The Vows Ksitigarbha Sutra
Translated by Pitt Chin Hui
In making this translation of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra from Chinese into English, I do not at all set myself up as a scholar in this particular field. However, with the great mass of the Buddhist canonical literature as yet untranslated from Chinese into any Western language, someone must come forward to make a start on the task. If some recognised scholar will take this translation as a basis and improve upon it, I shall be happy.
I wish to acknowledge with gratitude my indebtedness to the late Venerable Sumangalo for the considerable help he had given me in rendering Chinese and English nomenclature into Sanskrit and aiding with the English version in many difficult passages. The Venerable Susiddhi has also been of great assistance in phrasing the English version. Again, Venerable Sumangalo has been most helpful with numerous suggestions for improving the English version and has given long hours to the task of polishing the English.
There have been some curious circumstances in connection with the translation of this Sutra. Perhaps, it is well to go back some five years, to a night in 1959 when Madam Tan Gek Neo, the caretaker of Poh Ern Si, the temple where the translation took place, saw a manifestation of Tay Chong Phorsat (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva). The temple is dedicated to this Bodhisattva, and no other image is enshrined within the temple. Madam Tan Gek Neo came into the shrine hall one night, and was startled to see what appeared to be the Bodhisattva in human flesh. The vision was in triplicate, there being three identical figures. The vision lasted for but a few moments, and then vanished into the thin air. Madam Tan is not known as an imaginative person, and this has been her sole experience of a nature unheard of in the five years she has been in charge of the temple. According to her account, the vision was lifelike, and bore the pilgrim's staff, which is always in Ksitigarbha's right hand.
On the l4th of November, 1959, the Venerable Sumangalo of Penang, who was honorary abbot of this temple, came to take up a two-months period of residence. With him was another American monk, the Venerable Susiddhi. Mr. Yap Kim Fatt and Mr. Saw Hock Seng also took up residence at Poh Ern Si at the same time. All four were busily engaged until late each evening at the task of preparing material for use in Buddhist Sunday Schools.
On the evening of the 20th December, 1958, these four gentlemen completed their day's labour at ten o'clock and immediately retired to their beds. After they had extinguished all lights, they were amazed to catch sight of a dazzling light of electric blue in the locked shrine hall. All four instantly stepped forward to the windows of the shrine hall, and endeavoured to investigate for some rational explanation of the phenomenon. The light was of human shape and size. Despite the transparent appearance of the figure, it was very similar to the marble figure of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva on the shrine platform. A staff was in the right hand. The luminous figure moved about the shrine, and lasted for perhaps half an hour at full brilliance, then gradually the light diminished, but had not entirely vanished when the above-named gentlemen finally went to sleep. A diligent investigation was made to determine if reflections from motor-car lights were responsible for the phenomenon. In as much as Poh Ern Si is on a hilltop, the only possibility of headlight reflections is from cars actually ascending the hill to the monastery, and there was no such car. The surrounding hills showed only darkness. Yet the strange manifestation in the shrine continued.
It was on the day following this vision, which I had not then heard about, that I travelled to Poh Ern Si to begin the translation of this Sutra. From the beginning of the task, all went well and help was offered from several quarters. Any major difficulties seemed to vanish. It is my firm and entire belief that this work is under the blessing of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.
Another strange occurrence must be recorded. On numerous occasions, both by day and by night, chanting was heard in the shrine hall. This was in the rhythm common to Mahayana chanting, and in a low pitch. When investigation was made of the main shrine, the chanting seemed to come from the rear shrine and, on investigating the rear shrine, the chanting appeared to come from the main shrine. It was certain no human agency was responsible for this phenomenon.
It is traditional that Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva has six main manifestations (transformations). Sometimes, those transformations are referred to as "Ksitigarbha’s helpers". On the night of 26th December, 1959, the Venerable Sumangalo and the Venerable Susiddhi, prior to retiring for the night, made a round of inspection of the temple premises. The shrine was already locked for the night, and it was certain that no one was inside. At about eleven o’clock, they saw six luminous figures seated before the main altar. These lights were not in human form—but merely uniform areas of light, vertical and of about the height of men seated in the lotus posture of meditation. This phenomenon persisted for perhaps half an hour before fading. Again, investigation revealed no possible material source of the strange lights of bluish radiance. Be it remembered that Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’s colour is a jewel blue—of the shade referred to in modern times as "electric blue".
Strange acoustical effects are to be noted at morning and evening devotions when mantras are chanted. There is very little reverberation when the devotions to Amitabha, Bhaisajyaguru and others are chanted, but the Mantra to the patron Bodhisattva of the temple—Ksitigarbha, even though intoned in the same rhythm and pitch as the other prayers, is the only one that reverberates. It is difficult to avoid the feeling that the sound waves rebound from the altar and actually strike those present with a tangible, yet gentle, force. Until such time as a rational explanation can be offered for these strange occurrences, in terms of our tri-dimensional world, we shall have to believe the phenomena to be manifestations of Divine Grace.
In conclusion, I wish to offer my profound gratitude to my Buddhist friends who have encouraged the translation of this Ksitigarbha Sutra, and for their pious generosity in defraying the cost of issuing same for free distribution, with the understanding of their desire to remain anonymous. Whatever merit may have accrued to my humble self, I devote to the welfare of all sentient beings in all worlds.
May all be well and happy.Pitt Chin Hui