The Sutra of the Past Vows 
Earth Store Bodhisattva

--Translated by Disciple Bhiksu Heng Ching

Sponsored by the Buddhist Text Translation Society



Chapter Two


At that time the divided bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva assembled in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven from a hundred thousand tens of thousands of millions of inconceivable, unutterable,immeasurable, ineffable, asamkyeyas of worlds, from all the places where there are hells. Because of the spiritual power of the Thus Come One, each came from his own direction together with thousands of ten thousands of nayutas of those who had obtained liberation from the paths of karma. All came holding incense and flowers as offerings to the Buddha. Due to the teachings of Earth Store Bodhisattva all of those who came were irreversible from Anutterasamyaksambodhi, even though long kalpas ago they had flowed as waves in birth and death, undergoing suffering within the six paths without even temporary respite. Because of Earth Store Bodhisattva's great compassion and deep vows, however, each bad born testimony to the fruity. When they came to the Trayastrimsa Heaven, their hearts jumping, they gazed at the Thus Come One, their eyes not leaving him for a moment.


It could be said that the divided body is also the "divided spirit," "divided nature  ," or "divided heart." Bodhisattvas have a kind of a spiritually efficacious response, and thus it is said, "A penetration effected, everywhere there is response." This is also what is meant by the phrase,

A thousand pools of water,

Moons in a thousand pools

Ten thousand miles without a cloud,

Ten thousand miles of sky.

The moon is reflected in as many pools of water as there are; if there are ten thousand pools, there are as many reflected moons. The moon in the pool represents the "spiritual" being discussed here. It is also "nature" and you might say a "thought" as well. Although there are the appearances of a thousand moons reflected in a thousand pools, the substance of the moon does not divide.

Likewise, the divided bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva do not exist except in response to the circumstances created by living beings. By way of a simple analogy, the divided bodies are like photographs. Originally, there is just one person, but limitless copies of his photograph may be made. The difference between photographs and divided bodies is that the photographs do not have the ability to function, spiritual response, or breath of life. The divided bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva, on the other hand, are identical with his original body, and are referred to as the "hundred thousand million transformation bodies." Wherever Earth Store Bodhisattva sees a hell, no matter where in the world system of a billion worlds it may be, he dispatches a transformation body to teach living beings there. He does this in accord with his vow to teach all the living beings in the hells.

The number of worlds from which the divided bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva returned to the Trayastrimsa Heaven is completely beyond calculation or comprehension for the divided bodies exist because of the needs of limitless living beings who are flowing, floating and drowning, dying and then being reborn again and again in the wheel of life and death, as many as waves on the sea. Because of Earth Store Bodhisattva's great compassion and deep vows, many had born testimony to the fruits of the pain.  He vowed, "If hells are not emptied I vow not to become a Buddha, when living beings have all been saved, I will attain to Bodhi." Their hearts jumped for joy, and they gazed at the Thus Come One, their eyes not leaving him for a moment. This is a sign of utmost sincerity.


      At that time the World Honored One stretched forth his golden colored arm and rubbed the crown of all the divided bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva from the hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of unthinkable, unutterable, unmeasurable, ineffable, limitless asamkyeya of worlds and said, "I reach and transform obstinate living beings within the evil worlds of the Five Turbidities, causing their minds to be regulated and subdued, to renounce the improper and return to the proper. One or two of ten, however, have remaining bad habits and I, too, divide into hundreds of thousands of millions of bodies in order to establish numerous expedient devices for them. There are those of sharp roots who hear and then faithfully accept, there are others who have already reaped good retribution and who have been energetically exhorted to accomplishment. Yet others whose karma is heavy, do not give rise to respect. The division bodies cross over and release all of these manifold kinds of living beings by manifesting the bodies of men, women, heavenly dragons, spirits, or ghosts. They may manifest as mountains, forests, streams, springs, and rivers, as lakes, fountains, or wells in order to benefit people. All of these may save beings. The bodies of Divine Emperors, Brahma Kings, Wheel Turning Kings, laymen, Kings of Countries, Prime Ministers, officials, bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas, sound hearers, arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and Bodhisattvas, as well as others may manifest in order to teach and rescue beings. It is not only the body of a Buddha which manifests."


The World Honored One rubbed the limitless crowns of the transformation bodies by means of his total psychic power, which enables one arm to become a hundred thousand, and said, "I teach and transform obstinate living beings within the evil world of the Five Turbidities. Perhaps "obstinate living beings" includes you, perhaps someone else. Anyone who does not follow the teachings and continues to be unruly is obstinate. It particularly means many Americans who very strongly dislike following rules. Just look at the situation here. As soon as children reach a certain age, they begin to ask why there have to be so many rules. Unruly adults come from children who do not like to follow rules.

The Five Turbidities.

1. Time,


3. Afflictions,

4. Living beings, and

5. Life.

Subdued minds are harmonious and delight in receiving Dharma, neither opposing or doubting it. Sharp roots refers to those whose merit from past lives is extremely great, who are intelligent and who have a great deal of wisdom. On hearing Dharma they accept it. There are also those who have reaped good retribution. In past lives they may have done deeds to plant the seeds, which bear good fruit.

Those who have been energetically exhorted to accomplishment have been exhorted more than once. If, for example, you decide to cross someone over, and are not initially successful, keep trying. If they are far off, write letters explaining Buddhadharma to them, and if they are nearby, visit with them now and again and discuss Buddhism.

Cross others over, but do not be crossed over by others. For example, you set out to cross someone over to believe in the Buddhadharma, and what happens. He makes a Christian cut of you. This is what is meant by being crossed over by others. To cross over others is to have wisdom; to be crossed over by others is to be stupid. Therefore, the "taxi says energetically. Do not exhort others once or twice, but do so many times, if you have not been effective, keep at it again and again, right up to the point where you become a Buddha.

There are those who are dark and dull, stupid, who must long be transformed in order to return. Long means not merely once or twice, not even three or four times. Here, however, it is simply a matter of an unfixed time. If I can not cross you over in one day, then I will do it in two or three, in a month, a year or even three, four, or five. My resolve to cross you over will be a long lasting one, so that eventually you will come to believe in the Buddha.

Sakyamuni Buddha divides into many bodies in order to release ail beings, each of whom has its own particular circumstances and its own karma. These transformation bodies manifest in many forms, perhaps as a handsome man in order to cross over a woman, or perhaps as a beautiful woman to cross over men. He does this because he knows that because of their heavy desires, most living beings like relationships between men and women. Consequently, the Buddha manifests in accordance with this basic nature of living beings to teach them.

The transformation bodies may be divine beings or dragons in order to cross over gods and dragons. They may be the imposing spiritual virtues of spirits, or the bodies of great ghost kings. Mountains, forests, streams and springs are all manifestations of the Thus Come One's Dharma Body. We, along with all of San Francisco, are sitting in the Thus Come One's Dharma Body and just don't know it. "Old Gold Mountain (San Francisco) was manifest by the Buddha long ago in order to benefit the living beings who might live here. Although the text says mountains, forests, streams, and springs don't think that the level earth is not the Buddha's Dharma body, for it is. We are all a part of the Buddha's Dharma body but can't see it, because we are like ants walking along the ground, unable to get the big picture. We are tiny bugs on the Dharma-body, we just don't know it.

A mountain may manifest, for example, and as you climb it you may receive its spiritual energies and resolve upon the thought of enlightenment.  You may smell the fresh air of the Buddha's Dharma body while in the forest, and become enlightened.

You should not think that five hundred years after the Buddha's nirvana it became impossible to reach enlightenment; it is possible to do so even now. The only thing to be feared is that you will not work. If you do work, I will provide guaranteed insurance for you. When you have opened enlightenment, you will be able to collect on the policy. Of course, once you have opened enlightenment, you will not want to bother collecting the money, and so I'll still come out ahead on the deal.

You may be bathing in a river and feel very comfortable, after which you open enlightenment; the river is just a manifestation of Sakyamuni Buddha. The water from wells is the same way; you may drink it, and day by day your resolve for the Way increases. All of these are unthinkable events.  In general, every move of the Buddha's is for the sake of benefiting living beings.               

While you sit in meditation Sakyamuni Buddha may manifest the body of a heavenly emperor who bows to you and tells you that he is lord of the heavens. He comes to encourage you because you have firmly resolved to attain the Way.

A sagely wheel turning king has many kinds of precious treasures among which is a flying chariot pulled by a horse faster than a rocket. Our rockets, which can go to the moon, require quite some time to get there. The flying chariot of the wheel turning king, however, can go everywhere within the world system of a million worlds within an hour, not merely to the moon and nearby planets, but to other galaxies. A wheel turning king also has a treasure storehouse; wherever he needs money he he just states the amount and the earth opens up, revealing as much as he requires. Because his blessing retribution is so great, all the wealth of the earth is prepared for him to use.

Among his treasures are women. Whenever sagely wheel turning kings wish for a woman, one spontaneously appears. Everything accords with the will of such a king, and he is not subject to the suffering of not getting what he wants. The Buddha may manifest the appearance of such a wheel turning king, and when living beings see it, they resolve their thoughts on the Way. Not to speak of wheel turning kings, one never knows which of you laymen might be a manifestation of the Buddha. Bhiksus, bhiksunis, upasakas, upasikas, Sakyamuni manifests many bodies besides his own Buddha-body to cross over living beings,


      The Buddha continued, saying, "Regard my accumulated kalpas of energetic suffering to cross over and liberate difficult to transform and obstinate living beings who suffer from offenses. Those among them who have not submitted undergo responses according to their karma. If they should fall into the states of woe and endure a time of great suffering, you should remember my repeated entrustment made in the Palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven: I will cause all living beings in the Saha World, until the advent of Maitreya, to attain liberation, to leave suffering eternally, to encounter Buddhas and receive their prophecies."

      At that time the divided bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva from all the worlds returned together to a single form which, weeping with pity, said to the Buddha, "Throughout long kalpas I have received the Buddha’s guidance which has caused me to obtain inconceivable spiritual power and great wisdom. The bodies which I divide fill as many worlds as there are grains of sand in a hundred thousand tens of thousands of people and causes them to return respectively to the Triple Jewel, eternally leave birth and death, and reach the bliss of Nirvana. Even if their good deeds within the Buddha Dharma are as little as a hair, a drop, a grain of sand, a mote of dust, or a strand of down, I shall gradually cause them to be liberated and attain great benefit. World Honored One, do not be concerned for the sake of living beings with evil karma in the future." Thus he spoke three times. "World Honored One, do not be concerned for the sake of living beings with evil karma in the future."

      At that time the Buddha praised Earth Store Bodhisattva and said, "Very good, very good, I shall help in this work you so willingly undertake. When you fulfill these great vows after long and distant kalpas, you will instantly testify to Bodhi."


You should contemplate accumulated kalpas, a period so long that it cannot be known. Throughout this time Sakyamuni Buddha will energetically undergo suffering without a moment for laziness, happiness or pleasure, in order to release and cross over living beings. Don't think, "Oh, well, I'm probably not included." You are certainly included among difficult to transform and obstinate living beings. How much of his heart's blood has Sakyamuni Buddha expended to transform and teach us, and yet we still do not know a sense of shame. We think that everything is just fine and that there is no problem. "It's not so important," we say, "if Sakyamuni Buddha has to suffer a bit more, it's no matter. I don't have to study Buddhadharma now because it will not matter if I mess around for a while. Why, I'll just take a few more drugs and everything will be just fine." You explain principle for yourself in this way, and act as your own defense lawyer.

Although Earth Store Bodhisattva's one body divides to become many bodies, the many return together and become one. The many bodies are just one and the one is many. To speak of this a little more deeply, there are neither many nor one body; Earth Store Bodhisattva basically has no body at all. How can we say this? It is because he has no thought of a self. Although he has many bodies, they are not many, and although he has one body, it is not one.  One is many, many is one. Earth Store Bodhisattva divides into many bodies, which then all return to one. Which of all these bodies is Earth Store Bodhisattva? Which one is not? Would you say that any particular one of these bodies is his? You could say that, and one, of them is. Yet you could say that it is not. You could say that any body he manifests is his body. According to the markless body, however, you could say that there is fundamentally, no appearance at all, and therefore you could say that these are not his divided bodies.

You could also say that any person who vows to study the conduct of Earth Store Bodhisattva is his divided body and is no different from him.  People wish to study his conduct because they respect his behavior, his wisdom and his vows. In fact, you are one of Earth Store Bodhisattva divided bodies, and that is why you like him. Act in accord with his resolve and vows, and you are his transformation body. If you can cultivate in accord with the Buddhadharma, have a self-nature which is complete with blessings, and wisdom, if you understand the mind and see the nature, you too will have spiritual powers and will be able to return to Earth Store Bodhisattva.  Return together to a single form means to return to the origin, to go back to the source.

      Earth Store Bodhisattva wept with pity for four reasons. First, the living beings in the Six Paths commit karma and do not change their behavior.  They continue to commit offenses in the realms of the hells, hungry ghosts, humans, animals and gods, and still know no sense of shame.

Second, living beings are stubborn and difficult to teach. If you explain the Buddhadharma to beings, they often do not listen, but if you rap non-Dharma with them, they enjoy it. If, for example, you praise someone, talk about how learned and well behaved he is, people will not pay much attention. If, on the other hand, you speak ill of others, they will listen avidly. "Why, did you know, so and so is so clever that he does scores of things you'll never find out about." Yes, people will pay a great deal of attention to this sort of tale, but they will not believe when you tell them to study the Buddhadharma.

If you tell them about a mysterious drug, which brings about wonderful and mystical changes, they want to give it a try. Many take marijuana and LSD and other confusing drugs because they are looking for these changes. They become confused and muddled yet feel that they have ended up in the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Although these states are basically harmful when they experience them and feel that everything has been transformed, not even heaven and earth are as great as they are.  When their drug experience is over, however, they are exhausted, have headaches, and general body pains.  Sometimes they do not want to work, but just lay about like corpses, not waking up and never figuring things out. They never wonder how they have come to such a state, but only think that if they take a little bit more dope, they will become enlightened. And so they continue to violate laws and deal in drugs. Wouldn't you say that this is an ultimate form of idiocy?

Third, the Thus Come One was about to enter Nirvana, the sun of wisdom was about to set and Earth Store Bodhisattva was sorrowful.

Fourth, in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, Sakyamuni Buddha instructed Earth Store Bodhisattva to work until Maitreya appeared in the world, crossing over living beings so that they might encounter Buddhas and receive predictions of enlightenment. This extremely important responsibility was given to Earth Store Bodhisattva.

Spiritual powers are wonderful and unfathomable; there is no way that these powers can be known. Yet if you wish to cross living beings over, you must have these powers. Spiritual power, moreover, is not sufficient in itself; you must also have great wisdom. Wisdom and the spiritual powers aid one another. To obtain them we should first take refuge with the Triple Jewel because before this we are outside the Buddhadharma. Taking refuge is called "casting off the improper and returning to the proper, leaving the dark and entering the light." Therefore one takes refuge with the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

To reach the bliss of nirvana, which has the Four Qualities of permanence, bliss, self, and purity, one must have done good deeds. A hair represents the lightest of good deeds; a drop represents the fewest; "grain of sand represents the most minute of good deeds, and a mote of dust represents the smallest. A hair is extremely light, a drop of water is a very small quantity, the most miniscule particle of sand is a grain, and a mote of dust borders on emptiness, that is to say, one seventh the size of the smallest particle visible to the naked eye. This is where the work begins.

Great benefit refers to becoming a Buddha. Just look how great this benefit is. Earth Store Bodhisattva, with his great wisdom, uses all kinds of inconceivable and wonderful methods so that even if you want to avoid receiving his teaching, you cannot do so. This is what is meant by the phrase from Confucius, "Wishing to stop and yet unable." You might say that you are going to stop studying the Buddhadharma, but you have no way to actually do so. Ah. The wonder is just this very point. Who makes you this way? It is simply through the wonderful function of that Good Knowing Advisor, Earth Store Bodhisattva, of great vows.

Earth Store Bodhisattva spoke these words to the Buddha to say that he would take care of all living beings! "Give the responsibility to me," he said, "if living beings have not become Buddhas, I too will not become a Buddha. When the hells have all been emptied, I attain to Buddhahood; when living beings have all been saved, I will accomplish Bodhi."

He spoke these words three times to show the importance of the matter under discussion. Laws, for example, are passed in this way after they are read three times, with no objections, they are considered passed. In this case, however, it is not a question of passing or not passing, but merely a matter of showing the importance of the statement.

On hearing this, wouldn't you say that we ought to be happy? We have committed so many offenses, and yet we still have the opportunity to become Buddhas. Ah, how high, how deep is this kindness. So it is said, "Looking up, there is none loftier, drill in, and there is none more firm." This Bodhisattva's state is truly inconceivable.

On hearing Earth Store Bodhisattva's guarantee that all beings would accomplish the Way, the Buddha was pleased and said "Very good, very good."  The Bodhisattva spoke to the Buddha three times, and now, the Buddha replies twice for the same reason.

There are basically Four Great Vows: I vow to save unending living beings; I vow to cut off interminable afflictions; I vow to learn immeasurable Dharma Doors; I vow to perfect the unsurpassed Buddha Way.

Now that these vows have been put into English, you should ask yourself every day, "Have I saved living beings, or have I been crossed over by them?  Did I start out believing in the Buddha and then, after being told by someone else of the glory of Jesus' crucifixion, did I become a Christian?" If this is the case, then you have been crossed over by others and have not saved them.

The same investigation should be made for the other three vows. "I vow to cut off interminable afflictions. Is it the case that if someone spoke to me harshly I got angry and raged in ignorance? If this is the case, then just what have I cut off?" If you find that you have not been afflicted, you still can't claim to have attained anything. Just wait for an opportunity that tests you, and see if you have really cut off all of your afflictions. If you have not done so, you have only studied the Buddhadharma superficially, but if you have cut them off, you have obtained the inner function and entered into the sea of Buddhadharma.

"I vow to learn the unlimited Dharma Doors." The doors and entrances into the Buddhadharma are unlimited; it is said that there are eighty-four thousand of them, but how could the doors of the Buddhadharma stop at eighty-four thousand? There are far far more than that. Don't just think, "I have now learned to recite the Surangama Mantra and that is fine enough." Take a look at the Tripitaka, vast like the sea. If you have only obtained a hair, drop, grain of sand, or dust mote's worth, you cannot say that you have understood Buddhadharma. If you really penetrate the Buddhadharma and are able to drink the great sea dry in a single gulp, then you have understood.  If you cannot do this, you still have to study.

"I vow to accomplish the unsurpassed Buddha Way." This does not need further certification. If we had accomplished Buddhahood, we would not have any of these questions , for they would all be resolved. Of course, if you have not become a Buddha, you cannot pretend to be one as some people do and say, "Not only am I a Buddha, so are you. Everyone is Buddha."

Just what kind of a Buddha are you? A greedy Buddha? A hateful Buddha?  A stupid Buddha? An afflicted Buddha? Do not follow arrogant frauds who say they are Buddha s when they are not, who say they are enlightened when they are not.

The time Earth Store will testify to Bodhi will be at the extreme limit of the future. Is it then the case that he will never have an opportunity to accomplish Bodhi? Don't worry about that. Earth Store Bodhisattva accomplished Bodhi long long ago. If he had not done so, he would not have such inconceivable great spiritual power and wisdom. He is just waiting for you and me to accomplish it as well. For these reasons we should all be courageous and vigorous in working toward Bodhi, toward enlightenment,

(to be continued)


The Vajra Bodhi Sea Publication Society announces that translations under preparation by the Buddhist Text Translation Society of the Sino-American Buddhist Association are now nearing completion and will be published in the near future.  There works will be made available to members and friends of the Sino-American Buddhist Association and to libraries and schools at reduced prices if orders are placed prior to publication, as follows:

Prepublication    retail

The Amitabha Sutra                        6.00              13.00

The Ten Dharma-realms                                        4.00

The Diamond Sutra                         6.00              13.00

The One Hundred Dharmas                   4.00               8.00

Essays: Water and Mirror Reflections      3.00               6.00

The Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra

Gathas on the Forty-two Bands             4.00               7.00

The Dharani Sutra                         6.00              12.00