Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva fundamental vow sutra

by Johnny Yu | 2005 | 21,827 words

The story of Ksitigarbha occurs in the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Purvapranidhana Sutra which is a popular Mahayana Sutra. This sutra is said to have been spoken by the Buddha towards the end of his life. Ksitigarbha is a bodhisattva primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism and usually depicted as a Buddhist monk. Original title of the text: Kᚣitig...

Chapter 1 - Display of Divine Power in the Palace of the Trayastrimsas Heaven

Thus have I heard.  Once [Shakyamuni] Buddha was in [the Palace of] Trayastrimsas Heaven to give a Dharma sermon for his mother. 

At that time, all of the innumerable Buddhas and great Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas came from countless worlds of the Ten Directions and assembled there [to receive the sermon].  All of them praised Shakyamuni Buddha for manifesting the power of great wisdom in a world polluted by the five defilements.  [They praised him] for taming the hearts of stubborn sentient beings, enabling them to leave suffering and through the Buddha-Dharma, attain true happiness (Enlightenment).  All of them sent their attendants to pay respect to the World Honored One.

At that time, the Tathagata smiled and radiated trillions of great bright lights, which like clouds manifested into innumerable forms.  Among these were the bright light of great perfection, great mercy and compassion, supreme wisdom, great Prajna, great Samadhi, great Srivatsa, great blissful virtues, great meritorious virtues, great refuge, and great praise.

After radiating these inexpressible bright lights, the Tathagata released all kinds of subtle and wondrous sounds.  Among these were the sound of the Dana-Paramita (Alms Giving Paramita),  Sila-Paramita (Moral Precepts Paramita), Ksanti-Paramita (Perfect Patience Paramita), Virya-Paramita (Diligence Paramita), Dhyana-Paramita (Meditation Paramita), Prajna-Paramita (Wisdom Paramita), Mercy and Compassion, Rejoicing and Abandonment, Deliverance, Non-Outflow (refers to "non-outflow" of thoughts and other actions), Wisdom, Great Wisdom, Lion's Roar, Great Lion's Roar; the sound of the Tathagata's voice echoing like thunder, and echoing like Great Thunder [audible to all worlds of the Ten Directions].

[The release of these innumerable bright lights and various kinds of subtle and wondrous sounds summoned] countless millions of the eight classes of supernatural beings from the Saha world and other lands to assemble in the Palace of Trayastrimsas Heaven.  They came from the Four Directional Devarajas Heavens, Trayastrimsas, Suyama, Tusita, Nirmanarati, Paranirmitavasavarti, Brahmakayika, Brahmapurohita, Mahabrahma (Great Pure Heaven), Parittabhas (Minor Light Heaven), Apramanabha (Infinite-Light Heaven), Abhasvara (Light-Sound Heaven), Parittasubhas (Minor-Purity Heaven), Apramanasubhas (Infinite-Purity Heaven), Subhakirtsna (Universal-Pure Heaven), Punyaprasavas (Blissful-Birth Heaven), Blissful Love Heaven, Brhatphala (Broad-Fruition Heaven), Asanjnisattva (No-Thought Heaven), Avrha (No-Trouble Heaven), Atapa (No-Heat Heaven), Sudarsana (Beautiful Heaven), Sudrsa (Well-Appearing Heaven), Akanistha (End of Form Heaven), Mahamahesvara and the Naivasamjnanasamjnayatana (Neither-Thinking-Nor-Not-Thinking Heaven).  All the multitudes of the eight classes of supernatural beings came to assemble [in the Palace of Trayastrimsas Heaven].

Also, deities from other lands and the Saha world came to the gathering, such as the deities of the seas, rivers, trees, mountains, earth, lakes, crops, day, night, space, sky, food, and vegetations.  All these and other deities assembled there.  There also came from other lands and the Saha world such great ghost kings as the Evil-Eye Ghost King, Blood Drinking Ghost King, Vital-Energy Consuming Ghost King, Ova-fetus Devouring Ghost King, Disease-Spreading Ghost King, Poisons-Halting Ghost King, Compassionate Ghost King,  Blessing-Bestowing Ghost King, and Great Love-Respect Bestowing Ghost King.  These and other ghost kings also came to assemble.

At that time, Shakyamuni Buddha said to the future Dharma King, Manjushri Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, "Look onto all these Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and eight classes of supernatural beings gathering here at Trayastrimsas from various worlds.  Do you know how many of them are here?"

Manjushri replied, "World Honored One, [even] if I use my divine power, I cannot determine the number after thousands of kalpas."

The Buddha said to Manjushri, "Observing with my Buddha Eye, I also cannot determine the number.  [Together], they represent all those beings in these countless kalpas who had been delivered, who are to be delivered, and who are yet to be delivered by Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva; and those who had already attained Enlightenment, who are about to attain Enlightenment, and who have yet attained Enlightenment [through the help of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva]."

Manjushri said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, in the past, I have long cultivated virtuous practices and have achieved Unobstructed Wisdom.  Upon hearing the Buddha's truthful words, I immediately believe and accept.   However, the beings of the lesser vehicles, eight classes of supernatural beings, as well as sentient beings of the future generations will certainly have doubts.  Although they heard the Tathagata's truthful statement and respectfully accepted it, there would unavoidably arise some slandering.  I only hope that the World Honored One will elaborate on what Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva-Mahasattva did in the `Causal Grounds' and what vows did he take, so that he is able to accomplish such inconceivable deeds."

The Buddha said to Manjushri, "As an analogy, imagine if every grass blade, tree, bush, straw, hemp, bamboo, reed, mountain, stone, dust and every object of three trillion worlds are each a separate Ganges River.  Then imagine that each grain of sand of these countless Ganges Rivers represents a world.  Additionally, every speck of dust from each and every one of these worlds represents a kalpa.  Then convert every speck of dust that accumulates in these worlds in one kalpa time to kalpas.  The time since Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva had achieved the Tenth Level of Bodhisattva-hood (highest level Bodhisattva) is thousands of times longer than [the sum of all of the kalpas in] the previous analogy.  This is not mentioning the length of time Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva spent in Sravaka-hood and Pratyeka-Buddhahood.  Manjushri, this Bodhisattva's majestic, solemn vow is, indeed, inconceivable!"

"In the future, there may be virtuous men or women who after hearing this Bodhisattva's name, say praises, pay homage, recite his name, make offerings,  or even paint, carve or mold his images.  They will have hundreds of consecutive rebirths into the thirty-three heavens and will never fall into the suffering realms (hell, hungry ghosts, animals)."

"Manjushri, an inexpressible numbers of kalpas ago, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was an old sage.  At that time, there was a Buddha bearing the title of Mighty Lion Myriad Deeds All Accomplished Tathagata.  The sage encountered the Tathagata and saw this Buddha's majestic form.  Seeing the Buddha's body was adorned with thousands of blessings, the sage asked this Buddha what virtuous deeds had [this Buddha] performed and what vows had [this Buddha] taken to attain such dignified form."

"The Mighty Lion Myriad Deeds All Accomplished Tathagata told the sage, `If you want to attain this form, you must rescue all suffering sentient beings for long and extended time.'"

"Manjushri, at that time, the sage vowed, `From now to incalculable kalpas in the future, I will provide extensive expedient means of deliverance to all of the sinful and suffering beings in the six realms of samsara, leading all of them to liberation.  Then, I, myself, will realize Buddhahood.'  He took such a great vow in front of that Buddha, and even now, after trillions of inexpressible numbers of kalpas, he still remains a Bodhisattva."

"Moreover, in the past, an inconceivable asankhyeya numbers of kalpas ago, there was a Buddha bearing the title of Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata. That Buddha's life span was four hundred thousand trillion asankhyeya kalpas."

"During the Semblance Dharma Era of that time, there was a holy Brahman woman.  She was profoundly blessed because of the enormous amount of virtuous deeds she performed in her previous lives.  Admired and respected by the people, she was also protected by the devas at all times and places.  However, her mother had deviant beliefs and would often disrespect the Three Jewels.  At the time, the Brahman woman tried many expedient means to persuade and lead her mother to adopt righteous views.  Yet, the mother did not completely change her ways.  Soon thereafter, the mother passed away, and her soul fell into Avici (Uninterrupted) Hell."

"The Brahman woman knew that her mother did not believe in the laws of causation [and therefore committed many sins] and would inevitably be reborn into the realms of suffering in accordance to her mother's karmic sins.  [To relieve her mother of this suffering], she sold off her home to purchase vast amounts of incense, flowers and other offering items.  She made great offerings to the stupa and temple of the Buddha of that era.  [The Brahman woman] saw in a temple the image of the Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata.  The painted statue showed the Tathagata in his magnificent form with perfect dignity.  Bowing and admiring this magnificent statue, the Brahman woman was inspired with greater reverence.  She whispered to herself: `The Buddha is called the Great Enlightened One, possessing all wisdom.  If He were in this world, I would come to Him and inquire about my mother's whereabouts.  He surely would tell me of my mother's place of rebirth.'   She wept quietly for a long time while piously gazing at the Tathagata."

"Suddenly she heard a voice from the sky, saying, `Crying holy woman, restrain your sorrow, for I shall reveal your mother's whereabouts.'"

"The Brahman woman faced skyward with her palms joined and replied, `May I ask who is the holy Virtuous Being?  Who is the one to relieve me of my worries?  Since losing my mother, she has been in my thoughts constantly both day and night.  Yet, there is no place for me to go to find out my mother's place of rebirth.'"

"The voice from above responded again, saying, `I am the one whom you are worshiping, the Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata.  Seeing that you [had performed numerous virtuous deeds in your previous lives and your current life, and] cherish your mother much more than ordinary beings, I have come to inform you of her place of rebirth.'"

"Upon hearing this, the Brahman woman prostrated herself abruptly onto the ground [to show her gratitude].  She was badly injured and her attendants came to hold her steady for quite a long time as she slowly regained consciousness.   She then addressed the sky again, saying, `May the Buddha, in his mercy and compassion, quickly tell me of my mother's whereabouts, for I feel that my heart and physical body are about to die!'"

"The Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata replied, `After having completed your offerings, go directly home.  Sit reverently and contemplate my title; then you will know your mother's whereabouts.'"

"The Brahman woman returned to her residence after completing the offerings.  Wishing to find out her mother's whereabouts, she reposed herself in seated meditation and contemplated the title of Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata."

"After one day and night [of contemplation, her mind was in a deep meditative state].  She saw herself being transported to the shore of a boiling sea.  On that sea, there were many beasts with bodies made of iron, flying over or running upon it, and chasing [people] in all directions.  She saw men and women, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, struggling to stay afloat [in that sea]."

"[She saw] the iron beasts competed with each other to snatch up and devour these men and women.  There were also yaksas in various forms, some with many arms and numerous eyes, others with many legs and multiple heads, all with teeth as sharp as swords protruding from their mouths.  These yaksas chased and herded both men and women into [the claws of] the iron beasts, which seized and snapped at these men and women by either their heads or feet.  The various [ensuing gruesome dismemberments] were too horrible and frightening to be looked upon.  Yet, the Brahman woman felt no fear in her heart because of the strength generated by her mindfulness of the Buddha."

"Then,  a ghost king named No Poison (Vandana) came and prostrated himself before her.  He greeted her, inquiring, `Bodhisattva, for what reason did you come here?'"

"The Brahman woman replied by inquiring the ghost king, `What is this place?'"

"Vandana answered, `This is the first great sea to the west of the Great Cakravada Mountain.'"

"Then, the holy woman asked, `I have heard that hells are in the midst of the Cakravada. Is this true?'"

"Vandana replied, `It is true and hells do exist.'"

"The holy woman asked, `How did I arrive at this place of hell?'"

"Vandana replied, `If not by the use of the divine power, then it must be caused by karmic forces. Other than these two forces, there is no other way to gain entrance [into hell].'"

"The Brahman woman asked again, `What causes this seawater to rise and boil?  And why are there so many suffering people and fierce beasts here?'"

"Vandana replied, `Those suffering people are the newly deceased beings from Jambudvipa, who committed evil deeds.  For the period of forty-nine days after their deaths, none of their relatives performed virtuous acts on their behalf to ease and deliver them from their suffering.  Since they did not perform many virtuous deeds while alive, their negative karma is guiding them into the various hells.  Consequently, they must first pass through this Great Sea. One Hundred thousands yojanas to the east of this Great Sea, there is another Great Sea.  The suffering in that Great Sea are twice of the suffering here. To the east of that second Great Sea there is yet another Great Sea, where the suffering is doubled yet again. These suffering is the result of the negative karma arisen from these people' negative speeches, actions and thoughts; and these seas are known collectively as the Karmic Seas.'"

"The holy woman also asked Ghost King Vandana, `Where are these hells?'"

"Vandana replied, `All hells are within these three seas, and they number in the hundreds of thousands.  Each one is different from the others.  There are eighteen great hells .  Then, there are five hundred secondary ones, and within each there is boundless suffering.  Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of hells in the next category, and within each is also immeasurable suffering.'"

"The Brahman woman asked the great ghost king, `My mother died recently.  Do you know the whereabouts of her spirit?'"

"The ghost king asked her, `What malicious acts did your mother commit in her lifetime?'"

"The holy woman replied, `My mother held deviant views and slandered the Three Jewels.  Sometimes, she half-heartedly believed in the Dharma but then would reject it again.  Though she died recently, I do not know her whereabouts.'"

"Vandana asked, `What was your mother's name?'"

"The holy woman replied, `Both my father and mother were Brahmans. My father's name was Silo Sardrsa; my mother's name was Yue Di Li.'"

"Vandana joined his palms and addressed the holy woman, saying, `I wish that you would return to your proper realm without concern, remembrance or sorrow. It has been three days since the sinner, Yue Di Li, ascended to heaven.  It is said that her ascension was the result of her dutiful daughter's offerings, on her behalf, to Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata's stupa and temple.  Not only was the Bodhisattva's mother able to leave hell, on that day, all the sinners in Avici Hell with her also benefited and were reborn with her into heaven.'"

"Having said this, the ghost king withdrew with his palms joined.  Then, the Brahman woman awoke as if it was a dream and realized this matter had come to a close.  [Afterward], in front of the stupa and image of the Awakened By Flower Meditation Self-Mastery King Tathagata, the Brahman woman vowed: `Through all of the future kalpas, for the sake of all suffering sentient beings, I shall provide extensive expedient means for their deliverance and liberation.'"

The Buddha then told Manjushri, "That ghost king, who was named Vandana at that time, is now Foremost in Wealth Bodhisattva, and the Brahman woman is now Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva."

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