluses 仙人

When associated with Daoist immortals, the toad also took on certain additional associations derived from its basic meaning as a symbol of longevity. The famous Daoist immortal Liu Hai became closely associated with a large toad that accompanied him as a companion. The ugliness of the toad was, on the contrary, a form of beauty to immortals, who had abandoned the prejudices of human society and culture for a life in close harmony with the natural world. Liu Hai is also depicted with a string of money, and, in popular lore, toads also became associated with gold coins. Images of Liu Hai with his toad and coins serve as lucky talismans in popular folklore (e.g., the second image below). Sometimes other immortal recluses such as Hanshan 寒山 and Shide 拾得 (collectively known as He-he 和合) are depicted with toads. Similarly, the toad became a symbol of carefree frivolity and spontaneous enjoyment of the here-and-now. Keep these points in mind when viewing the images below. You might also notice the prevalence of bottle-gourds in many of the images. The bottle-gourd (hulu 葫蘆 and other names) has long been a complex symbol of good fortune and magic power in Chinese and Japanese culture.

The images on this page are thumbnails. Click any of them to view the full-sized picture.

Various images of Liu Hai and Xiamo  (you may have to look closely to see the toad):

Ca. 18th-early 20th century: ;   ; Ca. 17th century or earlier: ;   ;   ;   .

Image of Hanshan and Shide with a toad:


Chinese symbol of Water

   The earliest form of the Chinese symbol for water was a river with dots on both sides representing drops of water. The number of drops varied but gradually it was fixed as two for each side. Over time, it became the form we see today.

Hence the Chinese symbol for water shui originally represented the river, and in general “areas of water” like the sea and lake (as opposed to land lu4).

From this meaning, shui denotes liquid in general as in “tears” lei4 shui3 and “medicinal liquid” yao4 shui3

Water in Chinese thought: 


Water is one of the five elements (together with fire, wood, earth, gold).

This element is associated with the North, the color black, and the moon (i.e moon’s gravitational pull creates dew).

Water symbolises Yin, the female principle, which is the counterpart of Yang, the male principle (representing fire and the South).

In the old Chinese view of the cosmos, fire and water arose from the same source. The union of Yin and Yang gave birth to the five elements, which in turn brought about the “ten thousand things” in the world.

Water belongs to night and fire to day. Many Chinese expressions about the intimate relations between man and woman involve the Chinese symbol for water.

The character of water is soft, yielding and pliant, as a (traditional) Chinese woman should be. “Weak overcomes strong, soft overcomes hard” so said Laozi in the Taoist text, Dao De Jing.

According to Laozi (also spelled Laotze), water’s character is the best example of proper behavior. This behaviour allows the “weak” to overcome the “strong” (and hence a woman to overcome a man). I put the words weak and strong in inverted commas because these two opposite states depend on the relative perception of others.

In business and in life being “soft, pliant and yielding” like water is a wise way to prevent and solve many interpersonal problems.

There are many expressions associated with the Chinese symbol for water. Here are a few:

“shui3 di1 shi2 chuan1” – Dripping water (shui di) wears through a rock (shi chuan) over time. As long as a person is persistent, the impossible will become possible.

“shui3 luo4 shi2 chu1” – When the water subsides (shui luo), the stone will show itself (shi chu). The truth of the matter will eventually be known.

“shui3 dao4 ju2 cheng2” – When water flows, a channel is formed.Everything will fall into place when the time comes.

“shui3 di1 lao1 yue4” – Dredge the moon out from the bottom of the water.To do something based on an illusion. Hence, there is no result.

God Of Wind And Thunder

The Gods of Wind (Fūjin 風神) and Thunder (Raijin 雷神)
 were later added to this grouping of 28 protector deities.

Says JAANUS: These two gods are based on Hindu deities (Skt. = Vayu and Varun) and Chinese dieties (Fengshe 風神 and Leigong 雷公). In Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō 密教), the Wind God is included among the Twelve Deva (Jūniten 十二天) as Fūten 風天, and among the Guardians of the Eight Directions (Happōten 八方天) as the guardian of the northwest. The Wind God is also associated with the constellation Sagittarius (Jp: Iteza 射手座). <end quote>

Rain God (Raijin), Sanjusangendo, scan from temple brochure
Raijin (God of Thunder)
Surrounded by drums, holds hammer to beat drums
13th century, wood, Sanjūsangendō in Kyoto
Scanned from temple brochure
Wind God (Fuujin), Sanjusangendo, scan from temple brochure
Fūjin / Fujin (God of Wind)
13th century, wood, Sanjūsangendō in Kyoto
 Scanned from temple brochure

Raijin, Thunder God, Sanjusangendo in Kyoto Fujin, Wind God, Sanjusangendo in Kyoto

L: Raijin (Thunder God)   R: Fūjin (Wind God)


Sacred Wind

Chinese Willow

 18th Century Qing Blue & White Willow Pattern Tea Bowl Porcelain photo

The Willow Pattern 1760-1820

The first standard pattern that was developed onto Chinese export porcelain by its popularity and success is a nowadays loosely held together group called the Willow Pattern.

Printed Spode Willow Pattern
Printed ‘Willow Pattern’ on English Spode porcelain

It seems likely that the patterns as such were designed in England based on earlier Chinese prints or paintings of river scenes. The two main variations of this pattern differs mainly is their borders and are called Spode and Mosquito pattern respectively. The illustration to the left is of the actual printed English Spode pattern.

The Spode factory in England was established in 1770. Its “willow” border is built up by irregular geometric designs clearly distinguishing it from the “mosquito” border, also called the “brocade” border, the latter having more rounded shapes, being as I see it more artistic and containing more of recognizable Chinese symbols.

Other sources have it that the Willow pattern plainly was created by Thomas Turner at Caughley Pottery Works in Shropshire about 1780.

As a proof of the Willow pattern actually being an English design an alleged Chinese story are often used. It was published in an old Victorian magazine “The Family Friend” in 1849 connecting the “Willow pattern” to a romantic love story where a young student falls in love with the daughter of a corrupt Mandarin.  

The story went:

Long ago, in the days when China was ruled by emperors, a Chinese mandarin, Tso Ling, lived in the magnificent pagoda under the branches of the apple tree on the right of the bridge, over which droops the famous willow tree, and in front of which is seen the graceful lines of the fence. Tso Ling was the father of a beautiful girl, Kwang-se, who was the promised bride of an old but wealthy merchant.

 The girl, however, fell in love with Chang, her father’s clerk. The lovers eloped across the sea to the cottage on the island. The mandarin pursued and caught the lovers and was about to have them killed when the gods transformed them into a pair of turtle doves. These are seen gazing into each other’s eyes at the top of the design. A lengthy and old Staffordshire poem of the pattern concludes with the verse: “In the oft quoted plate two birds are perceived, High in the heaven above: These are the spirits of Chang and Kwang-se, A twin pair of ever in love”.

To me it seems very likely that this story is based on the pattern rather then the other way around. As a matter of fact nine out of ten Qing dynasty stories contains an evil mandarin and a beautiful girl somehow, as is pointed out in “The Dream of Red Mansion”.

If a Chinese literary source is sought it is worth noticing that the pattern actually much better would fit “The Romance of the Western Chamber”, a quite frivolous little piece, quite popular, and quite forbidden in China by the end of the 18th century.

Nanking 1780-1820

A close relative to the Willow pattern is the Nanking group of pieces, characterized by its higher quality, a specific square cell diaper border outlined with a spearhead border and with a more general landscape setting with houses and water in a river landscape, dating also from the 1780’s.

The quality of the porcelain made for export to the West is really often the same or better than what was made for the Chinese regular market, sometimes competing in quality with Imperial wares.

The often-repeated “truth”, that the export porcelain as a rule was of less quality because of some kind of contempt for the westerners, is a myth. However, the Chinese were of course always prepared to make porcelain of as low quality as the customer wanted..

Imperial Quality Export and the FitzHugh, 1760-1810

Imperial quality Export Porcelain

“Imperial quality” blue and white export porcelain
on ultra white high kaolin porcelain base.

From the 1760s and onwards a special kind of superior “Imperial quality Export Porcelain” came to be, possible in competition with the European porcelain factories that by now started to be able to transfer print engraved decoration at great ease. This made the Chinese trying to outdo this, but by hand. These extreme efforts resulted in a group of very rare high quality porcelain on a white and thin porcelain.


The Tradition of Blue Willow: How does the generational gap and disconnect from the Irish homeland affect cultural traditions on Beaver Island such as the meaning of “blue willow” ceramics?

For the Irish, traditions passed down from one generation to the next have played a large role in daily life. From the sean-nós-inspired music to the religious celebrations emphasizing St. Bridget and St. Patrick, the sense of community and celebration was and is deeply embedded in their cultural ways (Ó Droighneáin 2011). With a history of immigration, however, many of the Irish cultural customs have been influenced and altered. One tradition in particular which has evolved is that of the blue willow, a Chinese inspired ceramic (Figure 1). The symbolic meaning linked with the blue willow has transformed here in America as generations of Irish youth have become disconnected from the Irish homeland.

Although urban Irish American communities have been extensively studied, new research shows that the changing tradition of the blue willow can also be found in isolated immigrant communities such as that of the Árainn Mhór people on Beaver Island, Michigan. Through the analysis of the Gallagher homestead on Beaver Island, which was inhabited by two generations of an Irish immigrant family, it is possible to see that the symbolic meaning and traditional use of the blue willow ceramic changed from one generation to the next possibly due to the island’s disconnect from the Irish mainland and the cultural effects of the Beaver Island Lumber Company.

Background: The Blue Willow

             Blue transfer-printed whiteware china known as “blue willow” holds great meaning and prominence in Irish history. Found in almost every home or establishment, the blue willow pattern depicts a classic forbidden love scene that is relatable and enticing. In an old poem, the forbidden love story was told by mothers to their children as follows:

“So she tells me a legend centuries old

Of a Mandarin rich in lands and gold,

Of Koong-Shee fair and Chang the good,

Who loved each other as lovers should.

How they hid in the gardener’s hut awhile,

Then fled away to the beautiful isle.

Though a cruel father pursued them there,

And would have killed the hopeless pair,

But kindly power, by pity stirred,

Changed each into a beautiful bird.


Here is the apple tree where they talked,

Here they are running away,

And over all at the top you see,

The birds making love alway(s)” (Dessoie 2010)


Aside from being an affordable piece of china that could be displayed throughout the home, the message of freedom from restriction can be thought of as symmetrical to the many Catholic Irish who faced persecution during their lives (Fitzgerald et al. 2011). A symbol of hope and a better future, the blue willow could have made its way into the heart of the Irish tradition and into the culture of everyday life.

Blue Willow on Beaver Island

In the analysis of artifacts from the Gallagher Homestead, it is clear that the first-generation Irish family, John and Margaret Early who occupied the home from 1882-1912, was fond of the blue willow. With at least eight different vessels of blue willow transfer print whiteware recovered during excavations (Rotman et al 2011: 223), the ceramic was a part of everyday Irish life on the island. Its prominence makes sense considering the symbolic meaning many from Ireland attach to the blue willow. In an account given by Caroline Carr of the Donegal County Council in Ireland, the blue willow is described as a favored china used only when important visitors came to the house and was “more of a status symbol- the more you had displayed and not used”(Rotman et al. 2011: 225). A symbol of ancestry and in some cases luck, this meaning of the blue willow could have been brought over the first generation Earlys’ themselves.

 It is interesting to note that  even the German family, Joseph and Mary Warner, who lived in the homestead before the Earlys’, has blue willow archaeologically connected to them. Although not Irish themselves, they lived in a community full of Irish families and Mrs. Warner even lived with the Early family after her husband died (Collar 2011). With the blue willow used possibly to show friendship, this German family could have been given or used the blue willow as acknowledgment of their acceptance into the Irish community (Rotman and Clay 2008).

 The second-generation of Earlys’ occupied the homestead from mid-1880s to about 1912 (Collar 2011). The archaeological record from this occupation reveals that something changed in terms of the tradition of blue willow. Although vessels were associated with the second-generation, none of them were the blue willow pattern (Rotman et al. 2011:223). Why is this so? With blue willow obviously prominent in the first-generation of Earlys’, why is it that the second-generation decided to abandon the ceramic all together? One reason could be that the second-generation of Earlys’ began to see the blue willow in a different light. With the introduction of the culturally-diverse Beaver Island Lumber Company to the Michigan island at around the same time Patrick and Mary Early began to occupy the house, it would have been easy for the second-generation Irish American family to pick up on how the rest of the world was viewing this traditional Irish china.

Outside the isolated island in urban Irish communities, such as that of Five Points in New York, the traditional blue willow print was seen as “preferred by non-elite families” (Rotman et al. 2011:224). Overproduced, it was thought of as cheap and associated with people of low social status (Rotman et al. 2011:224).  The workers at the Beaver Island Lumber Company could have possibly brought these ideas towards blue willow with them challenging its traditional meaning of love, hope, and family. In order to fit into the changing culture of the island and secure a comfortable future, Patrick and Mary Early could have abandoned the blue willow seeing it no longer for its traditional meaning, but as a symbol of Irish tradition and “backwardness,” an object holding their generation back from the new American life.

Questions regarding the tradition of the Irish and blue willow on Beaver Island:

  1. 1.     How could disconnect from Ireland have caused the second generation to view the importance of blue willow differently?
  2. 2.     What would Irish traditions on Beaver Island have looked like today if the Beaver Island Lumber Company had not been established?
  3. 3.     What is the symbolic meaning behind blue willow today? Is it now a part of the tradition of Irish identity?

Written Character

The evolution of Chinese charater

Art Symbol  Yin and Yang

yin and yang glowing symbol  Stock Photo - 12705964

In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang (in the West often referred to as yin and yang) is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Like night and day, ebb and flow or in the case of this Japanese proverb; vision and action. They need each other, for else they become illusionary forces – either a daydream or a nightmare. Did you notice how in the West ‘yin yang’ is referred to as ‘yin and yang’? Apparently in Asian philosophy there is no need for and in yin (and) yang, meaning: in Asia the yin yang concept is considered as one, while in the West it is perceived as two separate forces, that potentially is one, depending on the presence of the word 

 Torture of the Budisht Hell

Where to experience Buddhist hell

A quick guide to Buddhism’s torture chambers and where to find some of the most grotesque sites of purgatory


Buddhist hell in Thailand

A diorama of torture appears inside the “Hell Dome” next to Wat Phumin in Nan.


Come to Thailand and go straight to hell.

Hieronymus Bosch’s medieval Garden of Earthly Delights and other paintings include sinners in a Christian hell, but if the Dutch artist is ever reincarnated as a Buddhist, he might be intrigued by Thailand’s temple murals and larger-than-life statues of horrific karmic punishments.

Want to copulate in an immoral tryst?  Murder someone? Or violate some other important Buddhist precept?

You will soon find yourself in the midst of fiendish demons gleefully boiling wide-eyed sinners in hot, bubbling cauldrons. You’ll be screaming among men and women who have been stripped naked to maximize the pain when they are shoved onto huge, body-piercing spikes.

Buddhist hell

A man is sawn in half in a hand-sized bas relief creation which decorates Chiang Mai’s tranquil Wat Chai Mongkol, near the Ping river.Naughty individuals are also eaten alive by gigantic pterodactyl-like birds or gnarly, salivating creatures which savor human flesh.

Indulging in gambling, drugs, and other popular vices can also result in a trip to Buddhism’s torture chambers.

To witness all this, simply climb aboard any bus or train to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan, Udon Thani or many other towns and ask the locals for directions to “narak” (hell).

You will be joining an increasing number of artists, writers, photographers, anthropologists, religious scholars and other travelers who are wandering Thailand, clutching maps which lead to some the most grotesque sites of purgatory ever displayed.

A punishment to fit the crime

Buddhism’s hell exists to warn people not to degenerate, and punish those who do.

About 2,500 years ago, the Buddha said suffering is caused by lust, discontentment, hunger, desire, sloth, cowardice, doubt, hypocrisy and false fame, according to translations of the ancient Pali-language “Padhana Sutta.”

But the Buddha never turned hell into a successful tourist attraction.

Thailand’s theme-park versions of hell are unique, disturbing, amusing, inspiring and often quite gross.

They include huge cement-and-plaster statues erected outdoors, and colorful detailed murals on the walls of temples.

Buddhist Hell

These illustrations of punishments in hell can be purchased at shops in Thailand selling Buddhist supplies.Buddhism is free of an imaginary “god.” But people can suffer while passing through hell after they die, on their way to reincarnation.

In Pali language, for example, “apaya-bhumi” can be defined as a “state of deprivation, the four lower levels of existence into which one might be reborn as a result of past unskillful actions,” or a consequence of a person’s behavior while alive, according to an online Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms

Those four zones include “rebirth” in hell, or elsewhere in the underworld as a “hungry ghost,” or “angry demon” or — if your misdeeds were not so evil — simply as an animal. 

If you do get dropped into hell, the good news is you don’t have to stay forever.

The bad news is you may be stuck down there for thousands, millions or billions of years — or longer. Buddhists believe you go to hell because of the “cause and effect” of your behavior, a personalized concept of inevitable reward or punishment known as “karma.”

Thais have a simple phrase to describe this idea —  “Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad” (Tam dee, die dee. Tam chua, die chua) — which is obviously practical advice.

“There are virtually unlimited number of hells in the Buddhist cosmology as there are infinite number of Buddha worlds,” according to the Buddha Dharma Education Association.

Many Buddhists believe that after you die, you will be hauled in to see Phya Yom, the Death King. His stern assistants scrutinize your dossier to see how many good and bad deeds have been recorded.

Then the Death King decides where to send you. 

“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 Wang Saen Suk

Imagine what awaits the fallen in such places as Samjiva’s “hell of constant repetition,” Kalasutra’s “hell of black wire,” Raurava’s “hell of lamentation” as well as the familiar fire and brimstone of Pratapana’s “hell of fiercely scorching heat.”

Extremely cold hells include Arbuda’s “hell of swelling,” Nirarbuda’s “hell of shrinking,” Hahava’s “hell of shivering tongue,” and Utpala’s “hell of blue lotus-colored patches on the skin.”

When you finish Buddhism’s rehab in hell, you can eventually become a human again, countless times, and work on your karma some more until you achieve enlightenment.

Sound like fun for the whole family? Some of Thailand’s best hellish places are where Thai parents bring their young children, to try and shock them into never behaving badly.

These gory displays are scattered throughout the country, but some favorite “outdoor gardens” include the following. 

Wat Ban Waeng, also known as Wat Luang Pho Nahk

This Buddhist temple is about 50 kilometers northwest of Udon Thani, and offers a sexy display of pleasurable lures accompanied by lurking painful retribution.

Seemingly happy, plump, nude “damsels” dangle from the branches of a tree, like chubby female mannequins waiting to be plucked and played with.

hell in Thailand

The “Hell Dome” next to Nan’s Wat Phumin houses a life-sized diorama of torture.

The White Temple, at Wat Rong Khun

A modern creation, near Chiang Rai, by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.

Dazzling, psychedelic, detailed statuary portrays gargoyle-style creatures, disembodied human hands and other intense imagery.

Wang Saen Suk

About 90 minutes’ drive from Bangkok on the way to Pattaya, these statues are typical of hells elsewhere but conveniently located if you are heading to the coast.

Signs beckon: “Welcome to Hell!” and “If you meet the Devil in this life, don’t postpone merit-making which will help you to defeat him in the next life.”

Wat Pai Rong Rua

Also close to Bangkok, the temple includes a gigantic Buddha more than 50 meters tall which can be seen from the highway.

Wat Mae Kaet

About 14 kilometers from Chiang Mai in Ban Mae Kaet village.  

Some of its outdoor statues can be considered cute, but others may become your worst nightmares. 

Heaven and Hell Tapan Cave

Phang Nga town offers a unique site of fierce attacks, including orifice abuse, decapitation, whipping, lynching, amputations and other assaults amid tropical greenery.

Wat Phumin

In Nan, a room-sized “Hell Dome” contains a life-sized diorama of torture. 

Other ‘hellish’ hotspots

Chiang Rai white temple

Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai features disembodied human hands and other intense imagery.Hell is also depicted on some temples as bas relief, which are much less dramatic but a few of the tiny creations decorating Chiang Mai’s tranquil Wat Chai Mongkol, near the Ping river, are quite nice.

Each the size of a person’s hand, some of the golden figures against a blood-red background show a man being sawed in half, plus other violence. 

Nearby, a snow-white background highlights gold-colored people falling into a boiling pot, while the Buddha serenely meditates. 

Further north, at Chiang Khan’s Wat Si Khun Meuang along the Mekong river, an evocative wall painting portrays the boiling of humans, with an ox-headed man adding to the misery, though most of the temple’s paintings avoid pictures of punishment.

In Bangkok and other cities, Buddhist supply shops sell prayer books, posters, and spiritual lectures on DVDs, and also stock cartoon-like illustrations showing how various sins lead to punishment in hell.

Some portray a man in a massage parlor, or snorting drugs next to a squat toilet, or trying to steal, despite the proximity of the dreaded Death King. Printed on cardboard, these colorful, inexpensive drawings are suitable for framing


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