The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

--Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society



      At that time the Thus Come One smiled and emitted hundreds of thousands of millions of great light clouds such as the Great Perfect Fullness Light Cloud, the Light Cloud of Great Compassion, the Light Cloud of Great Wisdom, the Light Cloud of Great Prajna, the Light Cloud of Great Samadhi, the Great Auspicious Light Cloud, the Light Cloud of Great Blessing, the Light Cloud of Great Merit, the Light Cloud of Great Refuge, and the Light Cloud of Great Praise.


      Among the millions of clouds of light, these ten are mentioned because they represent both the living beings in the ten Dharma realms and the contemplation of the ten Dharma realms.

The Great Perfect Fullness Light Cloud represents the Buddha Way, which pervades all Dharma realms. There is no place where it is, and no place where it is not. Every single mote of dust in the entire Dharma realm is illuminated by this cloud of light.

The Light Cloud of Great Compassion is composed of two words; the first connotes empathy, the ability to rescue beings from their sufferings. Such conduct describes the Bodhisattva Way because Bodhisattvas do everything in their power to give beings what they like.

The Bodhisattva Samantabhadra was once an attendant in a monastic dining hall. His job entailed walking between rows of tables with a condiment tray supplying the desires of the bhiksus. To those who liked sweets he gave honey, to those who favored the pungent he gave hot sauce. This seemingly easy task was complicated however, and he often received complaints that he had dished out too much or too little; no matter what he gave the bhiksus it was often a source of irritation to them. Practicing the Bodhisattva Way and fulfilling the wishes of all living beings is not all that easy a practice.

Confucius understood this principle and warned against transactions with women and petty men who become unruly when dealt with on intimate terms, and hateful when kept at a distance. Even Samatabhadra encountered this problem in practicing the Great Compassion.

The Light Cloud of Great Wisdom. This light refers to the wisdom of those who are enlightened to conditions, pratyekabuddhas. By contemplating the Twelve Links of Conditioned Origin, they have come to understand the birth and death of the ten thousand things, and through that understanding, their inherent great wisdom manifests. The Twelve Links and their interdependent relationships are as follows; ignorance conditions actions; action conditions consciousness; consciousness conditions name and form; name and form condition the six entrances; the six entrances condition contact; contact conditions feeling; feeling conditions love; love conditions grasping; grasping conditions existence; existence conditions birth; and birth conditions old age and death.

The Twelve Links of Conditioned origin in the order of their extinction: when ignorance is extinguished, action is extinguished; action extinguished, consciousness is extinguished; consciousness extinguished, name and form are extinguished; name and form extinguished, the six entrances are extinguished; the six entrances extinguished, love is extinguished; love extinguished, grasping is extinguished; grasping extinguished, existence is extinguished; existence extinguished, birth is extinguished; birth extinguished, old age and death are extinguished. Those enlightened to conditions understand that by breaking ignorance the entire interlinked chain of becoming is smashed.

The Light Cloud of Great Prajna. Prajna, wisdom, is of three types; literary prajna, contemplative prajna, and reality-mark prajna. In order to maintain a distinction between the light cloud previously discussed, which represented the Dharma realm of pratyekabuddhas, and this cloud of light, which stands for the realm of the sound hearers, the term ‘prajna' is left in Sanskrit rather than translated. When sound hearers hear the sound of the teaching, they develop contemplative prajna through which they are able to attain to reality-mark prajna and the position of Arhatship.

The Light Cloud of Great Samadhi, "transic-concentration, "represents the realm of the gods who cultivate the superior grade of the ten wholesome deeds and thus attain the power which enables them to penetrate the Four Dhyanas and the Eight Samadhis. The Four Dhyanas, each of which includes a certain number of heavens, which will be discussed in due course, have names in addition to their more common numerical designations. The first is called Blissful Ground of Leaving Production; the second is called the Blissful Ground of the Birth of Samadhi; the third is the Ground of the Wonderful Bliss of Leaving Happiness; and the fourth is the Ground of the Purity of Renouncing Thought. In addition to these there are the Four Stations of Emptiness, which also include heavens. They are the Stations of Boundless Space, Boundless Consciousness, Nothing Whatsoever, and Neither Thought nor Non-Thought. These two lists taken together are called the Four Dhyanas and Eight Samadhis, and their corresponding heavens can be attained by those who take refuge with the Triple Jewel, maintain the five precepts, and cultivate the superior grade of the ten wholesome deeds.

The Great Auspicious Light Cloud represents the human realm in WHICH auspicious Happenings are cause for rejoicing, and where fate is taken to be the origin for most events. Those who take refuge with the Triple Jewel and maintain the five precepts can be born in the human realm.

The Light Cloud of Great Blessing refers to the realm of the asuras WKS" are sometimes found among the gods, sometimes among humans, and sometimes in other paths. These beings have the virtue of the gods but are lacking in blessings.

The Light Cloud of Great Merit shines on the realm of the animals. It is emitted by the Buddha for the purpose of eradicating the offense obstacles of beasts so that they might leave suffering and obtain bliss.

The Light Cloud of Great Refuge representing the realm of the hungry ghosts is emitted to lead them to change their ways and take refuge with the Triple Jewel.

The Light Cloud of Great Praise represents the realm of the hells and is emitted for the benefit of denizens of that region.


to be continued

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