The Sutra of the Past Vows 
Earth Store Bodhisattva

  --Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching--
Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society

Continued from issue 36



      Moreover, sea spirits, river spirits, stream spirits, mountain spirits, earth spirits, brook and marsh spirits, sprout and seedling spirits, day, night, and space spirits, heaven spirits, food and drink spirits, grass and wood spirits, and other such spirits from the Saha and other worlds all assembled together.


Seas, rivers and streams are some of the various bodies of water, which cover the earth. What is their origin? The great heat of the sun causes the earth, plants and living beings to sweat, and. the accumulation of this sweat constitutes the seas. The Surangama Sutra discusses the all-pervasive nature of water, which can be demonstrated by the condensation on a metal plate left out over night. Although water is everywhere, only some places manifest its substance; what is all pervading about water is its nature. This is analogous to the Buddha-nature in people. Although everyone has it, we see only the substance of living beings. Just as water, although it can only be seen in some places, is all pervading, so too are fire and the other elements. Their substances appear to contradict one another, but their natures work in harmony and do not conflict.

What keeps water from inundating the world? The Four Heavenly Kings have a precious and wonderful gem, which has the power to halt water. Without this heaven and earth would be joined in a mass of water.

Sea Spirits. Sea means dark because you can't "see" into it and have no way to know how deep it is. I am certain that this explanation is a new one and that even the most scholarly of professors have never seen it before.

      Within the sea are a great many spirits, such as the dragon kings, the Jao, the Yang Ho and others. The spirits of the sea are beasts of a sort; dragons are a well-known example. The chief sea spirit, the Jao, has eighteen tails, eight legs, and eight heads, which look human, four males and four females. There are many such spirits, which need not be discussed now, but if you ever happen to be sitting in meditation and encounter such a phenomenon, don't be upset. Just recognize it for what it is.

(Continued on the following page)


Upasika Kuo Ching Wilkes  $ 10
Upasika Kuo Hsu Waugh       20
Upasika Kuo Yuan Larrick    10
Dharma Master Heng Chu      81
Upasika Tun Kuo Hsun        10
Upasaka Lee Kuo Ch’ien      20
Upasaka Kuo Fa             100
Upasika Hsieh Ping-ying     10
Dr. & Mrs. Harold Epstein   10
Upasaka Kuo P’u Hanson      10
Upasika Kuo Chin Weiss      30
Anonymous                   50
Upasika Kuo Ming Dorney     25
Upasaka Hansang Lee         40

Buddhist Calendar

April 17 Birthday of the Great Master Ch’ang Jen
      18 Birthday of Cundi Bodhisattva

         Birthday of the Venerable Master Hua

      19 The Great Master Ch’ang Chih left the home life.

May    6 Birthday of Manjusri Bodhisattva.

      10 Birthday of Sakyamuni Buddha.

      30 Birthday of Medicine Master Bodhisattva.

June  13 Birthday of Ch’ieh Lan Bodhisattva.

July   2 Birthday of Wei T’ou Bodhisattva.

      14 The Great Master Ch’ang Jen’s Enlightenment.

      16 The Great Master Ch’ang Chih’s Birthday.

River Spirits. Rivers are broad but are not very deep if compared to the sea. While seas stay in one place and invite all the other waters to join them, rivers flow on unceasingly.

Tree Spirits. The word tree is defined by a homonym in Chinese, which means upright or perpendicular. Here, in Jambudvipa, the Jambunada is the king of trees. When trees become large and old they are known to be dwellings for ghosts and spirits who lodge in trees where they feel a sense of security and comfort. If these spirits are unable to find such a tree they experience a sense of distress. For this reason Bhiksus are not permitted to cut down large trees; this is specifically mentioned in the Dharmagupta vinaya.

Once the great General Ts'ao ordered a great tree cut down, even though it was rumored to be the house of a spirit. The General said that he did not believe in such things. Not much later he developed a splitting headache which had to be cured by the physician Hua T'uo. The source of his headache, it was explained, was the spirit whose home he had destroyed.

At Nan Hua Monastery a large camphor tree received the precepts from the Venerable Master Hsu Yan, and at Nan Yao, the Dharma seat of the Old. Man of Mt. Wei, a Ginko tree also received the precepts.

Mountain Spirits. Mountains are defined by the Chinese words, which translate "grow" or "produce," since things may grow and flourish on their sides.

Ground Spirits. Ground may be explained by a homonym in Chinese, which means, "bottom." Although the ground is on the bottom, it produces the myriad things.

Day and Night Spirits. Day is calculated as beginning at midnight, and night as starting at noon. Although the sun is not visible at midnight, the Yang energies begin to rise at that time. Shortly before daybreak, about three, four, or five o'clock, this rise causes a corresponding rise of lustful desires in people. After noon, when the Yin is rising, a similar phenomenon occurs. If the desire can be contained, it can be transformed into wisdom. This is not unlike the forked path leading to either the Abundant Fruit Heaven or the Heaven of No thought. Traveling down one-path aides the flourishing of desires, turning on to the other aids the growth of wisdom.  In both cases there is a choice to be made, and it is up to the individual to make it for himself.

Space Spirits. This spirit, whose Sanskrit name is Sunyata, is discussed in the Surangama Sutra.

Food and Drink Spirits. Anything anyone eats, even a mere mouthful of water or piece of fruit, is watched over by a spirit. If you believe this principle, the spirit exists; if you do not believe it, it exists nonetheless. To say that such things exist only if there is belief in them, and that they cease to exist if there is no belief, is preposterous.

In Peking there once lived a man named Tuan Cheng Yuan who was often known as Honorable tester Tuan. He once encountered a remarkable individual who was the son of a very busy official who supervised several hundred parsons. While the father worked at the duties incumbent upon an official, the son slept day in and day out. This behavior annoyed the father who finally confronted his son.

"Look at me," he said, "over sixty and working full time to support you, a young man in your twenties. You ought to be ashamed."

"You, father," the son said, "are a government official; I am a food and drink official."

"Whatever are you talking about?"

"Everyday I allocate the food which everyone will consume. It's that simple."

"You must be mad," said the father, controlling his temper, "there is no such thing. Alright, if that's what you do, just tell me now, what am I going to eat tomorrow?"

"Just a moment," said the son, "I have to sleep first and then I will be able to tell you."

The father, by now nearly mad with rage, choked and shook as his son dropped off once again to sleep. When he finally awoke, he informed his father that on the next day he would go hungry.

"Now I know you're mad," said his father. "How can a major government official possibly go hungry?" 

"Well, Father, actually you are going to get something, but it's only going to be a slightly spoiled egg and half a bowl of soured millet gruel."

"Incredible," shouted the outraged father, "my own son is trying to make a fool of me!" and he rushed off to order preparations for dressing ducks, chickens, geese, fish and other delicacies for the next day's meal.

The kitchen staff was unusually busy the next morning, preparing an elaborate meal, which was delayed a bit as a result of an unusual amount of care and effort, which went into it. Just as he was about to sit down to dinner, the official received an urgent message, an order to disperse a bandit group in the countryside. Not a moment could be lost, and he sprang to his mount at the head of his troops and left his banquet steaming on the table. Before long, the bandits were engaged and soon the scene of their encounter became a charnel field on which the bandits were ultimately defeated.

The men who had eaten their ordinary meal at the usual time were not fatigued by hunger, but the official himself had not eaten a thing, and was weak with exhaustion. Accompanied by some of his troops, he draw up at a nearby farmhouse and asked for some provisions.

"We haven't a thing," replied the head of the household, "except an old egg and a half-bowlful of millet gruel which we were saving for my pregnant wife. The egg's a bit bad, and the gruel's gone sour, but you're welcome to them if you want."

As he downed the simple meal the official suddenly recalled his son's prediction of the preceding day. From that time onward he left his son alone to preside over food and drink, while he himself continued to preside as a human official.

As I said before, if there is belief in spirits, they exist, and if there is not, they exist nonetheless. A great many people say that such things exist only if people believe in them, but this is not the case. It is much like gold found deep in a mine. Knowing that there is gold in the mine can be likened to believing; not knowing of the gold is like disbelieving.  In the final analysis, there is still gold in the mine, regardless of your belief or disbelief. If you believe, you know there are spirits; if you disbelieve, you do not know that there are spirits. But be that as it may, the spirits are there nonetheless it is just that you lack the knowledge and vision, which can encompass this state.

Not long ago there was talk of an earthquake hitting San Francisco. At that time I established an insurance policy which guaranteed that there would be no such disaster. In fact, as long as I am in this city, there will be no such problem; however, if I am not in San Francisco, I will not pay any attention to this matter. While I am here, I assure you that this city will not go into the sea, simply because' I am not interested in going personally nor am I interested in having any of my disciples visit the dragon king and the eighteen tailed, eight-headed Jao. I'm not being selfish about this, it is just that not much good can come of your seeing him.


      In addition, all the great ghost kings from the Saha and other worlds assembled together. They were the Evil Eyed Ghost King, the Blood Eating Ghost King, the Essence and Energy, Eating Ghost King, the Womb and Egg Eating Ghost King, the Sickness Spreading Ghost King, the Poison Gathering Ghost King, the Kindhearted Ghost King, the Blessings and Profit Ghost King.  the Great Love and Respect Ghost King, and others.


      Most people explain the word "all" in the phrase all the great ghost kings as meaning many, but I explain it differently, and say that it means few. In fact, it means one. Someone will object and ask why I explain "all," a word that everyone knows to be plural, as one. I just like to because I am an extraordinarily stupid man. When there are many numbers, I simply can't remember them, but one is simple enough to remember. Two requires a bit of brainwork and thought. If the Sutra text is explained as "many," we must ask just exactly how large "many" is, and we find that it is an infinite amount, a bothersome thing. Consequently, I explain "all" as meaning "one." This is the point where my explanations of sutras differ from most other people.

All the great ghost kings means one ghost king, the one I happen to be explaining at any particular moment. There are the Evil Eyed Ghost King, the Poison Collecting Ghost King, and others, but I'll just explain them one at a time, and not lump them together. Of course 'ail' can be taken to mean the collectivity of ghost kings as a whole, yet at the same time it means any particular one.

A moment ago I said that I explained "all" this way because I liked to, but it was unprincipled of me to say this. I'd better explain my reasons in more detail so you won't have nagging doubts about this matter. Where do the many come from? They come from the one. In fact, the many do not even come from one. But because we say that the many comes from the one, there is no way not to start with one. Once that has been counted, it is possible to count a second followed by a third and so forth. Thus one is limitless, and the limitless all return to one. A single one disperses to become the myriad numbers, the myriad numbers all return to a root of one. Thus, in cultivation, it is important to return to a unity, to one. Cultivation means to cultivate the mind and unify it. There is a saying, "When the one is attained, everything is finished." Once the one is obtained, there are no further matters left. If thoughts are unified, wisdom will manifest; if they are dispersed and many, the one is said to be seeking outside.

If you are able to avoid giving rise to a single thought, everything will manifest. The six organs will mutually function and the covering clouds disperse. In this passage of text we've encountered many ghosts, but if not even a single thought arises, -there will not be a single ghost. Not only will there not be any ghosts, there won't be any spirits either. In fact, there won't be any Bodhisattvas and not even a Buddha. There won't be anything at all, and yet at just that time everything will become manifest. Buddhas will come, Bodhisattvas will come, Arhats, pratyekabuddhas, everything will become manifest because you won't have anything at all. As long as you still have anything, they will not come.

Just this 'all' is the point of the wonderful. Don't let 'all' be 'all', let it be one, and then don't even have that. Then the great ghost kings will become non-existent and run off. When there aren't any ghosts, there isn't any world, and when there isn't any world, well, what is there to be worried about? No worries, no cares, not a single obstacle. This is what is meant by the phrase, "Understand the nature of self and others, be equal to heaven and earth."

When you fathom and end the nature of others, self, and things, you are heaven and earth, and heaven and earth are you. You are all Buddhas and all Buddhas are you. There is no distinction and no discrimination, so how could there possibly be an I, a you, or a he? How could there be a mark of self, of others, of living beings, or a life? There is none of this. If you have nothing at all, how can you have any afflictions? This condition is one of purity and wisdom. When not even a single thought arises, everything manifests, the six organs function together and the clouds disperse—an indescribable state.

Since it is indescribable, isn't it better not to describe it? That wouldn't do at all. I describe it because I like to describe. Even if you don't want me to talk, I shall still do so. Who is it, anyway, who knows that this is indescribable? Who? So, I'm going to keep on talking and discuss all the great ghost kings.

Let's examine the Chinese word for ghost. Take a look, ghosts have long legs. () I really can't measure how long they are, and rather doubt that even Chinese professors would be able to explain this, since the legs of ghosts are so long that there is no way to see where the ghost is. In Chinese, 'ghost' is a homonym of a word, which means to return. Ghosts are defined as 'returning' and so it is said when a person dies, he returns. He returns to the place where he committed offenses.

In English you can say that ghost sounds like the word 'go.' It can be derived as follows: 'go, goes, ghost.' Ghosts go off to hell. In Chinese they return, and in English they go, they go off to the hells, because they consider it their home. Ghosts become confused because they like to run about, going here and there, playing about all over and enjoying what they think is fun. Unsuspectingly they find that they have gone off to the mountain of knives, the tree of swords and the cauldron of oil. They go, go, go, go off to the hells, to the realm of animals, to the hungry ghosts.  Where have the great ghost kings under discussion here gone? They have not gone anywhere, they are right there in hell.

The Essence and Energy Eating Ghost King, Pisaci is Sanskrit, eats the essential energies of both people and plants. The reason for the unexpected decay of energies is that they have been taken by this ghost.

The Womb and Egg Eating Ghost King is responsible for the miscarriages and premature stillbirths which occur.

The Sickness Spreading Ghost King runs about spreading diseases and encouraging epidemics. The Poison Gathering Ghost King, on the other hand, is a beneficial ghost king, who removes poisons from people. Although he is a ghost king, he is really a transformation body of a Bodhisattva. He rescues living beings by gathering the poisons, which they have contracted.

The Kindhearted Ghost King leads other ghosts to resolve their thoughts on enlightenment.

The Essence and Energy Ghost King got his position because he liked to kill, but would not give the flesh of any of the animals he killed to his wife. Not only would he not allow her any of the meat, he would not even give her the blood to drink. Since he wouldn't even give his own wife a mouthful of blood, you can imagine how he treated other people. He was extremely stingy, and as a result has to eat the most unclean things.

The Blessings and Profit Ghost King is actually the spirit of wealth but in this sutra is classified as a ghost king.                                     

(To be continued)


The Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery, and the Vajra Bodhi Sea Publication Society will sponsor the Buddha's Birthday celebrations this year, and cordially invite all Buddhists to attend the anniversary of the birth of, our original teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha. The holiday fails on May 10th this year and the major celebrations and ceremonies will take place on Sunday, May 6th. SET THIS DAY ASIDE NOW!