The Sutra of the Past Vows 
Earth Store Bodhisattva

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


Chapter Four


      At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, because I have received the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, the Thus Come One, I divide my body and rescue living beings from their karmic retributions everywhere throughout hundreds of thousands of millions of worlds. If it were not for the great compassionate strength of the Thus Come One, I would be unable to perform such changes and transformations. Now, I receive the World Honored One’s entrustment; until the coming of Ajita, I will cause all living beings in the Six Paths to attain liberation. So it is, World Honored One, please do not be concerned."


Earth Store Bodhisattva does not brag, "I have great spiritual penetrations, far reaching wisdom, and charismatic eloquence." Instead, he says humbly that because he has received the Buddha's power, he is able to divide his body and rescue living beings who have doubts, commit karma, and undergo subsequent retributions. The process by which the divided bodies, which did not formerly exist, come into being is called "transformation."

Ajita is another name of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and it means both "invincible" and "the kind one." Since there is no one who can overcome him, he can be victorious over all comers, and since he can't be defeated, he constantly laughs and is never angry. It is from this that his wisdom comes.


      At that time the Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "Living beings who have not yet obtained liberation have unfixed natures and consciousnessThey may practice evil or good and reap the corresponding karma. Their good or evil acts arise in accordance with their states, and they turn in the Five Paths without a moment's rest. They pass through kalpas as numerous as dust-motes, confused, deluded, obstructed, and with difficulty, like fish swimming through nets. They may slip about through the nets for a long time, but after temporary liberation, they again are snagged. It is for such as these that I would be concerned, but since you have made extensive vows, and sworn to crossover such offenders throughout many kalpas. I have no cause for worry."


      People who have unfixed natures and consciousness have no determined resolve. First they decide to study the Buddhadharma for a while, and then they suddenly change their minds. Their good or evil acts arise in accordance with their states. If they encounter a healthy environment, good friends who explain Dharma and teach them to benefit others, they follow along in study.  If they meet bad friends who lead them into total debauchery, they follow along with them and their good acts cease.

      The same process of influences is at work everywhere. If you are always together with energetic people, bit by bit you too become vigorous. If you hang around lazy people, even though you may be energetic by nature, you too become lazy. This is what is meant by the proverb, "Get near the rouge and turn red, get near the ink and turn black." Things take on the color to which they are exposed. Dye cloth tan and it becomes tan; put it in yellow dye and it turns yellow. If you become friends with drinkers, you unsuspectingly become one of them; if you run with dopers, you end up like them. We should always be cautious in choosing our friends, since it is their advice to which we listen most. If your friends are good ones, you should listen to them, but if they are bad, they should be ignored.
      The Five Paths are the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, and gods. Living beings turn in them like fish swimming through nets. The analogies in the Buddhist Sutras certainly are fitting.


      When this was said, a Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, named Samadhi Self-Existent King arose from the midst of the assembly and said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, what vows has Earth Store Bodhisattva made during these many kalpas that he now receives the World Honored One’s special praisePlease, World Honored One, speak about this."

The World Honored One said to Samadhi Self-Existent King, "Listen attentively,
this well. I shall now explain this matter for you."


A Mahasattva is a great being. Because he cultivated samadhi and attained a self-contained existence, this Bodhisattva is called Samadhi Self-Existent King. 


      Once, limitless asamkhyeyas of nayutas of kalpas ago, there was a Buddha named All Knowledge Accomplished Thus Come One, the One Worthy of Offerings, the One of Right and Equal Enlightenment, the One Perfect in Clarity and Conduct, the Well Gone Forth One, the Unsurpassed Scholar Who Comprehends the World, the Valiant Tamer and Guide, the Master of Gods and Men, the Buddha, the World Honored One. That Buddha’s lifespan was sixty thousand kalpas. Before leaving home he had been the king of a small country, and was friendly with the king of a neighboring country with whom he practiced the Ten Good Deeds and benefited living beings. Because the citizens of these countries did many evil acts, the kings agreed to perfect expedient devices for them. One vowed, "I will accomplish the Buddha Way
, and then cross over all the others without exception."

      The other king vowed, "If I do not first cross over all those who suffer for their
, and cause them to attain peace and Bodhi, I shall not accomplish Buddhahood."

      The Buddha told the Bodhisattva Samadhi Self-Existent King, "The king who vowed to become a Buddha quickly is All Knowing Accomplished Thus Come One. The King who vowed not to become a Buddha until he had seen all others safely across is Earth Store Bodhisattva."


Asamkhyeya and nayuta are the names of very large numbers which describe the time when All Knowledge Accomplished Thus Come One appeared in the world.

There are Three Kinds of Knowledge:

1. All knowledge,

2. Knowledge of the Way, and

3. Knowledge of all modes.

The third of these encompasses the other two.

The Sutra text describes this Buddha by means of the Ten Designations of the Buddha. The first is Thus Come One. A layman once asked me if Amitabha Buddha and Thus Come One Buddha were different. You should know that all Buddhas are celled Thus Come One. There is Amitabha Thus Come One, Sakyamuni Thus Come One, Medicine Master Thus Come One, and so forth. This use of names is similar to that found among people. Everyone has his own personal name which may be used by those above him who know him well, but most people also have a title by which they are known to people who are only distantly acquainted. Each of the Ten Designations of the Buddha has its own descriptive title. The designation Thus Come One, for example, has the title "Identity with the Former Virtuous Ones."

As for the meaning of the term Thus Come One, Thus is placeless and without direction, and Come is a response and manifestation. Come, therefore, can be explained as not coming from anywhere, and Thus as not going anywhere.  The meaning of all this is that nothing comes and nothing goes. Furthermore, Thus is the principle of fundamental enlightenment, and Come is the wisdom of initial enlightenment which arises in reliance on the principle of fundamental enlightenment.

The One Worthy of Offerings. In this phrase the word worthy means deserving. That is to say, meriting the offerings of men and gods; men and gods should make offerings to him. This designation, like all the others, has its particular title: "Capable of Being a Field of Merit." There are Two Kinds of Merit Fields. The first is that of self-benefit, and the second is that of benefiting others. To benefit oneself means to investigate truth and cut off doubts. It is called self-benefit since he who investigates is the one who understands. Others, however, must be taught so they might learn to do the same work. This teaching is the benefiting of others.

      The One of Right and Equal Enlightenment. Right is distinguished from the wrong of outside ways. Equal is distinguished from the non-equality of the Two Vehicles which only attain to an extreme of the emptiness principle and do not see the equality of emptiness and existence. One with enlightenment is distinguished from common folk who have no enlightenment.  The designation as a whole means that there is nothing which is not known, and this also has its own title, "Universal Knowledge of the Dharma Realm."

The Surangama Sutra says, "The straightness of the pine, the twining of the bramble, the whiteness of the egret, and the blackness of the crow are fully understood in their original existence." The Buddha knows the reasons for all phenomena just as he knows every drop of rain that falls even those outside the Three Thousand Great Thousand Worlds. 

The One Perfect in Clarity and Conduct. Clarity means understanding and conduct means cultivation. Clarity is wisdom; conduct is blessings. This refers to the double perfection of the Buddha's wisdom and blessings. There are Three Kinds of Clarity: 

1. Clarity of the Heavenly Eye,
2. Clarity of Past Lives, and
3. Clarity of Exhaustion of Outflows.

The title of this designation is the "Display of Causal Virtues in the Result," because it is on the ground of results that the virtuous conduct cultivated on the ground of cause is made manifest. 

The Well Gone Forth One. The title of this designation is "Wonderfully Gone to Bodhi." This designation gets its title from the: Buddha's ability to go into all Buddha-lands of the Ten Directions and use expedient devices and provisional teachings to transform living beings.

The Unsurpassed Scholar Who, Comprehends the World. If one has doubts of any sort he can still be surpassed. Because the Buddha has cut off all doubts, those of views, those of thought, and those as fine as dust and sand, he is an unsurpassed scholar. Because he knows that both the body and exterior states are empty and false, and that only the Buddha vehicle is genuine, this designation has the title, "Penetrating Through the Counterfeit and Reaching the Truth."

The Valiant Tamer and Guide. The Buddha regulates living beings in the Six Paths and guides them toward the result of Buddhahood. Because he guides living beings from the turning wheel of birth and death, this designation has the title, "Collecting and Teaching Beings in Accordance with the Way."

The Master of Gods and Men. He is a model for the triple world with all its gods and men. The title of this designation is "Speaking Dharma in Response to the Opportunities of Beings."

The Buddha. The title of this designation is “Fully Bright in the Three Enlightenments." The Three Enlightenments are:

1. The enlightenment of self,
2. The enlightenment of others, and
3. The completion of enlightenment and conduct. 

      The World Honored One. Because he is honored both in and beyond the world, he has this designation whose special title is “The Only Revered One of the Triple World." The Triple World is:

1. The realm of desire,
2. The realm of form, and
3. The formless realm.

When Sakyamuni Buddha was born, he pointed one hand at heaven and the other at earth, took seven steps and said, "In the heavens above and here below, I alone am honored." Thus he has this title. There are six additional meanings to the honorific World Honored One. 

1. Self-Existent,
2. Blazing,
3. Upright and Majestic,
4. Universally Renowned,
5. Auspicious, and
6. Venerable and Honorable.

      The Ten Good Deeds practiced by the kings of the two small countries are abstention from:

1. Killing,
2. Lying,
3. Sexual misconduct,
4. Greed,
5. Hatred,
6. Stupidity,
7. Bad speech,
8. False speech,
9. Double tongued speech, and
10.Idle talk.

To be continued


      Several years ago, in April 1970, the Vajra Bodhi Sea Publication Society brought out the first issue of Vajra Bodhi Sea to become the only monthly journal of Buddhist Studies in English in the Western Hemisphere. To commemorate five years of successful publication, a special anniversary issue is planned for the spring of 1975, a double issue which will contain a wide variety of special features. Contributions are welcome. Deadline November 15, 1974.