The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva 

With Commentary from the collected lectures of 

Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua

Translated by Bhiksu Heng Ching
Continued from issue 52


      "Moreover, Universally Expansive, in the future, lowly people, female slaves, servants and others who are not independent may be aware of their past deeds and wish to repent of them and to reform. They should gaze at and worship Earth Store Bodhisattva’s image with a sincere heart for seven days, and recite his name a full ten thousand times. When their current retribution ends they will be born into wealth and honor and throughout thousands of tens of thousands of lives they will not pass through any of the sufferings of the three evil ways."


There are five basic reasons for which people are born into poverty.  The first of these is arrogance, particularly toward one's parents. The second is abstinence; that is, refusing to listen to teachers and elders. The third is laziness in showing respect for the Triple Jewel. The fourth is thievery. There are a great many people who rob from others when they themselves have no money. They use their ill-gotten gains to eat, drink and make merry, to keep themselves in wine and drugs. When the money is gone they go out and steal again. As a result, they are reborn in extremely low and servile positions.

The fifth reason is unpaid debts. Although money is false and empty, it cannot be used casually and wasted. To borrow money and not repay it, thinking that you have no obligation because money is of no true importance, will lead to rebirth as a servile and poor person.

There are also five causes, which lead to rebirth in wealthy and honorable families. The first of these is compassionate giving. The second is respect for parents and teachers. It is totally wrong for people to talk about how they hate their parents, how their parents restrict and hamper them, and how their parents are stupid. It is also wrong to bow to a master and then talk about him behind his back. Treating parents and teacher this way is committing offenses which make it impossible to be reborn in a good family.

The third cause for birth into wealth and honor is worshipping the Triple Jewel. The fourth is being patient and without anger. When scolded the best thing is to be happy, pleased, and not in the least bit upset. This is a difficult undertaking, for it is not always easy to be patient and be polite to everyone.

The fifth cause is listening to sutras and vinaya, which is to say, attending lectures on sutras and studying and practicing the moral precepts.  While the ideal is to have all five virtues, the practice of even one will keep you from being born in a servile and lowly position.


      "Moreover, Universally Expansive, if in the future in Jambudvipa, there are ksatriyas, Elders, Upasakas and others of various names and clans who have newborn sons or daughters, they should recite this inconceivable Sutra and recite the Bodhisattva’s name a full ten thousand times within seven days before the child’s birth. If that newly born child were to have a disastrous life, it will be liberated from it, be peaceful, happy, easily raised, and long-lived. If he were to have received a life of blessings, his peace and happiness will increase as will his lifespan."


      This passage particularly mentions Jambudvipa, our continent. The process of birth and death are not the same in all places. In Uttarakuru, for example, people are born under trees. It is a very simple matter; the mother merely goes beneath a tree, and, like a hen laying an egg, gives birth to a child. In the eastern continent, Purva-videha, and in the western continent, Apara-godaniya, there are relatively few births since those who live there have comparatively little desire.

In our continent, many beings are born, and birth is usually quite painful for the mother. In some cases the child may be born upside down, or the birth may be a breech birth and be difficult to bear. In another case, called the "plucking lotus birth," only one foot emerges at the beginning of birth; in another the womb is pulled out along with the child. In general, birth is a difficult experience.

The elders mentioned in the text need not belong to either of the noble castes, but they do have wealth and blessings.

Because the recitation of this Sutra and of Earth Store Bodhisattva's name can cause those who should receive a disastrous life to be easily raised and long-lived, we can see that the lifespan is not a predetermined and fixed thing. If good is done, the lifespan will increase; if evil is done, it will diminish. Everything depends on what the individual himself will do.


      "Moreover, Universally Expansive, on the first, eighth, fourteenth, fifteenth, eighteenth, twenty-third, twenty-fourth, twenty-eighth, and thirtieth days of the month, the offenses of living beings will be gathered together and judged. Since almost every single movement or stirring of thoughts on the part of the living beings of Jambudvipa is karma and an offense, how much more likely are they to incur offenses when they actually give themselves over to killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and false speech. If they are able to recite this Sutra once before the images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, or sages on these ten days, there will be no disasters for one hundred yojanas to the north, south, east, and west. Those in their families, both old and young, now and in the future, will eternally be apart from the evil paths throughout hundreds of ten thousands of years. If they can recite it once on each of these ten vegetarian days, there will be no accidents or illnesses in the family and there will be food and clothing in abundance."


      On the ten dates mentioned in the Sutra text, the various ghosts and spirits go over the deeds done by beings and determine the lightness and weightiness of each. Even if one merely has thoughts of committing offenses he is, in effect, committing those offenses; how much heavier is his offense karma if he actually does those deeds of killing, stealing, lying and sexual misconduct. The last of these is one which "Westerners are prone to consider a very minor matter, but it is a good idea to be aware that it is classed as an offense; it is the one living beings are most likely to engage in. The text discusses recitation of this Sutra on the ten vegetarian days, fixed dates on which vows of abstention from unclean foods are practiced.


      "Therefore, Universally Expansive, you should know of the unspeakable hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of great awesome occurrences of Earth Store Bodhisattva’s beneficial spiritual powers. The living beings of Jambudvipa have much affinity with this Great Being, and if they hear his name, see his image, or hear but three or five words, a verse, or sentence of this Sutra, they will obtain particularly wonderful peace and happiness in this present life, through hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of future lives their appearances will always be upright and they will he born into honorable and wealthy families."


The truth of the Buddha's statement, that we all have strong affinity with Earth Store Bodhisattva, should be apparent when we consider our present opportunity to hear about this Bodhisattva and meet him. Such affinity comes from having planted causes with him long ago. The three words mentioned in the text represent the disintegration of the three delusions:

1) coarse delusions,

2) fine delusions, and

3) delusions like dust and sand.

Coarse delusions are deluded views; fine ones are the delusions of though; and those as numerous as dust and sand are the delusions of ignorance.

      "Three words" also represents the destruction of the three obstacles:

1) the retribution obstacle,

2) the karma obstacle, and

3) the affliction obstacle.

      It may be objected by some that they have studied Sutras for a long time, but do not feel as though their obstacles have been alleviated. Such a thought is in itself a sign that those obstacles have already started to disappear. If they were not being eradicated, you would not know that you even had such problems, since you would still mistake your afflictions for precious gems and would not want to be rid of them.

In addition to the above effects, the “three words” also represent the accomplishment of the three knowledge's:

1) knowledge of the Way,

2) all knowledge, and

3) the knowledge of all modes.

They also represent the perfection of the three virtues of:

1) the Dharma body,

2) prajna, and

3) liberation.

When the text mentions five words, it refers to the disintegration of the five dwellings. The first of these is the dwelling in the affliction of views and love. Because there are views, there is also a love, which arises for that which is viewed.

The second is dwelling in the affliction of desire and love. Because of desire there arises love, and consequently, afflictions. In people who are devoid of love there is no hate, and without hatred, there are no afflictions.

The third is the affliction of dwelling in form and love, which arises when love occurs with respect to form. The fourth is the affliction of dwelling, in formlessness; the fifth is the affliction of dwelling in ignorance.

On hearing this Sutra it is possible to break the five dwellings in affliction and leave the five paths. While it is common to refer to the six paths, they may also be reckoned as five, since the asuras appear in all paths. It is also possible to strengthen the five faculties, develop the five powers, and accomplish the five-fold Dharma body. The five faculties are:

1) faith,

2) vigor,

3) mindfulness,

4) concentration, and

5) wisdom.

The five powers are the resulting strengths, which arise from the development of the five faculties. The five-fold Dharma body is composed of:

1) morality,

2) samadhi,

3) wisdom,

4) liberation, and

5) the liberated knowledge and views.

      Hearing one verse or even a sentence of principle from this Sutra can cause you to leave through the one door and enter the miraculous adornment road. Hearing one sentence can cause you to attain the complete brightness of the one nature. To explain these principles fully would take many words; I am only giving you their names, they will be explained slowly in the future.

      People’s appearances are not always proper and their features are not always put together harmoniously. For example, some may be born with a monkey-like hand, with horse-like nostrils or ratty eyes. There is a Chinese proverb, which says,

"A rabbit’s head and a serpent’s eyes, ears like a rat and a vulture’s beak." A person with these features does not have an upright physiognomy; his form resembles many animals moving together and becoming one appearance. What we are talking about here is gaining a proper and upright physiognomy.

      People can also be born wealthy as a result of their virtuous conduct. On the other hand, those who are not wealthy, who are poor, low and servile, have slandered the Triple Jewel.


      After Universally Expansive had heard the Buddha, the Thus Come One, praise and laud Earth Store Bodhisattva, he knelt with both knees on the ground, placed his palms together and said, "World Honored One, I have long known that this great lord had such inconceivably great spiritual powers and vast mighty vows. My questions are put for the sake of benefiting living beings of the future; I shall receive the answer most respectfully. World Honored One, what should we call this Sutra and how should it be propagated?"

      The Buddha said, "This Sutra has three names: the first is the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva; it is also called Earth Store’s Past Conduct; and it is called Earth Store’s Fundamental Power of the Way. Because this Bodhisattva has made such great vows over so many aeons to benefit and profit living beings, you should all propagate the Sutra in accord with these vows."

      After Universally Expansive heard this he placed his palms together respectfully, made obeisance, and withdrew.


There are two styles of kneeling. In one, one sits on his left leg, which is placed under the body. The second method is ordinary kneeling with both knees on the ground and is known as "long kneeling" because it is a position, which can be maintained for some time; the former style can only be maintained for relatively short periods. The Buddha said that because of the difficulty of the former position, women should kneel with both knees on the ground but men should use the other method.

In Burma, Ceylon and other countries young bhiksus kneel when they see older bhiksus, and sramaneras kneel whenever they meet any bhiksu. They keep their eyes downcast and do not look at the bhiksu's face.

From the three names given to this Sutra we can realize the importance of the conduct of Bodhisattvas who make and practice great vows, even to the extreme of giving one's head if it can benefit beings, but not giving a hair of the body if it will cause harm. In accord with such vows and practices the Sutra should be propagated and spread throughout the world.

to be continued