SUTRA OF THE PAST VOWS OF EARTH STORE BODHISTSATTVA
A Commentary by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
- Chapter 01: Spiritual Penetrations in the Palace of the Trayastrimsha Heaven
- Chapter 02: The Division Bodies Gather
- Chapter 03: Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Beings
- Chapter 04: Karmic Retributions of Beings in Jambudvipa
- Chapter 05: The Names of the Hells
- Chapter 06: The Thus Come One’s Praises
- Chapter 07: Benefiting the Living and the Dead
- Chapter 08: Praises of Lord Yama and His Followers
- Chapter 09: The Names of Buddhas
- Chapter 10: The Conditions and Comparative Merit and Virtue of Giving
- Chapter 11: The Dharma Protection of an Earth Spirit
- Chapter 12: Benefits Derived from Seeing and Hearing
- Chapter 13: The Entrustment of People and Gods
Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store [Ksitigarbha] Bodhisattva
[Translated (into Chinese) by Tripitaka Master Shikshananda of Udyana in the Tang Dynasty (ca. A.D. 700)] with commentary by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua.
[Translated from Chinese into English by Buddhist Text Translation Society]
The Arisal of Conditions Leading to the Lecturing of the Sutra
At this point, to us every place is a Bodhimanda. Every place is a place for Dharma assemblies. Any time and any place are suitable for lectures on the Sutras and the Dharma. All times and all places are right for working on our cultivation and for plying our efforts.
That is why when it comes to cultivation, location or distance makes no difference. Any place we travel to is just the same as the place we started from. Make no distinctions among places, or between the good and bad Dharma assemblies. We should be able to lecture on the Sutras and the Dharma, and study the Buddhadharma wherever we happen to be. Only then will we be able to achieve wholeness and harmony in our skill. Make a habit of studying the Buddhadharma anywhere we travel. That is most important!
What is the key to studying the Buddhadharma? It is to refrain from false thinking! Gather in your body and mind—collect them together—and keep your thoughts from wandering off in all directions into the past, present, or future. Simply focus your mind totally on studying the Buddhadharma. Do that and you will not have many afflictions or worries.
Why do you have afflictions? It is just because you cannot see through and let go of things. You feel some matters are important and yet some other matters are all the more important. This feeling of importance leads to (a kind of) attachment. Once there is attachment, afflictions arise. Therefore, as students of the Buddhadharma, we should be free of attachments—that is, any and all attachments.
Today marks the first time the (Earth Store) Sutra is being lectured here. From now on, we’ll try to fit in as many seats as possible. Move the first row back [a bit], and add another row in the front. Stagger the seats from row to row, so those in the front will not block the view of those in the back and everyone will have a clear line of sight. That will be the seating arrangement. As for the standing arrangement, two people will stand in a row, and leave enough room between the rows for bowing.
Earlier, we were reciting the Six Syllables Great Bright Mantra. Earth Store Bodhisattva likes for people to recite this mantra. If you are able to recite it, he will grant your wishes to your heart’s content. He will help you with whatever you wish for. Words come short when describing Earth Store Bodhisattva’s [many] efficacious responses—they will be covered in the Sutra lectures [later]. We should recite the Six Syllables Great Bright Mantra often. It is an excellent mantra and its functions are also quite inconceivable.
There are some very important causes and conditions leading to the Earth Store Sutra lectures. I was renting this place for the summer and was planning to terminate the lease at the end of the summer vacation. In that case, quite a few people would have a tough time looking for new rentals since they were hard to come by. So I took a big chance and renewed the lease on this place and invited these people to stay. I also invited Earth Store Bodhisattva to stay here with us. This way, everyday we get to bow to the Bodhisattva, to plant good roots and cultivate blessings!
However, Americans are unfamiliar with Bodhisattvas. They were never introduced to one before, let alone having to live with one right now! Some people are delighted, yet others are frightened by the human-like image of the Bodhisattva. Therefore, I will now introduce you to this Bodhisattva’s life stories. When you wish to make a new friend, you first would probably want to know the kind of person he or she is. So let us now get acquainted with Earth Store Bodhisattva. Given these circumstances, I will lecture on the Earth Store Sutra for everybody.
The Earth Store Sutra is a Buddhist scripture on filial piety. Earth Store Bodhisattva is a Bodhisattva who practices filial conduct and is most filial to his parents. By giving my lectures on the Sutra, I hope to inspire everyone to follow Earth Store Bodhisattva’s example on filial piety.
Now first, The Reasons for the Arising of the Teaching refers to the circumstances that gave rise to this Sutra.
Second, The Divisions and Vehicles in Which It Is Contained: “Divisions” refers to the Tripitaka, and “Vehicles” refers to the Great Vehicle [the Mahayana] and the Small Vehicle [the Hinayaha]. Or, in terms of the Five Vehicles, there are the Vehicle of Humans, the Vehicle of Gods, the Vehicle of Sound Hearers [Shravakas], the Vehicle of Those Enlightened to Conditions [Prateyka-buddhas], and the Vehicle of Bodhisattvas. “The Divisions and Vehicles in Which It Is Contained” therefore refers to the type of text in the Tripitaka and the vehicle among the Five Vehicles to which the Sutra belongs.
Third, Determining Its Aim and Purport: We will explain its tenet.
Fourth, An Explanation of the Title: The title of the Sutra will be explained.
Fifth, Its Transmission and Translators: The individuals responsible for its transmission and translation need to be identified.
Sixth, Discerning and Explaining the Meaning of the Text : We will especially clarify the meanings in the Sutra text proper.
First, what does the Causes and Conditions for the Arising of the Teaching mean? “Teaching” is the [body of] language used by the Sages to transform living beings, as in the [Chinese] phrase: The language [that] the Sagely One administers to his charges.
“Arising” refers to the fact that what did not exist previously now exists, having arisen and come forth.
“Causes” are the factors and “conditions” refers to the reasons. So what causes and conditions brought forth this teaching?
After he had attained Buddhahood, Skakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred assemblies, yet all along, never once did he get a chance to take his mother across [to the other shore of nirvana]. Shakyamuni Buddha was born from his mother’s left ribcage, and his mother passed away after giving birth. When he became a Buddha, he learned that his mother, Lady Maya, had ascended to the heavens. After he had spoken the Dharma Flower Sutra and before starting the Nirvana Sutra, he thought of his mother and ascended to the Palace of Trayastrimsha Heaven. He stayed there for three months to expound the Dharma for his mother. And what was that Dharma? It was the Earth Store Sutra, the sutra on filial piety.
For the sake of crossing over his dear mother, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva in the Palace of Trayastrimsha Heaven—those are the causal conditions leading up to this Sutra. Shakyamuni Buddha speaking the Dharma for his mother—[do you agree] that this is a very important Sutra? That sums up the Causes and Conditions for the Arising of the Teaching.
Next, the Divisions and Vehicles in Which It Is Contained: “Contained” refers to the categories to which it belongs, i.e., the “divisions” of the tripitaka of Sutras, Vinaya and Shastras. Sutras fall within the study of samadhi, Vinaya the study of precepts, and Shastras the study of wisdom. Sutras, Vinaya and Shastras are simply precepts, samadhi and wisdom.
This Sutra is contained within the divisions of Sutras and Vinaya because they discuss the precepts as well. “Vehicles” refers to either the Five Vehicles or the Three Vehicles. The Three Vehicles are those of the Shravakas, the Pratyeka-buddhas, and the Bodhisattvas. Adding to these three the Vehicles of Humans and Gods completes the Five Vehicles.
Just as one human being is unique and different from one another in millions of ways, so are the celestial beings, the Shravakas and Pratyeka-buddhas. Likewise, there are—not just one—but many Bodhisattvas. The Earth Store Sutra is contained within the Vehicles of Humans, Celestial Beings, and Bodhisattvas. This is the Divisions and Vehicles in Which It Is Contained.
The third is Determining Its Aim and Purport. So what does the Sutra take as its aim and purport? Eight words: Filial piety, delivering beings [to the shore of liberation], uprooting suffering, and repaying kindness. What does it all come down to? It all comes down to being well versed in filial piety—the principle of being filial to one’s parents. One who can be filial to one’s parents is heaven and earth’s light of glory. What gladdens heaven and earth is for people to be filial to their parents, hence the verse:
Heaven and Earth values filiality—filiality comes first: Filiality is of utmost importance.
One word—filiality—brings peace upon all in the home: Through the workings of filiality—just [this] one word—the entire family may enjoy peace.
Filiality begets filial offspring: If you are filial to your parents, your children will be filial to you, and vice versa.
Why be a person, and what is the point in that? Do not just resign yourself to being born a person muddled and confused. That is not the way to go. Being a person, you have a moral obligation to be filial to your parents because they are the heaven and earth; they are your elders and teachers; they are—simply—the Buddhas.
If [it were] not for your parents, you would not have this body of yours; without this body of yours, you would have no way of becoming a Buddha. Therefore, if you wish to become a Buddha, first you need to be filial to your parents, hence filial piety is foremost.
The second tenet of this Sutra is “delivering beings.” What does “delivering” mean? It means to embark from this shore to arrive at the other shore, likewise from birth and death to nirvana, and also from afflictions to bodhi.
Here, “ferrying beings” means to take [sentient] beings across. To take across one [sentient] being, two [sentient] beings, or three, or five does not qualify as taking [sentient] beings across. The term refers to resolving on teaching and transforming all the 12 categories of [sentient] beings, thus quickly leading them to Buddhahood—thatqualifies as taking beings across.
The third: Uprooting suffering. This Sutra aims at putting an end to beings’ sufferings.
The fourth, Repaying kindness, is to reciprocate the kindness of one’s parents.
Filial piety, delivering beings, uprooting suffering, and repaying kindness—these eight words make up the aim and purport of the Earth Store Sutra. It would be too much for us to go into detail. I went over the important points so you would get the gist of it.
At the mention of [the practice of] filial piety, the thought, “I’ve got to get home to be filial to my parents” popped into some people’s minds. Once they get home and see their parents, they may forget all about it. While here, they meant to be filial to their parents, but once back home, they forget all about filiality. Why? It is because they did not truly understand the meaning of being filial [to their parents].
True filiality is in investigating the Buddhadharma. You are being filial [to your parents] while investigating the Buddhadharma here—not necessarily [waiting] to be filial after you get home, in which case you only forget all about filiality anyway. By investigating the Buddhadharma here and becoming the best person in the world, you will benefit the world. Benefiting the world is being filial to your parents.
Therefore, filiality can be classified into four types: lesser, greater, abiding, and recent. What is “lesser filiality”? It refers to filiality in one’s family, toward one’s own parents. It falls short of “extending the filiality for one’s elders to others’ elders”—of achieving vast and great filiality.
What is vast and great filiality? It is the “greater filiality” that attends to all under the sky, considering everyone’s parents as one’s own parents. That is “extending filiality for one’s elders to others’ elders”. Its scope is expansive and not narrow.
Yet this greater filiality falls short of being true filiality. What is true filiality? True filiality is when you become a Buddha; it is beyond the scope of the four types of filiality. It is genuine and true filiality.
Take the example of Shakyamuni Buddha. Although his father forbade him from venturing forth into monastic life and locked him up in the palace, yet he stole away to cultivate [the Path] as a monastic. After six years of hardship on Snow Mountain, he sat under the bodhi tree and, upon seeing the shining [bright] stars in the night sky, became enlightened to the Path and attained Buddhahood. That is true filiality. Thereafter he became a Buddha. He later ascended to the celestial palace to instruct on the Dharma for his mother. Wouldn’t you agree that that is true filiality?
What is “recent filiality”? It is to pattern one’s filiality on latter-day role models.
Abiding filiality: emulated for all time;
Recent filiality: emulated in the present.
“Recent filiality” is comparable to “lesser filiality,” with some exceptions.
Abiding filiality, for example, is found in China’s Twenty-four Paragons of Filiality. They are models for all times. The august virtue they exemplified endures through all ages.
[The Story of Dongyong]
One of China’s twenty-four paragons of filiality was Dongyong, also known as Dongan, a very filial person. One of his neighbors, Wangji, was the richest man, while he himself was the poorest. Dongan’s mom, because of her son’s filial devotion, was well-nourished and plump. Though advanced in years, she felt happy day and night.
On the other hand, Wangji’s mom was made of money and ate only the finest delicacies—poultry, seafood, assorted meats—but she was thin as a rail. She was unhappy and worried all the time.
One day, when both sons were away, the skinny mom inquired of the plump mom, “Your family lives hand to mouth and can’t put anything nice on the dinner table, yet you’re all chubby and round. How is it that you get so plumpish in your old age?”
Dongan’s mom said to the skinny mom, “My son is very filial. He stays out of trouble, behaves himself, and works hard at his job. I’ve got absolutely no worries and I’m very happy. As the saying goes, when the heart is carefree, the body plumps out. I’m happy at heart, so I plump out.”
She went on to ask the skinny mom, “You live the good life and there are plenty of nice things to eat in your house. Yet why are you all skin and bones? Is there something wrong with you?”
The skinny mom replied, “Sure I’ve got money and eat well, except my son is a roughneck. He gets in trouble with the law day in and day out. He’s either wanted by the police for questioning, or there’d be some warrants to appear in court. I worry about him all the time. No matter how well I eat, I don’t feel happy. I’m stressed out. I get skinnier by the day because there’s no way I can put on weight when I’m all worried.”
While the two moms—one skinny, one chubby—were chatting up a storm about their sons—one filial, one disobedient, the disobedient one returned and overheard their conversation. After the moms had said their goodbyes and went home, Wangji went to Dongan’s house and roughed up the chubby mom good. “You blabbermouth! Why did you feed my mom all that crap?” he yelled.
When Dongan came home and saw his mom upset, he asked why. She told her son, “Wangji was here and beat me up. He accused me of speaking ill of him to his mom.”
Dongan did not say anything to that but simply comforted his mom, “Please don’t be mad. That’s just how he is. Don’t mind him.”
However, after his mom got beat up and called down by that hooligan, she got sick and died.
Upon his mom’s death, Dongan blew his top, “When my mom was alive, I shied away from fights with you to keep her from worrying. Now you’ve done her in.”
So he picked up a knife and killed Wangji. The skinny mom had always worried that her son might get himself killed one day, and sure enough, he got killed. Afterwards, with Wangji’s head in hand, Dongan went to his mom’s grave and set the head on [an altar] table. He lit incense, bowed, and said, “Mom, please don’t be mad [anymore]. So he beat you up, right? Now I have avenged you. I killed him to offer his head to you.”
When he finished with the rite [of offerings]—guess what happened next? He took the head with him and turned himself in, confessing, “My mom died after the beating. So I killed him and made offering of his head to my mom. Do what you will with me. I’ll accept the court’s verdict, and won’t dodge the law.”
The county prefect handed down a life sentence and he was put in jail. It just so happened that the emperor then issued an imperial pardon which exempted all criminals of their past crimes, and he was freed. After his release, he was later appointed to high offices in the government. That was the story of Dongyong, a filial son.
Though there are Abiding Filiality, Recent Filiality, Greater Filiality and Lesser Filiality, true filiality is cultivating the Path and accomplishing Buddhahood in the future. As right now you are investigating the Buddhadharma—without having to return to your homes—that is True Filiality. To truly be able to investigate the Buddhadharma, and to be able to practice and uphold the Buddhadharma, is to be truly filial to your parents.
An Explanation of the Title
Fourth, an Explanation of the Title. xiao as in [“to extinguish”]. What does the word xiao mean? It means to explain clearly the meaning of the text. Therefore—an explanation of the title of the Sutra: Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store [Ksitigarbha] Bodhisattva.
The Sutra incorporates Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name in its title, which refers to a person, and “Past Vows” denotes dharma—therefore, in the Seven Categories of Sutra Titles, this Sutra belongs to the category of “Titles Consisting of Person and Dharma.” “Dharma” is just a kind of karma; “Past Vows” refers to his fundamental activity karma — deeds and karma created in his past lives.
Why the name “Earth Store”? Earth nurtures the growth of all things, and “Store” refers to treasure troves—all the treasure troves are in the ground. “Store” can also mean “to keep hidden”, i.e., “to keep from view.” All the treasure troves are hidden from view underground. The earth can grow the myriad things; it can also keep the myriad things hidden—buried underground.
Like the great earth, this Bodhisattva is able to make the myriad things grow. Like the great earth, he has endless, boundless treasure troves in the ground for people to uncover. Those who believe in this Bodhisattva are entitled to the treasures within. Anything [you can think of] can be found in these treasure troves, and there is something to suit everyone’s fancy: all the precious diamonds, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, to name a few.
If, say, you come into possession of a big, three-hundred-pound diamond, that should make you the world’s richest person. I made some people laugh when I said “three-hundred-pound.” They thought that was way too big. In fact, that is still “way too small”—the smallest of all, because the one that is “way too big” is practically too heavy for you to [even] pick up.
This Bodhisattva is replete with all these gracious virtues, thus the name “Earth Store.”
The word Bodhisattva is Sanskrit, translated into Chinese means “an enlightened sentient being”—an enlightened one among [sentient] beings. It can also be translated “to enlighten beings”—leading others to enlightenment with the principles that oneself has become enlightened to.
In other words, it is “the enlightened [one] enlightening others”—oneself has become enlightened and wishes for all [sentient] beings to become enlightened. Put another way, it is “the benefited [one] benefiting others”—oneself has attained to great wisdom, and wishes for all [sentient] beings to attain to great wisdom. With great wisdom, there will be no more upside down thinking.
“Past Vows” refers not to vows made in the present but the ones he had made since the origin. Since the origin—when was that? It was countless eons ago when he made those vows. The power of vows from lives past is called “past vows.” Similar to the Events of the Past Lives—one of the Twelve Divisions of Sutras—which are accounts of events in lives past, here, the past vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva are the vows he made in his past lives—not at the present, because by now he has already fulfilled his vows.
What were the vows he made? He vowed:
Until the hells are empty I vow to forgo Buddhahood;
When all beings are saved will I then certify to bodhi.
“Hells” refers to all the hells. Anytime the hells are not [yet] empty, he will hold off on becoming a Buddha; only when the hells are completely empty will he become a Buddha. Now, think about that. How great is that vow-power?
Earth Bodhisattva says, “I will be in the hells to receive and guide all the hungry ghosts. For each day that they have not been lead from suffering to bliss, for one more day I will hold off on Buddhahood. The hungry ghosts in the hells must completely gain deliverance, leave suffering, and attain bliss, and then I will become a Buddha.
Let’s think that over. The karma [sentient] beings create is endless, so are [their] afflictions. Then how could the hells ever come to an end? Only when [sentient] beings’ afflictions were ended and their karmic obstruction cleared would the hells then be empty. Yet, as we [sentient] beings’ karmic obstruction cannot be eradicated or their afflictions ended, how will the hells ever be empty?
From the standpoint of contemporary scientists and philosophers, wouldn’t the vows which Earth Store Bodhisattva made—the power of his vows—be considered the silliest of conduct and notions? Why do I say “the silliest of conduct and notions”? He [first] had the notions which he put into action and which manifested in his conduct. However, isn’t this kind of conduct and notions [way] too foolish? Why? The bottom line is: It cannot be done. Since fundamentally, the hells can never be empty, does it follow that fundamentally, Earth Store Bodhisattva stands no chance to ever become a Buddha?
No. It is not the silliest kind of conduct and notions. It is the kindest, most compassionate type of conduct and notions—and also the most filial. Why do I say that?
Earth Store Bodhisattva perceived in his contemplation that his mother had fallen into the hells where she was undergoing great sufferings, and he asked the Buddha to [help] take his mother across. Who is Earth Store Bodhisattva, really? He is the Venerable Mahamaudgalyayana, and he serves as a Bodhisattva in the hells. Why would he want to do that? He felt the pain which his mother underwent in the hells, and reflected on the issue of “extending filiality for one’s elders to others’ elders.” “If my mom went through such sufferings, others’ moms could also be put through the same sufferings,” he thought.
Therefore, with a filiality that is equal, level and indiscriminating, he sought to rescue all hell beings and guide them from suffering to bliss. That is what Earth Store Bodhisattva’s vows are about. No amount of words can fully describe the extent of his vow-power.
Again, let us go over the word “Earth.” There are ten meanings to the word, and though the ten still cannot cover all its functions, they give a general idea.
First, Vast and Great: Do you see that the earth is vast and great? Some of you are saying, “Dharma Master, you may skip that one. We all knew it’s vast and great. Why bother?”
Just because everyone knew that, all the more I need to bring it up to your attention.
Second, Relied upon by [Sentient] Beings: All [sentient] beings rely on the earth to sustain life. Do you know of any [sentient] beings that do not do that? Surely none of them lives in empty space.
Third, Not Given to Likes and Dislikes: The earth has no likes or dislikes. It does not pick and choose, dictating, “You! Stay here. That [sentient] being there, I don’t want you.” No way. [Sentient] beings: good, bad, wholesome, and evil, together with tigers, sila deer, monkeys and everything else all live and rely on the earth. All the more, it is not given to preferences or biases.
Some people might claim, “Oh, I know! The earth simply has no awareness. It’s insensate.”
Do you know for sure that it has no awareness? The earth’s awareness and perception is beyond the scope of our awareness and perception. The earth has its awareness, because it is also one of the [sentient] beings.
Fourth, Acceptant of Great Rains: It can withstand the most forbidding of downpours.
Fifth, Bringing Forth Vegetation.
Sixth, A Repository for Seeds: All the seeds are buried underground.
Seventh : The seventh is Bearing Many Treasures: There are lots of valuables in the ground.
Eight, Yielding Various Medicines: All medicines are produced from the earth.
Ninth, Unmoved by Blowing Winds: Not even the gustiest of winds, not even hurricanes, can move the earth. What about earthquakes? They are not caused by movement of winds.
Ten, Unstirred at the Lions’ Roars: When the lions roar, all creatures are scared, but the earth does not flinch.
In light of these ten meanings, Earth Store Bodhisattva takes the earth to represent his name.
This Sutra bases its title on a person and a dharma, with “Earth Store Bodhisattva” being the person and his “past vows” the dharma. The Chinese word for “past” is 本ben as in foundation or origin—both suggest “the past” and indicate that these were the vows Earth Store Bodhisattva made previously. Previously—countless eons ago—in life after life he constantly made these vows to perfect his filiality, to serve his parents with filial devotion, and to save and take them across at the expense of his own life—such was Earth Store Bodhisattva’s vow-power.
I have explained the term “sutra” on many previous occasions, but it helps to go over it in every sutra lecture. Some of you learned it from prior lectures, yet others have not been to one until now and are not clear about its principles.
“Sutras” offer a “path” for cultivation which everyone may walk on. If you wish to become a Buddha, you must take this route. This is the way to Buddhahood. Therefore, “Sutra” means “path.”
It also has the meaning of the carpenter’s chalk line, or as in China, the carpenter’s ink line. The carpenter snaps the line he pulls out of the ink pad to mark a straight black line. By the same token, Sutras help us tell the proper from the deviant.
Moreover, “Sutra” has the meaning of “garland” as Sutras string together principles like flowers in a garland.
There are four more meanings: threading, attracting, permanent, and law. Threading is “to perforate into and thread together the said principles” so none would be left out or lost.
Analogous to the magnetic pull on iron filings, “attracting” is “to attract and support those with the potentials for transformation.” The Dharma the Buddha taught takes across and transforms living beings according to their potentials and affinities. The scriptures based on the Buddha’s words, like magnets, draw those [sentient] beings who are due to be transformed.
Similarly, you have come to my sutra lectures because this attracting power brought you here. Weaker power, [like mine,] draws fewer people; stronger power, more people. This attracting power has drawn someone [Ron Epstein] all the way from Seattle here. Like the magnetic pull on iron [filings], before you know it, its invisible power has already drawn you in—thus, “attracting.”
In the Cantonese dialect, the word “attracting” is used to describe parents’ loving care for their children. The term “to attract and to accept” refers to how the Buddhas treat sentient beings with kindness and compassion, and [in turn] sentient beings regard the Buddhas with respect. That is how the Buddhas “attract and accept” all sentient beings.
Another meaning for “sutra” is “permanent”: “that which does not change.” Not one word may be omitted and not one word added—that which may not be increased or reduced is called “permanent”—unchanged and forever unchanged. So you want [the sutras] changed? You will end up in the hells—not [due to] some strong-arm autocracy, but [because] the principles in the sutras, as it were, are steel-like and cannot be changed—thus, “permanent.”
The fourth meaning is “law,” which is adhered to throughout the three periods of time— those of the past, present and future—while the [third] meaning, “permanent” means being unchanged from days of old to today. In all three periods of time, this is the law to abide by in cultivation—an eternal law, a permanent—not temporary—constitution.
“Sutra” is a Sanskrit word; its Chinese translation means “scriptures that tally.” In the olden days in China, transfers of real estate titles did not have to be recorded at the County Recorder’s Office. Instead, the contract would be written on a piece of paper which was then folded and cut zigzag with scissors into two halves for each of the parties to hold on to.
So what proof would we have if, say, you offered to sell me your lot and I agreed to buy your land? We would each produce our tally and the zigzags should match to a T, as in the Chinese proverb [alluding to the practice of scribing (words or insignia) on a bamboo segment later split into two tallies, the matching of which identified their bearers (as parties to the prior agreement):]
A match like the two tallies of a halved bamboo denoting an agreement.
That is called “tallying”—to correspond [, agree] or match.
What does “scriptures that tally” mean?
Above, they tally with the principles of all Buddha;
The principles of all Buddhas are just the minds of all Buddhas, i.e., upward, they match the Buddhas’ minds.
Below, they tally with the potentials of sentient beings.
Downward, they are in keeping with sentient beings’ propensities.
What are sentient beings’ potentials and propensities? Sentient beings are like grass, trees, medicinal herbs—i.e., vegetation. All the plants, being [rooted] in the earth, are equivalent to the “potentials.” Also, the plants themselves may be likened to sentient beings—this analogy might help you understand better.
Comparing plants to sentient beings, when it rains and as the rainwater falls to the earth, all the flowers, grass, shrubs and trees flourish in their own way. Big trees get more nourishment; small shrubs, less nourishment. Grass gets the nourishment befitting grass; flowers get the nourishment befitting flowers—equal and level, and that is “tallying with sentient beings’ potentials.” Sutras are like the rainwater falling on all the myriad things, thus, “below, tallying with sentient beings’ potentials.”
They tally in the sense that you will receive however much you are due for. For instance, as I am lecturing on the Sutra, those among you who are wise will add to their wisdom, and the dim ones will also add to their wisdom, but the wise ones will get to add a bit more. Each person will get each’s own nourishment, own a share of benefit, while those lacking good roots reject the Dharma-rain and get no benefit [from it]. Therefore, it works to each’s own benefit by tallying downward with sentient beings’ potentials.
“Sutra” has all those meanings, plus many more if we were going to cover more of them. That was just an overview.
In life after life, Earth Store Bodhisattva remained filial to his parents, and therefore Earth Store Sutra is a Buddhist scripture on filial piety.
Filiality is the root and foundation of humanity. If one fails to be filial to one’s parents, one is remiss in the responsibilities of being human. Why? Our parents gave birth to us and raised us. Now that we have grown up, if we neglect to repay their kindness, we have not lived up to our obligations as human beings.
All through his life, Confucius advocated filial piety, and as part of his legacy, Classic of Filial Piety gives an account of a dialogue between Confucius and his disciple Zeng Zi [Zeng Shen] on the subject of filiality:
When Confucius was at his abode, and his disciple Zeng Zi was in attendance on him, the Master said, “Shen, the ancient kings had an ultimate virtue and a crucial principle. By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. Do you know what it was?”
Zeng Zi rose from his seat, and said, “How would I, Shen, lacking intelligence, be able to know this?”
The Master said… Our bodies—and hair and skin—we received from our parents, and must not presume to injure or wound them: This is the beginning of filial piety.
[—The Classics of Filial Piety, Chapter 1: The Scope and Meaning of the Treatise]
(Once,) When Confucius was unoccupied, and hisdisciple Zeng [Zi] was sitting by in attendance on him, the Master said, “Shen, the ancient kings had a perfect virtue and all-embracing rule of conduct, through which they were in accord with all under heaven. By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. Do you know what t was?”
Zeng rose from his mat, and said, “How should I, Shen, who am so devoid of intelligence, be able to know this?”
The Master said, “(It was filial piety). Now filial piety is the root of (all) virtue, and (the stem) out of which grows (all moral) teaching. Sit down again, and I will explain the subject to you. Our bodies—to every hair and bit of skin—are received by us from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them:–this is the beginning of filial piety. When we have established our character by the practice of the (filial) course, so as to make our name famous in future ages, and thereby glorify our parents:–this is the end of filial piety. It commences with the service of parents; it proceeds to the service of the ruler; it is completed by the establishment of character. ]
When Confucius was at his abode, [in] his dormitory at the school, hisdisciple Zeng Zi was in attendance on him. As a student of Confucius, Zeng Zi was obliged to serve his teacher. Confucius stressed filiality in that one should be filial to one’s parents, and likewise, [be respectful] to one’s teachers and elders. So for instance, sometimes Confucius might like some tea, and Zeng Zi would oblige with a cup of tea. He would take care of things that Confucius wanted done.
Confucius said, “The ancient kings, China’s former sagely emperors of yore, had an utmost virtue, the greatest and of the highest degree attainable, and a crucial principle which is most important.
[Through which they were in accord with all under heaven. ]
By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony. If the common people made use of this principle, they would trade strife for peace.
[And there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. ]
“Do you know what it was?” [Confucius asked.]
Zeng vacated his seat. He got up, and said, “How would I, Shen,” being very dense and lacking intelligence, be able to know this? No, I do not know.”
The Master said— Confucius went on to say that our bodies—and hair and skin—we received from our parents, and must not presume to injure or wound them. Do not casually harm or damage them. This is the beginning of filial piety, the start of filiality.
However, currently there is a group of individuals in the United States who misunderstand filiality. What is that about? Raving China’s “Confucius Says”:
“Our bodies—and hair and skin—we received from our parents, and must not presume to injure or wound them: This is the beginning of filial piety,”
a bunch of hippies crop up who do not cut their hair or wash their faces—that would amount to “injuring the hair” and “wounding the skin”—you see. That thinking is wide of the mark.
To “not presume to injure or wound them” does not equate to not cutting one’s hair or washing one’s face. It is telling you not to bring damage to them. Haircuts are part of the times. [Since] The going trends call for haircuts, [then] one should go with the trends.
Today’s hippies want to turn the times around. Brandishing “Confucius Says” yet at the same time—guess what?—they smoke opium and marijuana, and take LSD as if those do not injure or wound their bodies. Those things kill off who-knows-how-many body cells, ruin their health, and practically run their bodies down. They chalk it up to “filiality,” and meanwhile, their parents are the furthest thing from their minds—consigned to oblivion. Ask them who their parents are and they draw a blank—and they are supposedly observing Chinese filiality. That is a complete mix-up.
This erroneous thinking needs to be completely corrected. From refusing to cut their hair to engaging their bodies in shady dealings, even robberies and vices—where do you suppose they will end up? If one day they should get gunned down, that would truly be unfilial. Once they get into illegal dealings or robberies, they will either end up killing some policemen or getting killed by the police. Now, is that “to not presume to injure or wound them—the beginning of filial piety”? What a mistake.
Me being in this country, I wish for this country’s citizens to follow rules and abide by the law, and therefore I hope to set this deleterious habit right. Do not give in to hatred and resentment. Adopt the nature of the sages and worthies. Be careful with your thoughts and actions. Wherever we are, we should be of benefit to the local people, to that country and to the world. Do not be a menace to the world. That is my wish.
If everyone behaves this way— rejecting work and refusing to be productive—this country will definitely go downhill. Therefore, as we are now learning the Buddha’s teachings, we should all take up jobs and, by working at our jobs, help the world and humankind. [By] setting good examples ourselves, we influence society so [that] human minds [as a whole] will change for the better. That is the responsibilities of Buddhists.
The United States has a great legal system and many fine institutions, especially the education system, which has made education widely available and better. It serves as an exemplar for the world.
Just one more thing [to add to that]: if everyone also learns to be filial to his or her parents, and—as it is said,
A superior person tends to the basis, for when the basis is established, the Way comes forth;
Filial piety and fraternal regard—are they not the basis to being human? —
if they can further find that basis and source, then when everyone is filial to their parents, this country will definitely prosper.
A superior person needs to find the foundation and source, and once the foundation and source can stand firm, the Way will come forth.
What is the foundation? Filial piety toward parents and fraternal regard for siblings, i.e., courtesy toward one’s siblings [and peers]–no fighting. Filial piety and fraternal regard are the foundation for everyone.
People who are filial to their parents steer clear of the various illegal dealings, and abide by the law making them good citizens of the country. When all the people of the country have become good citizens, they can serve as good citizens of the entire world. They will lead humanity as a whole well onto the right track.
That is why the first order of business for everyone is to know to be filial to his or her parents. Otherwise, what is the point in parents having kids? After giving birth to them, the parents still have to raise them for the next 18 years, and then the kids fly away from the nest, leaving their aging parents behind.
Sure, the parents can move into retirement homes and will have the government as their support system, but there is no kindred affection to speak of. They are left on their own, almost like they are all alone [in the world] and with no one to rely on.
It would be best for children to show filial devotion and care for their own parents, allowing them peace of mind in the waning years of their lives. Or else, once the kids grow up they fly away just like birds, off to no-one-knows-where.
[Of Lambs and Crows]
A Chinese saying goes:
The lamb kneels to nurse;
the crow returns to feed its parents.
When a young crow grows up, it finds food for its parents, and nourishes them until the old crows are strong enough to fly again—only then will the young crow’s duties come to an end. Therefore, to the Chinese people, the crow is “the filial bird.” When a suckling lamb takes milk from mom, it kneels down on its forelegs.
Humans who fail to be filial to their parents do not even measure up to lambs or crows—that is not intended as a put-down, rather a principle [that] everyone should be aware of. It is especially efficacious if humans can be filial to their parents. How is that so?
[The Story of Guoju]
There is a “Guoju Burying His Baby” story in China that goes like this:
Guoju was a very poor man—the poorest of the poor. He had a wife and a baby son. He also had a very old mother. His mom had lost all her teeth and could not eat any solid food. So she would take the milk of her daughter-in-law—that is, up until the baby came along. Now with two mouths to feed, there was not enough milk to go around, and both grandma and the baby were left hungry.
If the milk were to go to feed grandma, the baby would starve to death; if the milk were allotted to the baby, grandma would die. So it was up to Guoju to come up with a solution.
Guoju talked it over with his wife and, being the most filial person, presented this rationale: Since they both were still young, they could have many more children in their long, married life ahead, but mom was very old and her days were numbered. So they should dispose of the baby for now to focus on keeping mom alive.
Tough as it was for his wife to give up the baby, in order to fulfill their filial duties she relented in the end.
After reaching a decision in their family meeting and with the baby in tow, the couple headed out to the wilderness. What had been their pride and joy they were now going to bury in the ground. No sooner had they begun digging than they hit the jackpot—a huge trove of gold and silver ingots, all with the wording “Heaven’s Gift to Filial Son Guoju” inscribed on them! The idea to bury the baby came about because they were poor. Now that they had struck it rich, they could afford to scrap that plan.
This public record is well known to every Chinese person. Many Chinese willingly follow filiality, not out of greed for riches but because they recognize the importance of filial piety.
[V. Its Transmission and Translators]
Fifth, the Translators. According to some editions of the Sutra, the Earth Store Sutrawas translated by a Chinese Tripitaka Master, Dharma Master Fa Deng [“dharma-lamp”] circa the late Chen Dynasty. Some other editions list the translator as follows: Translated by Tripitaka Master Shramana Shikshananda of Udyana during the Tang Dynasty .
[ Udyana during the Tang Dynasty :] During the Tang Dynasty, roughly bordering China’s Yunnan Province there used to be a kingdom whose name, Udyana, which had a mythical origin. Legends had it that, at a time when the kingdom did have a name which was beyond recall, its emperor who was heirless prayed to the deity of a local temple for a son. Out came a baby boy from the forehead of the deity’s image. Isn’t that incredible?
However, this baby boy refused to drink milk—no human milk, no cow’s milk for him. Later, an udder-like structure appeared on the ground, and the baby boy would nurse on the milk produced from the earth. That was how the country got the name Udyana, a Sanskrit term meaning “Earth Milk.” No ordinary cow’s milk, mind you, but earth’s milk, thus the name “Earth Milk Kingdom.” Quite a legend?
A Tripitaka Shramana hailed from Earth Milk Kingdom. Speaking of [the term] “Shramana,” since its Chinese transliteration is shamen, “sand door,” some Dharma Masters poorly versed in the lecturing of Sutras would explain it like this: “Sand, river sand; sand door, a door made of river sand, and this monk goes in and out of that door, thus shamen, ‘sand door.’ “
That is wrong. “Shramana,” a Sanskrit term, translated into Chinese means:
Diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi and wisdom;
Putting an end to greed, hatred and ignorance.
The phrase has the same meaning as “Shramana.”
Diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi and wisdom.: Do not be lazy. Do not think getting more sleep does you good. It might feel natural for your physical body to sleep more, but it is unnatural for your Dharma-body. So, diligently cultivate precepts, Samadhi and wisdom, and put an end to greed, hatred and ignorance.
[Shikshananda:] ” Shikshananda,” also Sanskrit, translated into Chinese means ” Study with Delight.” This Shramana was never lazy and was most delighted in learning the Buddhadharma — learning the Shurangama Mantra, the Great Compassion Mantra, and all the areas of Buddhist studies. It gave him great joy, thus his name, Shikshananda.
Translated: To translate is to render the Sanskrit texts into Chinese. It refers to an exchange—exchanging the identical texts in Sanskrit for Chinese.
[The Chinese word for “to translate” is yi.] During the Zhou Dynasty in China, an office was created to oversee languages used in the four directions of the land. The official installed in the north was called “yi,” and this word has since come to mean “to translate.”
That was Fifth, Its Transmission and Translators.
[VI. Discerning and Explaining the Meaning of the Text]
Sixth, Discerning and Explaining the Meanings of the Text. To discern is to distinguish, and to explain is to elucidate. “Meanings of the Text” refers to meanings of the Sutra text proper.