The Vows Ksitigarbha Sutra
Translated by Pitt Chin Hui
Benefiting the Living and the Dead
At that time, Ksitigarbha Maha Bodhisattva said to Shakyamuni Buddha "Honoured of the World, I can see that beings in Jambudvipa have committed sins in actions, words and thoughts. If they have any opportunity to do good, they act with flagging zeal. When opportunity presents itself for the commission of evil deeds, they continue in evil. Such sentient beings are those walking in a mire with heavy loads on their backs. The farther they go, the deeper they sink and the heavier the burden.
If they encounter wise persons, they are aided to carry half of the load or all. Owing to the superior energy of the wise, they not only are able to give aid, but also to counsel the erring ones to stand firm, determined to err no more once out of the Slough of evil, thereafter avoiding all evil ways."
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva again said to the Buddha, "Honoured of the World The bad habits of those people often originate in something as small as a mote; but they gradually increase. Their parents, family and friends ought to perform some benevolence on their behalf when the erring ones are about to depart from this life. They can either hang banners bearing sacred texts, or burn oil lamps, or chant the Sutras. Or they may make offerings before one or more Buddha images, or images of Bodhisattvas. It is meritorious for the relatives to chant the names of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Pacceka Buddhas or even to chant one name or one title of the above sacred ones in front of the dying person within his or her hearing. Their sins which may cause them to be cast into the evil realms for suffering will be expiated solely because their families are doing these afore-described pious actions on their behalf.
When dying persons have passed away and their relatives continue to perform meritorious acts on their behalf within forty-nine days immediately after their death, it is assured that the departed ones will never be reborn in an evil state, but will go into a Heaven or be reborn to the human world to enjoy longevity and felicity. The living relatives of the departed one, because of their pious acts, will themselves receive inconceivable benefits.
I hope the Honoured of the World, devas, dragons, asuras, pretas, maharajas, humans and sub-humans will all endeavour to persuade the dwellers in Jambudvipa not to commit sin by killing or any other deed of evil, such offering living sacrifices to spirits or gods on behalf of their departed ones.
Why should you not kill ? Because your deed of offering blood-sacrifice will not give even the smallest benefit to the deceased, but will actually increase their sufferings. Their future woe will be more severe as the result of this bloodshed. If the deceased have done some good deeds during life that would help them to a heavenly rebirth, or again as a human, but the evil acts performed on their behalf by relatives will act against their welfare and delay their progress towards liberation.
If those dying beings have no good deeds to their credit and, according to their personal karma, they merit evil births, why should their families be so ill-advised as to do the sin of killing on their behalf ? Just as if a person who had suffered hunger for three days and travelled from afar carrying a heavy load of more than a hundred katis, and some neighbour suddenly added to the load, the total weight would become unbearable.
Honoured of the World, it is visible to me that if inhabitants of Jambudvipa can follow the Buddha's Doctrines to do good even as the size of a hair, a drop of water, a grain of sand, one dustmote, they, themselves, will get benefits personally, according to their own Karma."
Just at that time, an honourable elder known as the Elder of Eloquence, who had attained the state of never-returned, joined the assemblage. He had converted beings in the ten quarters of space. In the form of a transformation with clasped hands, he inquired of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva reverently, "Bodhisattva, if relatives of erring deceased beings, whether adult or juvenile, do pious deeds on their behalf, will great benefit or Salvation come to them?"
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva replied, "My elderly One, under the supernatural power of the Shakyamuni Buddha, for the benefit ot all beings of the present and the generations yet to come, may I answer you in brief. Any sentient being now and hereafter, who hears the name of but one Buddha or Bodhisattva, or one Pacceka Buddha at his dying moment, no matter whether this being be sinful or virtuous, he shall be led eventually to Salvation. If anyone, male or female, fails during his life-time to do meritorious actions, but lives sinfully, then his relatives, whether young or old, ought to do good deeds on his behalf and practise pious observances for him, after his death. The departed ones gain one seventh of the merits of such good and pious acts, and the remaining six sevenths rebound to the benefit of the living ones who practise these acts of piety. That is why beings of the present and the future should practise meritorious deeds during their life-time when they are still strong and healthy. The whole merit of offering such good deeds will be achieved by themselves personally. Time is transient, and death will come to one at any moment. Within the forty-nine days after one's death, one is ignorant of his or her Karma. During the period of judgement of one's past deeds, he or she is unable to know what will be the consequences of the future, and thereby is extremely worried. If one has done some evil deeds during one's life-time, one will certainly be cast into the evil state of suffering. Within the period of forty-nine days of one's death, he or she is expecting one's own children or relatives to do good deeds on his or her behalf, and thus be relieved of suffering. After the forty-nine days of one's death, one is bound to receive whatever Karma one should deserve. If one has done evil deeds during one's life-time, one is subjected to endure sufferings without any hope of freedom for thousands of years. One's Karma is able to induce one to be cast into one of the five Avici Hells, or in one of the great Hells, and one will continue to suffer for millions of kalpas forever. Again, my elderly One, if relatives and children of the sinful one make offerings of vegetarian food to the Buddha, as well as to monks, after his death, such good deeds will help the sinful to be relieved out of his suffering. before the meal time of monks, while vegetarian food is under preparation, no edible things should be thrown on the floor and be wasted. The living children and relatives of the deceased should not eat before offering such food to the images of the Buddha and the Venerable monks. If the living ones are not following the above advice earnestly, the deceased will not be benefited at all. If they follow the advice piously and energetically they will get one-seventh of the merit. That is why, my elderly One, if beings of the Jampudvipa world can offer vegetarian food, both to the images of the Buddha and the monks with respect, not only their deceased parents or relatives will receive the benefit but they themselves, the living ones, will also be greatly benefited."
After what Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva had said, millions and millions of spirits and ghosts who had assembled at the thirty-three Heavens from the Jampudivipa world decided to follow the Noble Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, (in order) to guide beings to abstain from bad deeds and to practise meritorious ones. Then the elderly Person retreated with full respect.