Let me tell you my story about reciting the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva. When I was seventeen years old, I started lecturing on the Sixth Patriarch’s Platform Sutra and the Vajra Sutra. I didn’t know how to lecture, but I still went ahead. Why? Because at that time, there were a lot of people who wanted to study Sutras, but couldn’t read. So I thought I should take up this job. I acted from a strong sense of duty and started explaining these difficult Sutras.
One day I chanced to come upon the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva. I felt like I had acquired a most precious gem. I read the Sutra once and felt that Earth Store Bodhisattva was truly compassionate. He cares about us so much, yet we don’t even realize it. So I made a vow to recite the Sutra once every day, kneeling down in front of the Buddha. The Buddha Hall had a brick floor and there were no cushions. The pants I wore had only one layer of cloth, and I knelt on the brick floor in them. It took about two hours to recite the Sutra once. I concentrated only on reciting and didn’t notice that my knees were scraped and sore from kneeling. I didn’t even feel pain, I was just happy reciting. The more I recited the happier I became. Every day I would punctually kneel in front of the Buddha to sincerely recite the Sutra. Over a hundred days later, a demonic obstruction occurred, so I stopped reciting.
If cultivators don’t work hard at cultivation, no demons will come to test them. But if you have some accomplishment, demons will come and test you to see if you have any samadhi power. When I was reciting the Earth Store Sutra, a layperson came to the monastery to make offerings. Seeing me reciting the Sutra kneeling down, he praised me, expressed his admiration of me in public and said to people at the temple,
“He works so hard, so vigorously...” After the layperson left, all the monks of the monastery came over to scold me.
“You pretender! You did that deliberately to make the laypeople think that you’re a seasoned cultivator. That is exploiting conditions!” I didn’t argue. In my mind I knew that I recited for the sake of cultivation. But from then on I was hassled constantly. When I started reciting the Sutra, they’d come by and scold me,
“Pretending!” After I was done, they scolded me again, “So, you finished pretending!” Every day they took turns in taunting and jeering at me. But I just endured it and didn’t say anything.
After I had recited for over a hundred days, a real demonic obstacle came along. One day when I had just finished reciting the Sutra, a senior Dharma brother came over and whacked me. I was confused but dared not ask what was going on. He scolded,
“You! Hiding here and being lazy. Other people are working and you’re here showing off, pretending to be reciting a Sutra. Is this temple a place for you to cultivate? What merit and virtue do you have to be cultivating here?” So I stopped my recitation of the Earth Store Sutra.
Now that we are again having an Earth Store Bodhisattva recitation session, I am reminded of the past. It’s not easy to cultivate. You encounter obstacles all the time. You are very lucky that you can come to this ideal Way-place where you aren’t scolded or beaten. How comfortable! You should learn to be like your teacher; don’t be disheartened by bad states. Don’t give up; always keep advancing.