The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

--Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society

      The Ksantiparamita sound. Ksanti, patience, is a virtue, which must be practiced over long periods of time to be brought to perfection. It is a virtue, which is constantly being tested. There was once an old cultivator, who specialized in the practice of patience and who, after many years of hard work, felt that he had reached his goal, the perfection of patience. Announcing this fact to the world, he set up a sign saying, "A Heart Like Ashes" outside the hermitage in which he patiently sat.

A traveler passing down the road one day was struck by the unusual sign and stopped to ask its owner what it meant. "It says A Heart Like Ashes", the cultivator answered.

"I beg your pardon," said the traveler, "would you mind repeating that?"

"It reads," said the sage quite clearly, "A Heart Like Ashes."

"Oh," came the reply, "but what does it say?"

"It says A Heart Like Ashes."

"Excuse me," said the youth, "but for some reason I can't quite make out the words. Would you be so kind as to read them to me? "

"They say," said the old cultivator, with the calm demeanor of a patient man, "A Heart Like Ashes."

The conversation continued in this vein for some hours until quite late in the day when the traveler said, "Would you be so kind, sir, as to read this sign for me."

The sage, mustering the full force of his patience said, "It says, A Heart Like Ashes, if you must know."

"Yes," he said, "but what does it say, please,"

"Damn it!" exploded the sage, "if I've told you once I've told you a million times, it says A HEART LIKE ASHES. That's what it says."

"I see," said the traveler as he took a step upwards into the air and manifested the resplendent body of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, for that indeed is who he was, "that there remains an ember or two in those ashes. Given another twenty years, perhaps they may cool off. Good man, you will have to wait around a while yet and keep at work. In time we may meet again."

Patience, although seemingly easy to cultivate, is always subject to trying and unexpected tests. It is only during these that the proof of the practice is to be found.

The Viryaparamita sound. Virya, vigor, is the fourth of The Six Perfections. Those who truly understand vigor apply it to the cultivation of the Buddha Way, but many people apply vigor on the non-beneficial ascetic practices cultivated by externalists. There are many such groups in India. One, for example, models itself on cattle, and its adherents eat only grass. Others follow the morality of dogs, and go so far as to eat only what dogs eat as they crawl about on all fours. The followers of yet another such group live in ashes, which they add to already basically unclean bodies. Some sleep on beds of nails, and others do all manner of extreme things in the name of the cultivation of vigor.

Such vigor is quite useless since it is pursued among unwholesome dharmas. This is turning one's back on the Way. Vigor should be applied in wholesome dharmas, such as bowing to the Buddha, reciting Sutras, performing repentance ceremonies, reciting the Buddha's name, and other practices which involve vigor of the body. From vigor of the body, vigor of the mind, in which every single thought is a cultivation of wholesome dharmas, arises. When such vigor is practiced, even fatigue and hunger are forgotten. But if vigor slacks off, problems arise; fatigue sets in, energy and spirit drain, and the only thing left to do is sleep. Go ahead, take a look at your own vigor.

When the Buddha was in the world, everyone who had left the home life had to be able to recite the following verse:

Watch over the mouth, hold the mind, with the body do no wrong;

Do not, in any way, annoy a single living being;

Keep far away from non-beneficial ascetic practices;

Cultivation such as this can surely save the world.

This verse reminds cultivators that they cannot engage in idle talking about trivial matters and personal preferences, that their thoughts should be collected and not allowed to roam hither and yon, and that in every movement cultivators should remember what they are doing and what kind of people they are.

Not a single living being, not even an animal, should be annoyed or bothered, and non-beneficial asceticism should be shunned. The Twelve Dhutanga practices, of course, should be maintained, but the bizarre forms of asceticism indulged in by those who follow the ways of cattle or dogs should be left alone.

Question: What gives rise to such strange and useless practices?

Answer: Through long cultivation, it is possible to open one's heavenly eye and see, among other things, the death and rebirth of beings. In the past there were people, who, having obtained this faculty, happened to see a dog. or a cow reborn in the heavens. Because they were without wisdom, these people mistakenly assumed that the animals merited those rewards for some quality of their existence as animals, and consequently they imitated the behavioral patterns of those beasts with hopes of attaining rebirth in the heavens.

All of the vigor of which we are speaking is fundamentally non-existent, but it is discussed for the benefit of us ordinary people. Each of The Six Piramitas involve vigor. Giving, morality, and patience belong to vigor of the body, while vigor, dhyana samadhi, and prajna belong to vigor of the mind. Explaining in this way, there is no vigor, for it is identical with the other five paramitas. When giving is generous, it is vigorous giving; when precepts are held firmly, that is the vigor of morality. Diligence is applying vigor in the substance of vigor itself. The ceaseless cultivation of dhyana is the vigor of dhyana, and the constant practice of wisdom is the prajna—paramita.

It may be objected that vigor was once practiced but found to be fatiguing, and consequently of no benefit. This is simply the attachment to one thought of vigor, and it keeps one from true vigor. As long as one thinks his vigor is great, and that The Six Paramitas are being cultivated energetically, there is no vigor at all, because there is a vigor which blocks true vigor. When the Buddhadharma is understood, there is not anything at all. It is only when there is no understanding that things exist.

Of course, it cannot be argued that if one is not vigorous he has reached the state of not having a single thing. That is quite a different kind of non-vigor. If the Buddhadharma is truly understood, then it is genuine vigor that is non-vigor, since there is no attachment to it. If there is no real understanding of Buddhadharma, there is an attachment to vigor, and consequently, no vigor. After understanding the Buddhadharma, everything must be put down; if this is not done, Dharma has not been fully understood, for the Buddhadharma teaches beings to leave all attachments and appearances.

Dhyana, thought cultivation or quiet consideration, is of several sorts. There are The Four Dhyanas, The Eight Samadhis, and The Nine Successive Stages of Samadhi, as well as Worldly Dhyana, World Transcending Dhyana, and The Superior Grade of World Transcending Dhyana.

Ordinary people cultivate Worldly Dhyana, which includes The Four Unlimited Thoughts and The Four Formless Samadhis. These states need not be discussed in detail. If you apply effort and cultivate sitting meditation, you will spontaneously come to understand them. For me to explain them all now would be like talking of food and not eating it—you would not know the flavor. For the time being, let it suffice to know that there are many types of dhyana. Worldly, World Transcending, Superior, Thus Come One Dhyana, Patriarch Dhyana, and so forth. Now all that remains for you to do is the work of cultivation in order to attain them and know them for yourselves.

The Prajnaparamita sound. Prajna, wisdom, is of two types, worldly and world transcending. Worldly wisdom is the clear argumentation of worldly principles in such matters as science and philosophy. Clear argumentation

is the ability to find principles where there are none. World Transcending Prajna is the ability to think of the Buddhadharma in every thought, so that even in sleep, dreams, and sickness there is only thought of the Buddhadharma.

In the final analysis, these two are just one kind of wisdom; the difference lies in the application of it. Used in the world, it becomes worldly wisdom; applied to world transcending dharmas, to the Buddhadharma, it is world transcending wisdom. Although these are not two, they are divided. Suppose, for example, that through the study of worldly dharmas, one comes to realize that conditioned existence is impermanent, marked by suffering, and devoid of self. If this wisdom gained from worldly dharmas is used to investigate world-transcending dharmas, it becomes world transcending wisdom. Because most people have worldly wisdom but not world transcending wisdom, they are involved in confused and inconsequential matters while ignoring the fundamental question of life and death. Some people, on the other hand, investigate world-transcending questions, but do not investigate worldly dharma.

It is said, "Understand the transcendent and understand the mundane.  The mundane is transcendent, the transcendent is mundane." An ancient poem says:

"Intelligence is aided by secret determination;

Secret determination leads one on the road to intelligence.

If secret determination is not practiced as the cause of intelligence,

Intelligence reverses and becomes a hindrance."

One cause of intelligence is good deeds done in past lives. However, good deeds should not be done for publicity. They should be done but not spread about-—ransoming prisoners, for example, without letting them know the identity of their liberator. Another cause of intelligence is reciting sutras. Reciting the Diamond Prajnaparamita Sutra several tens of thousands of times, for example, is a good cause of future intelligence.

If secret good deeds are not practiced in this life, however, one's intelligence backfires and becomes an obstacle. How? If one is not a bit clever, he cannot do too many bad deeds, but those who are clever are not only able to do bad, they are just as good at covering up their tracks so that they never get caught. One of the most intelligent men in China was the notorious general Ts'ao who was even more clever than ghosts. He did a great many indecent things. Those who are wise will hear this verse and put it into practice by doing deeds, which will benefit mankind, not harm it.

to be continued


February   3rd Maitreya Bodhisattva’s Birthday.

March     12th Sakyamuni Buddha Left the Home Life.

    19th Sakyamuni Buddha Entered Nirvana.

    23rd Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's Birthday.

    25th Samantabhadra Bodhisattva's Birthday.

April     17th Great Master Ch'ang Jen's Birthday.

18th Cundi Bodhisattva's Birthday. Venerable Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua's   Birthday.

    19th Great Master Ch'ang Ch'ih's Birthday.

May        6th Manjusri Bodhisattva's Birthday.

10th  Sakyamuni Buddha's Birthday. This holiday will be celebrated on May 6th.