Concept of heaven and hell ‘transcends religions’

Published January 1, 2007

More than 20 Chinese religious prints and paintings depicting the Buddhist and Daoist concepts of heaven or hell as well as deities worshipped by believers are on exhibit at the Herman Herzog Levy Gallery at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum until May 2007.

The collection, dating from the 10th through 20th centuries, show that “the concept of heaven or hell transcends cultures and religions,” said William Thorsell, museum director and chief executive officer.

Life beyond death and the attainment of salvation through divine beings emerge as two common themes from Buddhism and Daoism, the two dominant religions in China, said Ka Bo Tsang, assistant curator of the Chinese pictorial arts and textiles in the ROM’s world cultures department.

Both Buddhist and Daoist works depict heaven as “a blissful dwelling for souls of good people,” and hell as “a fearful place where bad people are judged and tortured,” she said.

During ancient times, she added, the Chinese people believed that heaven was the place where the souls of dead kings resided, and hell was for the souls of ordinary mortals. This belief changed when Buddhism came via India in the first century A.D. and with the introduction of Daoism in the next century.

Most of the works were collected in the 1920s by George Crofts.


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