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.

5. The Non-Yin Sound. This is the “yin” that occurs in the compound yin and yang. Yin represents the passive, negative, feminine, earthy, and so forth. Yang represents the active, positive, masculine, heavenly, and so forth. Many people’s voices show yin qualities, such as a high and delicate timbre. When the Buddha speaks there is no such quality in his sound.

6. The Non-misleading Sound. Everything the Buddha says is right and proper. There is never any need to fear that he is telling jokes or misleading people.

7. The Far-Reaching Sound. The Buddha’s disciple Mahamaudgalyayana, foremost in spiritual powers, once passed through limitless millions of Buddha-lands to the east in order to find out where the Buddha’s voice stopped. No matter how far he traveled, the voice was still just as if the Buddha were at his ear.

8. The Inexhaustible Sound. The sound of the Buddha’s voice can never be cut off.

When the Buddha speaks he may use only some, or he may use all, of these eight sounds. One person may hear the Far-Reaching Sound while at the same time another hears the Gentle Sound. This is due to the differing natures of living beings.

The sutra text here makes a passing reference to the Ten Grounds, parts of the fifty-five stages of a Bodhisattva’s progress. This is discussed in great detail in the Avatamsaka Sutra, as well as in the Surangama Sutra.

The first of the ten called the Ground of Joy. At this stage a Bodhisattva is always happy, even if beaten or reviled. Because of his constant joy he is able to reach the second ground, Leaving Defilement. Leaving defilement means putting aside all greed for personal comfort and most particularly greed for sexual pleasure. When all desire and unclean thoughts have been put aside, the third stage, Emitting Light, is reached. Once light is emitted, it flares into the blazing light of wisdom. Consequently, the name of the fourth stage is Blazing Wisdom. The fifth ground is called Difficult to Conquer, since the Bodhisattva in this stage has such wonderful spiritual powers that he is invincible in debate. The sixth ground is called Manifestation, since there are further manifestations of wisdom and light. The seventh is called Far Traveling, and the eighth Unmoving. At the eighth stage the Bodhisattva does not need to move from his field of enlightenment and yet he is able to manifest and teach beings throughout the universe. The ninth stage is called Good Wisdom, and the tenth Dharma Cloud. At this stage the wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva cover beings like a great cloud that shades the earth.

In the above passage of text the Buddha praised Earth Store Bodhisattva’s irreversibility from Anuttarasamyaksambodhi, the Utmost, Right, and Equal Enlightenment. Although Earth Store Bodhisattva has not yet become a Buddha, the degree of his enlightenment is equal to that of the Buddhas.

There are varying degrees of enlightenment. Those of the Two Vehicles – Sound-Hearers and those enlightened to causation – are surpassed by the enlightenment of the Bodhisattvas. The enlightenment of the Bodhisattvas is said to be right and equal, since it can be said to be equal to that of the Buddhas. Such enlightenment, however, is still not the highest degree, since it is surpassed by that of the Buddha. Thus only Buddhas are said to have the Unsurpassed, Right, and Equal Enlightenment.

The term “irreversibility” refers to the Three Types of Non-retreat. The first of these is Irreversibility of Position, so called because there is no retreat to the practices of the Two Vehicles. The second is Irreversibility of Practice: there is no retreat to the non-cultivating behavior of common people. The third is Irreversibility of Thought, so called because the thought is firmly fixed on the practice of the Great Vehicle Dharmas.


As this was said, in the midst of the assembly a Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, named Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, arose from his seat, knelt, and with palms together said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, is replete with great compassion and pities living beings who suffer for their offenses. In thousands of tens of thousands of millions of worlds he manifests thousands of ten thousands of millions of transformation bodies. His meritorious virtues and awesome spiritual powers are inconceivable.”

“I have heard the World-Honored One and the limitless Buddhas of the ten directions praise Earth Store Bodhisattva with different mouths but a common sound, saying that even if all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future were to speak of his meritorious qualities, these qualities still could not be fathomed. I have heard the World-Honored One tell the great assembly about the benefits of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s inconceivability. Cause the gods, dragons, and the others of the Eightfold Division to gaze in worship and attain blessings.”


When the Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, Avalokitesvara, says that he has heard the Buddhas of the ten directions praise Earth Store Bodhisattva with different mouths but a common sound, there are two possible explanations. One is that each Buddha spoke at a different time and place, yet each of them said exactly the same words; the other is that all the Buddhas simultaneously made this statement.

Although his meritorious qualities derived from worshiping the Buddhas are limitless, we can select five representative benefits as examples. Those who bow to and worship Buddhas and Bodhisattvas gain a pleasing appearance, a physiognomy that causes anyone who sees them to feel respect. The second benefit is the obtaining of a wonderful sound. The third is the attainment of wealth and honor. The fourth is birth in honorable families. The fifth is rebirth in the heavens.


The Buddha replied to the Bodhisattva Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, “You have great affinity with the Saha World. If gods, dragons, men, women, spirits, ghosts, or any other being who suffers for offenses within the Six Paths hears your name, sees your image, fixes his gaze on you, or praises you, they will become irreversible in the unsurpassed Way. They will always be born among men and gods and there receive wonderful bliss. When their conditions are ripe they will encounter Buddhas and be given their predictions of enlightenment. You now have great compassion and pity for living beings, for gods, dragons, and the others of the Eightfold Division. Listen as I proclaim the inconceivably benefits of Earth Store Bodhisattva. Listen attentively. I will discuss it for you.”

The Contemplator of the World’s Sounds said, “So be it, World-Honored One, I will be pleased to hear.”

The Buddha told the Bodhisattva Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, “In worlds of the present and future there will be gods whose heavenly merit has ended, who manifest the five signs of decay and are about to fall into the Evil Paths. When those signs appear, if those gods, whether male or female, see Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image, hear his name, gaze at him or bow once to him, they will increase their heavenly blessings, receive great happiness, and never again fall into the retributions of the Three Evil Paths. How much more will limitless, boundless merit, virtue, and blessings accrue to those who see and hear the Bodhisattva and use incense, flowers, clothing, food, drink, jewels, and gems as gifts and offerings.”


While the blessings enjoyed in the heavens are extremely blissful, still certain signs appear that mark the immense fall of a god. There are three recensions of this list of signs, one giving five major signs, one give five minor signs, and one giving seven signs. The five major signs are as follows:

1. The ever-fresh slower headdresses of the gods begin to wilt.
2. The permanently clean clothes of the gods become soiled.
3. The gods never sweat, but when signs of their decay occur, they perspire under their arms.
4. The normally fragrant bodies of the gods begin to stink when the signs of decay appear.
5. The gods normally sit still and composed, as if in samadhi. When the signs of decay appear they begin to fidget. Once these signs have occurred, the gods fall and may be reborn as humans, ghosts, animals, hell dwellers, and so forth.

In addition to the five major signs of decay, there are five minor signs, which are as follows:

1. The subtle voices of the gods become coarse.
2. The shining light of their bodies fades.
3. Their bodies usually repel water like glass. When the signs of decay appear they become soaked by rain.
4. They become unable to renounce certain states of existence and become strongly attached to them.
5. They become weak and devoid of energy. At this time their eyes, which normally remain fairly steady, begin to flit about.

In addition to the five major and five minor signs of decay, there is yet another list giving seven signs of decay. Some of these repeat those in the above lists but since they are often given as a unit, they will be treated as such here.

1. The light of the gods is extinguished.
2. Their flowers fade.
3. Their beautiful form changes and they become unattractive.
4. Their clothing catches dust.
5. They perspire.
6. Their bodies become thin.
7. They cannot remain still in their seats.

If, when these signs of decay are manifested, the gods are able to worship Earth Store Bodhisattva; their blessings will not only continue but increase.


“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, if living beings in the Six Paths, present and future, are on the verge of death and hear the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva, the single passing of that sound by their ear will eternally remove them from the sufferings of the Three Evil Paths. How much more will this be true if the parents and relatives use the dying man’s houses, wealth, jewels, and clothing to commission the carving or painting of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image. If that sick person has not yet died and sees or hears that, on his behalf, relatives have used his house, jewels, and so forth for the carving or painting of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image, because of that merit, he may quickly be cured and his lifespan prolonged, even if his karmic retribution is such that he should have undergone severe sickness. If that person’s retribution is such that because of all manner of offense obstacles and karmic obstructions he should fall into the Evil Paths at death, because of receiving such merit he will be born among men and gods, and there receive extremely wonderful bliss. All his obstacles due to offenses will be eradicated.”

“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, in the future a man or woman may lose father, mother, brothers, or sisters while he or she is still an infant or child under ten years. When fully grown the person may think of these parents and relatives but does not know into what path or world or heaven they have been born. If that person is able to carve or paint an image of Earth Store Bodhisattva, hear his name, or gaze upon and worship him; and if he can continue to do so from one through seven days, constantly hearing his name, seeing his image, beholding, worshipping, and making offerings without retreating from his initial resolve, then that person’s relatives will be liberated for many aeons. Even though their karma might be such as to cause them to fall into the Evil Paths, they will quickly be reborn in the heavens, where they will receive supremely wonderful bliss. This results from their receiving the meritorious virtues established by that son, daughter, brother, or sister who has carved or painted an image of Earth Store Bodhisattva and then bowed to and worshipped it.”

“If that person’s relatives have already been born in the heavens on the strength of their own merit and are already experiencing supremely wonderful bliss, upon receiving this additional merit their causes for wisdom will increase and they will receive limitless bliss. If that person is able to behold and worship Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image singlemindedly during three weeks, reciting his name a full ten thousand times, the Bodhisattva may manifest a limitless body and tell that person the name of the world in which his relatives have been born. The Bodhisattva may manifest great spiritual power and personally lead him to those worlds in a dream to see his relatives.”


Because living beings, even those who believe in the Buddha, may sometimes be quite confused, the Bodhisattva does not always come to them in their waking state but sometimes appears in dreams.


“Moreover, if one is able to recite the Bodhisattva’s name one thousand times a day every day for one thousand days, the Bodhisattva will command the ghosts and spirits to abide on the ground where that person is and to surround and protect him for his entire life. In this world his clothing and food will be abundant and he will have no suffering from sickness or the like. No accidents will occur in his house, much less affect his person. Finally, the Bodhisattva will rub his crown and bestow a prediction of enlightenment upon him.”

“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, if a good man or woman in the future wishes to practice great compassion to rescue all living beings and wishes to cultivate unsurpassed Bodhi in order to leave the Triple World, and if that person sees Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image, hears his name, and relies on him sincerely, using incense, flowers, clothing, jewels, food, and drink to make offerings, or if he gazes at and worships him, his wishes will quickly be realized and his obstructions will forever be left behind.”

“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, if good men and women in the future wish to fulfill hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of wishes and to succeed in as many undertakings regarding both present and future, they should simply return to and rely upon, gaze in worship at, make offerings to, and praise the image of Earth Store Bodhisattva. Their wishes and goals will certainly be realized. Moreover, they may ask Earth Store Bodhisattva, the Compassionate One, to eternally protect them. In a dream the Bodhisattva will rub their crowns and bestow predictions of enlightenment.

“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds Bodhisattva, good men and women in the future may have high regard for the Great Vehicle Sutras and make the inconceivable resolve to read and recite them from memory. They may then encounter a good master who instructs them, so that they may become familiar with the texts. But as soon as they learn them, they forget them. They may become unable for months and years to read or recite them from memory. It is because such persons’ karmic obstructions from past lives have not yet been eradicated that they do not have the nature to read and recite sutras of the Great Vehicle. Upon hearing Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name or seeing his image, they should feel deep respect and state their situation to the Bodhisattva. They should then take incense, flowers, clothing, food, and drink, as well as all manner of playthings, and make offerings to the Bodhisattva. They should place a bowl of pure water before the Bodhisattva’s image for one day and one night. Afterward, placing their palms together let them state their request and then drink the water while facing south. As the water is about to enter their mouths they should be particularly sincere and earnest. After drinking the water they should abstain from the five pungent plants, wine, meat, all sexual activity, and false speech, as well as all killing and harming, for one to three weeks. In dreams these good men or women will see Earth Store Bodhisattva manifesting a limitless body and anointing their crowns with water. When they awaken they will be endowed with keen intelligence. Should this sutra then be heard by them one time, they will eternally remember it and never forget or lose a single sentence or verse.”


The reason beings encounter obstructions to their cultivation is that they have not yet eradicated karmic blocks from past lives. These obstructions often appear at moments when beings are about to undertake some beneficial practice, the recitation of sutras, for example. Just as they are about to start they are overwhelmed with weariness and become captivated by the demons of sleep. As soon as they put the text of the sutra down, the demons leave them alone, and if they become involved in idle, useless activities and chatter, they find themselves bursting with energy. The dharma given here to counteract this type of obstruction includes making offerings, among them even playthings. This refers to all sorts of toys, such as the balls children play with. Don’t think, however, that the Bodhisattva likes to play with toys. The point of this offering is that one gives the things he most enjoys. This particular dharma also requires abstention from the five pungent plants, a list that includes everything in the category of garlic, onions, shallots, chives, and leeks. These items are forbidden because they tend to increase torpor, stupidity, anger, and sexual desire.


“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds Bodhisattva, if there are people in the future whose food and clothing are insufficient, who endure sickness and ill fortune, whose families are not peaceful, whose relatives are scattered, who are bothered by unfortunate occurrences, or who are often startled in their sleep by dreams, upon hearing the Bodhisattva’s name and seeing his image, they should recite his name a full ten thousand times with extreme sincerity and respect. Those inauspicious matters will gradually be eradicated, and they will attain peace and happiness. Their food and clothing will be abundant and even in their dreams they will be peaceful and happy.

“Moreover, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, good men or women in the future who must enter mountain forests; cross over rivers, seas, and the great waters; or pass through dangerous roads for the sake of earning their own livelihood, for public affairs, matters of life and death, or other urgent business, should first recite the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva a full ten thousand times. The ghosts and spirits of the ground they pass over will always surround and protect them in their walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. The peace and happiness of those persons will constantly be guarded, so that even if they encounter tigers, wolves, lions, or other harmful evil creatures, the beasts will be unable to hurt them.”

The Buddha told the Contemplator of the World’s Sounds, “Earth Store Bodhisattva has great affinity with beings in Jambudvipa. Hundreds of thousands of aeons would not be time enough to describe the benefits derived by living beings who see this Bodhisattva and hear his name. Therefore, Contemplator of the World’s Sounds Bodhisattva, you should use your spiritual powers to propagate this sutra and to cause the living beings of the Saha world to receive peace and happiness throughout hundreds of thousands of myriads of aeons.”

At that time the World-Honored One spoke verses, saying:

“Earth Store Bodhisattva’s spiritual strength
Cannot be explained with infinities of words.
To see, to hear, to worship for but one thought
Brings endless benefit to men and gods.
If a man’s or woman’s or a god’s or dragon’s
Lifespan ends and he should fall
Into evil ways, his lifespan will increase
And his offenses will be wiped away.

Those who have lost their parents’ devoted care,
And do not know what paths their spirits took;
Lost brothers, sisters, or some other kin,
Whom in their youth they never met at all,
Should carve or paint an image of this Lord,
Should gaze and worship him unceasingly,
And for twenty-one days constantly hold his name.
The Bodhisattva will reveal a boundless body
And show the realms in which the kin were born.
And kin who have fallen into evil ways
Will quickly leave behind these states of woe.
To cultivate the Bodhi unsurpassed
And leave behind the suffering Triple World,
To bring about the great compassion heart,
Just gaze upon the image of this Lord.
Each wish one makes will quickly come to pass
And karmic hindrances will not bind one up.
If one does not retreat from his first thought
His crown will be rubbed, he’ll hear a prophecy.

If a man resolves to read a sutra text,
Wishing to cross over confused beings to the other shore,
Although his wish transcends all words and thoughts.
What he has read he straightaway forgets;
Because he doubts, blocked by karmic faults,
He cannot hold the sutra in his mind.
To Earth Store Bodhisattva he should offer
Scents and flowers, clothing, food, and toys,
And place pure water on that Lord’s altar,
Wait one day and night, then drink the water;
Carefully avoid the pungent plants,
Both meat and wine, improper sex and speech;
For twenty-one days neither kills nor injures;
Just recite the name of this great Lord.
Then in a dream he’ll see the boundless realm
And, once awake, obtain keenness of ear;
Then when a sutra text passes his ear
Throughout ten million lives he’ll not forget.
The power of this Lord cannot be thought
Or talked about, yet it can cause one to
Obtain great wisdom.

If poverty-stricken beings, plagues with disease,
Whose homes are troubled, whose relatives are scattered,
Who aren’t at peace, even in sleep or dreams,
Seek a way to leave misfortune’s grasp
And sincerely gaze in worship on this Lord,
Their bitter sorrows will be wiped away.
With sufficient food and clothes, and peaceful dreams,
Gods and ghosts will circle and protect them.
Those who travel in mountain wilds, on seas,
Who meet with poisonous birds and beasts, or evil
Men or ghosts, spirits, or evil winds –
So many kinds of troublesome disturbances –
Should gaze in worship and make offerings
To Earth Store Bodhisattva’s form.
Within the mountain forests, and on the seas,
The evil multitudes will disappear.

Avalokitesvara, be attentive.
Earth Store cannot be reached by word or thought.
A thousand million years is time too brief
To fully describe the power of this Lord.
If humans can but hear the name “Earth Store,”
Or if they see his image, worship once,
Or offer flowers, clothing, food, perfumes,
They will delight in a thousand wondrous joys.
If one returns this merit to the Dharma Realm,
He will become a Buddha, freed
From birth and death. Therefore, Avalokitesvara,
You should know this sutra and spread it through worlds
More numerous than the Ganges River’s sands.”

End of Chapter 12
(Next: Chapter 13)

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