The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva



VI. Detailed explanation of the body of the Sutra.


Having explained the previous subjects we will now begin a discussion of the sutra text proper.



Spiritual Penetrations in the Palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven.

Chapter One.



Trayastrimsa, "Heaven of the Thirty—three Gods", is not thirty-third in a vertical arrangement of heavens. Vertically it occupies the second position among eighteen heavens. Its name is taken from the fact that it is the central among a group of heavens located on the same plane, with eight heavens on each of its four sides. The lord of the central heaven, the thirty-third, is named Sakra or Indra and in Buddhism he is a protector of the Buddha's Dharma who does not merit a seat but must stand at all Dharma meetings. In the Surangama Mantra he is referred to in the phrase, "Namo Yin To La Yeh".

    The lord of this heaven is the one taken by most people as being God Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth. Although he is extremely powerful and does attend to divine matters as well as earthly ones, he is not really any different from ordinary folk since he still has sexual desires, still eats, drinks, and sleeps. Although he still has desires they are far lighter than those of humans who usually become famished after several days without food, exhausted after a few hours without sleep, and chafed after a short time without sexual activity. Sakra can go for one, two, or even three hundred days without eating and can pass a year or so without sleep or sex. Although his desires are light, he still has not cut them off.

The Heaven of the Thirty-three is eighty thousand yojanas highland its city, the City of Good View, is made of the seven precious things and is sixty thousand yojanas high. In the center of that city is Sakra's palace which is made of the most exquisite and valuable gems. Since he is constantly surrounded by such splendor he has no desire to leave; in fact he wants all beings to join him in this world where the lifespan is a thousand years and where one-century in. the human world is but a day and a night. He extends his hospitality, but does not know that because of his greed for heavenly delights, even he is doomed.

Question: How did he attain the position of heavenly lord?


Answer: At the time of Kasyapa Buddha, Sakra was a very ordinary and poor woman who saw a temple in ruins and vowed to restore it. Soliciting friends and relatives, she gradually gathered a group of thirty-two women.  She herself was the thirty-third. Each of the thirty-three gave as much support as she could muster, and with their collective effort they repaired the ruined temple. When each one died she ascended to the heavens and became ruler of her own heaven. The heaven in which Sakra, the former leader of the women, lives is called the Trayastrimsa Heaven, and it is there that this Sutra was spoken.

The thirty-three heavens are merely responses evoked from the karma of those thirty-three persons. If it were not for them there would be no such heavens. Heaven, you see, is merely a spontaneous manifestation of karma and has no other interest beyond that; in fact, the heavens are quite uninteresting and it is a good idea not to bother going to them.

Spiritual means the heart of nature. Penetrations refers to the universal pervasiveness of the wisdom nature. There are six kinds of spiritual penetrations, which, although divided, are really one. In other words, although there are spiritual penetrations, fundamentally there are no such things. The six spiritual penetrations are as follows:

 (1) The penetration of the heavenly eye, a power which enables the entire world system of a billion worlds to be seen as clearly as an apple held in the palm. The Buddha's disciple, the Venerable Aniruddha, was foremost in this power.

(2) The penetration of the heavenly ear, a power by means of which one can hear all the sounds of the world systems of a billion worlds not just all the sounds in the heavens.

(3) The penetration of others' thoughts, a power through which others' thoughts are known before they are even spoken.

(4) The penetration of past lives enables past events, both good and bad to be known.

(5) The penetration of spiritual fulfillment.

(6) The penetration of the extinction of outflows.

The reason why we remain people and do not become Buddhas is that we have outflows and continually disperse our energies into the triple world of desire, form and formlessness. Outflows characterize living beings in all nine dharma realms; Bodhisattvas, sound hearers those enlightened to conditions, gods, humans, asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell dwellers.  Outflows come from ignorance. If ignorance is broken, there are no outflows and birth and death is ended.

These spiritual penetrations are characteristic of sages and not ordinary folk, but the sages do not obtain them from outside sources; they originally possess them.

Question: Have common people lost their inherent spiritual penetrations?

Answer: No, the spiritual penetrations are all present in the self-nature of all living beings, but have not yet been revealed. It is because they are occluded that it can be said that there are fundamentally no spiritual penetrations. In any case, don't think that these powers are an important matter or that having attained them is tantamount to having realized one of the fruits of the path. Don't get an ounce or two of gold and start shouting about how rich you are, since those who have tens of thousands of ounces of gold do not take it as anything special. Making this mistake is to stop halfway down the road, to remain in the state of the two vehicles.

For some time now the average life span has been about seventy years.  Of these seventy, half are spent in sleep, and during the first and the last ten, people are too young and then too old to function self—sufficiently.  Further, a total of at least five years are spent eating food, changing clothes, going to the toilet, drinking tea, reading the newspaper, chatting with people, bathing, and exercising.

So of the seventy years, subtracting the first and the last ten, leaves only fifty for cultivation of the Way, of which twenty-five are spent in sleep and five in the various activities mentioned above. This brings the total potential for hard-core cultivation to a mere twenty years. I ask you, what is the great meaning of this human life?

—Spoken by the Venerable Master Hua in 1969.