Chapter Three
Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Living Beings


At that time the Buddha's mother, the Lady Maya, placed her palms together respectfully and said to Earth Store Bodhisattva, "Holy One, the deeds done by the living beings of Jambudvipa differ. What are their respective retributions?"

Earth Store replied, "In a thousand, ten thousands of worlds and lands, whether with or without hells, with or without women, the Buddhadharma, Sound-Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas, and others, the retributions of the hells differ."


The term "living beings" is composed of two words in Chinese, literally, 'many-born'. Living beings are said to grasp at the many aggregates (form, reception, thought, activity, and consciousness) and thereby attain bodies. They are born into various states as a result of manifold causes and conditions, which are collectively called karma. Karma is a Sanskrit term that refers to that which is made by the activity of speech, body, or mind. What is the difference between "cause" and "karma"? Cause refers to a single incident; karma is a long accumulation of causes. There are many causes and conditions that constitute karma, and each being has his own. Therefore the states encountered by living beings differ. Some encounter great joy because they planted good seeds long ago, while others must endure a great deal of hardship, always living in difficult situations, because they have only sown bad causes. In general, if you plant good seeds, you reap good fruit; if you plant bad seeds, you reap bad fruit.

Good and bad deeds are done by you alone, and no one forces you to do either. Even the work of becoming a Buddha is something to which you alone must apply effort; no one else can make you do it, and nobody can do it for you. If you do the work, you will plant the seeds of Buddhahood and find accomplishment. If you do the deeds, the karma, of Buddhas, you will be a Buddha in the future; if you do the deeds of demons, you will become a demon. Didn't the text say earlier that the hells are called forth in response to the Three Evil Karmas?

After Shakyamuni Buddha accomplished the Way, he spoke Dharma for forty-nine years in over three hundred Dharma assemblies. When he was about to enter nirvana he realized that he had not yet crossed over his mother, the Lady Maya, and so he went to the Trayastrimsa Heaven to speak Dharma for her.

Some worlds have hells and some do not. The Land of Ultimate Bliss, for example, does not have any of the Three Evil Paths, nor any hells, hungry ghosts, or animals. In this world of ours, on the other hand, they do exist.

Some worlds, ours for example, have both men and women as well as sages and common people. The Land of Ultimate Bliss has only men. How does this come about? Men remain men, but when women go to that world they become men. Since there are no women, the people in the world of Ultimate Bliss are born transformationally from lotus flowers. When we recite the Buddha's name once here, our lotus-flower mother in the Land of Ultimate Bliss grows a bit. The more we recite it here, the more our flower grows. The more sincere our recitation is, the more flourishing our lotus.

When the Eighth Consciousness has not yet become a person, a god, a ghost, etc., it is called the Intermediate Skandha Body. When we die, the Intermediate Skandha, or Intermediate Shadow Body, is led into the lotus flower. When that flower opens, a person is born.

In some worlds a Buddha may be speaking Dharma; in others, the Dharma of a Buddha may circulate. Places where no one speaks Dharma, where there are no Buddha images, Sutras, or people who have left the home life, are called places without Buddhadharma. According to the sutras, the northern continent, Uttarakuru, does not have Buddhadharma, and is classed among the Eight Difficulties, circumstances in which it is hard to encounter Buddhadharma.

From the point of view of common people, Sound-hearers are very happy, but from the standpoint of the Bodhisattva, the Sound-hearers too, have their sufferings. The passage cited above refers to places that have the sufferings of Sound-Hearers or the sufferings of the Pratyekabuddhas.

Regardless of who you are, if you create karma, you will undergo the appropriate retribution; avoiding karma you avoid the retribution that follows it. This is a certain principle that works impartially, with equality for all.



The Lady Maya again spoke to Earth Store Bodhisattva; "I wish to hear only of the bad paths that are the retributions for offenses in Jambudvipa."

Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, "Holy Mother, please listen and I will explain it in general terms."

The Buddha's mother answered, "I hope that you will do so."

Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Holy Mother, "These are the names of the retributions for offenses in Jambudvipa. Living beings who are not filial to their parents, who harm or kill them, will fall into the uninterrupted hell, where, for a thousand millions of kalpas, they will seek in vain to escape."


We living beings should be filial to our parents, for those who are not filial commit offenses. Filial piety is important because it is the basis of humanity; if people are not filial, they forget their very origin. Therefore, it is said, "Father gave me a life, mother raised me; their kindness - as vast as high heaven, as manifold as the hairs on the head - is difficult to repay."

What is filial piety? Does it mean buying rare delicacies to feed one's parents? Is it perhaps seeing that they are dressed in fine clothes? No. These are a superficial form of filial piety. The inner functioning of filial piety is to comply with one's parents' fundamental intent.

Suppose my father likes to smoke opium. If he smoked one ounce a day, and I smoked two, wouldn't that be filial piety? It certainly would not. When I said "comply", I meant to comply with the basic parental desire for the children's welfare, not with a parent's superficial habits. If the latter were intended, you might as well say that if your father likes bread and butter, you should say to him, "I like that, too. You're just going to have to wait while 1 eat it." That would be belligerence about a superficial matter, not compliance with your father's basic benevolent intentions towards you. To comply means to be in accordance with another's wishes.

There is a couplet that says,
The lamb kneels to drink its milk,
The young crow returns to the nest.

When the lamb drinks its mother's milk, it kneels to do so. The crow is called the filial bird in Chinese since the young crows return with food for their aged mother who can no longer fly. If we are not filial to our parents, we humans are not even the equals of birds and beasts.

There are Five Virtues possessed by humans: humaneness, propriety, etiquette, knowledge, and trust. Since we have the ability to practice these qualities, can we not even equal the best aspect of the behavior of crows and sheep? There is nothing more important than being filial.

Someone might ask, "I want to be filial, but now I have left the home life and my parents are nowhere nearby. How can I be filial?" Leaving one's home life can be an act of great filial piety. There is a saying,

When one son enters the Buddha's door,
Nine generations ascend to heaven.

If you leave home to cultivate the Way, nine generations of ancestors receive the benefit and can ascend to heaven. In this way, you are being filial not only to your parents, but to your grandparents and to parents and grandparents of past lives. Of course, you must continue to cultivate. If you do not do so, your nine generations will fall into hell, where they will wail and moan: "We had a descendant who left home to cultivate, and because of him we should have been born in the heavens. Who would have thought that all he does is sleep, causing us to fall into hell."

The mere act of leaving home life is not sufficiently powerful to cause your nine generations of ancestors to be reborn in the heavens. If you do not cultivate the Way, they will not reap any benefit, but if you do cultivate, you are practicing great filial piety.


"Living beings who shed the Buddha's blood, who slander the Triple Jewel, and who do not respect and venerate sutras, will fall into the uninterrupted hell, and for thousands of tens of thousands of millions of kalpas they will seek escape in vain."


When the Buddha is in the world, shedding his blood means just that; after his Nirvana, it means destroying images of the Buddha.

"How is it possible," you think, "to harm the Buddha, who has such great spiritual powers?"

Sometimes even the Buddha undergoes harm at the expense of others. The Buddha's cousin, Devadatta, opposed everything the Buddha did and invariably tried to ruin him.

If the Buddha said that something was proper, Devadatta would contradict him. He did everything he possibly could to undermine the Buddha.

Once when the Buddha was speaking, Devadatta bribed a poor woman to take part in a plot against him. As is the case with many impoverished persons, her resolve was weak and she would do anything for money. Devadatta had her tie a large sponge around her waist under her clothes and in this condition go to the Buddha's Dharma assembly and accuse him of fathering her unborn child. But when she arrived, the Buddha used his powerful spiritual strength to make the sponge fall to the ground in full view of the assembly.

Another time the Buddha was walking beneath Vulture Peak when Devadatta, hoping to crush the Buddha, used his spiritual powers to cause an avalanche. A Dharma protector named Pei La, the spirit of Vulture Peak, used his Vajra pestle to smash one of the large boulders, which was about to hit the Buddha. One of the fragments, however, struck the Buddha's little toe and cracked a bone. At that very moment the ground opened and a fiery chariot emerged from the earth to carry Devadatta off alive to the hells. The retribution incurred by those who deliberately and maliciously destroy images of the Buddha is similar.

Slandering the Triple Jewel is speaking evil of the Buddha, his Dharma, and the Sangha. Among the Bodhisattva precepts is one that prohibits people from speaking of the offenses of the Four Assemblies, the Bhiksus, Bhiksunis, Upasakas, and Upasikas. Not only does it warn people to refrain from speaking of those faults, it also prohibits listening to others speak of them. Even if you assent silently in such a conversation, you are violating precepts just as much as if you were speaking. The best thing to do in a situation like this is simply to ignore what is being said.

Among other reasons for not speaking of the faults of the assemblies is that the views of ordinary persons are quite often wrong. The realms of sages and those of ordinary people differ immensely. Bodhisattvas of the first ground, for example, do not know the states of those of the second ground, and so on up the line. Bodhisattvas on the tenth ground do not know the state of the Bodhisattvas on the ground of equal enlightenment. Before you have attained true wisdom you may not say harmful things about the Four Assemblies; even though people may very clearly be in the wrong, you should not speak of it. Just do things correctly yourself, rather than being like a camera that goes about photographing faults and never examines its own inside.

At this point two illustrative stories come to mind, one about Dhyana Master Chih Kung and the other about Dhyana Master Chi Kung.

During the reign of the emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty, there was a Dhyana Master named Chih Kung who ate two pigeons every day. The cook assumed that the birds must be delicious, and after many days of temptation, he sampled a small bit of wing on the sly. Then he brought the remainder of the dish to Chih Kung. After he had eaten, Chih Kung called for the cook,

"Why have you been eating my pigeons?"

"I didn't take any pigeon," answered the cook.

"Oh? Then what about this?" said Chih Kung. He opened his mouth and two live pigeons emerged. One of the birds flew off, but the other lacked a wing.

"If you didn't eat a wing, what's the matter with this bird?" asked Chih Kung.

Although in both cases the men ate pigeons, there was a bit of difference in the act. After Chih Kung had swallowed the pigeon, he could still spit it out whole; the cook, on the other hand, could not do it. Chih Kung's state was one of "eating and yet not eating".

At Ling Yuan Monastery at West Lake in Hang Chow lived Dhyana Master Chi Kung, another famous monk who always ate dog meat and drank wine. He was invariably inebriated, and everyone said, "There goes another tippling monk." In his drunkenness, however, Chi Kung taught and transformed living beings.

Once some new Buddha images had not yet been gilded and he vowed to take on that responsibility. The abbot of his temple agreed and then waited. After some time the images were still not finished, and Chi Kung was questioned about the matter by the abbot. He agreed to do the work that very evening. When night came, however, he merely kept on with his drinking. When everyone was asleep, he went to the images and began to spew forth pure gold, with which he covered the images. The abbot heard Chi Kung and abruptly ordered him to stop such unseemly conduct. Chi Kung instantly did as he was told.

The next morning the abbot inspected the images. He found that they were covered with gold except for one, which lacked a small spot on the crown of the head. Although a master goldsmith completed the work, his ordinary gold could not match that supplied by Dhyana Master Chi Kung.

So, you see, you should not speak of the faults of the Four Assemblies. Speaking of ordinary people is not serious, but suppose you should talk about a Bodhisattva or someone else of attainment. The penalty you might incur could be very great, enough to cause you to fall into hell.

People slander the Triple Jewel because they do not have faith. Another cause is mixing with bad company - people who do not understand and therefore slander the Buddhadharma. Associating with such people may cause one to be influenced by their bad habits.

Some people berate and slander the Triple Jewel and use flattery for ill gain. Such persons' minds are crooked; they engage in flattery to get what they want. They are stupid, yet puffed up with their own intelligence, like the five thousand Bhiksus who left the assembly during the speaking of the Lotus Sutra. Because they had a tiny bit of cleverness, they looked down on others and slandered the good Dharma, thus blinding the selective Dharma eye of living beings.

What is the retribution for such persons? In the future they will be deformed and crippled, without arms, hands, ears, or legs. They may very well be mutes. Mutes are people who have slandered the Triple Jewel. After they commit this offense they fall into the hells, where they spend two million years of hellish retribution, after which they are born into the realms of the animals. After two million years among the animals, they may be reborn as humans, but they will always be without eyes, ears, or perhaps a nose. In general, their appearance will be deformed.

Sutra must be treated with respect, for, as it says in the Diamond Sutra, "Wherever this sutra is, there is the Buddha."Sutras are the Dharma-body of the Buddha, toward which we must be very respectful. They should always be stored one level higher than other books, preferably at head level, but certainly never at foot level; it is disrespectful to store Buddhist sutras beneath other books. The places where we sleep are unclean, and sutras should not be placed there. If you do not show the same respect for sutras that you show the Buddha, you are slandering and harming the Triple Jewel. The retribution for not respecting sutras is the same: one falls into the uninterrupted hells and for a hundred thousand millions of kalpas tries to escape but cannot.



"Living beings who usurp property of the 'permanently dwelling,' who defile Bhikus or Bhiksunis, who practice sexual acts within the Sangharama, or who kill and harm beings there, will fall into the uninterrupted hell where, for thousands of millions of kalpas, they will seek escape in vain.


To usurp and destroy is to make use of the food, drink, and goods of those permanently dwelling in the temples, without offering compensation. If one lives in a temple before he has left home, he should certainly make offerings and aid that temple. If you live in a temple even for a few days and do not make an offering, you have usurped goods of those permanently dwelling there. This offense will certainly send you to the hells. You should regard living in a temple as being similar to living anywhere else; you should give money for living expenses and thus avoid stealing from those permanently dwelling there. If you have not understood any principles of Buddhism and act improperly, that is one thing; but if you have studied and still behave that way, it is quite another. Consequently, I tell my disciples to make sure they never commit this offense but always support the Triple Jewel.

This principle holds true not only for lay people but for those who have left home life as well. If you cannot augment the resources of a place, you should at least make sure that you do not deplete them.

If you are absolutely broke, that is another matter, but since the place of the permanently dwelling is where the great assembly may live, we must take care not to inconvenience anyone or deplete the supplies. If you use food of the great assembly and there is none left, you have committed an offense. Food is a major source of happiness for human beings, and you cannot deprive others of it. "If I alone starve to death, that will be no problem, but I cannot deprive the assembly of its food." With this attitude you will not commit a grave offense in this area.

There are four kinds of Permanently Dwelling, which in this discussion refer to the goods of the permanently dwelling.

  1. The Permanently Dwelling. This category includes the fixed, immovable goods of the Sangha, which cannot be divided up.
  2. The Permanently Dwelling of the Ten Directions. This includes items that may be shared by any member of the Sangha from any place whatever.
  3. The Current Permanently Dwelling. This refers to the actual private property of current members of the Sangha.
  4. The Current Permanently Dwelling of the Ten Directions. This refers to the actual property left by deceased Sangha members, which may be divided among the Sangha members of the Ten Directions.

Some evil people particularly like to take advantage of those who have left their home life and engage in sexual misconduct with them. This is a very great offense. The Sangharama is a still, pure place. Any Bodhimandala, any temple, in fact, any place where there is a Buddha image, is a Sangharama. In such places one cannot engage in sexual activities.

A man who suffered from a genital ulcer once asked Mahamaudgalyayana the origin of his disease and was told that it was a result of having violated this regulation in the past. Although he was speaking to a man, the principle is the same for women. Anyone who violates this rule will have to undergo this retribution. These diseases are extremely difficult to cure.

Some people say, after hearing all of this, that the more they study Buddhism, the more inconvenient things become; the more they practice, the less independence they have. When you don't study the Buddhadharma, are you independent? When you study Buddhism, you may be limited for a while, but this restraint is relatively short-lived. While you study the Buddhadharma, you increase your good roots; when you do not study, you increase your offense-caused obstacles. These obstacles tie you up and your non-independence is eternal. The non-independence of studying the Buddhadharma is a short-term one by comparison, and if you wish to attain eternal independence, you will have to endure it. If you cannot do so, your non-independence will be very long indeed. Weigh the odds for yourself.



"Living beings who pretend to be sramanas but whose hearts are not those of sramanas, who make destructive use of the goods of the permanently dwelling, who take advantage of the white-robed, and who turn their backs on the precepts, doing all manner of evil acts, will fall into the uninterrupted hells and for thousands of ten thousands of millions of kalpas seek escape in vain."


There are four kinds of sramana:

  1. The sramana of the Way of wisdom
  2. The sramana who speaks of the Way
  3. The sramana who lives the Way
  4. The sramana who defiles the Way

The first of these refers to the Buddha and great Bodhisattvas. The second applies to those who explain sutras and preach Dharma, particularly greatly virtuous monks and Arhats who have borne testimony to the fruit of the Way and who spend their lives expounding it. The third kind, the sramana who lives the Way, takes cultivation of the Way as his very life. The fourth kind, who are discussed in the sutra passage cited here, are sramana who defile the Way.

Although the word sramana has four meanings, it can also be explained with three meanings, which are not three at all but really two, and these two in turn are really just one, which is to say, sramana. Ah, how subtle this Buddhadharma is! The one meaning is simply sramana, and that means "energetic" and "put to rest".

"Energetic" refers to sramana who are not lazy, and "put to rest" refers to those who are. "So you see, sramana has two meanings; one points to laziness, the other to vigor. The lazy one says to the energetic, "Don't bother about working, relax and take it easy."

The energetic one replies, "Don't be so lazy; follow me and cultivate the Way." Since there are two sides, there is a battle to see which one will win.

I said that this word also had three meanings. "Energetic" and "put to rest" have three aspects each. The threefold aspect of the former is the energetic cultivation of morality, Samadhi, and wisdom. The threefold aspect of the latter is the putting to rest of greed, hatred, and stupidity. Morality is abstinence from evil, planting good causes, and improving one's conduct. It means turning one's back on all one's own errors and leaving them behind.

The guides to morality are the precepts. How many moral precepts are there? There are the Five Precepts: abstention from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants. In addition to these there are the Eight Laymen's Precepts and the Bodhisattva Precepts, which consist of ten major and forty-eight minor ones. There are also the Ten Precepts of a Sramanera, the Two Hundred and Fifty Precepts of the Bhiksu, and the Three Hundred and Forty-Eight Precepts of the Bhikuni. Some people say that Bhiksunis have five hundred precepts, but in fact they have three hundred and forty-eight.

Samadhi is developed by meditation. If you cultivate the Way you can attain proficiency in it. When you first begin to meditate, you have no samadhi, and your thoughts run off to the heavens and the hells, to the Buddha and to the Bodhisattvas; in fact, your mind wanders all over the Six Paths. In order to keep thought concentrated, and our minds from running all over, we must cultivate samadhi.

Someone is thinking, "Why bother cultivating concentration? Compare it to dancing: you prance and leap about, and it's much more interesting than just sitting there, like a stick of wood. What are the advantages of samadhi anyway?"

Basically it has no advantages. "Then why bother with it?" you ask. If you wish to reveal your inherent wisdom, you must first of all cultivate samadhi, for if you are not able to concentrate, your thoughts will be scattered about and you will never manifest any wisdom. Wisdom comes from samadhi; if you want to be released from ignorance, cultivate samadhi.

One of my disciples recently said that when meditating he felt as if he were on the edge of a great precipice, on the edge of a very deep abyss, and was frightened. This is a sign of the beginning stages of samadhi. Here one must be particularly fearless. If you are meditating and you feel that there is a great piece of iron suspended above your head on the verge of breaking loose, or if you feel a bomb about to go off, do not be affected by it, because if you are, it will be quite easy to enter the realm of the demons. If you become attached to such signs, the "atomic bomb" you feel over your head may very well go off. If, on the other hand, you pay no attention to them, demons cannot come near you, and in fact they will have to run away.

The mental state in which a huge crevasse appears while you are in meditation represents the karmic obstacles, which are heavier and deeper than a ten-thousand-foot abyss. It is a sign that shows you the urgency of cultivation.

Sometimes, when you are meditating, you may feel blissful, self-contained freedom, which is so joyful that you forget everything else. This is a taste of dhyana, the most blissful experience in the world of form, which far surpasses connubial pleasures. In fact, it is something to which inhabitants of the realm of form can become decidedly attached. It is said that only the one who drinks the water knows whether it is cold or hot; the same is true of the flavor of dhyana. If you have experienced this state, you know what it is like, and if you have not, you do not know. One of my disciples, for example, is about to attain the state of "Being Apart from Production and Obtaining Bliss", one of the Four Dhyanas. This is not a major matter, but it is quite common and can occur to anyone who cultivates. This stage marks the beginning of samadhi.

What is the function of wisdom? One who has wisdom cannot go down a wrong road. You are confused because you turn your back on enlightenment and unite with the dust. Mistaking suffering for happiness, you confuse the realms of enlightenment and dust. Why do you do all of this? Simply because you do not have any wisdom.

And so, one must be both energetic and resting. Listen energetically to the explanation of sutras, and energetically cultivate morality, samadhi, and wisdom. Most important, you must cultivate yourself and do so vigorously in accordance with the instructions of your teacher. To do this you must put greed, hatred, and stupidity to rest. Don't be greedy for anything in the world, don't indulge your temper, and don't get angry. Give your strong temper away. To whom will you give it? You can give it to me, your teacher, so that I may increase my fire and make my disciples afraid of me. Now you see that your teacher is as soft as cotton, and so you do not cultivate and are lazy. Vigorous cultivation of morality, samadhi, and wisdom puts greed, hatred, and stupidity to rest.

There are some people who pretend to be sramanas. Although they have the name, they do not have the heart of a sramana and do not cultivate morality, samadhi, and wisdom. They do not put greed, hatred, and stupidity to rest, and they even think these traits are admirable. They claim to be sramanas, yet their practice lacks compassion and patience. They do not practice the Six Perfections and the Ten Thousand Practices.

There are others who make destructive use of the permanently dwelling. Items belonging to the Triple Jewel, even small ones, cannot be used casually or thrown away. This is true for as small a thing as a sheet of paper. If you waste things, you are destructive of the goods of the permanently dwelling.

There is a saying, "To use a blade of grass or a splinter of wood not given is to steal." To use other people's things without their permission is a violation of the precept against stealing.

Nothing that belongs to a temple may be used offhandedly or given away. If as simple a thing as a needle and thread is given to you as an offering, it may not be used carelessly and most certainly may not be given away. If you give away a sheet of paper, a piece of thread, or even a grain of rice for your own personal reasons - particularly in order to gain favor so that people will feel obliged to aid and support you - you are again violating the precept against stealing.

Of course, if you want to give away your own personal belongings, that is another matter, since they are not public property or another's possessions. This is something to which those who have left home should pay particular attention. You should not use the goods of the permanently dwelling in such a way as to gain favor with laymen or to provoke in them a sense of obligation toward you, for this is to take advantage of the white-robed, the laymen, as well as to steal from the Triple Jewel.



"Living beings who steal the wealth and property of the permanently dwelling, their grains, food and drink, clothing, or anything that should not be taken, will fall into the uninterrupted hells, where they will seek escape for thousands of tens of thousands of millions of years in vain."

Earth Store Bodhisattva continued speaking to the Holy Mother: "If living beings commit such offenses, they will fall into the uninterrupted hells, and although they seek for their suffering to stop, it will not do so, not even for the space of a thought."

The Lady Maya asked, "Why are they called uninterrupted hells?"

Earth Store replied, "Holy Mother, the hells are all within the great Iron Ring Mountain. There are eighteen great hells and five hundred secondary ones, their names all different. In addition, there are another hundred thousand, with distinct names. The wall surrounding the uninterrupted hell is over eighty thousand yojanas in circumference, made entirely of iron, and topped by an unbroken mass of fire. Within that city of hells are many interconnected hells; their names also differ. There is just one hell which is properly called uninterrupted. Its circumference is eighteen thousand yojanas, and its solid iron wall is a thousand yojanas high, surmounted by a fire that plunges toward the base and is met by a fire at the bottom that leaps upward. Iron snakes and dogs spewing fire gallop back and forth atop that wall."


This hell is called Avici in Sanskrit and is named uninterrupted because the sufferings there are incessant. The souls of those who have committed offenses meriting this hell fall into it at the appropriate time, and there the fires bum them to death or knives chop them up. You might think that once they die they pass beyond all pain and suffering, but that is not the case. When people die in the hells, they are instantly reborn, only to die again.

How are people reborn again and again in the hells? There are two winds, one putrid and the other fragrant, known as the Clever Breezes, which blow and revive the dead. Those resurrected by the putrid wind, like the Asuras, whose seven orifices are all bunched together, are reborn ugly, and those revived by the fragrant wind are beautiful. Those born in the hells are revived by the putrid wind, and those destined for the heavens, by the fragrant one. Rebirth by the putrid wind occurs instantly, and there is not the slightest interruption in the sufferings.

Because the wall of that hell is one thousand yojanas high, all sunlight is blocked, but fires cast enough light to see by. The fires are the fires of karma, which roast and sear the skin, burning people to death. Think about it. Would you like to go there? What would you do if you found yourself in such a place, bound, confined, and totally unfree? It is all very painful, lacking the slightest freedom. There is nothing but the thought of sorrow, no seeking after fame and profit, nor anything else, only untold suffering. Solid iron represents the hardness and strength of the karmic obstacles that send us to the hells.

Atop each comer in the hell are dogs eight hundred yojanas tall, each with eight heads, each of which has six horns, making a total of forty-eight horns. As the heads turn about the horns become wheels of fire and knives, so that wherever one goes he is sliced and burned. What do you think of these animals? Terrible? Go ahead and take a look if you wish, but let me tell you, going there is not like going to the movies. When you go to the movies you can always walk out, but when you go to hell, there is no such freedom. The fiery bodies of these monstrous dogs and snakes belch out noxious fires and a stench so putrid that the offenders vomit their very guts. You don't have to go there: just think about it to know how it feels.


"In the midst of that hell is a bed that extends for ten thousand yojanas. When one person undergoes punishment, he sees his own body extended across and completely filling the bed, and yet each person of a thousand ten thousands sees his own body doing the same. Such are the retributions for various bad deeds.

"Moreover, offenders undergo many sufferings. A hundred thousand yaksas, as well as evil ghosts with swordlike teeth and eyes like lightning, drag and pull at them with brass-clawed hands. Moreover, there are yaksas who brandish great iron halberds, which they pass through the offenders' bodies, either through their mouths and noses or through their bellies and backs. They toss them into space, turn them over, and pull them back, or else they place them on the bed. There are also iron eagles that peck at the offenders' eyes, and iron serpents that encircle their necks. Long nails are driven into all their joints; their tongues are pulled out and plowed through; their guts are pulled out, sawed, and chopped in two. Molten brass is poured into their mouths and their bodies are bound in hot iron. Such are their karmic retributions throughout ten thousand deaths and as many births. They pass through millions of aeons, seeking for release but without hope."


Yaksas are speedy ghosts, and fundamentally evil, but the ghosts known as evil ghosts are a class of yaksas that travel on the ground. Their mouths are like caverns of blood, their teeth like blades. These ghosts pick you up and toss you about with their enormous strength, throwing you perhaps several yards, perhaps a hundred. Perhaps they place you on the iron bed. Don't misunderstand, this bed is not for sleeping; once you are on it they stick you with their halberds. Perhaps iron eagles peck at your eyes and head, and crack open your skull to eat your brains. Perhaps your tongue is pulled out and plowed through. This is retribution for various deeds of the mouth. Don't lie or engage in gossip, for if you do you will enter this hell and your tongue will be plowed through like a field. You will undergo ten thousand deaths and as many births, in a single day.



"When this world decays, the offender is born in another world, and when that world is annihilated, he passes in turn through others. When those worlds, too, fall and decay, he returns again. Such is the phenomenon of uninterrupted retribution for offenses.

"Moreover, this hell is given the name uninterrupted for five reasons. What are they? 1) Punishment is undergone day and night throughout kalpas, and there is no time of respite. Therefore it is called uninterrupted. 2) One person fills it, yet many people also fill it. Therefore it is called uninterrupted. 3) The implements of punishment are forks, clubs, eagles, serpents, wolves, and dogs, which pound, grind, saw, drill, chisel, cut, and chop; boiling liquids, iron nets, iron ropes, iron asses, and iron horses that flay one alive, bind the head in rawhide, and pour hot iron over one's body; meals of iron pellets and drinks of iron fluids. Throughout many nayutas of kalpas such suffering continues without respite. Therefore it is called uninterrupted. 4) Whether a man, a woman, a barbarian, old or young, honorable or lowly, a dragon or a spirit, a god or ghost, everyone must undergo retribution for the offenses he has committed. Therefore it is called uninterrupted. 5) From the time of entry, one undergoes ten thousand deaths and as many births each day and night throughout a hundred thousand kalpas.

He may seek release for but the space of a thought, but even such a brief pause is not possible. Only when one's karma is exhausted can he attain rebirth. Because of this continuity, it is called uninterrupted."


This world in which we live has its times of becoming, of enduring, of decaying, and of emptiness. Every century the human lifespan decreases by one year, and man's height diminishes by an inch, so that nowadays the average lifespan is a bit over sixty. This, of course, is just an average, which does not consider the exceptions: those who live to be a hundred or those who die at the age of one or two. It is an average that works out over a long span of time.

When Shakyamuni Buddha was in the world, the lifespan was seventy to eighty years; now it is sixty to seventy years. When the lifespan decreases to ten years, it will turn and again begin to increase until it reaches eighty-four thousand years. The period during which the lifespan diminishes is called a decreasing; the period in which it lengthens is called an increasing. One increase and one decrease is called a kalpa, and one thousand of these constitute a small kalpa. Twenty small kalpas make a middle kalpa, and four middle kalpas constitute one great kalpa. Each of the four middle kalpas is one of the periods of becoming, enduring, decaying, and emptiness.

Every world decays. Places that were dry land several thousand years ago are now submerged and no longer exist. Earthquakes eradicate entire villages, districts, or even countries. This is what is meant by decay.

It is not the case that when this world ends one's karma in the hells is exhausted. Far from it! One simply moves to hells in another world, where the deeds done with the body find retribution, with the body as the tool of karma.



Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Holy Mother, "This is a general description of the uninterrupted hell. If 1 were to speak extensively about all the names of the implements of punishment in the hells, and all the sufferings there, I could not finish speaking in an entire kalpa."

After hearing this the Lady Maya placed her palms together sorrowfully, made obeisance, and withdrew.



Chapter Four
Karmic Retribution of Living Beings


At that time Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, because I have received the awesome spiritual power of the Buddha, the Thus Come One, I reduplicate my body and rescue living beings from their karmic retributions everywhere, throughout hundreds of thousands of millions of worlds. If it were not for the great compassionate strength of the Thus Come One, I would be unable to perform such changes and transformations. Now, I receive the World-Honored One's entrustment; until the coming of Ajita, I will cause all living beings in the Six Paths to attain liberation. So it is, World-Honored One, do not be concerned."


Earth Store Bodhisattva does not brag, "I have great spiritual penetrations, far-reaching wisdom, and charismatic eloquence." Instead, he says humbly that because he has received the Buddha's power, he is able to reduplicate his body and rescue living beings, who have doubts, commit karma, and undergo subsequent retributions. The process by which the reduplicated bodies, which did not formerly exist come into being is called "transformation".

Ajita is another name of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and it means both "invincible" and "the kind one". Since there is none who can overcome him, he can be victorious over all, and since he cannot be defeated, he constantly laughs and is never angry. It is from these qualities that his wisdom comes.



The Buddha then told Earth Store Bodhisattva, "Living beings who have not yet obtained liberation have unfixed natures and consciousness. They may practice evil or good and reap the corresponding karma. Their good or evil acts arise in accordance with their states, and they turn in the Five Paths without a moment's rest. They pass through kalpas as numerous as motes of dust, confused, deluded, obstructed, and afflicted by difficulties, like fish swimming down a long stream through nets. They may slip about through the nets for a long time, but, after temporary liberation, they again are snagged. It is for such as these that I would be concerned, but since you have made extensive vows and sworn to cross over such offenders throughout many kalpas, I have no cause for worry."


People who have unfixed natures and consciousness have no determined resolve. First they decide to study the Buddhadharrna and then they change their minds. Their good or evil acts arise in accordance with their states. If they encounter a healthy environment, good friends who explain Dharma and teach them to benefit others, they continue their study. If they meet bad friends who lead them into debauchery, they follow along and their good acts cease.

The same process of influences is at work everywhere. If you are always with energetic people, little by little you too become vigorous. If you associate with lazy people, even though you may be energetic by nature, you become lazy too. This is what is meant by the proverb, "Be near rouge and turn red, be near ink and turn black." Things take on the color to which they are exposed. Dye cloth tan and it becomes tan; put it in yellow dye and it turns yellow. If you become friends with drinkers, you unsuspectingly become one of them; if you run with people who take drugs, you end up like them. We should always be cautious in choosing our friends, since it is their advice to which we listen most. If your friends are good ones, you should listen to them, but if they are bad, they should be ignored.

The Five Paths are the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, and gods. While it is common to refer to the Six Paths, they may also be reckoned as five, since a Asuras appear in all paths. Living beings turn in the paths like fish swimming down a long stream through nets. The analogies in the Buddhist sutras certainly are fitting.



When this was said, a Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, named Samadhi Self-Existent King arose from the midst of the assembly and said to the Buddha, "World-Honored One, what vows has Earth Store Bodhisattva made during these many kalpas that he now receives the World-Honored One's special praise? Please, World-Honored One, speak about this.

The World-Honored One said to Samadhi Self-Existent King, "Listen attentively, consider this well, I shall now explain this matter for you."


A Mahasattva is a great being. Because he cultivated samadhi and attained a self-contained existence, this Bodhisattva is called Samadhi Self-Existent King.



"Once, limitless Asamkhyeyas of nayutas of kalpas ago, there was a Buddha named All-Knowledge-Accomplished 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, the World-Honored One. That Buddha's lifespan was sixty thousand kalpas. Before leaving home he had been the king of a small country and had been friendly with the king of a neighboring country with whom he practiced the Ten Good Deeds and benefited living beings. Because the citizens of these countries did many evil acts, the kings agreed to perfect expedient devices for them. One vowed, 'I will accomplish the Buddha Way quickly and then cross over all the others without exception.'

"The other king vowed, 'If I do not first cross over all those who suffer for their offenses, and cause them to attain peace and Bodhi, I shall not accomplish Buddhahood,' "

The Buddha told the Bodhisattva Samadhi Self-Existent King, "The King who vowed to become a Buddha quickly is All-Knowledge-Accomplished Thus Come One. The king who vowed not to become a Buddha until he had seen all others safely across is Earth Store Bodhisattva."


Asamkhyeya and nayuta are the names of very large numbers that describe the time when All-Knowledge-Accomplished Thus Come One appeared in the world. There are Three Kinds of Knowledge:

  1. All Knowledge
  2. Knowledge of the Way
  3. Knowledge of All Modes

The third of these encompasses the other two.

The Sutra text describes this Buddha by means of the Ten Designations of the Buddha. The first is Thus Come One. A layman once asked me if Amitabha Buddha and Thus Come One Buddha were different. You should know that all Buddhas are called Thus Come One. There is Amitabha Thus Come One, Shakyamuni Thus Come One, Medicine Master Thus Come One, and so forth. This use of names is similar to that found among people. Everyone has his own personal name, which may be used by his peers or by those above him who know him well, but most people also have a title by which they are known to people with whom they are only distantly acquainted. Each of the Ten Designations of the Buddha has its own descriptive title. The designation Thus Come One, for example, has the title "Identity with the Former Virtuous Ones."

As for the meaning of the term "Thus Come One", "Thus" is placeless and without direction, and "Come" is a response and manifestation. "Come", therefore, can be explained as not coming from anywhere, and "Thus" as not going anywhere. The meaning of all this is that nothing comes and nothing goes. Furthermore, "Thus" is the principle of fundamental enlightenment, and "Come" is the wisdom of initial enlightenment which arises in reliance on the principle of fundamental enlightenment.

The One Worthy of Offerings. In this phrase the word "worthy" means deserving. That is to say, since he merits the offerings of men and gods, men and gods should make offerings to him. This designation, like all the others, has its particular title, "Capable of Being a Field of Merit". There are two kinds of merit fields. The first is that of self-benefit and the second that of benefiting others. To benefit oneself means to investigate truth and eliminate doubts. It is called self-benefit, since he who investigates is the one who understands. Others, however, must be taught so they may learn to do the same work. This teaching is the benefiting of others.

The One of Right and Equal Enlightenment. Right is distinguished from the wrong of outside ways. Equal is distinguished from the non-equality of the Two Vehicles, which only attain to an extreme of the emptiness principle and do not see the equality of emptiness and existence. One with enlightenment is distinguished from those who are unenlightened. The designation as a whole means that there is nothing that is not known, and this designation also has its own title, "Universal Knowledge of the Dharma Realm."

The Surangama Sutra says, "The straightness of the pine, the twining of the bramble, the whiteness of the egret, and the blackness of the crow are fully understood in their original existence." The Buddha knows the reasons for all phenomena, just as he knows every drop of rain that falls, even those outside the Three Thousand Great Thousand Worlds.

The One Perfect in Clarity and Conduct. Clarity means understanding and conduct means cultivation. Clarity is wisdom; conduct is blessings. This refers to the double perfection of the Buddha's wisdom and blessings. There are Three Kinds of Clarity:

  1. Clarity of the Heavenly Eye
  2. Clarity of Past Lives
  3. Clarity of Exhaustion of Outflows

The title of this designation is the "Display of Causal Virtues in the Result", because it is on the ground of results that the virtuous conduct cultivated on the ground of cause is made manifest.

The Well-Cone-Forth One. The title of this designation is "Wonderfully Gone to Bodhi". This title derives from the Buddha's ability to go into all Buddha-lands of the Ten Directions and use expedient devices and provisional teachings to transform living beings.

The Unsurpassed Scholar Who Comprehends the World. If one has doubts of any sort he can still be surpassed. Because the Buddha has cut off all doubts - those of views, those of thought, and those as fine as dust and sand - he is an unsurpassed scholar. Because he knows that both the body and exterior states are empty and false, and that only the Buddha vehicle is genuine, this designation has the title, "Penetrating through the Counterfeit and Reaching the Truth".

The Valiant Tamer and Guide. The Buddha regulates living beings in the Six Paths and guides them toward the result of Buddhahood. Because he guides living beings from the turning wheel of birth and death, this designation has the title, "Collecting and Teaching Beings in Accordance with the Way".

The Master of Gods and Men. He is a model for the triple world with all its gods and men. The title of this designation is "Speaking Dharma in Response to the Opportunities of Beings".

The Buddha. The title of this designation is "Fully Bright in the Three Enlightenments." The Three Enlightenments are:

  1. The Enlightenment of Self
  2. The Enlightenment of Others
  3. The Completion of Enlightenment and Conduct

The World-Honored One. Because he is honored both in and beyond the world, he has this designation, whose special title is "The Only Revered One of the Triple World". The Triple World is:

  1. The realm of desire
  2. The realm of form
  3. The formless realm

When Shakyamuni Buddha was born, he pointed one hand at heaven and the other at earth, took seven steps, and said, "In the heavens above and here below, I alone am honored." Thus he has this title. There are six additional meanings to the honorific "World-Honored One":

  1. Self-Existent
  2. Blazing
  3. Upright and Majestic
  4. Universally Renowned
  5. Auspicious
  6. Venerable and Honorable

The Ten Good Deeds practiced by the kings of the two small countries are abstention from:

  1. Killing
  2. Lying
  3. Sexual misconduct
  4. Greed
  5. Hatred
  6. Stupidity
  7. Bad speech
  8. False speech
  9. Double-tongued speech
  10. Idle talk



"Moreover, limitless asamkhyeya kalpas ago a Buddha named Pure-Lotus-Eyes Thus Come One appeared in the world. His lifespan was forty kalpas. During his Dharma-Image Period, an Arhat who had great merit and who crossed over living beings, teaching them as he encountered them, met a woman named Bright Eyes who made an offering of food to him.

" 'What is your wish?' asked the Arhat.

"Bright Eyes replied, 'On the day of my mother's death I performed meritorious deeds for her rescue, but I do not yet know in what path she has been born.'

"Out of pity for her, the Arhat entered into samadhi to contemplate, and saw that Bright Eyes' mother had fallen into an evil path where she was undergoing extremely great suffering. The Arhat asked, 'When your mother was alive, what deeds did she do that she should now be undergoing such great punishment in an evil path?'

"Bright Eyes replied, 'My mother enjoyed eating fish, turtles, and the like. She particularly relished their fried or boiled roe, and because she was fond of eating, she took thousands of lives. Oh, Venerable Compassionate One, how can she be saved?'

"The Arhat pitied her and established an expedient device and said, 'With a sincere will be mindful of Pure-Lotus-Eyes Thus Come One, and also make carved and painted images for the benefit of the living and the dead.' " On hearing this, Bright Eyes renounced everything she loved, drew an image of that Buddha, and made offerings before it. Moreover, she wept sorrowfully as she respectfully gazed at and worshiped that Buddha. Suddenly, in the small hours of the night, as if in a dream, she saw that Buddha's body, dazzling gold in color and as large as Mount Sumeru, emitting great light.

"This Buddha said to Bright Eyes, 'Before long your mother will be born in your own household and as soon as she can know hunger and cold she will speak.'

"Shortly thereafter, a maidservant in the house bore a son who spoke within three days of his birth. Lowering his head and weeping mournfully, he said, 'In life and death one must undergo retributions for his own deeds. I am your mother and have been in darkness for a long time. Since leaving you I have constantly been reborn in the great hells. As a result of receiving the power of your meritorious deeds, I have been able to be reborn, but only as a poor son of low class. My lifespan, moreover, will be short, and after thirteen years I will fall into an evil path again. Do you not have some way to effect my liberation?' "


The Arhat sat in Dhyana and investigated the plight of Bright Eyes' mother. His investigation involved an act of volition for its accomplishment, whereas Bodhisattvas are able to use their spiritual penetrations at any time, anywhere, and need not deliberately make an effort to meditate and enter samadhi.

Bright Eyes renounced everything she loved, drew an image of that Buddha, and made offerings before it. Just as the Brahman woman sold her house, Bright Eyes gave away and sold her most cherished possessions for the sake of performing an offering of incense, flowers, ointments, fruits, food and drink, clothing, bedding, and medicinal herbs before the Buddha Pure-Lotus-Eyes. Later the Buddha appeared to her as if in a dream; because of her extreme sincerity and earnestness, there was what is called an "intertwined response with the Way", and she saw the Buddha's body.



"When Bright Eyes heard the words of the servant's child, she knew without doubt that he was her mother and, choked with sobs, said to the child, 'Since you are my mother you should know your own past offenses. What deeds did you do that caused you to fall into the Evil Paths?'

"The servant's child said, 'I have undergone this retribution as a result of killing and slandering. If I had not received the merit which you earned to rescue me from difficulty, my karma would be such that I could not yet have been released.'

"On hearing this, Bright Eyes asked, 'What happens during retribution in the hells?'

"The servant's son answered, 'Merely to speak of those sufferings is unbearable, and even a hundred thousand years would not suffice to describe them all.'

"Bright Eyes heard this and wept bitterly and said into empty space, 'May my mother be eternally separated from the hells, and after these thirteen years may she be free of her heavy offenses and leave the Evil Paths. O Buddhas of the Ten Directions, have compassion and pity me. Hear the far-reaching vows which I am making for the sake of my mother. If she can leave the Three Paths forever, leave the lower classes, leave the body of a woman, and never again have to endure them, then, before the image of the Thus Come One Pure-Lotus-Eyes, I vow that from this day forth, throughout hundreds of thousands of tens of thousands of millions of kalpas, I will rescue living beings who are suffering in the hells for their offenses, and others of the Three Evil Paths. I will rescue them all and cause them to leave the realms of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, and the like. Only when the beings who are undergoing retribution for their offenses have all become Buddhas will I myself accomplish the right enlightenment.'

"After making this vow she clearly heard the Thus Come One Pure-Lotus-Eyes say to her, 'Bright Eyes, you have great compassion to be able to make such a great vow for your mother's sake. I see that your mother will cast off this body after thirteen years and will be born a Brahman with a lifespan of one hundred years. After that life she will be born with a lifespan of kalpas in the Land of No Concern, after which she will accomplish Buddhahood and cross over as many men and gods as there are sand grains in the Ganges.' "

Shakyamuni Buddha told Samadhi Self-Existent King, "The Arhat with great merit who helped Bright Eyes is now Inexhaustible-Intention Bodhisattva, the mother of Bright Eyes is Liberation Bodhisattva, and Bright Eyes herself is now Earth Store Bodhisattva. Throughout many aeons, because of his compassionate pity, he has made as many vows as there are sand grains in the Ganges to rescue living beings.

"Men and women in the future who do not practice good but do evil, who do not believe in cause and effect, who indulge in sexual misconduct and false speech, who practice double-tongued and harsh speech, and who slander the Great Vehicle, will certainly fall into the Evil Paths. But if they encounter a good, knowing adviser who, in the flick of a finger, leads them to take refuge with Earth Store Bodhisattva, those living beings will obtain release from the retribution of the Three Evil Paths. Those whose acts show deference; who are respectful with a determined mind; who gaze in worship, praise, and make offerings of flowers, incense, clothing, gems, or food and drink will be born in the heavens. There they will enjoy supremely wonderful bliss for hundreds of thousands of kalpas. When their heavenly merit is ended and they are born below in the world of men, they will be imperial kings throughout hundreds of thousands of kalpas and will be capable of remembering the causes and results of their former lives. O, Samadhi Self-Existent King, Earth Store Bodhisattva has inconceivable and ineffable great spiritual power to benefit living beings. All you Bodhisattvas should recall this sutra and proclaim and widely spread it."

Samadhi Self-Existent King said to the Buddha, 'World-Honored One, please do not be concerned. We thousands of ten thousands of millions of Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, receiving the Buddha's awesome spirit, will certainly proclaim this sutra widely throughout jambudvipa for the benefit of living beings.'

Having spoken thus to the Buddha, the Bodhisattva Samadhi Self-Existent King put his palms together respectfully, bowed, and withdrew.


Some of you may think that the study of Dharma is uncomfortable. What do you think it would be like in the hells? Although you might scream that you did not want to endure such misery, you would have no way to escape, for if the effect of your offenses is not yet extinguished, there is simply no way out. Even if you undergo a little pain in the human realm, just think how much less painful it is than being in the hells. With this attitude, no matter how badly your legs hurt when you meditate, you will always be happy and will know no suffering.

You see, as the Brahman woman on the causal ground, even Earth Store Bodhisattva was helpless and could only weep to the Buddha to save her mother from the paths of knives, of blood, and of fire, as well as those of the Three States of Woe. Now, in turn, you should all be aware that if it were not for the great vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, we might very well be undergoing retributions in the hells, tormented among the hungry ghosts, or suffering among the animals. The reason that we have become humans is that Earth Store Bodhisattva made vows to rescue us. Since we have not yet achieved the penetration of past lives, however, we do not realize the good fortune we have derived from him, how much merciful and compassionate aid we have received. If he had not made his vows, we would all be in great danger. Consequently, we should always remember to repay his kindness. Ultimately, like Bright Eyes' mother, we can be born in the Land of No Concern, which is the Western Paradise, the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Recently, when I lectured at the University of California, a student asked if Buddhists believed in cause and effect, I replied, "It is not a matter of belief or disbelief. If you believe in it, then there is such a thing as cause and effect; if you do not believe in it, cause and effect operate just the same. For example, go punch someone; you will certainly get hit back. Your initial punch is the cause, and your being beaten in return is an effect. Now, do you believe the principle that when you hit someone you will be hit in return?"

The student was speechless, even though he probably had a store of theories demonstrating the nonexistence of causal relationships. Perhaps he was afraid of being beaten up, or maybe he simply did not want to attack people, but in any case that was the end of that. Of course, you all know that you should not go around hitting people. If you do, you are planting a cause and you are going to get clobbered. That is an effect.

If you are not good to others, they will not be good to you. If you plant good seeds, you will reap good fruits. If you have bad friends, you will become a bad friend yourself, and if you have good friends, you will become like them. The principle of cause and effect applies everywhere. You needn't look around to see why people are not good to you; just ask yourself, "Am I good to them?" Always turn your light back and look inward. Do not be like a camera, which can only take pictures of other people and cannot know what its own interior looks like.

One who is given to double-tongued speech presents one face to one person and another face to another. You praise A to his face and speak with him of B's faults. When with B you speak ill of A. In this way you may cause separations and schisms, and so this offense includes one of the gravest offenses, breaking up the harmonious Sangha.

What is meant by breaking up the harmonious Sangha? The Buddhadharma is studied with bhiksus and sramaneras, and one who studies Buddhadharma cannot study on the one hand and, on the other, slander those with whom he studies. Laymen may not speak of the faults of those who have received the bhikus or sramaneras precepts. This holds true for bhiksunis, too, of course. One may not destroy or cause dissension in the Sangha, saying to one person who has left home, for example, that another one has this or that fault. This kind of activity sows the seeds of dissension and causes the harmonious Sangha to disperse. To do this is to commit one of the five grave offenses discussed earlier.

Not only the Sangha; one may also not slander the Great Vehicle. One may say there is no such thing as the Mahayana, and that only the Pali canon may be believed. The other day, for example, an insane man came here, and when he saw us studying sutras in Chinese, he asked if it had been taken from Pali. He didn't even know what Pali was, let alone understand the question of authenticity.

What is meant by good, knowing adviser? The word good in this title may be explained as able, because a good, knowing adviser is capable of knowledge; that is, he is capable of knowing, without any obstruction whatever, that the triple world is like a burning house. There are three kinds of good, knowing advisers:

  1. outward protectors
  2. fellow cultivators
  3. teachers

The first are those who supply the things necessary to support the Triple Jewel, and they act as Dharma protectors. The second, fellow cultivators, help find and correct each other's flaws. Since one may not know his own shortcomings, his fellow cultivators can help point them out. This does not mean, however, that they pick on and anger one another. Far from it. The idea behind this kind of relationship is mutual aid.

There is a bit of shop talk among lapidaries that says, "Slice, rub, and polish." To render a piece of rough jade into a beautiful gem, you must first slice it open; then you must grind away all the flaws and polish it. A similar process of self-cultivation is what is being described here.

What is a teaching good, knowing adviser? He is one who instructs beings in the Buddhadharma, who lectures on sutras and speaks Dharma in order to teach them.

A flick of a finger lasts for sixty-four ksanas, each of which in turn lasts for the space of twenty blinks of an eye and contains nine hundred births and deaths. Each of these twenty blinks is twenty thoughts long. If one can encounter Earth Store Bodhisattva, and in the flick of a finger he can return to and rely upon this Bodhisattva, offering up his life and conduct, he will completely eradicate limitless offenses meriting the states of woe.

All you Bodhisattvas should recall this sutra and proclaim and widely spread it. The reason we now have a chance to see and study this sutra is that all those Bodhisattvas have been proclaiming and spreading it. If it were not for them, we would have no way to encounter this rare Dharma jewel.


At that time the Four Heavenly Kings arose from their seats, put their palms together respectfully, and said to the Buddha. "World-Honored One, since Earth Store Bodhisattva has made such extensive vows for kalpas, why then has he not yet completed his crossing over of beings? Why does he continue to practice such vast vows? Please, World-Honored One, explain this for us."

The Buddha told the Four Heavenly Kings, "Excellent, excellent. For your benefit as well as for the benefit of men and gods of the present and future, I will speak of Earth Store Bodhisattva's works in the paths of birth and death in Jambudvipa in the Saha world. I shall speak of his expedient devices, and of his compassion and pity in rescuing, saving, crossing over, and liberating beings who are suffering for their offenses."

The Four Heavenly Kings replied, "Yes, World-Honored One, we would like to hear about his work."

The Buddha told the Four Heavenly Kings, "From kalpas long ago until the present, Earth Store Bodhisattva has crossed over and liberated living beings. Yet out of compassionate pity for those beings still suffering in the world, he has not yet completed his vows. Moreover, he sees that their causes for limitless kalpas in the future are like uncut tendrils and vines, and, because of this, he makes his mighty vows. Thus, in the continent of Jambudvipa in the Saha world, this Bodhisattva teaches and transforms beings by means of thousands of tens of thousands of myriads of expedient devices.

"Kings, to killers Earth Store Bodhisattva speaks of a retribution of a short lifespan; to robbers he speaks of a retribution of poverty and acute suffering; to practitioners of sexual misconduct he speaks of the retribution of being born as pigeons, mandarin drakes and ducks; to the foul-mouthed he speaks of the retribution of a quarreling family. To slanderers he speaks of the retribution of a tongue-less and cankerous mouth; to the hateful he speaks of being ugly and crippled; to the stingy he speaks of frustrated desires; to gluttons he speaks of the retribution of sickness, hunger, and thirst; to those who enjoy hunting, he speaks of the retribution of a frightening insanity and disastrous doom.

"To cruel parents or step-parents he speaks of the retribution of being flogged in future lives; to those who net and trap young animals, he speaks of the retribution of separation of flesh from bone; to those who slander the Triple Jewel, he speaks of the retribution of being blind, deaf, or mute; to those who slight the Dharma and regard the teachings with arrogance, he speaks of being in the Evil Paths forever; to those who recklessly use the things of the permanently dwelling, he speaks of the retribution of revolving in the hells for myriads of kalpas; to those who defile the pure conduct of others and purposely slander the Sangha, he speaks of an eternity in the animal realm; to those who scald, burn, behead, cut, or otherwise harm animals, he speaks of repayment in kind.

"To those who violate precepts and the regulations of pure eating, he speaks of the retribution of being born as birds and beasts suffering from hunger and thirst; to those who make unprincipled and destructive use of things, he speaks of the retribution of never obtaining what they seek; to those who are arrogant and haughty, he speaks of a retribution of being servile and of low class; to those whose double-tongued behavior causes dissension and disorder, he speaks of a retribution of tonguelessness and speech impediments; to those of biased views, he speaks of rebirth in the frontier regions.

"This is a general description of the hundreds of thousands of differing retributions resulting from the habitual bad deeds of body, mouth, and mind committed by the living beings of Jambudvipa. Since they have such differing responses, Earth Store Bodhisattva uses hundreds of thousands of expedient means to teach them. The living beings who commit offenses must first undergo retributions such as these, and then fall into the hells, where they pass through kalpas with no moment of escape. You should therefore protect people and protect their countries. Do not allow living beings to be confused by these manifold deeds." On hearing this the Four Heavenly Kings wept sorrowfully, placed their palms together, and withdrew.


The Four Heavenly Kings of the four directions live halfway up Mount Sumeru in palaces forty-two thousand yojanas high, made of the Seven Precious Things: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, red pearls, and carnelian. Their palaces are adorned with tiers of railings, seven layers of netting, and seven rows of trees.

The king of the east, Dhrtarastra, "he who upholds his country", has ninety-nine sons, all of whom are named Indra. He commands two groups of ghosts and spirits, fragrant spirits and malodorous spirits.

The fragrant spirits are gandharvas, musicians who are also called doubtful spirits because, although they look like humans, they have a single horn in their foreheads. When people see them, they are unsure about whether the spirits are human. Gandharvas are extremely fond of incense and will flock to places where it is burned. The Jade Emperor, the chief of the Indras, has a very rare and wonderful sandalwood which he bums to attract them. When they arrive, he has them play music for him, since he is still caught up in the realm of defiling objects and enjoys hearing music.

The malodorous ghosts, Budana, are called Pa Ta No in the Surangama Mantra. Wherever they go they are followed by a putrid stench. Both of these groups of ghosts and spirits are under the jurisdiction of the king of the east.

The king of the south is called Virudhaka, "increasing and growing", because he is able to lengthen and increase the good roots of living beings. He too has ninety-nine sons, all of whom are named Indra. In fact, each of the four kings has ninety-nine sons, all with the same name, so that there are three hundred and ninety-six Indras in all.

Virudhaka also watches over two groups of ghosts and spirits, one the Kumbhandas and the other the Pretas. The Kumbhandas, called "distant" ghosts because they like to stay far away from people, are also known as barrel ghosts or melon ghosts because of their shape. Pretas are called "proximate" ghosts because they like to be near people, and, in fact, they establish themselves as ancestral spirits at the memorial plaques people set up for their deceased relatives.

The king of the west is named Virupaksa, "many languages", because he can speak the tongues of all countries; he is also called Broad Eyes. He, like the other kings, is responsible for two groups of ghosts and spirits, the Pisaci and poison dragons. The Pisaci, called Pi Sha She in the Surangama Mantra, are also called madness ghosts because they can cause incurable insanity in people. They subsist on essential energies, particularly those of humans, and always flock to places where sexual activities are producing these substances. The other group under jurisdiction of this king is the poison dragons, whose poison may be contracted by seeing, hearing, smelling, or even just being near them.

The king of the north, Vaisravana, "widely learned", is the leader of the Four Heavenly Kings. It is in his palace that their meetings are convened. The two groups of ghosts and spirits under his command are the Yaksas and the Raksas. There are several categories of Yaksas, those who live on the ground, those in space, and those who abide in the heavens. Because Yaksas travel at more or less the speed of light, they are called speedy ghosts. Raksas, "fearsome ghosts", are so called because of their terrifying appearance. The Buddha told the Four Heavenly Kings that Earth Store Bodhisattva sees all the causes and conditions of living beings. The power of our deeds is like the tendrils that grow on plants and grasses, getting longer year after year. We commit deeds in one life and then in the next life we commit more, building up our karma. This continues life after life and the offense karma becomes heavier, while the merit we have acquired becomes lighter and lighter. With only slight meritorious virtue, you cannot become a Buddha, but if your karmic obstacles are extremely heavy, you can become a ghost.

People of little understanding say that there are no such things as ghosts. Their argument is not up to the level of a child's. Children, at least, will usually believe an explanation that is principled, whereas people who oppose belief in ghosts and spirits usually do so without paying attention to the principles involved. If there were no ghosts, there could be no Buddhas, since the difference between the two is just a turn. If the turn is made, you are a Buddha; if not, you are a ghost. Humans are in the midst of the turning, and, consequently, if their karma becomes heavier, it is very easy for them to fall into the realms of the ghosts.

In this passage of text the Buddha describes for the Four Heavenly Kings the expedient devices used by Earth Store Bodhisattva.

To robbers he speaks of a retribution of poverty and acute suffering. Stealing includes not only actual theft but also the use of people's property without their knowledge or permission. When Earth Store Bodhisattva meets people who commit this kind of offense, he tells them of the retribution of poverty. The reason there are so many poor people in the world is that there have been many who have stolen in past lives who are now undergoing the appropriate retribution. The more one steals, the poorer he will be, and the more he will have cause to fear one of the most bitter of all kinds of suffering, that of poverty.

Sexual misconduct refers to adultery and all manner of the extramarital affairs. One should not misconstrue this, however, and say that since one is married there is no problem and one can be totally unrestrained in his sexual activity with his wife. Even married couples had best decrease this activity because it leads to dullness. The more one is involved in sexual matters, the less light he has. One has light and manifests wisdom if he does not engage in sex.

The pigeon is thought to be the most lustful bird of all and can raise an amazing number of fledglings every year. Most animals and birds mate with the male above and the female below, but the pigeon is so lustful that he reverses these positions.

The emotional attachment of mandarin drakes and ducks to their mates is extremely strong, and they are absolutely inseparable, not only in the water and on land but even in the air. Although birds may seem to have independence of a sort, they are by no means free, and theirs is certainly not a good state to be in. For those who engage in sexual misconduct, the retribution of the bird realm is a likely one, and so Earth Store . Bodhisattva speaks of it to such people.

He tells those who scold, slander, lie, and speak falsely and harshly that they will always be surrounded by strife and never know peace. Those who like to prattle and talk confusedly, who slander the Triple Jewel, will be mutes or stutterers in the future. This is also the reason people sometimes develop incurable canker sores in their mouths.

To the hateful he speaks of retribution of being ugly and crippled. This retribution is spoken of to people whose natures are like those of Asuras, whose tempers flare up at the slightest provocation. When people get angry their faces turn purple arid their eyes bulge, their veins stand out, and they become quite repulsive. If you like to get angry now, you face the retribution of ugliness.

The Chinese term that refers to the retribution of being crippled actually alludes to a peculiar -inability to pass water. If you always get angry, in future lives you will not only be ugly, you will also be plagued by myriad illnesses.

There are some people, gluttons, who eat and drink non-stop from morning until night. After they eat they nap and then wake to eat again in a routine that never varies. They are totally uncontrolled, knowing no regulation or moderation. Earth Store Bodhisattva tells such people that in the future they will never be able to get their fill, and that their throats will be so diseased and swollen that they will be unable to swallow even water.

Hunters are people who take pleasure in the chase. Having killed an animal they are filled with pride, strength, and joy. To those who are totally given over to such activities, Earth Store Bodhisattva speaks of the retribution of a frightening insanity and disastrous doom. He might say, for example, "In your next life you will quite probably go mad and have an untimely death." This refers to accidental deaths like those in automobile collisions, airplane explosions, or falling in front of a speeding train - all unexpected, violent, and premature deaths. People may be led to stop hunting as a result of hearing such predictions.

Now that we are studying this sutra and have come to know these retributions, you, too, can explain them to people on appropriate occasions. You and Earth Store Bodhisattva can undertake a partnership in this work.

Confucius' disciple Min Tzu Ch'ien had a stepmother who was partial to her own son and did not like Min Tzu Ch'ien at all. In the winter, when padded garments are worn for warmth, she made a quilted and double-lined robe for her own child but a single-layered robe stuffed with rushes for Min Tzu Ch'ien. While her own son was warm and cozy, Min Tzu Ch'ien quietly endured the cold.

One day his father was riding with Min Tzu Ch'ien in a chariot and saw that the boy was trembling. Chiding the lad for shivering on what was not a very cold day, the father lashed out with his crop and ripped his son's coat. When he saw the single layer of cloth and rushes, the father wept, felt ashamed at how badly he had treated his son, and vowed to get rid of his new wife immediately.

Min Tzu Ch'ien knelt before his father and pleaded on his stepmother's behalf, saying, "When the mother is here, one son has a simple garment, but if the mother leaves, two sons will freeze." When his father confronted Min Tzu Ch'ien's stepmother with the facts, she felt shame and realized what a good stepson she had. Thereafter she treated both boys equally.

In China there were often adopted children in a family. These children were frequently treated very poorly by their stepparents The result of such treatment of stepchildren is flogging in future lives.

Separation of flesh from bone is a retribution incurred by those who trap animals, particularly very young ones. The term "flesh from bone" refers to one's family; as a retribution for this type of deed, one's family is dispersed and its members cannot see one another.

People who are blind, deaf, or mute have slandered the Triple Jewel and have fallen into the hells, where they spent countless kalpas. After their term they worked their way up to becoming animals, and, once they managed to escape the animal realm, they obtained human birth. This birth was into poor or impoverished circumstances or as mutes or blind people.

Those who purposely slander the Sangha, for example, who spread rumors of cheating, drinking, or killing about a monk who has not done anything wrong, will first fall into the hells and then spend an eternity among the animals.

To those who scald, bum, behead, cut, or otherwise injure animals, he speaks of repayment in kind. If you use boiling water or fire to get rid of ants or an insect nest, for example, or if you slice or club animals to death, you will be repaid in kind.

Violating precepts is doing that which you know quite clearly to be wrong. The offenses incurred by this class of wrongdoing are particularly heavy, much more so than when one misbehaves unknowingly. If you kill after taking the precept against killing, you are violating that precept. If you steal after receiving the precept, the same is true, and so forth for the precepts against sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants.

All these, however, are visible surface manifestations that everyone can see. There is yet another type of violation of precept, with which most people are unfamiliar, since it is invisible. There are two major kinds of precept violation: that which has form and can be seen and that which has no form and is invisible. In the Buddhadharma the latter is considered a violation of precepts just as much as is the former, even though in most other religions this is not the case.

There are four kinds of violation that have no form and cannot be seen. In the first of these, one is able to maintain the pure precepts and practice them superficially, but in the practice there remains a view of a self. "I hold the precepts, I maintain the precepts. I do this, and I do that." Although such a person may not have actually violated any precept per se, he still has not maintained the true precepts, for one who does so cannot possibly have a view that he is higher or better than others.

In the second type, one may be able to recite and quote all the sutras and regulations, yet never leave a view of the body. In the first type of violation there was always the thought of I. In this case, although there is not constant thought of I, continual attention is paid to the body, which is never allowed to be the least bit uncomfortable. If one prefers a lazy and sloppy body and continues to pamper it, even though such a person has not violated any specific precept, neither has he truly maintained the precepts.

The third category of violation is related to those who are able to practice the Twelve Dhuta, ascetic practices. Such practices are cultivated with great energy, vigor, and alertness. "I never sleep, yet I have great energy; instead of sleeping I just sit and meditate. Others like to eat, but I don't even drink water." Although one may follow austere practices, he may also retain the view that things still exist, and he may not have relinquished the view of a self. One who cultivates such practices, but who has not yet seen through the emptiness of self and things, may seem to be holding precepts, but in fact his cultivation is still far off the mark.

In the fourth category, one may practice and maintain a heart of great compassion toward all beings, yet be frightened or alarmed on hearing that dharmas are empty, neither produced nor destroyed. In this case, as in the three above, even though there has been no actual violation of precepts, the moral conduct is far from perfected.

Pure eating refers not only to abstaining from meat but to eating at prescribed times. If, for example, one has vowed not to eat after noon and then does so, he not only violates the precept regarding pure eating, he violates the precept against stealing as well. When asked whether or not he has eaten, such a person may reply that he has not and thus also violate the precept against lying. The one who supplies food to the violator also violates precepts in these cases, and the Buddha said of all such persons, "They are not my disciples." Such persons are like garbage-eating seabirds or dung-eating ghosts. They are extremely unfortunate, and Earth Store Bodhisattva warns them that they may suffer the retribution of becoming hungry birds and beasts.

Those who make unprincipled and destructive use of things will also undergo retribution. Take, for example, a teacup that could have a long period of useful functioning. If, for no good reason, you decide to smash it and render it useless, you are committing the offense mentioned here. This principle applies not only to teacups but to anything which belongs to the permanently dwelling or to private individuals. In the future, those who commit this offense will be unable to fulfill their wishes and will never obtain what they seek.

Biased views refer to those who absolutely refuse to comply with rules.

The habitual bad deeds of body, mouth, and mind, the three evils, are ten in all. Three pertain to the body: killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. There are four evils of the mouth: idle speech, false speech, evil speech, and double-tongued speech. There are three evils of the mind: greed, hatred, and stupidity. Taken together, these are called the Ten Evil Deeds.

After hearing this, the Four Heavenly Kings wept sorrowfully, placed their palms together, and withdraw. They wept, on one hand, for those many beings who had to endure such sufferings and, on the other, from shame that they had not fulfilled their responsibility to protect living beings. They were greatly moved, placed their palms together, and withdrew.