Earth Store Sutra, Chapter 4: Karmic Retributions of Beings in Jambudvipa with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
...The ceaseless tangle is like the bit of karma we create in this lifetime, then a bit more karma in the next life. Our karma increases and becomes more serious by the day. Our offense karma is similar to this ceaseless tangle. Since your offense karma becomes heavier each day, your virtuous conduct becomes less each day. We cannot become Buddhas with little or no virtue. We will become ghosts if we have karmic obstructions. How do Buddhas become Buddhas? They are perfected with the myriad virtues. How do ghosts become ghosts? When filled with myriad sorts of evil karma, they become ghosts. Some ignorant individuals claim there are no ghosts, words which are worse than those uttered by children. Children will believe this idea if you explain it. However, people who find ghosts and spirits incredulous claim, “There are no ghosts.” Without ghosts, there are no Buddhas. Ghosts and Buddhas are two sides of the same coin. Turn it over and it is the Buddha; let it alone and it is a ghost. People are between being turned and not turned. Were we average, we would just be people; were our evil karma more serious, we would become ghosts. Nothing here is to be doubted.
“O Four Heavenly Kings! To killers, Earth Store Bodhisattva says that short life spans will be the retribution. To robbers, he says that poverty and acute suffering will be the retribution. To those who indulge in improper sex, he says that rebirth as pigeons or as mandarin drakes or ducks will be the retribution. To those who use harsh speech, he says that quarrelling families will be the retribution.
The Buddha called out, “O Four Heavenly Kings! Were he to encounter would-be killers, Earth Store Bodhisattva says to them that short life spans will be the retribution. He explains that those who enjoy killing in this lifetime will experience many illnesses or short lives in future lives. How come their lives will be short? Having taken lives in the past so that the victims live a short life; consequently, the lives of killers will be short.
To robbers and thieves, Earth Store Bodhisattva says that poverty and acute suffering will be the retribution. What does robbing and stealing mean? Stealing means taking without letting anyone see. Robbing means taking someone else’s belongings without their knowing. When Earth Store Bodhisattva encounters people who like to steal and rob things, what does he say to them? He talks about the retribution of poverty and acute suffering. He explains that if you steal people’s valuables now so that they become poor, then you will also become poor in future lives. See all those poor people who do not have anything to eat or wear because they experience retribution from stealing other people’s goods or money in past lives? This is the reason why people are poor now. The more you steal, the poorer you become; the more you are afraid of having nothing, the more likely you will have nothing. Earth Store Bodhisattva tells these people about the retribution of poverty and acute suffering; poverty is one of the worst miseries.
To those who indulge in improper sex, he says that rebirth as pigeons or as mandarin drakes or ducks will be the retribution. If he were to meet people who enjoy sexual misconduct, which refers to wrong and temporary pleasures between non-official couples – not between those officially married couples (although it would be best to reduce sexual activity between officially married couples too). Do not think that one can be casual and that the act is not an offense if it is with one’s official partner; sexual activity deludes people. The more sexual activity, the more deluded we are so that we do not have a light about us. Why is there a light about you? There is a light about you because you do not engage in sexual activity, which leads to real wisdom. Engaging in sexual misconduct, improper sexual activity between men and women, is a transgression of the precepts. What retribution does he tell these people? He explains the retribution of becoming pigeons or mandarin ducks, fowls in future lives. Sparrows and pigeons are very licentious. Pigeons will give birth to a nest full of little pigeons. Most fowls procreate with males on top of females; pigeons are different in that females are on top. They are so licentious that they give birth to a nest full of little pigeons. Mandarin drakes or ducks are very emotional. Males and females are together whether they are on land or in the air; they are inseparable. Although these fowls are considered free, it is still bad because they are animals. People who enjoy sexual misconduct will be reborn as sparrows, pigeons, and mandarin drakes or ducks, or the like.
To those who use harsh speech or who enjoy scolding others, including divisive speech, frivolous speech, and lies, he says that quarrelling families will be the retribution. He tells them that they will not get along and will always quarrel with their future retinues.
“To those who slander, he says that being tongueless and having cankerous mouths will be the retribution. To the hateful, he says that being ugly and crippled will be the retribution. To the stingy, he says that not getting what they seek will be the retribution. To gluttons, he says that hunger, thirst and sicknesses of the throat will be the retribution. To hunters, he says that a frightening insanity that destroys one’s life will be the retribution. “To those who oppose their parents, he says that being killed in natural disasters will be the retribution. To arsonists who burn mountains and forests, he says that trying to take their own lives in the confusion of insanity will be the retribution.
“To those who slander the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, he, Earth Store Bodhisattva, says that being tongueless and having cankerous mouths will be the retribution. He says you only speak nonsense in this lifetime, slander individuals and the Triple Jewel, ruining the Triple Jewel, in your future life, you will have no tongue and be unable to speak. In your future life, you will always have sores on your mouth. You will face the retribution of incurable sores. Why are people mutes? It is because they slandered the Triple Jewel. How come that person has a lot of canker sores on his mouth that never quite heal? The reason why miracle doctors cannot heal him is because he slandered the Triple Jewel in past lives; hence he faces the retribution of no tongue and canker sores on the mouth.
To the hateful who have the biggest temper, who get angry easily, and replete with qualities typical of asuras, he says that being ugly and crippled will be the retribution. When people get angry, they get red in the face, thick in the neck, and glare with their eyes, then they do not look too good. If they were that way, they will be very ugly in future lives. Why? Since they enjoy being that way in past lives, they will look especially ugly in this lifetime. They may be disabled, such as experiencing inconveniences in urination or crippled. This is a type of illness. If you get upset often, you will be ugly, disabled, and entangled by numerous illnesses in future lives.
To the stingy who are not willing to give even a coin, turning and twisting that coin so that it becomes liquid, they are still unwilling to let it out of their hand. Stingy people are miserly and unwilling to give, refusing to let go of the money they grab on to. He, Earth Store Bodhisattva, says that not getting what they seek will be the retribution. They will not have any of their wish come true.
To gluttons who want to eat nonstop, eating repeatedly without restraint, to people who eat without constraint, they do nothing but think about food all day; they eat then sleep, sleep then eat. Earth Store Bodhisattva tells people who do not restrain their food intake, he says that hunger, thirst and sicknesses of the throat will be the retribution. Eat repeatedly now and in future lives, you will never be full. You may not even get a drink of water when you want it, why? It is because your throat will develop some sickness so that it cannot swallow. You may want to eat, but you cannot swallow it, including water. This is the retribution of hunger, thirst and sickness of the throat.
To hunters, he says that a frightening insanity that destroys one’s life will be the retribution. Why do hunters hunt? They think it is fun. Here comes a deer, so “bang!” They shoot it and the deer lies there dead. They only think, “Oh, see how my shot is so precise! I shot it dead with one bullet.” They are pleased with themselves for being so indulgent, unruly, unrestrained, and can do whatever they want. What should be said to hunters who indulge in their desires? Explain to them that since you killed, in the future, they will experience frightening insanity in some accidental death, such as a car accident, plane crash, train wreck, bus accident and others. If you kill someone now, you will be killed by a car in the future. Explain this kind of cause and effect to them and they may think, “Oh, that is very dangerous.” They will quit hunting. Earth Store Bodhisattva explains the appropriate Dharma for people. If you remember the retributions for these cause and effect, you will be able to explain the Dharma for anyone you encounter. You are then a transformation of Earth Store Bodhisattva; Earth Store Bodhisattva is your partner to your firm. So after listening to the Earth Store Sutra, we understand the retribution in cause and effect and should avoid doing anything wrong.
“To those who oppose their parents by being unfilial, beating, and scolding, he says that being killed in natural disasters will be the retribution. You cannot be unfilial to your parents because the universe will destroy you, such as death by a thunderbolt, by a falling tree knocked down in a wind storm, or by a collapsing house. These are retributions of death due to natural disasters. People who are not filial face the retribution of being hit by a thunderbolt, wind storm, or rain that washes down your house and crushes you. To arsonists who burn mountains and forests because they enjoy setting wild fires, he says that trying to take their own lives in the confusion of insanity will be the retribution. Do not set fire to burn down any mountain because in future lives you will go insane and die. Explain these different retributions to him. Earth Store Bodhisattva teaches living beings everywhere, explaining the principle of cause and effect.
“To cruel parents or step-parents, he says that being flogged in future lives will be the retribution. To those who net and trap young animals, he says that being separated from one’s own children will be the retribution. To those who slander the Triple Jewel, he says that being blind, deaf, or mute will be the retribution. To those who slight the Dharma and regard the teachings with arrogance, he says that remaining in the bad paths forever will be the retribution. To those who destroy or misuse possessions of the Eternally Dwelling, he says that revolving in the hells for hundreds of millions of eons will be the retribution. To those who defile the pure conduct of others and bear false witness against members of the Sangha, he says that remaining in the animal realm forever will be the retribution. To those who scald, burn, behead, maim, or otherwise harm beings, he says that undergoing the very same suffering will be the retribution.
“To cruel parents or step-parents, either real dad and step mom, real mom and step dad, step dad and mom, or real dad and mom who have favorites. Dashun of China, for example, had his real father and a step mother.
There are also real mother’s and step father’s. Someone’s father dies and the mother remarries someone who becomes the stepfather. The step dad may have favorites, preferring this child and hating that child. Ming Zician of China, for instance, is one of Confucius’ students. His father was an official who remarried. The stepmother abused Ming Zician. In cold places during the winter, she put reed puffs in Ming Zician’s padded jacket. For her real sons, she padded their jackets with cotton. Reed is fluffy and not warm enough; only cotton can isolate chills and prevent cold. One day, Official Ming, the father of Ming Zician, was going somewhere and told Ming Zician to steer the carriage. He was so cold that he trembled. Official Ming got upset, “What is the matter with you? The weather is not even too cold, how can you be freezing the way you are?” He picks up a whip and smacks him, which ripped his jacket. He took a look and saw that the padding was made entirely of reed puffs. The father started crying, saying, “I have so wronged my son. He is so cold because his stepmother treats him like this.” He swore that he will get rid of this wife. When he got home, he was going to divorce his wife, but Ming Zician knelt down before his father. He said, “Please do not get rid of my stepmother.” The father asked, “Why?” He said, “One son alone bears the cold when the mother is around; but two sons have the chills with the mother gone.” He says that he is the only one who bears the cold when his stepmother is around; but if his stepmother were to leave and remarry another, then two sons (step-brothers) will both suffer the cold. His father thought it over and did not ask his wife to leave. The stepmother was moved by Ming Zician’s words and thought, “My son is so considerate.” She treated him impartially, without discriminating against him in the future.
Why are there people with step parents? Perhaps their father passed away and their mother remarried. Perhaps their real mother dies and their stepfather remarries. Children in this situation usually suffer a great deal. I do not know whether this occurs in America or not? This occurs frequently in China. In general, parents usually do not love children who are not related to them by blood; they may be extremely vicious toward them. This is some of what it means by cruel parents or step-parents. He, Earth Store Bodhisattva, says that being flogged in future lives will be the retribution. What kind of cause and effect does he say to these people? He tells them in future lives, they will face the retribution of being whipped and beaten.
To those who net and trap young animals, such as newborn or baby fish, sparrows, and other creatures. He says that being separated from one’s own children will be the retribution. Do things like this and in future lives you will separate from your family. You encounter situations where you cannot be together. You may have to go far away from your hometown so that not everyone can see each other. This is the retribution of being apart from your children.
To those who formally slander the Triple Jewel of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, he says that being blind, deaf, or mute will be the retribution. You do not need to ask and yet you can tell that blind, deaf, and mute individuals slandered the Triple Jewel in their past lives since limitless eons ago. You will fall into the hells if you slandered the Triple Jewel. Once you fall into the hells, you will not be able to get out of it until billions and billions of eons later. Once you leave the hells and before you become a human being, who knows how many lifetimes you would have to be an animal? How many years you would have to be a horse, a cow, a sheep, a chicken, a dog, or a pig? As a human being, you will be poor, of a low class, blind, deaf, or mute as a result of having slandered the Triple Jewel.
To those who slight the Dharma and regard the teachings with arrogance, those who look down on the Buddhadharma and are conceited toward Buddhism, he says that remaining in the bad paths forever will be the retribution.
To those who destroy or misuse possessions of the Eternally Dwelling, of the temple. Perhaps you ruin a piece of paper or a piece of wood for no reason. In general, to those who damage the temple’s communal goods, he says that revolving in the hells for hundreds of millions of eons will be the retribution.
To those who defile the pure conduct of others and bear false witness against members of the Sangha refers to those who ruin others’ Brahma conduct, the purity in cultivation and those who commit libel. This monk did not steal, but they say, “I saw him steal.” This monk did not kill and they say, “I saw him kill!” Or “I saw him eat meat! I saw him drink somewhere! I saw him fooling around with women somewhere. . .” They badmouth this monk for no good reason. To those who slander with false accusations, he says that remaining in the animal realm forever will be the retribution. This kind of people will fall into the hells in the future and be an animal forever after they leave the hells.
Shakyamuni Buddha told the Four Heavenly Kings that to those who scald, burn, behead, maim, or otherwise harm beings, he, Earth Store Bodhisattva, says that undergoing the very same suffering will be the retribution. Scald people with hot water and in future lives you will be scalded with hot water too; burn people with fire and people will burn you in the future too; cut people with a knife and others will cut you with a knife in the future too. These are paybacks where the debts are handed over back and forth. You kill someone, someone kills you; someone kills you and you kill someone. He explains this kind of retribution that is delivered back and forth.
“To those who violate precepts and the regulations of pure eating, he says that being born as birds or beasts that must suffer from hunger and thirst will be the retribution. To those who make unprincipled and destructive use of things, he says that being unable to ever obtain what they seek will be the retribution. To the arrogant and haughty, he says that being servile and of low station will be the retribution. To those who use backbiting to cause discord among others, he says that being tongueless or having speech impediments will be the retribution. To those with deviant views, he says that being reborn in backward regions will be the retribution.
“To those who violate precepts and the regulations of pure eating. . . People who receive the precepts should not break the precepts; they should observe the precepts. What does it mean by breaking the precepts? You transgress on purpose. It is okay if you did not know before and made mistakes. If you know and still make mistakes, then your offenses are even more serious. You take another’s life though you received the precept against killing, so you break this precept. You steal though you received the precept against stealing, so you break this precept. You engage in sexual conduct though you received the precept against committing sexual misconduct, so you break this precept. You lie though you received the precept against lying, so you break this precept. You take intoxicants though you received the precept against taking intoxicants, so you break this precept. These are obvious transgressions that everyone knows; but transgressions also occur when people do not know about them. You appear not to make any transgressions when you did. Transgressions can be apparent to most people; transgressions can also be unbeknownst to most people, nevertheless they are transgressions according to the Buddhadharma.
The following are four scenarios of transgressions that do not appear to be transgressions. 1. A Bhikshu can adhere to the precepts completely, except that he is egoistic about keeping the precepts. There is still an “I” about who receives the precepts, an “I” who upholds the precepts, and an “I” who keeps the precepts. There is always a self, which is an attachment. Although he did not violate the precepts, he is not really keeping the precepts. Keeping the precepts means that you do not feel you are better than other people because you keep the precepts. 2. He can recite and apply the sutras and vinaya, keeping the precepts completely. Obviously he is inseparable from “the view of his body”. He does not talk about “I”, but talks about his body because he is attached to it. How is he attached to the body? He refuses to change his body. He refuses to change his old ways, such as being lax and lazy. He always works hard to make plans for his body. This is the view of the body. This is the second type of transgression that looks as if he is keeping the precepts and making no transgressions. 3. He practices the Twelve Dhutanga practices. Dhutanga is a Sanskrit word that means upbeat and energetic. One is not sleepy or hungry. He strikes up his spirit to fight off laziness. Sleepy? I am going to sit here and meditate. Hungry? I am going to avoid even water. This is how we practice the Twelve Dhutanga practices. But he does not know about the emptiness of people and the emptiness of Dharma; he feels that all dharmas are existent. He has not reached the state of all dharmas are empty of characteristics, but thinks that all dharmas are existent. This appears to be keeping the precepts, but his skills at keeping the precepts are imperfect. 4. He is compassionate towards all beings; however, if he were to hear that all dharmas, all marks of Dharma are fundamentally uncreated, that nothing comes into being and nothing ceases, then he is frightened at the prospect of seeing this type of Dharma.
The above four scenarios describe what appears to be no violation of precepts, but they are not adherences to the precepts either.
Violate the regulations of pure eating, such as being a vegetarian, means eating meat. Not only is eating meat a violation of the regulations of pure eating, but eating at the inappropriate times also violates the regulations of pure eating. What does it mean by eating at the inappropriate times? Eating after noon when you made a vow not to eat past noon is to eat at an inappropriate time. Eating at the inappropriate time is also a theft because you said that you would not eat after noon and you do. Having violated the precept of not eating beyond noon and the precept against stealing, when people ask you if you ate anything, you answer, “Oh, I did not!” This violates the precept against lying. Altogether you violated three precepts. If someone gave you any food, this person also violates the same precept and commits the same offenses. This is why the Buddha said they are not the Buddha’s disciples, they are not my disciples. What are people who break these precepts like? They are like fish hawks that make strange sounds or hungry ghosts that eat excrement because they have nothing to eat. People who break the precepts and the regulations of pure eating show themselves to be people of the lowest class. In the future they will experience the retribution of being animals. If Earth Store Bodhisattva encounters those who break the precepts and the regulations of pure eating, he says that being born as birds or beasts that must suffer from hunger and thirst will be the retribution. They will not have any food to eat.
To those who make unprincipled and destructive use of things, he says that being unable to ever obtain what they seek will be the retribution. To those who do unreasonable damage to implements such as a bowl or a cup by picking it up and smashing it for no reason at all. Actually, not just a cup, but all goods belonging to the temple, including personal goods, cannot be destroyed. If these things are damaged, then in future lives you will not get anything you want. You often experience the suffering of not getting what you wish. As a retribution, you will always lack or want what you seek in future lives.
To the arrogant and haughty who have a strong view of a self, who are so egoistical that they consider themselves bigger than Mt. Sumeru. Arrogant individuals think highly of themselves and are quite pompous. For them, he says that being servile and of low station will be the retribution. Not aware of how arrogant and pompous you are in this lifetime, you will be servants to others or those of the lowest class or ignoble background in future lives.
To those who use backbiting to cause divisions, gossip, contention, and discord among others, he says that being tongueless or having speech impediments or being sparrows will be the retribution.
To those with deviant views, for which they do not observe the rules because they have the wrong kind of understanding, he says that being reborn in the most impoverished and backward regions will be the retribution.
“The bad habits involving body, mouth, and mind karma that beings of Jambudvipa perpetuate, result in hundreds of thousands of retributions like those. I have only listed a few examples here. Since the varying karma created by beings of Jambudvipa brings about different responses, Earth Store Bodhisattva uses hundreds of thousands of expedient means to teach and transform beings. Those beings must first undergo retributions such as those, and then fall into the hells, where they pass through eons without being able to escape. You should therefore protect people and nations. Do not allow the accumulation of karma to confuse beings.”
Upon hearing that, the Four Heavenly Kings wept in sorrow, placed their palms together, and withdrew.
“The above problems on the causes and conditions of retribution, the bad habits involving body (killing, stealing, committing sexual misconduct and others), mouth (the four evil karma of frivolous speech, lies, harsh speech, and divisive speech), and mind (the evil karma of greed, hatred, and delusion), which create the ten types of evil karma that beings of Southern Jambudvipa perpetuate, result in hundreds of thousands of retributions like those. Consequently they will experience different evil retributions in the future. I have only explained in brief, rather than in detail, and listed a few examples here.
Since, as described earlier, the varying evil karma created by all beings of Southern Jambudvipa brings about different responses, Earth Store Bodhisattva uses hundreds of thousands of expedient means to teach and transform all beings. Those beings of Southern Jambudvipamust first undergo many retributions such as those described, and then fall into the hells, where they pass through eons without being able to escape. For this reason, you Four Heavenly Kings should therefore protect people and nations. Do not allow the accumulation of karma to confuse and entangle beings.”
Upon hearing the causes and conditions of retributions that Shakyamuni Buddha explained earlier, the Four Heavenly Kings wept in sorrow. Why did the Four Heavenly Kings hear this and cry out of sadness? On the one hand, they were sympathetic with living beings for having to face this kind of suffering; on the other hand, they were ashamed that they did not live up to their responsibilities in protecting living beings. With thoughts such as these, they wept in sorrow, placed their palms together, and withdrew to the side to sit down.
The Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, Chapter 4: Karmic Retributions of Beings in Jambudvipa with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua