THE EARTH STORE BODHISATTVA SUTRA
The Venerable Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua’s lucid commentary delivered between the autumns of 1968 and 1969, makes even the most subtle principles remarkably clear.
Second, it is translated by one who has been making an exhaustive study and diligent practice of the Buddhadharma for many years. Dharma Master Heng Ching is well qualified to understand the principles of the Sutra, and has made a reliable translation, which can be used for study and cultivation. He is a graduate of the University of Washington where he studied classical Chinese and pursued a course of Buddhist Studies with the eminent scholar Professor Edward Conze. He has been an outstanding disciple at the feet of the Venerable Master for many years, and his practice goes deep. He recently returned from a lecture tour to Hong Kong where he explained the Heart Sutra at the request of Buddhists there.
--Bhiksu Heng Kuan
THE COLLECTED LECTURES OF TRIPITAKA MASTER HSUAN HUA ON—
The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva
Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching
SPONSORED BY THE BUDDHIST TEXT TRANSLATION SOCIETY
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:
the reasons for the arisal of the teaching;
The reasons for the arisal of the teaching.
after he had been born from his mother's side, Sakyamuni's mother died and
ascended to the heavens. After he had become a Buddha and had spoken
Dharma for forty-nine years at ever 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.
The division and vehicle to which the Sutra belongs.
refers to the three divisions of the canon, the Sutras, Sastras, and
Vinaya. The division of the Sutras encompasses the study of samadhi, the
Sastras discuss wisdom and the Vinaya deals with moral precepts.
Since this Sutra discusses morality it belongs to both the sutra
and Vinaya stores.
refers to the five vehicles. Although some people say that there are only
three, those of the sound hearers, those enlightened to causation, and
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.
Determining the principle of the Sutra.
foundations of this Sutra are principles contained in eight terms grouped
in four headings:
the practice of filial piety;
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.
Someone is thinking, "What is the point of being human? Isn't it merely to try and muddle through?"
is certainly 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 conversion of living beings.
convert simply means to cross over. Just as the Six Paramitas are also
known as the six crossings over, to cross means to go from one shore to
another, from affliction to Bodhi. To cross over beings does not mean to
cross over a mere one, two, three, or four, but to cross over all of the
ten kinds of living beings so that they reach Buddhahood.
Rescuing the sufferers.
This Sutra is able to pull living beings out of their sufferings.
The repaying of kindness.
means to repay the kindness of parents.
have only mentioned the essential points of these four phrases and will
leave it to you to make further investigation of them.
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 do 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
are four 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 by no means can be called
ultimate filial piety.
What, then, is ultimate filial piety?
Answer: It is far beyond the scope of these four. Sakyamuni Buddha's father locked him in the palace and he stole away to cultivate austerities 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 is ultimate filial piety.
filial piety is to model oneself on present day examples of filial piety
and study their methods of behavior.
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 filiality
you should investigate and practice the Buddhadharma, learn to be a good
person and an aid to the world. The practice of acts, which benefit
society, is being genuinely filial to your parents.
A full explanation of the title.
The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
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, which he performed in the past.
Store Bodhisattva is named after the earth, which not only gives birth
to things and makes them grow, but which can store a great many things
within it 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.
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
vows also means fundamental vows, vows which were made aeons ago.
Long ago in the distant past he 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."
hells cannot cease to exist until the Dharma and the afflictions of living
beings have come to an end, and that can never happen due to the nature of
living beings. Viewed in the light of modern science and philosophy, isn't
Earth Store Bodhisattva's behavior remarkably stupid?
Doesn't it mean that Earth Store Bodhisattva's will never have an
opportunity to become a Buddha?
it does not mean that he cannot become a Buddha, and his vow is by no
means stupid. In fact, his behavior is a manifestation of great
Question: Just who is Earth Store Bodhisattva and what does his name mean?
He is Mahamaudgalyayana, the Buddha's disciple who saw his mother in the
hells and implored the Buddha to rescue her. Since he follows the filial
way with no discrimination, he recalled the principle that all elders
should be treated as ones own, and all the young in the world looked upon
as ones own children. Realizing that just as his own mother was suffering
so too might all the mothers in the world be tormented, he became a
Bodhisattva in the hells. His Sanskrit name is Ksitigarbha, "Earth
Store". There are ten
aspects of the earthy it is wide and extensive; it supports all living
beings; it is impartial; it receives the great rain; it produces grass and
trees; it holds all planted seeds; it holds many treasures; it produces
medicines; it is not moved by the blowing wind; and it does not tremble at
the lion's roar.
Isn't the reason that it is impartial and doesn't react to the great wind,
etc., simply that the earth is an inanimate object without any feelings at
The feelings of the earth are not those, which we perceive, but it, too,
has feeling. The earth is also a sentient being.
vows renders the Sanskrit term Pranidhana; the full title of
the Sutra may be reconstructed as The Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
Pranidhana sutra. The vows, which he has made throughout the
aeons, have all been for the sake of the practice of filial piety.
has, among others, the following meanings
1. To traverse. There are many roads, which can be traveled, but if you want to become a Buddha you must go down the road that leads to the goal, i.e., down the road pointed out by the Sutras.
A guideline. Sutras are like the mark left by a carpenter's chalkline;
they show a clear and straight path which marks the most direct way to the
A garland. Sutras string together manifold principles like flowers in a
Thread. Sutras string principles together as a thread links beads in a
Attract. Sutras are like lodestones, which attract iron filings.
People are attracted to Sutras just like iron to a magnet, and
those of you who are now studying this Sutra have been attracted to it in
this way. The force, of course, cannot be seen, but its result can, and if
it is a great force it will attract more people than will a small one.
Permanent. Not a meaning can be added or subtracted from Sutras for to do
so is to merit the hells.
Law. The law is honored in the past, present, and future, if is a constant
model by which beings may conduct themselves.
Tally. Anciently contracts were written out and divided between the
concerned parties. When the terms of an agreement were fulfilled or
whenever identity connected with the contract had to be established the
two pieces were brought together and matched to see whether or not they
tallied. Sutras are much like this in that they tally with the principles
of all Buddhas above and with the capacity of beings below.
I said that the earth receives the great rain, and the plants grow on it.
In these explanations there are often interconnected relationships which
you should look out for. Grasses and trees represent the potential
capacity of living beings, and Sutras are the Dharma rain, which falls on
them. Each plant absorbs the amount of moisture proper to it, more in the
case of great trees and less in the case of grasses. Each receives an
appropriate share of the total rainfall. This analogy holds for the
relationship which people have with Sutras. Studying this Sutra, for
example, will lead the wise who study it to understand the principles
appropriate to them, and will cause the dull to understand principles
appropriate to their own needs. Everyone who has good roots planted in the
Buddhadharma will obtain the advantage proper to him: those who have no
good roots will be led to plant good roots. Because Earth Store
Bodhisattva practiced filial conduct in every life, this Sutra is known as
a Buddhist classic of filial piety. This is an extremely important
principle, for if people are not filial to their parents, they have not
fulfilled the fundamental responsibility of human beings. It is essential
that people repay the enormous kindness shown them by their parents.
discusses this topic at length, and his statements may be found in the
Classic of Filial Piety where it is said,
Ni sat at ease and Tseng Tzu attended upon him. The Master said, "The
kings of old regulated the empire by means of perfect virtue and the
essentials of the Way. The people were in harmony so that between high and
low there was no quarrelling. Did you know that?"
Tzu arose from his seat and said, "Shen is stupid, how could he have
Master said, "Filial piety is the root of all virtue and the origin
of teaching. Sit down, I will tell you about it. The person, body, hair,
and skin are given by the parents; one dare not harm them.
is the beginning of filial piety."
In the very opening of this discourse Chung Ni, Confucius, discusses filial piety in terms of all elders, and not just one's own parents. Since Tseng Tzu was Confucius' disciple, he waited on his teacher with filiality. When Confucius said that "The person, body, hair, and skin, are given by the parents; one dare not harm them," he was not speaking as many contemporary young people do, to justify their scraggily dirty hair and unwashed condition. Such people claim that haircuts and baths would be harming the natural state of their bodies. Such a position is quite untenable, for what is meant by harming the body is not the superficial acts of maintaining and grooming it; these things, particularly the matter of haircuts, are mere matters of social convention. When Confucius said not to harm the body, he meant not to destroy it. Strangely enough there are hippies around these days who actually know that Confucius proclaimed this principle, yet they take all manner of bizarre poisonous chemicals and drugs, at the same time claiming that they will not wash or cut their hair because to do so would be unfilial. They put their parents’ a thousand miles aside and indeed, often forget their parents' very names. In the midst of their 'natural' filiality they often run afoul of the law and occasionally even get shot. Such behavior is a sign of anything but filial piety and must be rectified.
Now that I am living in this country I certainly hope that its citizens will be law-abiding and orderly people, and that everyone will consider his actions and do only what is beneficial for the country and all humanity. I hope that all the wrongs, which are found throughout human society, will be righted. These are manifestations of true filial piety.
V. History of the translation.
Translated in the T'ang Dynasty by Tripitaka Master Sramana Siksananda of Khotan.
Although some editions of this Sutra attribute the translation to Dharma Master Fa Teng of the Ch'en Dynasty, most credit it to Tripitaka Master Siksananda of Khotan, a central Asian country, the name of which means "Earth Milk". An early king of that country who was without an heir prayed to the god of a local temple for a son. From the image's head came a child who would drink neither human nor cow milk, but only a particular milky fluid, which appeared on the earth. As a result of this mysterious happening the country was given its rather unusual name.
is a Sanskrit word which means both 'energetic' and 'resting', because a
sramana energetically cultivates morality, samadhi, and wisdom and puts
greed, hatred, and stupidity to rest.
Siksananda, "delight in study", was so named because of his joy in learning Buddhadharma.
— To be continued —