The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society

 Continued from issue 35


After such indescribable sounds had issued forth, gods, dragons, ghosts and spirits from the Saha world and other realms assembled in the Palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven. They arrived from the Heaven of the Four Kings, the Trayastrimsa Heaven, the Suyama Heaven, the Tusita Heaven, the Transformation of Bliss Heaven, and the Heaven of Comfort Gained through Transformation of Other¡¦s Bliss.


Saha, ¡§able to endure:, is the name of our world system because its inhabitants are capable of bearing much pain and suffering. Just as the Western Land is a place of extreme bliss, so this world of ours is one of utmost suffering.

      The Heaven of the Four Kings is halfway up Mt. Sumeru. In the east is a king named He Who Maintains Countries, in the south is one named Increase and Growth, in the West is a king named Many Languages, and in the north is a king called Much Learning, who is also known as Wide Eyes. The gods in this heaven are half avojana tall and have a lifespan of five hundred years, each consisting of twelve months of thirty days each. One day in this heaven is equivalent to fifty years among humans. Because this heaven is extremely close to us, its inhabitants watch over affairs among humans.

The Trayastrimsa Heaven has already been discussed, and so here we will only add that the inhabitants are onevojana tall and live for a thousand years.

The Suyama, "well-divided time", is a heaven located so high on the side of Mount Sumeru that the light of the sun and moon cannot reach it. It is light there, however, because the gods all emit light. Because there is no light from the sun or moon, time is measured by the opening and closing of the lotus flower; when it is open, it is day, and when it closes, night has arrived. The inhabitants of this heaven are two-vojanas tall, and live for two thousand years. Throughout all of these heavens, the height and lifespan double in each successive heaven.

The Tusita, "contentment". Heaven is divided into an inner and an outer court. The outer courtyard is subject to destruction by The Three Disasters, fire, water, and wind, which occur at the end of the kalpas, but the inner courtyard is not.

The inhabitants of the Transformation of Bliss Heaven take pleasure in transformational creations.

The gods of the Heaven of Comfort Gained through Transformation of Other's Bliss obtain their bliss through transforming it away from other heavens. Those who live in this heaven are neither genuine spirits nor immortals but are heavenly demons.

The Heaven of the Four Kings, the Trayastrimsa Heaven, the Suyama Heaven, the Tusita Heaven, the Transformation of Bliss Heaven and the Heaven of Comfort Gained through Transformation of Other's Bliss are known as the Six Desire Heavens. Although those who dwell there are among the gods, they still have impure thoughts of sexual desire. In the Heaven of the Four Kings and the Trayastrimsa Heaven, sexual affairs are carried out in the same manner as they are among people, but a newborn child in the Heaven of the Four Kings is as large as a five-year old human child. In the Trayastrimsa Heaven an infant is as large as a seven-year old human child, and in the Suyama Heaven the newborn are as large as human children of ten. Shortly after birth, the infant sits on the knees of an adult and eats spontaneously appearing sweet dew after which he becomes as large as an adult god. It is said: 

"The Four Kings and the Trayastrimsa fulfill desire by embrace,

Suyama s hold hands, Tusitas laugh,

In the Transformation Bliss they gaze,

And in the Other they merely glance."

The desire of those in the Heaven of the Four Kings and the Trayastrimsa Heaven is like our own, but in the Suyama Heaven husbands and wives like to cultivate, and only infrequently hold hands. In the Tusita Heaven, marital affairs are carried out by laughing. Although most people consider laughter good, it is actually a function of emotional gratification.  In the Transformation of Bliss Heaven the gods merely gaze at one another to achieve their gratification, and in the Heaven of the Comfort Gained through Transformation of Other's Bliss, a glance is enough to perform the marital act. Ascending through the Six Desire Heavens, emotional desire decreases. If desire is not light, there can be no ascension to these heavens. If desire is heavy stupidity results; as desire is lightened, wisdom grows. 


The Heaven of the Multitudes of Brahma, the Heaven of the Ministers of Brahma, the Heaven of the Great Brahma Lord, the Heaven of Lesser Lights the Heaven of Limitless Light, the Heaven of Light-Sound, the Heaven of Lesser Purity, the Heaven of Limitless Purity, the Heaven of Universal Purity.


These Heavens are those of the first, three dhyanas, each of which subsumes three heavens. The first of the three heavens of the First Dhyana is called the Multitudes of Brahma, because the emotional desire of those in this heaven is less than that of those in the Six Desire Heavens. In the Heaven of the Ministers of Brahma live the attendants of the Great Brahma Lord, who lives in the next heaven, the Great Brahma Heaven. He has cultivated the merits of the heavens, but has not truly opened enlightenment or certified to the fruit. Consequently he ascends through the heavens to be the Great Brahma King. He is surrounded and protected by gods from the two heavens below.

The three heavens of the First Dhyana are called the Joyful Stage of Leaving Production. Here no more afflictions are produced, so it is an extremely happy place. Hard work at cultivation can lead to the attainment of the First Dhyana, where the Great Brahma Lord, his ministers, and the multitudes may be seen.

In the First Dhyana, the pulse stops while sitting in meditation. This is commonly the sign of death, but because the self-nature goes to the heavens, no decay or death occurs to the body. One may enter this samadhi for as long as twenty or thirty days or more without any sign of either pulse or decay. When the average person dies, his body stinks within seven days, but the body of one who cultivates and attains state will not rot no matter how long he remains in samadhi.

The Heaven of Lesser Light, the Heaven of Limitless Light, and the Heaven of Light-Sound are reached by getting rid of desire and cutting off love. They cannot be reached without ending sexual desire.

The first of these heavens of the Second Dhyana is called the Lesser Light Heaven. The bodies of the inhabitants of this heaven shine with a light much greater than that of the Suyama Heaven, but less than that of the other two heavens of the Second Dhyana. They shine because they maintained the precepts purely in the world. In the First Dhyana,' the gods of the Multitudes of Brahma and the Ministers of Brahma also maintained the precepts purely, but did not emit light. However, here in the heavens of the Second Dhyana, the gods have maintained the precepts so well that their bodies shine.

The inhabitants of the Heaven of Light Sound use light to speak. Just as television uses light to create pictures, the gods of this heaven use light to represent speech. Some commentators say that they have no language and cannot speak, but this is not the case, for if it were, they would have done good deeds and been reborn in the heavens only to find themselves mutes. Just as humans have both spoken and written aspects of language, the gods in this heaven use light to represent speech.

When people who practice dhyana obtain samadhi and reach the second of the Four Dhyanas, they have attained the stage called the Joyful Stage of the Arisal of Samadhi. At this stage the breath stops. Anyone who meditates can reach this level, and those who practice should now ask themselves whether or not they have attained such skill. Has your pulse stopped? Has your breath stopped? If they have not, there still remains much work to do, and if they have, there still remains birth and death to end.

Don't encounter some minor psychic state and become attached to it. To have seen light or Dharma protectors while meditating is a very minor matter. While meditating it is also possible that the body will shake involuntarily; this is a manifestation of the phenomena known as "the great earth shaking in six ways", and still does not indicate genuine skill. There is a great deal of work left to do after such states are reached, for it is not possible to be lazy and end birth and death. Although it is always possible to object that such work leads to discomfort and is unpleasant, wait until you find yourself in hell someday, and then see just what ¡¥uncomfortable¡¦ can mean. If you set out to cultivate and then don¡¦t work but prefer to savor your so-called independence, you can do so. You can go to hell with your independence if you want to.

The Heaven of Lesser Purity, the Heaven of Limitless Purity, and the Heaven of Infinite Purity are the heavens of the Third Dhyana which is called the Ground of the Wonderful Bliss of Being Apart from Joy. Here thought stops. The heavens of the First Dhyana were pure, but had little light; those of the Second Dhyana were more pure and had more light. The heavens of the Third Dhyana are purer yet.

Ascending through these heavens can be compared to the process of cleaning a floor. The First Dhyana is like sweeping the ground clean; here are found the heavens of the Multitudes of Brahma, the Ministers of Brahma, and the Great Brahma Lord. Although the ground has been swept, it has yet to be waxed, and so it is lacking in luster.

Once the waxing has been done, the ground shines with light. This can be likened to the Heaven of Lesser Light, the Heaven of Limitless Light and the Heaven of Light Sound, the heavens of the Second Dhyana. Once the floor has been waxed, it may shine with light, but nonetheless, fine specks of dust may settle on it again. Dusting it off represents the Heaven of Lesser Purity, the Heaven of Limitless Purity, and the Heaven of Infinite Purity, the heavens of the Third Dhyana.

Although the pulse stopped in the First Dhyana, and the breath in the Second Dhyana, the flow of thought still remained. It is in the Third Dhyana that the continual arisal of false thoughts ceases. In a single ksana (instant of time) there are ninety productions and extinctions, and in each of these there are nine hundred thoughts. When all of these thoughts stop in the Third Dhyana, it is possible to sit for months or even years and not be aware of the passage of time. In such a state there is neither time nor space and yet one who is in it is not dead. He can return at any time, and when he wishes to do so the thoughts no longer remain still. The thought, ¡§I am sitting in meditation¡¨ arises, and the meditator returns.

      As long as thoughts remain, there is no real purity, for thought is like dust on the ground. Although there is a kind of purity when the breath stops and light is emitted, this is not the true purity, which manifests only when thought is stopped.

   The Third Dhyana is called the Wonderful Bliss of Being Apart from Joy, because even happiness must be put aside and not become the object of attachment. When this happens, the ¡§wonderful¡¨ arises.


       The Birth of Blessings Heaven, the Love of BlessingsHeaven,the Abundant Fruit Heaven, the No-Thought Heaven,
No-Affliction Heaven, the No-Heat Heaven, the Good Views Heaven, the Good Manifestation Heaven, the Ultimate Form Heaven, the Mahasvara Heaven and so forth, until the Heaven of the Place of Neither Thought nor Non-thought. The gods,
, ghosts and spirits assembled together.


    In the Birth of Blessings Heaven the cause of suffering is exhausted, and bliss is not permanent. In the realms below this, that is to say, in the Second and Third Dhyanas, suffering and distress remain even though pulse and breath may stop. In the Birth of Blessings Heaven, the first of the nine heavens of the Fourth Dhyana, the causes of suffering come to an end and the seeds of suffering cease to exist. Since the gods have no suffering, they are also unattached to their happiness, and so it is said that their bliss is not permanent.

    The cause of suffering cut off in this heaven is desire, more precisely, sexual desire. When there is no sexual desire, there are no seeds of suffering. The gods of the Second Dhyana have cut off thoughts of desire; in the Fourth Dhyana the very seed of desire, the appearance of all coarse forms, is cut off, and blessings are born.

    The second heaven of the Fourth Dhyana is called the Heaven of the Love of Blessings, and it is here that there is a supreme renunciation. What cannot be renounced is nonetheless renounced, and what cannot be given up is given up. The gods of this realm obtain a supreme liberation of purity. Their blessings are unfathomably great, and they reach beyond heaven and earth and attain a state of wonderful compliance in which everything accords with their intent. Their bliss is renounced and they are apart from both suffering and bliss. Although devoid of craving for the realms of desire and form, they nonetheless have a hope, something for which they seek¡Xthe heavens directly above them.

    Directly above the Heaven of the Love of Blessings are two heavens, one called Abundant Fruit and the other named No Thought. The path to these is likened to a forked road; it is very easy to go down the wrong fork and enter the No-Thought Heaven. The Abundant Fruit Heaven is the highest reward common people can obtain, the highest state, which includes the gods of the realm of desire. In this heaven, all the defilements of the lower heavens are left, and there is illimitable and inexhaustible happiness. Here the miraculous functioning of spiritual penetrations can be found. The wonderful compliance attained in the heaven immediately prior is even more subtle in this heaven, and the gods are able to attain whatever they wish.

At the end of the other path of the fork lies the Heaven of No-Thought. The inhabitants of this realm have cut off thought, although not permanently. Their lifespan is five hundred kalpas and during the first four hundred and ninety-nine they have no thought. In the last half of the final kalpa, however, thought once again arises; consequently the No-Thought actually means that there is very little thought. The inhabitants of this heaven belong to the paths of the externalists and demons who think that they have achieved an ultimate nirvana. What they do not realize, however, is that in spite of their cultivation; they too are doomed to fall.

In the next heaven, the Heaven of No-Affliction, there are neither views nor thought. Views means the arisal of greed when faced by any sort of condition; thought is confusion about principle and indulgence in discriminating thinking. The gods of this heaven have neither suffering nor bliss and obtain a cool refreshment.

In the Heaven of No-Heat there is no heat from afflictions. In the Heaven of Good Views there is an extremely wide and expansive vista; in the Heaven of Good Manifestation, a very subtle form of transformation occurs, and the inhabitants are able to create all sorts of wonderful pleasures. The Heaven of Ultimate Form is the last of the heavens in the realm of form.

In the Mahesvara, the Great Self-Sufficiency Heaven, the chief god has eight arms, three eyes, and rides a great white ox; as a result he thinks he is very independent.

With the exception of the No-Thought Heaven, the abode of demons and externalists, the heavens mentioned above belong to the Fourth Dhyana. This Fourth Dhyana is called the Stage of Renouncing Thought, because just as the pulse stopped in the First Dhyana, the breath in the Second Dhyana, and thought in the Third Dhyana, in the Fourth Dhyana all thought is fully put aside.

And so forth until the Heaven of the Place of Neither Thought nor Non-Thought. And so forth includes the heavens of Infinite Space, Infinite Consciousness, Nothing Whatsoever, and Neither Thought nor Non-Thought. In the last of these, consciousness is practically non-existent, and so it is said that there is no thought. However, a very fine trace of thought still exists, and so it is called neither thought nor non-thought.

--To be continued