Earth Store Sutra, Chapter 1: Spiritual Penetrations in the Palace of the Trayastrimsha Heaven with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
...Sutra: “Another time, inconceivable asamkhyeya eons ago, there was a Buddha named Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. That Buddha’s life span was four hundred billion asamkhyeya eons.
“Another time, not just three great asamkhyeya eons, but much longer, inconceivable and unimaginable number of asamkhyeya eons ago, there was a Buddha named Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. Enlightenment-Flower is the cause; Self-Mastery King is the effect; Enlightenment-Flower is the root; Self-Mastery King is the branch. This means that he cultivated the flower of enlightenment at the level of causes and certified to the effect of a king at ease. How do we cultivate the flower of enlightenment? With concentration? How do we realize the effect of a self-mastery king? It is also through concentration. Where the cause is concentration, the effect is concentration. Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King is the Buddha’s unique name; Thus Come One is a name common to all Buddhas.
That Buddha’s life span . . . there are three explanations for the Thus Come One’s lifespan according to the Dharma Flower Sutra. There are three others according to the Sixteen Contemplations Sutra.
First, the Buddha’s Dharma body is true and thus, inseparable from all dharmas. The true thusness of the Dharma body is not at all different from all dharmas. Noumenon as thus are life. This is difficult to explain because we accord with principles as they are. Principles as they are wisdom; wisdom is states. The Buddha’s states are wisdom; wisdom is just states. The Buddha uses wisdom to light up all states. States and wisdom correspond so that states and wisdom are non-dual. When states come, illumine it, then let it go. The Buddha recognizes and understands every state; he is not obstructed by states because he does not recognize them. Although states and wisdom are two, they become one when they have one principle as their span; wisdom as their life. This is an explanation of life span according to the Buddha’s retribution body.
In terms of the response body or transformational body, its span is 100 years in duration. A centurion lives a long span. The transformational body and the response body live out their span of life. This is an explanation of the three bodies according to the Dharma Flower Sutra.
According to the Sixteen Contemplations Sutra, it is a different set of explanations. How come? The sutras say that the response body makes appear coming into being and ceasing like everyone else. The Buddhas also appear to come into being and cease to be, that is the Buddhas come into the world , then enter nirvana. This is coming into being and ceasing. Making production and extinction appear has their beginnings and ends; as long as there is a beginning, there is an end. This explains the life span of a Buddha’s response body. And a retribution body? Once we acquire the Buddha’s retribution body, we have it forever. The life span of a Buddha’s retribution body has a beginning to it but no end. What about the life span of a Dharma body? It is neither a long span nor a short span. Since it is impossible to say how long a Buddha’s Dharma body will last, it is neither long nor short. It has no beginning or end. This is one explanation of the Buddha’s Dharma body. I believe it is very difficult to understand this kind of terminology. This particular Buddha’s life span was four hundred billion asamkhyeya eons. This kind of life span refers to the life spans of the Buddha’s retribution body and response body.
During his Dharma-Image Age, there lived a Brahman woman endowed with ample blessings from previous lives who was respected by everyone. Whether she was walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, gods surrounded and protected her. Her mother, however, embraced a deviant faith and often slighted the Triple Jewel.
“The worthy daughter made use of many expedients in trying to convince her mother to hold right views, but her mother never totally believed. Before long, the mother’s life ended and her consciousness fell into the Relentless Hell.
“When her mother’s life ended, the Brahman woman, knowing that her mother had not believed in cause and effect while alive, feared that her karma would certainly pull her into the Evil Paths. For that reason, she sold the family house and acquired many kinds of incense, flowers, and other gifts. With those she performed a great offering in that Buddha’s stupas and monasteries.
During his Dharma-Image Age . . . There are three eras to the Buddhadharma: the age of Proper Dharma, the age of Image Dharma, and the age of Decline of Dharma. During the age of Proper Dharma, most Bhikshus, Bhikshunis, upasikas and upasakas all cultivate sincerely and certify to the fruition. This is the Age of the Proper Dharma. The Image Dharma? There are fewer cultivators. The focus is on the superficialities, such as repairing stupas and building temples. They are firm in building temples. People all enjoy doing merit by constructing Buddhist temples and Buddhist stupas; they enjoy pursuing blessings and not wisdom. This is the Image Dharma Age where people are solid in constructing temples. The Proper Dharma Age lasts one thousand years; the Image Dharma Age lasts one thousand years; the Decline of Dharma Age lasts ten thousand years. We are now in the Age of Dharma on the Decline. People during the Age of Dharma on the Decline are firm in fighting. The Age of Image Dharma begins once Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One enters nirvana.
There lived a Brahman woman . Brahman is an externalist sect in India who cultivates purity. They are vegetarians, cultivate, and are celibate, so they are pure. Brahmans cultivate this kind of practice of distancing themselves but they do not have the essence, the ultimate principles. This is an ancient religion in India, and many similar religions of this sort remain in India. Yoga, for example, is a variation of the Brahman teachings. The Brahman teachings in China is Taoism, which also practices purity. During the Image Age of Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One there was a Brahman woman who was endowed with ample blessings from previous lives. Although he was a Brahman woman, she had done many good deeds and many meritorious deeds in lives past. That is why she is endowed with ample blessings from previous lives.
Who was respected by everyone. Most people respect her. Why do most people admire her and respect her? It is because she did a lot of merit in past lives and accumulated blessings. Whether someone is good looking depending on his or her merit in past lives. One is perfect looking if one created merit in past lives. Without merit, one’s features are imperfect, or ugly. The Buddha has 32 features and 80 secondary characteristics. He is adorned with a hundred blessings. What makes one hundred blessings? One thousand good deeds makes one blessing; 10,000 good deeds makes ten blessings; and 100,000 good deeds make 100 blessings. Shakyamuni accumulated 100 blessings so he enjoys his 32 features and 80 secondary characteristics. People’s looks develop according to causes and conditions in the past. Whether someone is beautiful or not depends on his or her past lives. This Brahman woman was respected by everyone; most people like to listen to what she says; and most people agree with the things she does.
Whether she was walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, gods surrounded and protected her. As I said earlier, now that we have tied the boundaries, even if anyone experiences any karmic obstructions such as being possessed, that obstruction will quit and not disturb one. Since the boundaries are locked down and you are here listening to the sutra, all the accounts temporarily quit. No one is allowed to come here to bother anyone or hassle anyone. You have to concentrate on listening to the sutra. The Dharma-protecting good spirits, the Eightfold Divisions of gods, dragons and others all protect her. Although she is protected, her mother, however, embraced a deviant faith and often slighted the Triple Jewel. He mother does not believe in the proper Dharma but believes in deviant dharmas instead.
What does it mean by believing in deviant dharmas? This is not necessarily about believing in heretics or cults. Actually, she half believes and half questions, believing in Buddhism today and question it tomorrow. She says she believes in the Triple Jewel, but “I have not seen any Buddha of the Triple Jewel, or the Dharma. Although there are sutras, it is no big idea. Sangha members, they are people too! Why should I respect some monastic? She is skeptical, which is faith in the deviant. She does not maintain any proper mindfulness, which is a deviant thought.
Without proper faith, your faith is in the deviant. For instance, some externalists say, “Give me one million dollars and I will sell you the role of an emperor in a future life.” You think about being an emperor in a future life, so you give them a million dollars. Actually, how can the role of an emperor be sold? How can you buy the role of an emperor? Perhaps you can buy the presidency in a modern democracy. “You are a woman in this lifetime and not a president, but I can guarantee that you become a president in a future life if you give me one million dollars.” Whether you become a president or not in the future, you will not be able to find him and get your one million dollars back. These externalists did not start an insurance company guaranteeing any of this. This is faith in the deviant. How can you buy a presidency with one million dollars? That does not make any sense. Buying a presidency with one million dollars may be possible. How? I can lobby people to vote for me with that one million dollars. But you have to be an American citizen, not a foreign citizen [to do that in the United States]. Explanations based on deviant faith do not make sense. Give me one hundred dollars, one thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars and I will guarantee that you become a man instead of a woman in your future lives. You hear this and you think this is not bad, one million dollars buys a future life as a man is not too expensive. Since this is quite economical, you give some externalist teacher a million dollars. He puts the money in his pocket and goes off to drink, eat meat and play women. When he has done everything, you cannot get of your money back. I guarantee you that I will be a man in the future. This is no guarantee either; this is deviant. These are one or two tactics that swindlers use.
She often slighted the Triple Jewel. Since she believes in deviant dharma all the time, she did not believe in the proper Dharma. Deviant dharma consists of, “Why believe in the Buddha? You are a Buddha. Just give me 65 dollars and it will be fine.” Sixty-five dollars buys Buddhahood, that is a deviant dharma, deviant path. How can Buddha be purchased with money? You can become a Buddha, but you do not buy Buddhahood with money. You may use money to create merit; when you accumulate enough merit, then you realize Buddhahood. Create merit while you cultivate, such as meditating. You should not refuse to cultivate. For instance, if Shakyamuni Buddha could have bought Buddhahood, he does not need to sit in the Himalayas for six years, sit underneath the Bodhi tree, see a bright start and become enlightened. When he was a prince, he had so rich, he could have very well bought Buddhahood. Buddhahood is not purchased with money. Slighting the Triple Jewel means looking down on the Triple Jewel, slandering and sabotaging monastics. Some Cantonese people slight the Triple Jewel because they cannot stand Bhikshus and Bhikshunis.
“The worthy daughter , the Brahman woman, made use of many expedients. Expedients are for provisional explanations for people who only have a rough understanding of the Dharma. In trying to convince her mother. . . Encouraging and enticing someone. For instance, children like candy, so you tell them, “I have a piece of candy. Follow me and I will give you the candy.” This is an enticement. This Brahman woman tells her mother something similar, “Follow me and study the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma is the best, it is number one.” But her mother does not believe her, encouraging and enticing her mother to hold right views, so that her mother will develop proper knowledge and proper views. But her mother never totally believed. The Brahman woman’s mother half believe and half doubt the principles she heard. Perhaps what you say contain some principle but may be not completely. Some of my refuge disciples, for example, do not believe certain principles entirely. Before long, the mother’s life ended soon.
Some think, it is best if someone is dead because he does not know anything; he does not want to eat, dress, sleep or work; he does not need to do anything. Although it is the best, it is also the worst. What is the worst thing? Death. If you do good deeds, you will become born in the three good destinies; whereas if you do evil deeds, you will become born in the three evil destinies, either hell, hungry ghosts or animals.
Yesterday a few visitors came to the Buddha hall and I told them about the responsibilities of soldiers. What responsibilities? I told them that there are Bodhisattvas and asuras in the military. Bodhisattvas in the army teach and transform living beings so that living beings do not kill too many people; whereas asuras in the army encourage living beings to kill more and more. They feel that the more they kill, the mightier they appear and earn the highest achievements. Bodhisattvas, in contrast, tell people not to kill but to help two countries to coexist peacefully by resolving their problems. They tell military men that they earn the highest achievements and highest ranking offices if they do that. I told [these visitors] that they must emulate Bodhisattvas and not asuras. What are asuras? What are Bodhisattvas? There were two generals in China: one was Guan Yu. He killed lots of people, but he became a Bodhisattva after death. On the other hand, General Bai Qi of the Qin reign killed lots of people too, but he turned into an ox, a pig and a horse after death. Why? It is because he buried alive 200,000 soldiers who surrendered. He had the heart of an asura. Guan Yu killed bad people and not good people; he eliminated the violent and brought peace to the kind. In the end, one became a Bodhisattva and the other became an ox, a horse, a pig, and a sheep.
We have an American friend who is in the navy. He asked me, “Do you believe people will become animals after death?” At the time I said, “It is fine whether you believe people become animals after death or otherwise. Believe and you will become an animal if you deserve it; doubt it and you will become an animal if you deserve it. You will become an animal if that is what you should be after death; that cannot be changed. Do the deeds of Buddhas, you are a Buddha; do the deeds of Bodhisattvas, you are a Bodhisattva; do the deeds of humans, you are a human being; do the deeds of ghosts, you are a ghost; do the deeds of animals, you are an animal. You are what you do. This is not about doing what you believe but not doing what you do not believe. Whether you believe it or not, you will do what you must do. You will definitely not do what you should not do. This is not a matter of faith. One Chinese is thinking, “This idea is very lofty and profound. I will be coming to learn the Buddhadharma.”
Speaking of dying soon, each of us should think about our own deaths. Before long, the Brahman woman’s mother died and what about me? When will I die? Where will I go after death? Will I end up in the hells like the Brahaman woman’s mother? We listen to the sutras and for each part we hear, we must reflect instead of letting it go in one ear and out the other. That would be meaningless. Everyone will die. Do not believe what I said earlier about death being the best thing; do not believe that death is the worst thing either. People will die in the future, whether death is good or bad. Do good and it will be good; do bad and it will be bad. Earlier I said, “Plant good causes and reap good fruits; plant evil causes and reap evil fruits.”
The ancients had this to say, “Seeing the death of others, my heart burns like fire. It burns not for others, but I wonder when it’ll be me.” When I see someone pass away, my heart is blazing hot like it is on fire. I am not sad for the death of others, but I wonder how come he died? Soon it will be my turn. A few days ago, I talked about how there are more births than deaths, but deaths do come to each one of us in turn. “Seeing the death of others, my heart burns like fire. It burns not for others, but I wonder when it’ll be me.” Since you are not afraid of death, you may die soon, or now. Why do you not? This has nothing to do with being afraid or not, but whether the death is peaceful or unexpected. Unexpected deaths are accidents such as car crashes or plane problems, boat drownings and train crashes. These are all unexpected, accidental deaths. Die when you would like is a peaceful death. What if you do not want to die? You can cultivate for immortality.
Cultivators are liberated from birth and death. They may live forever if they want to; they may sit right down and enter nirvana right now if they do not want to live. With that kind of mastery, life and death is up to me rather than fate. No one is in charge of me; I am in charge of myself. If I want to die, I may die now. If I do not want to die, I may live forever. When we cultivate, we are cultivating this ability. When you have this ability, however, you do not want to remain in this world sometimes because this world is too turbid; this World of Five Turbidities is unclean.
Before long, her life ended and her consciousness fell into the Relentless Hell. Her consciousness is her Eighth Consciousness. After the Brahman woman’s mother died, her soul and consciousness fell into the Relentless Hell. What is the Relentless Hell? There time is relentless, life is relentless, and bodies are relentless. This refers to how this hell is full when one person is in it or many people are in it. We will explain the Relentless Hell in more detail later. What does it mean by “relentless”? Relentless means that it is uninterrupted and continuous. When you are in this hell, you suffer and yet your life continues, dying then becoming born, becoming born then dying. This is one function of this unchanging consciousness.
“When her mother’s life ended, the Brahman woman, knowing that her mother had not believed in cause and effect while alive. Her mother did not believe that good causes will result in good effects and evil causes result in evil results. Her lack of faith is an impure cause that will end in impure results. When the cause is wrong, the effect will be wrong too. Feared that her karma would certainly pull her into the Evil Paths. She considered the various evil karma her mother created and figured that her mother will definitely become reborn in an evil destiny. For that reason, she sold the family house and acquired many kinds of expensive and famous incense, flowers, and other gifts. With those she performed a great offering to the Buddha with incenses, flowers, lamps, candles, fruits, banners, canopies and many articles in that Thus Come One, Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Buddha’s stupas and monasteries.
She saw an especially fine image of the Thus Come One Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King in one of the monasteries. As the Brahman woman beheld the honored countenance, she became doubly respectful while thinking to herself, ‘Buddhas are called Greatly Enlightened Ones who have attained All-Wisdom. If this Buddha were in the world I could ask him where my mother went after she died. He would certainly know.’
She the Brahman woman, saw an especially fine image of the Thus Come One Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King in one of the monasteries. As the Brahman woman beheld the honored countenance, the look of awesome virtue replete with the 32 hallmarks and the 80 secondary characteristics, of this clay statue, she became doubly respectful while thinking to herself, ‘Buddhas are called Greatly Enlightened Ones who have attained All-Wisdom, which consists of three types: the wisdom of the varieties of ways, the wisdom of all dharmas and the wisdom of all modes. If this Buddha were in the world I could ask him where my mother went after she died. He would certainly know where my mother went.’
I have a question for everyone to ponder. Although we should not think while cultivating, but everybody, consider this question: Did people come to this world to eat so that we live or do we live to eat?
“The Brahman woman then wept for a long time as she gazed longingly upon the Thus Come One. Suddenly a voice in the air said, ‘O weeping worthy woman, do not be so sorrowful. I shall now show you where your mother has gone.’
“The Brahman woman placed her palms together as she addressed space, saying, ‘Which virtuous divinity is comforting me in my grief? Ever since the day I lost my mother, I have held her in memory day and night, but there is nowhere I can go to ask about the realm of her rebirth.’
“The voice in the air spoke to the woman again, ‘I am the one whom you behold and worship, the former Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. Because I have seen that your regard for your mother is double that of ordinary beings, I have come to show you where she is.’
The Brahman women thought: the Buddha is the wisest, enlightened being; unfortunately the Buddha has entered nirvana now. If the Buddha were in the world and my mother passed away, I would ask the Buddha where my mother become reborn. He would definitely know. “The Brahman woman then lowered her head and wept for a long time or just a certain period of time that is not necessarily fixed, as she gazed longingly upon the Thus Come One. She could not bear to leave the Buddha. For instance, there is no rope but now it seems as if there is a rope that tied her to the image, which is a longing. She did not want to leave the image of Thus Come One Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King.
Suddenly a voice in the air said. . . This is a time when the Brahman woman is concentrated in body and mind, without other false thoughts, other than the longing for Buddha and the thought of missing the Buddha nature. Her mind could be said to be pure at this time. At this time, a voice came out of nowhere. What kind of sound was it? ‘O weeping worthy woman, although your mother committed offenses, you have your good roots. This is why she was called a worthy woman. Do not be so sorrowful. Do not cry so hard! Do not be too sad! I shall now show you where your mother has gone. Let me tell you where your mother went. Do not cry.’
“The Brahman woman placed her palms together , faced the sky as she addressed space, saying, ‘Which virtuous divinity is comforting me in my grief? Which Bodhisattva is this? Which immortal is this? You are so kind! You relieve me of sadness with such compassion; you comfort me so that I am not sad or worried. Virtue is a kind of compassionate virtue. Ever since the day I lost my mother, when she died, I have held her in memory day and night. I thought about my mother day and night. But there is nowhere I can go to ask. . . Why do I miss my mother? My mother gave me this body, so I should be filial to her. My mother passed away before I fulfilled my filial obligations. This is why I am especially sad. Actually, “The trees wish to be still but the wind does not stop; the children wish to care for their parents, but they are gone.” The trees want to stop swinging for a while, but wind blows them back and forth. The trees wish to be still but the wind does not stop. The children wish to care their parent, but they are gone. Just when I want to take care of my mother and be filial, repaying the kindness of my parents, they are gone. So it is said, “Father! Mother! Your kindness is so extremely great, it is higher than the heavens.” The grace of our parents is higher than the heavens and thicker than earth. “I am very ashamed and sad that I was not filial to my mother. I do not have a place to ask about the realm of her rebirth.” I do not know whether my mother went to the heavens or fell into the hells.
Strangely enough, when she spoke to space, The voice in the air spoke to the Brahman woman again, ‘I am the one whom you behold and worship, the spiritual being who relieved you of your sadness and worries, the former Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. Because I have seen that your regard for your mother, how much you miss your mother, is double that of ordinary beings. Why is the Brahman woman able to move the former Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One to speak to her from space? This line of text makes it clear that it is because I see that you miss your mother more than ordinary people. For instance, other people miss their father or mother 100%, while you miss your mother 200%, double the average. You are so sincere that you the way you think about parent is different than most living beings. I have come to show you where she is even though I have entered nirvana. You have moved me so much that I have come to tell you.’
“The Brahman woman suddenly lunged toward the voice she was hearing and then fell, injuring herself severely. Those around her supported and attended to her, and after a long time she was revived. Then she addressed the air, saying, ‘I hope the Buddha will be compassionate and quickly tell me into what realm my mother has been reborn. I am now near death myself.’
“ When the Brahman woman heard the voice in the air tell her that he is the former Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One, she suddenly lunged toward the voice she was hearing. She was very nervous. She seemed insane as she jumped toward the sky without regard for anything else. She heard the voice in the sky and wanted to get there to see the former Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. She lunged into the air and hit herself. This Brahman woman must not know any kungfu or other martial arts. And she then fell, injuring herself severely. She broke her arms and legs. The four limbs are in segments; the arms are in two or three segments while the legs are in a few segments. Her limbs were hurt, either broken or paralyzed. Those around her supported and attended to her. Perhaps at that time she had relatives and friends with her who went with her to make offerings to Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. Perhaps these were monastics at the temple, such as Bhikshunis who saw this woman fall. Those next to her helped her up.
And after a long time she was revived. Since she fell so hard, she lost consciousness. She was revived after a while, waking up as if from a sleep. When her head cleared, she still remembers how she lunged into the air. Then she addressed the air, saying, ‘I hope the Buddha will be compassionate. My only wish now is for the Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One to be compassionate and pity me. And quickly tell me into what realm my mother has been reborn. Where did my mother become reborn? Why did she need to be told so quickly? I am now near death myself. Having fell like this, my body and mind are about to die soon.’
“Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One told the worthy woman, ‘After you make your offerings, return home quickly. Sit upright and concentrate on my name. You will soon know where your mother has been reborn.’ The Brahman woman bowed to the Buddha and returned home. The memory of her mother sustained her as she sat upright recollecting Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One.
“After doing so for a day and a night, she suddenly saw herself beside a sea whose waters seethed and bubbled. Many evil beasts with iron bodies flew swiftly back and forth above this sea. She saw billions of men and women bobbing up and down in the sea, being fought over, seized, and eaten by the evil beasts. She saw yakshas with different shapes. Some had many hands, some many eyes, some many legs, some many heads. With their sharp fangs, they drove the offenders on toward the evil beasts.
“Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One told the worthy Brahman woman, ‘After you make your offerings, return home quickly because you have hurt yourself badly due to the fall. What should you do once you get home? Sit upright even though you broke your arms and legs, and concentrate on my name, Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. You will soon know where your mother has been reborn.’ The Brahman woman bowed to the Buddha and returned home. The memory of her mother sustained her, since she was so sincere in thinking about her mother, as she sat upright recollecting Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. She sat up so straight, she forgot her pain and her broken arms and legs. “After doing so for a day and a night. She was not kneeling, she sat for 24 hours, simply reciting the Buddha’s name and nothing else.
At that time, she suddenly saw herself beside a sea. This was not a dream. This was a result of her utmost sincerity, her spiritual nature, her consciousness or her soul. In general, all these terms are one. The spiritual nature is the Eighth Consciousness in the individual. Since the Brahman woman sat for a long time, she forgot her pain and stopped everything except that one thought of the Buddha. Sincere in this thought, the Eighth Consciousness left her body. She suddenly saw herself by a sea. A meditator may see certain states because the Eighth Consciousness leaves the body. If your Five Eyes are open, you will see ghosts, spirits, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas; you will not, otherwise. Cultivators’ spiritual nature (Eighth Consciousness) contains the Five Eyes within. If the spiritual nature leaves the physical body, the Five Eyes open so that they can see different states. This holy Brahman woman must have cultivated for a long time because even though the Five Eyes on her physical body did not open, her Eighth Consciousness left the body so that she can all of a sudden see herself by the sea whose waters seethed and bubbled. This sea water is not cool but boiling hot, surging upwards. How many evil beasts are in this ocean? Never mind with that, just know that there are many and not few. With solid iron bodies these evil beasts flew swiftly back and forth above this sea, chasing one another. She saw billions of men and women bobbing up and down in the sea, being fought over, seized, and eaten by the evil beasts. What do these evil beasts do? They eat these men and women, such as swallowing one man or one woman in one mouthful. These most ferocious evil beasts have big mouths and big stomachs.
She saw yakshas , or speedy ghosts that fly and run swiftly, with different shapes. What do they look like? Some had many hands, some many eyes, some many legs, some many heads. One yaksha ghost may have several dozen arms, one extremely ugly and vicious yaksha ghost may have two arms but many eyes, one may have relatively few arms and eyes, but many legs and feet. One yaksha ghost may have many heads, whose mouths open up like a tub that can swallow several people with one gulp. Its teeth are like swords and knives. With their sharp fangs that slice as quickly as swords, they drove the offenders on toward the evil beasts. What do yaksha ghosts do? The evil beasts look for things to eat. Since people are smarter, they sometimes run far away from evil beasts. Escaping though, they run straight into a yaksha ghost who blocks you so that you have nowhere to run and you are chased by enemies from behind. You have no route of escape and nowhere to go. You cannot even go and spend a night at a friend’s house!
Or the yakshas themselves seized the offenders and twisted their heads and feet together into shapes so horrible that no one would dare even look at them for long.
“During that time the Brahman woman was naturally without fear, due to the power of recollecting the Buddha.
“A ghost king named Poisonless bowed his head in greeting and said to the worthy woman, ‘Welcome, O Bodhisattva. What conditions bring you here?’
“The Brahman woman asked the ghost king, ‘What is this place?’
“Poisonless replied, ‘We are on the western side of the Great Iron Ring Mountain and this is the first of the seas that encircle it.’
“The worthy woman said, ‘I have heard that the hells are within the Iron Ring. Is that actually so?’
“Poisonless answered, ‘Yes, the hells are here.’
“The worthy woman asked, ‘How have I now come to the hells?’
“Poisonless answered, ‘If it wasn’t awesome spiritual strength that brought you here, then it was the power of karma. Those are the only two ways that anyone gets here.’
“The worthy woman asked, ‘Why is this water seething and bubbling, and why are there so many offenders and evil beasts?’
“Poisonless replied, ‘These are beings of Jambudvipa who did evil deeds. They have just died and passed through forty-nine days without any surviving relatives doing any meritorious deeds on their behalf to rescue them from their distress. Besides that, during their lives they themselves didn’t plant any good causes. Now their own karma calls forth these hells. Their first task is to cross this sea.
Or all the yakshasand evil beasts themselves seized the offenders. They beat and seize as if eagles catching chickens with their claws. These evil beasts and yakshas cooperate and capture the offenders. And twisted their heads and feet together. yakshas may do this to evil beasts, evil beasts may do this to yakshas and evil beasts and yakshas may do this to people. In general, all of them can be twisted so they look really awful. They are twisted into millions of different kinds of shapes so horrible that typically no one would dare even look at them for long.
“During that time the Brahman woman was naturally without fear, due to the power of recollecting the Buddha Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One. “A ghost king, one of the leaders among the ghosts, named Poisonless bowed his head in greeting to the Brahman woman and said to the worthy woman, ‘Welcome, O kindhearted Bodhisattva. What conditions bring you here?’
“The Brahman woman asked the ghost king, ‘What is this place?’ I don’t know how I got here either.
“Poisonless replied, ‘We are on the western side of the Great Iron Ring Mountain and this is the first of the seas on the west side that encircle it.’
“The worthy woman said to the ghost king, ‘I have heard that the hells are within the Iron Ring. Is that actually so? Is there really the hells? How come people do not believe there are the hells?’
“Poisonless answered, ‘Yes, the hells are here. The hells really do exist, it is not imagined.’
“The worthy woman asked, ‘How have I now come to the hells?’
“Poisonless the ghost king answered, ‘If it wasn’t awesome spiritual strength that brought you here, then it was the power of karma. You can come here due to two factors. One, you have the awesomeness, the spiritual power, or the virtue. Two, you fall into the hells because of the power of your offense karmas. Those are the only two ways that anyone gets here. If it was not for one of two things, one’s awesomeness or karma, one will not come to the hells.’
“The worthy Brahman woman asked, ‘Why is this water seething and bubbling, and why are there so many offenders cooking in this boiling water and so many evil beasts?’
“Poisonless replied Brahman woman, ‘These are beings of Jambudvipa, which means victorious gold for the reason that leaves on the Jambunadasuvarna trees fall into the hells and turn into gold. This kind of gold is most supreme and special, so it is called victorious gold. Our world is in southern Jambudvipa. Beings in southern Jambudvipa who, by merely stirring a thought, did evil deeds. They have just died and passed through forty-nine days, seven weeks. To help a deceased individual, we must do some merit for him within 49 days after his death so that he may benefit. During that period of time, the offense karma of the deceased has not been confirmed yet, but after 49 days, their karma is determined the way the court decisions have been made, they cannot change anymore. If we were to recite sutras or mantras for the deceased, we can save them so that they reap the benefits. After 49 days, the offense of the deceased is judged, so there is still merit from recitation of sutras, but they get very little merit, the impact of which is tiny though not completely nil. Without any surviving relatives doing any meritorious deeds on their behalf to rescue them from their distress, to save evil-doing living beings from their suffering. Besides that, during their lives they themselves didn’t plant any good causes, didn’t do good deeds. Now their own karma calls forth these hells. Their first task is to cross this sea. Naturally, they must first go to this great sea of suffering to endure the karmic retribution they deserve.
Ten thousand yojanas east of this sea is another sea in which they will undergo twice as much suffering. East of that sea is yet another sea where the sufferings are doubled yet again. What the combined evil causes of the three karmic vehicles evoke is called the sea of karma. This is that place.’
Ten thousand yojanas east of this sea is another sea in which they will undergo twice as much suffering. The suffering in the other sea is more much severe than this one. See how people are suffering as they evil beasts and yakshas chase them about in this ocean, were you to see the other sea, you would know that the suffering there is manifold compared to this one. East of that sea is yet another sea where the sufferings are doubled yet again. The suffering there is much more than the previous sea. What is the reason for the existence of these oceans? What the combined evil causes of the three karmic vehicles evoke. . . The three karmas are the karma of body, the karma of mouth and the karma of mind. There are three evils to body, which are killing, stealing, sexual misconduct. There are three evils to the mind, they are greed, hatred and delusion. There are four evils to the mouth, they are frivolous speech, false speech, harsh speech and divisive speech. Frivolous speech consists of improper words between men and women. False speech refers to exaggerations and lies. Harsh speech means scolding people. Divisive speech means telling A about B’s faults and telling B about A’s faults. One says two different things. There are four evils to the mouth, plus three evils of the body, and three evils of the mind, making a total of ten evils. These ten evils are also called the evil causes of the three karmas, the seeds to creating evil.
How come there is this type of ocean with evil waters with so many evil beasts and yakshas? They come forth because of people’s evil causes. Plant good causes and reap good fruits; plant evil causes and reap evil fruits. People deserve what they get since they create their own offense karma. . . is called the sea of karma. The three oceans together make up the sea of karma, which are all created by the power of people’s karma. This is that place, the sea of karma.’
“The worthy woman asked the Ghost King Poisonless, ‘Where are the hells?’
“Poisonless answered, ‘Within the three seas are hundreds of thousands of hells, each one different. Eighteen of those are known as the great hells. Five hundred subsequent ones inflict limitless cruel sufferings. Following those are hundreds of thousands that inflict limitless further sufferings.’
“The worthy woman again questioned the great ghost king, ‘My mother died recently and I do not know where she has gone.’
“The worthy Brahman woman asked the Ghost King Poisonless, ‘Where are the hells?’
“ Ghost King Poisonless answered the Brahman woman, ‘Within the three seas are hundreds of thousands of hells. What is the sea of suffering? The sea of suffering is a conglomeration of living beings’ karma. Ocean is symbolic of a large number; there is not an ocean necessarily. It represents the accumulation of karma that is as limitless as the great sea. These three seas are created by people’s three karmas of body, mouth and mind. So Poisonless told the Brahman woman that within the three seas are the great hells.
Each one of the hells is different, replete with its unique setup. In other words, each person experiences a unique hell based on his karma. Hells are not existent and prepared before people passed way. The hells manifest based on each individual’s karma; each experiences retribution based on his or her offense karma. For instance, there is a hell of molten copper. Pillars of molten copper are hollow except for a blazing fire inside. What kind of individual falls into the hells? Licentious individuals. Their power of karma makes these individuals see molten copper in the shape of people. Lusty men see molten copper and think it is a beautiful woman. As he runs forward to embrace the beautiful woman, he is scorched through to the skin and flesh that he is stuck. Lusty women see molten copper as an extremely handsome man or an old friend. She wants to get close without regard for anything, but when she does get close, she gets burned to death by the fire of desire. After being burned to death, a clever wind in the hells that was mysteriously created revives the being in the hells so that he or she experiences the same retribution repeatedly, though he or she has forgotten the results and only remembers the benefits. He or she makes the same mistake and suffers the retribution there. This is how the molten copper hell works. There are many different kinds of hells, each with each unique features.
Eighteen of those are known as the great hells. Each hell has eighteen separate spots. Five hundred subsequent ones inflict limitless cruel sufferings. Following those are hundreds of thousands that inflict limitless further sufferings.’
“The worthy woman again questioned the great ghost king, ‘ O big brother ghost king, please instruct me out of compassion. My mother died recently and I do not know where she has gone. I do not know where my mother’s soul went, big brother ghost king, please be kind and tell me.’
“The ghost king asked the worthy woman, ‘When the Bodhisattva’s mother was alive, what habits did she have?’
“The worthy woman replied, ‘My mother held deviant views and ridiculed and slandered the Triple Jewel. Even if she occasionally believed, she would soon become disrespectful again. She died recently and I still do not know where she was reborn.’
“Poisonless asked, ‘What was the Bodhisattva’s mother’s name and clan?’
“The worthy woman replied, ‘My parents were both Brahmans; my father’s name was Shila Sudarshana, my mother’s name was Yue Di Li.’
“Poisonless placed his palms together and implored the worthy woman, ‘Please, Worthy One, quickly return home. There is no need for you to grieve further. The offender Yue Di Li was born in the heavens three days ago. It is said that she received the benefit of offerings made and blessings cultivated by her filial child who practiced giving to Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One at stupas and monasteries. Not only was the Bodhisattva’s mother released from the hells, but all the other offenders who were destined for the Relentless Hell also received bliss and were reborn with her.’ Having finished speaking, the ghost king put his palms together and withdrew.
Ghost king Poisonless heard the Brahman woman’s question about where her mother has become reborn, which of the six destinies on the wheel of rebirth. “The ghost king asked the worthy woman, ‘When the Bodhisattva’s mother was alive, what habits did she have?’ The ghost king saw that the Brahman woman must be able to go to the hells because of the power of her awesome virtue and vows, so referred to her as a Bodhisattva. “What did your mother do when she was alive? What occupation was she in? How did she act?”
“The worthy woman replied, ‘My mother held deviant views. Although she was my mother, I cannot cover her mistakes. She held deviant knowledge and deviant views, which are the Five Sharp Servants in the areas of body, extremes, precepts, views and deviances. Deviant view of the body: She never accepted the shorter end of the bargain. She always thought about what was best for her body. For example, she wanted nutritious foods because she was afraid of poor health. She fed herself so well so that she was nice and round. She thought it was healthy to be chubbier. She was always planning things for her body: a good place to live, good food, and nice clothes. She spent all of her time on doing this type of calculations. How can this be good for the body? This is the view of the body that refuses to let the body get hurt.
View of extremes: All of her views were prejudiced. She disagreed with other people’s opinions about smoking being unhealthy. She thought smoking was the best and criticized you for not knowing the beauty of it. If you did, you would not quit. Her explanation seemed to make sense. Extreme views maybe ingenious explanations with faultless reasoning, but they are actually prejudiced.
View of precepts: She held deviant precepts such as finding non-vegetarian Buddhists fine. She found people who do not even touch salt as people with real skill. She teased Sangha members about how if they do not believe her, they should just try these deviant precepts. In general, she always found faults with something fine. There are no problems, but she will look with a microscope for some fault.
Deviant view. For example, everyone says it is right to be filial to our parents, but she would say, “Why? Parents procreate because they sought momentary pleasures, and you think they are good to you! Do not bother with your parents. They deserve to get old and die. The sooner they die, the better; otherwise there is just one more consumer alive.” She gave these big long explanations, arguing with you about filiality. She said it is wrong to be filial. Why be filial to elders? That is really stupid. This is a deviant views.
And ridiculed and slandered the Triple Jewel. She teased and criticized. When she saw people bowing to the Buddhas, she would say, “Ah, is that a Buddhist? Buddhists do everything! They are no better than anybody else; they still eat, drink, gamble and prostitute like everyone else. What good is it to believe in the Buddhas?” She piles a list of faults on Buddhists so that Buddhists seem like criminals who committ worse things than the Ten Evils and the Five Rebellious Acts. This is a form of ridicule. She slandered by saying Buddhism cheats people. She said the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are all fake. The Buddha is made of clay, the Dharma is words on paper, and Sangha members are human too! How are they different from regular people? Why should you believe them? Why should you bow to them? You are so stupid. She scolded you hard so that Buddhists are embarrassed to the point that some are afraid to let others know that they are Buddhists.
One elderly man who comes to listen to the sutras on Sundays asked to take refuge with me a few years ago, but I never agreed. Why? It is because he said that he wanted to take refuge secretly so that no one knows. Taking refuge is not stealing, why should it be secret? I do not have any secrete refuges here, so I told him to think things over before taking refuge. It is so strange but he says that since he is a Catholic with long time Catholic friends who will call him a rebel if they knew that he believed in Buddhism. If you do not say so, you are deceiving them, that makes you even more of a criminal. He says that he is still getting some charity there. How can someone like this be a Buddhist? How pathetic!
Even if she occasionally believed . Perhaps and supposedly she believed, it was temporary and not forever. We must make vows to believe in Buddhism forever and not just temporarily like the Brahman woman’s mother. Temporary faith may last one hour then vanish. Some people’s faith does not last for more than two hours, at the most an hour or five minutes. They cool off after five minutes of faith. We must make vows to have faith forever. She would soon become disrespectful again. Perhaps for five minutes’ time, she will go along and bow to the Buddhas, take refuge with the Triple Jewel, and find a teacher. But as soon as she turns around, for no particular reason at all, she no longer wishes to pay respects to the Buddhas and believe in the Buddhas.
She died recently and I still do not know where she was reborn.’
“Poisonless asked the Brahman woman for more detail because she did not say her mother’s name. ‘What was the Bodhisattva’s mother’s name and clan? What was your mother’s surname? First name? Address? Say all this clearly.’
“The worthy Brahman woman replied, ‘My parents were both Brahmans. There are four castes in India. The Brahmans are the clan of purity; the Kastriyas are royalty; the Vaisyas are the merchants. The Caalas are the lowest caste including butchers, slaughterers etc. In India, butchers could not walk alongside other people but have to walk on the roadside alone. If they met members of the royalty, they cannot even walk on the same road. They are marked so that everyone can tell at a glance that they are Caalas, the lowliest of castes. The Brahman woman is a member of the Brahman clan, a member of the elite. Both Indian and Great Britain were hierarchical, and that continues today. United States is democratic, people do not think hierarchically but equally. India was different; high class individuals could not converse with low class individuals. If you spoke with members of the lower class, nobilities look down on you, treating you as if you were worthless. Hierarchical thought harshly divides up people.
My father’s name was Shila Sudarshana. Shila usually refer to the vinaya, but here it just means cool and refreshing. My mother’s name was Yue Di Li, a Sanskrit word that is not formally explained in the Buddhist sutras, but let me add some commentaries now. Yue means favor and Di means emperor. Someone that emperors favor; in other words, this person was so pretty that even the emperor liked her. You may say that, there is nothing fixed about a person’s name. Since people’s names are not fixed, you may explain it however you want as long as it is reasonable, and especially if it is Sanskrit. Do not simply claim ignorance when you see things in the sutras you do not understand, research it with your wisdom. Once you uncover your wisdom, you will know. You may explain it in whatever way is reasonable; as long as you do not yell at people or say the negatives. Do not be so rigid.
“Poisonless placed his palms together out of respect and implored the worthy Brahman woman, ‘Please, Worthy One, quickly return home. There is no need for you to grieve further. Worry no more. Do not think about your mother with such sadness or miss her so that you cannot let her go. The offender Yue Di Li, a woman who committed offenses, was born in the heavens three days ago. How? It is said that she received the benefit of offerings made and blessings cultivated by her filial child, a daughter specifically, who practiced giving to Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One at stupas and monasteries. The giving includes offering alms to the Sangha and the assembly. Not only was the Bodhisattva’s mother released from the suffering of the hells, but all the other offenders like your mother who were destined for the Relentless Hell also received bliss and were reborn with her.’ Having finished speaking, the ghost king put his palms together respectfully and withdrew.
“The Brahman woman returned swiftly as if from a dream, understood what had happened, and then made a profound and far-reaching vow before the stupas and images of Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One, saying, ‘I vow that until the end of future eons I will respond to beings suffering for their offenses by using many expedient devices to bring about their liberation.’”
The Buddha told Manjushri, “The Ghost King Poisonless is the present Bodhisattva Foremost Wealth. The Brahman woman is now Earth Store Bodhisattva.”
“The Brahman woman returned swiftly as if from a dream understood what had happened . She went back and thought to herself, “Oh, I was by an ocean where I saw Poisonless the great ghost king, the evil beasts and offenders in the hells. I asked him where my mother was reborn and the ghost king says she became reborn in the heavens.” She knew that none of this was illusory but occurred because Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One’s awesome might helped to make it happen. And then she made a profound and far-reaching vow before the stupas and images of Enlightenment-Flower Samadhi Self-Mastery King Thus Come One, saying, ‘I vow that until the end of future eons. When will the end of future eons occur? There will never be an end; hence the vows of Earth Store King Bodhisattva will never end either. I will respond to beings suffering for their offenses throughout all six destinies by using many expedient devices to bring about their liberation, allowing them to leave suffering and attain bliss.’”
The Buddha told Manjushri, “The Ghost King Poisonless who conversed with the Brahman woman, is the present Bodhisattva Foremost Wealth. The Bodhisattva Foremost Wealth cultivated the seven sacred gems: 1. faith, a gem in cultivation. 2. precepts. The transmission and receiving of precepts are rare in the Age of the Decline of Dharma; but monastics must receive the precepts to be actual monastics. 3. erudition. 4. renunciation. Giving is also a gem in cultivation. 5. wisdom, a gem in cultivation. 6. a sense of shame. 7. remorse. Usually remorse and a sense of shame go together; although they are separate here; they are necessary gems in cultivation. He is called the Bodhisattva Foremost Wealth because he has these seven gems of faith, precepts, erudition, renunciation, wisdom, a sense of shame and remorse. The Brahman woman is now Earth Store Bodhisattva.” This is why we must emulate the former Earth Store Bodhisattva and practice filial respect on a wide scale, including the virtue of being filial to our parents and saving our parents.
The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, Chapter 1: Spiritual Penetrations in the Palace of the Trayastrimsha Heaven with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua