have been reciting the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva for almost two years. I recited the whole Sutra once a day for about a year, and once on the ten vegetarian days of each month for another year. Two years is not very long, but it is not short either. Compared to Dharma Master Fa Da (Dharma Penetration) in the Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra, who recited the Dharma Flower Sutra three thousand times, it is nothing. However, to a person of such heavy karma as myself, it is like having walked a long, long distance. During these two years, I have experienced countless great and small responses. The Earth Store Sutra mentions twenty-eight benefits from reciting the Sutra, and I have personally experienced all but five or six of them. Let me mention just a few, in the hope that they will inspire everyone’s faith.
One time, a friend of mine became ill and had to undergo surgery. I urged him to recite the holy name of Earth Store Bodhisattva. That night, I dreamed of a young man who asked me angrily, “Why do you meddle in other people’s business?” Just then, a distinguished-looking middle-aged man appeared, followed by two attendants. He said to the young man, “This is my brother. Don’t give him any trouble.” The young man took a look and ran away. Later a voice in space said, “He is the leader of blue dragon gang!” The first of the twenty-eight benefits says, “Gods and dragons will be mindful of them and protect them.” It is truly so!
Another time, my wife dreamed of her mother, who had passed away not long before. Appearing elegantly dressed and in high spirits, she said to my wife, “Earth Store Bodhisattva says that I can leave now.” My wife then saw the adorned image of Earth Store Bodhisattva. Her mother was a Christian when she was alive. The twenty-third benefit says, “Their deceased ancestors will leave suffering behind!” Is it not so?
On another occasion, I saw my deceased father for the first time since he passed away over twenty years ago. It was when I was bowing the Jeweled Repentance of Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. When I recited the Sutra section about the Hell of Excrement and Urine, I suddenly saw my father’s face. But his body was that of the maggot. I wept as I discovered that my father had truly fallen into the Hell of Excrement and Urine! (He was very fond of drinking when he was alive.) Then when the Sutra was being recited, I dreamed that he was lying on a bed. He had regained a human body, but his two arms were missing. In the Brahma Net Sutra it says, “By passing a glass of wine to others, one incurs the retribution of being born without hands for five hundred lives.” It is truly the case. I said “truly” because in the past I was never able to deeply believe that cause and effect is so severe!
Fellow cultivators, our parents and relatives of past lives are all hoping for us to save them. They may show up in your dreams, make you ill, or cause you to have some accidents.... If you see people wearing thick gray garments in a dark space, their faces dry and wrinkled, they are beings from the dark world who have affinities with you. If you dream of large pythons, octopuses, or other creatures locked up in cages, those are your relatives from past lives. If your body is always icy cold, then perhaps you have relatives suffering in the Cold Hells. There are many states that are unknown to ordinary people. I have a Buddhist friend whose daughter felt severe pain in the knees one day. She brought her to the hospital for a check-up. The doctor said it was an inflammation of the joint membrane and that surgery was required. My friend was worried. Fortunately, she met a monk, an experienced cultivator, who said to her, “Your ancestors want to take refuge. Just go and take refuge on their behalf, and it will be fine.” That was exactly what happened. Right after she took refuge (during a transmission of precepts for the deceased) on their behalf, her daughter’s knees got well. There are all kinds of causes and conditions... If you recite the Earth Store Sutra for a period of time, you will gradually understand.
For limitless kalpas, how could we possibly have known about these things? It says very clearly in the Chapter on Universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s Conduct and Vows, “If karma took form or shape, it couldn’t be accommodated even to the ends of empty space.” Can you have deep faith in these words? No wonder Manjushri Bodhisattva said in the Earth Store Sutra, “Sound Hearers of small attainment, gods, dragons, and the remainder of the Eightfold Division, as well as other living beings of the future, may hear the Tathagata’s true and actual words but will certainly harbor doubts.” The Medicine Master Sutra also says, “Bodhisattvas who have not ascended to the ten grounds are not able to understand and believe this truth.” Therefore, in the Sutra of Divining and Investigating Good and Evil Karma, the Bodhisattva Solid, Pure Faith asked the Buddha, “During the Dharma-ending Age, living beings, upon seeing the world disasters, will constantly be in fear as they worry over themselves and their relatives. And due to the obstruction of myriad causes and conditions, living beings’ faculties will be dull, and few will have faith. Will the Tathagata please tell us what expedients there are to instruct, transform, and guide them?” The Buddha instructed him, “There is a Bodhisattva Mahasattva named Earth Store who attained the Buddha’s ultimate and perfect wisdom a long time ago. It is only because of his past vows that he manifests in the body of a Bodhisattva to respond to and transform living beings in the ten directions. He can quickly grant all wishes, extinguish all heavy offenses, eradicate all obstacles, and cause living beings to attain peace in this very life. Therefore, if we recite the Earth Store Sutra for a period of time, we will spontaneously receive the response of different causes, conditions, and retributions, as well as understand different states, and our faith will increase naturally. With strong faith, we will have the will-power to persistently apply effort on the path of cultivation.
Great Master Ouyi said, “As living beings in the Saha world, our affinities with great Bodhisattvas as many as the sand grains in sixty-two billion Ganges Rivers are not as deep as our affinities with Guanshiyin Bodhisattva. And our affinities with Guanshiyin Bodhisattva are not as deep as our affinities with Earth Store Bodhisattva. How do we know this? The Buddha said, ‘Those who have gained a human body are like the soil in my hand, while the soil of the great earth represents beings in the three evil paths.’ And living beings in the three evil paths all depend on Earth Store Bodhisattva to save them!”
Cultivation is done bit by bit. Do you want to develop the Shurangama wisdom? Do you want to awaken to the real mark of the Dharma Flower? Do you want to enter the sea of the Flower Adornment? The Sutra of Divining and Investigating Good and Evil Karma clearly says, “Living beings of the future who seek liberation from birth, old age, sickness, and death; and those who have made the initial resolve to cultivate dhyana-samadhi and markless wisdom...should not begin their cultivation by learning dhyana-samadhi wisdom. They should first cultivate the dharma of repentance.” Do you want to cultivate the Pure Land Dharma-door? Earth Store Bodhisattva has said, “If there are people who want to attain rebirth in the Pure Land, they should be mindful of the name of the Buddha of that world with one mind unconfused. Those who have contemplated as mentioned above (i.e. the Dharma-door taught by Earth Store Bodhisattva), will certainly attain rebirth in the Pure Land of that Buddha, increase their good roots, and soon attain the position of non-retreat.” (The Sutra of Divining and Investigating Good and Evil Karma) We should understand that if our relatives in the hells have not been saved and our karmic debts have not been repaid, it is useless to cultivate samadhi and seek rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
It is said in the Shurangama Sutra, “There can be sudden enlightenment to the principle, but the specifics must be cultivated gradually.” Only when we have the kindness and compassion of Guanshiyin Bodhisattva will we be able to bring forth the great vow of Earth Store Bodhisattva. Only when we have strong and firm vow power can we enter the great conduct of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva and thus achieve the great wisdom of Manjusri Bodhisattva. Take a look at our teacher, the Venerable Master. He lived by his mother’s grave and practiced filiality for three years. When he was a Shramanera, he recited the Earth Store Sutra. Furthermore, the Venerable Hsu Yun underwent myriad hardships in order to repay his parent’s kindness and also recited Earth Store Sutra.
As for me, it is also due to my mother that I can now practice eating one meal a day. Before, I could not live without eating breakfast. If I didn’t have breakfast, I would be so hungry that I would panic and break out in a cold sweat. It was all because of my heavy karmic obstacles. When my mother died, I made the vow of eating only one meal a day for seven weeks after her death. As it turns out, I have maintained the practice even up to now—and it has been over two years. From this incident, I have learned that, although the power of karma is great and can obstruct us from walking the holy path, the power of a strong vow can overcome the power of all karma. So when we do things to benefit others, we are also helping ourselves.
During this Dharma-ending Age, although we say we are cultivating, in fact most of us are just working to pay off our debts and stumbling along the way. Earth Store Bodhisattva, with the solid power of his past vows, his various spiritual powers and expedients, guides us to avoid falling into dangerous pits and brings all living beings to accomplishment. I hope all students of Buddhism will be able to believe and understand that, “Those who want to cultivate to attain unsurpassed Bodhi, leave behind the suffering of the Triple Realm, and bring forth the resolve of great compassion should first gaze upon and worship the image of this great Bodhisattva.All their wishes will soon be fulfilled, and they will not be bound by karmic hindrances.”