— Chapter 1: The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha Fundamental Vows
Chapter 1: Miracles in the Palace of the Trayastrimsas Heaven:
Thus have I heard. Once the Buddha was abiding in Trayastrimsas Heaven in order to expound the Dharma to his mother. At that time, all the Buddhas and great Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas, an inexpressible number, hailing from countless worlds in the ten directions, came and assembled there. They praised the fact that Buddha Sakyamuni, in evil times with their five kinds of defilement, was still able to manifest his inconceivable power of great wisdom and miracles in order to regulate and tame stubborn beings so that they could come to know suffering and take delight in the Dharma. Each of them sent his attendant to greet the World Honored One.
At that time, the Tathagata smiled and emitted hundreds, thousands, and myriads of millions of great bright clouds-namely, the great bright clouds of perfection, the great bright clouds of mercy and compassion, the great bright clouds of wisdom, the great bright clouds of Prajna, the great bright clouds of Samadhi, the great bright clouds of Srivatsa, the great bright clouds of blissful virtues, the great bright clouds of meritorious virtues, the great bright clouds of refuge and the great bright clouds of praise.
Having emitted such indescribably bright clouds, he also produced all kinds of subtle and wonderful voices-namely, the voices of the Dana-Paramita, the Sila-Paramita, the Ksanti-Paramita, the Virya-Paramita, the Dhyana-Paramita, the Prajna-Paramita, the voices of Mercy and Compassion, of Rejoicing and Abandonment, of Deliverance, of Non-Outflow, of Wisdom, of Great Wisdom, of Lion’s Roar, of Great Lion’s Roar, of Cloud Thunder and of Great Cloud Thunder.
After he had produced such indescribable, indescribable voices, countless millions of devas, nagas, demons and deities from the Saha World and other realms also came and assembled in Trayastrimsas Palace. The devas from the Four Celestial Kings’ Heavens arrived. From Trayastrimsas, Suyama, Tusita, Nirmanarati, Paranirmitavasavarti, Brahmakayika, Brahmapurohita, Mahabrahma (Great Pure Heaven), Parittabhas (Little-Light Heaven), Apramanabha (Infinite-Light Heaven), Abhasvara (Light-Sound Heaven), Parittasubhas (Little-Purity Heaven), Apramanasubhas (Infinite-Purity Heaven), Subhakirtsna (Universal-Pure Heaven), Punyaprasavas (Bliss-Birth Heaven), Anabhraka (Cloudless Heaven), Brhatphala (Broad-Fruition Heaven), Asanjnisattva (No-Thought Heaven), Aurha (No-Trouble Heaven), Atapa (No-Heat Heaven), Sudarsana (Good-to- See Heaven), Sudrsa (Well-Appearing Heaven), Akanistha (Form-Acme Heaven), and the Naivasamjnanasamjnayatana (Neither-Thinking-Nor-Not-Thinking Heaven)-all the multitudes of devas, from the heavens, together with the multitudes of nagas, demons and deities assembled in the Trayastrimsas Palace.
There also came from different lands in other quarters and from the Saha World such deities as those of the seas, of the rivers, of the forests, of the mountains, of the earth, of the streams and lakes, of the crops, of the day, of the night, of the airspace, of the sky, of food and of vegetation. All assembled there.
There also came from different lands in other quarters and from the Saha World such great demon kings as the Evil-Eye Demon King, the Suckle-Blood Demon King, the Consume-Spirit Demon King, the Devour-Ova Demon King, the Give-Disease Demon King, the Welfare Demon King and the Great-Love-Respect Demon King, and they all assembled there.
At that time, Buddha Sakyamuni said to the Dharma Prince Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Manjusri, “Look at all these Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, devas, nagas, pretas and deities, from this world and from other worlds, from this land and from other lands, now arriving here to gather in Tryastrimsas. Do you have any idea how many there are?”
Manjusri addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, I could not tell how many there are even if I tried for one thousand kalpas to use my miraculous power to determine the number.”
The Buddha said to Manjusri, “I, too, cannot complete the counting even with the vision of my Buddha eyes. Altogether they constitute those beings already delivered, those not yet delivered, those still to be delivered and also those representing work already accomplished and yet to be accomplished by Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva throughout infinite, long kalpas.”
Manjusri addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, since, in the past, I have long cultivated good roots and have achieved Unobstructed Wisdom, I ought to be able to believe and accept your words on hearing what you have just said. However, the beings of the lesser vehicles, devas, nagas and the rest of the eight categories, as well as sentient beings of future generations, will certainly cherish doubts even if they hear Tathagata’s sincere words. Even if they accepted your words temporarily, there would inevitably and unavoidably be some scandalizing and slandering of your views. I only hope that you, O World Honored One, will speak extensively about those deeds Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ksitigarbha performed during his causal states and what vows he took so that he was able to accomplish such inconceivable things.”
The Buddha said to Manjusri, “Let us take the Tri-sahasra-maha-sahasra-loka-dhatu of the three great chiliocosms (universes); from this let us take one piece of each and all of the different kinds of vegetation-including grass, trees, bushes, rice, hemp, bamboo and reeds-and one part of every kind of mountain, rock and dust-mote. Then let us consider each piece and part to be a separate Ganges River. Then, again, take one grain of the sand in all those inconceivably great number of Ganges Rivers as one chiliocosm, and afterwards take each mote of dust within each chiliocosm as one kalpa. Finally, consider all the dust grains accumulated in each of these kalpas to be, themselves, converted to kalpas. Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has endured one thousand times longer than this vast length of time since he realized the ten grades of accomplishment, not to mention the length of time Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha spent in the sainthood of Hearer and Pratyeka-Buddhahood. O Manjusri, this Bodhisattva’s majestic, solemn vows are, indeed, inconceivable!
“If, in the future, a good man or good woman should hear the name of this Bodhisattva and should praise or worship him or invoke his name or donate offerings to him as well as paint, sculpt or mold his image, he or she will be reborn in the thirty-three heavens for one hundred turns and will never again fall onto the evil paths of existence.
“O Manjusri, this Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha in the past, prior to an inexpressible, inexpressible number of kalpas, assumed the form of and took birth as the son of a rich man. At that time, there was a Buddha bearing the title of LION’S-EXCITEMENT-MYRIAD-DEED-ALL-ACCOMPLISHED TATHAGATA. When the elder’s son saw the Buddha’s excellent form adorned with thousands of blessings, he inquired of the Buddha what deeds he had performed and what vows he had taken to achieve his present excellent form, so that he himself might be able to acquire such a form.
“Then the LION’S-EXCITEMENT-MYRIAD-DEED-ALL-ACCOMPLISHED TATHAGATA told the elder’s son, “If you want to realize this entity, you must deliver all suffering sentient beings for vast ages.”
“O Manjusri, then the elder’s son consequently took his vow, saying, `I now vow that I will provide, throughout incalculable numbers of kalpas in the future, for the sake of all sinful, suffering beings on the six paths of existence, extensive expediencies to cause them all to be delivered and liberated before I myself realize Buddhahood.’
“He took such a great vow in front of that Buddha, and even now, after hundreds, thousands, myriads, millions, and even inconceivable numbers of kalpas, he is still a Bodhisattva.
“Moreover, there was in the past, an inconceivable number of kalpas ago, a Buddha bearing the title of ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA. The life-span of that Buddha was four hundred thousand million asamkhyeka kalpas.
“During the semblance dharma period there was a brahman girl, who, having profound and deep blessing due to deeds in her past lives, was admired and respected by the people, and guarded by devas in her walking, standing, sitting and lying down. However, her mother practiced wicked ways and often slighted the Three Jewels. At that time, this holy girl tried many expediencies to persuade her mother to adopt correct views, but her mother was not thoroughly convinced. Soon thereafter, the mother passed away, and her pudgala (soul) fell into the Uninterrupted Hell (Avici). The Brahman girl knew that her mother, not believing in the laws of causation, would inevitably be reborn into an evil existence according to her karma; so she sold her house and bought vast amounts of incense and flowers and other offerings to be generously donated to the stupas and temples of the Buddha of that era. She saw in a temple the image of the ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA carved and painted in august forms and with perfect dignity. Then the Brahman girl paid obeisance to the sacred image, showing extra reverence. She held deep in her heart the following thought: `The Buddha is the Great Enlightened One, possessing all kinds of wisdom. If he were in this world, he would be able to tell me of my mother’s whereabouts after her death.’ Then the Brahman girl wept for quite a long time while she gazed admiringly at the Tathagata.
“Suddenly she heard some voice from midair, saying, `O weeping girl, do not be too sorrowful, for I shall now reveal to you your mother’s whereabouts.’
“The brahman girl, with palms joined, pointed directly to the midair, saying, `May I know who the Sacred and Virtuous One is who relieves my worry? Since I lost my mother, I think about her day and night; but there has been no one I could ask to tell me of her whereabouts.’
“The voice from midair responded to the girl again, saying, `I am the one whom you are worshipping, the ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA. Seeing that you remember and cherish your mother much more than ordinary beings, I manifest to reveal her whereabouts to you.’
“The brahman girl, hearing this, prostrated herself abruptly on the ground, badly hurting her whole body. Her attendants raised her up and held her steady for quite a long time while she regained her balance and composure. She then addressed the midair, saying, `May the Buddha, in his mercy and compassion, tell me forthrightly my mother’s whereabouts, for it is possible that I may die very shortly due to my present physical and mental state!’
“The ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA addressed the holy girl, saying, `After having completed your offering, go directly home, sit reverently and contemplate my name and title; then you will know your mother’s whereabouts.’
“Then the brahman girl concluded her worship of the Buddha and returned to her house. She thought about her mother very deeply and sat reverently and contemplated the ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA.
“After one day and one night she found herself arriving at some unknown seashore. The water in the sea was boiling. There were many wicked beasts, all with iron bodies, flying over or walking upon the sea and running and chasing in an east-west direction. She saw that men and women, hundreds of thousands of myriads in number, emerged from and submerged again into the sea, at which time they were snatched up and devoured by the wicked beasts. She also saw yaksas with different forms-some with many hands and numerous eyes, others with many feet and multiple heads, and still others with teeth as sharp as swords protruding from their mouths-chasing and herding these suffering people into the claws of those wicked beasts, who snapped at and seized them by either their heads or their feet. Those beasts had all sorts of horrible forms which one dared not gaze upon too long. The Brahman girl, at this time, by virtue of her mindfulness of the Buddha, was, naturally, not frightened.
“There appeared a demon king named No Poison (Vandana), who prostrated himself before her and welcomed her. He addressed the holy girl, saying, `Well, O Bodhisattva, what causes you to come here?’
“Whereupon the Brahman girl asked the demon king, `What place is this here?’
“Vandana replied, `This is the sea to the west of the Great Iron Enclosed Mountain.’
“The holy girl asked, `I have heard that hell is in the midst of the Cakravada. Is it in fact so?’
“Vandana replied, `It is true that there are hells there.’
“The holy girl asked, `How or in what manner did I arrive at this place of hells?’
“Vandana replied, `Either by majestic or karmic power. Nobody can come here without one of these two.’
“The holy girl asked again, `What causes the water to rise and boil? And why are there so many suffering people and wicked beasts here?’
“Vandana replied, `Those suffering people are newly deceased beings from Jambudvipa, who committed evil. Since for forty-nine days none of their heirs have performed any meritorious or virtuous act to save and deliver them from their suffering and since they did not create any virtuous causes in their lifetime, they must be committed to the various hells according to their karma. Naturally, they must first pass through this sea. Ten myriad yojanas to the east of this sea there is another sea, where the severity of the suffering is double what it is here. To the east of that sea there is still another sea, where the suffering is yet again double. This suffering is the result of the evil causes of the three kinds of karma; and these places are known collectively as the Karmic Sea.’
“The holy girl also asked Demon King Vandana, `Where are the hells?’
“Vandana replied, `The grand hells are within the three karmic seas. They number in the hundreds of thousands. Each one is different from the others. There are eighteen grand ones, and there are five hundred secondary ones, each and all being centers of immeasurable suffering. There are hundreds of thousands of hells in the next category, also, all being places of immeasurable suffering.’
“The holy girl again addressed the great demon king, saying, `My mother died not very long ago. I wonder where her spirit went.’
“The demon king asked the holy girl, `What did your mother do in her lifetime?’
“The holy girl replied, `My mother cherished some perverted views, and she ridiculed the Three Jewels. Sometimes she believed for a little while and then would turn irreverent again. Though she died recently, I still do not know her whereabouts.’
“Vandana asked, `What was your mother’s name?’
“The holy girl replied, `Both my mother and father were Brahmans. My father’s name was Silo Sardrsa; my mother’s name was Yueh Ti Li.’
“Vandana joined his palms and addressed the Bodhisattva, saying, `I wish that you would return to your own place without worry, remembrance or sorrowful musing. It has been three days since the sinful woman Yueh Ti Li ascended to heaven. It is said that, by virtue of her filial offspring’s donations to the stupa and temple of the ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA on her mother’s behalf, not only was the mother of the Bodhisattva able to leave hell, but also all the sinful people in Avici Hell were able, on that day, to receive the blessing to be reborn with her.’
“The demon king, having said this, withdrew with palms joined. The Brahman girl awoke as from a dream. She realized the situation and then made a great vow in front of the stupa and image of the ENLIGHTENMENT-FLOWER-SERENITY-SELF-SOVEREIGNTY-KING TATHAGATA: `May I, through all future kalpas, provide extensive expediencies for the deliverance and liberation of all sinful, suffering beings.”
The Buddha then told Manjusri, “That demon king, who was named Vandana at that time, is now Bodhisattva Ts’ai Shou, and the Brahman girl is now Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.”
— ” Translated from Chinese into English by Upasaka Tao-Tsi Shih”