Majjhima Nikaya 130

The Buddha Gotama was an Avatar of Vishnu, and taught against punishment as a form of instruction - or reward. Reward and punishment only reinforce the instincts to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Instead, Gotama instructed in transformation of self: it is our nature which leads to our distress and suffering, and all our wrongdoing. Gotama restored the understanding of Yama's role in this transformation: the surest way to change our nature is by forgetting ourselves. Such selflessness manifests as Karma Yoga when perfected. Selflessness can occur by internal forces of renouncement (such as by the practices of Sannyasa and Hatha Yoga) or by external force, through friends, family and teachers - whether supernatural like Yama, or very tangible. Even a baby or corpse may act as that friend, family or teacher. In Gotama's teaching, every being may help every other being; we are all truly equals - and have tremendous responsibility to each other.

When a man dies, he might enter into Hell. There he is seized by Yama’s guards so that he cannot leave without first being questioned by their King, Yama – for men are foreigners to that Kingdom of Hell.

He is shown to Yama, and the means by which he came to Hell is explained. “This is a man, your Majesty, a foreigner, and he has entered into Hell for such and such evil deed of body, speech or mind, decree his punishment for entering Hell, your Majesty!” the guards might say.

So King Yama will interrogate the man, for some men only come into Hell on accident, and he releases them with a warning. “My good man, I must presume you never saw the first messenger I sent to you, warning you against entering my realm?”

The man will say, “I did not, your Majesty!”

King Yama will be surprised, “surely you did, he was disguised as a tender baby boy lying in his own urine and excrement. You never saw such a thing?”

The man will be forced to admit that he did.

“Then I must presume you never received his message… when you saw him, did you not realize that you were once young, dependent on the goodness of others, and had better do good with your body, speech and mind to others?”

The man will acknowledge he received the message, “your Majesty, I was heedless.”

“And did your mother and father, brothers and sisters, teachers, leaders and fellows give to you the same warning?”

“They did, your Majesty. I was heedless.”

“Then you recklessly entered my realms. I shall deal with you accordingly. No one else led you here, no one failed in preventing you from coming here, this was done by you.”

King Yama will continue the interrogation. “My good man, I can only presume you did not see my second messenger?”

“No, your Majesty, I did not!”

“You did not see him? Disguised as a man of 80, 90, 100 years old? Bent and crooked with age, supported by a cane or in a wheel chair, palsied, miserable, missing teeth, grey haired, bald, wrinkled, limbs all blotchy? You never saw such a man?”

“Yes, your Majesty, I did.”

“Then I must guess that he did not deliver his message? Did the thought not occur to you would also become old, dependent upon goodness, and better do good with body, speech and mind?”

The man will admit he had, “I couldn’t! I was heedless!”

“And did your mother and father, brothers and sisters, teachers, leaders and fellows give to you the same warning?”

“They did, your Majesty. I was heedless.”

“Then you recklessly entered my realms. I shall deal with you accordingly. No one else led you here, no one failed in preventing you from coming here, this was done by you.”

King Yama will continue the interrogation a long time and discover that the man had ignored the warnings of the third messenger, who was disguised as a man in pain, severely ill, lying in his own urine and excrement, who had to be carried by others, who warned the man that one day he would be ill and dependent upon goodness, as well, and that he better do good with body, speech and mind.

The man will have also ignored the fourth messenger, the one disguised as a criminal, who was captured by the King and tortured. The man will have to admit he saw criminals flogged with whips, beat with canes, beat with clubs, hands and feet cut off, his nose cut off, his ears and nose cut off, subjected to the “porridge pot,” or the “polished shell shave” or the “Rahu’s mouth” or the “flaming garland” or “blazing hand or numerous other tortures? And even executed, even in horrible ways, such as being devoured alive by dogs, boiled in oil, impaled, or having his head cut off. The man will have to admit that he understood from that messenger that evil actions of body, speech and mind are punished by torture, and the thought occurred to him that if he stumbled into Hell, he would be similarly tortured.

King Yama will discover the man also ignored the fifth messenger he sent with a warning, disguised as a corpse.

King Yama will discover that the man had ignored all the messengers sent to warn him against entering Hell. And in every case, the man will admit to having ignored the messengers, and his reckless intrusion into Hell. He will admit he ignored the warnings also from his family, his friends, his leaders and teachers.

And so King Yama will order the man tortured and imprisoned for his intrusion into Hell, until he learns to be heedful.

Eventually, in the prison of Hell, the prisoners begin to punish themselves to try to show the guards that they are now heedful, but it is useless, for it only makes the prison guards angry that the prisoners are doing their work for them. So these prisoners are punished for having punished themselves, rather than allowing the guards to do their job.

Eventually, a man stays in the prison of hell long enough to forget about the good world outside of Hell, they forget who they were, they forget what they are. Having grieved a long time for their error, such men make great vows to listen to family and friends, to teachers and leaders, to heed every messenger of Yama, and never again enter Hell.