The Sutra of the Past Vows
Translated by Bhiksu Heng Ching
THE PRAISES OF THE MULTITUDES OF KING YAMA
At that time from within the Iron Ring Mountain came Yama, Son of Heaven, and with him limitless ghost kings, all of whom appeared before the Buddha in the Trayastrimsa Heaven: the ghost king Evil Poison, the ghost king Many Evils, the ghost king Great Argument, the ghost king White Tiger, the ghost king Blood Tiger, the ghost king Crimson Tiger the ghost king Disaster, the ghost king Flying Body, the ghost king Lightning Flash, the ghost king Wolf Tooth, the ghost king Thousand Eyes, the ghost king Animal Eater, the ghost king Rock Bearer, the ghost king Lord of Bad Views, the ghost king Lord of Calamities, the ghost king Lord of Food, the ghost king Lord of Wealth, the ghost king Lord of Domestic Animals, the ghost king Lord of Birds, the ghost king Lord of Beasts, the ghost king Lord of Mountain Spirits, the ghost king Lord of Birth, the ghost king Lord of Life, the ghost king Lord of Sickness, the ghost king Lord of Danger, the ghost king Three Eyes, the ghost king Four Eyes, the ghost king Five Eyes, the Ch’i Li She King, the Great Ch’i Li Ch’a King, the No Ch’a King, the Great No Ch’a King, and other such great ghost kings. There were also hundreds of thousands of minor ghost kings who dwelt throughout Jambudvipa, each of whom had that over which he ruled.
It is generally said that there are ten Yamas, chief officials over ghosts. In this text, however, we are discussing not merely the ten Yamas of Jambudvipa, but ail the innumerable Yamas who came from all the worlds, from the moon, the planets, the stars, and other iron rim mountains. In general, wherever there are people there are Yamas, and where there are no people, there are none. This is because if there were no people, there would be no ghosts; if there were no ghosts, there would be no Buddha; and if there were no Buddha, there would be no Yama. What is most important to realize is that if there were no people, there would not be anything at all. People require, make, and use everything. If there were no people there would be no Buddha, no Bodhisattvas, no animals, hungry ghosts, or hells.
The question arises, of course, as to how people come to exist, and the answer is that they, like all of the other nine-dharma realms, are made from mind alone. The Avatamsaka Sutra says, "If a man wishes to understand the nature of all Buddhas of the three periods of time, he should contemplate the nature of the Dharma-realm: everything is made from the mind alone." The idle thoughts in our minds are like waves on water, and the mountains, rivers and the great earth are just the result of those thoughts. When there is false thinking inwardly, outwardly there are objects; if we did not think, everything would be empty.
Within the Flower Store World Sea is a Lotus Flower Curtain with twenty tiers. The world in which we live is located on the thirteenth tier. Surrounding the Lotus Flower Curtain are seven golden mountains, seven perfumed seas, and beyond all of that there is a great iron ring mountain.
All of the Yamas who came to the Trayastrimsa Dharma Assembly are sons of heaven, the same title given to Jesus. Some emperors, too, are called sons of heaven but none of these sons of heaven are greater or smaller than others. Yama, the son of heaven, is recognized as such by the Buddha as are the emperors; Jesus, on the other hand, gave himself the title.
If I wanted, I too could start calling myself the son of heaven, and there might not be too much opposition, but I do not like to do this since there isn't any emperor, and the son of heaven is much too lowly a position. Yama does not think that his position is too lowly, because that is his responsibility. In Buddhism it is the case that after receiving the bhiksu precepts) one can become a teacher of gods and men; not only can a bhiksu be the son of heaven, he can be the grandfather of heaven as well.
The ghost king Evil Poison, an extremely fierce ghost king, wishes to swallow every living being he sees His mouth is evil and poisonous. There is no need to be afraid of him, however, since he only harms people who are evil and poisonous themselves; he uses evil to cure evil, and poison to counteract poison. If you recite the Buddha's name you will gain the respect of this ghost king who will bow to you. As long as you recite the Buddha's name, recite sutras and keep your thoughts resolved on enlightenment, there will be no problems with this ghost king, since although he manifests an outwardly poisonous and evil appearance, he inwardly has the heart of a Bodhisattva, just as does Yama himself. Consequently, those who practice Buddhadharma do not have anything to fear from him. In fact, if any of my disciples meet up with him, all they have to do is mention my name, because we made an agreement, he and I. I told him that when any of my disciples encounter him,he should take their offenses and give them all to me.
The ghost king Many Evils also opposes those who do evil, and so I doubt that you who are now studying Buddhadharma and who have mended your ways will have anything to fear from him. He particularly frightens those who have committed patricide or matricide, murdered Arhats, broken up the Sangha, or shed the Buddha's blood.
People who like to argue, who always manage to find principles where there are none, who maintain that they have not violated precepts when in fact they have, and who practice deceit, encounter the ghost king Great Argument.
The White Tiger ghost king has a ghost's body and a tiger's head. The ghost king Blood Tiger has a bloody head, and the ghost king Crimson Tiger has a red body and a tiger's head. These ghosts have horrifying appearances because they are terrifiers who appear at the end of life to battle those who have committed the ten offenses and the five rebellious acts. If it were not for the compassionate aid of Dharma protectors and Bodhisattvas who see how pitiful you are and protect you when you meet up with these ghosts, your end would be too pathetic.
The ghost king Disaster brings all sorts of inauspicious events such as bandits, thieves, and fires as retribution to people who warrant them. No matter what, everything which occurs, even disasters, are the result of causes planted in the past.
The ghost king Thousand Eyes is not like the Thousand-Handed Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva whose hands each contain an eye. He is also not like the ghost whose many horns have eyes. This ghost's body is covered with holes, places where there is only bone and no flesh, and in the bone in each hole there is an eye which shines like the beam of light from a flashlight.
The ghost king Animal Eater eats tigers and other large beasts, and the ghost king Rock Bearer carries around a huge rock with which he flattens anyone who has committed offenses. The ghost king Lord of Bad News is responsible for the transmission of bad news such as premonitions of death. The ghost king Lord of Calamities not only sends messages of bad news, but actually brings about accidents and disasters such as airplane crashes.
The ghost king Lord of Beasts watches over all animals. In the east there is a Lapis Lazuli mountain where a ghost king is lord of tigers, rabbits and dragons. In the south is a crystal mountain whose ghost king is lord of snakes, horses and sheep. There is a silver mountain in the west, and its ghost king is lord of monkeys, chickens, and dogs. On a gold mountain in the north, not one which you can reach, a ghost king is lord of pigs, mice and cows.
The ghost king lord of Mountain Spirits watches over the ghosts who come into being from mountain essences, earth, stones, trees, and so forth. Such ghosts and other weird phenomena are collectively known as Li Mei and Wang Liang.
The ghost king Lord of Birth presides over births and either makes the process easier and peaceful or more painful, depending on the nature of the mother and child. This activity, like those of the ghost kings described earlier, is for the purpose of teaching beings to change their wrong ways. The ghost king Lord of Lifespan watches over the life of everything, which has blood and breath.
The eyes of the ghost kings Three Eyes, Four Eyes, and Five Eyes are not arranged like the five eyes gained through cultivation. The eyes of the ghost king Three Eyes are placed in a triangle, those of Four Eyes are in a square, and those of the king Five Eyes come together in a bizarre and frightening fashion. In general, these ghosts have frightening appearances.
The Ch'i Li She King lives on a mountain in the south and watches over fire. The Great Ch'i Li She King lives further south and is also a great fire ghost. The No Ch'a King is a Dharma protector and a son of the Four Heavenly Kings.
All of these great ghosts were followed by little ghosts, ghost sons, ghost mothers, and ghost grandchildren.
Aided by the Buddha’s awesome spirit and the power of Earth Store Bodhisattva, all of these ghost kings as well as Yama, Son of Heaven, came together in the Trayastrimsa heaven and stood off to one side. Then Yama, Son of Heaven, placed his palms together and said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, because of the Buddha’s awesome spirit and the power of Earth Store Bodhisattva, all of these ghost kings and I have been able to come to this great assembly in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. There is now a small doubt which we would like to express, and we hope the World Honored One will be compassionate and resolve it."
The Buddha told Yama, Son of Heaven, "As you will. I shall speak for you."
At that time Yama, Son of Heaven, looked respectfully at the World Honored One, made obeisance, turned his head to acknowledge Earth Store Bodhisattva, and then said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, as I contemplate, I see that Earth Store Bodhisattva uses hundreds of thousands of expedient devices to cross over living being who suffer for their offenses within the six paths of birth. I see that he does so without the least fatigue or weariness. This great Bodhisattva has inconceivable spiritual penetrations, which enable living beings to obtain release from retribution for their offenses; nonetheless, before long, they fall back into the evil ways.
"World Honored One, since Earth Store Bodhisattva has such great inconceivable spiritual power, who do living beings not rely on it, stay in the good way, and eternally hold to their liberation? Please, World Honored One, explain this for me."
The Buddha told Yama, Son of Heaven, "The living beings of Jambudvipa have stubborn and obstinate natures, difficult to tame, difficult to subdue. This great Bodhisattva constantly rescues such living beings throughout hundreds of thousands of aeons, and causes them to attain liberation quickly. He rescues even those who have fallen into the three evil paths from their offenses. He extricates them from their own karmic conditions and leads them to understand the events of past lives.
"Because the living beings of Jambudvipa are bound up with heavy bad habits which cause them to revolve in the paths, arriving and departing over and over, they cause this Bodhisattva to pass through many aeons to completely rescue and liberate them."
An example of obstinacy and stubbornness can be seen in those people who consider forms of law and order evil, and think only anarchy is worthwhile. However, there is no way to get a perfect measure without using a standard rule.
The text says that living beings are bound with ma bad habits. Bound means linked the idea being that pest, present and future lives are all linked in karmic retribution. The first bad habit is lust, the primary problem of living beings, and the most difficult to cut off, more difficult than jumping into the sky. If men and women are able to cut off all lustful thoughts of each other, they are said to have subdued the tiger; if they have cut off afflictions, they have tamed the dragon. Afflictions and ignorance are like an untamed dragon, which undergoes limitless transformations and appears in many strange guises. Those who cultivate should examine themselves to see if they have achieved the skill of taming the dragon and subduing the tiger. If living beings have totally cut off all desires, they are said to be without outflows; if desire remains, there are still outflows.
The second major habit of living beings is greed. It is because of greed for pleasurable sensations that there is desire. The third habit is arrogance. Basically one may not be any different from anyone else, yet he comes to see himself as superior to others. The desire to be foremost, to always be out in front, is called arrogance. The fourth habit is hatred, the wish to harm others even though they may not have done anything bad to you. The fifth is cheating, which is to say, doing deceitful and false deeds. The sixth is lying. Deceit involves covering up known bad with a good appearance, whereas lying is out and out misrepresentation of the truth under all circumstances.
The seventh bad habit of living beings is blazing, passing the buck, and trying to shift one's errors off on others. The eighth is improper knowledge and views, and the ninth is deviousness. The tenth is accusation, enjoyed by those bringing suits against others even though they are without any principle in their own case. The above list is discussed in the Surangama Sutra, as the ten fine causes for undergoing retributions in the six paths.
"They are like a man who becomes confused, loses his original home, and mistakenly enters a dangerous path in which there are many yaksas, tigers, wolves, lions, serpents and vipers. A confused person would certainly be poised very quickly on that path. When a wise advisor who understands many methods and who is able to control all the poison of those yaksas, evil ghosts, and others, suddenly encounters the confused man about to enter the dangerous road, the advisor says to him, ‘Say, fellow, why are you entering this road? What methods do you have to deal with all that poison?’
"The confused traveler who hears such words suddenly knows that it is a dangerous path, and begins to retreat to leave it. The Good Knowing Advisor then takes him by the hand, leading him off the dangerous path so that he avoids the evil poisons. They reach a good way and he becomes happy and at peace. The advisor then says to him, ‘Well, Confused One, do not go back into that path again, for those who enter it have a difficult time getting out, and moreover, it destroys their very nature and life.’
The confused traveler thanks him profusely and as they are about to separate, the advisor says to him, ‘If you see those whom you know personally as well as other travelers, be they men and women, tell them that there are many poisons and evils on that path which can cause them to lose their very nature and life. Do not let them seek their own deaths.’ In the same way Earth Store Bodhisattva, complete with great compassion, rescues living beings who suffer from their offenses and causes them to be born among men and gods where they receive wonderful bliss.
All of offenders, knowing the sufferings of the path of karma, obtain release and never go down that road again. They are like the confused person who mistakenly enters a dangerous road, but who, having encountered a good advisor who leads him out, does not enter that road again. If he meets others he teaches them not to enter into that road by saying, 'I, myself, was confused, but have obtained liberation and will not enter that road again. If I were to do so I would become confused again, and unaware of the dangers on the way which I formerly traveled, I would certainly lose my life.’
"If one falls into dangerous states he can obtain release and be born among men and gods through Earth Store Bodhisattva's powerful expedient devices. If he turns around and enters the evil states again, and his karmic bonds are heavy, he can dwell in the hells for an eternity with no time of liberation."
At that time the ghost king Evil Poison placed his palms together respectfully, addressed the Buddha, and said, "World Honored One, we limitless ghost kings of Jambudvipa either benefit or harm beings. Each of us is different: our karmic retribution causes us and our followers to roam in the world doing much evil and little good. When we pass a household or a city, a town, village or hamlet, a garden, cottage, or hut where there is a man or woman who has cultivated as little as a hair's worth of good deeds, who has hung but one banner or one canopy, who has used a little incense or a few flowery as offerings to images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or who has read and recited the sutras or burned incense as an offering to even one sentence or gatha in them, all of us ghost kings will respect and revere that Person as we would the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. We will order all the smaller ghosts, each of whom has great power, as well as all the ground spirits to surround and protect that person. Bad affairs, accidents, severe and unexpected illnesses, as well as all other unwelcome phenomena will not be allowed to draw neat his dwelling or place of residence, much less enter the door."
The Buddha said to the ghost kings, "It is excellent, excellent, that all of you ghost kings and Yama are able to protect good men and women in this way. I shall tell Brahma and Sakra to cause you to be protected as well."
When this was said, a ghost king named Lord of Lifespan in the assembly said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, my conditions are such that I am lord of the lifespan of men in Jambudvipa, and govern the time of their birth and death. My fundamental vows are based on a great desire to benefit people, but living beings do not understand my intent and go through birth and death uneasy. Why is this?"
"When humans in Jambudvipa have just borne children," Lord of Lifespan continued, "be they boys or girls, or when they are just about to give birth, good deeds should be done to increase the benefits of the household and thus cause the local ground spirits to be immeasurably pleased. The spirits will then benefit the entire family and protect the mother and child so that they obtain great peace and happiness. After the birth, all killing and injuring for the purpose of offering fresh foods to the mother should carefully be avoided, as should calling together assemblies of the family for the sake of drinking wine, eating meat, singing, making music, and playing instruments, for all of these things can keep the mother and child from obtaining peace and happiness. Why? At the difficult time of birth there are uncountable evil ghosts, such as Wang Liang and Ching Mei, who desire to eat the strong-smelling blood. I quickly cause the ground spirits of that household to protect the mother and child, allowing them to be peaceful and happy and to obtain benefit. When people in such households see this benefit they should establish merit in response to the ground spirits. If instead of doing this, they harm, kill and assemble all the relatives together for feasting and playing, they will undergo a retribution for this violation which harms both mother and child."
At the time of birth, good deeds, acts which are beneficial to others, should be done to cause an auspicious light to protect the household. The local earth spirits are greatly pleased by this and also act to protect the home. The class of ground spirits referred to here has the lowest rank, much like a notary public in the civil service system, and each of them is responsible for a particular area of a city or district. The causes, which get these spirits into such a position, are a fondness for doing good deeds unaccompanied by actual cultivation.
"Moreover, when the humans of Jambudvipa are on the verge of death, I desire to keep them from falling into the evil paths, regardless of whether they have done good or evil, but how much is my power to do so increased when they have cultivated good roots. When a practicer of good in Jambudvipa is about to die, there are hundreds of thousands of ghosts and spirits of the evil ways who transform themselves and appear as the parents, relatives and friends of the dying in an attempt to lead him to fall into the evil paths. How much more is this the case for those who have done evil.
Therefore World Honored One, when a man or woman in Jambudvipa is on the verge of death, and his consciousness and spirit are confused and dark, when he is unable to discriminate good and evil and his eyes and ears are unable to see or hear, his relatives should certainly establish great offerings, recite the holy sutra, and recite the names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Such good conditions can cause the dead person to leave the evil ways, and all the demons, ghosts, and spirits will withdraw and disperse.
"World Honored One, if at the time of death any living being hears the name of one Buddha or Bodhisattva, or if he hears a sentence or gatha of a Mahayana Sutra, I see that such a person can be liberated from his small bad deeds which unite to pull him into the evil paths, and that he can also be kept apart from the uninterrupted retribution of the five offenses."
The time of death refers to the time when the warmth, breath, and consciousnesses have ceased. When this occurs, the intermediate shandha body is confused and unaware that it is dead; it cannot tell good from evil and has no perceptions. During this period the survivors should do great merit for the sake of the dead one. In China, monks are requested to recite sutras for the dead during the first seven weeks after death. For example, in commemoration of the Nirvana of the Venerable Hsu Yun, the Buddhist Lecture Hall in Hong Kong had the entire Mahaprajnaparamitasutra recited in a one hundred sixty day session, something which had never, been done before in the entire history of Buddhism from Sakyamuni Buddha on. The compilers of the Old Master's biography neglected to mention this Dharma Assembly.
The last sentence in this section of the Chinese text appears to say that one can be liberated from all but the five offenses; in other words, that hearing the name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva at the time of death can liberate one from all his offenses except those of the five offenses incurring uninterrupted retribution. On the other hand, the sentence can be read to say that even these offenses can be eradicated. If an ultimately sincere thought is produced at the time of death, all offenses can be eradicated; the problem is that it is extremely difficult to have such a thought at that time.
The Buddha told the host king Lord of Lifespan, "Due to your great compassion you are able to make such great vows and protest all living beings in the midst of life and death. In the future, when men and women reach the time of death, do not withdraw from your vow, but cause them to attain liberation and be eternally peaceful."
The ghost king told the Buddha, "Please do not be concerned. Until the end of this life I shall constantly protect the living beings of Jambudvipa, both at the time of birth and at the time of death so that they obtain tranquility. I only wish that at the time of birth and death they will believe what I say and thereby be liberated and attain great profit."
At that time the Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "This great ghost king, Lord of Lifespan, has already passed through hundreds of thousands of lives as a great ghost king, protecting living beings in life and death. Only because of this great lord's compassionate vows does he manifest the body of a ghost king, for in reality he is not a ghost. After one hundred and seventy aeons have passed, in an aeon named Tranquility, he will accomplish Buddhahood. His name will be No Appearance Thus Come One, and his lifespan will be incalculable aeons. Earth Store, the doings of this great ghost king are inconceivable, and the men and gods whom he crosses over are limitless."
This ghost king is extremely independent and can do, as he likes. If he wants a person to live, he lives; if he wants him to die, he dies. Since all lives are in his hands, you can be sure that if he were greedy and could be bought off, like many officials, there would be quite a lot more people in the world.
During the time of Dharma Master Tao Sheng, this ghost once came to hear Dharma spoken. Tao Sheng told him that he ought to become a human, to which the ghost replied, "I've been a ghost three thousand autumns, with no worries and no cares. The noble Sheng now tells me to become a man, but I really don't think I'm able. I would probably commit offenses and fail into even worse states 'than the one I am in now. I think I'll stay a ghost." This is not unlike the Chinese proverb, which says, "If a beggar begs for three years, he won't accept the imperial position."
The ghost spoke of Dharma Master Tao Sheng by calling him "the noble Sheng." This practice of only using one character of a person's name and proceeding it by the word "noble" is a sign of great respect and is Still in use.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
I am impressed by the devotion and sincerity obvious in the activities at Gold Mountain Monastery. May every contribution to world peace be adorned by the fulfillment of this lofty aim, and may every living being realize Buddhahood in due time.
Yours in the Dharma,
Fritz Grohmann, Germany
THE NAMES OF BUDDHAS
Originally all Buddhas had ten thousand names each, but because no one could remember so many, they were reduced to one thousand. Since that was still too many to be remembered by most people, the names were further simplified to one hundred, which were reduced further yet to ten. These Ten Designations, common to ail Buddhas, were explained in an earlier chapter. I will refresh your memory by reviewing the names once again. They are, the 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 One, the Unsurpassed Lord Who Comprehends the World, the Valiant Tamer and Guide, the Master of Gods and Men, the Buddha, and the World Honored One.
At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, I shall now perform a profitable and beneficial act for the sake of living beings of the future, so that they may obtain great help and benefit in the midst of life and death. Please, World Honored One, hear my words."
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The Venerable Abbot of Gold Mountain delivers formal lectures on the Sutras at least seven, and frequently more time, times each week. There are Sutra lectures following one-half hour of recitation every evening at 7:00, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:50. The Venerable Abbot has lectured on the major Mahayana scriptures and a host of shorter sutras, and has now convened an Avatamsaka Dharma Assembly, which is in its third year.
The Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "With your great compassion you now wish to undertake the inconceivable matter of rescuing all those in the six paths who suffer for their offenses. The time is just right, speak quickly, for I am about to enter Nirvana. You should complete this vow soon so that I have no need to be concerned for living beings of the present or future."
Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, "In the past, numberless asamkhyeyas of aeons ago, a Buddha named Limitless Body Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name and suddenly gives rise to a thought of respect, he will overstep the heavy offenses of forty aeons of birth and death. How much the more will he be able to do this if he sculpts or paints this Buddha’s image, or praises and makes offerings to him. The merit of this is limitless and unbounded."
Here is a famous story concerning the practice discussed in the presiding text:
One day when Sakyamuni Buddha was not at the Jeta Grove, but a number of his disciples, all Arhats, were, a musty old man who wished to leave home came to the grove. The Arhats took an immediate dislike to the old fellow because when they used their powers of investigation, they saw that within eighty thousand great aeons he had not planted a single good root. Consequently they did not allow him to go forth from home to the homeless life. You see it is not quite a simple matter, leaving the home life. It is said, "Do not declare leaving home an easy thing to do; throughout many lives, bodhi must be planted."
The old man, who must have been a good ninety or hundred years old, had no possessions at all, not even clothes or food, and perhaps he thought that he might be able to come by these things if he left home. After being turned down by the Buddha's disciples, he hobbled along the road leading away from the grove and headed for the Ganges River where he planned to end it all.
As he stood on the riverbank preparing to drown himself, the Buddha, whom he did not recognize by sight came walking along and said, "Old man, aren't you a bit old for swimming?"
The man replied, "I intend to commit suicide since all I wanted to do was leave home and cultivate, but the Buddha's disciples would not allow me to do so. If I die now, perhaps I'll get to be a young man in my next life and be able to leave home. As it is, the Buddha's disciples don't seem to like old people like me, and besides. I'm so shriveled and ugly with age that people can't even stand to look at me."
The Buddha then disclosed his identity and offered to accept the old man as a disciple. They returned to the Jeta Grove where the Buddha spoke Dharma and the old man certified to the fruit of Arhatship, a phenomenon which was not at all rare during the Buddha's lifetime. A number of senior Arhats objected that the old man couldn't have attained Arhatship because he had no good roots, but the Buddha corrected them, "You only know what can be found within eighty-thousand great aeons, but beyond that you know nothing. You are like people inside a house who are able to see everything within the walls, but nothing outside them. Over eighty thousand aeons ago, this old man was a firewood gatherer who met a tiger in the mountain wilds one day. Frightened, he exclaimed 'Namo Buddha' and as a result of that single sentence he is able to leave the home life now." If people have not recited a great many Namo Buddha's in the past, they will not be able to leave the home life in the present.
"Again, in the past as many aeons ago as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, a Buddha named Jewel Nature appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears the name of this Buddha and in the space of the fingersnap decides to take refuge, he will eternally be irreversible from the unsurpassed path.
"Again, in the past, a Buddha named Padma-Victory Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name, or if the name merely passes by his ear, that person will attain one thousand births in the six desire heavens. How much more will he do so if he sincerely recites the name of that Thus Come One."
Padma is the name of the red lotus flower, the supreme and unsurpassed lotus. If one merely hears the name Padma Victory Thus Come One he will be reborn in the six desire heavens, which were discussed earlier. Since merely hearing the name has such great merit, reciting it certainly has even more.
A man once went to Pratimoksa Monastery and plucked an exquisitely beautiful golden colored glower from a tree and offered it before the image of Sakyamuni Buddha. He then asked an old man in the temple how much merit he had derived from his offering. He was told that he would have to ask someone who had left home if he wanted to get the answer. He then asked a bhiksu how much merit had been derived from his offering, and was told that he would have to ask someone who had cultivated dhyana samadhi and reached the stage of Arhatship if he wanted to get the answer. He then sought out and found an Arhat to whom he put the same question. The Arhat contemplated and investigated the matter for him, and saw that the merit from this offering totally filled eighty thousand aeons and was still unbounded. Since he could not know any further than eighty thousand kalpas he told the man that he would have to ask Sakyamuni Buddha himself. The Buddha replied that the merit from his offering a single flower totally filled empty space to the end of the Dharma-realm.
"Again, in the past, indescribable asamkhyeyas of aeons ago, a Buddha named Lion Roar Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha's name and single-mindedly takes refuge, he will encounter numberless Buddhas who will rub his crown and bestow predictions upon him.
"Again in the past, a Buddha named Krakucchanda appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha's name and sincerely beholds, worships, or praises him, that person will be the Great Brahma King in the assemblies of the one thousand Buddhas of the Auspicious aeon, and will there receive a lofty prediction.
"Again in the past, a Buddha named Vipasvin appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name he will eternally avoid falling into the evil paths, will always be born among men and gods, and will receive supremely wonderful bliss.
"Again, in the past, a Buddha named Jeweled Appearance Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name and gives rise to a thought of respect, he will attain the fruit of Arhatship."
Krakucchanda means both "victorious contemplation" and "manifold contemplation." When the text says that by merely hearing or reciting the names of these Buddhas beings will not fall into the states of woe, it is important to realize that this means that we must stop doing evil. If after hearing these names we continue to do wrong, it is still possible to fall into the hells. People, who say that now that they've heard the Buddha's name they are sure to avoid the hells, and use this as an excuse to commit murder, arson and indulge in all sorts of anti-social behavior, will fall nonetheless.
"Again, limitless as amkhyeyas of aeons ago a Buddha named Kasaya Banner Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha's name he will overstep the offenses of birth and death for one hundred aeons.
"Again in the past, a Buddha named Great Penetration Mountain King Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha's name he will encounter as many Buddhas is there are grains of sand in the Ganges who will speak Dharma for him, and he will certainly realize Bodhi.
"Again, in the past, there were Buddhas named Pure Moon Buddha, Mountain King Buddha, Wise Victory Buddha, Pure Name King Buddha, Accomplished Wisdom Buddha, Unsurpassed Buddha, Wonderful Sound Buddha, Full Moon Buddha, Moon Face Buddha, and other such indescribable Buddhas. World Honored One, living beings of the present and future, both gods and humans, men and women, will obtain limitless meritorious virtues by merely reciting one Buddha's name. How much the more if they recite many names. In birth and death all these living beings will obtain great benefit and ultimately will not fall into the evil paths.
"If even one person in a dying person’s family loudly recites one Buddha's name for the sake of the dying person, that dying one will be freed from the uninterrupted retribution of the five offenses. Other karmic offenses will be eradicated as well. These five offenses warranting uninterrupted retribution are so extremely heavy that one who commits them should not escape retribution for myriads of aeons. If, however, at the time of the offender's death, another person recites the names of Buddhas on his behalf, his offenses can be gradually wiped away. How much the more will this be true for living beings who recited those names themselves. The merit thus attained is limitless end eradicates numberless offenses."
THE CONDITIONS AND COMPARATIVE MERITS OF GIVING
At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, based on the Buddha’s awesome spirit, arose from his seat, knelt, placed his palms together and said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, when I compare the various acts of giving done by the beings within the paths of karma, I see some result, some receive blessings for one life, some for ten lives, and some receive great blessings and profit for one hundred or one thousand lives. Why is this? Please, World Honored One, explain this for me."
There are three kinds of gifts, the gift of wealth, the gift of Dharma, and the gift of fearlessness. The first of these is again divided into two types, inner and outer wealth.
Outer wealth includes gold, silver, jewels and things external to the body. In grand terms, giving of outer wealth can be said to involve the renunciation of an entire country, as Sakyamuni Buddha did. This kind of wealth even includes husbands and wives, for those who are sacking Dharma will even give their mates away for the sake of Dharma. Any reason other than seeking Dharma, of course, is not justified; certainly one cannot give up his wife in exchange for a prettier one.
The gift of inner wealth consists of giving skin, brains, marrow, sinew and bone.
When giving Dharma, one gives the Dharma he has learned to teach beings to leave confusion and go towards enlightenment. There is a proverb, which says not to "clutch at your treasures while the country is laid to waste." In other words, if you have a valuable treasure, which can be used to obtain anything one wishes, it should be put into action rather than hoarded while the entire country wastes away and starves. The gift of Dharma is the supreme gift and cannot be excelled.
The gift of fearlessness pacifies and comforts people who are upset or who have encountered terrible disasters.
In the passage, Earth Store Bodhisattva has asked the Buddha to explain the differences in the retribution of various kinds of giving done by beings who are in the karmic paths, who turn about because they are ignorant, have doubts, and therefore give rise to action.
At that time the Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "For the sake of all those assembled in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, I will discuss the comparative meritorious virtues of the giving done by the living beings in Jambudvipa. Listen attentively to what I say."
Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, "I have had doubts about this matter and will be pleased to listen."
At this point it is important to understand that Earth Store Bodhisattva's statement is merely a means to request information for the sake of living beings. He already understands, and really has no doubts. One might object that he lies, but this is not the case, for not only are his words not harmful to other beings, they bring benefit to them. Because he knows that living beings do not understand the matter of giving, he asks this question on their behalf.
The Buddha said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, "In Jambudvipa, the kings of countries, noblemen, great ministers, great elders, great ksatriyas, great brahmans and others may encounter the tired, poor, the hunchbacked, crippled, dumb, mute, deaf, stupid or eyeless, as well as others who are handicapped. Those kings and great men may wish to give and be able to do so with great compassion, a humble heart, and a smile. They may personally give with their own hands, or arrange for others to do so, using gentle words and sympathetic speech. Such kings, ministers, and others will obtain blessings comparable to the meritorious virtue of giving to as many Buddhas as there are grains of sand in one hundred Ganges Rivers. Why is this? Those persons will receive such a meritorious reward because of having shown a great compassionate heart toward the poorest, most impoverished and most deformed individuals. For one hundred thousand lives they will always have an abundance of the seven gems, not to mention clothing, food, and the necessities of life."
There are ten meanings included in the word 'elder.' They are venerable name, high position, great blessings, great power, deed wisdom, pure conduct, advanced in years, proper etiquette, praised by those above and a source of refuge for those below.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future, the kings of countries, brahmans, and the like encounter Buddha stupas, monasteries, or images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, sound hearers or pratyekabuddhas, and personally make offerings or give gifts, those persons will obtain three aeons as Sakra and will receive supremely wonderful bliss. If they are able to transfer the merit of that giving and dedicate it to the Dharma-realm, those great kings and other men will be Great Brahma Heaven Kings for ten aeons.
"Moreover Earth Store, if in the future, kings, brahmans, and others encounter ruined, decayed, broken and crumbling stupas, temples, sutras or images of previous Buddhas, they may resolve to restore them. They may then do so themselves or encourage as many as a hundred thousand other people to help, and thereby establish affinities. Those kings and the like will be wheel turning kings throughout a hundred thousand lives, and all those who help them will be kings of smaller countries for as many lives. If before the Buddha stupa or monastery they are able to resolve to dedicate this merit to the Dharma-realm, such kings and their helpers will finally accomplish the Buddha path, their resulting retribution being limitless and unbounded."
The Pratyekabuddhas are those who are enlightened to conditions. They are known as "enlightened to conditions" when there is a Buddha in the world, but when there is no Buddha in the world, they are called "solitarily enlightened ones." The wheel turning king is one who can either become a universal monarch if he does not cultivate, or a Buddha if he does.
"Moreover, Earth Store Bodhisattva, if in the future the kings of countries, brahmans, and others have compassionate thoughts when seeing the old, the sick, or women in childbirth, and provide them with ointments, medicines, food, drink and bedding so as to make them peaceful and comfortable, the merit of their giving is quite inconceivable. For one thousand aeons such kings will constantly be lords of the Pure Dwelling Heaven; for two hundred aeons they will be lords in the six desire heavens and will ultimately attain Buddhahood. They will eternally not fall into the evil paths, and for one hundred thousand lives they will hear no sounds of suffering.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if kings, brahmans and others can give in this way, in the future they will receive limitless blessings. If they are able to dedicate that merit, be it great or small, they will ultimately attain Buddhahood. How much the more easily will they be able to attain the positions of Sakra, Brahma, or wheel turning king. Therefore, Earth Store, you should exhort_all living beings to study in this way.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if here are good men or women who plant a few good roots in the Buddhadharma, amounting to as little as a fine hair, a grain of sand, or a mote of dust, they will receive incomparable blessings.
"Moreover, Earth Store, good men or women in the future may encounter the image of a Buddha, Bodhisattva, Pratyekabuddha, or wheel turning king and may give gifts or make offerings. Such persons will attain limitless blessings and will always receive supremely wonderful bliss among men and gods. If they can dedicate that merit to the Dharma-realm, their blessings and profits will be beyond compare.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if good men or good women in the future encounter a Mahayana Sutra, and on hearing but one gatha or sentence of it energetically resolve to be benevolent and respectfully praise and make offerings, those people will attain great, limitless, and unbounded rewards. If they can dedicate that merit to the Dharma-realm, their blessings will be incomparable."
This Sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and others, which we study, are all sutras of the Great Vehicle. Consider the number of people in the world who nave never even heard of the Buddhadharma, much less the names of sutras. Of those who have heard of the existence of sutras, how many do you think have been able to study them in detail?
"Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future good men or women encounter new Buddha-stupas, temples, or sutras of the Great Vehicle and make offerings to, gaze at them in worship and respectfully make praises with joined palms, or if they encounter old temples, stupas, or sutras which are in ruins and either repair them themselves or encourage others to aid them, such people will be the kings of small countries throughout thirty lives. Those who act as the leaders in these affairs will always be wheel-turning kings who teach minor kings by means of the good Dharma.
"Moreover, Earth Store, in the future, good men or good women may plant good roots in the Buddhadharma by giving, making offerings, repairing temples or monasteries, binding sutras, or by doing good deed's which are as small as one strand of hair, one mote of dust, a grain of sand or a drop of water. Merely by transferring that merit from that deed to the Dharma-realm, those people’s meritorious virtues will be such that they will receive supremely wonderful bliss for one hundred thousand lives. If they only dedicate the merit to their own family or relatives, or to their own personal benefit, as a result they will receive but three lives of bliss, thus putting aside the ten thousand-fold retribution. Earth Store Bodhisattva, such are the conditions of giving.
To be continued