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.


At that time the Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, “For the sake of all these assembled in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, I will discuss the comparative meritorious virtues of the giving done by the living beings in Jambudvipa. Listen attentively to what I say.”

Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, “I have had doubts about this matter and will be pleased to listen.”


At this point it is important to understand that Earth Store Bodhisattva’s statement is merely a means to request information for the sake of living beings. He already understands and really has no doubts. One might object that he lies, but this is not the case, for not only are his words not harmful to other beings; they bring benefit to them. Because he knows that living beings do not understand the matter of giving, he asks this question on their behalf.


The Buddha said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, “In Jambudvipa, the kings of countries, noblemen, great ministers, great elders, great Ksatriyas, great Brahmans, and others may encounter the tired, poor, hunchbacked, crippled, dumb, mute, deaf, stupid, or eyeless, as well as others who are handicapped. Those kings and great men may wish to give and be able to do so with great compassion, a humble heart, and a smile. They may give personally with their own hands, or arrange for others to do so, using gentle words and sympathetic speech. Such kings, ministers, and others will obtain blessings comparable to the meritorious virtue of giving to as many Buddhas as there are grains of sand in one hundred Ganges Rivers. Why is this? Those persons will receive such a meritorious reward because of having shown a great compassionate heart toward the poorest, most impoverished, and most handicapped individuals. For one hundred thousand lives they will always have an abundance of the seven gems, not to mention clothing, food, and the necessities of life.


There are ten meanings included in the word, “elder.” They are venerable name, high position, great blessings, great power, deep wisdom, pure conduct, advancement in years, proper etiquette, praise from those above, and being a source of refuge to those below.


“Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future the kings of countries, Brahmans, and the like encounter Buddha stupas, monasteries, or images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Sound-Hearers, or Pratyekabuddhas, and personally make offerings or give gifts, those persons will obtain three aeons as Sakra and will receive supremely wonderful bliss. If they are able to transfer the merit of that giving and dedicate it to the Dharma-realm, those great kings and other men will be Great Brahma Heaven Kings for ten aeons.”

“Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future, kings, Brahmans, and others encounter ruined, decayed, broken, and tumbledown stupas, temples, sutras, or images of previous Buddhas, they may resolve to restore them. They may then do so themselves or encourage as many as a hundred thousand other people to help, and thereby establish affinities. Those kings and the like will be wheel-turning kings throughout a hundred thousand lives, and all those who help them will be kings of smaller countries for as many lives. If, before the Buddhastupa or monastery, they are able to resolve to dedicate this merit to the Dharma-realm, such kings and their helpers will finally accomplish the Buddha path, their good retribution being limitless and unbounded.”


The Pratyekabuddhas are those who are enlightened to causation. They are known as “enlightened to causation” when there is a Buddha in the world, but when there is no Buddha in the world, they are called “solitary enlightened ones.” The wheel-turning king is one who can become either a universal monarch if he does not cultivate or a Buddha if he does.


“Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future the kings of countries, Brahmans, and others have compassionate thoughts when seeing the old, the sick, or women in childbirth, and provide them with ointments, medicines, food, drink, and bedding so as to make them peaceful and comfortable, the merit of their giving is quite inconceivable. For one thousand aeons such kings will constantly be lords of the Pure Dwelling Heaven; for two hundred aeons they will be lords in the Six Desire Heavens, and they will ultimately attain Buddhahood. They will eternally not fall into the Evil Paths, and for one hundred thousand lives they will hear no sounds of suffering.”

“Moreover, Earth Store, if kings, Brahmans and others can give in this way, in the future they will receive limitless blessings. If they are able to dedicate that merit, be it great or small, they will ultimately attain Buddhahood. How much more easily will they be able to attain the positions of Sakra, Brahma, or wheel-turning king. Therefore, Earth Store, you should exhort all living beings to study in this way.

“Moreover, Earth Store, if there are good men or women who plant a few good roots in the Buddhadharma, amounting to as little as a fine hair, a grain of sand, or a mote of dust, they will receive incomparable blessings.

“Moreover, Earth Store, good men or women in the future may encounter the image of a Buddha, Bodhisattva, Pratyekabuddha, or Wheel-Turning king, and may give gifts or make offerings. Such persons will attain limitless blessings and will always receive supremely wonderful bliss among men and gods. If they can dedicate that merit to the Dharma-realm, their blessings and profits will be beyond compare.”

“Moreover, Earth Store, if good men or good women in the future encounter a Mahayana Sutra, and on hearing but one gatha or sentence of it energetically resolve to the benevolent and respectfully praise and make offerings, those people will attain great, limitless, and unbounded rewards. If they can dedicate that merit to the Dharma-realm, their blessings will be incomparable.


This sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and others which we study are all sutras of the Great Vehicle. Consider the number of people in the world who have never even heard of the Buddhadharma, much less the names of sutras. Of those who have heard of the existence of sutras, how many do you think have been able to study them in detail?


“Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future good men or women encounter new Buddhastupas, temples, or sutras of the Great Vehicle and make offerings to them, gaze at them in worship, and respectfully make praises with joined palms; or if they encounter old temples, stupas, or sutras that are in ruins and either repair them themselves or encourage others to aid them, such people will be the kings of small countries throughout thirty lives. Those who act as the leaders in these affairs will always be wheel-turning kings who teach those minor kings by means of the good Dharma.”

“Moreover, Earth Store, in the future, good men or women may plant good roots in the Buddhadharma by giving, making offerings, repairing temples or monasteries, binding sutras, or doing good deeds that are as small as one strand of hair, one mote of dust, a grain of sand, or a drop of water. Merely by transferring the merit from that deed to the Dharma-realm, those people’s meritorious virtues will be such that they will receive supremely wonderful bliss for one hundred thousand lives. If they dedicate the merit only to their own family or relatives, or to their own personal benefit, they will receive as a result only three lives of bliss, thus putting aside the ten-thousand-fold reward. Earth Store, such are the conditions of giving.”

End of Chapter 10
(Next: Chapter 11)

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