While "animal" past lives seem to get a fair amount of attention I can't seem to find any about people recalling being in the hell realm or that of hungry ghosts. Aside from Mahamogallana's recollection of being Mara Dusi in MN50 and being pulled into Avici, I just can't find any past life recollections of hell or ghosts. Only descriptions of each realm as opposed to remembered experience.

Is this just something we don't yet have in English translations, even from people's personal recollections (not just the Pali canon), or is it more of something that just barely exists?

  • Where exactly do "animal" past lives seem to get a fair amount of attention? Thanks. Most people think they were Joan of Arc or Alexander the Great or Cleopatra in a past life. Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 11:52
  • Because the script is usually Buddha's talkings. He can say about many people when he is using his seeing ppwer. But he can talk about only one case when he is using his recollecting power.
    – Zeta
    Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 14:41

4 Answers 4


There are only about ten Pali suttas (AN 3.15, AN 9.20, MN 50, MN 81, MN 83, MN 123, DN 17, etc) from thousands that refer to literal pasts lives. These suttas are generally in the language of later writings (such as the Apadāna, Buddhāpadāna and Jataka) and often contradict the main body of suttas (for example MN 123 contradicts MN 64). MN 50 is probably a fake sutta.

SN 22.79 explains what is meant by recollecting "past abodes" or "pubbe nivasa" (which is commonly falsely translated as "recollecting past lives"). SN 22.79 says it means recollecting when in the past the mind ignorantly attached to one or more of the five aggregates as "self".


In the story of the commentary to Dhammapada 15, the Buddha recalls somebody's past lives:

Once, in a village not far away from the Veluvana monastery, there lived a very cruel and hard-hearted pork-butcher, by the name of Cunda. Cunda was a pork-butcher for over fifty-five years; all this time he had not done a single meritorious deed. Before he died, he was in such great pain and agony that he was grunting and squealing and kept on moving about on his hands and knees like a pig for seven whole days. In fact, even before he died, he was suffering as if he were in Niraya (hell). On the seventh day, the pork-butcher died and was reborn in Avici Niraya (worst hell). Thus, the evil-doer must always suffer for the evil deeds done by him; he suffers in this world as well as in the next.

In this connection, the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

Verse 15: Here he grieves, hereafter he grieves; the evil-doer grieves in both existences. He grieves and he suffers anguish when he sees the depravity of his own deeds.


It's something nearly impossible to come to human world from the hell. Mostly nirisathwa are out of their karma in hell, they born again as upper world like animals or pretha(ghost). So its bit difficult have such memories. Other than that if someone came from hell and dont remember it, it's because of the ignorance.


The Earth Store Sutra has such a recollection. There are other texts that I have read but don't remember right now.

edit: here's the link for the Sutra text: http://www.cttbusa.org/ess/earthstore1.htm

Section below:

“Shortly thereafter, a maidservant in the house bore a son who spoke before he was three days old. Lowering his head and weeping, he said to Bright Eyes, ‘The karmic conditions we create during our lives and deaths result in retributions that we ourselves must undergo. I am your mother and have been in darkness for a long time. Since you and I parted, I have repeatedly fallen into the great hells. Upon receiving the power of your blessings, I have been reborn as a servant’s child with a short life span. Thirteen years from now, I will fall into the evil paths again. Do you have some way to free me so that I can avoid them?’

“When Bright Eyes heard those words, she knew without a doubt that they were her mother’s. Choked with sobs, she said to the servant’s child, ‘Since you were my mother, you should know your own past offenses. What unwholesome karma did you create that made you fall into the Evil Paths?’

“The maidservant’s son answered, ‘I am undergoing retribution for two kinds of karma: killing and slandering. Had I not received the blessings you earned to rescue me from difficulty, I would not yet be released from that karma.’

“Bright Eyes asked, ‘What happens in the hells when beings undergo retribution for their offenses?

’“The maidservant’s son answered, ‘I can’t bear to speak of the ways in which beings suffer for their offenses. Even if I were to live for a hundred thousand years, I would find it hard to talk about.“

  • I haven't encountered this one yet but Hsuan Hua's commentary on the Surangama was invaluable. Thank you for putting this on my radar.
    – user13893
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 1:37
  • Venerable Hsuan Hua's commentaries are a priceless gem! I'm extremely happy that you appreciate his commentary. Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 6:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .