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.”

“The World-Honored One then spoke in verse, saying,
Men and gods of the future,
as well as those now living,
I entrust all to you.
Use your penetrations
To rescue them all.
With your expedient skill in means,
Do not allow them to fall
into the Evil Paths.”


It should be realized that those who are studying this sutra are included in the group of good men and women, for if they were not they would have given up the study long ago. Evil men and women who take up this study feel as if they are sitting on needles: they put it aside and run off as soon as possible. Good men and women who take it up feel ever increasing joy in study. Furthermore, this passage reassures us that, although we beings are of irresolve nature and mind, there is no need to be frightened, since Sakyamuni Buddha and Earth Store Bodhisattva have made this pact. All that is required is to have done good works in the Buddhadharma.

It may be objected by someone that he has done good but has never seen Earth Store Bodhisattva come to protect him. Think it over a moment. Although his protection may not have been visible, were you ever in an accident in which you might have been injured or killed but from which you escaped unharmed? That is an example of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s protection of you.

If you object that you have never been in an accident and consequently have not been protected by Earth Store Bodhisattva, then continue to reflect. Have you ever had a serious illness from which you recovered? Or have you ever been on a boat in rough waters and avoided capsizing? Such good fortune is due to the protection of Earth Store Bodhisattva. Have you ever been on an airplane trip that was completely without incident? That too is through the protection of Earth Store Bodhisattva. In fact, if you’ve ever felt apprehension about undertaking a voyage and managed to overcome your fear, that too is an example of Earth Store Bodhisattva giving you a little added courage. The situations in which he responds are varied and uncountable. Because of the agreement made in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, living beings should have faith in him.


At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, knelt, placed his palms together, and said to the Buddha, “World-Honored One, please do not be concerned. If good men and women in the future have a single thought of respect toward the Buddhadharma, I shall use hundreds of thousands of expedient devices to cross them over so that they may quickly attain liberation from birth and death. How much more will those who have heard of good undertakings and cultivated in accord with them be able to attain spontaneous irreversibility from the unsurpassed Way.”


It is important to consider the reason that one was born a human being. Are we humans merely in order to live in confusion and die a muddle death? Is the point of our lives merely to eat our fill and go to sleep, only to wake to eat again? Are we in the world only in order to work at a job and get enough money for a couple of meals a day and a suit of clothes? If all we are here for is to eat and sleep, sleep and eat again, while waiting to die, then it would be better to hasten our death, for such a life is utterly meaningless. The troubles and difficulties far surpass the ease and pleasure, and death is preferable.

But if we come to human life for the purpose of establishing merit and benefiting those who come after us, then there is meaning. It is for those who come first to teach those who come later, for those who understand to teach those who do not. If everyone understood the principle of cultivation, there would be much less sorrow in the world. In whatever you do, see to it that you are helping others, not trying to be helped by them. Emulate the behavior of Sakyamuni Buddha, of the Bodhisattvas, of the great Patriarchs of old, all of whom worked exclusively for the benefit of beings. Do not merely become involved in “intellectual Zen” and chatter about Dharma.

If you hear of someone doing a meritorious deed – printing sutras, or constructing temples, for example – support those endeavors. If you are unable to do so with money, give your labor. In general, make sure that your every action is for the purpose of aiding beings.


When this was said, a Bodhisattva named Empty Space Store arose from the midst of that assembly and spoke to the Buddha: “World-Honored One, I have come to the Trayastrimsa Heaven and heard the Thus Come One speak of the inconceivable power of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s awesome spiritual strength. If in the future good men or women, as well as gods and dragons, hear this sutra and the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva, or if they gaze at and worship his image, how many kinds of advantages and blessings will they attain? Please, World-Honored One, speak about this for the sake of those living beings in the present and in the future.”

The Buddha told Empty Space Store Bodhisattva, “Listen attentively, listen attentively, I shall enumerate and describe them to you. If there are good men and women in the future who see Earth Store’s image, or who hear this sutra or read or recite it; who use incense, flowers, food and drink, clothing, or gems as offerings; or if they praise, behold, and worship him, they shall attain twenty-eight kinds of advantages:

1. They will be remembered and protected by gods and dragons.
2. Their good roots will increase daily.
3. They will accumulate superior causes of wisdom.
4. They will not retreat from Bodhi.
5. Their food and drink will be abundant.
6. Epidemics will not touch them.
7. They will not encounter disasters of fire and water.
8. They will not be trouble by thieves.
9. They will be respected by all who see them.
10. They will be aided by ghosts and spirits.
11. Women will be reborn as men.
12. If born as women they will be daughters of kings and ministers.
13. They will have upright and proper appearances.
14. They will often be born in the heavens.
15. They may be emperors or kings.
16. They will know their past lives.
17. They will attain whatever they seek.
18. Their families will be happy.
19. All disasters will be eradicated.
20. They will eternally be apart from the paths of karma.
21. They will always arrive at their destination.
22. At night their dreams will be peaceful and happy.
23. Their deceased relatives will leave suffering behind.
24. They will receive the blessings from their past lives.
25. They will be praised by the sages.
26. They will be intelligent and their roots will be keen.
27. They will have magnanimous, kind, and sympathetic hearts.
28. They will ultimately attain Buddhahood.


Empty Space Store Bodhisattva, who comes from a world thousands of millions of worlds systems away, has a jewel in his topknot from which anything one wishes for will come. Should you ever encounter a Bodhisattva with a wishing gem atop his head, you should recognize him, for if you do, you will be able to have some of the treasures he has in empty space, and you will never be poor.

When the text speaks of beings who see Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image, it refers to the trueness of their vision. Hearing the sutra shows the trueness of their hearing; recitation and offerings of food and drink show the trueness of their speech and taste; while offering of incense and flowers show the trueness of their sense of smell. The use of clothing and gems shows the trueness of their sense of touch. When all six senses (including thought) are true, living beings may derive twenty-eight kinds of benefit. Since many are self-explanatory, only a few of the benefits will be mentioned in this commentary.

They will accumulate superior causes of wisdom. The causes of wisdom included listening to explanations of sutras and hearing Dharma spoken, things which most ordinary people do not become involved in.

Their food and drink will be abundant. Everyone ought to look at himself at this point and ask why it is that he may not have sufficient food and clothing in this life. It is a result of not having planted good roots in the past, of not having worshipped Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image, and not having recited the sutra.

Epidemics will not touch them. I recall that once, when I was in Manchuria, there was an epidemic, and in one household of eleven people, thirteen died. One of the two added to make the full complement was a servant in the house and the other a visiting relative. The death from one disease of so many at one time is what is meant by an epidemic.

At that time I said to four of my young disciples, “Let us go rescue people.”

“How?” they asked.

“We shall disperse the epidemic simply by reciting the Great Compassion Mantra.” We then went to all the villages in which the disease was raging and circled each one three times while reciting the Great Compassion Mantra, a dharma cultivated by many of those listening to his lecture, is truly miraculous. But until you have had this sort of experience you do not realize it.

They will be respected by all who see them. It will not be necessary to hang out a sign and advertise oneself; there will be no effort required for people to respect you, for respect will come naturally. If there is virtue, the respect comes naturally; if there is no virtue, no matter how hard a wind you blow, you’ll never be able to stir up respect. It is definitely not a good thing to go about saying what a great protector of the Buddhadharma you are or how you are a member of this and that benevolent association. It is pseudo virtue that constantly tries to sell itself, and the result of such activity is that while those without eyes may be deceived, people who see clearly will know you for the pitiful thing you are.

Women will be reborn as men. It was mentioned earlier in the sutra that women have five obstacles and cannot hold certain positions. It is important to understand that this passage is not saying that a woman can turn into a man in this life. If she dislikes the body of a woman, she may be reborn male in the next life. Women who do not mind being women, however, will be reborn in royal households.

Their families will be happy. In spite of the intimacy between father and son, sometimes this relationship is strained. Children often look on their parents as having addled or petrified brains totally incapable of understanding modern trends. They often feel that their parents have no idea how to be a father or mother and that the parents are totally misguided and confused. Parents, on their part, may sometimes realize that their children are up to no good, but because of the deep compassion and love they have for them, they are willing to overlook their children’s faults.

The same kind of problem may even arise between husbands and wives. Before the marriage everything is fine and there is never a quarrel, but after the wedding they begin to display their tempers to one another. As a result of worshipping Earth Store, none of these problems appear.

At night their dreams will be peaceful and happy. They may dream of making offerings to the Buddha, of bowing, reciting sutras, of holding mantras, of chanting the Buddha’s name, or of other beneficial practices.

Their deceased relatives will leave suffering behind. This refers not only to relatives in this life but to ancestors and parents of aeons of past lives.


“Moreover, Empty Space Store Bodhisattva, if gods, dragons, or spirits of the present or future hear Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name, bow to his image, or merely hear of his past vows and conduct, and then praise him and gaze at and worship him, they will attain seven kinds of advantages.

1. They will quickly step over to the sages’ ground.
2. Their evil karma will be eradicated.
3. All the Buddha’s will protect and be near them.
4. They will not retreat form Bodhi.
5. Their fundamental powers will increase.
6. They will know their past lives.
7. They will ultimately realize Buddhahood


As above, most of these benefits are self-explanatory and only a few will be noted here.

Irreversibility from Bodhi simply refers to seeing out to become a Buddha and continuing until that goal is reached. You start out by holding the Five Precepts, leaving home, cultivating to become a great monk, a patriarch, and then, after you practice the Bodhisattva way, a Buddha. Of course, you must continue the practice and not turn back. You cannot say one day that you will cultivate the Five Precepts and then the very next moment hesitates about practicing them. Do not think that if you receive the precepts and then break them it will be a great loss of face, too embarrassing a position, and consequently put off receiving them. Don’t on the one hand think about leaving home and, on the other, start doubting the merits of doing so.

When the text says their fundamental powers will increase it means that their inherent ability to become Buddhas will grow daily. In addition to these benefits they will attain the penetration of their past lives and know, for example, “Once I was a tiny ant and now I have obtained the enormous body of a human. I went from an ant to a butterfly, from a butterfly to a songbird; the songbird became an eagle, a vegetarian eagle, and so blessings and wisdom were cultivated for accomplishing Bodhi. Along that road I have now become a human.” When you obtain the penetration of your past lives you will know all of this, for behind one body there follow limitless numbers of differing bodies.


At that time, all those who had come from the ten directions, unspeakable numbers of Buddhas, Thus Come Ones, as well as the great Bodhisattvas, gods, dragons, and the remainder of the Eightfold Divisions who hears Sakyamuni Buddha’s praise of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s great inconceivable spiritual powers, exclaimed that there had never been anything like this before.

At that time incense, flowers, heavenly garments, and gems rained down in the Trayastrimsa Heaven as offerings to Sakyamuni Buddha and Earth Store Bodhisattva. When this was finished, the entire assembly again gazed, made obeisance, placed their palms together, and withdrew.


The exegesis of the sutra text is now finished, but cultivation is not complete until Buddhahood has been achieved. Only then can it be said, “Done is what had to be done. The life of purity has been led, there is no further becoming.”

Those who have been able to study this sutra are people with good roots, for if they were not, there is no way they could have had this opportunity. In fact, even if they wanted to study it they would be unable to do so. Some who do not have good roots might even say that they do not wish to become Buddhas, that they would just as soon go off to the hells and let Earth Store Bodhisattva use his great powers to release them, so that they could continue a life of wrongdoing. They ignore the fact that Earth Store Bodhisattva’s great spiritual powers enable him to know full well what is in their thoughts and that when he sees such a plan he neglects to open the gates of those offenders’ hell. Do not study the ways of such people. Go onward in cultivation, practice in accordance with the principles of this sutra. Do so with energy, do not retreat. Go forward with vigor.

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

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