The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha's Fundamental Vows

Translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Tripitaka Master Siksananda
Translated into English by K'un Li, Shih
Edited by K'un Li, Shih and Dr. Frank G. French
From: http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/ksitigarbha/content.html

Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Chapter 4: The Karmic Retribution of Sentient Beings in Jambudvipa

At that time, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha addressed the Buddha, saying, "O World Honored One, by virtue of Buddha's majestic, miraculous power I was able to divide myself into many, many forms throughout hundreds, thousands, myriads and millions of worlds to save and deliver all sentient beings who were suffering their karmic retribution without the Tathagata's great, merciful power; alone, I would not be able to perform such transformations. Now I have been commanded by the Buddha to deliver and liberate all the beings on the six paths of existence until that time when Ajita will achieve Buddhahood. Yes, indeed, O World Honored One, please do not worry."

Then the Buddha told Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, "All those sentient beings who have not been liberated are uncertain and precarious in their nature and consciousness. Their evil habits will produce evil karma, and their virtuous habits will yield fruition. Whether they are virtuous or wicked, all depends on the circumstances surrounding them. They revolve on the five paths of existence without one moment's cessation, most likely continuing thus for countless kalpas, in confusion, delusion, hindrance and difficulty like fish caught in nets in the vast streams, that, though escaping from such traps and freeing themselves temporarily, will soon become entangled in those nets again. For such people, I would normally be worried. However, since you are going to honor your past wishes and solemn vows, taken kalpa after kalpa, for extensive deliverance of all those sinful people, how should I have any cause for further worry?"

After these words were spoken, a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva in the assembly named Samadhisvararaja addressed the Buddha, saying, "O World Honored One, what vows did Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha take kalpas ago that deserve your profuse commendation and praise? I only wish that you, O World Honored One, would describe them briefly."

Then the World Honored One said to Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Samadhisvararaja, "Listen attentively! Listen attentively and think carefully about all that I say, for I am going to describe each vow individually for you.

"Think of that vastly ancient time ere immeasurable, asankhyeya, nayuta, inexpressible numbers of kalpas. At that time, there was a Buddha known as SARVAJNASIDDHARTA TATHAGATA, who had the epithets of Arahat, Samyaksambuddha, Vidyacarana- Sampanna, Sugata, Lokavid, Anuttara, Purusa-Damyasarathi, Sastadevamanusyanam, Buddha and Bhagavan. This Buddha had a lifespan of sixty thousand kalpas.

"Before he left his home life, he was the king of a small country. He befriended the king of the neighboring country, and they both practiced the ten virtues for the benefit of sentient beings. Since most of the people in the neighboring country had committed many wicked deeds, the two kings contrived a plan to provide extensive expediencies, whereby one of the kings made up his mind to achieve Buddhahood early in order to deliver all those wicked people without exception, while the other king took the vow: `I will never become a Buddha if I have not first delivered all those sinful and suffering beings, making them comfortable and joyful and enabling them to achieve Bodhi.' "

The Buddha, continuing to tell this story to Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Samadhisvararaja, said, "The king who made up his mind to become a Buddha earlier became TATHAGATA RVAJNASIDDHARTA; but the other king, who vowed always to deliver all sinful suffering beings and did not want to become a Buddha, is now Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.

"Again in the past, ere immeasurable asankhyeya kalpas, a Buddha was born. His name was PURE-LOTUS-EYE TATHAGATA. This Buddha had a lifespan of forty kalpas. During the period of his formal Dharma, there was an Arhat who delivered sentient beings by means of his bliss and who instructed and converted them gradually. This Arhat met a woman by the name of Prabhacaksuh (Bright-Eyes), who provided food to honor him.

"The Arhat asked her, `What is your wish?'

"Prabhacaksuh replied, `Since the day my mother passed away, I have constantly tried, through blessings gained by my donations, to gain her deliverance. I wonder what path of existence my mother is now taking.'

"The Arhat took pity on her and entered Samadhi to discover her mother's whereabouts. He became aware that Prabhacaksuh's mother had followed the evil path and was suffering most severely. He then asked the girl, `What did your mother do in her lifetime so that she now finds herself on the evil path in a condition of extremely harsh suffering?'

"Prabhacaksuh replied, `Mother was accustomed to enjoy eating only fish, turtles and the like; and she prized mostly their roe and eggs, either roasted or boiled, indulging herself in consuming them. The counting of the number of those lives would add up to thousands of myriads and might even be double or quadruple that number. In your mercy and pity, O World Honored One, how would you save her?'

"The Arhat, having pity for her, as a matter of expediency advised Prabhacaksuh, saying, `You may wholeheartedly recite the name of VISUDDHIPANDARIKACAKSUH TATHAGATA and also mold and paint his image for the benefit of the living and the dead.'

"Having heard this, Prabhacaksuh at once gave up those things she treasured and had Buddha's image painted. She also made many offerings to him. With sincere respect, she worshipped him, weeping sorrowfully. Suddenly, after midnight, Prabhacaksuh dreamed she saw the Buddha, with his shining golden body, as tall as Mount Sumeru, emitting brilliant light, who told her, `Your mother will soon be reborn into your household. She will talk as soon as she begins to feel hungry and cold.'

"Soon after, the maid in her household gave birth to a baby who began to talk when it was not even three days old. The baby prostrated itself and wept bitterly, telling Prabhacaksuh, `One receives his own retribution for all the karma he has created, taking the effects during his times of birth and death. I was formerly your mother, and I have remained for a long time in the darkness of Hades. Since I left you, I have repeatedly fallen into major hells. However, by virtue of your bliss, I am now able to be reborn, but only to a low, mean class; and I shall have only a short life, wherein I shall again fall onto an evil path at the age of thirteen. What plan do you have to help me escape from such karma?'

"Having heard these words, Prabhacaksuh knew that this baby was, doubtlessly, her former mother. She became choked with sobs, wept bitterly and said to the maid's baby, `Since you were, indeed, formerly my mother, you ought to be aware of your own sins. What did you do that caused you to fall onto the evil path of existence?'

"The maid's baby replied, "I was paying retribution for two karmic sins that I committed: killing and defamation. Without your cultivation, that has now rescued and delivered me from that suffering, I would not be able to be liberated due to my former evil karma.'

"Prabhacaksuh asked, `What is it like in those hells?'

"The maid's baby replied, `It is unbearable to relate such punishment and suffering. Hundreds of thousands of years would hardly be enough time to exhaust any detailed description of such torture and suffering.'

"Upon hearing this, Prabhacaksuh shed tears, crying profusely. Then she pleaded skyward, praying aloud, saying, `May my mother always be free from the hell-states and commit no serious offenses during or after the thirteenth year of her present lifetime, and may she never again experience any evil path of existence whatsoever. May all the Buddhas from all the quarters in the ten directions have mercy and pity on me and listen to this extensive vow that I am about to take for my mother's sake. If my mother could always be free from following the three evil paths of existence, never be reborn in this low, mean class, and never again take the form of a woman in the vast kalpas to come, I then take this vow in front of the image of VISUDDHIPANDARIKACAKSUH TATHAGATA: From this day forth and throughout hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas to come, I will succor and deliver all sinful, suffering beings in all worlds, in all hells and on the three evil paths of existence, causing them to leave the evil paths of hell-dwellers, of animals and of hungry ghosts; and it is only after all beings subject to retribution for sins have achieved Buddhahood that I myself will attain complete enlightenment.'

"Having taken this vow, she heard VISUDDHIPUNDARIKACAKSUH TATHAGATA say to her, `O Prabhacaksuh, you show great mercy and pity by taking such a great vow for the sake of your mother. I now see that your mother, on reaching thirteen years of age, will forsake this retributive body, will be reborn as a Brahmacari and live one hundred years. After that retributory life, she will then be reborn into the asoka (no-sorrow) state, enjoying a life-span of incalculable kalpas. Finally, she will achieve Buddhahood and deliver human beings and devas, as many as the grains of sand in the Ganges River.' "

The Buddha, continuing, said to Samadhisvararaja, "The arhat who delivered Prabhacaksuh at that time is now Bodhisattva Aksayamati (Inexhaustible-Mind). The person who was Prabhacaksuh's mother then is Bodhisattva Moksa now, and the girl who was Prabhacaksuh then is Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha now.

"During the vast long kalpas of the past, Ksitigarbha had such profound mercy and pity that he took as many vows as the grains of sand in the Ganges River in order to render extensive deliverance to all sentient beings.

"In the future, if men or women fail to practice virtuous deeds and only commit evil, or if they fail to believe in cause and effect and indulge in perverted lust, lying, double-tongue, harsh words or defamation of the Mahayana views-such sinful people will certainly fall onto evil paths of existence. If, however, they should meet good, learned friends who persuade them, in the time it takes to snap one's fingers, to take refuge in Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha-such beings will be able to be delivered and liberated from retribution on the three evil paths of existence. Furthermore, if they should wholeheartedly pay obeisance, worship and praise, offer incense, flowers, clothing, jewels of all sorts, food and beverages and other such donations, then they will always enjoy wonderful happiness in heaven during hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas in the future. Finally, when their heavenly bliss becomes exhausted, they will descend once again to the human worlds, always becoming emperors or kings, who will be able to remember the entire history, from beginning to end, of their previous lives.

"O Samadhisvararaja, such is the inconceivable, great, majestic power that Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha possesses to render extensive benefits to all sentient beings. You Bodhisattvas ought, therefore, to commit this sutra to memory and extensively circulate, spread and relate it."

Samadhisvararaja addressed the Buddha, saying, "World Honored One, please do not worry. We thousands of myriads of millions of Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas will certainly be able, by virtue of Buddha's majestic influence, to expound this sutra extensively in Jambudvipa for the benefit of all sentient beings."

Having thus addressed the Buddha, Samadhisvararaja, with palms joined, respectfully made obeisance and withdrew.

Then the Devarajas from the four directions rose from their seats and, with palms joined, respectfully addressed the Buddha, saying, "O World Honored One, since Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha took such grand vows vast long kalpas ago, how is it that he has not yet completed his work of deliverance and that he is now, even again, taking extensive, immense vows? It is our sole hope that you, O World Honored One, will explain this to us."

The Buddha responded to the four Devarajas, "Excellent, excellent! Now I am going to tell you and the present and future devas and human beings about the expedient things which Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is doing on the paths of birth and death in Jambudvipa of the Saha World to render merciful and compassionate deliverance and liberation to all sinful and suffering beings."

The four Devarajas said, " Yes, indeed, O World Honored One, we will be delighted to listen."

The Buddha said to the four Devarajas, "From vast, long kalpas ago until the present time, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has been delivering and liberating sentient beings, but he has not yet completely fulfilled his vows. Since he has mercy and pity on all sinful suffering beings in this world and sees that their entanglement will not be cut off for countless kalpas in the future, he again has taken further colossal vows to encourage all the Bodhisattvas to resort to hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of expediencies in Jambudvipa of the Saha World in order to teach and convert them.

"O Devarajas, to those who kill, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha would speak about the retribution of early, untimely death for such misdeeds. To those who steal, he would talk about the retribution of distress, destitution and indigence. To those who indulge in perverted lust, he would talk about the retribution of being born as peacocks, pigeons and mandarin ducks in future lives. To those using harsh words, he would speak about the retribution of quarrels and fights in the family. To those who defame, he would speak about the retribution of dumbness or ulcer-sores in the mouth. To those who are angry and hateful, he would talk about the retribution of ugliness in the form of a hunchback or a cripple. To those who are niggardly, he would talk about the retribution of unanswered prayers. To those who eat or drink to excess, he would talk about the retribution of thirst, starvation or throat diseases. To those who indulge in hunting, he would talk about the retribution of death from fright or mental derangement. To those disobedient to their parents, he would talk about the retribution of calamities and destruction from the sky or the earth. To those who commit arson by setting forests ablaze, he would talk about the retribution of death or crazy delusions. To those who abuse their stepchildren, he would talk about the retribution of being likewise abused in future lives. To those who trap and catch live fledglings with nets, he would talk about the retribution of separation from their blood relatives. To those who defame the Three Jewels, he would talk about retribution in blindness, deafness and dumbness. To those who slight the Dharma and religion, he would talk about the retribution of permanent banishment to the evil paths of existence. To those who abuse the properties of the Sangha establishment, he would talk about the retribution of transmigration in hell for millions of kalpas. To those who blemish religious practices and wrong the Sangha, he would talk about the retribution of permanent existence as animals. To those who harm lives by boiling, fire, cutting or chopping, he would talk about appropriate retributory repayment in transmigration. To those who violate the precepts and break abstinences, he would talk about the retribution of thirst and starvation as fowls and beasts. To those who destroy things or spend money unreasonably, he would talk about the retribution of the deficiency or the complete extinction of the necessities they seek. To those who are haughty and self-conceited, he would talk about the retribution of being lowly and mean. To those who use double tongues to instigate trouble, he would talk about the retribution of dumbness or having one hundred tongues. To those with perverted views, he would talk about the retribution of rebirth in the hinterland.

"Such are the results yielded by evil deeds-the physical, verbal and mental karmas of the sentient beings in Jambudvipa, as well as the hundreds of thousands of ways of encountering their proper retribution. I have talked about them only roughly and briefly. The sentient beings in Jambudvipa, such as those described, will induce various and different karmic response and results. Those sentient beings will first receive such different sorts of retribution as described and afterward fall into hell, most probably remaining there for quite a number of kalpas without a date for acquittal or release. However, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha will resort to hundreds of thousands of myriads of millions of expediencies to teach, convert, deliver and liberate them. Therefore, you protectors of people and of countries, help him and do not let those various causes and results of sin lead sentient beings astray."

The four Devarajas, having heard this, shed tears, sighed sorrowfully and withdrew with palms joined.