Earth Store Bodhisattva is the Bodhisattva of great vows, and his vow power is immense. How immense? He has great kindness towards those with whom he has no affinities, and with great compassion he shares the same substance. "Kindness towards those with whom he has no affinities" means that he not only rescues those with whom he has affinities, but rescues those who have no affinities with him as well. He isn't concerned with whether or not living beings have affinities with him; as long as there is a chance or the conditions are conducive, he will save them. "With great compassion he shares the same substance" means that he cares about living beings in just the same way as he cares about himself. When he sees living beings without any food to eat, he feels as if he himself had nothing to eat; when he sees living beings without any clothes to wear, he feels as if he himself had no clothes; when he sees living beings going without sleep, he feels as if he himself had not slept at all. He wants to make living beings feel safe and happy. In making all living beings happy and blissful you could say that he renounces himself for the sake of others. Toiling and going everywhere to save all living beings and to help them, he totally forgets about himself.
This Bodhisattva manifests at all times and places to save people. Not only did he manifest in Korea, he also appeared in many places in China. However, he doesn't make himself conspicuous. In fact he manifests everywhere--in China, in other countries, in every corner of the globe, in every mote of dust. His vows and transformation bodies are everywhere, saving people at all times.
At the beginning of the Tang dynasty, during the first years of the Tang dynasty (c. 620 a.d.), he manifested in the royal family of the country of Xinluo (the kingdom of Silla in present-day South Korea). He was born in a palace in Korea. At that time his family name was Jin, so he was of the same family as Jin Rechan, and his first name was Qiao Jue. The Chinese character qiao means great, so Qiao Jue means great enlightenment. When he was young he saw his sister get married and realized the swiftness of birth and death. Right then and there, he realized that life is impermanent, that birth and death come fast. He contemplated the world as a wheel that turns from the fathers' generation to the sons' generation, passing on to the grandchildren's generation-- what's so great about it? It's nothing to talk about. It happens in the blink of an eye; it's meaningless. He realized that after marriage there is still the matter of birth and death to resolve, one continues turning in the wheel of birth and death. Thus he made up his mind to leave the home-life to cultivate the Way. He made the Bodhi resolve to cultivate the unsurpassed path. At the age of twenty-four he traveled to Jiuhua (Nine Flowers) Mountain. He sailed to Jiuhua Mountain in Anhui Province and secluded himself in a cave to cultivate. He entered seclusion in a mountain cave and cultivated with great concentration.
At the foot of the mountain lived a senior official called Min who was a devout Buddhist. The elder official frequently sponsored vegetarian meal offerings to the Sangha. Every time he offered food to a hundred members of the Sangha, he always reserved a seat for the monk living in the cave. When he made an offering, it wasn't to thousands of Sanghans, but to a hundred Sanghans. Among the hundred seats, he always saved a seat for the old cultivator who lived in the cave. Senior official Min was glad to offer the entire mountain to the Bodhisattva to serve as a Way-place. He also had his son leave the home-life and become the Bodhisattva's attendant. Just as Minister Pei Xiu ordered his son to leave home and bow to the Old Man of Mount Wei as his teacher, the elder Min made his son follow this Bodhisattva to leave the home life to cultivate the Way, and to be his teacher's attendant. His son was given the Dharma name Dao Ming ('Understanding the Way'). Afterwards, the elder Min's good roots ripened and he also wanted to cultivate the Way, and so he bowed to his own son as his teacher. This became a popular story in Buddhism.
The Bodhisattva lived in the cave for a total of seventy-five years, and at the age of ninety-nine he manifested stillness on the thirtieth of the seventh month. After three years his body still had not decayed, but had become a Vajra body. His facial expression was lifelike. His face looked as if he were still alive. People said that even his hair and beard had grown, and so he had to have his head and beard shaved. Someone said that Earth Store Bodhisattva's hair and beard are still growing and that they need to be shaved on the thirtieth of the seventh month every year. I don't know whether this is true or not, because I haven't seen it myself. Don't come asking me about things that cannot be proven. Since I didn't see it myself, I really don't know anything about it. I'm just telling you what I've heard. Actually, it wouldn't be so surprising for the hair and beard to grow, it's not anything special. Since his body has not decayed, it is still preserved. There were many efficacious responses. Many stories about his efficacious responses circulate. Today, his flesh body is still kept in the hall.
The World Honored One entrusted Earth Store Bodhisattva... in the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva the Buddha entrusted him with the responsibility of teaching and transforming living beings. He is responsible for teaching and transforming all living beings until Maitreya Bodhisattva appears in the world. This Bodhisattva made the vow, "Only when living beings have all been saved will I attain to Bodhi." When all living beings have been taken across, he will then become a Buddha and accomplish the Unsurpassed, Proper, and Equal Enlightenment. "Only when the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha." As long as the hells are not emptied, he will not accomplish the Buddha Way; that's why he became Earth Store Bodhisattva of Great Vows.
A verse in praise says:
Countless are his great vows; unprecedented is his utmost virtue.
Regarding others as the same as himself, he goes up and down with the multitude.
With his vow to enter into the hells, all can leave suffering behind.
Reciting and praising his name causes the Bodhisattva to manifest.
Countless are his great vows. His great vows are infinite and without end. Unprecedented is his utmost virtue. His virtuous conduct is unprecedented. Regarding others as the same as himself, seeing them as being identical in substance and caring for them as he does for himself, he goes up and down with the multitude. In this world, he turns together with all living beings in the revolving wheel of the six paths.
With his vow to enter into the hells, all can leave suffering behind. His vow is to go to the hells to save the living beings suffering there. He causes all those beings dwelling in the hells to come out from the door of suffering. Reciting and praising his name causes the Bodhisattva to manifest. If you are sincere, the Bodhisattva will manifest and speak Dharma for you.
Another verse says:
Those of the three paths and the eight woes are all freed from suffering; The four kinds of life and the three realms all receive his kindness.
When the hells are empty, he shall realize the Buddha Path; When all living beings are saved, his vows will be fulfilled.
His bright pearl illuminates the realm of darkness; His golden staff shakes wide open the gates of hell.
True humaneness, true filiality, true kindness and compassion--In ages past there had never been such a great sagely Sanghan.
Those of the three paths and the eight woes are all freed from suffering. The three paths refer to the hells, hungry ghosts, and animals. The eight woes refer to the eight difficulties of (1) being blind, deaf, or mute; (2) being born at a time when there is no Buddha in the world; (3) being born in Uttarakuru, the northern continent; (4) being born in the Heaven of Long Life; (5) being too clever in a worldly way; (6) dwelling in the hells, (7) becoming a hungry ghost, and (8) becoming an animal. If you can recite the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva, you can leave suffering and attain bliss.
The four kinds of life and the three realms all receive his kindness. The four kinds of life refer to flying creatures, aquatic creatures, land animals, and plants. The Three Realms are the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm. They all benefit from the kindness and virtue of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
When the hells are empty, he shall realize the Buddha Path. Only when the hells are completely empty will Earth Store Bodhisattva accomplish the Buddha Path. When all living beings are saved, his vows will be fulfilled. When living beings have all been taken across, his vows are fulfilled.
His bright pearl illuminates the realm of darkness: The bright pearl he holds breaks through the darkness and relieves the suffering of living beings. His golden staff shakes wide open the gates of hell. It opens wide the door of birth and death. True humaneness, true filiality, true kindness and compassion. Earth Store Bodhisattva is truly humane; he has a truly loving heart. He also has a truly filial heart towards his parents, and a heart of true kindness and compassion.
In ages past there had never been such a great sagely Sanghan. Since time without beginning--throughout limitless kalpas--there has never been any other great sage or worthy Sanghan such as he.