A Picture of the World After Death hr673

Hidemi Woods
3 min readDec 16, 2023

There was a local temple one block away from my home in my hometown. The temple wasn’t a grand splendid kind that often appeared in sightseeing brochures, but a small somber one that seemed more like a meeting place of a hamlet. People in my hamlet regularly used it for various kinds of assembly, such as a parishioners’ meeting, a sutra reading practice of elders, and funeral prayers. It had the cemetery in the yard where stone statues of a guardian deity of children lined up. My mother used to take my sister and me there to pray at the statues. In the old days, those local temples in Japan served as family history keepers for the residents of the area. People would use a temple to examine the other family when their daughters or sons were getting married. For so many purposes, the local temple was deeply integrated with the residents’ daily lives when I was a child.

During those days, an assembly for children living in the hamlet was held annually in the temple every summer. Grandmothers would take their grandchildren to the temple where the monk preached and handed a bag of candies and snacks. A hall of the temple had a large wall picture that depicted the world after death with an ancient eerie fearful touch. The dead cross a river that separates this world and the next. They meet one by one a humongous fiend with a horrifying face who judges them according to their deeds in their lifetime. A dead person who lies to the fiend is to get their tongue pulled out. Some of the dead climb above clouds where heaven is, and some are kicked off down to a pit where hell is. In hell, the dead are boiled in a caldron or burned by lurid fire. Grown-ups told the children that they would end up there if they did evil. I suppose the picture would be regarded as inappropriate for children if it were now, for the reason of giving them a traumatic memory.

There is a proverb in Japan that is ‘Hell and heaven exists in this life.’ As it says, innocent people get killed every day and less fortunate people endure scarce suffering days that make them feel as if they are being boiled in a caldron. Looking back, I also had some experiences in which I felt as if I had been in hell. Especially when my parents deceived me and destroyed my music business, I writhed in agony with anger and grief. I duly agree from my own experiences that hell exists in this life, but then, where in this life does heaven exist?

I have some possible instances that I can think of. When I completed one of my songs after almost ten years with my aimed quality and no compromise, I burst into laughter with tears rolling down on my cheeks, feeling like I was floating toward the sky with extreme happiness. Also, whenever I acknowledge someone purchased, downloaded and read my book somewhere, my heart gets warm and is shined with a sense of happiness even though it pays me a dollar or so. I think people can be in heaven in this life when what they are engrossed in by doing their best is rewarded somewhat, even a little, after they go through many kinds of hardships.

We don’t have to wait for the end of this life since we can be either in heaven or hell today. At least we can decide which place to walk toward today. Even if hope and despair always coexist and fall on us as a set whenever we strive for what we want, I would rather keep trying and head for heaven. An image of hell that was shown in the picture of the temple remains in my brain and still scares me. I just don’t want to be in a place like that.

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