Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha (Section 8 - 10)

Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua,
Given at Gold Mountain Monastery,
San Francisco, California, in 1974

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha
(Section 8 to 10)


Section 8
Abusing Others Defiles Oneself

The Buddha said, an evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him. It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. The sage can not be harmed. Misdeeds will inevitably destroy the doer."

In this eighth section, the Buddha teaches us that we must not do bad deeds, that we must not harm people, because to harm others is just to harm oneself. If you slight others, you only slight yourself. If you are bad to others, it the same as being bad to yourself.

The Buddha said, n evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him. "an evil person" refers to someone who does bad deeds of every kind, while a sage is a worthy and virtuous person. When an evil person who has no virtue tries to harm a sage who has genuine virtue, it as if he were tipping back his head to spit at the sky. The spit doesn’t reach the sky, but instead falls back on his own face. This is to say that an evil person is really unable to harm a sage. He may think of a way to harm him, but in the end he still actually harming himself. In this world there are underlying principles of justice which govern all things, and which make it wrong to harm people.

It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. If you face the wind and toss out a handful of dust, instead of flying forward, it will fly back to you and fall on your own body.

The sage cannot be harmed. Misdeeds will in evitably destroy the doer. You can slander a sage or really harm him, because when you cause misfortune for others, you will also bring misfortune upon yourself. It you who will have to undergo the retribution.

Section 9
By Returning to the Source, You Find the Way

The Buddha said, deep learning and a love of the Way make the Way difficult to attain. When you guard your mind and revere the Way, the Way is truly great! "

In this ninth section, the Buddha is teaching cultivators to hear the Dharma and to contemplate it, to contemplate the Dharma and to cultivate it, to cultivate the Dharma and then to realize it. Cultivators should not only be able to discuss or to listen to the Buddhadharma, they should also able to put it into practice. It only counts when you actually go and do it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha (Section 1 to 7)

Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua,
Given at Gold Mountain Monastery,
San Francisco, California, in 1974

Sutra in Forty-Two Sections
(Section 1 to 7)

Section 1
Leaving Home and Becoming an Arhat

The Buddha said, people who take leave of their families and go forth from the householder life, who know their mind and penetrate to its origin, and who understand the unconditioned Dharma are called Shramanas. They constantly observe the 250 precepts, and they value purity in all that they do. By practicing the four true paths, they can become Arhats."

This is the first section of the Sutra in Forty-two Sections. It says that a Shramana (Buddhist monk) can become an Arhat.

The Buddha said, people who take leave of their families and go forth from the householder life. "When you leave home, according to the Buddhadharma it is necessary to receive your parents ' permission. It not like in America where you are free after the age of eighteen to do whatever you want. Formerly, within Buddhism in India and in China, in order to comply with the custom of the country, it was necessary to tell your plans to your parents: going to leave the home life. “This is called taking leave of them. To leave home is to respectfully offer up your body, mind, and life to the Triple Jewel and no longer to engage in worldly affairs. This is what is meant by take leave of their families and go forth from the householder life. “You enter a place of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and you leave the home-life.

In going forth from the householder life, you leave the ordinary household that has been your worldly home. Every household has its own troubles; there is constant quarreling among relatives and no real happiness. Thus you want to leave the mundane home, which is also called the burning house. It is said, he three realms are like a burning house; there is no peace to be found in them. “Therefore, it also called leaving the home of the three realms --the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. It also called leaving the home of afflictions. Laypeople all have afflictions and no true happiness; that why they wish to leave home. Once you leave home, it essential that you cut off afflictions and resolve your mind on Bodhi. That is what is meant by leaving home.

They are people who know their mind and penetrate to its origin. This means knowing your own fundamental mind and recognizing that when the mind arises, every kind of dharma arises. When the mind is gone, every kind of dharma ceases. There are no dharma’s beyond the mind, and there is no mind outside of dharmas. Mind and dharma’s are one. If you understand that there is no mind outside of dharmas, then you understand the nature that is everywhere calculating and attaching, our ordinary conscious mind.

In penetrating to the origin, if we understand that the mind and nature in fact have no real substance, nor any form or appearance, if we can understand this principle, then we will understand that the nature which arises dependent on other things is false and illusory. The nature that is everywhere calculating and attaching is fundamentally empty as well. The nature that arises dependent on other things is also false and illusory. Neither of these natures actually exists. That is what is meant by knowing the mind and penetrating to its origin.

And who understand the unconditioned Dharma. To understand the unconditioned Dharma is to understand the Dharma of True Suchness. True Suchness and all dharma’s are not one, but at the same time they are not dual. If you understand this doctrine, that True Suchness and all dharma’s are not one and yet not different, then you can understand the perfectly accomplished real nature. You can awaken to your basic substance. That is what is meant by understand the unconditioned Dharma. "

Are called Shramanas. If you can be like that, if you can take leave of your family and go forth from the householder life, know your mind and penetrate to its origin, and understand the unconditioned Dharma, then you can be called a Shramana . "Shramana" is a Sanskrit word that means "diligently putting to rest." The Shramana diligently cultivates precepts, Samadhi, and wisdom; and he puts to rest greed, anger, and stupidity. After you leave the householder life, you should not diligently cultivate greed, anger, and stupidity while putting to rest precepts, Samadhi, and wisdom. If day after day you are without wisdom and day after day your stupidity grows greater, that is what is meant by diligently cultivating how to be greedy, diligently cultivating how to be angry, and diligently cultivating how to be stupid. Every day you are confronted with your own greed, anger, and stupidity. You can put them down, and so precepts, Samadhi, and wisdom cannot develop. You pay no attention whatsoever to investigating how to cultivate, how to hold precepts, how to practice Samadhi, and how to develop wisdom. Every day your afflictions increase. And why? Because your karmic obstacles from past lives are too heavy and your karmic retribution is so weighty that it keeps you from making the resolve for Bodhi. It makes you constantly find fault with other people. With this attitude, from morning until night you feel that you are better than anyone else, even to the point that you feel you are better than your teacher. Your teacher doesn’t measure up to me. See how talented I am? You could say that heaven above to earth below, I alone am honored. '" Someone with this outlook is certainly headed for a fall.

I often see Sangha members who haven even learned how to place their palms together correctly; they join their palms in a very sloppy manner. They sometimes hold them up at eye level! Properly done, your palms should come together in front of your chest. When you place your palms together, your ten fingers should be touching one another. After having left home for so many years, you don even know how to put your palms together! You don know how to bow correctly or to offer incense correctly; you’re too pathetic! If you don't know how to place your palms together, then you should look at the older cultivators and imitate them.

I recall when I explained the Rules of Deportment for Novices, I told you all not to put your fingers into your nostrils. How could this possibly happen? Because you joined your palms so high that your fingertips brush against your nose! Your folded palms should be at chest level. Hold them evenly at chest level, not at your mouth, your nose, or your eyes. When you are unclear about as basic a point as this, how can you cultivate the Way at all? If you still get this wrong, you will understand cultivation even less. When you cultivate the Way, you cannot be sloppy about anything or you won have any accomplishment. If you are off by a hairsbreadth in the beginning, you'll be off by a thousand miles in the end”

So, as Shramanas cultivate, they constantly observe the 250 precepts. They always rely on the precepts in their cultivation and do not violate them, and thus their study of the precepts grows. They value purity in all that they do. In motion and stillness, no matter what you are doing, you should maintain your purity. There should be no defilement in what you do.
By practicing the four true paths. The four true paths refer to the Four Noble Truths: suffering, accumulation, cessation, and the Way. When Shramanas diligently cultivate this Dharma, they can become Arhats. Since Arhat is a Sanskrit word with three meanings, it is considered to be a term that contains many meanings and thus is not translated. Due to the multiple meanings, it is not translated. We merely transliterate the sound of the Sanskrit word. The three meanings of Arhat are:

1. Killer of thieves. Arhats are really fierce! Wherever there are thieves about, they kill them. "Well, “you ask, "Aren't they violating precepts then?" The thieves the Arhats kill are not external thieves. They kill the inner thieves of affliction. Why are there thieves outside? Because there are thieves of affliction inside thieves of greed, hatred, and stupidity. Greed is a thief, anger is a thief, and stupidity is a thief. These are the thieves that must be killed. Therefore, the first meaning is "killer of thieves."

2. Worthy of offerings. They are entitled to receive the offerings of gods and humans. An Arhat who has been certified to the fruition is an enlightened sage. If you make offerings to an Arhat, you can thereby gain limitless and boundless blessings, too many to be reckoned. Being a Bhikshu is the cause of becoming an Arhat; one becomes an Arhat as a result of having been a Bhikshu. At the stage of causation, Bhikshus are destroyers of evil, and at the time of fruition, they are killers of thieves. At the stage of causation they are mendicants, and at the time of fruition they are said to be worthy of offerings. At the stage of causation they are frighteners of Mara, and at the time of fruition they are free of rebirth.

3. Free of rebirth. What is meant by "free of rebirth"? It means they have ended birth and death. They no longer suffer its misery. However, they have only ended share section birth and death. They have not yet ended change birth and death, so they are only Arhats. If you can cultivate the 250 precepts, then you will accomplish your study of the precepts. If you value purity in all things, then you will accomplish your study of Samadhi. If you cultivate the Way of the Four Truths, then you will accomplish your study of wisdom. In this way, you will cultivate precepts, Samadhi, and wisdom to perfection; and you will destroy greed, hatred, and stupidity. Once you have destroyed greed, hatred, and stupidity, you become an Arhat. There are four kinds of Arhats: first, second, third, and fourth stage Arhats. One who accomplishes the fourth stage of Arhatship truly ends birth and death.

Arhats can fly and transform themselves. They have a life span of vast eons, and wherever they dwell they can move heaven and earth. "

What is an Arhat? A fourth stage Arhat has reached the position called Beyond Study, because further study is no longer necessary. So Arhats of the first three fruitions are in the position of Having More to Study. Arhats of the fourth fruition have reached the position of the Way of Certification; second and third fruition Arhats have reached the position of the Way of Cultivation; and first fruition Arhats have reached the position of the Way of Seeing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha (Introductory Sections)

Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua,
Given at Gold Mountain Monastery,
San Francisco, California, in 1974

The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha
Introductory Sections


The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha. The ten words of the title express both the general and individual names of this Sutra. All sutras spoken by the Buddha share the general name "sutra." The individual name, which accompanies the word "sutra," is the particular name of that sutra, which distinguishes it from other sutras. The word "sutra" is just like the word "human," which we use to describe all people. "Human" is the general name, and each person has his own individual name: this one is named Smith, and another is named Chang. The sutras the Buddha spoke are also like that; they have both general and individual names. "The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha" is the individual name of this Sutra. Examining the words of the individual name, we find that the title of this Sutra is established on the basis of a person and a dharma. The Buddha is a person and "Forty-two Sections" is a dharma. Therefore, the title is referred to as established on the basis of a person and a dharma.

This Sutra is composed of Dharma spoken by the Buddha. When the Buddha disciples were compiling the Sutra Treasury , they selected individual passages and combined them into one work. You could also say it a Buddha-anthology . The Buddha's sayings were put together to make one sutra. The forty-two sections are the forty-two selections of the Sutra. This was the first sutra to be transmitted to China. The two Honorable Elders Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana brought this Sutra to China from India on a white horse (around a.d. 67). White Horse Monastery was established in Loyang by Han Ming Di, the emperor of that time.

The Buddhadharma was transmitted to China during the Han Dynasty (206 b.c.d. 220). During that era, Taoism also flourished. When Buddhism came to China, the Taoist masters became jealous. They held an audience with the emperor and told him, "Buddhism is a false faith. It is a barbarian religion; it not Chinese. Therefore, you should not permit it to spread through China. You should abolish Buddhism!" they urged. "If you will not abolish it, then you should at least hold a contest."

What were the rules of the contest? The Taoists suggested that the emperor put the Buddha sutras together in a pile with the Taoists' texts and then set fire to them. Whichever books burned belonged to the false religion, and the texts that survived the flames would be recognized as the true ones.

The Taoist leader Chu Shanxin and five hundred other Taoist masters put the Taoist texts together with the Buddhist sutras and then prayed to the Venerable Great Master Laozi, "Divine Lord, O Virtuous One of the Way! You must grant us a magical response to ensure that our texts will not burn and that the Buddhist sutras will go up in flames!"

Many of the Taoist masters present had spiritual powers. Some could soar through the clouds and ride the fog. Others could sail through the heavens and hide in the earth. Some could vanish into thin air. You might see one in front of you, but suddenly he would disappear! There were Taoists who had the power to do almost anything. Some of them could make a quick escape by disappearing. They had used the charms and spells of the Taoist religion to gain a considerable number of spiritual powers.

When the fire was lit, guess what happened? Not only did the Buddhist sutras not burn, they emitted light instead! The relics (sharira) of the Buddha also emitted a five-colored light that flared into space as bright as the sun, shining over the entire world.

As soon as the Taoist texts were set on fire, they burned to ashes and were gone. Those who had been able to soar through the clouds couldn’t do it anymore; they had lost their spiritual powers. Those who had been able to sail to the heavens could no longer manage it. Those who had been able to hide in the earth could no longer hide in the earth. Those who had been able to vanish couldn’t vanish. The spells they mumbled no longer worked. There was no response. The Taoist texts burned to a crisp, and the Taoist masters Chu Shanxin and Fei Zhengqing died of rage right then and there! Witnessing the death of their leaders, two or three hundred Taoists shaved their heads and became Buddhist monks on the spot. So, the first time Taoism and Buddhism held a Dharma-contest, the Taoists lost.

After the book burning , the two Honorable Elders, Kashyapa-matanga and Gobharana, ascended into space and revealed the Eighteen Transformations of an Arhat. They emitted water from the upper part of their bodies and fire from the lower part; then they emitted fire from the upper part of their bodies and water from the lower part; they walked about in space; they lay down and went to sleep in space; and they manifested various spiritual transformations there. Right away the emperor and all the people simultaneously came to believe in Buddhism. That is why this Sutra is extremely important. It was the first Buddhist sutra to be transmitted to China. So, we have come together to investigate this text today.

Let look into the word "Buddha" first. Buddha is a Sanskrit word. The complete transliteration into Chinese is “fo tuo ye”; translated, it means "an enlightened one." There are three kinds of enlightenment: enlightenment of oneself, enlightenment of others, and perfection of enlightenment and practice.

1. Enlightenment of oneself: Someone who enlightens himself is different from an ordinary person who is not enlightened. Cultivators of the Two Vehicles , the Sound-hearers and Pratyekabuddhas , have enlightened themselves and are thus no longer the same as ordinary people, but they do not enlighten others.

2. Enlightenment of others: Someone who can enlighten others is different from the cultivators of the Two Vehicles. This person is called a Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas can enlighten themselves and enlighten others. Being able to benefit themselves, they can also benefit others. They regard all living beings impartially. They themselves are enlightened, and they want all living beings to become enlightened also. This is called the enlightenment of others.

3. Perfection of enlightenment and practice: Although Bodhisattvas can enlighten others, they still have not reached the perfection of enlightenment and practice. Buddhas can enlighten themselves, can enlighten others, and also have perfected their enlightenment and practice. Because they have perfected the threefold enlightenment, they are Buddhas.

Spoken by. The Buddha spoke this Sutra because he found joy in his mind delights and wanted to share that joy with others. That means that he expressed the things that made him happy, and by doing so, his happiness increased.

Forty-two Sections. There are forty-two sections in this Sutra, and each of these is one of the Buddha discourses on Dharma.

Sutra. The word "sutra" has four meanings : to string together, to gather in, constant, and a method.

1. "To string together" is to unite the meanings that have been expounded. Just as we string together a set of recitation beads, the principles of a sutra are strung together word by word, connecting the meanings that were explained.

2. "To gather in" means to bring in those living beings who are ready for the teaching.

Buddhist Vocabulary

This glossary is an aid for readers unfamiliar with the Buddhist vocabulary. Definitions have been kept simple, and are not necessarily complete.

AGAMAS – the Sutras of the Small Vehicle.

ANUTTARASAMYAKSAMBODHI – the Utmost, Proper, and Equal Enlightenment. The highest enlightenment, realized by Buddhas.

ARHAT – one of the fruits of the path of cultivation. Arhats have attained the cessation of involuntary physical birth and death. The word has three meanings, which are as follows:

1. Worthy of offerings.
2. Killer of thieves. Arhats have killed the thieves of the afflictions and outflows.
3. Non-born. An Arhat dwells in the forbearance of the non-arisal of dharmas.

ASAMKHYEYA – uncountable. An extremely large number.

AVALOKITESVARA – one of the major Bodhisattvas. His name means One Who Contemplates the Sounds of the World, and One Who Contemplates Sovereignty. In Chinese he is called Kuan Yin or Kuan Shih Yin.

BHIKSU – a monk who has received the transmission of the complete code of Bhiksu regulations (227-250), depending on recensions). Bhiksus and Bhiksunis, as well as corresponding novices, are the only members of the Sangha as it was instituted by the Buddha.

BHIKSUNI – feminine form of Bhiksu.

BODHI – enlightenment.

BODHISATTVA – from Bodhi, enlightenment, and Sattva, a being. A bodhisattva is an “enlightenment being,” i.e., one who has resolved to win enlightenment for himself and for all living beings.

BRAHMAN – a member of the highest Indian caste.

BUDDHA – from Budh-, to awaken, The Awakened One. One who has reached the Utmost, Right, and Equal Enlightenment. Buddhahood is inherent in all beings. As long as it remains unrealized they remain beings; once it is realized they are Buddhas. There are infinite numbers of Buddhas.

CHI LI SHE – a class of fire spirit.

CHI LI CH’A – a class of fire spirit.

DEVADATTA – the Buddha’s cousin and rival who constantly tried to oppose the Buddha’s teaching and create schisms in the Sangha. He tried to bury the Buddha under an avalanche and succeeded in injuring one of the Buddha’s toes. For having shed the Buddha’s blood he fell alive into the hells.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 13)

The Entrustment of Men and Gods


At that time the World-Honored One extended his gold colored arm and again rubbed the crown of Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, as he said, “Earth Store, Earth Store, your spiritual powers, compassion, wisdom, and eloquence are inconceivable. Even if all the Buddhas of the ten directions were to praise your inconceivable qualities, they could not finish in thousands of tens of thousands of aeons.


The Buddha calls Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name twice in order to show the depth of his compassion and loving care for him. Earth Store’s spiritual power is said to be inconceivable because all the beings in the hells receive its benefit, enabling even those who fundamentally should not be able to leave their sufferings to do so. In addition, his compassion is said to be inconceivable because there are none to whom he is not compassionate.

There are three major types of compassion: compassion which is offered with conditions, compassion with respect to Buddhadharmas, and even unconditionally offered compassion. The latter kind of compassion is particularly wonderful and beyond thought. The power of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s compassion is unusually great; a strength which even most other Bodhisattvas cannot match: he alone has made the vow to go to the hells and rescue beings. Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra have great vows, yet they teach beings in the world; only Earth Store Bodhisattva does not fear the sufferings of the hells and goes there to teach beings. Thus he is known as the Teaching Host in the Dark Regions.

A demonstration of his inconceivable eloquence can be found in his ability to teach hungry ghosts to turn from evil to good. If his eloquence were not completely unobstructed and beyond thought, he would certainly be unable to effect such changes. Even if you wish to investigate the inconceivability of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s various states, you will be unable to do so, since they are completely beyond all thought. This being the case, what is there to investigate?


“Earth Store, Earth Store, remember that now, in the Trayastrimsa Heaven in this great assembly of hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of ineffable Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, gods, dragons, and eightfold divisions of spirits, I entrust to you the men and gods of the future who have not yet left the burning house of the Triple World. Do not allow those beings to fall into the Evil Paths for the space of even a single day and night, much less fall into the uninterrupted hell of the Five Offenses and the Avici hell, where they would have to pass through thousands of tens of thousands of millions of aeons without being able to leave.”

“Earth Store, the beings of Jambudvipa are of irresolute will and nature, and they habitually do many evil deeds. Even if they resolve their thoughts on good, they quickly turn back on that resolve, and if they encounter evil conditions they tend to become increasingly involved in them. For this reason I reduplicate hundreds of thousands of millions of transformation bodies to cross them over in accord with their respective natures.”


The irresolute nature of living beings can be seen in those who want to study one day and not the next, who want to do good for a moment and then decide to do evil. In one moment you resolve to cultivate and accomplish the pure Dharma-body, and then the resolve changes to a wish for the retribution body. A moment later you may decide that having a hundred thousand million transformation bodies is the most desirable goal and switch to that, and so there is nothing fixed about your will or resolve. These are examples of irresolute will concerning the bodies of the Buddha.

On the other hand, irresolute will can also be seen in the desire, on one day, to cultivate the Ten Good Deeds and attain rebirth in the heavens, followed by a burst of activity in the Ten Evils the next. One’s resolve is set for the heavens, but the next day one thinks that being an animal wouldn’t be bad. An unfixed nature very commonly shows up in the resolve to stop smoking, drinking, or taking drugs: one’s resolutions often last for only a moment. What is particularly bad about this kind of vacillating behavior is that people who act this way always end up rationalizing their actions one way or another.

When people of irresolute nature meet a teacher who tells them to learn or do something and stresses its importance, they may try to take action, but they lack the resolve to complete the project. If someone tells them to misbehave, on the other hand, they don’t even need instructions but learn to do it spontaneously. Gamblers are an excellent example of this tendency: no one has to teach them how to place bets; they see it done once and remember all the details of how to do it themselves in the future.

While it does happen that living beings may decide to do good deeds – contribute to building a temple, printing sutras, or making images, for example – they may quickly turn back on their initial resolve. They give, but the gift is accompanied by the thought, “What’s in it for me?” A good historical example of such a person is the Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, who built temples, aided the Sangha, and propagated Buddhism, but who still had to ask Patriarch Bodhidharma how much merit he had accrued.

When living beings tend to retreat from good, they surge forward into evil – they are attracted by anything that is conducive to falling into evil paths. Foremost among these causes are greed for sex and wealth; hatred, which leads to murder, arson, and other antisocial acts; and stupidity, which derives one constantly to try to get what he cannot attain.


“Earth Store, I now carefully entrust the multitudes of men and gods of the future to you. If, in the future, gods or men plant good roots in the Buddhadharma, be they as little as a hair, dust most, grain of sand, or drop of water, you should use your spiritual powers and virtues to protect them so that they gradually cultivate the unsurpassed way and do not retreat from it.

“Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future men and gods who ought to fall into the Evil Paths in accord with the retribution of their deeds, who are on the verge of falling into those paths, or who are already at the very gates of those paths, recite the name of one Buddha or Bodhisattva, or a single sentence or verse from a Mahayana sutra, you should manifest a limitless body, smash the hells, and cause them to be born in the heavens and receive supremely wonderful bliss.”

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 12)

The Benefits from Seeing and Hearing


At that time the World-Honored One emitted hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of great rays of light from the door of his crown: the White Ray, the Great White Ray, the Auspicious Portent Ray, the Great Auspicious Portent Ray, the Jade Ray, the Great Jade Ray, the Purple Ray, the Great Purple Ray, the Blue Ray, the Great Blue Ray, the Azure Ray, the Great Azure Ray, the Red Ray, the Great Red Ray, the Green Ray, the Great Green Ray, the Gold Ray, the Great Gold Ray, the Good Luck Cloud, the Great Good Luck Cloud, the Thousand-Wheeled Ray, the Great Thousand-Wheeled Ray, the Jeweled Ray, the Great Jeweled Ray, the Solar Disc Ray, the Great Solar Disc Ray, the Lunar Disc Ray, the Great Lunar Disc Ray, the Palace Ray, the Great Palace Ray, the Ocean Cloud Ray and the Great Ocean Cloud Ray.


This chapter discusses the merit and benefit derived from seeing the image of merely hearing the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva. The “door of his crown” refers to an invisible “opening” in the crown of the Buddha’s head, which is said to be “invisibly high.” It is not something exclusive to the Buddhas, however, since everyone may have such a “door.” It is through this door that the Buddha-nature of a person skilled in cultivation of the Way leaves the body at death. When it leaves it goes wherever one wishes, but only on the condition that some successful work of cultivation took place during the person’s life.

The light rays, which illumined all beings in the nine Dharma realms below the Buddha, lit up hundreds of millions of worlds in order to reveal the importance of this sutra to living beings. These manifold light rays serve to remind us to put forth great effort in explaining, lecturing on, printing, and circulating this sutra.

The printing and circulation of sutras is a beneficial cause that leads to the development of wisdom. Since there are so few sutras and commentaries available in the West, it can be said that the ground is parched and waiting for the rain of Dharma. The circulation of sutras such as this one is the falling of the Dharma rain.

The names of the various rays of light indicate what the rays reveal and how they function. The White Ray and the Great White Ray represent the power of Earth Store Bodhisattva and of this sutra to disperse the darkness in the world; the Thousand-Wheeled Light reveals the appearance of the thousand-spoke wheel such as is seen on the sole of the Buddha’s feet. The other rays reveal similar phenomena.


After emitting such rays of light from the door of his crown, the Buddha spoke in wonderfully subtle sounds to the great assembly of gods, dragons, and other members of the Eightfold Division of ghosts and spirits, and to humans, nonhumans, and others: “Hear me now in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven as I praise Earth Store Bodhisattva’s beneficial and inconceivable deeds among men and gods, his rapid progress in the causes of wisdom, his certification on the Tenth Ground, and his ultimate irreversibility from Anuttarasamyaksambodhi.”


Wonderfully subtle sounds refer to the Four Types of Eloquence and the Eight Types of Sound.

The first of the Four Types of Eloquence is Unobstructed Eloquence of Meaning. Although there is fundamentally no meaning to express, when the Buddha speaks Dharma to awaken beings to the state beyond words, the meanings and doctrines become infinite and multilayered in response to the needs of living beings.

The second is Unobstructed Eloquence in Dharma. Fundamentally there is just one kind of Dharma, but when the Buddha speaks, it is manifested as limitless and unbounded Dharmas. Even though as many Dharmas appear, they eventually return to one, and so it is said, “One root disperses to the myriad numbers, a myriad numbers all return to the single root.”

The third kind of eloquence is Unobstructed Eloquence of Phrasing. When some people speak they finish in two or three short sentences; when the Buddha speaks, on the other hand, his words are like an inexhaustible torrent.

The fourth kind of eloquence is the Eloquence of Delight in Speech. It includes not only the enjoyment of speaking Dharma, but also the quality of which cause those who hears to enjoy listening.

In addition to the Four Types of Eloquence there are Eight Types of Sound:

1. The ultimately Good Sound. The sound of the Buddha’s voice is devoid of all the rasping, harsh qualities so often found among people. It is a harmonious sound, and the more one hears it the more he wishes to continue doing so.

2. The Gentle Sound. This sound is like the soft sound of a flowing brook, and it far surpasses the sound of music.

3. The Harmonious Sound.

4. The Venerable and Wise Sound. The Buddha’s voice is such that we need not even mention listening to his words; just hearing his sound is sufficient to lead to the development of wisdom.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 11)

The Dharma Protection of the Earth Spirit


The name of the great earth spirit referred to in this chapter title is “Firm and Solid,” for that is a primary attribute of the earth. Living beings are to the earth as insects are to a great ocean-going vessel; although they may run back and forth across its surface, they are unable to move the vessel itself at all. Just as a liner moves through the sea, so too does our planet move through space, with living beings on it.

Earth spirits are very numerous. In the Agama Sutras the foremost earth spirit, Firm and Solid, appeared before the Buddha, took a haughty and arrogant stance, and blustered that there were no spirits besides her; she alone was the supreme spirit. She was rather upset to hear the Buddha explain that there were also water and fire spirits as well as earth spirits. When she finally heard the Buddha speak Dharma, she lost her haughtiness and took refuge with the Triple Jewel. Just as the four elemental spirits exist in space, so do the four elements exist within the body of living beings.

The term “earth” was explained earlier in the sutra. Now, it will be explained in another way, this time in terms of the four qualities of nirvana: permanence, happiness, purity, and true-self. Because of the Dharma Door of Prajnaparamita, the earth is unchanging and so can be called permanent; because it supports the ten thousand things it can be said to have the virtues of happiness. The earth gives birth to and supports all things, and since they are pure at birth, it has the virtue of purity; the earth is independent and self-sufficient, and can thus be said to have the virtues of true-self.

In this chapter, the spirit of the earth makes a vow to protect those who recite this sutra and the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 10)

The Conditions and Comparative Merits of Giving


At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva Mahasattva, inspired by the Buddha’s awesome spirit, arose from his seat, knelt, placed his palms together and said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, when I compare the various acts giving done by the beings within the paths of karma, I see some that are great and some that are small. As a result, some receive blessings for one life, some for ten lives, and some receive great blessings and profit for one hundred or one thousand lives. Why is this? Please, World-Honored One, explain this for me.”


There are three kinds of gifts: the gift of wealth, the gift of Dharma, and the gift of fearlessness. The first of these is again divided into two types, inner and outer wealth.

Outer wealth includes gold, silver, jewels, and things external to the body. In grand terms, giving of outer wealth can be said to involve the renunciation of an entire country, as Sakyamuni Buddha did. This kind of wealth even includes husbands and wives, for those who are seeking Dharma will even give their mates away for the sake of Dharma. Any reason other than seeking Dharma, of course, is not justified; certainly one cannot give up his wife in exchange for a prettier one.

The gift of inner wealth consists of giving skin, brains, marrow, sinew, and bone.

When giving Dharma, one gives the Dharma he has learned in order to teach beings to leave confusion and go toward enlightenment. There is a proverb that says, “Do not clutch at your treasures while the country is laid waste.” In other words, if you have a valuable treasure that can be used to obtain anything one wishes, it should be put into action rather than hoarded while the entire country is laid waste and starves. The gift of Dharma is the supreme gift and cannot be surpassed.

The gift of fearlessness pacifies and comforts people who are upset or who have encountered terrible disasters.

In this passage, Earth Store Bodhisattva has asked the Buddha to explain the differences in the retributions for various kinds of giving done by beings who are in the karmic paths.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva

The Names of Buddhas


Originally all Buddhas had ten thousand names each, but because no one could remember so many, the names were reduced to one thousand each. Since that was still too many to be remembered by most people, the names were further simplified to one hundred, which were reduced still further to ten. These Ten Designations, common to all Buddhas, were explained in Chapter Four. I will refresh your memory by reviewing the names once again. They are, the Thus Come One, the One Worthy of Offerings, the One of Right and Equal Enlightenment, the One Perfect in Clarity and Conduct, the Well-Gone-Forth One, the Unsurpassed Scholar Who Comprehends the World, the Valiant Tamer and Guide, the Master of Gods and Men, the Buddha, and the World-Honored One.


At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva Mahasattva, said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, I shall now perform a profitable and beneficial act for the sake of living beings of the future, so that they may obtain great help and benefit in the midst of life and death. Please, World-Honored One, hear my words.”

The Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, “With your great compassion you now wish to undertake the inconceivable task of rescuing all those in the Six Paths who suffer for their offenses. The time is just right, speak quickly, for I am about to enter nirvana. You should complete this vow soon so that I have no need to be concerned for living beings of the present or future.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, “In the past, numberless asamkhyeyas of aeons ago, a Buddha named Limitless Body Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name and suddenly gives rise to a thought of respect, that person will overstep the heavy offenses of forty aeons of birth and death. How much more will he be able to do this if he sculpts or paints this Buddha’s image, or praises and makes offerings to him. The merit of this is limitless and unbounded.”


Here is a famous story concerning the practice discussed in the preceding text:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 8)

The Praises of the Multitudes of King Yama


At that time from within the Iron Ring Mountain came Yama, son of heaven, and with him limitless ghosts kings, all of whom appeared before the Buddha in the Trayastrimsa Heaven: the ghost king Evil Poison, the ghost king Many Evils, the ghost king Great Argument, the ghost king White Tiger, the ghost king Blood Tiger, the ghost king Crimson Tiger, the ghost king Disaster, the ghost king Flying Body, the ghost king Lightning Flash, the ghost king Wolf Tooth, the ghost king Thousand Eyes, the ghost king Animal Eater, the ghost king Rock Bearer, the ghost king Lord of Bad News, the ghost king Lord of Calamities, the ghost king Lord of Food, the ghost king Lord of Wealth, the ghost king Lord of Domestic Animals, the ghost king Lord of Birds, the ghost king Lord of Beasts, the ghost king Lord of Mountain Spirits, the ghost king Lord of Birth, the ghost king Lord of Life, the ghost king Lord of Sickness, the ghost king Lord of Danger, the ghost king Three Eyes, the ghost king Four Eyes, the ghost king Five Eyes, the Ch’i Li She King, the Great Ch’i Li She King, the Ch’i Li Ch’a King, the Great Ch’i Li Ch’a King, the No Ch’a King, the Great No Ch’a King, and other such great ghost kings. There were also hundreds of thousands of minor ghost kings who dwelt throughout Jambudvipa, each of whom ruled over something specific.


It is generally said that there are ten Yamas, chief officials over ghosts. In this text, however, we are discussing not merely the ten Yamas of Jambudvipa, but all the innumerable Yamas who came from all the worlds, from the moon, the planets, the stars, and other iron ring mountains. In general, wherever there are people there are Yamas, and where there are no people, there are no Yamas. This is because if there were no people there would be no ghosts, if there were no ghosts, there would be no Buddha, and if there were no Buddha there would be no Yama. What is most important to realize is that if there were no people, there would not be anything at all. People require, make, and use everything. If there were no people there would be no Buddha, no Bodhisattvas, no animals, no hungry ghosts, nor hells.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 7)

Benefits for the Living and the Dead


At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, I see that almost every motion and stirring of thought of the living beings of Jambudvipa is an offense, and that those living beings lose the benefits they have obtained, many of them retreating from their initial resolve. If they encounter evil conditions, they harbor them in every thought. This is like a man carrying a heavy rock through the mud. With each step his rock becomes heavier and more ponderous, and he sinks even deeper. If he meets a powerful guide he may be exhorted and warned to set his feet on firm ground again; his load may be lightened or even totally removed. If he reaches level ground he should remain aware of the evil road and never traverse it again.”


When living beings in Jambudvipa generate thoughts, they usually commit offenses, because most of their thoughts are motivated by greed, desire, jealousy, obstructions, and arrogance. Proper thoughts respect those who are better in something than oneself and aid those who are less able. Because we beings have not resolved to act in this fashion, our thoughts almost all constitute offenses.

Many people study for a year or two and then decide to quit the Buddhadharma. In the first year of study the Buddha seems to be right before their eyes; after two years he seems to retreat a bit, and by the end of the third year he is eighty-four thousand miles away. After this he seems to retreat to the very border of the universe. These feelings represent withdrawal from one’s initial resolve. Even those who do not think about quitting should constantly inspect their thoughts and actions to be sure they are in accord with their resolve as it was when they first left home life. For example, those who have gone forth into the homeless life cannot speak casually all the time, because talking is a useless waste of vital energy and spirit and an impediment to cultivation. Constant inspection of your own behavior to ascertain that it is in accord with your initial resolve to study the Buddhadharma is a sign that you are not retreating from that resolve. Many people begin to cultivate and then encounter some demon or other and are turned away by it. Once you encounter evil conditions and become involved in them, they tend to increase and grow. However, the resolve for enlightenment can either grow day by day or diminish and scatter. Most living beings tend to decrease their thoughts of enlightenment, and to grow toward evil.

In the analogy given in this passage, the rock represents the heavy load of evil karma, the muddy bog represents the three states of woe, and the good guide is the Buddha, a Bodhisattva, or a Good- Knowing Adviser with great wisdom who takes some of the load.


“World-Honored One, the habitual evil of living beings extends from the subtle to the overwhelmingly great. Since all beings have such habits, their parents or relatives should create merit for them when they are on the verge of dying in order to assist them on the road ahead. This may be done by hanging banners and canopies, lighting lamps, reciting the holy sutras, or making offerings before the images of Buddhas and sages. It includes recitation of the names of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Pratyekabuddhas in such a way that the recitation of each name passes by the ear of the dying one and is heard in his fundamental consciousness.

“The evil deeds done by living beings bear corresponding results, yet even if one ought to fall into the Evil Paths, his offenses may be eradicated if his survivors cultivate holy causes for him. During a period of forty-nine days after the death, they should do many good deeds that can cause the dead one to leave the Evil Paths, be born among male gods, and receive supremely wonderful bliss. The benefits that accrue to the survivors are also unlimited.”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 6)

The Thus Come One’s Praises


At that time the World-Honored One emitted a great bright light from his entire body, illuminating as many Buddha-lands as there are grains of sand in hundreds of thousands of millions of Ganges Rivers. With a great sound he spoke to all the Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, from all these Buddha-lands, as well as to the gods, dragons, ghosts and spirits, humans, nonhumans, and others, saying, “Listen as I now praise and extol Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, who manifests great and inconceivable awesome spirit and compassionate power to rescue and protect living beings wherever they encounter misery and suffering. After my extinction, all of you Bodhisattvas, Great Beings, and all you gods, dragons, ghosts, spirits, and others should practice expedient devices for the sake of protecting this sutra and causing all living beings to testify to the bliss of nirvana.


The emission of light from the Buddha’s entire body indicates the importance of this sutra. The great sound with which he speaks leads all living beings who hear it to be joyful, even though it is as great as resounding thunder or a lion’s roar. The sound is so pleasing, like the clear ring of a toned brass bell, that those who hear it enter the Dharma-hearing Samadhi.


After the Buddha spoke, a Bodhisattva named Universally Expansive arose from the midst of the assembly, placed his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, “We now hear the World-Honored One’s praise of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual virtue. World-Honored One, for the sake of future living beings in the Dharma-Ending Age, please tell us how Earth Store Bodhisattva has benefited men and gods; caused the gods, dragons, and the remainder of the Eightfold Division, as well as other living beings of the future, to receive the Buddha’s teaching respectfully.”

At that time the World-Honored One said to the Bodhisattva Universally Expansive and to the Fourfold Assembly, “Listen attentively, listen attentively. I will briefly describe how Earth Store Bodhisattva’s blessings and virtues have benefited men and gods.”

Universally Expansive replied, “So be it, World-Honored One, we will be glad to hear.”


There are Five Blessings discussed in the section of the Book of History called the “Great Plan.” The first of these is called “blessings and longevity.” “Blessings” indicates a quality of comfort and ease, while “longevity” indicates life to an old age. These blessings are threefold: wealth, revenue, and long life. The first of these, wealth, refers to the goods that come to one naturally; the second indicates that which comes through a salary or other source of income; and the third is simply a protracted lifespan. If one has these three advantages, he is said to have blessings.

In China, when people think of longevity, they think of Nan Chi Ts’e, who had an extremely high forehead and no hair. Within his mind were three heavenly books, and he was able to know almost everything.

The second of the Five Blessings is “riches,” which includes both wealth and honor. The third is “soundness of body and serenity of mind,” the fourth is the “love of virtue,” and the fifth is “life crowned with good end” – in other words, a peaceful death.

In addition to the Five Blessings, there are Five Virtues. The first of these is “warmth,” that is, being neither too cold, like an immobile statue, nor too warm, like a playful flirt. The Superior Man is warm when there should be warmth; he laughs when there should be laughter, and he speaks when there should be speaking.

The second of the Five Virtues is “good-heartedness.” The third is “respect,” a virtue that should be applied to everyone. The fourth, “thrift,” is very important, as is the fifth, “yielding.”

To be thrifty is to avoid wasting a single thing, to economize wherever possible. If, for example, we usually eat five bowls of food, we might economize and eat only three, thus saving two bowls for those who do not have anything themselves. One ought to be thrifty with respect to his own person and also with respect to his merit. It is not a good idea to have much food, to own many clothes, or to have too large a place to live in. Always be sparing.

The fifth virtue, “yielding,” is the quality of always letting others go first and always being polite. Long ago in China there was an official named Kung Yung, to whom the proverbial phrase, “Kung Yung yielded the pears of four,” refers. When Kung Yung was a little boy of four, a visitor came to his home and brought a crate of pears. All the children in the household were summoned together and allowed to choose a pear each, and Kung Yung deliberately sought out the smallest of the lot. When questioned as to the reason for this action, he replied that since he was the smallest, he should take the least amount and leave the rest for his older brothers.

Another saying, “Huang Hsiang warmed the sheets at nine,” refers to a boy who dutifully warmed his parents’ cold sheets before he himself would go to sleep. Both of these show virtuous conduct which embodies the Five Virtues.


The Buddha told the Bodhisattva Universally Expansive, “If in the future good men or good women hear Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva’s name, worship, and fix their gaze on him, they will overcome the offenses of thirty kalpas. Universally Expansive, if good men or good women paint, draw, use earth, stone, lacquerware, gold, silver, brass, or iron to make this Bodhisattva’s image, gaze at it, and bow but once, they will be reborn one hundred times in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, and will eternally avoid falling into the Evil Paths. If their heavenly merit becomes exhausted and they are born below in the human world, they will be powerful kings.


Gazing at the image means to stare reverently, as if forgetting everything else, much as people in love stare at one another. The good retributions for cultivating such practices include rebirth as kings, and from this we should realize that those who are kings and presidents in this world are all persons who have worshiped Earth Store Bodhisattva in the past.


“If there are women who detest the body of a woman, and who full-heartedly make offerings to Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image, whether the image be a painting or made of earth, stone, lacquerware, brass, iron, or some other material, and if they do so day after day without fail, using flowers, incense, food, drink, clothing, colored silks, banners, money, jewels, and other items as offerings, when the female retribution body of those good women is exhausted, for hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of aeons they will never again be born in worlds where there are women, much less be one, unless it be through the strength of their compassionate vows to liberate living beings. From the power of the meritorious virtues resulting from these offerings to Earth Store Bodhisattva, they will not receive the bodies of women throughout hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of aeons.


Do not think that being a woman is a good thing, for being a woman involves a great deal of trouble. There are women who do not like it and always wonder why they have to be women; they want to learn what they can do about it. Through worship of Earth Store Bodhisattva these questions can be resolved.

What is the trouble involved in being a woman? Because there are people who might like to investigate this further, I will go into a bit more detail. You should not think of this as an attempt to cause women to dislike their state and leave home. If that occurred then there might be even more problems for me to deal with.

There are Five Obstructions and Ten Evils encountered by women. First we will discuss the Five Obstruction. The first is that women are not able to become the Great Brahma Lord because that position is accomplished through purity, and the body of a woman has a great many impurities. Second, women cannot become Sakra. An astute student may object that earlier we discussed the thirty-three women who became lords of the heavens of the Thirty-Three. This objection is a valid one, but it should be realized that upon reaching the heavens their bodies became male, because only males can be lords of the heavens. Although Sakra has some desire remaining that desire is quite light; women; on the other hand, are extremely libidinous and consequently cannot become Sakra.

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisatva (Chapter 5)

The Names of the Hells


At that time Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Humane One, for the sake of the gods, dragons, and the fourfold assembly, as well as for all living beings of the present and future, please speak about the names of the hells and describe the retributions for evil undergone by living beings of Jambudvipa in the Saha world.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, “Humane One, receiving the Buddha’s awesome spirit as well as your strength, I shall speak in general terms of the names of the hells, and of the retributions for offenses and evil.

“Humane One, east of Jambudvipa there is a mountain called Iron Ring, which is totally black and has neither sun nor moonlight. There is a great hell there called Uninterrupted, and another called the Great Avici. There is also a hell called Four Pointed, a hell called Flying Knives, a hell called Flying Arrows, and a hell called Squeezing Mountains; a hell called Piercing Spears, a hell called Iron Carts, a hell called Iron Beds, and a hell called Iron Ox; a hell called Iron Clothing, a hell called Thousand Blades, a hell called Iron Asses, and a hell called Molten Brass; a hell called Embracing Pillar, a hell called Flowing Fire, a hell called Plowing Tongues, and a hell called Head Chopping; a hell called Burning Feet, a hell called Eye Pecking, a hell called Iron Pellets, and a hell called Quarreling; a hell called Iron Ax, and a hell called Much Hatred.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva said, “Humane One, such is the unlimited number of hells within the Iron Ring. In addition there is the hell of Crying Out, the hell of Pulling Tongues, the hell of Dung and Urine, and the hell of Brazen Locks; the hell of Fire Elephants, the hell of Fire Dogs, the hell of Fire Horses, and the hell of Fire Oxen; the hell of Fire Mountains, the hell of Fire Stones, the hell of Fire Beds, and the hell of Fire Beams; the hell of Fire Eagles, the hell of Sawing Teeth, the hell of Flaying skin, and the hell of Blood Drinking; the hell of Burning Hands, the hell of Burning Feet, the hell of Hanging Thorns, and the hell of Fire Houses; the hell of Iron Rooms, and the hell of Fire Wolves.

“Such are the hells, and within each of them there are one, two, three, four, or as many as hundreds of thousands of smaller hells, each with its own name.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva told the Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, “Humane One, such are the karmic retributions of the living beings of Jambudvipa who do evil. The power of karma is extremely great and can rival Mount Sumeru; it can deepen the great ocean and can obstruct the way of wisdom. For this reason, living beings should not slight small evils and consider them as being no offense, for after death retribution is undergone in the most exact detail. Father and son may be close, but their roads diverge and each goes his own way, and even if they should meet, neither would consent to undergo suffering in the other’s place. Now, drawing on the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, I shall speak of the events of hellish retributions for offenses. Please, Humane One, hear these words.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 4)

Karmic Retribution of Living Beings


At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, because I have received the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, the Thus Come One, I reduplicate my body and rescue living beings from their karmic retributions everywhere, throughout hundreds of thousands of millions of worlds. If it were not for the great compassionate strength of the Thus Come One, I would be unable to perform such changes and transformations. Now, I receive the World-Honored One’s entrustment; until the coming of Ajita, I will cause all living beings in the Six Paths to attain liberation. So it is, World-Honored One, do not be concerned.”


Earth Store Bodhisattva does not brag, “I have great spiritual penetrations, far-reaching wisdom, and charismatic eloquence.” Instead, he says humbly that because he has received the Buddha’s power, he is able to reduplicate his body and rescue living beings who have doubts, commit karma, and undergo subsequent retributions. The process by which the reduplicated bodies which did not formerly exist come into being is called “transformation.”

Ajita is another name of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and it means both “invincible” and “the kind one.” Since there is none who can overcome him, he can be victorious over all, and since he cannot be defeated, he constantly laughs and is never angry. It is from these qualities that his wisdom comes.


The Buddha then told Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Living beings who have not yet obtained liberation have unfixed natures and consciousness. They may practice evil or good and reap the corresponding karma. Their good or evil acts arise in accordance with their states, and they turn in the Five Paths without a moment’s rest. They pass through kalpas as numerous as motes of dust, confused, deluded, obstructed, and afflicted by difficulties, like fish swimming down a long stream through nets. They may slip about through the nets for a long time, but, after temporary liberation, they again are snagged. It is for such as these that I would be concerned, but since you have made extensive vows and sworn to cross over such offenders throughout many kalpas, I have no cause for worry.”


People who have unfixed natures and consciousness have no determined resolve. First they decide to study the Buddhadharma and then they change their minds. Their good or evil acts arise in accordance with their states. If they encounter a healthy environment, good friends who explain Dharma and teach them to benefit others, they continue their study. If they meet bad friends who lead them into debauchery, they follow along and their good acts cease.

The same process of influences is at work everywhere. If you are always with energetic people, little by little you too become vigorous. If you associate with lazy people, even though you may be energetic by nature, you become lazy too. This is what is meant by the proverb, “Be near rouge and turn red, be near ink and turn black.” Things take on the color to which they are exposed. Dye cloth tan and it becomes tan; put it in yellow dye and it turns yellow. If you become friends with drinkers, you unsuspectingly become one of them; if you run with people who take drugs, you end up like them. We should always be cautious in choosing our friends, since it is their advice to which we listen most. If your friends are good ones, you should listen to them, but if they are bad, they should be ignored.

The Five Paths are the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, and gods. While it is common to refer to the Six Paths, they may also be reckoned as five, since asuras appear in all paths. Living beings turn in the paths like fish swimming down a long stream through nets. The analogies in the Buddhist sutras certainly are fitting.


When this was said, a Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, named Samadhi Self-Existent King arose from the midst of the assembly and said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, what vows has Earth Store Bodhisattva made during these many kalpas that he now receives the World-Honored One’s special praise? Please, World-Honored One, speak about this.”

The World-Honored One said to Samadhi Self-Existent King, “Listen attentively, consider this well. I shall now explain this matter for you.”


A Mahasattva is a great being. Because he cultivated samadhi and attained a self-contained existence, this Bodhisattva is called Samadhi Self-Existent King.


“Once, limitless asamkhyeyas of nayutas of kalpas ago, there was a Buddha named All-Knowledge-Accomplished Thus Come One, the One Worthy of Offerings, the One of Right and Equal Enlightenment, the One Perfect in Clarity and Conduct, the Well-Gone-Forth One, the Unsurpassed Scholar Who Comprehends the World, the Valiant Tamer and Guide, the Master of Gods and Men, the Buddha, the World-Honored One. That Buddha’s lifespan was sixty thousand kalpas. Before leaving home he had been the king of a small country and had been friendly with the king of a neighboring country with whom he practiced the Ten Good Deeds and benefited living beings. Because the citizens of these countries did many evil acts, the kings agreed to perfect expedient devices for them. One vowed, ‘I will accomplish the Buddha Way quickly and then cross over all the others without exception.”

“The other king vowed, ‘If I do not first cross over all those who suffer for their offenses, and cause them to attain peace and Bodhi, I shall not accomplish Buddhahood.’”

The Buddha told the Bodhisattva Samadhi Self-Existent King, “The King who vowed to become a Buddha quickly is All-Knowing-Accomplished Thus Come One. The king who vowed not to become a Buddha until he had seen all others safely across is Earth Store Bodhisattva.”


Asamkhyeya and nayuta are the names of very large numbers that describe the time when All-Knowledge-Accomplished Thus Come One appeared in the world. There are Three Kinds of Knowledge:

1. All Knowledge
2. Knowledge of the Way
3. Knowledge of All Modes

The third of these encompasses the other two.

The sutra text describes this Buddha by means of the Ten Designations of the Buddha. The first is Thus Come One. A layman once asked me if Amitabha Buddha and Thus Come One Buddha were different. You should know that all Buddhas are called Thus Come One. There is Amitabha Thus Come One, Sakyamuni Thus come One, Medicine Master Thus Come One, and so forth. This use of names is similar to that found among people. Everyone has his own personal name, which may be used by his peers or by those above him who know him well, but most people also have a title by which they are known to people with whom they are only distantly acquainted. Each of the Ten Designations of the Buddha has its own descriptive title. The designation Thus Come One, for example, has the title “Identity with the Former Virtuous Ones.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 3)

Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Living Beings


At that time the Buddha’s mother, the Lady Maya, placed her palms together respectfully and said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Holy One, the deeds done by the living beings of Jambudvipa differ. What are their respective retributions?”

Earth Store replied, “In a thousand ten thousands of worlds and lands, whether with or without hells, with or without women, the Buddhadharma, Sound-Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, and others, the retributions of the hells differ.”


The term “living beings” is composed of two words in Chinese, literally, many/born. Living beings are said to grasp at the many aggregates (form, reception, thought, activity, and consciousness) and thereby attain bodies. They are born into various states as a result of manifold causes and conditions, which are collectively called karma. Karma is a Sanskrit term that refers to that which is made by the activity of speech, body, or mind. What is the difference between “cause” and “karma”? Cause refers to a single incident; karma is a long accumulation of causes. There are many causes and conditions that constitute karma, and each being has his own. Therefore the states encountered by living beings differ. Some encounter great joy because they planted good seeds long ago, while others must endure a great deal of hardship, always living in difficult situations, because they have only sown bad causes. In general, if you plant good seeds, you reap good fruit; if you plant bad seeds, you reap bad fruit.

Good and bad are done by you alone, and no one forces you to do either. Even the work of becoming a Buddha is something to which you alone must apply effort; no one else can make you do it, and nobody can do it for you. If you do the work, you will plant the seeds of Buddhahood and find accomplishment. If you do the deeds, the karma, of Buddhas, you will be a Buddha in the future; if you do the deeds of demons, you will become a demon. Didn’t the text say earlier that the hells are called forth in response to the Three Evil Karmas?

After Sakyamuni Buddha accomplished the Way, he spoke Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred Dharma assemblies. When he was about to enter nirvana he realized that he had not yet crossed over his mother, the Lady Maya, and so he went to the Trayastrimsa Heaven to speak Dharma for her.

Some worlds have hells and some do not. The Land of Ultimate Bliss, for example, does not have any of the Three Evil Paths, nor any hells, hungry ghosts, or animals. In this world of ours, on the other hand, they do exist.

Some worlds – ours for example – have both men and women as well as sages and common people. The Land of Ultimate Bliss has only men. How does this come about? Men remain men, but when women go to that world they become men. Since there are no women, the people in the world of Ultimate Bliss are born transformationally from lotus flowers. When we recite the Buddha’s name once here, our lotus-flower mother in the Land of Ultimate Bliss grows a bit. The more we recite it here, the more our flower grows. The more sincere our recitation is, the more flourishing our lotus.

When the Eighth Consciousness has not yet become a person, a god, a ghost, etc., it is called the Intermediate Skandha Body. When we die, the Intermediate Skandha, or Intermediate Shadow Body, is led into the lotus flower. When that flower opens, a person is born.

In some worlds a Buddha may be speaking Dharma; in others, the Dharma of a Buddha may circulate. Places where no one speaks Dharma, where there are no Buddha images, sutras, or people who have left the home life, are called places without Buddhadharma. According to the sutras, the northern continent, Uttarakuru, does not have Buddhadharma, and is classed among the Eight Difficulties, circumstances in which it is hard to encounter Buddhadharma.

From the point of view of common people, Sound-hearers are very happy, but from the standpoint of the Bodhisattva, the Sound-Hearers, too, have their sufferings. The passage cited above refers to places that have the sufferings of Sound-Hearers or the sufferings of the Pratyekabuddhas.

Regardless of who you are, if you create karma, you will undergo the appropriate retribution; avoiding karma you avoid the retribution that follows it. This is a certain principle that works impartially, with equality for all.


The Lady Maya again spoke to Earth Store Bodhisattva; “I wish to hear only of the bad paths that are the retribution from offenses in Jambudvipa.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, “Holy Mother, please listen and I will explain it in general terms.”

The Buddha’s mother answered, “I hope that you will do so.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Holy Mother, “These are the names of the retributions for offenses in Jambudvipa. Living beings who are not filial to their parents, who harm or kill them, will fall into the uninterrupted hell, where, for a thousand millions of kalpas, they will seek in vain to escape.”


We living beings should be filial to our parents, for those who are not filial commit offenses. Filial piety is important because it is the basis of humanity; if people are not filial, they forget their very origin. Therefore, it is said, “Father gave me a life, mother raised me; their kindness – as vast as high heaven, as manifold as the hairs on the head – is difficult to repay.”

What is filial piety? Does it mean buying rare delicacies to feed one’s parents? Is it perhaps seeing that they are dressed in fine clothes? No. These are a superficial form of filial piety. The inner functioning of filial piety is to comply with one’s parents’ fundamental intent.

Suppose my father likes to smoke opium. If he smoked one once a day, and I smoked two, wouldn’t that be filial piety? It certainly would not. When I said “comply,” I meant to comply with the basic parental desire for the children’s welfare, not with a parent’s superficial habits. If the latter were intended, you might as well say that if your father likes bread and butter, you should say to him, “I like that, too. You’re just going to have to wait while I eat it.” That would be belligerence about a superficial matter, not compliance with your father’s basic benevolent intentions towards you. To comply means to be in accordance with another’s wishes.

There is a couplet that says,
The lamb kneels to drink its milk,
The young crow returns to the nest.

When the lamb drinks its mother’s milk, it kneels to do so. The crow is called filial bird in Chinese since the young crows return with food for their aged mother who can no longer fly. If we are not filial to our parents, we humans are not even the equals of birds and beasts.

There are Five Virtues possessed by humans: humaneness, propriety, etiquette, knowledge, and trust. Since we have the ability to practice these qualities, can we not even equal the best aspects of the behavior of crows and sheep? There is nothing more important than being filial.

Someone might ask, “I want to be filial, but now I have left the home life and my parents are nowhere nearby. How can I be filial?” Leaving one’s home life can be an act of great filial piety. There is a saying,

When one son enters the Buddha’s door,
Nine generations ascend to heaven.

If you leave home to cultivate the Way, nine generations of ancestors receive the benefit and can ascend to heaven. In this way, you are being filial not only to your parents but to your grandparents and to parents and grandparents of past lives. Of course, you must continue to cultivate. If you do not do so, your nine generations will fall into hell, where they will wail and moan: “We had a descendant who left home to cultivate, and because of him we should have been born in the heavens. Who would have thought that all he does is sleep, causing us to fall into hell.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva (Chapter 2)

The Assembly of the Reduplicated Bodies


At that time the reduplicated bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva assembled in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven from a hundred thousand tens of thousands of millions of inconceivable, unutterable, immeasurable, ineffable, asamkhyeyas of worlds, from all the places where there are hells. Because of the spiritual power of the Thus Come One, each came from his own direction together with thousands of ten thousands of nayutas of those who had obtained liberation from the paths of karma. All came holding incense and flowers as offerings to the Buddha. Because of the teachings of Earth Store Bodhisattva all of those who came were irreversible from Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, even though long kalpas ago they had been wandering in birth and death, undergoing suffering within Six Paths without even temporary respite. Because of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s great compassion and deep vows, however, each had borned testimony to the fruits. When they came to the Trayastrimsa Heaven, their hearts jumping, they gazed at the Thus Come One, their eyes not leaving him for a moment.


It could be said that the reduplicated body is also the “reduplicated spirit,” “reduplicated nature,” or “reduplicated heart.” Bodhisattvas have a king of spiritually efficacious response, and thus it is said, “A penetration effected, everywhere there is response.” This is also what is meant by the phrases,

A thousand pools of water,
Moons in a thousand pools;
Ten thousand miles without a cloud,
Ten thousand miles of sky.

The moon is reflected in as many pools of water as there are; if there are ten thousand pools, there are as many reflected moons. The moon in the pool represents the “spiritual” being discussed here. It is also “nature” and you might say a “thought” as well. Although there are the appearances of a thousand moons reflected in a thousand pools, the substance of the moon does not reduplicate.

Likewise, the reduplicated bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva created by living beings. By way of a simple analogy, the reduplicated bodies are like photographs. Originally, there is just one person, but an unlimited number of copies of his photograph may be made. The difference between photographs and reduplicated bodies is that the photographs do not have the ability to function, spiritual response, or the breath of life. The reduplicated bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva, on the other hand, are identical with his original body and are referred to as the “hundred thousand million transformation bodies.” Wherever Earth Store Bodhisattva sees a hell, no matter where in the world system of a billion worlds it may be, he dispatches a transformation body to teach living beings there. He does this in accord with his vow to teach all the living beings in the hells.

The number of worlds from which the reduplicated bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva returned to the Trayastrimsa Heaven is completely beyond calculation or comprehension, for the reduplicated bodies exist because of the needs of the limitless number of living beings who are flowing, floating and drowning, dying, and then being reborn again and again in the wheel of life and death, as many as waves on the sea. Because of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s great compassion and deep vows, many had borne testimony to the fruits of the path. He vowed, “Only when the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha; only when living beings have all been saved, will I attain to Bodhi.” Their hearts jumping, they gazed at the Thus Come One, their eyes not leaving him for a moment. This is a sign of utmost sincerity.


At that time the World-Honored One stretched forth his golden-colored arm and rubbed the crowns of all the reduplicated bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva, from the hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of unthinkable, unutterable, immeasurable, ineffable, limitless asamkhyeyas of worlds, and said, “I teach and transform obstinate living beings within the evil worlds of the Five Turbidities, causing their minds to be regulated and subdued, to renounce the improper and return to the proper. One or two of ten, however, have bad habits remaining and I also divide into hundreds of thousands of millions of bodies in order to establish numerous expedient devices for them. There are those of keen roots who hear and then faithfully accept; there are others who have already reaped good retribution and who have been energetically exhorted to accomplishment. Yet others are dark and dull and must long be taught and transformed in order to effect their return, while others whose karma is heavy do not give rise to respect. The reduplication bodies cross over and release all of these manifold kinds of living beings by being manifested as the bodies of men, women, gods, dragons, spirits, or ghosts. They may be manifested as mountains, forests, streams, springs, and rivers; as lakes, fountains, or wells, in order to benefit people. All of these may save beings. The bodes of divine emperors, Brahma kings, wheel-turning kings, laymen, kings of countries, prime ministers, officials, bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasika, Sound-Hearers, Arhats, Pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas, may be manifested in order to teach and rescue beings. It is not only the body of a Buddha which manifests.”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva

This is one of the books in a series published under the sponsorship of The Institute for Advanced studies of World Religions New York, U.S.A. with the aim of making religious texts translated from various languages accessible in English.

The Collected Lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Translated by American Bhiksu Heng Ching; Revised by American Bhiksuni Heng Ch’ih;
Polished by American Bhiksu Heng Kuan; Certified by Gold Mountain Sramana Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua

Buddhist Text Translation Society
The Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions Publishers, New York, N.Y.

The translator dedicates this translation to his grandmother, Rose Klarer, and to his parents, David and Ruth Klarer.

International Standard Book Number: 0-915078-00-7
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 74-18135
© 1974 by the Sino-American Buddhist Association, San Francisco
All rights reserved
Printed and bound in the United States of America

Namo Earth Store Bodhisattva

Namo Ti Tsang Wang Pu Sa

Namo Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

The sutra often instructs practitioners to recite the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva, as well as the names of various Buddhas. This is traditionally done by prefacing the name with the Sanskrit word Namo, which means praise or homage to, take refuge in, revere, etc. Thus the Bodhisattva’s name would be recited in English, Chinese, and Sanskrit as above.



THIS TRANSLATION OF THE Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, with the explanatory lectures of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, has been prepared by the Buddhist Text Translation Society of the Sino-American Buddhist Association, with headquarters at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco, California 94103 U.S.A.

Since everyone who hears or reads a lecture has his or her own understanding, the views of a great many people have been consulted in the preparation of the translation. Although space precludes the mention of every individual, the following members of the Buddhist Text Translation society must be singled out: Dharma Masters Heng Ch’ien and Heng Shou, who, although, they did not work on this text specifically, have given a great deal of advice and criticism on many aspects of translation over the years, Upasaka I Kuo Jung has also been of great help in this regard. The task of refining the English of the initial translation has been performed by Dharma Master Heng Kuan, editor-in-chief of Vajra Bodhi Sea and chairman of the Polishing Committee of the Buddhist Text Translation Society.

In addition to an enormous amount of editorial work, a great deal of preliminary rewriting and sifting had to be done. Much of this work was done by Dharma Master Heng Ch’ih of the Revision Committee of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, who not only helped in rewriting but undertook a great deal of laborious research into Sanskrit forms and niceties of presentation. She is also responsible for putting the entire manuscript into finished typed form, a job of no small matter in itself.

Many people took part in the earlier stages of preparation of this work. Special thanks are due to the following members of the Buddhist Text Translation Society: Dharma Masters Heng Shou and Heng Chu, who did a great deal of the proof-reading and made many useful suggestions: Upasakas Kuo T’ang Yager, Ph.D. candidate; Kuo Hui Weber; Kuo Kuei Bach; Upasika Kuo Chin Vickers, who provided valuable help in preparing copies of the manuscript; and especially Upasika Kuo Tsung Bach, who handled the complex and difficult task of turning the first rough typed manuscript into presentable form.

Special thanks are due to the Venerable Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua, chairman of the Certification Board of the Buddhist Text Translation Society, for having delivered the lectures in the first place and for his constant and patient aid during the preparation of this work.

Special mention must also be made of the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, which has undertaken to have this sutra published, and of Nora A. Larke and Institute copy editors Upasika Yeshe Tsomo and Leah Zahler, who devoted much talent and effort to the preparation of the work. The skilled guidance provided by Nai Yung Chang of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in the production of this book is likewise greatly appreciated.

Buddhist Text Translation Society


FROM ANCIENT TIMES, the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva has been one of the most popular Chinese Buddhist sutras. “Earth Store” is a literal rendering of the bodhisattva’s original Sanskrit name, Ksitigarbha. In the Buddhist pantheon, he is one of the most highly celebrated bodhisattva, along with Manjusri, Avalokitesvara, and Samantabhadra. These four represent the four basic Mahayana qualities: Manjusri represents great wisdom; Avalokitesvara, great compassion; Samantabhadra, great meritorious deeds; and Ksitigarbha, the great vow – the vow to help and to cross over all sentient beings. “If I do not go to hell (to help them there), who else will go?” is the famous pronouncement of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.

In the seventh century A.D., this sutra was translated by Siksananda from the Sanskrit into Chinese, but not until this publication has it ever been translated into English. Dharma Master Heng Ching’s work is not a critical study in the traditional Western scholarly sense. However, it bears special importance, as it is accompanied by the comprehensive commentary of Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua. Without such an accompaniment, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for Western readers to understand the significance and applications of this sutra.

One of the aims of the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions is to make available religious teachings that were previously inaccessible to the English-speaking student of religion. In this light, the Institute is honored to publish this invaluable source of learning and awareness.

The Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions
APRIL 1974


DIRECTLY PRIOR TO THE END of the Buddha’s appearance in this world, he and his following of bhiksus journeyed to the Trayastrimsa Heaven so that the Buddha might repay the kindness of his mother by speaking Dharma on her behalf. The Dharma which he spoke on that occasion still exists to this day and is known as the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva. This sutra deals with filial piety – not only that which pertains to the relationship between oneself and one’s parents but rather a universal code of duty for all living beings. A skyscraper is not built from the top down, however, and as an initial step toward embodying one’s universal duty, one begins with duty to one’s immediate family and friends, of which parents are foremost in importance. Hence, when the Buddha answers the Bodhisattva Manjusri’s question concerning the past vows of the Bodhisattva Earth Store in the first chapter of this sutra, he begins by telling him of the Bodhisattva’s filial duty to his parents, which led to his illimitable vows to save all living beings.

The Bodhisattva Earth Store, drawing upon the infinite power of his unwavering resolve, appears throughout the ten directions in an innumerable number of bodies in order to lead even the most obstinate and confused living beings to step from the sea of suffering onto the shore of Nirvana. Although his vows are infinite in their scope, they still do not go beyond the simple relationship called filial piety; the only difference is one of magnitude. Whereas an ordinary person considers even the most perfunctory duty to his parents to be sufficient, the Bodhisattva Earth Store, realizing that at some time during the countless aeons of the past all living beings have been his father and mother, includes all living beings within the scope of his filial duty, a duty which can only be ultimately fulfilled by leading all beings to gain eternal bliss. Since living beings are unlimited in number, it naturally follows that the Bodhisattva’s vows are infinite in magnitude.

In order for us to take the first step out of the sea of suffering, it is necessary for us to become aware of the danger which results from allowing our actions to be affected by the confused emotions which lie so heavily upon us. To this end the Bodhisattva elucidates cause and effect, the realm of karma, informing us of the sufferings of the hells and the actions which lead to such retributions, as well as of the pleasures of the heavens and the actions which they reward. It is not the Bodhisattva’s intention, however, that we turn away in revulsion from the former and grasp at the latter, but rather that we understand the sphere of cause and effect – that simple law which says that one reaps what one sows – and that we learn to avoid planting causes for either the heavens or the hells. Furthermore, in order that we plant the seed for future contact with the Dharma, the Bodhisattva wishes to impress upon us the benefits obtained from engaging in wholesome actions, as opposed to unwholesome ones, so that we will be induced to establish a strong affinity with the Triple Jewel. Although many of the practices mentioned in this sutra are not the direct cause of Buddhahood, the seed of Buddhahood is nurtured by wholesome conduct and cultivation of the Way. These auxiliary causes lead to the direct cause, and for that reason the Bodhisattva encourages us to embody them in our practice.

This sutra is extremely practical, and it is because of this that Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua wished it to be one of the first sutras to be translated into English. With the additional enlightening aid of his lectures, even those most unfamiliar with the Dharma are enabled to grasp the essence of the teaching. The lectures were given in 1968-69 and were at that time orally translated from the Master’s Chinese into English by Dharma Master Heng Ching, who has also bestowed upon us the present translation of the sutra text and the Master’s commentary.

It is through the efforts of Dharma Master Heng Ching that this sutra can now be studied by students of Dharma in the West, with the knowledge that it agrees with the original principles of Buddhism as they were elucidated by the Buddha. When I say efforts, I do not refer merely to the work of translation; for although it was a task which required many months of diligent attention, it rests upon years of study of the Chinese language and actual cultivation of the principles of the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Dharma Master Heng Ching has studied the Chinese language for more than ten years, and he spent the last five of those years under the expert tutelage of the Dhyana Master, who is not only an embodiment of the very heart of Buddhism but also an extremely erudite scholar. Thus Dharma Master Heng Ching has become intimately acquainted with both the doctrinal and practical aspects of the Dharma in a manner that is shared by few people. Under the Master’s guidance he has studied and helped give oral translations of literally thousands of lectures on sutras such as the Surangama Sutra, the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Avatamsaka Sutra, among others. He has also personally delivered lectures on this sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Divination of Good and Evil Karmic Retribution Sutra.

In addition to Dharma Master Heng Ching’s daily practice, he has attended many Buddha Recitation Sessions, Mantra Recitation Sessions, and Meditation Sessions, one of which lasted for ninety-eight days, with twenty-one hours of practice each day. What is most important, however, is not that he attended so many lectures and participated in so many sessions, but that he has actually made a good deal of progress in his cultivation. This puts him far above ordinary scholars, not to speak of those people who have reduced the Dharma to a pathetic exchange of witty remarks based on nothing but sheer confusion. Thus, it is with pleasure that I introduce this sutra to other students of the Dharma.

American Bhiksu Heng Ch’ien
Buddhist Lecture Hall, Hong Kong
Earth Store Bodhisattva’s Birthday,
AUGUST, 1973


THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF TRADITION have shown that there is no substitute for oral instruction. What is more, we in the West have long been hampered in our study of Buddhism by the lack of both adequate texts in English and qualified interpreters to transmit traditional explanations. Even though a few teachers have come to the West, there still remain the problems of access and linguistics. This work provides a solution to these problems by presenting in English translation what was originally a lectured commentary in Chinese.

Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua, founder of the Sino-American Buddhist Association, has been delivering oral commentaries on Buddhist texts for many years. Although based in an age-old tradition, he reveals the Buddhist tradition in a manner that speaks not only to specialists and historians but to all those faced with the continuing problems of human existence in a modern age. All the Master’s lectures since 1968 have been recorded and are being translated, this book being the second in a series of his collected lectures.

That the Master’s lectures are truly effective in terms of the real aim of Buddhism, which is to bring about a change in the lives of the audience, is quite obvious to those who have experienced his teaching. On several occasions during this lecture series, particularly when he discussed the depths of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s filial practice in past lives, many members of the audience were moved to tears. This is not, of course, to say that the Master’s style evokes weeping only; on many occasions his lively wit introduced a humorous and lighthearted mood in the assembly.

Unfortunately, in the transformation of a spoken lecture to the printed page, most such effects are necessarily lost. We have tried as much as possible to retain the flavor of the spoken word while avoiding some of the tedium that can come from a mere verbatim transcription. On the other hand, as we tried to approach the conventions of written English, we have dropped some of the more trivial scholarly niceties. Thus the reader will not find Sanskrit and Chinese words set off by italics; they will be presented as any other word in context and explained.

The good points of the translation are due to the combined efforts of all the member of the Sino-American Buddhist Association, the Buddhist Text Translation Society, the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions, and the editorial staff of Vajra Bodhi Sea, in whose journal these lectures first appeared. Any errors or faults are, of course, solely the translator’s responsibility.

American Bhiksu Heng Ching
Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, San Francisco
Earth Store Bodhisattva’s Birthday,
AUGUST, 1973


Spiritual Penetrations in the Palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven
The Assembly of the Reduplicated Bodies
Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Living Beings
Karmic Retribution of Living Beings
The Names of the Hells
The Thus Come One’s Praises
Benefits for the Living and the Dead
The Praises of the Multitudes of King Yama
The Names of Buddhas
The Conditions and Comparative Merits of Giving
The Dharma Protection of the Earth Spirit
The Benefits from Seeing and Hearing
The Entrustment of Men and Gods


SUTRAS MAY BE INTRODUCED in a number of ways, all of which help bring out the basic meaning of the text. In studying this sutra we shall approach the text through the investigation of the following six items:

I. The reasons for the arising of the teaching
II. The division and vehicle to which the sutra belongs
III. A determination of the sutra’s principle
IV. A full explanation of the title
V. A history of the translation
VI. A detailed explanation of the sutra


Shortly after Sakyamuni’s birth from his mother’s side, his mother died and ascended to the heavens. After he had become a Buddha and had spoken Dharma for forty-nine years at over three hundred assemblies, he went to the Trayastrimsa Heaven to teach her. This occurred between the speaking of The Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra and The Nirvana Sutra. He stayed in that heaven for three months and spoke this sutra of filial piety, The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva.


Division refers to the three divisions of the canon, the Sutras, the Sastras, and the Vinaya. The Sutras encompass the study of Samadhi, the Sastras, the study of wisdom, and the Vinaya, the study of moral precepts. Since this sutra discusses morality it belongs to both the Sutra and Vinaya stores.
Vehicle refers to the Five Vehicles. Although some people say that there are only three – the Vehicles of the Sound-hearers, of Those Enlightened to Causation, and of Bodhisattvas – the Vehicles of Men and Gods can be added to these to make five. This sutra deals with the Vehicles of Men, Gods, and Bodhisattvas.


The foundations of this sutra are principles contained in eight terms grouped in four headings:

1. The practice of filial piety
2. The crossing over of living beings
3. The rescuing of sufferers
4. The repaying of kindness

1. To practice filial piety means to be “filial” to one’s parents and thus to be a dazzling light over the entire world. Both heaven and earth are greatly pleased by filial piety and so it is said, “Heaven and earth deem filial piety essential; filial piety is foremost. With one filial son, an entire family is peaceful.” If you are filial to your parents, your children will be filial to you; if you are not filial to your parents, your children will treat you in the same manner.

One may think, “What is the point of being human? Isn’t it merely to try to get by as well as possible?”

It certainly is not! The first duty of human beings is to be filial to their parents. Father and mother are heaven and earth, father and mother are all the elders, and father and mother are all the Buddhas. If you had no parents you would have no body, and if you had no body, you could not become a Buddha. If you want to become a Buddha, you must start out by being filial to your parents.

2. The crossing over of living beings. To cross means to go from one shore to another, from affliction to Bodhi; the Six Paramitas are also known as the six crossings-over. To cross beings over does not mean to cross over merely one, two, three, or four, but to cross all the ten kinds of living beings, so that they reach Buddhahood.

3. The rescuing of sufferers. This sutra is able to pull living beings out of their sufferings.

4. The repaying of kindness. This means to repay the kindness of parents.

I have mentioned only the essential points of these four phrases and will leave it to you to make further investigation of them.

At the mention of the first of these headings, the practice of filial piety, some people will immediately think of rushing home to be filial to their parents. This in itself is an excellent wish and is quite commendable. It is extremely important, however, that those who return home to care for their parents not forget everything they have learned and find themselves slipping back into their old habits. The way to practice ultimate filial piety is to learn how to be a model for and a benefit to the world; the very best way to do that is to study and practice the Buddhadharma.

There are four basic kinds of filial piety: limited, extensive, contemporary, and classic. Limited filial piety is to be filial within your own family but to be unable to “treat others’ elders as your own, treat others’ children as your own.” With extensive filial piety you reach throughout the world and take all fathers and mothers in the world as your own. Although this filial piety is large, it is by no means ultimate.

What then is ultimate filial piety? It is far beyond the scope of the four mentioned above. Sakyamuni Buddha’s father locked him in the palace and he stole away to cultivate a life of austerity in the Himalayas for six years, after which he finally realized Buddhahood beneath the Bodhi tree. After he had become a Buddha, he ascended to the heavens to speak Dharma for his mother. This ultimate filial piety.

Contemporary filial piety is to model oneself on present-day methods of filial piety and to study their methods of behavior.

Classic filial piety is to be filial to all the myriad things, in the same way as the Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Virtue in China. But even classic filial piety is not ultimate. If you want to practice ultimate filial piety you should investigate and practice the Buddhadharma; learn to be a good person and a positive force in the world. The practice of acts that benefit society is being genuinely filial to your parents.


The name of this sutra is the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, and among the seven classifications of sutra titles it belongs to those made up of a person and a dharma. Earth Store Bodhisattva is the person and past vows a dharma. Past vows can also be said to represent karma, since they are deeds that he performed in the past.

Earth Store Bodhisattva is named after the earth, which not only gives birth to things and makes them grow but can store a great many things within itself as well. Because this Bodhisattva is like the earth, he can produce the myriad things and make them grow. Anyone who believes in him may obtain the treasures stored in the ground: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian.

Bodhisattva is composed of two words: Bodhi, which means “enlightenment,” and sattva, which means “being.” A Bodhisattva can be said to be either one who enlightens living beings or an enlightened living being.

Past Vows also mean fundamental vows, vows that were made aeons ago. Long ago in the distant past Earth Store Bodhisattva vowed, “If the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha; when living beings have all been saved, I will attain to Bodhi.”

The hells cannot cease to exist until the karma and the afflictions of living beings have come to an end, and that can never happen because of the nature of living beings. Viewed in the light of modern science and philosophy, isn’t Earth Store Bodhisattva’s behavior irrational? Doesn’t it mean that Earth Store Bodhisattva will never have the opportunity to become a Buddha?

No, it does not mean that he cannot become a Buddha, and his vow is by no means irrational. In fact, his behavior is a manifestation of great compassion.