At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, said to the Buddha,
"World-Honored One, I see that almost every motion and stirring of thought
of the living beings of Jambudvipa is an offense, and that those living
beings lose the benefits they have obtained, many of them retreating
from their initial resolve. If they encounter evil conditions, they
harbor them in every thought. This is like a man carrying a heavy rock
through the mud. With each step his rock becomes heavier and more ponderous,
and he sinks even deeper. If he meets a powerful guide he may be exhorted
and warned to set his feet on firm ground again; his load may be lightened
or even totally removed. If he reaches level ground he should remain
aware of the evil road and never traverse it again."
When living beings in Jambudvipa generate thoughts, they usually commit offenses, because most of their thoughts are motivated by greed, desire, jealousy, obstructions, and arrogance. Proper thoughts respect those who are better in something than oneself and aid those who are less able. Because we beings have not resolved to act in this fashion, our thoughts almost all constitute offenses.
Many people study for a year or two and then decide to quit the Buddhadharma. In the first year of study the Buddha seems to be right before their eyes; after two years he seems to retreat a bit, and by the end of the third year he is eighty-four thousand miles away. After this he seems to retreat to the very border of the universe. These feelings represent withdrawal from one's initial resolve. Even those who do not think about quitting should constantly inspect their thoughts and actions to be sure they are in accord with their resolve as it was when they first left home life. For example, those who have gone forth into the homeless life cannot speak casually all the time, because talking is a useless waste of vital energy and spirit and an impediment to cultivation. Constant inspection of your own behavior to ascertain that it is in accord with your initial resolve to study the Buddhadharma is a sign that you are not retreating from that resolve. Many people begin to cultivate and then encounter some demon or other and are turned away by it. Once you encounter evil conditions and become involved in them, they tend to increase and grow. However, the resolve for enlightenment can either grow day by day or diminish and scatter. Most living beings tend to decrease their thoughts of enlightenment, and to grow toward evil.
In the analogy given in this passage, the rock represents the heavy load of evil karma, the muddy bog represents the three states of woe, and the good guide is the Buddha, a Bodhisattva or a good, knowing adviser with great wisdom who takes some of the load.
"World-Honored One, the habitual evil of living beings extends
from the subtle to the overwhelmingly great. Since all beings have such
habits, their parents or relatives should create merit for them when they
are on the verge of dying in order to assist them on the road ahead. This
may be done by hanging banners and canopies, lighting lamps, reciting the
holy sutras, or making offerings before the images of Buddhas or sages.
It includes recitation of the names of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Pratyekabuddhas
in such a way that the recitation of each name passes by the ear of the
dying one and is heard in his fundamental consciousness.
"The evil deeds done by living beings bear corresponding results, yet even
if one ought to fall into the Evil Paths, his offenses may be eradicated
if his survivors cultivate holy causes for him. During a period of forty-nine
days after the death, they should do many good deeds that can cause the
dead one to leave the Evil Paths, be born among male gods, and receive supremely
wonderful bliss. The benefits that accrue to the survivors are also unlimited."
Even if living beings have such weighty karmic loads that they are due to fall into the hells, their survivors can do meritorious deeds to benefit them. If they recite the names of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Pratyekabuddhas, they should be certain to do so in a clear voice that can be heard by the dying person, so that it will register in his fundamental consciousness -- the Eighth Consciousness -- which is the first to come and the last to leave at death. There is a verse that says of the Eighth Consciousness:
This wide, inexhaustible triple store is unfathomably deep,
In this verse the Eighth Consciousness is compared to a vast sea that stores the past, present, and future. The myriad thoughts of living beings are like waves on the sea, and they are transmitted by the Seventh Consciousness to the Eighth. Once they have perfumed the Eighth Consciousness, they are held or stored up and are the seeds from which organs, body, and objective world sprout. At birth this consciousness is the first to appear, and it is the last to leave at death. Consequently it acts as the master. Although false thoughts appear as functions of the Sixth Consciousness, they come from seeds in the Eighth.
When all the other seven consciousnesses have scattered and left at the time of death, the basic, or Eighth, Consciousness remains a while longer. At that time Mahayana sutras should be read aloud or the Buddha's name recited, and they should be spoken loudly enough to be heard by that consciousness. This is not the only thing that can be done to benefit the dead. During the first forty-nine days after death, the severity of karmic retribution is not determined; many merit-producing practices that can have a beneficial effect can be done on behalf of the dead during this time.
"Therefore, before the World-Honored One, as well as before the
gods, dragons, and the rest of the Eightfold Division, both human and
nonhuman, I vow to exhort the living beings of Jambudvipa to be careful
and avoid harming, killing, and creating evil conditions, or calling
on ghosts, spirits, or Wang Liang on the day of death. Why? Sacrificing
beings is not in the least helpful to the dead but binds up the conditions
of offense so that they grow ever deeper and heavier. The dead one
might be due to receive a good retribution and be born among men and
gods in his next life or in the future, but because of offenses committed
by his family in his name, his good rebirth will be delayed. Everyone
must undergo the Evil Paths in accordance with his own deeds; it is
even more unbearable when survivors add to those deeds. It is as if
a man had been traveling from a distant place with a hundred-pound load
and had been cut off from his provisions for three days. If he were
suddenly to encounter a neighbor who gave him a few more things to carry,
his load would become heavier and more distressing.
"World-Honored One, as I contemplate the living beings of Jambudvipa, I
see that those who are able to do good, even as little as a hair, a drop
of water, a grain of sand, or a mote of dust, will obtain the benefits of
their good deeds."
There is a custom prevalent in China but not widely practiced in the United States of sacrificing to ghosts and spirits. Among the supernatural beings are a class called Wang Liang, strange ghosts that develop in the mountain wilds; there are other bizarre forms of nature spirits as well. A verse that discusses the practices of sacrificing to ghosts and spirits says:
People, confused and ill at ease,
In China people often make offerings on major occasions. They are called red sacrifices if made for the living and white if made for the dead. People don't always understand how things ought to be done, and when someone in their family dies, they pray to the gods and spirits to keep their relatives out of the hells. In order to obtain a response they bring offerings of chicken, pork, and other flesh foods and repeat such offerings again and again.
This constant taking of lives reflects enmity from the past. Once a killing takes place, it is repaid in kind, and a vicious cycle is inaugurated, all the result of hatred that began in past lives. To commit more killings on top of those already committed is as senseless as adding frost to already frozen snow.
It is simplistic to think that pigs are just pigs, and that sheep are only sheep, for they are often people who have fallen into the realm of the animals. People can become pigs; pigs can become people. In fact, if you study the inhabitants of any particular country you will often find that they look a great deal like the kind of animal they most like to eat. Countries where people eat a lot of pork are often inhabited by porcine people, and it may also be observed that the eyes of people who eat a great deal of beef are slightly bovine. In some countries of Southeast Asia, people eat great quantities of frogs, and many have froglike eyes. Such changes are constantly occurring.
The Surangama Sutra explains how sheep are transformed into people, and the same logic applies to other animals. The spiritual nature of a pig may end up in the body of a human, and a man may end up in the body of a swine. This is just like moving from house to house. It is possible to go from a great mansion to a wretched hovel. At the moment, we happen to be people, but it is not certain that we always have been or will remain so. Wait until you find yourself in the realm of the pig, and you will suddenly find out how unpleasant it is. Although most people think that everything remains static and unchanging, those with penetration into past lives know about this constant motion and interchange and the interrelation of all living beings.
When a dead man comes to be judged by King Yama, the sacrifices made by his relatives for his sake are held against him, and even though he claims no connection with the deeds, they still affect his rebirth. From this it can clearly be seen that the best thing to do after a death is to maintain the practice of vegetarian eating, recitation of the Buddha's name, and recitation of sutras, in order to lighten, rather than increase, the deceased person's karmic burden.
Creating offense karma for a dead person is like adding more weight to the burden of one who is already weak with hunger. The addition of further weight can only make him stumble and fall more heavily. In this analogy the baggage represents the Five Skandhas, and its weight of a hundred pounds stands for the Ten Evil Deeds. The neighbor who adds this weight stands for the relative who sacrifices animals for him.
After this had been said, an elder named Great Eloquence, who had long
since testified to the unproduced and who often appeared in the body of
an elder to teach and cross over those in the ten directions, arose from
the midst of that assembly, placed his palms together respectfully, and
said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, "Great Lord, when the close and distant
relatives of the dead in Jambudvipa cultivate meritorious virtues for the
dead by preparing vegetarian meals and doing other good deeds, does the
dead one attain any benefit?"
Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, "Elder, based on the awesome spiritual
power of the Buddha, I will now explain this matter, in a general way, for
the sake of living beings of the present and future. Elder, if living beings
of the present and future on the verge of dying hear the name of one Buddha,
one Bodhisattva, or one Pratyekabuddha, they will attain liberation whether
they have offenses or not.
"If a man or woman who has not cultivated good causes during life and who
has committed many offenses has close or distant relatives who do deeds
productive of blessings and various holy deeds for his sake, after death
he will receive one-seventh of the benefit, and six parts will accrue to
those who help him. Therefore, all good men and women of the present and
future who hear and practice this will obtain a share."
The phrase, "on the verge of dying" specifically refers to the time when the life-force is cut off. The life-force consists of three things: warmth, breath, and consciousness. When warmth ceases and the breath stops, the dispersal of consciousness follows. Of this moment it is said, "When the birds die their calls are pitiful; when men die, their words are always good." At the final moment people tend to awaken to what they have done and manifest a good heart. They become aware of their errors and may repent. If they hear the name of a Buddha, Bodhisattva, or Pratyekabuddha at that time, they may eradicate limitless offenses and plant limitless good deeds.
It is because of the extreme importance of this moment of death, and the difficulty of maintaining a clear thought of repentance at that time, that we constantly recite the Buddha's name while alive. If we wait until the moment of death, it will be too easy to forget to do this. But if we recite while alive, we will be unable to forget at the critical moment. While it is possible to wait until the moment of death to recite the Buddha's name and become good-hearted, such an act is difficult to manage at this time.
"When the great ghost of impermanence arrives, the spirit roams in darkness
and obscurity, not knowing what is offense and what is merit. For forty-nine
days it is as if one were stunned and deaf, or as if in a court arguing
karmic retribution. Once judgment has been fixed, rebirth is undergone in
accordance with one's deeds. Before that rebirth is reached, there are thousands
of ten thousands of worrisome sufferings that must be undergone. How much
more is this the case for those who are to fall into the Evil Paths.
"Throughout forty-nine days one whose life has ended and who has not
yet been reborn looks for his flesh-and-bone survivors to do merit powerful
enough to rescue him. At the end of that time he falls into his karmic
retribution. If he is an offender, he passes through a hundred thousand
years without a day of liberation; if his offenses are the five of uninterrupted
retribution, he falls into the great hells, where he undergoes suffering
for tens of thousands of aeons."
During the period of the seven weeks following death one is as if in darkness, or as if in a court arguing his case. In the hells there are ten Yamas, each of whom has five subalterns. The first of these lower-ranking officials is called Fresh; the second, Water; the third, Earth; the fourth, Wood; and the fifth, Spring. Within all five divisions there is argument and discussion about the deeds that have been done and the retributions to be undergone. In China it is customary to have monks recite sutras and do various things for the benefit of the dead during the seven weeks following death. This custom is derived from the principle clearly stated in this passage.
"Moreover, elder, when one who has bad karma dies, his relatives
may prepare a vegetarian offering to aid him in his karmic path. In doing
this they should not throw rice-washing water or vegetable leaves on the
ground during the preparation of the meal, or before it has been eaten,
and all food that has not first been offered to the Buddha and Sangha should
not be eaten. If there is laxness or transgression in this matter, the deceased
will receive no strength from it. If purity is vigorously maintained in
making the offering to the Buddha and Sangha, the dead one will receive
one seventh of the merit. Therefore, elder, if the living beings of Jambudvipa
make vegetarian offerings after the death of their fathers, mothers, and
relatives, and make earnest supplication on their behalf, they will benefit
the living and the dead."
After this had been said, thousands of tens of thousands of millions of
nayutas of ghosts and spirits of Jambudvipa who were in the Trayastrimsa
Heaven resolved their thoughts on the unsurpassed enlightenment. The elder,
Great Eloquence, made obeisance and withdrew.
It is customary in Buddhist societies to make special food as an offering to the Buddha on holidays and special occasions. It is particularly stressed here that the food may not be eaten before it has been offered to the Buddha and Sangha. In general this holds true for whatever is eaten in temples and Buddha-halls.
When an offering is made people usually use an odd number of bowls reserved for this purpose only, and place them symmetrically in front of the Buddha images. Careful and orderly arrangement of the offering is a sign of respect; tossing things down before the Buddha is not permitted. People who have any sense of cleanliness and propriety are not pleased when something is thrown in front of them, and since the Buddha is ultimately pure and proper, it is unseemly to toss things before him. The place reserved for offering bowls should not be cluttered with articles that do not pertain to the offering; it should be a place especially set aside for offerings.
Anything used as an offering to the Buddha should not only be carefully placed, it should be properly laid out as well. That is, it is not correct to bring an offering in a box and then set the unopened box in front of the Buddha. It is a matter of simple courtesy. We would never invite a guest to dinner and then set an unopened bag of food before him, and we ought to realize that this applies to the Buddha as well. Everything should be symmetrically placed and well arranged, for there is an order to everything. Sometimes an offering is made in which hundreds of dishes are used, some containing food, others holding clothing, jewels, or anything else that is new and unusual. The offerings are passed from one person to another, so that each person, in turn, offers up each article.
This order holds in relations between those who have left home as well; one who has been ordained a moment longer is to be regarded as senior. This is not a question of years but rather of seniority in Buddhism. If you are one hundred years old and have just left home, you are junior to everyone else. When bhiksus die, their age is recorded in two cycles, and it will be said, "His worldly age was sixty and his precept age was forty." All of these matters may seem trivial, but they are important issues in Buddhism. Now that the Buddhadharma is being properly established in the West, it is important that such things be understood.
If offerings are cultivated with great reverence and respect; if the Sangha does not eat until the offering has been made to the Buddha; if the lay people wait until the Sangha has been served; if everything is handled properly, arranged correctly, and treated with the proper respect, the dead receive one seventh of the merit generated.
At that time from within the Iron Ring Mountain came Yama, son of heaven,
and with him limitless ghost kings, all of whom appeared before the Buddha
in the Trayastrimsa Heaven: the ghost king Evil Poison, the ghost king Many
Evils, the ghost king Great Argument, the ghost king White Tiger, the ghost
king Blood Tiger, the ghost king Crimson Tiger, the ghost king Disaster,
the ghost king Flying Body, the ghost king Lightning Flash, the ghost king
Wolf Tooth, the ghost king Thousand Eyes, the ghost king Animal Eater, the
ghost king Rock Bearer, the ghost king Lord of Bad News, the ghost king
Lord of Calamities, the ghost king Lord of Food, the ghost king Lord of
Wealth, the ghost king Lord of Domestic Animals, the ghost king Lord of
Birds, the ghost king Lord of Beasts, the ghost king Lord of Mountain Spirits,
the ghost king Lord of Birth, the ghost king Lord of Life, the ghost king
Lord of Sickness, the ghost king Lord of Danger, the ghost king Three Eyes,
the ghost king Four Eyes, the ghost king Five Eyes, the Ch'i Li She King,
the Great Ch'i Li She King, the Ch'i Li Ch'a King, the Great Ch'i Li Ch'a
King, the No Ch'a King, the Great No Ch'a King, and other such great ghost
kings. There were also hundreds of thousands of minor ghost kings who dwelt
throughout Jambudvipa, each of whom ruled over something specific.
It is generally said that there are ten Yamas, chief officials over ghosts. In this text, however, we are discussing not merely the ten Yamas of Jambudvipa, but all the innumerable Yamas who came from all the worlds, from the moon, the planets, the stars, and other iron ring mountains. In general, wherever there are people there are Yamas, and here there are no people, there are no Yamas. This is because if there were no people there would be no ghosts, if there were no ghosts, there would be no Buddha, and if there were no Buddha there would be no Yama. What is most important to realize is that if there were no people, there would not be anything at all. People require, make, and use everything. If there were no people there would be no Buddha, no Bodhisattvas, no animals, hungry ghosts, nor hells.
The question arises, of course, as to how people come to exist, and the answer is that they, like all the other nine Dharma Realms, are created by the mind alone. The Avatamsaka Sutra says, "If a man wishes to understand the nature of all Buddhas of the three periods of time, he should contemplate the nature of the Dharma realm: everything comes from the mind alone." The idle thoughts in our minds are like waves on the water, and the mountains, rivers, and the great earth are merely the result of those thoughts. When there is false thinking inwardly, outwardly there are objects; if we did not think, everything would be empty.
Within the Flower Store World Sea is a Lotus Flower Curtain with twenty tiers. The world in which we live is located on the thirteenth tier. Surrounding the Lotus Flower Curtain are seven golden mountains and seven perfumed seas, and beyond all of that there is a great iron ring mountain.
All the Yamas who came to the Trayastrimsa Dharma Assembly are sons of heaven....... Some emperors, too, are called sons of heaven, but none of these sons of heaven are greater or smaller than others. Yama, the son of heaven, is recognized as such by the Buddha, as are the emperors .......
If I wanted, I too could call myself the son of heaven, and there might not be great opposition, but I do not like to do this since there isn't any emperor, and the son of heaven is much too lowly a position. Yama does not think that his position is too lowly, because it is his responsibility. In Buddhism, after receiving the bhiksu precepts, one can become a teacher of gods and men; not only can a bhiksu be the son of heaven, he can be the grandfather of heaven as well.
The ghost king Evil Poison, an extremely fierce ghost king, wishes to swallow every living being he sees. His mouth is evil and poisonous. There is no need to be afraid of him, however, since he harms only people who are evil and poisonous themselves; he uses evil to cure evil, and poison to counteract poison. If you recite the Buddha's name you will gain the respect of this ghost king, who will bow to you. As long as you recite the Buddha's name, recite sutras, and keep your thoughts resolved on enlightenment, there will be no problems with this ghost king, since, although he manifests an outwardly poisonous and evil appearance, he inwardly has the heart of a Bodhisattva, as does Yama himself. Consequently, those who practice Buddhadharma do not have anything to fear from him. In fact, if any of my disciples meet up with him, all they have to do is mention my name, because we made an agreement, he and I. I told him that when any of my disciples encounter him, he should take their offenses and give them all to me.
The ghost king Many Evils also opposes those who do evil, and so I doubt that you who are now studying Buddhadharma and who have mended your ways will have anything to fear from him. He particularly frightens those who have committed patricide or matricide, murdered Arhats, broken up the Sangha, or shed the Buddha's blood.
People who like to argue, who always manage to find principles where there are none, who maintain that they I have not violated precepts when in fact they have, and who practice deceit, encounter the ghost king Great Argument.
The White Tiger ghost king has a ghost's body and a tiger's head. The ghost king Blood Tiger has a bloody head, and the ghost king Crimson Tiger has a red body and a tiger's head. These ghosts have horrifying appearances because they are terrifiers who appear at the end of life to battle those who have committed the ten offenses and the five rebellious acts. If it were not for the compassionate aid of Dharma protectors and Bodhisattvas, who see how pitiful you are and protect you when you meet up with these ghosts, your end would be quite pathetic.
The ghost king Disaster brings all sorts of inauspicious events, such as bandits, thieves, and fires, as retribution to people who warrant them. Everything that occurs, even disasters, is the result of causes planted in the past.
The ghost king Thousand Eyes is not like the Thousand-Handed Thousand-Eyed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, whose hands each contain an eye. He is also not like the ghost whose many horns have eyes. This ghost's body is covered with holes, places where there is only bone and no flesh, and in the bone in each hole there is an eye which shines like the beam of light from a flashlight.
The ghost king Animal Eater eats tigers and other large beasts, and the ghost king Rock Bearer carries around a huge rock with which he flattens anyone who has committed offenses. The ghost king Lord of Bad News is responsible for the transmission of bad news such as premonitions of death. The ghost king Lord of Calamities not only sends messages of bad news, but actually brings about accidents and disasters such as airplane crashes.
The ghost king Lord of Beasts watches over all animals. In the east there is a lapis lazuli mountain where a ghost king is lord of tigers, rabbits, and dragons. In the south is a crystal mountain whose ghost king is lord of snakes, horses, and sheep. There is a silver mountain in the west, and its ghost king is lord of monkeys, chickens and dogs. On a gold mountain in the north, which cannot be reached, a ghost king is lord of pigs, mice, and cows.
The ghost king lord of Mountain Spirits watches over the ghosts who come into being from mountain essences, earth, stones, trees, and so forth. Such ghosts and other weird phenomena are collectively known as Li Mei and Wang Liang.
The ghost king Lord of Birth presides over births and makes the process either easier and more peaceful or more painful, depending on the nature of the mother and child. This activity, like those of the ghost kings described earlier, is for the purpose of teaching beings to change their wrong ways. The ghost king Lord of Lifespan watches over the life of everything that has blood and breath.
The eyes of the ghost kings Three Eyes, Four Eyes, and Five Eyes are not arranged like the five eyes gained through cultivation. The eyes of the ghost king Three Eyes are placed in a triangle, those of Four Eyes are in a square, and those of the king Five Eyes come together in a bizarre and frightening fashion. In general, these ghosts have frightening appearances.
The Ch'i Li She King lives on a mountain in the south and watches over fire. The Great Ch'i Li She King lives farther south and is also a great fire ghost. The No Ch'a King is a Dharma protector and a son of the Four Heavenly Kings.
All these great ghosts were followed by little ghosts, ghost sons, ghost mothers, and ghost grandchildren.
Aided by the Buddha's awesome spirit and the power of Earth Store
Bodhisattva, all these ghost kings, as well as Yama, Son of Heaven, came
together in the Trayastrimsa Heaven and stood off to one side. Then, Yama,
Son of Heaven, placed his palms together and said to the Buddha, "World-Honored
One, because of the Buddha's awesome spirit and the power of Earth Store
Bodhisattva, all these ghost kings and I have been able to come to this
great assembly in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. There is now a small doubt that
we should like to express, and we hope the World-Honored One will be compassionate
and resolve it."
The Buddha told Yama, Son of Heaven, "As you will. I shall speak for you."
At that time Yama, Son of Heaven, looked respectfully at the World-Honored
One, made obeisance, turned his head to acknowledge Earth Store Bodhisattva,
and then said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, as I contemplate, I see
that Earth Store Bodhisattva uses hundreds of thousands of expedient devices
to cross over living beings who suffer for their offenses within the six
paths of birth. I see that he does so without the least fatigue or weariness.
This great Bodhisattva has inconceivable spiritual penetrations that enable
living beings to obtain release from retribution for their offenses; nonetheless,
before long, they fall back into the evil ways.
"World-Honored One, since Earth Store Bodhisattva has such great inconceivable
spiritual power, why do living beings not rely on it, stay in the good way,
and eternally hold to their liberation? Please, World-Honored One, explain
this for me."
The Buddha told Yama, Son of Heaven, "The living beings of Jambudvipa have
stubborn and obstinate natures, difficult to tame, difficult to subdue.
This great Bodhisattva constantly rescues such living beings throughout
hundreds of thousands of aeons, and causes them to obtain liberation quickly.
He rescues even those who have fallen into the Three Evil Paths from their
offenses. He extricates them from their own basic karmic conditions and
leads them to understand the events of past lives.
"Because the living beings of Jambudvipa are bound up with heavy bad habits,
which cause them to revolve in the paths, arriving and departing over and
over, it takes this Bodhisattva many aeons to completely rescue and liberate
An example of obstinacy and stubbornness can be seen in those people who consider forms of law and order evil, and think only anarchy is worthwhile. However, there is no way to get a perfect measure without using a standard rule.
The text says that living beings are bound by many bad habits. Bound means linked, the idea being that past, present, and future lives are all linked through karmic retribution. The first bad habit is lust, the primary problem of living beings, and the most difficult to eliminate, more difficult than jumping into the sky. If men and women are able to cut off all lustful thoughts of each other, they are said to have subdued the tiger; if they have cut off afflictions, they have tamed the dragon. Afflictions and ignorance are like an untamed dragon that undergoes limitless transformations and appears in many strange guises. Those who cultivate should examine themselves to see if they have achieved the skill of taming the dragon and subduing the tiger. If living beings have totally eliminated all desires, they are said to be without outflows; if desire remains, there are still outflows.
The second major habit of living beings is greed. It is because of greed for pleasurable sensations that there is desire. The third habit is arrogance. Basically one may not be any different from anyone else, yet he comes to see himself as superior to others. The desire to be foremost, to be always out in front, is called arrogance. The fourth habit is hatred, the wish to harm others even though they may not have done anything bad to you. The fifth is cheating, which is to say, doing deceitful and false deeds. The sixth is lying. Deceit involves covering up known bad with a good appearance, whereas lying is out-and-out misrepresentation of the truth under all circumstances.
The seventh bad habit of living beings is blaming-passing the buck and trying to shift one's errors off on others. The eighth is improper knowledge and views, and the ninth is deviousness. The tenth is accusation, enjoyed by those bringing suits against others even though they are without any principle in their own case. The above list is discussed in the Surangama Sutra as the ten fine, subtle causes for undergoing retributions in the Six Paths.
"They are like a man who becomes confused, loses his original home, and
mistakenly enters a dangerous path in which there are many yaksas, tigers,
wolves, lions, serpents, and vipers. A confused person would certainly be
poisoned very quickly on that path. When a wise adviser who understands
many methods and who is able to control all the poison of those yaksas,
evil ghosts, and others, suddenly encounters the confused man about to enter
the dangerous road, the adviser says to him, 'Say, fellow, why are you entering
this road? What methods do you have to deal with all that poison?'
"The confused traveler who hears such words suddenly knows that it is a
dangerous path, and begins to retreat, to leave it. The good, knowing adviser
then takes him by the hand, leading him off the dangerous path so that he
avoids the evil poisons. They reach a good way and he becomes happy and
at peace. The adviser then says to him, 'Well, confused one, do not go back
into that path again, for those who enter it have a difficult time getting
out, and moreover, it destroys their very nature and life.'
"The confused traveler thanks him profusely, and as they are about to separate,
the adviser says to him, 'If you see those whom you know personally, as
well as other travelers, be they men or women, tell them that there are
many poisons and evils on that path which can cause them to lose their very
nature and life. Do not let them seek their own deaths.' In the same way,
Earth Store Bodhisattva, replete with great compassion, rescues living beings
who suffer from their offenses and causes them to be born among men and
gods, where they receive wonderful bliss.
"All the offenders, knowing the sufferings of the path of evil karma, obtain
release and never go down that road again. They are like the confused person
who mistakenly enters a dangerous road but who, having encountered a good
adviser who leads him out, does not enter that road again. If he meets others
he teaches them not to enter into that road by saying, 'I, myself, was confused
but have obtained liberation and will not enter that road again.' If he
encounters that dangerous path again and he is still confused and makes
the mistake, unaware that it is the dangerous path he encountered before,
then he will probably lose his life. The same thing is true if one has fallen
into the Evil Path and, because of the powerful expedient device of Earth
Store Bodhisattva, has been made to take rebirth among men or gods, but
then falls into the Evil Paths again. If one's karmic bonds are heavy, one
dwells in the hells for a long time without liberation."
At that time the ghost king Evil Poison placed his palms together respectfully,
addressed the Buddha, and said, "World-Honored One, we limitless ghost kings
of Jampbudvipa either benefit or harm beings. Each of us is different; our
karmic retribution causes us and our followers to roam in the world doing
much evil and little good. When we pass a household or a city, a town, village,
or hamlet, a garden, cottage, or hut where there is a man or woman who has
cultivated as little as a hair's worth of good deeds, who has hung but one
banner or one canopy, who has used a little incense or a few flowers as
offerings to images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or who has read and recited
the sutras, or burned incense as an offering to even one sentence or gatha
in them, all of us ghost kings will respect and revere that person as we
would the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. We will order all the
smaller ghosts, each of whom has great power, as well as all the ground
spirits, to surround and protect that person. Bad affairs, accidents, severe
and unexpected illnesses, as well as all other unwelcome phenomena, will
not be allowed to draw near his dwelling or place of residence, much less
enter the door."
The Buddha said to the ghost kings, "It is excellent, excellent, that all
you ghost kings and Yama are able to protect good men and women in this
way. I shall tell Brahma and Sakra to cause you to be protected as well."
When this was said, a ghost king in the assembly named Lord of Lifespan
said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, my conditions are such that I am
lord of the lifespan of men in Jambudvipa, and govern the time of their
birth and death. My fundamental vows are based on a great desire to benefit
people, but living beings do not understand my intent and go through birth
and death uneasy. Why is this?
"When humans in Jambudvipa have just borne children," Lord of Lifespan
continued, "be they boys or girls, or when they are just about to give
birth, good deeds should be done to increase the benefits of the household
and thus cause the local ground spirits to be immeasurably pleased.
The spirits will then benefit the entire family and protect the mother
and child so that they obtain great peace and happiness. After the birth,
all killing and injuring for the purpose of offering fresh foods to
the mother should carefully be avoided, as should calling together assemblies
of the family for the sake of drinking wine, eating meat, singing, making
music, and playing instruments, for all these things can keep the mother
and child from obtaining peace and happiness. Why? At the difficult
time of birth there are uncountable evil ghosts, such as Wang Liang
and Ching Mei, who desire to eat the strong-smelling blood. I quickly
cause the ground spirits of that household to protect the mother and
child, allowing them to be peaceful and happy and to obtain benefit.
When people in such households see this benefit they should establish
merit in response to the ground spirits. If instead of doing this they
harm, kilt and assemble all the relatives together for feasting and
playing, they will undergo a retribution for this violation, which harms
both mother and child."
At the time of birth, good deeds -- acts that are beneficial to others -- should be done to cause an auspicious light to protect the household. The local earth spirits are greatly pleased by this and also act to protect the home. The class of ground spirits referred to here has the lowest rank, much like a notary public in the civil service system, and each of them is responsible for a particular area of a city or district. These spirits are in such a position because of a fondness for doing good deeds unaccompanied by actual cultivation.
"Moreover, when the humans of Jambudvipa are on the verge of death, I desire
to keep them from falling into the Evil Paths, regardless of whether they
have done good or evil, but how much is my power to do so increased when
they have cultivated good roots! When a practicer of good in Jambudvipa
is about to die, there are hundreds of thousands of ghosts and spirits of
the evil ways who transform themselves and appear as the parents, relatives,
and friends of the dying in an attempt to lead him to fall into the Evil
Paths. How much more is this the case for those who have done evil!
"Therefore, World-Honored One, when a man or woman in Jambudvipa is on
the verge of death and his consciousness and spirit are confused and dark,
when he is unable to discriminate between good and evil and his eyes and
ears are unable to see or hear, his relatives should certainly establish
great offerings, recite the holy sutras, and recite the names of Buddhas
and Bodhisattvas. Such good conditions can cause the dead person to leave
the Evil Paths, and all the demons, ghosts, and spirits will withdraw and
"World-Honored One, if at the time of death any living being hears the
name of one Buddha or Bodhisattva, or if he hears a sentence or gatha of
a Mahayana sutra, I see that such a person can be liberated from his small
bad deeds, which unite to pull him into the Evil Paths, and that he can
also be kept apart from the uninterrupted retribution of the Five Offenses."
The time of death refers to the time when warmth, breath, and consciousnesses have ceased. When this occurs, the Intermediate Skandha Body is confused and unaware that it is dead; it cannot tell good from evil and has no perceptions. During this period the survivors should do great merit for the sake of the dead one. In China, monks are requested to recite sutras for the dead during the first seven weeks after death. For example, in commemoration of the nirvana of the Venerable Hsu Yun, the Buddhist Lecture Hall in Hong Kong had the entire Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra recited in a one-hundred-sixty-day session, something that had never been done before in the entire history of Buddhism, from Sakyamuni Buddha on. The compilers of the Old Master's biography neglected to mention this Dharma Assembly.
The last sentence in this section of the Chinese text appears to say that one can be liberated from all but the Five Offenses; in other words, that hearing the name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva at the time of death can liberate one from all his offenses except those of the Five Offenses that incur uninterrupted retribution. On the other hand, the sentence can be read to say that even the latter offenses can be eradicated. If an ultimately sincere thought is produced at the time of death, all offenses can be eradicated; the problem is that it is extremely difficult to have such a thought at that time.
The Buddha told the ghost king Lord of Lifespan, "Because of your great
compassion you are able to make such great vows and protect all living beings
in the midst of life and death. In the future, when men and women reach
the time of death, do not withdraw from your vow, but cause them to attain
liberation and be eternally peaceful."
The ghost king told the Buddha, "Please do not be concerned. Until the
end of this life I shall constantly protect the living beings of Jambudvipa,
both at the time of birth and at the time of death, so that they obtain
tranquility. I only wish that at the time of birth and death they will believe
what I say and thereby be liberated and attain great profit."
At that time the Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "This great ghost
king, Lord of Lifespan, has already passed through hundreds of thousands
of lives as a great ghost king, protecting living beings in life and death.
Only because of this great lord's compassionate vows does he manifest the
body of a ghost king, for in reality he is not a ghost. After one hundred
and seventy aeons have passed, in an aeon named Tranquility, he will accomplish
Buddhahood. His kalpa will be called Happiness and his world will be named
Pure Dwelling. His name will be No Appearance Thus Come One, and his lifespan
will be incalculable aeons. Earth Store, the doings of this great ghost
king are inconceivable, and the men and gods whom he crosses over are limitless."
This ghost king is extremely independent and can do, as he likes. If he wants a person to live, he lives, if he wants him to die, he dies. Since all lives are in his hands, you can be sure that if he were greedy and could be bought off, like many officials, there would be quite a lot more people in the world.
During the time of Dharma Master Tao Sheng, this ghost once came to hear Dharma spoken. Tao Sheng told him that he ought to become a human, to which the ghost replied, "I've been a ghost three thousand autumns, with no worries and no cares. The noble Sheng now tells me to become a man, but I do not think I am able. I would probably commit offenses and fall into even worse states than the one I am in now. I think I'll remain a ghost." This is not unlike the Chinese proverb that says, "If a beggar begs for three years, he won't accept the imperial position."
The ghost spoke of Dharma Master Tao Sheng as "the noble Sheng". This practice of using one character of a person's name and preceding it by the world noble is a sign of great respect and is still in use.