The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society
from issue 34


      The Sound of Great Compassion, the Sound of Joyous Giving, the Sound of Liberation, the Sound of No-Outflows, the Sound of Wisdom, the Sound of Great Wisdom, the Sound of the Lion’s Roar, the Sound of the Great Lion’s Roar, the Sound of the Thunderclouds, the Sound of Great Thunderclouds.


      The Sound of Great Compassion. In Chinese, the term “compassion” consists of two characters. The first connotes the kindness, which bestows happiness and the second, the mercy, which is able to rescue beings from their sufferings. All beings who hear this sound of the Buddha are able to leave suffering and attain to bliss, end birth and cast off death.

      The Sound of Joyous Giving. Kindness, Mercy, Joy, and Giving are called The Four Unlimited Thoughts. This sound indicates the joy, which should accompany giving.

      The Sound of Liberation. To be liberated is to obtain genuine independence without restraint or bondage; liberation is freedom from the sufferings of the six paths on the wheel of rebirth.

      Once a bhiksu requested Dharma from a famous master. “Superior One,” he asked, “how can liberation be attained?”

      “Who,” replied the master, “is binding you?”

     At those words, the monk was enlightened and realized, “Fundamentally no one binds me up; I bind myself. One who does not bind himself attains spontaneous liberation.”

Question: What is meant by binding oneself up?

Answer: To have seen through things, but not to have put them down, is to bind oneself and keep oneself from liberation. It is quite simple. If you put everything down, you obtain liberation; if you do not put it all down, you are bound. In this Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha emits the Sound of Liberation to say, "Don't tie yourself up and cast yourself into a prison of your own making."

At this point someone objects, "I am quite independent; if I want to go east, I go east, and if I want to go west, I do that."

The independence of which we are speaking here, however, is not the independence of the stinking flesh bag; it is the independence of the self-nature. When the independence of the nature is realized, you can live or die at will, and your death will be completely free of any illness. This is what is meant by the phrase, "Life and death are in my own and not in Heaven's hands." One who is free can live to a hundred or thousand years if he wishes, and when he wants to die, he can return to his original home at any time. If he likes his house he lives in it: if not, he can always move.

This independence is of two types. One is an independence of the consciousness-spirit, and the other of the inherent Buddha-nature. The consciousness-spirit belongs to the sphere of yin, and while it is able to travel about, it is unable to carry anything with it. It can go to New York, Europe, or Asia to find out what is going on in those places, but it is not able to bring things back to its starting point without the help of an airplane, bus, or other such means of transportation.

The freedom of the inherent Buddha-nature, on the other hand, belongs to the realm of yang and has the great function of the complete substance. When the liberation of the Buddha-nature has been attained, one can sit in San Francisco, for example, and stretch out his arm to bring things back from New York. In this wonderful state, the world systems of a million worlds are contained in a single room, and one can go anywhere in them.

While it is possible to attain this state, it is not permissible to give casual demonstrations of it by pulling in items from all over the world for the gratification of spectators. The Buddha told all his disciples that after his Nirvana they should not manifest their spiritual powers, because if they did, they would not remain in the world very long. Ordinary people would be too start led and frightened and would turn on them. In any case, it should be clearly understood at this point that the ability to go anywhere and do anything at all belongs to yang. Without this ability, the state is merely one of consciousness, and belongs to the realm of yin.

The Sound of No Outflows. This sound is also the sound or existence without ignorance, for as long as one has even a trace of ignorance, he cannot attain to the state without outflows. Why do you have greed? Because you have ignorance. Why do you have stupidity? Because of your ignorance. Why do you have desire? Because you don't understand karma. If one attains the Sound of No Outflows, he is without ignorance.

The Wisdom Sound. Wisdom is the complement of stupidity. If you are characterized by one, you do not have the other, because the two cannot stand together. To explain this further, wisdom is stupidity and stupidity is wisdom.

Someone may now object, "Then because I am rather stupid, I must be wise. I think I’ll go ahead and plunge to the nadir of stupidity."

If you are truly able to carry this off, truly able to take your stupidity to the ultimate, that in itself is true wisdom.

"Dharma Master," someone else objects, "I can't believe these principles. No matter what you say I cannot believe that wisdom and stupidity are identical. I have watched stupid people be confused, and wise people behave with precise clarity."

This objection is not bad; in fact it is quite right. Looked at another way, on the other hand, your position is quite erroneous, since stupidity can change and become wisdom. Because of this capacity to change, I say that stupidity is wisdom; because when wisdom fades it becomes stupidity, I say that wisdom is stupidity.

The verse explained earlier embodies this principle quite well. The wise do not say that they cannot be stupid. The wise, those who have genuine independence and true liberation, do not behave confusedly, and fools do not act wisely. While stupid people are moved by others, the wise remain unbudged because they have a selective dharma eye and can make the proper discriminations. If something is right, they respond; if it is wrong, they don't move.

Fools, on the other hand, often know quite clearly that what they are about to do is wrong, but they go ahead and do it anyway. Gamblers, for example, know that the chances of becoming rich are a million to one against them, and yet, moved by their greed and ignorance, they lose everything. Even though they become penniless, they usually don’t awaken, but say that since they were only off by one number when they last lost, they are stupid, just ask yourself if casino operators could make a living off gamblers who always got rich.
      Stupidity is not confined to gambling; some people smoke opium. Although we have heard time and again that it is a harmful practice, some people try it out a few times, and each time they smoke they feel as if they have not yet quite reached the ultimate state. And so they try again, and yet again, until they find themselves addicted. Not only are they unaware that they have lost their independence, but what is worse, they think that their drugs ARE their independence. They think that they are free to do whatever they wish, but if they lack their opium, they become irritable as their eyes start to water and their skin begins to itch. Anyone with any wisdom does not get involved in such things.

The Sound of Wisdom. Great Wisdom can see the consequences of actions even more clearly. Great Wisdom is simply the study of the Buddhadharma, the means of attaining genuine independence.

The Sound of the Lion's Roar. When the lion, the king of beasts, roars, he sets all the animals simultaneously to trembling, petrified in fear. Everyone, even the ferocious tiger and the repacious wolf, is brought to heel by this sound.

The Sound of Thunderclouds. The sound of Great Thunderclouds. The sound of the Buddha covers the entire world like a great mass of rainclouds which covers the earth, and then pours out a rain which nourishes the roots of all the plants, each of which receives the amount of moisture it needs. In the rain of the Buddhadharma, each being obtains exactly the amount its roots are able to absorb in order to help its Dharmabody grow and its wisdom increase.

--to be continued