The Sutra of the Past Vows 
Earth Store Bodhisattva

(Continued from issue 40)

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

Sponsored by the Buddhist 
Text Translation Society

(The complete text and commentary of the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra have been prepared and will appear in book form in the near future.)


Knowing that when she was in the world her mother had not believed in cause and effect, the Brahman woman figured that in accordance with; her karma, her mother would be born in the states of woe. Thereupon she sold the family house, procured incense, flowers, and other items, and performed a great offering in that Buddha's temple. Upon seeing the awesome and majestic image of the Thus Come One Enlightenment Flower Samadhi Self-Sufficient King in the temple, the Brahman woman became doubly respectful. As she gazed at the venerable image she thought to herself, "Buddhas are also called Greatly Enlightened Ones Complete With All Wisdom. If the Buddha were in the world and I were to ask him, he would certainly know where my mother had gone at death."

The Brahman woman wept for a time with lowered head and then fixed her gaze on the Thus Come One. Suddenly a voice was heard in space saying, "O weeping holy woman, do not be so sorrowful. I shall show you where your mother has gone."

The Brahman woman placed her palms together towards space and said, "What spiritual virtue is this who comforts my grief? From the day I lost my mother onwards I have held her in memory day and night, but there is nowhere I can go to ask about the realm of her rebirth."


      As she looked at the image of the Buddha, her gaze became fastened to it as if by a cord, unwilling to leave it. Attentive in body and without any extraneous thoughts, her mind was pure, and she heard a voice address her from space, calling her holy woman. Although her mother had offenses she herself had very good roots and thus could be called by such a name.

The meaning behind the Brahman woman's response to the voice from space is, "My mother bore me and I should have been filial. Now my mother has died because I have not been filial, I am extremely grieved." There is a couplet, which says,

The tree would be still, but the wind will not rest;

The son would maintain them, but the parents are gone.

The kindness of parents is as boundless as the sky, higher than heaven, and broader than earth, and so the Brahman woman felt remorse and shame that she had been unable to repay such compassion.


A voice again resounded from space and said to the holy woman, "I am the one whom you behold and worship, the past Enlightenment Flower Samadhi Self-Sufficient King Thus Come One. Because I have seen that your regard for your mother as double that of ordinary living beings. I will now show you the place of her rebirth."

On hearing this voice the Brahman woman suddenly leapt up and fell back, breaking all her limbs. Those around her picked her up and after she had revived for a while, she spoke into space and said, "Please pity me and quickly tell me my mother's realm; my own death, is not far off."

The Thus Come One, Enlightenment flower Samadhi Self-Sufficient King spoke to the pious woman and said, "After your offering is complete return home quickly, Sit upright thinking of my name and you will certainly know your mother's place of rebirth." After she had finished worshipping the Buddha, the Brahman woman returned home where, mindful of her mother, she sat upright recollecting the Thus Come One Enlightenment Flower Samadhi Self-Sufficient King.

After a day and a night she suddenly saw herself beside a sea whose waters seethed and bubbled. Many horrible beasts with iron bodies flew about above the sea rushing hither and yon. She saw hundreds of thousands of millions of men and women rising and sinking in the water being mauled and devoured by the beasts. She beheld yaksas as well, each with a different form. Some had many hands, some many eyes, some many legs, some many heads.  Sharp swordlike teeth protruded from their mouths, and they drove the offenders on toward the beasts. Some yaksas seized the of tenders and twisted their heads and feet together in myriad horrifying shapes at which none would dare look.


      Why is it that when you study Dharma, nothing much happens. Why was the Brahman woman able to influence the Buddha to speak to her? It was simply a result of her utter sincerity and concern for her mother that the Buddha, who had long since entered nirvana, appeared to speak to her.

Although she had taken a severe fall breaking most of her bones, the Brahman woman finished her offering and made full prostrations to the Buddha in spite of her pain. She then returned home and ignoring her sufferings, sat upright reciting the Buddha's name for an entire day and night. During this time she neither ate nor drank, and did not even relieve herself, but single-mindedly worked at recollecting the Buddha. Then she saw herself by a sea. There is an important point to be clear about. She was not having a dream. Because of her complete sincerity, her spiritual nature left her body.  Within the body there resides the eighth consciousness. When one sits for a long while, forgets pain and stops everything, and has only undeviating single-mindedness, the eighth consciousness may be able to leave the body.  This state may occur to cultivators who sit for long periods of time.

When this occurred the Brahman woman saw herself by the side of a sea.  When the Five Byes in the ordinary flesh body are not opened, such things cannot be seen, but if they are open, ghosts, spirits, Bodhisattvas, Buddhas, everything is visible. Even if the flesh body of a cultivator has not opened the Five Eyes, his spiritual nature has them, and when it leaves the body it can see all manner of things.

When she found herself by the side of the boiling sea full of people being devoured by evil beasts, she also saw a great many yaksas, "speedy ghosts," who run and fly at about the speed of light. Because people are smarter than beasts, the men and women in the sea occasionally managed to outwit the animals and escape, only to be confronted by yaksas. Behind them were beasts; before them were yaksas, and there was no place to hide. There is a line, which says, "Ahead there is no road to take, behind the soldiers pushed." Both the beasts and the yaksas seized the people in their talons. Sometimes yaksas grabbed the beasts and twisted their feet and heads together, and occasionally the beasts would do the same thing to the yaksas.  Both of them twisted and tied the offending people into the most grotesque and hideous forms possible, shapes that no one would even dare look at.


During this time the Brahman woman was calm and fearless due to the power of recollecting the Buddha. A ghost king named Poisonless bowed and came to welcome the holy woman and said, "Excellent, 0 Bodhisattva. Why have you come here?"

The Brahman woman asked the ghost king. "What is this place?"

Poisonless replied, "This is the first sea of the western face of the Great Iron Ring Mountain."

The holy woman said, "I have heard that hell is within the Iron Ring. Is this actually so?"

Poisonless answered, "Hell is really here."

The holy woman asked, "How have I now come to the hells?"

Poisonless answered, "No one can come here unless he has either awesome spirit or the required karma."

The holy woman asked. "Why is this water seething, and bubbling and why are there so many criminals and evil beasts?"

      Poisonless replied, "These are the newly dead beings of Jambudvipa who have done evil deeds and who, during the first forty-nine days after their death, had no survivors to perform acts of merit on their behalf and rescue them from difficulty. Moreover, during their lives they made no good causes. According to their own deeds the hells appear, and they must first fathom this sea. Ten thousand yohjanas east of this sea is yet another sea, which has double to sufferings of this one. East of that is yet another sea where the sufferings are doubled yet again. The combined evil causes that the Three Karmic Vehicles evoke are called the sea of karma. This is that place."


      The Great Iron Ring Mountain is one of the mountains outside Mount Sumeru, and beyond it is hell. Hell exists and is not merely a human fiction. The only way to reach hell is either through spiritual penetrations and virtuous conduct, or by committing offenses.

The Three Karmic Vehicles are the body, mouth and mind. There are three evils enacted by the body: killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. There are three of the mind: greed, hatred, and stupidity. The mouth can commit four evil deeds: vulgar speech, false speech, harsh speech, and duplicity.  Vulgar speech is improper talk of sexual affairs; false speech is lying; harsh speech is scolding and berating others; and duplicity is saying to Smith that Jones is wrong, and then to Jones that Smith is wrong, one tongue speaking in two ways. Taken together, these are called the Three Vehicles of Karma.


      The holy woman again asked the ghost king Poisonless, "Where is hell?"

Poisonless answered, "Within the three seas are hundreds of thousands of great hell, each one different. There are eighteen, which are specifically known as great hells. In succession there are five hundred with unlimited cruel sufferings, and further there are over one hundred thousand with limitless sufferings."

The holy woman again asked the great ghost king. "My mother has not been dead long, and I do not know on what path her soul has gone."

The ghost king asked, "When the Bodhisattva's mother was alive, what were her habitual deeds?"

The holy woman replied, "My mother had wrong views and ridiculed and slandered the Triple Jewel. Even if she occasionally believed, it was short-lived and turned again to disrespect. Although she has been dead but a few days, I do not know the place of her rebirth."

Poisonless asked, "What was the Bodhisattva's mother’s name and clan?"

The holy woman replied, "My parents were both Brahmans, my father's name was Sila Sudarshan, my mother's name was Yueh Ti Li."


The word "sea" represents a large quantity, and does not necessarily denote an actual body of water. Here it symbolizes the powerful karma of living beings, as vast as limitless seas. The three seas represent the deeds done by the bodies, mouths, and minds of living beings.

There are hundreds of thousands, of ten thousands of hells, each one with its own attributes, each hell corresponding to an evil deed done by a living being. Hells are not prepared before beings fail into them; rather they are manifestations of the various particular karmas of beings. Whatever evil deed a being has done elicits a corresponding hell.

For example, in the roasting hell there is a large hollow brass pillar full of fire. Those guilty of sexual misconduct fail into this hell and see the roasting pillar as a person. Men, for example, see it as a beautiful woman whom they rush to embrace, only to find themselves burned so badly that they cannot pull their seared flesh away from the pillar. A woman sees the pillar as her most beloved partner in life, and rushes to him only to be seared to death.

As soon as death occurs in the roasting hell, a wind called "The Clever Breeze," a wonderful dharma, blows and revives the dead who then forget the painful consequences of their behavior, recalling only its pleasurable aspects. Driven by this memory they rush to the pillar again, only to find the cycle repeated. The roasting hell is only one of the many hells, and each one is unique. Eighteen are called great, and within each of these eighteen there are eighteen subsections.

The ghost king knew that the woman must have come to the hells because of her great spirit and vows, and consequently he addressed her as Bodhisattva. The Brahman woman had to admit that she could not hide her mother's errors and flaws, and told the ghost that her mother had held wrong views, "Improper views" is one of the Five Sharp Causes which are:

1. View of a body:

2. Extreme views,

3. Improper views,

4. Seizing on views, and

5. Views of prohibitions.

The first of these, the view of a body, is the constant drive to pamper the body and never let it sustain the slightest loss or discomfort. People whose actions are based on this view may eat themselves into obesity thinking that the more flesh the better the health. Day in and day out, there is nothing but constant concern for the maintenance of the body.

Those with "extreme views" maintain radical positions tenaciously. If a person whose behavior is characterized by extreme views likes to smoke, for example, and is told by others that it is harmful and should be given up, he may stubbornly reply that his advisor obviously has not yet understood the wonderful advantages of the habit, for if he had, he too would not give it up. Extremist views lead people to propound all sorts of bombastic arguments to defend themselves, and while they may talk cleverly, they are truly stupid.

People with improper views maintain totally erroneous views. For example, hearing the virtues of filial piety praised, they might reply that it is useless, that parents only have children as a result of desire for pleasure, and that they should be ignored, or even better, allowed to die a little sooner to save the world the trouble of supporting them.

The fourth of the five, grasping at views, is characterized by seizing and holding on to any number of improper views.

The fifth, views of prohibitions, is characterized by maintaining improper precepts. For example, once when some people heard that Buddhists are vegetarians, they replied that anyone can do so simple a thing as abstain from meat, but one who had real ability would abstain from salt. This type of behavior leads to slander and ridicule of the Triple Jewel, for such persons are apt to find fault with anything at all. Their behavior is similar to horse-traders who will closely inspect a fine horse by diligently blowing on the hairs of the mane to expose minor skin blemishes.

People who ridicule and slander the Triple Jewel will say things such as, "How are Buddhists different from any other people? They eat, drink and do what everyone else does. They too have flaws; as a matter of fact, they're totally criminal elements of society who will do anything at all. The Buddha is just an image, the Dharma is nothing but ordinary words on paper, and the Sangha is made up of ordinary folk who are not the least bit deserving of respect."

When people speak like this they sometimes lead those who believe in the Buddha to hide their faith away and be secret Buddhists. Some time ago a man who comes to this temple occasionally said that he wished to take refuge, but only if he could do so in secret. I did not accept him. Taking refuge with the Triple Jewel is not like stealing. Why do it in secret? I told him that there was no secret refuge taking here, and that he had better wait until he was a little more clear about it all. His problem was that he was a Catholic and feared that many of his friends would brand him a heretic. I told him that if he tried to keep it a secret he would be an even greater criminal. How can anyone believe in the Buddha and still act in such a fashion? How pitiful. Those who believe in the Buddha should have an eternal faith, not like the Brahman woman's mother who believed one hour and disbelieved the next. Don't be a "five-minute blaze" so that, after a brief but ardent moment of belief, you turn around and say boldly, "What is so wonderful about this?"

Within the Indian caste system there were four major groups: Brahmans, the pure caste; Ksatriyas, he royal class; Vaisyas the merchant class; Candalas, the butchers and the like. Those of the lowest glasses could not walk on the same roads as the pure Brahmans, and even had to wear insignia so that they could be recognized. India, like England, extremely class conscious society, and those of the upper classes might not even dare speak of lower class persons lest they be scorned by their peers.

The Brahman woman's father's name means "cool and refreshing good view." Her mother's name has been transcribed into Chinese, and there is no commentarial tradition to explain the original Sanskrit. In spite of this I shall go ahead and give a commentary.

The first character used to transcribe the name, Yueh, means "to be favored," and the second character, Ti, means "an emperor." Thus her name can be explained as meaning that she was favored by the emperor because of her great beauty. There is nothing fixed about people's names, and they can be explained in any way provided the explanation is reasonable.


      Poisonless placed his palms together respectfully and told the Bodhisattva, "Please, Holy One, return to your original dwelling. Do not be worried or sorrowful, for the criminal woman Yueh Ti Li was born in the heavens three days ago. It is said that she was succeeded by a filial child who made offerings and cultivated merit for her sake in the temple of Enlightenment Flower Samadhi Self-Sufficient King, Thus Come One. Not only has the Bodhisattva’s mother obtained release from hell, but in response to her merit, other offenders deserving of uninterrupted retribution have also attained bliss and have been reborn." When the ghost king was finished speaking, he placed his palms together and withdrew.

      The Brahman woman quickly returned as if from a dream, understood what had happened, and swore a deep vow before Enlightenment Flower Samadhi Self-Sufficient King Thus Come One’s image in the temple saying, "I vow to establish many expedient devices in response to living beings who are suffering for offenses. Until the end of future aeons, I shall cause those beings to obtain liberation."


     When the text says that she understood what had happened, it means that when she returned, she remembered the entire episode with Poisonless clearly, and knew that it was not a false imagining or a dream, but was rather due to the power of the Buddha. She thereupon made the vow, which reaches throughout unending aeons.


      The Buddha told Manjusri, "The ghost king Poisonless is the present Bodhi saliva Wealthy Leader. The Brahman woman is now Earth Store Bodhisattva.


There are seven treasures of cultivation, all of which have been attained by the Bodhisattva Wealthy Leader. They are faith, morality, learning, giving, wisdom, a sense of shame, and a sense of remorse.

(To be continued)


Names of those who have generously supported the Triple Jewel

Upasaka Kuo Fa Olson                            $ 200.00

Upasaka Wong Kuo Chun, Nigeria                   1449.00

John Mikolajeik                                    15.00

Upasika Kuo Chou Baur                               5.00

John Lara                                          20.00

Upasika Kuo Ching Wilkes                           10.00

Bhiksuni Heng Hsien                               450.00

Upasika Kuo Ming Dorney                            25.00

Upasika Hsu I Chun                                 22.00

Upasaka Kuo Kuei and Upasika Kuo Tsong Bach        20.00

Joseph H. Chan                                     10.00

Upasika Kuo Chin Vickers                         2100.00

Upasika Tan Kuo Shih                               10.00

Upasika Kan Kuo Yen                                10.00

Upasika Kuo An                                     10.00

Upasika Kuo Yuan Larrick                           15.00

Upasaka I Kuo Jung                                 10.00

Upasaka Lian-Zen Liu, Taiwan                     1000.00

Upasika Kuo Chi Lee                                10.00

Bhiksu Heng Ching                                  50.00

Upasika Chou-nan Lai for her family                20.00

Upasika Kuo Chu Antalek                            20.76

Upasika Kuo Ts’an Epstein                          20.00

Upasika Kuo Hsing Powell                           35.00

Upasika Ho Kuo Ho                                  18.00