The Vows Ksitigarbha Sutra
Translated by Pitt Chin Hui
Ubiquitous Supernatural Powers of the Exalted Buddha at Trayastrimsa Heaven
Thus I have heard: At one time the World-Honoured One sojourned at the Trayastrimsa, or Tavatimsa, Heaven, and was preaching on His mother’s behalf. At that time, innumerable Buddhas and Maha-Bodhisattvas from infinite world-systems in the ten quarters of space convened harmoniously, admiring the fully Enlightened One, Shakyamuni, for His transcendental wisdom and Infinite powers in guiding erring beings to understand the dissimilarity between the bases of happiness and sorrow in the world. They all escorted their attendants to offer homage to the Honoured One.
The Honoured One smiled and radiated multi-radiant beams of infinite compassion, supreme wisdom, benevolence, etc., dispatching forth into space sounds of the six paramitas; sounds of infinite compassion; sounds of charity; sounds of emancipation; sounds of bliss; sounds of transcendental wisdom; emitting lion-roars; emitting great lion-roars; emitting thunderous sounds; and a great number of other indescribable sounds. Many beings from the ten quarters of space in this world and additional worlds had assembled jointly at Trayastrimsa Heaven, Tusita Heaven, Nirmanarati Heaven, Paranirmita-vasavartin Heaven, Brahmaparisadya Heaven, Brahmapurohitas Heaven, Mahabrahman Heaven, and from numerous other Heavens.
All Devas, spirits and dragons from the seas had combined together, as also beings from various worlds and this human world, such as spirits of the sea, storms, rivers, trees, hills, earth, spring, spirits of the fields, day, night, spirits of the empty spaces, the skies, of drink and food, spirits of the grass and woods, and all the other spirits. Likewise, there came beings from different worlds and the human one--such beings as great kings of pretas, asuras, succubus pretas, preta spirits of sickness, the pretas of poison, the kings of the pretas of joy and prosperity, the kings of pretas of carnal love and prestige, and many pretas and kings of pretas had gathered happily together.
At that time, Shakyamuni Buddha told Manjusri, Prince of the Dharma; "Now you perceive by mental vision all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, devas, dragons, pretas and spirits from this and other worlds from this country including other lands are assembled together in this Trayastrimsa Heaven. Do you know the precise number of them all?"
Manjusri told the Buddha, "O, World Honoured One, even though I have enormous powers developed through innumerable kalpas, I am not well acquainted with the exact number."
The Buddha told Manjusri, "Even though I behold through the eyes of a Buddha, I too, am unable to disclose to you the accurate number of all these deities. They are all those whom Ksitigarbha has converted and capably guided from long, long ago. Some are to be relieved and directed by him in the future."
Manjusri told the Buddha, "O Honoured of the World, I have long practised meritorious deeds and long ago attained unobstructed wisdom. Undeniably, I will trust your words, but those who pursue the Arahat path, the path of Heavens, the worship of dragons, and many beings who will be born in the future, will be doubtful and reluctant to adopt what you have strongly emphasized as the truth. Devas, nagas, yakshas, gandharvas, asuras, kinnaras, mahorags, and others of the eight classes with humans to be born in the future will be filled with suspense and hesitant although you have pronounced the truth most zealously. If you compel them to believe, they will instead seek to spread evil of the Teaching. Thereupon, I earnestly anticipate that the Honoured of the World will narrate to us the original vows of this Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, as he commenced his Bodhisattva career, and how he laboured to gain such inconceivable success and authority."
The Buddha told Manjusri, "Suppose that every blade of grass, wood, forest, paddyfield, hill, stone, dustmote, every material thing—though numerous as the sands of the Ganges, and though each sand-grain is one world, and each dust-mote is one kalpa * , and all numbers are reversed into kalpa, that which he has done to accomplish the Dasabhumi -- (ten stages of the fifty two sections of development), even though they are more than can be manifested by words, they are surpassed by the deeds of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in his Arahat and Pratyoka Buddha stages.
* A kalpa is an indescribably long time. Buddha Shakymuni once gave this analogy. "Imagine a mountain of the hardest stone, of a size of one mile wide, one mile long, and one mile high. If one were to visit this mountain only once every thousand years, and stroke it gently with a silken cloth, when the mountain had thus been completely worn away, a period of one kalpa would have passed."
"Manjusri, this Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, his vows and his powers, are indeed inconceivable. If beings, both males and females, to be born in the future, shall listen to and hail the name of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, institute homage to Ksitigarbha by chanting his name, communicating offerings to Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and draw or carve his image or make likenesses of him, all these beings shall be born for one hundred births into a special heaven, this is the Indra Trayastrimsa Heaven (thirty three in number), the second of the six Heavens of formation, and shall never descend into the three evil states forever."
"Manjusri, this Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva had been the son of a respected elder of unaccountable kalpas ago. At the time when he established his first resolve, there was a Buddha by the name of Lion-Power. The youth examined with awe the majestic appearance of the Buddha and questioned what he had conducted as a Bodhisattva and what vow he had performed to accomplish such a divine appearance. The Buddha imparted to the youth, "If you want to gain such an appearance, you must attempt your utmost to relieve the sufferings of all sorrowful beings and continue this practice for a long, long time." Then the Shakyamuni Buddha told Manjusri that the Buddha Lion-Power had counselled the youth to decide on a vow, as follows -- "I now determine to relieve the sufferings of beings in the six realms of suffering and sorrow, skilfully leading them to Salvation through innumerable kalpas, before I myself attain Buddhahood." By the youth disciplining such a strong vow before the Buddha Lion-Power, thereupon, for unaccountable kalpas, he has remained in the Bodhisattva stage.
Again, there was another Buddha, at a time inconceivably long ago, who was named Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment and who survived to a very great age of millions of kalpas. There are three stages for discharging respect to a Buddha:
To the Buddha incarnate,
To his image and
A declaration of faith and respect.
At the second stage of offering respect to a Buddha, there was a Brahman girl who had in past ages practised great benevolence. Apart from being respected and honoured by people, she had also been bestowed with relief and protection from devas ever since the beginning of her career of charity. But her mother refused to respect the truth of the Dharma and always uttered evil against the Triple Gems. Although the "Sacred Daughter," as she was called, subjected herself to excessive persuasion toward her mother to (get her to) embrace Right Understanding, the mother was thickly prejudiced against her daughter's counsel and guidance.
When the mother died, she was reborn in the Avici Hell (Hell of unceasing sufferings), the last of the eight hot Hells where punishment continued without intermission. The Brahman girl was fully aware that her mother did not accord to the Doctrine of Cause and Effect and committed many evils in her life; by such bad deeds, therefore, she would surely sink into an evil birth in the lower Hells of intense suffering. Conscious of this Karma, the daughter parted with all her property and belongings by the offering of flowers and other forms of offering at the temple or pagoda of the Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment. The image of the Buddha therein was magnificently carved and was to be admired in all appearances. She insinuated deep respect to this Buddha and sought reasoning solely by herself, "This Buddha is fully enlightened and all-pervading in wisdom. If he were still embodied in this world of manifestation, I would request of him where my mother has been cast. I feel sure he would know the exact realm of her person." After such a thought. she knelt before the Buddha's image and was in a most tearful disposition for a considerable length of time.
Suddenly, she contacted a voice from outer space, addressing her thus, "Sacred Girl, whimper not so sorrowfully. I will impart to you where your mother has gone." The Brahman girl clasped her hands in deep respect and replied to the voice, "What divine being will relieve me of my worries and apprehensions! Since my mother's death, I have been remembering her from day and night in prayers but I fail to discover where she is being reborn." Then the voice responded to her filial love, "I am the Buddha whom you are now leading your Faith to, and I am aware of your devotion to your mother which is quite different from that of other children; thereby, I am here to enlighten you about her." When the Brahman girl took heed of this, she fell to the ground and again wept bitterly in an almost endless state. She feared that she would soon perish from the human world, and implored the Buddha to avail her anxiety as to where her mother had been reborn. The Buddha replied, "Sacred Girl, after your offering, return home early, be seated down and compose yourself in meditation, then concentrate on my name quietly and you will then cherish the idea of associating where your mother is."
When the Brahman girl had finished paying homage, she went home and did as she had been instructed. After meditating for a day and night, she suddenly found herself on a great shore. She beheld many fierce iron-skinned animals hurrying back and forth, up and down, East and West in a boiling sea. She also saw thousands and millions of men and women emotionally moving among the waves of the sea, attempting to escape from the cruel monsters with iron skins. Moreover, she attested Yaksas (demons on earth, or in the air, or in the lower planes which are malignant, violent and carnivorous. They have many feet, eyes and heads and have sword-like teeth). These Yaksas were driving the poor men and women to the cruel monsters, and they themselves confronted the men and women angrily. The sight was so dreadful that the girl dared not prolong her gaze although by the power of the Buddha, she was not struck with any fear for herself. At that time, there existed a king of the sea-devils named "King No-poison" (the poison caused by either actions, words and thoughts) who revealed his hospitality to her and entertained her saying, "Sacred Girl, you are a good Bodhisattva, why do you venture to come to such a place like this"' The Brahman girl then requested for the name of the place. The poisonless Devil-king told the girl This is Mahachakravala (the first great sea in the West). The girl replied, "I was directed that there is a Hell in the interior of this great circular iron enclosure. Is this true?" King No-poison replied, "Yes, this is true." Then the girl asked, "Why is it that I have come to a Hell?" King No-poison interpreted that it was either through the power of the Buddha or through her own good Karmic power, as otherwise she would never be able to have a visit to Mahachakravala. The girl then queried why the water of the great ocean was boiling, and with so many sinners and fierce animals within.
Then King No-poison answered, "Those sinners are the new Deaths from the human world. After having passed away for forty-nine days with no descendants to do good deeds to relieve them from their sufferings, and as a result of their having raised nothing for the benefit of humanity during their life-time, but that of only committing sins in one way or another, their first punishment is to cross this Sea of Suffering, which extends ten million miles eastwards. There is another Sea, where sinners suffer double punishments. East of this latter Sea In view is yet another Sea of Suffering, where sinners suffer extreme tortures."
"The above three Seas are called Seas of Sufferings. Those who have committed sins through actions, words and thoughts, are cast into these Seas to be punished, as they should be, for their evil deeds."
The Sacred Girl asked King No-poison, "Where is Hell"' King No-poison answered, "Within the three Seas of Sufferings, there are thousands of varieties of Hells. There are eighteen great Hells and five hundred smaller ones where sinners have to undergo boundless punishment. Also, there are thousands of others where leniency is bestowed on all those who have not committed too serious offences during their life-time."
The Sacred Girl said to King No-poison, "My mother has passed away recently. I am anxious to know where she has been sent to.
King No-poison questioned the Sacred Girl, "What has your mother done during her life-time?"
The Sacred Girl replied, "My mother, during her life-time, had envious views of the Triple-Gems, and had spoken evil against them. Many a time, she did strive to embrace Faith in the Exalted Buddha, but was insufficiently firm about it. She expired only a few days ago, and I have no idea where she is at the moment."
King No-poison asked, "What is your mother's name"'
The Sacred Girl responded, "Both my parents were Brahmans. The name of my father was Sila Sen-sen and the name of my mother was Yuet Tee-ii."
King No-poison answered the Sacred Girl with clasped hands and said, "My Sacred Girl, pray do not feel distressed and return home with a joyful heart as your mother has ascended to Heaven just three days ago. It was your earnest and filial devotion of making offerings to the Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment that your mother was relieved. Not only did your mother receive deliverance from Hell, but all sinners of the Avici Hell also benefited from it, for they ascended to Heaven on the same day." After intimating to the Sacred Girl of her mother's Salvation, the King of the Devils retreated with clasped hands. With this enlightening message about her mother, the Sacred Girl felt that her earlier fears were unfounded. She then knelt before the Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment and expressed this strong vow, "I shall exercise my best to relieve people of their sufferings forever in my future lives of kalpas to come."
Shakyamuni Buddha then told Manjusri Bodhisattva that the King of the Devils, No-poison, is now the Bodhisattva of Wealth and that the Sacred Girl has been named Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.