OF TRIPITAKA MASTER HSUAN HUA ON—
The Sutra of the Past Vows of
Earth Store Bodhisattva
by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching
by the Buddhist Text Translation Society
I have heard, at one time the Buddha dwelt in the Trayastrimsa Heaven
speaking Dharma for his mother. At that time an indescribable number of
Buddhas as well as great Bodhisattvas Mahasattvas from limitless worlds
in the ten directions all assembled together to praise Sakyamuni
Buddha’s ability to manifest the power of indescribable great wisdom
and spiritual penetrations in the evil world of the five turbidities, as
well as his ability to regulate and subdue obstinate living beings so
that they might come to know the dharmas of suffering and bliss. Each of
these, accompanied by his attendants, greeted the World Honored One.
Beginning the Sutra with the word
“Thus” shows that it has been verified as being credible and
authentic, and that its use accords with the instructions given by the
Buddha to the Venerable Ananda.
the Buddha was just about to enter Nirvana, the Venerable Ananda was
distraught with grief, wept and became disheveled. The Venerable
Aniruddha who, although blind, was foremost in the powers of the
heavenly eye and who could see all of the world systems of a billion
worlds as if they were an apple in his palm, noticed Ananda's condition,
and being a bit more levelheaded under the circumstances, suggested to
Ananda that he not cry but instead take care of some important matters
while there was still time. He then suggested that Ananda put the
following four questions to the Buddha:
"When the Sutras are compiled how shall we begin them in order to
show that they are the Buddha's words?" The Buddha answered this
question by instructing that Sutras should begin with the phrase, 'Thus
have I heard.'
"When the Buddha was in the world, we dwelt with him. Now that he
will be gone where should we live?" The Buddha instructed his
disciples to dwell in the four stations of mindfulness; contemplation of
the body as impure, contemplation of feelings as suffering,
contemplation of thoughts as impermanent, and contemplation of dharmas
as devoid of a self.
"Now that the Buddha will not be in the world who shall we revere
as our teacher?" The Bhiksus were told to take the Pratimoksa, the
precepts, as their master.
"How shall we deal with evil-natured monks?" The Buddha said
that such persons should be silently ignored.
the Sutras were being compiled, Ananda was excluded from the meeting,
which gathered behind closed doors. As he stood outside the assembly he
suddenly realized the state of Arhatship and was able to enter the
meeting even though no one came to open the entranceway for him.
Although he was the most junior Arhat, he had a better memory than any
of the others, and in addition had been the attendant not only to
Sakyamuni Buddha but to all the Buddhas of the past. Sakyamuni Buddha,
furthermore, had said that his attendant was to compile and edit the
Sutras, and so it came to pass that Ananda presided over that assembly.
he ascended the Dharma seat to compile the canon, Ananda's appearance
suddenly changed and took on that of the Buddha with the exception that
he was three inches shorter. Consequently a number of doubts occurred
among the assembly. Some thought that perhaps Sakyamuni Buddha had not
entered Nirvana and was still in the world, others thought that a Buddha
from another world system had come, while still others thought Ananda
himself had become a Buddha.
he began his speeches with "Thus I have heard," Ananda did so
to cut off the doubts about who was speaking, to honor the Buddha's
instruction, to put an end to the arguments which might have come about
if some of the senior members of the assembly were to accuse him of
having made the texts up himself, and to distinguish Buddhist from
non-Buddhist Sutras, since all of the latter begin with some variant of
the words "existence" or "non-existence".
did Ananda say "I", rather than say "my ear", heard?
The word "I" is used to represent the entire person whereas
the term ear would be partial.
order for a Sutra to be spoken there are a certain number of conditions,
which must be fulfilled. These are called the Six Establishments.
They are the establishments of credibility, a hearer, a time, a
host, a place, and an assembly. The initial word of the text,
"Thus", establishes the first of these, the credibility of the
Sutra. The first sentence establishes the second, the hearer.
Why doesn't the text state a particular time and date so that we could
know exactly when it was that the Buddha spoke this Dharma?
Calendars of different cultures differ, with the year beginning at
different times. What some calendars reckon as the first month is the
fourth or fifth in others. If specific dates were mentioned, not only
would there be no way to determine exactly when they were, but some
people, archeologists and the like, would feel compelled to do vast
amounts of research and waste huge amounts of time and energy in an
effort to solve an unsolvable problem. To avoid such complications the
Sutras merely say "...at one time", thus fulfilling the
third of the Six Establishments, that of time.
The Buddha fulfills the fourth,
establishment of a host.
fulfills the establishment of a place, the fifth of the Six
Dharma for the sake of his mother is the sixth establishment. The
Buddha's mother, the Lady Maya, "great illusion", ascended to
the Trayastrimsa Heaven seven days after her son's birth. The Lady Maya
has been the mother of all the Buddha's and will also be the mother of
future Buddhas, each of whom must go to the Trayastrimsa Heaven to speak
Dharma for her. All of this is done the way actors perform in plays.
Those who understand the world know that it is just like a theater piece
in which people come together, are separated and undergo all manners of
both comic and tragic experiences. Although the theatergoers experience
emotional reactions of pleasure, anger, sorrow, joy, love, hate, desire,
and so forth at the theater, those who understand know that it is all
just a play, a dream, an illusion and a shadow. The Diamond Sutra
a dream, a fault of vision, as a lamp,
mock show, dewdrops or a bubble,
should one view what is conditioned."
Buddha, dwelling in the Playful Samadhi teaches living beings as
if nothing were going on, quite unlike ordinary folk who are attached in
every which way. "East", they insist, "is east and west
is west and that's all there is to that." This sort of view is what
keeps living beings from seeing the total interpenetration and
non-obstructed fusion of all things. Because they do not understand that
there is nothing, which is not false and empty, living beings bind
themselves. In the Playful Samadhi the Buddha, at the request of his
father, the wheel—turning king, or in some cases at the request of
Brahma, speaks Dharma for his mother in the heavens. At this assembly he
spoke the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
that time does not have the meaning it did in the phrase, "THUS
I have heard at one time...” Here it can be explained in the following
At the time when he wished to speak, the time the Buddha desired
to speak the dharma of filial piety;
At the time when he wished to destroy externalists;
At the time of planting seeds. After seeds are planted, there is a
period during which the roots grow, then they sprout and are harvested.
The Buddha teaches those who have not planted good roots to plant the
seeds which will give birth to them, and then tells them how to nurture
and cultivate those roots. Once the seeds have grown they must be
harvested or else they are useless. Once good roots have been planted
there still must be cultivation so that the fruit is ripened and the
harvest of liberation is attained.
At the time of a true teacher. In order to study Buddhadharma there must
be a master who understands a true teaching, and a desire to study.
Without the desire for true study, both the teacher and the
teaching are useless. If you have a true teaching and a desire to study,
but no true teacher, there is no way to attain the goal.
At that time also means at the time when the Buddha likes to speak
Dharma and when living beings like to hear it. Both the speaking and the
hearing of Dharma are on one level since the teaching and the taught are
interlinked. There is no high or low in this so that when the Buddha
likes to speak Dharma living beings like to listen.
this Sutra was spoken for the Buddha's mother, the twelve hundred fifty
Bhiksus who followed the Buddha, as well as Sakra and numerous other
gods were all present. Therefore the establishment of the assembly is
made by the phrase "...for the sake of his mother..." for it
includes the great assembly, thus completing the Six Establishments.
is a specific name of a particular Buddha; Buddha is the name common to
all Buddhas. Sakya, "capable of humaneness", is a family name
which indicates the humaneness with which this Buddha crosses all living
beings from suffering to, bliss. Muni, "still and silent"—
the Confucians say, "...arrived, ended, nothing further to
add." "Still and silent” refers to samadhi; "capable of
humaneness" represents the aspect of immutability.
Although the Buddha accords with particular conditions he does
not change; as he is still and unmoving in samadhi he can respond to the
thoughts of living beings. Since he is "still and silent" he
can know everything; since he is "capable of humaneness" he
can see everything. Thus it is said, "The thoughts of all living
beings are known and seen by the Thus Come One." Because of this,
cultivators of the Way receive a response, which corresponds exactly
with their own sincerity. Those whose thoughts contain one degree of
sincerity receive one degree of response, those who show tenfold
sincerity receive a tenfold response, and those who have a millionfold
sincere thoughts receive that great a response. From the original,
enlightened, still and unmoving ground, Sakyamuni Buddha can move to
reach out and aid living beings.
"the enlightened one", is so called because he has perfected
the three enlightenments, inherent, initial, and ultimate, as well as
the ten thousand virtues. Everyone who cultivates in accordance with the
principles of Buddhadharma can attain the position/of an enlightened
Buddha. Upon becoming enlightened Sakyamuni Buddha said:
living beings have the Thus Come One's knowledge and vision, and only
are kept from actualizing it due to their attachments and false
is a condition which occurs when substances become confused in one
another as when dirt is put into clear water. The original qualities of
both are lost in the turbid mixture that results. Earth is fundamentally
obstructive and can support objects placed on it; water is basically
clean and flows freely. When the two are mixed the resultant mud can
neither support any weight or flow freely, and the clear attributes of
the constituent elements are lost in the murky mess.
five turbidities follow:
Time is turbid because it cannot be distinguished clearly. There is no
such thing as time, only the arbitrary, and none too clear, divisions
established by beings.
Views are turbid since they cannot be seen clearly. Everyone has his own
views; if an attempt is made to separate the substance of one person's
views from those of another, it is found to be impossible.
Afflictions are turbid because everyone has his own, yet individuals can
still set one another's afflictions off. If one person's were truly his
alone there would be no way for him to annoy or trouble other people. It
is just because they cannot be clearly demarcated that afflictions are
Living beings are turbid because a human in one life may suddenly become
a dog, cat, or even a worm in his next life. Living beings blend
together in a great corporate entity and their positions switch hither
and yon in a confused jumble. Those who aren't being sold are being
bought, and in the final analysis there is no way to discern just what
any particular being is.
The lifespan is turbid since there is nothing fixed about it. Some
beings are long-lived and some die at birth, so that there is no way to
know for certain what the life of living beings will be.
Buddha teaches beings by regulating and subduing and harmonizing them,
much as the five flavors, sour, hot, sweet, bitter, and salt, are
harmonized and blended in cooking so that a balanced and harmonious dish
is produced. Some beings, for example, like the teachings of Confucius,
some those of Lao Tzu, some those of the Buddha, some Christ, and some
Mohammud. As a result, there are the five great religions of the world.
These five are, in fact, one. All dharmas are the Buddha's own
and special dharmas and 'all dharmas' include the dharmas of all
religions. Christian, Confucian, Taoist, Moslem, or anything else for
that matter. There is not a single religion, which can say that it does
not have a dharma so that it falls outside 'all dharmas'. All dharmas
are the Buddhadharma and all dharmas are unobtainable; there is not a
single dharma, which exists. Frankly speaking, I will not tell you that
I have some dharma, some delicious morsel with which I can cheat you. I
do not. I do not have anything at all, for fundamentally there is
nothing at all to have. As the Sixth Patriarch said,
Bodhi has no tree,
bright mirror has no stand,
there is not one thing,
can the dust alight?"
long as there is something, there is a place for dust to settle, but
when there is nothing, there is no way for it to do so, and no way for
defilement to take place. Although all dharmas are the Buddhadharma,
among them there are right and wrong dharmas, provisional and actual
dharmas, good and evil dharmas, and so forth. Those who cultivate should
make sure that they are cultivating an ultimate, not a non-ultimate
dharma. Non-ultimate dharma cultivation is like trying to get from
America to the other side of Australia by foot, a long slow process by
boat followed by a hard and wearying hike before the goal is reached.
Cultivation of ultimate dharmas is like setting out for a goal by
airplane, quick and efficient. Non-ultimate dharmas are dharmas of
external paths, which although they do have some good points, are slow
and roundabout. Ultimate dharmas refer to the Buddhadharma.
Sakyamuni Buddha regulates and subdues beings by saying to beings
with large tempers, for example, that temper is not bad, that
afflictions are identical with Bodhi, and that birth and death are
identical with Nirvana. When such persons hear these principles, they
are led to put their large temper to work for the sake of great Bodhi,
and their tempers diminish as their afflictions slowly change. This very
changing is Bodhi.
beings who are so timid that they almost faint at the bark of a dog, the
Buddha extends a protective and consoling attitude. When they see such a
manifestation, living beings feel that at last they have found someone
whom they can trust. As they study Buddhadharma their courage grows. In
Hong Kong I had a disciple who was so terrified of ghosts and spirits
that he would not set foot out of his house after dark, even if
accompanied. After he took refuge with the Triple Jewel, he discovered
that he no longer had this fear, even though nothing in particular had
been done to rid him of it. This manner of teaching is extended to
accord with the various propensities of beings, all of whom tend to
gravitate to one extreme or another. When they are led to attain the
middle way they are regulated and subdued.
Because of their basic obstinancy, living beings are quite careless
about matters of suffering and bliss and boast that they are not going
to bother with such questions. Sakyamuni Buddha is able to lead such
persons to understand what suffering and bliss really are, that
suffering is falling into the lower paths, and that bliss is attaining
the fruit of Arhatship. Falling among the hells, hungry ghosts, or animals is
suffering; opening enlightenment is bliss. Although there are manifold
kinds of both suffering and bliss, the general tenor of each can be