The Sūtra of the Great Vow of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva (Kṣitigarbha Sūtra) is a story about the Buddha teaching to his mother in the Palace of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven about the merits of Kṣitigarbha. It was translated into Chinese, assumedly from Sanskrit, by the monk Śiksānanda from Khotan circa 700....
Thus I have heard: At one time the Buddha was in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven teaching the Dhárma on behalf of his mother. At that time innumerable Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and mahasattvas of the limitless ten directions were assembled there. They praised Śākyamuni Buddha for his inconceivable strength of his great wisdom and supernatural powers that in this Sahā World [the Evil World of the Five Turbidities] he is able to guide stubborn sentient beings to understand the difference between suffering and joyful dharmas. Each one of them dispatched an attendant to greet the Buddha.
At that time the Buddha smiled and radiated one hundred trillion great bright clouds — clouds of great satisfaction, clouds of great compassion, clouds of great wisdom, clouds of great prajna, clouds of great samadhi, great auspicious clouds, clouds of good fortune, clouds of great virtue, clouds of great reliance, and clouds of great praise. After he had radiated these bright clouds the Buddha emitted many wonderful sounds — sounds of the paramita of generosity, paramita of proper conduct, paramita of tolerance, the paramita of diligence, paramita of meditative concentration, prajnaparamita, compassion, charity, liberation, Nirvana, wisdom, great wisdom, a lion's roar, a great lion's roar, thunder, and great thunder. After he had emitted these indescribable sounds dragons, spirits, and demons from the Sahā World, other worlds of all directions, and innumerable heavens also congregated at the Palace of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. They came from the Heaven of the Four Kings, Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, Suyama Heaven, Tuṣita Heaven, Nirmanarati Heaven, Paranirmita-Vasavartin Heaven, Brahmā-Parisdya Heaven, Brahmā-Purohita Heaven, Mahabrahma Heaven, the Heaven of Limited Radiance, the Heaven of Infinite Radiance, the Heaven of Radiant Sound, the Heaven of Limited Purity, the Heaven of Infinite Purity, the Heaven of Pervasive Purity, the Heaven Produced by Virtue, the Heaven of Lovers of Virtue, the Heaven of Bountiful Fruits, The Heaven without Thought, The Heaven without Affliction, the Heaven without Heat, the Heaven of Skillful Vision, Sudrsa Heaven, the Heaven of Ultimate Form, the Maheshvara Heaven, and even the Heaven of Neither Thought nor Non-Thought. The devas, dragons, and spirits all assembled.
Moreover, sea spirits, river spirits, stream spirits, tree spirits, earth spirits, brook and marsh spirits, sprout and crop spirits, daytime and nighttime spirits, space and sky spirits, food and drink spirits, grass and wood spirits came from the Sahā World and other worlds of many directions to assemble.
Moreover, many great ghost kings — the Evil Eye Ghost King, the Blood Eating Ghost King, the Spirit Eating Ghost King, the Fetus and Egg Eating Ghost King, Disease Spreading Ghost King, Poison Collecting Ghost King, Compassionate Hearted Ghost King, Benevolent Ghost King, Great Desire Ghost King — came from the Sahā World and worlds of many directions to assemble. At that time, Śākyamuni Buddha told the Dhárma Prince Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva, “You see that all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, devas, dragons, demon, and spirits from this world and other worlds, from this land and other lands have thus come to assemble at Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. Do you know how many there are?”
Mañjuśrī said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, if I used my divine powers, I could not calculate that in a thousand kalpas.”
The Buddha said, “Using the Buddha Eye, I can also not count them. These are the beings that Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva guided across, is guiding across, or will guide across since kalpas in the ancient past and has already accomplished, is in the process of accomplishing, or will accomplish.”
Mañjuśrī said to the Buddha, “World Honored One, I have already been cultivating virtuous roots for many ages and have realized unobstructed wisdom. I accept everything that I hear the Buddha say with faith. However, Hearers of small achievement, the eight kinds of demigods, and sentient beings to be born in the future, even though the Buddha has honestly said this, may doubt or be confused. If they were to hear this they may slander it. I only wish that the World Honored One would tell everybody what conditions enabled Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva to act and what vows he made to achieve these inconceivable achievements?”
The Buddha said the Mañjuśrī, “If in the great chiliocosm all the grass, wood, bushes, rice, sesame, bamboo, reeds, mountains, stones, specks of dust, and every other object were each a Ganges River. Each grain of sand in each Ganges River would be a world. Inside each world each speck of dust would be a kalpa and inside that kapla the number of specks of dust that would accumulate would itself be a kalpa. The time that has elapsed since Kṣitigarbha realized the ten grounds of the bodhisattva path has been one thousand times greater than that analogy. Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva spent an even greater time to attain the levels of Śrāvaka and Pratyeka-Buddha. Mañjuśrī, the great spiritual power and vows of this bodhisattva are inconceivable. If in future lifetimes virtuous men and women hear the bodhisattva's name, praise him, revere and worship him, call his name, make offerings, paint or carve pictures, or make clay figures then they will be reborn in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven for one hundred lifetimes and never degenerate into an evil rebirth.
“Mañjuśrī, in the distant past, an indescribable number of kalpas ago, Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, was born as the son of a great elder. At that time there was a Buddha called Swift Lion Myriad Accomplishment Tathāgata. The elder's sone saw the Buddha's virtuous and stately appearance and so asked him 'What vows did you practice to attain such an appearance?'
“Swift Lion Myriad Accomplishment Tathāgata said to the Elder's son, 'If you wish to have a body like this then you must liberate all suffering sentient beings for a long period.'
“Mañjuśrī, because of that vow the edler's son said, 'From now until incalculable kalpas in the future I will use many different skillful means to liberate the suffering sentient beings in the Six Realms before I realize Buddhahood myself.' Since he made that great vow in front of the Buddha many nayutas have passed, not to mention an incalculable number of kalpas. That is why he is still a bodhisattva.
“Again, in the distant past, an unimaginably large number of asaṃkhyeya kalpas ago, there was a Buddha called Realization Flower Meditation at Ease King Tathāgata. The Buddha had a life had a life span of four trillion asaṃkhyeya kalpas. In the Period of Semblance Dhárma there was a Brahman woman who had profound in former times so that all people admired and respected her. Devas protected her when she was walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. However, her mother worshipped demonic spirits and frequently belittled the Triple Gem. The Brahman girl used many different skillful means to try to persuade and induce her mother to have proper understanding. However, this woman's mother did not totally change her views. After a short time she died and her soul went to Avīci Hell. The Brahman girl knew that because her mother did not believe in cause and effect and reckoned that Karma would lead her mother to have an evil rebirth. She sold her family's house and aquired fragrent flowers and other items to make large offerings outside a pagodas and temples. She saw an perfectly dignified and stately sculpted and painted image of Realization Flower Meditation at Ease King Tathāgata in a temple. The Brahman girl worshipped the sacred image, with extra reverence. She thought to herself Buddha means a great enlightened one, one who posesses all knowledge. If he were alive at this moment then I could ask him myself where my mother went to after she died and he must know the place. The Brahman girl cried for a long time, looking up at the Tathāgata in admiration.
“Suddenly, a voice from the air said, 'Weeping Brahman girl, do not grieve. I will show you the place where your mother has gone to now.'
“The Brahman girl joined her palms towards the empty space and said to the empty space, 'Which virtuous divinity relieves me of my worry? Since I lost my mother I think about her day and night but there is nowhere that I can ask where she has been reborn in her next life.'
“The voice in the void replied to the girl saying, 'I am that which you are worshipping, the former Realization Flower Meditation at Ease King Tathāgata. Since I saw that you miss your mother double the amount that most sentient beings would, so I have come to tell you.'
“After the Brahman girl heard the voice, she lunged towards it injuring her body. Attendants supported her and after a long time she recovered. She said to the empty space, 'I hope that the Buddha will be compassionate and quickly say where my mother has been reborn in her next life. Due to my present state of body and mind, I am now near death myself.'
“Realization Flower Meditation at Ease King Tathāgata said Brahman girl, 'When your offerings are complete go straight back to your home. Sit in meditation and think about my name. You will then know where your mother has been reborn.' The Brahman girl bowed to the Buddha and afterwards returned to her home.
“Sustained by the memory of her mother she sat in meditation and thought of Realization Flower Meditation at Ease King Tathāgata, continuing for one day and one night. She suddenly saw herself arrive at the seashore. The water gushed abd boiled. There were many kinds of evil beasts, each with an iron body, flying and walking on the sea, racing back and forth from east to west. She saw billions men and women appearng and disappearing into the sea being fought over and eaten by the evil beasts. She saw yaksas, each one with a different shape, either with many hands and many eyes or with many feet and many heads, outward pointing teeth, sharp like swords, driving the sinners close to the evil beasts, continually capturing their prey or forcing their feet near to their heads. They had tens of thousands of different shapes and she did not dare look at them for long. However, by virtue of the Brahman girl's power of prayer to the Buddha she felt natural and without fear.
“One ghost king with the name of No Harm bowed to greet the Brahman girl and said, 'Very good! Bodhisattva, what conditions lead you here?'
“The Brahman girl said, 'Where is this place?'
“No Harm replied to her, 'This is the first sea to the west of the Great Iron Ring Mountain.'
“The Brahman girl asked, 'I heard that there are hells inside the iron wall. Is that true?'
“No Harm answered, 'Yes, it is true, there are Hells there.'
“The Brahman girl asked, 'How did I get to the hells?'
“No Harm replied, 'If it were not for your mighty spirit then for your karmic deeds. If not for either one of these two things then you could not come here.'
“The Brahman girl asked again, 'What causes the water to gush and boil? Why are there so many sinners and evil beasts?'
“No Harm replied, 'These are sentient beings from Jambudvīpa that sinned and who have recently died. After fourty nine days they have no relatives to perform good deeds on their behalf to save them from suffering. During their lives they did not plant any good roots so, according to their own karma, they will suffer in Hell. They first cross this sea. One hundred thousand yojana east of this sea, which has twice as much suffering as this. East of that sea is another with twice as much suffering again. Because of the evil caused by their Three Actions these are altogether called the seas of karma and this is that place.
“The Brahman girl asked the ghost king No Harm again, 'Where are these hells?'
“No Harm replied, 'Inside the three seas. They are great hells, numbering hundreds of thousands, each one different. Of the great hells, there are eighteen. After that there are five hundred secondary hells with infinite pain and suffering. Next, there are hundreds of thousands of hells with immeasurable misery.'
“The Brahman girl asked the great ghost king again, 'My mother died not long ago. Does the ghost king know what realm her spirit has gone to?'
“The ghost kind asked the Brahman girl, 'Where was the bodhisattva's mother's born? What were her habits and occupation?'
“The Brahman girl replied, 'My mother held perverse views and slandered the Triple Gem. If she believed it temporarily then later she would disrespect it again. Even though she has not been dead for long, still I do not know where she has been reborn.'
“No Harm asked, 'What is the bodhisattva's mother's name?'
“The Brahman girl replied, 'My mother and father were Brahmans. My father's name was Sila Sudrsa and my mother's name was Yue Di Li [Mandarin reading].'
“No Harm joined palms and explained to the bodhisattva, 'Please, Worthy One, return to your home. There is no need for you to be concerned or to remain attached to your grief. The sinning woman Yu Di Li was reborn in heaven three days ago. It is said that this is because of her child's continuing filial piety, giving offerings on her mother's behalf, accumulating merit, and practicing generosity to Realization Flower Meditation at Ease King Tathāgata at pagodas and temples. Not only the bodhisattva's was liberated from the hells. These days all the sinners destined for Avīci Hell recieved a joyful blessing and were reborn with her.' After he finished speaking, the Ghost King joined his palms and withdrew.
“The Brahman girl returned quickly as if waking from a dream. She understood the situation, in front of the Realization Flower Meditation At Ease King Tathāgata statue at the pagoda, she stood and said solemnly, 'I vow that, until the end of future kalpas, to help all the sentient beings that suffer for their sins, using many kinds of skillful means and to lead them to liberation.'”
The Buddha told Mañjuśrī, “The Ghost King No Harm of that time is now Bodhisattva Foremost Wealth. The Brahman girl is now Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva.”