The Sutra of the
Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva
With Commentary from
the collected lectures of
Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
long-lived. If he were to have received a life of blessings, his peace and
happiness will increase as will his lifespan."
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
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.
elders mentioned in the text need not belong to either of the noble castes, but
they do have wealth and blessings.
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.
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
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:
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
"Three words" also represents the destruction of the three obstacles:
1) the retribution obstacle,
2) the karma obstacle, and
3) the affliction obstacle.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
4) concentration, and
The five powers are the resulting strengths, which arise from the
development of the five faculties. The five-fold Dharma body is composed of:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.