The Sutra of the Past Vows 
Earth Store Bodhisattva

Continued from issue 46

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


      Moreover, limitless asamkyeya kalpas ago a Buddha Pure Lotus-Eyes Thus Come One appeared in the world. His life span was forty kalpas. During his Dharma Image Period, an Arhat who had great merit and who crossed over living beings, teaching them as he encountered them, met a woman named Bright Eyes who made an offering of food to him.

      "What is your wish?" asked the Arhat.

      Bright Eyes replied, "On the day of my mother’s death I performed meritorious deeds for her rescue, but I do not yet know in what path she has been born."

      Out of pity for her, the Arhat entered into samadhi to contemplate, and saw that Bright Eyes’ mother had fallen into an evil path where she was undergoing extremely great suffering. The Arhat asked, "When your mother was alive, what deeds did she do that she should now be undergoing such a great punishment in an evil path?"

      Bright Eyes replied, "My mother enjoyed eating fish, turtles, and the like. She particularly relished their fried or boiled roe, and because she was fond of eating, she took thousands of lives. Oh, Venerable Compassionate One, how can she be saved?"

      The Arhat pitied her and established an expedient device and said, "With a sincere will be mindful of Pure Lotus Eye Thus Come One, and also make carved and painted images for the benefit of the living and the dead."

      On hearing this, Bright Eyes renounced everything she loved, drew an image of that Buddha and made offerings before it. Moreover, she wept sorrowfully as she respectfully gazed at and worshipped that Buddha. Suddenly, in the small hours of the night, as if in a dream she saw that Buddha’s body, dazzling gold in color and as large as Mt. Sumeru, emitting great light.

      This Buddha said to Bright Eyes, "Before long your mother will be born in your own household and as soon as she can know hunger and cold she will speak."

      Shortly thereafter a maidservant in the house bore a son who spoke within three days of his birth. Lowering his head and weeping mournfully he said, "In life and death one must undergo retributions for his own deeds. I am your mother and have been in darkness for a long time. Since leaving you I have constantly been reborn in the great hells. As a result of receiving the power of the merit which you did, I have been able to be reborn, but only as a poor son of low class. My lifespan, moreover, will be short, and after thirteen years I will fall into an evil path again. Don’t you have some plan to effect my liberation?"


      The Arhat sat in dhyana and investigated the plight of Bright Eyes’ mother. His investigation involves an act of volition for its accomplishment, whereas Bodhisattvas are able to use their spiritual penetrations at any time, any place, and need not deliberately make an effort to meditate and enter samadhi.

       Bright eyes renounced everything which she loved, drew an image of that Buddha, and made offerings before it. Just as the Brahman women sold her most house, Bright Eyes gave away and sold her most cherished possessions for the sake of of performing an offering of incense, flowers, ointments, fruits, food and drink, clothing, bedding, and medicinal herbs before the Buddha Pure Lotus Eyes. Later the Buddha appeared to her as if in a dream; because of her extreme sincerity and earnestness, there was what was called an "intertwined response with the way," and she saw the Buddha's body.


      When Bright Eyes heard the servant’s child’s words, she knew without doubt that it was her mother and choking with sobs she said to the child, "Since you are my mother you should know your own past offenses. What deeds did you do that caused you to fall into the evil paths?"

      The servant’s child said, "I have undergone this retribution as a result of killing and slandering. If it were not for having received the merit, which you gained to rescue me from difficulty, my karma would be such that I could not yet have attained liberation."

      On hearing this Bright Eyes asked, "What happens during retribution in the hells?"

      The servant’s son answered, "Merely to speak of those sufferings is unbearable, and even a hundred thousand years would not suffice to describe them all."

      On hearing this Bright Eyes wept bitterly and said into empty space, "May my mother eternally be separated from the hells, and after these thirteen years may she be without her heavy offenses and leave the evil paths. O, Buddhas of the Ten Directions, have compassion and pity me. Hear the far-reaching vows, which I am making for the sake of my mother. If she can leave the Three Paths forever, leave the lower classes, leave the body of a woman, and never again have to endure them, then before the image of the Thus Come One Pure Lotus-Eyes, I vow that from this day forth, throughout hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of kalpas, I will rescue living beings who are suffering for their offenses in the hells, and others of the Three Evil Paths. I will rescue them all and cause them to leave the realms of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals and the like. Only when the beings who are undergoing retribution for their offenses have all become Buddhas will I myself accomplish the right enlightenment."

      After making this vow she clearly heard the Thus Come One Pure Lotus-Eyes say to her, "Bright Eyes, you have great compassion to be able to make such a great vow for your mother’s sake. I see that your mother will cast off this body after thirteen years and will be born a Brahman with a lifespan of kalpas in the Land of No Concern, after which she will accomplish Buddhahood and cross over as many men and gods as there are sand grains in the Ganges."

      Sakyamuni Buddha told Samadhi Self-Existent King, "The Arhat with great merit who saved living beings is now Inexhaustible Intention Bodhisattva, the mother of Bright Eyes is Liberation Bodhisattva, and Bright Eyes herself is now Earth Store Bodhisattva. Because of his compassionate pity he has made as many vows as there are sand grains in the Ganges to rescue living beings.

      "Men and women in the future who do not practice good but who do evil, who do not believe in cause and effect, and who indulge in sexual misconduct and false speech, who practice double tongued and harsh speech, and who slander the great vehicle, will certainly fall into the evil paths. But if they encounter a good spiritual advisor who, in the flick of a finger, leads them to take refuge with Earth Store Bodhisattva, those living beings will obtain release from the retribution of the Three Evil Paths. Those whose acts show deference, who are respectful with a determined mind, who gaze in worship, praise and make offerings of flowers, incense, clothing, gems or food and drink will be born in the heavens. There they will enjoy supremely wonderful bliss for hundreds of thousands of kalpas. When their heavenly merit is ended and they are born below in the world of men, they will be imperial kings throughout hundreds of thousands of kalpas and will be capable of remembering the causes and results of their former lives. O, Samadhi Self-Existent King, Earth Store Bodhisattva has inconceivable and ineffable great spiritual power to benefit living beings. All of you Bodhisattvas should recall this Sutra, proclaim, and widely spread it."

      Samadhi Self-Existent King said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, please do not be concerned. We thousands of ten thousands of myriads of Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, receiving the Buddha’s awesome spirit, will certainly proclaim this Sutra widely throughout Jambudvipa for the benefit of living beings."

      Having spoken thus to the Buddha, the Bodhisattva Samadhi Self-Existent King put his palms together respectfully, bowed, and withdrew.


      Some of you may think the study of Dharma is uncomfortable. What do you think it would be like in the hells? Though you might scream that you did not want to endure such misery, you would have no way to escape, for if your offenses are not exhausted, there is simply no way out. If you undergo a little pain in the human realm, just think how much less painful it is than being in the hells. Thinking this way, no matter how badly your legs hurt when you meditate, you will always be happy and will know no suffering.

You see, as the Brahman woman on the causal ground, even Earth Store Bodhisattva was helpless and could only weep to the Buddha to save her mother from the paths of knives, of blood, end of fire, as well as those of Three States of Woe. And now, in turn, you should all be aware that if it were not for the great vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, we might very well be undergoing retributions in the hells, being tormented among the hungry ghosts, or suffering among the animals. The reason that we have become humans is that Earth Store Bodhisattva made vows to rescue us. Since we have not yet achieved the penetration of past lives, however, we do not realize the good fortune we have derived from him, how much merciful and compassionate aid we have received. If he had not made his vows, we would all be in great danger.  Consequently, we should always remember to repay his kindness. Ultimately, like Bright Eyes' mother, we can be born in the Land of No Concern, which is the Western Paradise, the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Recently, when I lectured at the University of California, a student asked if Buddhists believed in cause and effect. I replied, "It is not a matter of belief or disbelief. If you believe in it, then there is such a thing as cause and effect; if you do not believe in it, cause and effect operate just the same. For example, go punch someone; you will certainly get hit back. Your initial punch is the cause, and your being beaten in return is an effect. Now, do you believe the principle that when you hit someone you will be hit in return?"

The student was speechless, even though he probably had a store of theories ready to propound in order to demonstrate the non-existence of causal relationships. Perhaps he was afraid of being beaten up, or maybe he simply did not want to attack people, but in any case that was the end of that. Of course, you should all know fiat you should not go around hitting people. If you do, you are planting a case and you are going to get clobbered. That is an effect.

If you are not good to others, they will not be good to you. If you plant good seeds, you will reap good fruits. If you have bad friends, you will become a bad friend yourself, and if you have good friends, you will become like them. The principle of cause and effect applies everywhere. You needn't look outside to see why people are not good to you: just ask yourself, "Am I good to them?" Always turn your light back and look inwards.  Don't be like a camera, which can only take pictures of other people and not know what its own inside looks like.

One who is given to double tongued speech presents one face to one person and another face to another. You praise A to his face, and speak with him of B's faults. When with B you speak ill of A. In this way you may cause separations and schisms, and so this offense includes one of the gravest offenses, breaking up the harmonious Sangha.

What is meant by breaking up the harmonious Sangha? The Buddhadharma is studied with Bhiksus and Sramaneras, and one who studies Buddhadharma cannot study on the one hand and on the other slander those from whom he studies. Laymen may not speak of the faults of those who have received the Bhiksu or Sramana precepts; this holds as well, of course, for Bhiksunis. One may not destroy or cause dissention in the Sangha, saying to one person, who has left home, for example, that another one has this or that fault. This kind of activity sows the seeds of dissention and causes the harmonious Sangha to disperse. To do this is to commit one of the five grave offenses discussed earlier.

Not only the Sangha, one may also not slander the Great Vehicle. One may say that there is simply no such thing as the Mahayana, and that only the P51i canon may be believed. The other day, for example, an insane man came here, and when he saw us studying Sutras in Chinese, asked if it had been taken from Pali. He didn't even know what Pa1i was, let alone understand the question of authenticity.

What is meant by good knowing advisor? The word good in this title may be explained as able, because a good knowing advisor is capable of knowledge; that is to say, he is capable of knowing, without any obstruction whatever, that the triple world is like a burning house. There are three kinds of good knowing advisors:

1) Outward Protectors,

2) Fellow Cultivators, and

3) Teachers.

The first of these are those who supply the things necessary to support the Triple Jewel, and they act as Dharma Protectors. The second, fellow cultivators, help find and correct one another's flaws. Since one may not know his own shortcomings, his fellow cultivators can help point them out.  This does not mean, however, that they pick on one another and rile each other up. Far from it. The idea behind this kind of relationship is mutual aid.

There is a bit of shop talk among lapidaries which says, "Slice, rub, and polish." To render a piece of rough jade into a beautiful gem, you must first slice it open; then you must grind away all the flaws and polish it.   A similar process of self-cultivation is what is being described here.

What is a Teaching Good Knowing Advisor? One who instructs beings in the Buddhadharma, who lectures Sutras, and speaks Dharma in order to teach them, is such a one.

A finger flick lasts for sixty-four ksanas, each of which in turn lasts for the space of twenty blinks of an eye and contains nine hundred births and deaths. Each of these twenty blinks is twenty thoughts long. If one can encounter Earth Store Bodhisattva, and in the flick of a finger he can return to and rely upon this Bodhisattva, offering up his life and conduct, he will completely eradicate limitless offenses meriting the states of woe.

All of you Bodhisattvas should recall this Sutra, proclaim and widely spread it. The reason why we now have a chance to see and study this Sutra is that all of those Bodhisattvas have been proclaiming and spreading it. If it were not for them, we would have no way to encounter this rare Dharma jewel.

to be continued


      In April this year the Sino-American Buddhist Association will sponsor two meditation sessions at Gold Mountain Dhyana Monastery. The first will begin on Saturday, April 5th and will consist of seven days of alternate sitting and walking, chanting and silent, meditation on the name of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Participants will arise at 3:40 A.M. each day and begin at 4:00, and continue through until 10:00 P.M. every evening with one-hour periods of sitting meditation on the Compassionate One’s name broken by half-hour periods of walking and chanting the name. This session will commemorate the Anniversary of the Venerable Master Ch’ang Jen’s birthday, the Venerable Master Ch’ang Chih’s departure from the home life, and the Venerable Master Hua’s birthday.

      The second session will be devoted solely to dhyana meditation. It will begin on Sunday, April 14. Participants will arise at 2:30 and begin walking meditation at 2:45 and sitting at 3 A.M. There will be a minimum of twelve one-hour sits during the day, interspersed with periods of walking and running. The session will run from 2:30 A.M. until midnight each day for seven days.

      These are difficult sessions designed for those who truly wish to end birth and death; those wishing to attend should apply in advanced at Gold Mountain Monastery.