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 8 - The Praises of King Yama and Others

At that time, the Lord of Hell, King Yama, and countless ghost kings from within Cakravada Mountains arrived at Trayastrimsas where the Buddha was [giving the sermon].  Some of these ghost kings' [names] were Vicious, Many Evils, Great Quarrel, White Tiger, Blood Tiger, Red Tiger, Misfortune Spreading, the Flying, Lightning Flash Eyes, Wolf Fangs, Thousand Eyes, Animal-Devouring, Rock-Carrying, Blessing Removal, Disaster Administering, Harvest Administering, Wealth Administering, Lord of Domesticated Animals,  Lord of Fowls, Lord of Beasts, Lord of Demons, Gestation Administering, Life Administering, Illnesses Administering, Accidents Administering, Three Eyes, Four Eyes, Five Eyes, Chislis, Great-Chislis, Chiliksa, Great-Chiliksa, Anato Ghost King and Great-Anato Ghost King.  Each of these and other great ghost kings reside in Jambudvipa along with hundreds of thousands of minor ghost kings.  All of them have their charges and jurisdictions.  Through the divine power of the Buddha and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, they were all able to arrive at Trayastrimsas and assembled themselves on one side.

At that time, with his palms joined, King Yama knelt down on one knee and said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, through the divine power of the Buddha and Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, these ghosts kings and I are able to participate in this great gathering at Trayastrimsas.  It allowed us to [receive your teachings and] gain virtuous benefits.  However, I do have a minor question which I ask with trepidation.  It is my hope that the World Honored One would compassionately answer it."

The Buddha told King Yama, "You may ask your question.  I shall answer it for you."

King Yama bowed to the World Honored One, then respectfully gazed upon Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva before asking the Buddha, "World Honored One, I [have] observed that Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva tirelessly [toils away] delivering suffering sentient beings through numerous expedient means in the six realms of samsara.  This is [a testament to] the unimaginable divine power of the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva.  Yet, many of these sentient beings fall back into suffering realms not long after Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva had rescued them.  World Honored One, since Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva has such inconceivable divine power, why don't these sentient beings seek refuge in the virtuous paths and obtain eternal salvation?  [Why do they commit sins again, which cause them to fall back into the suffering realms?]  I wish the World Honored One would explain this for me."

The Buddha told King Yama, "The sentient beings of Jambudvipa have stubborn natures which are very difficult to defuse and tame.  Thus, [Ksitigarbha] Mahasattva has spent countless kalpas rescuing them one-by-one, including those sinners who fell into hells, therefore enabling them to reach liberation earlier.  The Bodhisattva uses expedient methods to liberate them from their fundamental karma.  Then, he enables them to realize the events of their past lives.  [All these are done to enable them to see the hardships of traveling on the evil paths and to motivate them to seek eternal salvation through Enlightenment].  But, these sentient beings' evil habits are extremely strong.  [After being rescued], it does not take long for many of them to revert back to their previous ways and fall back into the realms of suffering.  Therefore, the Bodhisattva still has to deliver them [even] after all these kalpas."

"This is analogous to people who lost their way and entered into dangerous paths.  On these dangerous paths, there are many yaksas, tigers, lions, wolves, venomous snakes, and scorpions.  At any instant, the lost people can be killed by these lethal threats.  There is a virtuous being who knows about these dangers and how to restrain them.  If he encounters these lost people, he would ask them:  Why did they enter into these dangerous paths?  What methods can they use to restrain these dangers?  Upon hearing this, the lost people realize how dangerous their situation is.  Immediately, they retreat and plead [for the virtuous person to help them] leave these paths.  The virtuous person will lead them out of the dangerous paths and onto safe paths, so they can find peace and tranquility.  After reaching the safe paths, the virtuous person will advise the formerly lost people not to travel on the evil paths again.  For those who enter evil paths, it is very difficult for them to escape and most lose their lives.  [Upon reflecting how dangerous their situations were], the formerly lost are extremely grateful."

"Before parting ways, the virtuous being will advise the formerly lost people, `If you see people approach evil paths, warn them of the many deadly threats within and warn them that those who enter often lose their lives.  Do not let these people go to their deaths.'"

"Such is the great compassion of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.  He rescues suffering sentient beings and enables them to be reborn into the human or heavenly realms.  Upon enjoying the happiness in the human or heavenly realms, they will realize how agonizing the suffering in the evil paths truly is [and be motivated to seek eternal salvation through Enlightenment].  So, after leaving the realms of suffering, they will never return to the evil paths again.  They are like the lost people who mistakenly took the dangerous paths.  After being led out by the virtuous person, they will never travel on the dangerous paths again.  Upon seeing others going toward these dangerous paths, the formerly lost will tell the others about how they had once been lost and mistakenly entered these evil paths.  They will tell how fortunate they were to be liberated from it, and that they will never travel on it again."

"Should these rescued people mistakenly travel on the evil paths again, they will be deluded and will not realize they had traveled on these evil paths before.  If they lose their lives and fall into the realms of suffering, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva will use expedient means to assist them and liberate them again into the human or heavenly realms.  Should they yet again become deluded and travel in the evil paths, they may commit such severe offenses that cause them to be confined in hells for indeterminable amount of time."

At that time, the Vicious Ghost King joined his palms and respectfully said to the Buddha, "In Jambudvipa, my fellow ghost kings are countless in number.  Some ghost kings reward people while others punish people.  Our responsibilities are all different.  [It is the sentient beings'] karma that cause us and our subordinates to roam the world and enforce karmic retributions of punishing the many malicious people and rewarding the few virtuous people.  We pass through cities, villages, plantations, and peoples' homes.  [We may find] that there are men or women who perform virtuous deeds, be it as small as hanging prayer banners, offerings of some flowers and incenses to Buddha statues, chanting sutras, or making offerings to just one stanza or phrase of sutras.   My fellow ghost kings will respect such people like we would respect the Buddhas of the Three Times.  We will also command our subordinates, all of whom possess great power, and the earth deities to protect these people.  We will prevent unfortunate incidents, accidents, illnesses, and events contrary to these virtuous people's wishes from occurring near their homes, much less occurring within their own homes." 

The Buddha praised the great ghost king, "Ah, good, good.  If your fellow ghost kings and King Yama can protect virtuous men and women, I shall command the Great Brahma and Sakra (Indra) to protect you and your fellow ghost kings."

With that being said, the Life Administering Ghost King joined his palms and said to the Buddha,  "World Honored One, my charge is to oversee the birth and death of sentient beings in Jambudvipa.  It is I who decide when they are born and when they die.  I have vowed to benefit these sentient beings.  Yet, they do not understand my wishes, so many of them are unable to find peace in either birth or death.  Why?  The humans of Jambudvipa would do good deeds to gain blessings when they wish to conceive children or when their children are born.  Delighted by these good deeds, the local deities protect mothers, unborn fetus, and newborn children, enabling them to attain great tranquility.  The protection also benefits their relatives.  After these children are born, the family should refrain from killing any living creatures, nor should they kill living creatures for the purpose of mothers' nourishments.  Nor should they consume alcohol or meats, nor play loud music nor indulge in excessive dancing during the gatherings to celebrate the birth.  [They should refrain from these acts because] these acts will disturb the peace of the mothers and children.  Why?  During birth, countless evil ghosts and demons gather near the delivery room, desiring to taste fresh blood.  Because I have already commanded the residential and local earth deities to protect these mothers and unborn children, they are able to attain tranquility and benefits.  After seeing that the birth has gone smoothly, the families should make offerings to thank the deities.  Instead, many of them kill living creatures to prepare feasts for celebratory gatherings.  As of result, it create sins for themselves and causes the mothers and children to be harmed."

"Also, for the people who are about to die in Jambudvipa, regardless whether they are virtuous or evil, I wish to help them avoid the realms of suffering.  Of course, I wish to help those who cultivate virtuous roots even more because they assist me in my endeavor (of delivering human beings).  Even when these virtuous people of Jambudvipa are dying, hundreds to thousands of evil ghosts and demons will try to delude them.  These evil ghosts and demons will assume the forms of the dying people's parents or relatives and lead them into the realms of sufferings.  The situations will be much worse for those beings who committed evil acts."
"World Honored One, when these men and women in Jambudvipa are on the verge of death, their minds are deluded and are unable to distinguish between good and evil; neither can their eyes see nor can their ears hear.  Thus, the dying people's relatives must make great offerings, recite sutras, and chant  the names of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  These virtuous deeds will enable the dying people to avoid the realms of suffering and disperse the evil ghosts and demons."

"World Honored One, at the time of their death, if sentient beings are able to hear the name of just one Buddha, Bodhisattva, or hear a stanza or phrase of Mahayana sutra, I observe that these beings will be liberated from minor sins that would have caused them to fall into the realms of suffering with the exception of the five sins causing one to fall into Avici hell."

The Buddha praised Life Administering Ghost King, saying, "Your great compassion enabled you to make such a great vow of protecting beings at the time of their birth and death.  Do not retreat from your oath to protect them at the moment of their birth and assist them to liberate themselves at the moment of their deaths.  Enable all of them to liberate themselves and attain peace and tranquility forever."

The Ghost King replied to the Buddha, "Do not have concern.  I shall uphold my vow as long as I exist to protect the sentient beings of Jambudvipa, so at the time of their birth and death, they can attain peace and tranquility.  I only wish these sentient beings believe and follow my advise at the time of birth and death.  All those who do so will gain liberation and receive great benefits."

At that time, the Buddha told Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva,  "This Life Administering Ghost King has been a great ghost king for thousands of lives, protecting sentient beings at the time of their birth and death.  This [powerful ghost form] is not his true form.  It is because of this Mahasattva's great compassion that he appears in the form of a powerful ghost.  One hundred seventy kalpas from now, he shall become a Buddha with the title, Nirabhasa Tathagata.  The kalpa will be called Peace and Tranquility.  His world will be named Pure Abode.  His Buddha life span will be countless of kalpas.  Ksitigarbha, these are the unimaginable deeds of this great ghost king.  The devas and humans delivered by him will also be innumerable."

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