Originally every Buddhas had ten thousand names. But because no one could remember so many, the names were reduced to one thousand. Since that was still too many to be remembered by most people, the names were further simplified to one hundred, which were further reduced still to ten. These Ten Designations, common to all Buddhas, were explained in Chapter Four. To review the names, they are: the Thus Come One, the One Worthy of Offerings, the One of Right and Equal Enlightenment, the One Perfect in Clarity and Conduct, the Well-Gone-Forth One, the Unsurpassed Scholar who Comprehends the World, the Valiant Tamer and Guide, the Master of Gods and Men, the Buddha, and the World-Honored One.
At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, said to the Buddha,
"World-Honored One, I shall now perform a profitable and beneficial
act for the sake of living beings of the future, so that they may obtain
great help and benefit in the midst of life and death. Please, World-Honored
One, hear my words."
The Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "With your great compassion
you now wish to undertake the inconceivable task of rescuing all those
in the Six Paths who suffer for their offenses. The time is just right,
speak quickly, for I am about to enter nirvana. You should complete
this vow soon so that I have no need to be concerned for living beings
of the present or future."
Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, "In the past, numberless
asamkhyeyas of aeons ago, a Buddha named Limitless Body Thus Come One
appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name and
suddenly gives rise to a thought of respect, that person will overstep
the heavy offenses of forty aeons of birth and death. How much more
will be able to do this if he sculpts or paints this Buddha’s image,
or praises and makes offerings to him. The merit of this is limitless
Here is a famous story concerning the practice discussed in the preceding text:
One day when Sakyamuni Buddha was not at the Jeta Grove. But a number of his disciples were there. They were all Arhat. A musty old man who wished to leave home came to the grove. The Arhats immediately disliked the old fellow because, when they used their powers of investigation, they saw that within eighty-thousand great aeons he had not planted a single good root. Consequently they did not allow him to go forth from home to the homeless life.
In fact, it is not a simple matter to leave the home life. It is said, "Do not declare leaving home an easy thing to do; throughout many lives, Bodhi must be planted." The old man, who must have been a good ninety or a hundred years old, had no possessions at all, not even clothes or food, and perhaps the thought that he might be able to come by these things if he left home. After being turned down by the Buddha’s disciples, he hobbled along the road leading a way from the grove and headed for the Ganges River, where he planned to end it all.
As he stood on the river bank about to drown himself, the Buddha, whom he did not recognize by sight, came walking along and said, "Old man, aren’t you a bit old for swimming?"
The man replied, "I intended to commit suicide, since all I wanted to do was to leave home and cultivate, but the Buddha’s disciples would not allow me to do so. If I die now, perhaps I’ll get to be a young man in my next life and be able to leave home. As it is, the Buddha’s disciples don’t seem to like people like me, and besides, I’m so shriveled and ugly with age that people can’t even stand to look at me."
The Buddha then disclosed his identity and offered to accept the old man as a disciple. They returned to the Jeta Grove where the Buddha spoke Dharma and the old man certified to the fruit of Arhatship, a phenomenon that was not all rare during the Buddha’s lifetime. A number of senior Arhats objected that the old man couldn’t have attained Arhapship because he did not have any good roots, but the Buddha corrected them, "You know only what can be found within eighty thousand great aeons, but beyond that you know nothing. You are like people inside a house who are able to see everything within the walls but nothing outside them. Over eighty thousand aeons ago, this old man was a firewood-gatherer who met a tiger in the mountain wilds one day. Frightened, he exclaimed, ‘Namo Buddha,’ and as a result of that single sentence he is able to leave home life now." If people have not recited a great many Namo Buddha’s in the past, they will not be able to leave home life in the present.
"Again, in the past, as many aeons ago as there are grains of
sand in the Ganges River, a Buddha named Jewel Nature appeared in the
world. If a man or woman hears the names of this Buddha and in the space
of a finger-snap decides to take refuge, it will be eternally impossible
to turn that person from the unsurpassed path.
"Again, in the past, a Buddha named Padma-Victory Thus Come One
appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name, or
if the name merely passed by his or her ear, that person will attain
one thousand births in the Six Desire Heavens. How much more will this
be true if he or she sincerely recites the name of that Thus Come One."
Padma is the name of the red lotus flower, the supreme and unsurpassed lotus. If one merely hears the name Padma-Victory Thus Come One he will be reborn in the Six Desire Heavens that were discussed earlier. Since merely hearing the name has such great merit, reciting it certainly has even more.
A man once went to Pratimoksa Monastery and plucked an exquisitely beautiful golden-colored flower from a tree and offered it before the image of Sakaymuni Buddha. He then asked an old man in the temple how much merit he had derived from his offering. He was told that he would have to ask someone who had left home to get an answer. He then asked a bhiksu how much merit had been derived from his offering, and was told that he would have to ask someone who had cultivated dhyana samadhi and reached the stage of Arhatship to get the answer. He then sought out and found an Arhat to whom he put the same question. The Arhat contemplated and investigated the matter for him, and saw that the merit from this offering totally filled eighty thousand aeons and was still unbounded. Since he could not know any further than eighty thousand kalpas, he told the man that he would have to ask Sakaymuni Buddha himself. The Buddha replied that the merit from his offering a single flower totally filled empty space to the end of the Dharma-realm.
"Again, in the past, indescribable asamkhyeyas of aeons ago, a
Buddha named Lion Roar Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man
or woman hears this Buddha’s name and single-mindedly takes refuge,
that person will encounter numberless Buddhas, who will rub his or her
crown and bestow predictions of enlightenment upon the individual.
"Again, in the past, a Buddha named Krakucchanda appeared in the
world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name and sincerely beholds,
worships, or praises him, that person will be the Great Brahma King
in the assemblies of the one thousand Buddhas of the Auspicious Aeon,
and will there receive a lofty prediction.
"Again, in the past, a Buddha named Vipasin appeared in the world.
If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name, that person will eternally
avoid falling into the Evil Paths, will always be born among men and
gods, and will receive supremely wonderful bliss.
"Again, in the past, as many aeons ago as there are grains of
sand in limitless and boundless numbers of Ganges Rivers, a Buddha named
Jeweled Victory appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this
Buddha’s name, that person will never again fall into the Evil Paths
and will eternally dwell in the heavens, where he or she will receive
supremely wonderful bliss.
"Again, in the past, a Buddha named Jeweled Appearance Thus Come
One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this Buddha’s name
and gives rise to a thought of respect, that person will before long
attain the fruit of Arhatship."
Krakucchanda means both "victorious contemplation" and "manifold contemplation". When the text says that by merely hearing or reciting the names of these Buddhas, one will not fall into the states of woe, it is important to realize that this means that we must stop doing evil as well. If after hearing these names we continue to do wrong, it is still possible to fall into the hells. People who say that now that they have heard the Buddha’s name then they are sure to avoid the hells, and use this as an excuse to commit murder and arson and indulge in all sorts of antisocial behaviors, one will fall nonetheless into the hells.
"Again, limitless asamkhyeyas of aeons ago, a Buddha named Kasaya
Banner Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears
this Buddha’s name, that person will overcome the offenses of birth
and death for one hundred aeons.
"Again, in the past a Buddha named Great Penetration Mountain
King Thus Come One appeared in the world. If a man or woman hears this
Buddha’s name, that person will encounter as many Buddhas as there are
grains of sand in the Ganges, who will speak Dharma for him, and he
will certainly realize Bodhi.
"Again, in the past, there were Buddhas named Pure Moon Buddha,
Mountain King Buddha, Wise Victory Buddha, Pure Name King Buddha, Accomplished
Wisdom Buddha, Unsurpassed Buddha, Wonderful Sound Buddha, Full Moon
Buddha, Moon Fact Buddha, and other such indescribable Buddhas. World-Honed
One, living beings of the present and future, both gods and humans,
mean and women, will obtain limitless meritorious virtues by merely
reciting one Buddha’s name. How much the more if they recite many names.
In birth and death all these living beings will obtain great benefit
and ultimately will not fall into the Evil Paths.
"If even one person in a dying person’s family loudly recites
on Buddha’s name for the sake of the dying person, that dying one will
quickly be freed from all karmic offenses except the uninterrupted retribution
of the Five Offenses. The Five Offenses warranting uninterrupted retribution
are so extremely heavy that one who commits them should not escape retribution
for myriads of aeons. If, however, at the time of the offender’s death,
another person recites the names of Buddhas on his behalf, his offenses
can be gradually wiped away. How much more will this be true for living
beings who recited those names themselves. The merit thus attained is
limitless and eradicates numberless offenses."
At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva Mahasattva, inspired by the Buddha’s
awesome spirit, arose from his seat, knelt, placed his palms together
and said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, when I compare the
various acts of giving done by the beings within the paths of karma,
I see some that are great and some that are small. As a result, some
receive blessings of one life, some for ten lives, and some receive
great blessings and profit for one hundred or one thousand lives. Why
is this? World-Honored One, explain this for me."
There are three kinds of gifts: the gift of wealth, the gift of Dharma, and the gift of fearlessness. The first of these is again divided into two types, inner and outer wealth.
Outer wealth includes gold, silver, jewels, and things external to the body. In broad terms, giving of outer wealth can be said to involve even the renunciation of an entire country, as Sakyamuni Buddha did. This kind of wealth even includes husbands and wives, for those who are seeking Dharma will even give their mates away for the sake of Dharma. Any reason other than seeking Dharma, of course, is certainly not justified, such as giving give up his wife in exchange for a prettier one.
The gift of inner wealth consists of giving skin, brains, marrow, sinew, and bone.
When giving Dharma, one gives the Dharma he has learned in order to teach other beings to leave confusion and go toward enlightenment. There is a proverb that says, "Do not clutch at your treasures while the country is laid waste." In other words, if you have a valuable treasure that can be used to obtain anything one wishes, it should be put into action rather than hoarded while the entire country is laid waste and starves. The gift of Dharma is the supreme gift and cannot be surpassed.
The gift of fearlessness pacifies and comforts people who are upset or who have encountered terrible disasters.
In this passage, Earth Store Bodhisattva has asked the Buddha to explain the differences in the retributions for various kinds of giving done by beings who are in the karmic paths.
At that time the Buddha told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "For the sake
of all these assembled in the palace of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, I will
discuss the comparative meritorious virtues of the giving done by the
living beings in Jambudvipa. Listen attentively to what I say."
Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, "I have had doubts about this matter
and will be pleased to listen."
At this point it is important to understand that Earth Store Bodhisattva's statement is merely a means to request information for the sake of living beings. He already understands and really has no doubts. One might object that he lies, but this is not the case, for not only are his words not harmful to other beings, they bring benefit to them. Because he knows that living beings do not understand the matter of giving, he asks this question on their behalf.
The Buddha said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, "In Jambudvipa, the kings
of countries, noblemen, great ministers, great elders, great Ksatriyas,
great Brahmans, and others may encounter the tired, poor, hunchbacked,
crippled, dumb, mute, deaf, stupid, or eyeless, as well as others who
are handicapped. Those kings and great men may wish to give and be able
to do so with great compassion, a humble heart, and a smile. They may
give personally with their own hands, or arrange for others to do so,
using gentle words and sympathetic speech. Such kings, ministers, and
others will obtain blessings comparable to the meritorious virtue of
giving to as many Buddhas as there are grains of sand in one hundred
Ganges Rivers. Why is this? Those persons will receive such a meritorious
reward because of having shown a great compassionate heart toward the
poorest, most impoverished, and most handicapped individuals. For one
hundred thousand lives they will always have an abundance of the seven
gems, not to mention clothing, food, and the necessities of life.
There are ten meanings included in the word "elder". They are venerable name, high position, great blessings, great power, deep wisdom, pure conduct, advancement in years, proper etiquette, praise from those above, and being a source of refuge to those below.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future, the kings of countries,
Brahmans, and the like encounter Buddha stupas, monasteries, or images
of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Sound-Hearers, or Pratyekabuddhas, and personally
make offerings or give gifts, those persons will obtain three aeons
as Sakra and will receive supremely wonderful bliss. If they are able
to transfer the merit of that giving and dedicate it to the Dharma-realm,
those great kings and other men will be Great Brahma Heaven Kings for
"Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future, kings, Brahmans, and
others encounter ruined, decayed, broken, and tumbledown stupas, temples,
sutras, or images of previous Buddhas, they may resolve to restore them.
They may then do so themselves or encourage as many as a hundred thousand
other people to help, and thereby establish affinities. Those kings
and the like will be wheel-turning kings throughout a hundred thousand
lives, and all those who help them will be kings of smaller countries
for as many lives. If, before the Buddhastupa or monastery, they are
able to resolve to dedicate this merit to the Dharma-realm, such kings
and their helpers will finally accomplish the Buddha path, their good
retribution being limitless and unbounded.
The Pratyekabuddhas are those who are enlightened to causation. They are known as "enlightened to causation" when there is a Buddha in the world, but when there is no Buddha in the world, they are called "solitary enlightened one." The wheel-turning king is one who can become either a universal monarch if he does not cultivate, or, a Buddha if he does.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future the kings of countries,
Brahmans, and others have compassionate thoughts when seeing the old,
the sick, or women in childbirth, and provide them with ointments, medicines,
food, drink, and bedding so as to make them peaceful and comfortable,
the merit of their giving is quite inconceivable. For one thousand aeons
such kings will constantly be lords of the Pure Dwelling Heaven; for
two hundred aeons they will be lords in the Six Desire Heavens, and
they will ultimately attain Buddhahood. They will eternally not fall
into the Evil Paths, and for one hundred thousand lives they will hear
no sounds of suffering.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if kings, Brahmans and others can give
in this way, in the future they will receive limitless blessings. If
they are able to dedicate that merit, be it great or small, they will
ultimately attain Buddhahood. How much more easily will they be able
to attain the positions of Sakra, Brahma, or wheel-turning king. Therefore,
Earth Store, you should exhort all living beings to study in this way.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if there are good men or women who plant
a few good roots in the Buddhadharma, amounting to as little as a fine
hair, a grain of sand, or a mote of dust, they will receive incomparable
"Moreover, Earth Store, good men or women in the future may encounter
the image of a Buddha, Bodhisattva, Pratyekabuddha, or wheel-turning
king, and may give gifts or make offerings. Such persons will attain
limitless blessings and will always receive supremely wonderful bliss
among men and gods. If they can dedicate that merit to the Dharma-realm,
their blessings and profits will be beyond compare.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if good men or good women in the future
encounter a Mahayana Sutra, and on hearing but on gatha or sentence
of it energetically resolve to be benevolent and respectfully praise
and make offerings, those people will attain great, limitless, and unbounded
rewards. If they can dedicate that merit to the Dharma-realm, their
blessings will be incomparable.
This sutra, the Surangama Sutra, the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Blossom Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and others which we study are all sutras of the Great Vehicle. Consider the number of people in the world who have never even heard of the Buddhadharma, much less the names of sutras. Of those who have heard of the existence of sutras, not too many have been able to study them in detail.
"Moreover, Earth Store, if in the future good men or women encounter
new Buddhastupas, temples, or sutras of the Great Vehicle and make offerings
to them, gaze at them in worship, and respectfully make praises with
joined palms; or if they encounter old temples, stupas, or sutras that
are in ruins and either repair them themselves or encourage others to
aid them, such people will be the kings of small countries throughout
thirty lives. Those who act as the leaders in these affairs will always
be wheel-turning kings who teach those minor kings by means of the good
"Moreover, Earth Store, in the future, good men or good women
may plant good roots in the Buddhadharma by giving, making offerings,
repairing temples or monasteries, binding sutras, or doing good deeds
that are as small as one strand of hair, one mote of dust, a grain of
sand, or a drop of water. Merely by transferring the merit from that
deed to the Dharma-realm, those people’s meritorious virtues will be
such that they will receive supremely wonderful bliss for one hundred
thousand lives. If they dedicate the merit only to their own family
or relatives, or to their own personal benefit, they will receive as
a result only three lives of bliss, thus putting aside the ten-thousandfold
reward. Earth Store, such are the conditions of giving."
The name of the great earth spirit referred to in this chapter title is "Firm and Solid," for that is a primary attribute of the earth. Living beings are to the earth as insects are to a great ocean-going vessel, although they may run back and forth across its surface, they are unable to move the vessel itself at all. Just as a liner moves through the sea, so too does our planet move through space, with living beings on it.
Earth spirits are very numerous. In the Agama Sutras the foremost earth spirit, Firm and Solid, appeared before the Buddha, took a haughty and arrogant stance, and blustered that there were no spirits besides her; she alone was the supreme spirit. She was rather upset to hear the Buddha explain that there were also water and fire spirits as well as earth spirits. When she finally heard the Buddha speak Dharma, she lost her haughtiness and took refuge with the Triple Jewel. Just as the four elemental spirits exist in space, so do the four elements exist within the body of living beings.
The term "earth" was explained earlier in the sutra. Now, it will be explained in another way, this time in terms of the four qualities of nirvana: permanence, happiness, purity, and true-self. Because of the Dharma Door of Prajnaparamita, the earth is unchanging and so can be called permanent; because it supports the ten thousand things it can be said to have the virtues of happiness. The earth gives birth to and supports all things, and since they are pure at birth, it has the virtue of purity; the earth is independent and self-sufficient, and can thus be said to have the virtues of true-self.
In this chapter, the spirit of the earth makes a vow to protect those who recite this sutra and the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
At that time the earth spirit Firm and Solid spoke to the Buddha and
said, "World-Honored One, from long ago I have personally beheld
and paid homage to limitless Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, all of whom
have inconceivable and great spiritual penetrations and wisdom, and
all of whom cross over many living beings. Among all the Bodhisattas,
Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, has the deepest and most weighty
vows. World-Honored One, Earth Store Bodhisattva has great affinity
with beings in Jambudvipa. Manjusri, Samantabhadra, Avalokitesvara,
and Maitreya also transform hundreds of thousands of bodies to cross
over those in the Six Paths, but their vows have an end. Earth Store
Bodhisattva has made these vows to teach living beings in the Six Paths
throughout aeons as many as the number of sand grains in hundreds of
thousands of myriads of Ganges Rivers.
"World-Honored One, as I regard the living beings of the present
and future, I see those who make shrines of earth, stone, bamboo, or
wood and set them in pure places in the southern part of their dwellings.
They place within the shrines an image of Earth Store, Bodhisattva,
either carved, painted, or made of gold, silver, copper, or iron. They
then burn incense and make offerings, worship and praise him. By doing
these things they will receive ten kinds of advantages and benefits."
The practice of gazing at the image of a Buddha or Bodhisattva can be likened to that of men and women, who sometimes like to stare ceaselessly at each other for long periods. The gazing between men and women, however, is impure, since it is based on desire. When one gazes at a Buddha, all desire has been transformed into wisdom. Such long gazing is pure and natural, arises spontaneously, and is constantly practiced. One may look at an image, look at it again and again, and end up in Buddhahood through gazing.
"What are these ten? Their lands will be fertile; their families and
homes will be peaceful; their ancestors will be born in the heavens;
they will have benefit and longevity in their present life; what they
seek will be as they will; they will escape the disasters of water and
fire; they will escape other calamities; their nightmares will cease;
they will be protected by spirits in all their comings and goings; and
they will encounter many causes of wisdom."
Those who worship Earth Store will have fertile lands, and whatever they plant will bring forth abundant harvest. A good harvest is of no major interest, however, if there is not a peaceful home in which to enjoy it, and so the second of the ten benefits is the peace and happiness of the home. In addition to these benefits, those reverent members of the household mentioned above, as well as other relatives who have died, will be able to be born in the heavens, all as a result of having survivors who gaze at and worship Earth Store Bodhisattva.
It may be objected that there is no way to verify these rebirths in the heavens. If you cultivate and work hard, you will attain the penetration of the heavenly eye and be able to see into the heavens for yourself. In any case, the next of the ten benefits is something that can be seen-prolonged lifespan. I had a disciple in Hong Kong who consulted the oracle of the Book of Changes when he was seventy-nine years old. He found he was due to die in that year and was frightened. When he asked me to allow him to take refuge, he also asked to have another ten years of life. I agreed. I told him that if he would strictly obey my instructions and act in accordance with the teachings, I would promise him another twelve years. He did this, and although there was no way to know if my words were true or false, he lived until the age of ninety-two.
All the above benefits affect others. The fifth one promises that one's own wishes will be fulfilled. If you wish to obtain a good spouse, it will happen; if you have left home and wish to be a good bhiksu or bhiksuni, that will occur as well. Of course, it is best not to have any desire for these results, but if you do, they will come about.
The sixth benefit insures freedom from being drowned or burned. Earlier, when discussing the four elemental spirits, I neglected to mention their appearance, but now, since I notice that the fire spirit has come to join us, I'll describe them to you. The fire spirit is like a great one-legged red bird who runs away as soon as his name, Fang Mien, is called. The water spirit, named Wang Hsiang, looks like a little boy with red eyes and very long ears that droop to the ground. Although it is very difficult to encounter such spirits, if you do, and if you can catch and eat one, you can become a water spirit yourself.
The seventh of the ten benefits which accrue to those who worship Earth Store Bodhisattva is freedom from calamities and unexpected accidents. The eighth is that all nightmares will cease. Sometimes people have dreams and wake up to find that they are immobilized by a large heavy creature who keeps them from moving or speaking. Those who have this sort of problem, caused by ghosts called Nightmare Ghosts, or Kumbhandas, will not have them again after they cultivate the worship of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
The ninth benefit is that such persons will always be protected by spirits in whatever they do. If, for example, they are in an automobile accident and manage to escape without a scratch, it is because of such protection. The tenth of the benefits insures that they will encounter many causes of wisdom. This includes opportunities to hear lectures on sutras and to practice cultivation.
"World-Honored One, living beings of the present and future will obtain
these advantages and benefits if they can construct a place of worship
and make offerings in their home"
Firm and Solid continued to speak to the Buddha: "World-Honored One,
if good men or women in the future keep this sutra and an image of the
Bodhisattva in their homes, and if in addition they recite the sutra
and make offerings to the Bodhisattva, I shall use my spiritual powers
to surround and protect them day and night so that all threat of floods,
fire, robbery and theft, great calamities, and small accidents, will
The Buddha told the earth spirit Firm and Solid, "There are few spirits
who can match the great spiritual power you possess. Why? All the lands
in Jambudvipa receive your protection; all the grasses, woods, sands,
stones, paddy fields, hemp, bamboo, reeds, grains, rice, and gems come
forth from the ground because of your power. Moreover, your constant
praise of the beneficial deeds of Earth Store Bodhisattva makes your
meritorious virtues and spiritual penetrations hundreds of thousands
of times those of ordinary earth spirits.
"If good men or women make offerings in the future to this Bodhisattva,
or recite and rely upon the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva
in their cultivation, you should use your spiritual power to protect
them and not allow disastrous or unwelcome affairs even to be heard,
much less undergone, by them. Not only will those people be protected
by you, but Brahma, Sakra, and their retinues, as well as the retinues
of all the other gods, shall also protect them. Why will they obtain
protection from worthies and sages such as these? They obtain such great
protection from having beheld and worshiped the image of Earth Store
Bodhisattva, and from having recited this sutra of his past vows. They
shall naturally leave the sea of suffering and certify to the bliss