Sutra of the Past Vows
by Bhiksu Heng
At that time the World Honored One emitted a great bright light from his entire body, illuminating as many Buddha-lands as there are grains of sand in hundreds of thousands of millions of Ganges Rivers. With a great sound he spoke to all the Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas from all these Buddha-lands, as well as to the gods, dragons, ghosts and spirits, humans, non-humans, and others, saying "Listen as I now praise and extol Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, who manifests great and inconceivable awesome spirit and compassionate power to rescue and protect living beings wherever they encounter misery and suffering. After my extinction, all of you Bodhisattvas, Great Beings, and all you gods, dragons, ghosts, spirits, and others should practice expedient devices for the sake of protecting this Sutra and causing all living beings to testify to the bliss of Nirvana."
The emission of light from the Buddha’s entire body indicates the importance of this Sutra. The great sound with which he speaks leads all living beings who hear it to be joyful even though it is as great as resounding thunder or as a lion's roar. The sound is so pleasing, like the clear ring of a tuned brass bell, that those who hear it enter the Dharma-hearing Samadhi.
After the Buddha spoke, a bodhisattva named Universally Expansive arose from the midst of the assembly, placed his palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha, "We now hear the World Honored One's praise of Earth Store Bodhisattva's awesome spiritual virtue. World Honored One, for the sake of future living beings in the Dharma ending age, please tell us how Earth Store Bodhisattva has benefited men and gods; cause the gods, dragons and remainder of the eight-fold division as well as other living beings of the future, to receive the Buddha's teaching respectfully."
At that time the World Honored One said to the Bodhisattva Universally Expansive and to the fourfold assembly, "Listen attentively, listen attentively. I will briefly describe how Earth Store Bodhisattva's blessings and virtues have benefited men and gods."
Universally Expansive replied, "So be it. World Honored One, we will be glad to hear."
There are Five Blessings discussed in the section of the Book of History called the "Great Plan." The first of these is called "blessings and longevity," "Blessings" indicates a quality of comfort and ease, while "longevity" indicates living to old age. These blessings show up in three aspects, wealth, revenue, and long life. The first of these, wealth, refers to the goods which come to one naturally; the second indicates that which comes through a salary or other source of income; and the third is simply a protracted lifespan. If one has these three qualities, he is said to have blessings.
In China when people think of longevity, they think of Nan Chi Ts'e, who had an extremely high forehead and no hair. Within his mind were three heavenly books, and he was able to know almost everything.
The second of the Five Blessings is "riches," which includes both wealth and honor. The third is "soundness of body and serenity of mind"; the fourth is the "love of virtue," and the fifth is "life crowned with a good end," in other words, a peaceful death...
In addition to the Five Blessings, there are Five Virtues. The first of these is "warmth"; that is not being too cold like an unmoving statue, or too warm like a playful flirt. The Superior Man is warm when there should be warmth, he laughs when there should be laughter, and speaks when there should be speaking.
The second of the Five Virtues is "good heartedness." The third is "respect," a virtue, which should be applied to everyone. The fourth, "thrift," is very important, as is the fifth, "yielding."
To be thrifty is to avoid wasting a single thing, to economize wherever possible. If, for example, we usually eat five bowls of food, we might economize and eat only three, thus saving two bowls for those who do not have anything themselves. One ought to be thrifty with respect to his own person and also with his merit. It is not a good idea to have too much food, to own many clothes, or to have too large a place to live. Always be sparing.
The fifth virtue, yielding, is the quality of always letting others go first and always being polite. Long ago in China there was an official named Kung Yung, from whom comes the proverbial phrase, "Kung Yung yielded the pears at four." When Kung Yung was a little boy of four, a visitor came to his home and brought a 'crate of pears. All the children in the household were summoned together and allowed to choose a pear each, and Kung Yung deliberately sought out the smallest of the lot. When questioned as to the reason for this action, he replied that since he was the smallest, he should take the least amount, and leave the rest for his older brothers.
Another saying, "Huang Hsiang wanted the sheets at nine," refers to another boy who dutifully warmed his parents' cold sheets before he himself would go to sleep. Both of these show virtuous conduct, which embodies the Five Virtues.
The Buddha told the Bodhisattva Universally Expansive, "If in the future Good men or good women hear Earth Store Bodhisattva Mahasattva's name, worship, and fix their gaze on him, they will overstep the offenses of thirty kalpas. Universally Expansive, if good men or good women paint, draw, use earth, stone, laquerware, gold, silver, brass or iron to make this Bodhisattva’s image, gaze at it, and bow but once, they will be reborn one hundred times in the Heaven of the Thirty-three, and will eternally avoid falling into the evil paths. If their heavenly merit becomes exhausted and they are born below in the human world, they will be powerful kings."
Gazing at the image means to stare reverently as if forgetting everything else, much as people in love stare at one another. The retributions for cultivating such practices include rebirth as kings, and from this we should realize that those who are kings and presidents in the world are all persons who have worshipped Earth Store Bodhisattva in the past.
"If there are women who detest the body of a woman, and who make offerings to Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image with all their heart whether the image be made of earth, stone, laquerware, brass, iron or of some other material, and if they do so day after day without retreating, using flowers, incense, food, drink, clothing, colored silks, banners, money, jewels and other such items as offerings, when the female retribution body of those good women is exhausted, for hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of aeons they will never again be born in worlds where there are women, much less be one, unless it be through the strength of their compassionate vows to liberate living beings. From the power of the meritorious virtues resulting from these offerings to Earth Store Bodhisattva, they will not receive the bodies of women throughout hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of aeons."
Don’t think that being a woman is a good thing, fox being a woman involves a great deal of trouble. Some women do not like it, and always wonder why they have to be women; they want to discover what they can do about it. Through worship of Earth Store Bodhisattva these questions can be resolved.
What is the trouble involved in being a woman? Because there are people who might like to investigate this further, I will go into a, bit more detail. You should not think of this as an attempt to cause women to dislike their state and leave home. If that occurs then there might be even more problems for me to deal with.
There are Five Obstructions and Ten Evils encountered by women. First we will discuss the Five Obstructions. Women are not able to become the Great Brahma Lord because that position is accomplished through purity, and the body of a woman has a great many impurities. Secondly, women cannot become a sakra. An astute student may object that earlier we discussed the thirty-three women who became lords of the heavens. This objection is a valid one, but is should be realized that upon reaching the heavens their bodies became male, because only males can be lords of the heavens. Although Sakra has some desire remaining, it is quite light; women, on the other hand, are extremely libidinous and consequently cannot become Sakra.
Thirdly, women cannot become demon kings. This is not too bad. They cannot attain this position because demons are extremely hard, solid and firm, while women are extremely soft and weak. As soon as anything, unusual comes up they are at a loss and have to go find help. Fourthly, beings cannot be sagely wheel-turning kings, the gold, silver, copper, and iron wheel turning kings as long as they still have female bodies. Sage kings have hearts of great compassion and kindness, they teach people to maintain the Five Precepts and the Ten Good Deeds. Whenever women see something good occur to others, they become jealous, and this keeps them from having great compassion. Because of this basic problem, they cannot become wheel-turning kings. Fifthly, they cannot become Buddhas. Buddhas have ten thousand virtues; women have many evils. They are jealous, obstructive, and their hearts are about the size of a sesame seed.
If, however, women are able to rid themselves of jealousy, desire, weakness, defilement, and of all evils, they may become men, and so theirs is not a hopeless plight. There is, for example, the case of the dragon king's daughter. When Sariputra said that she could not become a Buddha, she took a precious gem, her most valuable and cherished possession, and offered it to the Buddha, who accepted it. She then asked Sariputra if the Buddha's acceptance of her offering was fast, and he replied that indeed, it had been quick. "I shall become a Buddha that quickly," she said and then she became a Buddha. This is proof that it is not hopeless for women. All they must do is resolve to cultivate courageously and they too can become Buddhas.
There are also Ten Evils, which pertain to women. First, at their birth their parents are displeased. Although it is not always the case that parents are displeased at the birth of a daughter, in most societies this is the case, and a daughter starts out life by making a bad impression on her parents.
The second evil is that raising daughters is not a very interesting task. The third is that women are always afraid of people. Boys are not usually afraid, but girls almost always are. The fourth evil connected with women is that their parents are caused a great deal of worry about their marriage. In America this is no major matter, but in most other countries parents have to give a great deal of consideration to finding a good husband for their daughters.
Once girls grow up, the fifth of the ten evils occurs, when they have to leave their parents alone. The sixth comes after they have been married and are in constant fear of their husbands. When a husband likes something, they are pleased, and when he is angry, they cower around terrified. The seventh evil of women is the difficulty and fear of giving birth.
The eighth difficulty is that no matter what they do or say, the report gets back to their parents that they are no good. Although the good remains, it is good that does not influence their parents. The ninth is that they are always controlled by their husbands and are subject to many restrictions, which, if they are broken, can lead to divorce.
The above nine evils apply to women in their youth. They are old when the tenth arrives and their own children and grandchildren slight them. As the proverb says, "To be old and not yet dead is to be a thief." These are only a few of the many problems involved with being a woman; if they were all explained in detail it would be an unending task.
Beings who truly cultivate will only be reborn as women if they have made a vow to appear in that form in order to teach others. Even though a woman may now think that she does not want a woman's body, it is possible that it has been obtained through vows made in the past. Consequently you never know just which of you now studying this Sutra might be here as a woman because of such a vow.
The Buddha's mother, the Lady Maya, for example, roams at play among beings by means of the Samadhi of Great Illusion, and has made the vow to be the mother of all Buddhas. The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who observes the Sounds of the World is neither male nor female, but knows that men enjoy beautiful women and so manifests such a body for "the sake of teaching them, although he manifests the body of a woman, Avalokitesvara is not involved in emotional states, and is never turned by them.
This method of teaching should be studied and applied, for if one is to rescue beings, he must lead them out of suffering, and not be pulled back by them to flounder in the sea of suffering. One who is turned by greed for his environment, and by pleasure found in emotions, is confused and lacks samadhi. When Avalokitesvara manifests the body of a woman, he is never defiled by emotion and his practice of kindness and compassion is thus genuinely loving and protective of beings.
"Moreover, Universally Expansive, if a woman who dislikes seeing ugly, vile and prone to sickness gazes at and worships an image of Earth Store Bodhisattva with a sincere mind for even the space of a single meal, throughout thousands of tens of thousands of aeons she will always receive a body with full features. If that ugly woman does not dislike the body of a woman, during hundreds of thousands of ten-thousands of millions of lives she will always be a royal woman or the concubine of a king, the wife of a minister of great family, or the wife of an elder, and be upright with perfect features. Such are the rewards for beholding and worshiping Earth Store Bodhisattva.
are Ten Bad Deeds, which cause women to have an ugly appearance. The
first is being fond of anger. While there are some women who do not get angry
often, the great majority fly into a rage over as small a thing as a needle, and
what is more, they enjoy it.
The sixth is that they are disrespectful in holy places, in temples, or in places of those who have cultivated and certified to the Way. The seventh is that they like to appropriate the property of the sages for themselves. The eighth is that they like to extinguish the lamps lit before the Buddhas. Although there are not too many who would do this, it does happen and it brings forth the retribution of ugliness.
The ninth reason is that they belittle and look down on those who are ugly. Although you are unaware of it, there is something in the nature which acts like a camera. When an ugly person is maligned for his appearance, a picture is taken and stored until the next lifetime when the one who looked down on another becomes ugly himself. The tenth reason is that they like to learn every possible variation of bad conduct. These are the ten causes for ugliness among women.
There are also ten reasons why women are sickly. The first of these is beating other living beings. The second is exhorting others to beat living beings, telling them, for example to hit cats, club dogs, stomp mice or beat children. The third is praising the practice of beating and always telling others how good it is. The fourth is taking delight in seeing others beaten, and finding it even more entertaining than the movies.
The fifth is delight in seeing the sick, and the sixth is displeasure felt on seeing someone cured. The seventh reason for being sickly is that in the past they gave medicines to the sick, but gave them the wrong ones. To headache sufferers, for example, they gave medicine for stomach cramps, and then bragged about how well they had nursed the sick.
The eighth is that they get jealous when a doctor cures a patient, and sometimes even wish that the doctors' would drop dead. The ninth is that they hope that the sick will remain permanent invalids and never be cured. The tenth reason is incessant eating. Before they have finished digesting one meal they are back eating, and never stop. If it were not for the above twenty kinds of bad conduct, the women discussed here would not be ugly, vile and prone to sickness.
In a body with full features, every organ looks as it should; the ears are shaped like proper ears, the eyes like eyes, and so forth. It might be objected that eyes are always eyes and won't look like anything else. This is true, but here we are speaking of features that are shaped properly. Some eyes are very square-shaped, and others are triangular; some ears are well shaped and some are pointed.
Among other things, a person's face reveals his merit. If the nostrils are exposed, a person has little merit; if his eyes are triangular rather than almond-shaped, he should not be befriended. I once was friendly and greatly helped a person even though he did have triangular eyes and exposed nostrils. He constantly defamed me and tried to ruin me behind my back. As a result of his slander he developed terminal cancer. Even in death, however, he could not stop making comparisons of himself to others.
Not long ago Dharma Master Ts'e Hang in Taiwan left instructions that his corpse be placed in a large crockery jar and sealed for three years, after which it was to be opened to see if it was in good condition, in which case it was to be gilded. The Dharma Master with the triangular eyes in Hong Kong gave instructions for the same thing to be done for him, but only one day after his death his head had already fallen over to one side. If one has some spiritual skill, his head will remain upright when his body is placed in a sitting position after death, and will stay there for quite a long time. Needless to say the Hong Kong Dharma Master's disciples did not open his jar after three years. They knew what they would find.
For men it is appropriate to have a large mouth, but with women this is not the case. No matter how good a person she may be, the husband of a woman with high cheekbones and a large mouth will die young. From looking at the features, an entire life may be known; one can see the progress from youth to middle age and on to old age. Physiognomy has been studied deeply by the Chinese. A good example of a full physiognomy is Cardinal Yu Pin, whose features are full and complete. It is unfortunate that he has gone down the wrong road, for if he were a Buddhist, he would certainly have become an inconceivable Dharma Master. One obtains full and complete features from having worshipped Earth Store Bodhisattva.
When the Sutra says that a woman will be born upright and with full features, it means that all her organs will be in harmony with one another. If the eyes are good but the nose is not, she cannot be said to have full features. One ear large and the other small, eyes and nose complete but the ears not good, all of these are incomplete features. The features should also La well balanced on the face and riot all bunched together into a mass in the middle. When the features are thus balanced and ail the parts are well formed, it is a result of having worshipped Earth Store Bodhisattva sincerely.
"Moreover, Universally Expansive, if a good man or woman is able to play music, sing or chant praises, and make offerings of Incense and flowers before that Bodhisattvas image, and is able to exhort others to do likewise, both now and in the future that person will be surrounded day and night by hundreds of thousands of ghosts and splits who will prevent even bad news from reaching his ears, how much the less allow him to undergo accidents."
anyone is able to sing, hum, or chant praises of Earth Store Bodhisattva, he
will be surrounded by Dharma protectors who will avert calamities such as
airplane crashes, automobile wrecks, and so forth. Those who believe in the
Buddha should not fear ghosts, since ghosts must bow to those who have
cultivated merit. Of course, if one does not do meritorious deeds, there will be
no protectors, and anything might happen.
On its fifth anniversary of publication, Vajra Bodhi Sea will publish a special commemorative edition. This issue, scheduled for April 1975, will be twice the size of a regular issue and will contain articles, stories, translations, poems, biographies, and other items of interest from all over the world.
Contributions to this issue are welcome. Any material of interest to students of Buddhism will be considered. Manuscripts should be submitted prior to November 15, 1974. Members of the Sangha, laymen, scholars, adepts, and students are encouraged to contribute.
Manuscripts should be sent to Vajra Bodhi Sea Publications, 1731 -- 15th Street, San Francisco California, USA. 94103.