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Essential Teachings of the Sutra of Earth Treasure

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Foreword

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Even though there are numerous Sutras in Buddhism, and yet only very few among them are widely propagated and recited as regular practices. The Sutra on the Original Vows of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure is one among such few ones in Chinese Buddhism. Furthermore, there are many practitioners who concentrate on the worship of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure and the recitation of this Sutra of Earth Treasure. As a Buddhist practitioner who emphasizes on solid practices I, therefore, have made special efforts to propagate such kind of Sutras, with the hope that, through their increasing popularity, the subsequent result in helping beings would be more prominent. As my efforts along this direction I have written in Chinese and English several works on Buddha Expounding Amitabha Sutra, The Heart Sutra, Sutra of Medicine Guru Buddha, and, so far only in Chinese, on The Diamond Sutra. In addition, I have also translated from Chinese into English the Universal Gates Chapter of Bodhisattva Guan Shi Yin.

In this article I will expound on the essential points of the Sutra of Earth Treasure. I hope to make a succinct, clear and simple presentation of the essential teachings from this Sutra.

It is convenient to do summary in a computer. Upasaka Hung Kwok Sing provided me with a file of this Sutra in Chinese that he found on the Internet. I went over a printout of the file and made revisions on it. Then Kwok Sing modified the file accordingly. Then I read the Sutra three times and noted down key points and my related thoughts under four categories:

  1. Examples as set by Earth Treasure
  2. Key Items of Actual Practice
  3. Essential Teachings of Dharma
  4. Answers to Puzzles

And then in computer, under these four categories, I copied down relevant passages from the Sutra. Reading the Sutra in this way made it easy to grasp the key points therein and to discover subtle meanings that were previously overlooked. Therefore, this classification of relevant passages from the Sutra also went through careful reading of the Sutra for several times to become finalized.

The title for this article was originally intended to be "Key Essence of the Sutra of Earth Treasure." However, in order to present it as a prose for easy reading, the title has been replaced by the present one. In this article there will be no comprehensive quotation of passages from the Sutra lest readers would feel heavy while reading it. Furthermore, my related thoughts will not be fully presented; instead, only a few important points will be brought up so as to render the essentials more conspicuous.

In this article I will, first of all, sort out the vows, deeds, teachings and merits of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure from stories told in the Sutra, so as to illustrate an epitome for practicing the Bodhisattva path. Then I will classify various kinds of practices taught in the Sutra, and indicate their underlying significance, in order to inspire readers toward actually adopting them as regular practices. Next I will bring out the basic principles that run through the whole Sutra so that readers may grasp its essence and infiltrate such understanding into their practices. Thus the practices will be more meaningful and the realization accrued will be more profound. Finally I will provide explanations to puzzles mentioned in the Sutra and questions that modern people might raise so that faith would increase and hindrances on the path would be reduced.

Based on my understanding of the Sutra as a result of writing this article, in the near future I will compile a "Sadhana of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure." I hope to offer a ritual text for regular practice that is based on the Sutra and incorporates the essentials of the Sutra. Thus Buddhists who are interested in practices centered on Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would find it more direct and convenient to adopt those practices in a meaningfully unified sequence. Hopefully such a ritual text will someday help yield many practitioners who could function as duplicate bodies of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure.

I. The Epitome as Set by Bodhisattva Earth Treasure

1. Vows Pledged over Numerous Past Lives

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Over countless past lives Bodhisattva Earth Treasure had repeatedly pledged numerous vows all aiming at the salvation of beings suffering in the six realms of transmigration.

In one past life the Bodhisattva was a man. He saw the grandeur features of a Buddha, and asked the Buddha about how to cultivate such results. That Buddha taught him that one needs to continually help rescue all suffering beings. Thereupon he pledged an expansive vow that he would contrive to employ numerous helpful means to rescue sentient beings in the six realms until all would be liberated. Only then will he attend to his own ultimate enlightenment.

Once in a past life the Bodhisattva was a devout female Buddhist. However, her mother not only lacked faith in Buddhism but also disparaged the Triple Gems. Even though she constantly used different ways to induce her mother to have faith in Buddhism, it did not succeed before her mother passed away. After her mother passed away she sold family properties to make offerings to a Buddha. Her filial mind and exceptional piety moved that Buddha to instruct her to sit erect and chant the epithet of that Buddha. She followed the instruction and maintained the practice for one day and one night, then she found out that her mother, who was originally suffering in hell, had gained rebirth in some heaven through the merits she had accumulated by making offerings to the Buddha. Even all other beings that were suffering in the hell at the same time with her mother had obtained the same meritorious benefits and gained rebirth in heavens. Therefore, she pledged that she would, without intermission, use all sorts of helpful means to rescue all suffering beings.

In another past life the Bodhisattva was a king. Even though people in his kingdom committed all sorts of evil deeds, still he engaged in many charitable activities to benefit them. Furthermore, he pledged that, unless all these beings suffering from sins would change for the better and ultimately attain liberation, security and happiness, he would not attend to his own ultimate liberation.

In yet another past life the Bodhisattva was a woman. On the memorial day of her deceased mother she prepared foods as offering to practitioners, with the hope that the merits thus accrued would help her mother to be rescued. Her offering was received by an Arhat. The Arhat had mercy on her, so he entered Samadhi to observe the matter for her. He saw that her mother was suffering in hell. The Arhat taught her to install an image of a Buddha and sincerely repeat the epithet of that Buddha. She followed the instruction and practiced accordingly. She then saw in a dream the Buddha telling her that her deceased mother would be born into her household, and the baby would be able to speak not long after birth. Later a maid gave birth to a child that could speak within three days. The baby told her that this life would last for thirteen years only. In order to rescue her mother she pledged the great vow that she would rescue all beings suffering in the three bad realms of hells, hungry ghosts and animals, and that, only after all such beings have attained full enlightenment, would she attend to her own ultimate enlightenment.

Just as the past-life stories mentioned above, over countless past lives Bodhisattva Earth Treasure had repeatedly pledged numerous great vows to rescue and liberate all suffering beings. Furthermore, all such efforts were based on the pure sincerity that he or she would reap the ultimate fruit of enlightenment only after all suffering beings would have enjoyed it. Consequently, both the beings that he has rescued and the beings that he would eventually rescue are countless. Since not all the suffering beings have attained liberation, he continues to engage in rescue missions and salvation activities as opportunities arise. Therefore, even up to this moment he is still conducting the works of a Bodhisattva. His wisdom, compassion, supernatural powers, ability to debate and variegated merits are all inconceivable. Indeed, he has long since accumulated all the conditions for attainment of Buddhahood. Nevertheless, in order to rescue suffering beings he has voluntarily taken upon himself the heavy duty of serving as a humble and helpful Bodhisattva. Such merciful kindness makes all beings that understand him to feel especially close and dear to him, and adore and admire him dearly. Among the profound deeds of salvation of great Bodhisattvas, it is commonly recognized that, as far as the depth and expanse of great vows are concerned, the ultimate epitome is as set by Bodhisattva Earth Treasure through his repeatedly pledging great vows over countless lives to rescue suffering beings without omission and with priority over his own well-being.

2. Salvation through Countless Helpful Means

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In order to rescue all suffering sentient beings Bodhisattva Earth Treasure transformed through supernatural powers into countless duplicate bodies that would appear at wherever suffering beings are. Even to hells where beings with heavy evil karmas are suffering Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would not refrain from visiting for the sake of salvation. Such a spirit of sacrificing oneself to rescue others is demonstrated in a well-known saying attributed to him, "If I don't enter the hell (for the mission of salvation), who else would follow suit?"

Whenever he comes across people who committed bad deeds he would guide and advise them based on the principle of causes and consequences so that they would initiate their own self-reform. For example, to people who are wasteful he would advise that, since resources are limited, if one does not use things with proper care, then there will be shortage in the future. To people who arbitrarily disparage others he would advise them to put mouth and tongue to good uses lest they would regret to no avail when they get disease of the mouth in the future. To people who hurt small animals he would advise that, in order to prevent one's own sons and daughters from being harmed, one should start with advocating the protection of the meek and weak. Otherwise, sooner or later, oppression of the powerless would fall upon one's own children.

Due to Bodhisattva Earth Treasure's profound and expansive compassion and penetrating and congenial wisdom he is capable of providing suitable guidance and advice to each and every kind of bad karma as committed by all sorts of sentient beings. His guidance comes with good reasons, and his motive is simply for the long-term benefits and happiness of those beings that he is helping, consequently, those receiving his help are all moved by his good intention and find it necessary to pay attention to his rational advice. Therefore, they gradually become converted by him and would stay away from doing harm. Furthermore, owing to their admiration for the example set by his personal behaviors, they would try to imitate him, and gradually walk steadily on the right and safe path of practicing Bodhi.

3. Humbleness with Perpetual Gratitude

Through Bodhi services conducted over countless lifetimes Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has accumulated inconceivable merits and cultivated his wisdom, compassion, supernatural powers and ability to debate to unfathomable extent. Nevertheless, he never assumes that he possesses any notable merit or power. As regards any service rendered to sentient beings or any display of supernatural powers, he always acknowledges that the accomplishment is completely due to Buddha's teachings and supernatural blessings. He understands the law of causal connections and emphasizes the grace of Buddhas; therefore, he is completely free from the biased attitude of assuming one's own merits. Beneath his humbleness lies the great wisdom of not being blinded by self-deceit; and in the absence of self-arrogance there is a natural flow of serenity and simplicity so that he is found easy to get along with by other beings.

4. Merits Inconceivable

Due to the inconceivable merits that Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has accumulated over countless lifetimes sentient beings, upon hearing his epithet or seeing his images, would be rid of sinful karmas accumulated over many lifetimes, and obtain a causal connection that would eventually lead to full enlightenment. If one could salute, make offerings and exclaim praises to his images, then the meritorious benefits accrued would include increase in wisdom, extinction of hardships and calamities, increase in good fortunes, lengthening of life-span, etc. All these inconceivable merits are believed to be true by many Buddhists up to this day, not only because they have faith in the Sutras but also due to a tradition, lasting over centuries, of accumulated inspirational experiences of practitioners that followed the Sutra in their lives.

5. Carrying on the Mission Entrusted by the Buddha

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The endless vows and salvation activities of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure are deeply appreciated and praised by Buddha Sakyamuni; therefore, in the assembly of all Buddhas, heavenly beings, dragons, gods and ghosts the Buddha exclaimed praises on him and publicly entrusted the mission of rescuing suffering beings to him. Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would not fail the Buddha's expectations. Continuing in his constant and determined manner he acknowledged his willingness to carry on the mission. He further pleaded with the Buddha not to worry about suffering beings because he would make sure that they would all be well taken care of. For sentient beings that had as tiny good connection with the Dharma as one hair, one dust, one sand or one drop, even at the instant they reached the door of hell, Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would employ all kinds of helpful means to rescue them so as to help them escape suffering and attain happiness.

The entrustment by the Buddha amounts to his appraisal that Bodhisattva Earth Treasure's Bodhi vows and activities are perfect. What go through and connect all boundless compassionate vows and endless salvation activities of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure are the great wisdom, great compassion, great mercy and great strength that spring forth from complete immersion in the oneness of Dharmadhatu.

6. Inspired Protection from Gods and Ghosts

Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has been carrying out his boundless vows of compassionate salvation for numerous lifetimes without intermission. His deeds have not only won the praises, approval and entrustment of Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas, but also inspired many heavenly beings, dragons, gods and ghosts to develop their Bodhi vows and activities. They voluntarily participate in supporting and protecting Dharma activities, especially to support and protect practitioners who practices the teachings of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure in accordance with the Sutra of Earth Treasure.

II. Ways to Imitate Bodhisattva Earth Treasure

1. Expressing Wholehearted Admiration

In order to imitate the profound vows and salvation activities that spring from the boundless wisdom and compassion of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure we could have his images painted or sculptured, and admire, salute and exclaim praises to them, and make all sorts of offerings to them, such as offering lamps, incenses, flowers, foods, drinks and music. This kind of activities does not constitute idol worship; rather we are simply using the images to represent his wise and compassionate mind, and to remind us of his noble and holy deeds. In this way we are able to express our admiration to the high moral and spiritual epitome as set by his deeds, and thereby enhance our aspiration to imitate and carry out such deeds.

Serving and making offerings to images of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure is not an enacting, but a practice to serve all sentient beings as reverently as how we serve the Bodhisattva. Images of the Bodhisattva while receiving our services would neither refuse nor criticize us, and hence they are much easier to serve than ordinary sentient beings. And yet they have thereby also become a strict test to our sincerity. Under such circumstances, were our services merely superficial, then the practice would amount to plain self-deceit. Having gone through such training in service, later when we are serving sentient beings in real life it would be easier for us to remain humble and maintain a gentle and patient attitude.

Due to the supernatural powers and merits of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure he could dispatch duplicate bodies to reside in images that are ardently worshiped so as to confer blessings constantly to devoted worshipers. Therefore, we should not insist that images made of clay or wood, or painted with oil color or water-color would remain mere idols but cannot produce inspirational functions.

2. Recalling the Profound Grace of His Vows and Deeds

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For the sake of us sentient beings that are entangled by karmas and deluded by prejudices and partialities Bodhisattva Earth Treasure repeatedly pledged, life after life, compassionate vows to rescue us until our ultimate enlightenment, and never to forsake us, even those among us with heavy sinful karmas, for a short moment. Furthermore, he would constantly employ all sorts of helpful means to guide us and teach us. We should constantly recall the profound grace of such a great mind, and make efforts to imitate his vows and deeds so as to help carry on his mission. Through regular recitation of the Sutra of Earth Treasure and repetition of his holy epithet, "Namo Bodhisattva Earth Treasure" or "Bodhisattva Earth Treasure," his grace and example will gradually root deeply in our minds to become the impetus and guidepost of our Bodhi aspirations and endeavors.

3. Expanding the Holy Mission of Salvation

Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has accumulated inconceivable merits through his Bodhi missions and services. Relying on our faith in his inconceivable merits and supernatural powers we may pray to him to ask for help in many matters that have no worldly solutions. From safe delivery of babies to peaceful passage of dying beings, from sound sleeps and sweet dreams to security in travels, from recovery from chronic diseases to natural emancipation of people in coma, from accomplishment of wishes to lengthening of life-span, and even from the development of wisdom to the fulfillment of Bodhi, all such matters may be blessed and helped by the Bodhisattva through our practices of repetition of his name, recitation of his sutra, saluting, praising, and making offerings to him. In order to imitate the boundless vows and deeds of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure, we should recommend all these practices to people so that they may share the merits and benefits through actual adoption of such practices. Furthermore, we should constantly pray for all suffering beings through engaging in these practices so that they may soon obtain the blessings of Buddhas and attain ultimate liberation.

4. Dedicating Merits to Dharmadhatu as a Whole

Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has not attained Buddhahood because his compassion encompasses all sentient beings so that his priority is to benefit others. We should learn to acquire such a spirit. While engaging in any Dharma activity the motivation should begin with the Bodhi aspiration that wishes all sentient beings to soon attain ultimate liberation. In addition, at the completion of any Dharma activity, the merits accrued should be immediately and completely dedicated to all sentient beings in the Dharmadhatu. Only then is the Dharma activity truly completed.

III. Fundamental Principles of the Sutra of Earth Treasure

1. Dharmadhatu.Being Boundless in Space and Time

Dharmadhatu is boundless and immeasurable. In any direction there are countless worlds. Time is endless and limitless in the past as well as in the future. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other holy beings are countless and immeasurable. Heavenly beings, dragons, gods, ghosts, and sentient beings in the six realms are also numberless and countless.

2. The Law of Causal Connections and Consequences

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Transmigration of sentient beings in the six realms, formation of all kinds of worlds and lands, variations in environments and ecology of the six realms, and even up to the fruition of virtues and merits of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, all of these appear as results of causal connections in accordance with the universal law of causes and consequences.

3. Right Awakening to the Oneness of Dharmadhatu

The law of causal connection and consequences has no partiality and makes no exceptions; therefore, there is no determinant factor that is independent of others. All things are mutually dependent for their coexistence; they are causes and consequences of one another. When this basic principle is not understood, beings would strive for self-interests and expect the impossible. Once it is understood, we can only strive toward the harmony and fusion of the whole Dharmadhatu.

4. Compassion Based on Empathy of One and Others

Personal security or danger is immediate and readily detected and cared about. Under considerations of worldly gains and losses and personal conveniences, empathetic care for others is already a rare quality of charity. A special greatness of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure is that, out of wholehearted love and fidelity he would pledge vows that immediately expand to cover all suffering beings, and furthermore, the salvation mission that he undertakes is endless in time and space.

5. Salvation without Forsaking the Least Connection

The connection between Dharma teachings and individual sentient beings vary to great extent. From no connection at all to various depths of familiarity, from partial contact to full-range versatility, sentient beings get their shares of the Dharma according to their karmas. It is easy to push a boat in the direction of the flow, or to add ornamental flowers onto silks. The greatness of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure lies in his personal attendance to rescue missions despite deplorable circumstances; he even entered hells to convert and help the most sinful and stubborn beings. In order to rescue any sentient being that had the slightest connection with the Dharma he would employ hundreds of thousands of helpful means to supplement the Dharma connection. Even right at the very instant before a sinful being will receive the retribution, if the epithet of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, or one sentence from some Sutra, is repeated or heard, then Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would employ his supernatural power to avert their predicament. This kind of salvation endeavors fully demonstrates the compassion born of oneness of Dharmadhatu.

In summation, the fundamental principle of the Sutra of Earth Treasure is as follows:

From the viewpoint that encompasses the whole Dharmadhatu, in accordance with the law of causal connections and consequences, to engage in the endless mission of rescuing all suffering beings so that all beings would become awakened to the truth of "the oneness of Dharmadhatu with all things being mutually and causally dependent on one another," and thereby thoroughly escape the narrow bondage of partial grasping. Consequently, all beings would melt into the oneness of Dharmadhatu and abide in boundless openness and tranquility.

IV. Explanations to Puzzles

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In the Sutra of Earth Treasure teachings are often revealed through questions and answers. The holy ones, who raised the questions even though they had known the answers already, often did it on purpose just to benefit sentient beings that still lacked understanding of such matters. The holy ones, who gave the answers, would not claim to be knowledgeable, instead they always acknowledged that it was only due to the blessing and supernatural power of Buddha that they could have provided the answers. Most of the questions raised below are the ones that modern people might have when they read this Sutra; as to the answers I provide they are all based on Buddhist teachings and principles.

1. Puzzles Mentioned in the Sutra

Most of the questions raised in the Sutra are requests for teachings on facts or reasons that are commonly unknown. But there are also a few that are out of puzzlement. Below we list only the latter kind.

Q1. The Four Heavenly Kings asked, "Bodhisattva Earth Treasure had pledged, life after life, numerous vows to rescue suffering beings; why is it that, even though up to now the conversion and salvation have not completed, and yet he has pledged more expansive vows of salvation?"

A1. In reply the Buddha taught, "Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has long since been rescuing sentient beings without intermission. Up to now he has not completely fulfilled the countless vows he had pledged in the past. His great compassion makes it impossible for him to ignore the sentient beings at present; his great wisdom makes him understand that the mutual causal interactions between sentient beings' deeds and retributions would evolve without break. The unification of his wisdom and compassion moves him to pledge more expansive vows in order to rescue all sentient beings without leaving anyone out." Q2. Emperor Yan Luo asked, "Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has applied inconceivable supernatural powers through thousands of hundreds of helpful means to rescue suffering beings in the six realms; why is it the case that sentient beings, not long after they had been rescued, would fall into bad realms again?" A2. In reply the Buddha taught, "Long since had suffering beings been rescued by Bodhisattva Earth Treasure. Even when they had fallen into the depth of bad realms Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would manage to help them realize past karmic conditions so that they would not be angry but instead would know to repent and thereby gain rebirth. Unfortunately sentient beings either have too heavy bad habits or lack constant propensity so that they would soon get lost once they enter certain situations. Therefore, they repeatedly fall into bad realms, and thereby burden Bodhisattva Earth Treasure to continue in lengthy and endless salvation activities." 2. Puzzles to Modern Readers

Q1. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure a heavenly palace, hells, and countless gods and ghosts are mentioned. Do they really exist? Or do they just constitute a pedagogical device for the conversion of people who lack scientific knowledge?

A1. The existence of gods and ghosts, to some people it is a natural gift that they can experience since birth. To some such experience of communication comes only after some relative or friend has passed away, and the experiences usually arise in a dream state. To some it occurs under special circumstances or at some particular spots. For practitioners such experiences are common. Although gods and ghosts do not exist in the physical plane, nevertheless their existence does not rely on human superstition or illusion. From the point of view that all phenomena are products of causal conditions, even though the existence of gods and ghosts could not be detected with certainty by limited human knowledge, it is nevertheless not the result of wild imagination nor of psychological disorder, rather they are naturally experienced under certain causal conditions. The reality of gods and ghosts, just as the reality of all things in the world, are experienced when causal conditions are met.

Even though there are people with dubious intentions that use stories of gods and ghosts to deceive and manipulate others, such kind of behavior is irrelevant to the question of the reality of gods and ghosts. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure gods, ghosts, heavenly beings and dragons are mentioned; the basis of such references is the various levels of existence and all sorts of sentient beings in the Dharmadhatu as witnessed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Such references are not mere pedagogical devices for conversion.

The sphere that can be covered by scientific knowledge is rather limited. For example, "black holes" that are detected by astronomers undoubtedly exist, and yet their properties could not be explained in terms of ordinary spatial and temporal framework. In other words, inside black holes the space-and-time framework has no meaning. In the Milky Way alone there are millions of such black holes. The heavenly bodies that are observable by light constitute only about one tenth of all the masses that are detectable through deduction. The remaining nine tenth masses of "black bodies" are still beyond the observation of astronomers. If we apply scientific knowledge to set the boundaries of experiences, it would be more absurd than the practice of trimming feet to fit shoes.

As to the existence of hells, heavenly palaces, and Buddhas' Purelands one could rely on the experiences of practitioners or those people who resurrected after a short period of death.

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If the above explanation is not convincing enough for the reader, then I can only suggest that the reader might want to try adopting a chanting practice of a holy epithet such as "Amitabha," "Bodhisattva Guan Yin" or "Bodhisattva Earth Treasure," and maintain the practice constantly. After years of such practices the reader will definitely have some supernatural experiences. Then the reader would know that what are mentioned in the Sutras are not just vain talks.

Q2. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure there are many descriptions of retributions for sins in all sorts of hells; is it a way to deter people from committing evil deeds through scary tactics? In addition, it is stated that people who disparaged Buddhist teachings, took advantage of monastic properties or stained members of the Sangha would fall into hells; is it a display of intolerance to different views, and a proof of lack of compassion and much interest in haggling that result in a tendency to punish offenders of the Buddhist religion?

A2. It is clearly indicated in the Sutra of Earth Treasure that the purpose of a detail description of retributions for sins in hells is for sentient beings to understand the terrible consequences of karmas, and thereby be induced to seek the path of liberation from such sufferings and to take refuge in Buddhist teachings. This kind of explanation is simply a description of the causes and consequences of karmas so as to help people understand how to avoid bad consequences and amend for past misdeeds. That a person will receive retribution for sins committed is a natural evolution of causal events. It is not the case that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had used their supernatural powers to create hells in order to punish sinners. Therefore it is not a case of preventive persuation through threatening powers; rather, it is an awakening call through illumination of reality.

It is also clearly indicated in the Sutra that not only retribution for sins in hells is karmic consequences of misdeeds of sentient beings but also the superior or inferior qualities of environments in all sorts of worlds are causal results of common karma. Sentient beings are incapable of foreseeing the consequences of their deeds; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, out of great compassion, would warn them in advance so that sentient being would be spared undesirable consequences. There is not the least trace of any intention to punish or haggle in giving such warnings.

As to people who disparaged Buddhist teachings, took advantage of monastic properties or stained members of the Sangha, the retribution for such misdeeds does not stem from some lack of tolerance of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas; rather, it is simply a natural consequence of blocking the opportunity for many people to develop faith in Buddhist teachings and thereby gain liberation from suffering. For such a serious damage done to the public, the retribution is of course heavy and serious in kind.

Q3. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure it is said that the causal conditions for going to hells are either by supernatural powers or by the force of karma. What are the differences between these two conditions?

A3. Going to hells by the force of karma is totally involuntary. One's past activities will bring about causal consequences when time and related conditions become mature. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have attained transcendence of transmigration. They no longer commit activities that arise out of grasping to self, and hence they don't have self-centered karma and retribution of such karma. However, out of natural operation of compassion in oneness they all voluntarily appear in the six realms to rescue sentient beings. Wherever they appear in the six realms, it is only through their supernatural powers and merits but not karma. Therefore, they are always free to come and free to leave.

In the Sutra of Earth Treasure it is taught that "all sentient beings that are not yet liberated have no steady propensity or cognition. Bad habits result in karmas; good habits result in fruits. Their doing good or doing harm are dependent on the environments." This explains the fact that being that are not liberated yet, due to their lack of steady propensity or cognition, would change with changes in environments. In other words, due to their grasping to forms and reacting accordingly, they are not free in their activities. From this it can be inferred that a liberated being's propensity and cognition have attained certainty, and would not evolve with changes in environments. In other words, they do not grasp to forms but instead have freedom. Thus, the absence or presence of freedom is the fundamental distinction between being pulled by karma and appearing by supernatural powers.

Q4. Buddhism teaches about transmigration and rebirth; how could we believe in such matters? In the Sutra of Earth Treasure it is even claimed that Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has power of helpful means such that he could dig up the fundamental karmic conditions of sentient beings so that they could comprehend past-life events; is it real?

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A4. There are many types of recorded cases that could help support the evidence for rebirth and past lives. In one type of cases a child would gradually, after learning to speak, talk about past-life events, including all sorts of personal secrets, and the child could demonstrate the ability to recognize relatives and friends from past life. In another type of cases a child would gradually speak a language learned in past life, even though the present life has not offered any opportunity for contact with that language. Some scientists did researches on this topic, and their professional judgement concludes that the best plausible explanation is the fact of rebirth and past lives. The Tibetan institution of recognizing reincarnated lamas is sustained through strict systems of testing and confirmation, and the decisions are usually accompanied by supportive inspirational experiences of high lamas or advanced practitioners. Practitioners could gradually learn about their past-life events and connections. If it is difficult for ordinary people to accept this kind of view, there is a possibility that they could experience such knowledge themselves through engaging in Dharma practices for years.

Among the records of inspirations related to Bodhisattva Earth Treasure there are many cases when the Bodhisattva would appear and personally lead people to visit hells to witness past-life causal events. In 1997 in the Jin Ning Shan Monastery in Zhang Hua, Taiwan, I heard Upasaka Xu Bei Xin said the following story: Once in a sitting posture he was reciting the Sutra of Earth Treasure. He became tired and fell asleep. Then he saw Bodhisattva Earth Treasure brought him down to visit hells. There he was shown his past life when he was a government official and wrongfully executed three lives. Therefore, he asked me to help release these three lives from transmigration through merits accumulated by the fire puja to Amitabha Buddha that I was about to perform. As soon as the fire puja was done, he immediately felt very relieved. This is a case experienced by a person of our time; I am carefully adding one more record of the inconceivable salvation activities of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure.

Q5. Why do we need to perform offerings of all kinds of substances to images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? Do they really need those materials and could enjoy them? Once the offerings have been presented they would in fact be consumed by us; why not use those money on charities? Not to mention the fact that in the Sutra of Earth Treasure it is also said that almsgiving out of compassion to help the poor, needy, suffering, or disabled beings would generate merits equal to making offerings to Buddhas.

A5. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have realized oneness of all, and hence they are not in need or pursuit of anything. However, on the side of sentient beings, if their worship is limited to only mental expressions or visualizations without the involvement of bodily actions such as prostration, and they are not used to making substantial offerings, then it would be very difficult to achieve refuge and faith that are completely devoted and involve unification of body and mind. Consequently, a thorough and complete change in personality could not be achieved, and hence one could not become liberated from habitual self-centered inclinations. Furthermore, since it is used to be a mere verbal or mental expression of taking refuge and worship, it could easily deteriorate into a casual formality. Therefore, substantial offering and physical actions of salutation are indispensable Dharma practices.

Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can receive both our sincerity in making the offerings and the essence of the substances offered. Furthermore, they would use supernatural powers to transform the offerings into blessing nectars. Therefore, before we partake of the materials that have been offered to them, we should thank them for the blessings. In the Buddhist tantric ritual of making offerings through fire, Homa, all the offerings are offered into the fire altar to be burned to ashes. In this way a complete offering with nothing to be taken back is made. Nevertheless, the blessing from Buddha is all the same even in the absence of material nectars.

Making offerings to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, on the one hand, it is a practice for a practitioner's own cultivation with its significance and effects, on the other hand, it is an act of praying for the ultimate liberation from suffering for all sentient beings, and hence it is of no less importance than ordinary worldly charities. In this latter aspect, it is not true that just through worldly charities we could have achieved the same results. Therefore, even though we should practice charity, we should not omit or ignore Dharma practices of making offerings.

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Q6. Isn't it the teaching of Buddhism that one needs to practice Dharma in order to eradicate one's own karma while Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can only help by pointing out the correct path? If we worship images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, then how could we distinguish Buddhism from religious faiths that rely completely on salvation through God?

A6. Even for religions that rely on salvation through God they would not say that there is no need to pay attention to abiding by commandments and cultivation of body and mind. Religions that denounce idol-worshiping would still use images, cathedrals or holy sites for the faithful ones to revere, gather or make pilgrimages to. Having seen only a small portion of the practices or theories, while still without an in-depth understanding of the whole subject, and yet already rushed to a prejudiced judgement, such is the cause for some unnecessary problems to arise.

Even though it is explicitly taught in Buddhism that one should not grasp to and become limited by form, and emphasized that one should practice in accordance with the law of causes and consequences, nevertheless, it has not excluded the possibility of deeds of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas that arise from their compassion and consist of all sorts of helpful means to help and guide sentient beings. The no grasping to form as taught in Buddhism includes no grasping to a complete absence of forms. Furthermore, it advocates that one should let the mind arise in the absence of grasping. Thus, it teaches that one should be able to make lively uses of form as well as non-form. Therefore, using images for the practice and expression of one's sincere veneration, taking refuge, and ardent faith so that all sensual functions are intricately involved to produce a total commitment is a very wise way to make use of images. It is not an ignorant idol worship that is merely a grasping to certain sculptures as hastily judged to be by those who had had no in-depth experiences of the practices.

Q7. Why would paying respects and making offerings to images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, monks, nuns, Buddhist pagodas, monasteries or nunneries yield so many good results of reduction of karma and increase of meritorious benefits as described in the Sutra of Earth Treasure?

A7. In the Buddhist teachings the beneficial results are not enumerated arbitrarily as a means to attract blind following of the multitude. Dharma emphasizes that all are established through the coordination of conditions, and the following of consequences from causes are determined by relevant conditions. What we don't know are so much and what we know is so little, therefore, it is hard to believe upon first hearing the meritorious benefits of veneration and making offerings. Dharma realizes that such disbelief is rampant, therefore it often uses "inconceivable" to describe matters that are beyond worldly common sense. If we know about the devotion and sacrifices that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have contributed, in many lives spreading over innumerable kalpas, toward salvation of sentient beings, and the blessings that people could receive through life-long engagement in Dharma practices, believing in the Buddhist teachings, and maintaining veneration for monks, nuns, pagodas, monasteries and nunneries, then it will be easy to understand that all those various kinds of meritorious benefits as described in the Sutra are still completely within the sphere of matching causes and consequences.

Q8. Why is it that just through listening to an epithet of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, or one sentence or one gatha from some Sutra, or through having one thought of taking refuge in Buddhas and Bodhisattvas there will be inconceivable effects in reduction of karma and cultivation of merits?

A8. The epithets of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas and sentences or gathas from Sutras all contain blessing power of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. They also represent the great compassion and boundless merits accumulated through salvation activities of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Therefore, when a sentient being has the opportunity to listen to them their function in reduction of karma and cultivation of merits would instantaneously apply. A thought of taking refuge in Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would not casually arise in a person. Rather, it is only when both the environment and opportunity are conducive and appropriate would one take refuge in Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Right at the instant when such a thought of taking refuge arises the power of the totality of the Dharmadhatu from which the omnipresent and eternal blessing power of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas derives would start to apply. Therefore, inconceivable effects would result in reduction of karma and cultivation of merits. The most fundamental principle is that Buddhas and sentient beings are originally in limitless oneness. Through the conveyance by holy epithets or passages from Sutras and the acceptance in the arising of a thought of taking refuge the fortunate person becomes able to share the merits and wisdom of the whole Dharmadhatu. Consequently, the effects are prominent and beyond worldly expectations and considerations.

Q9. What is the use of performing Buddhist services and activities for those deceased persons? Could they still indeed receive the ensuing benefits? According to Buddhist teachings they would have taken a rebirth in forty-nine days after death; for those past away beyond forty-nine days is it still necessary to conduct those Dharma activities for their benefits? Isn't it too late to rescue them, and so we just have to give up those efforts?

A9. There are many cases of friends or relatives of a deceased person dreaming of the deceased coming to convey some messages. These include cases when the friend or relative had not yet learned of the deceased's passing away but was notified about it by the deceased. Thus it is obvious that we could not arbitrarily interpret such cases merely as illusive dreaming under the impact of the news of death. When a practitioner conducts Buddhist rituals to help deceased beings, sometimes the deceased would appear to receive the benefits of the Dharma. At other times, friends or relatives of the deceased that requested such services to be done would become aware or dream of relevant signs, and thereby realize that the Dharma activities are actually beneficial.

Within forty-nine days after death is the commonly recognized period for attaining rebirth. Of course, it is most ideal to have conducted Dharma services for the deceased within this period. However, after these forty-nine days the deceased could have fallen into ghost realm or hells and are in desperate longing for help from friends or relatives. Even if the deceased has attain rebirth in some good realm, it is still within transmigration, and therefore the deceased would still be floating up and down with the evolution of karma, and would find no peace or rest. Therefore, even after the deceased beings have attained rebirth, when we conduct Dharma activities on their behalves the merits accrued would still help them to obtain earlier liberation from transmigration and earlier attainment of ultimate liberation. At the least, the merits could reduce karmic hindrances and increase favorable conditions in their current circumstances.

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Q10. It is taught in the Sutra of Earth Treasure that one could recite the Sutra on behalf of persons with chronic illness or obsessed by nightmares, or gods, ghosts, and deceased beings that one encountered in dreams so as to help them gain liberation from suffering. According to the Sutra one is supposed to recite the Sutra aloud; why? In the Sutra it is also mentioned that one could ask others to recite the Sutra on one's behalf; why would others' recitation be still beneficial to one?

A10. Reciting the Sutra aloud would help beings that have the opportunity to hear it share the benefits of the Dharma. The Sutra of Earth Treasure teaches us to recite the Sutra aloud so that persons that are severely ill or dying could still hear it. If one could not continue to read aloud for long or temporarily lost voice, then it is of course permissible to read the Sutra in silence. The key point is that one should at the outset develop the motivation to recite the Sutra for the well-being of all sentient beings, including the specific beings that were the reason for this recitation, and at the conclusion be sure to dedicate the merits accrued likewise.

Some people cannot understand the Sutra texts, some are unable to read the Sutra due to their disability, and some cannot read the Sutra because of lack of strength from illness or senility, all such persons could only ask others to read on their behalves. Even though the recitation is not done personally, their faith in the merits of reciting the Sutra and their efforts in obtaining others' help to do the recitation would still benefit all beings that have the opportunity to hear it. In addition, the merits accrued will be dedicated to all sentient beings in the Dharmadhatu, and thus the merits would become inconceivable and boundless.

Q11. In a previous life of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure as a holy Brahman girl she made offerings to Buddha in order to rescue her deceased mother. Consequently, not only her mother attained rebirth in heavenly realm but also all sentient beings that were suffering in the same hell with her mother attained such wondrous rebirth. What would be the causal connection in this matter?

A11. At the beginning the motivation of the holy girl in making offerings to Buddha was simply to rescue her mother from sufferings that were retributions of bad karma. Nevertheless, she had the right faith and the one she made offerings to was a Buddha of right enlightenment. The compassion of a Buddha is universally equal to all sentient beings. Therefore, in his process of rescuing her mother he also rescued all beings in the same hell at that time. Upon hearing this matter the holy girl comprehended immediately the truth that Buddha's compassion is universally equal to all beings. Therefore, she was inspired to follow such an example. So she developed great vows in front of the Buddha that she would equally rescue all suffering beings without ever ceasing such efforts.

Q12.In a previous life while Bodhisattva Earth Treasure was the girl Light Eyes she, in order to rescue her mother from the karmic retribution of a short life in humble subsistence, pledged great vows to save all sentient beings. Consequently, it inspired a Buddha to foretell her the meritorious rewards awaiting her mother in future lives, up to attainment of Buddhahood and subsequent conversion of beings. Why is it that just by pledging a great vow she could have extinguished the retributions for her mother's sinful deeds of killing and disparaging, and even enabled her mother to have causal connections to the attainment of Buddhahood and conversion of beings?

A12. Usually karmic retribution is a limited causal relation that amounts to matching "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" to an exact degree. In the previous life of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure when he was the girl Light Eyes, due to the profound tendency that was shaped by pledging great vows in many past lives, even though the purpose was just to compensate for her deceased mother's finite sinful deeds, nevertheless, she pledged a boundless compassionate vow to devote herself to the endless rescue mission of all beings. She immediately undertook the perpetual rescue mission of all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Therefore, it could wipe out her mother's finite sinful karma, and build a connection between her mother and the great cause of attaining Buddhahood and converting beings to enlightenment. Hence, she thereby prepared the foundation for her mother to fully develop her originally pure nature in the future and then to help others so develop themselves.

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Q13. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure there are sayings such as "weary of having a woman's body" and praying for "not getting a woman's body for all kalpas" but there are no such sayings regarding a man's body. Does it imply contempt for women? Or is it partial to women by not taking into consideration the sorrows of those who are "weary of having a man's body"?

A13. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure there are four examples of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure's past lives, and two of them were in female bodies. The Sutra gave detailed description of these two female cases. Besides, in the Sutra there is also the statement that "due to the power of compassionate vows, she would receive a female body in order to convert and liberate sentient beings." This illustrates that sometimes Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would purposely appear in female bodies so as to facilitate the progress of salvation activities. Thus it is clear that there is no implication of contempt for females.

A female body comes, in time, with the suffering of menstruation and childbirth. Therefore, it is often regarded as less desirable or enjoyable than a male body. In fact, with regard to the important job of carrying and nursing the next generation female bodies undertake more load than male bodies, and hence deserve more merits. Furthermore, their structure could endure the wear of menstruation and childbirth, and thus possess characteristics beyond male bodies.

Teachings in Sutras are addressing problems arising from a certain social and cultural background so as to illustrate the universal truth of Buddhism. Therefore, it is inevitable that it would overlook certain aspects and had failed to consider the problem of being "weary of having a man's body." In fact, Buddhism advocates universal equality and compassion to all sentient beings, and hence does not assume any unjust standpoint. Therefore, we could deduce that the teachings in the Sutra with regard to being weary of having a woman's body could similarly apply to the problem of being weary of having a man's body.

Q14. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure there are many kinds of gods and ghosts that are entrusted by the Buddha to protect and promote the Dharma. It is also taught therein that making offerings to and praising Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would inspire many gods and ghosts to guard and protect the practitioners day and night. Nevertheless, in the Sutra it also admonishes that "on the day of dying they should be careful not to commit killing, hurting and other bad conditions so as to make offerings to entreat ghosts and gods, and to entreat those spirits of mountains, streams, woods or stones." How then, after all, should we treat ghosts and gods?

A14. Some ghosts and gods have already taken refuge in the Dharma, and pledged to be protectors of the Dharma and practitioners. Some ghosts or gods are transformation of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas to facilitate their salvation activities; for example, in the Sutra the Ghost King Master-of-Life-Spans was clearly pointed out to be such a being. To all these ghosts and gods we certainly should pay our respect and make offerings. As to ghosts and gods in general, we could also pay respect and make offerings to them so as to entreat them for protection of Dharma, practice, household and travel, and to build Dharma connections with them by sharing Dharma benefits and merits. However, we should make sure that their positions and offerings are inferior to those of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Furthermore, we should not be attached to worldly profits and therefore become dependent on them and entreating them for favors without end. As to the admonishment in the Sutra it is referring to committing killing, hurting and other bad conditions to provide offerings. Those are certainly harmful with no benefits whatsoever, and should never be attempted.

Q15. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure it is said that when compared with other Great Bodhisattvas this Great Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would stand out as one "with profound and heavy vows." It is also said therein that, with regard to other Great Bodhisattvas, "their vows still have final conclusion," and only Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has pledged innumerable vows. How should we properly understand such sayings? Is it true that other Great Bodhisattvas are all inferior to him?

A15. The compassion of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure is illustrious through his continually repeating, from life to life, to pledge vows toward salvation of all sentient beings; it is to the extent that it has become his distinguishing characteristic. Other Great Bodhisattvas are likewise of boundless compassion; however, what they have displayed or are well known for are often of distinct features. For example, Manjusri is distinguished as the epitome of wisdom; Guan Yin, compassion; Great Power Attained, great power; Universal Goodness, great deeds. Of course, the compassionate vows of salvation as pledged by these Great Bodhisattvas are similar to those of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure in that they are all equally and universally applicable to all sentient beings beyond any limitation of time or space. It is only that Bodhisattva Earth Treasure is most outstanding in repetitive pledging of great vows; therefore, in Buddhism when we talk about pledging great vows all would recommend Bodhisattva Earth Treasure as the epitome of such practices.

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Q16. In the Sutra of Earth Treasure it is said, "sentient beings in Jambudvipa have heavy habits of entangling in bad deeds that they would reenter as soon as they have just gotten out. Consequently they have burdened the Bodhisattva to engage in salvation and conversion for long periods of numerous kalpas." Thus, isn't it the case that Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would never attain Buddhahood? And yet in the Sutra Buddha said to Bodhisattva Earth Treasure, "Good! Good! I will help with what you like. You could accomplish the great vows that you had pledged since distant kalpas. When the extensive conversion of sentient beings would soon be accomplished, you would then attain realization of Bodhi." Why is it so?

A16. In order to lead and guide sentient beings to practice toward liberation Buddhist teachings must employ concepts and names to construct theories. Therefore, there are positions of "Bodhisattva" and "Buddha" that seem to be fixed. Furthermore, within the theoretical structure of Buddhist teachings certain stages of attainment on the path of practice are well defined so that one would have the impression that progress on the path has a definite mold. However, what Buddhist teachings aim at and would like to help sentient beings attain is nothing but original purity that is free from boundaries and distinctions as set by names or concepts. Therefore, even though at the theoretical level there is the question of "attaining Buddhahood or not," in real practice one must transcend the framework of such a question in order to make substantial progress on the path. Therefore, the approval from Buddha to Bodhisattva Earth Treasure is a praising as well as a blessing, wishing him to attain realization. And this kind of realization is beyond the question of "attaining Buddhahood or not."

As to whether Bodhisattva Earth Treasure would never attain Buddhahood, we can say that, judging from his speeches and activities we could never tell, because Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are all forever engaging in salvation activities through their speeches and activities. Nevertheless, from the point of view of virtues attained through realization, we could say that, when he put endless service to benefit others above and beyond self-interest considerations he already transcended the question of "attaining Buddhahood or not"; in other words, during his "not yet attained" he already realized.

Q17. Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has countless duplicate bodies that spread everywhere to rescue sentient beings; all these duplicate bodies could again merge into one original form. What is the ultimate fact of this matter? Even if we believe in this kind of inconceivable supernatural deeds, there is no possibility for us to follow suit. So, what would be the teaching inherent in revealing such deeds?

A17. Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has transcended both transmigration and the physical limitations of human beings, and has the supernatural power to send out duplicate bodies of all sorts of essences and forms at will to any point in time and space so as to rescue sentient beings. These duplicate bodies could be retrieved when necessary or upon completion of a mission. The appearances of duplicate bodies are stemming from Bodhicitta and supernatural power, and the activities they engage in are purely of salvation, therefore they are not restricted by worldly conditions or karma, but instead are completely free to come or go at will.

Even though we have not attained such meritorious virtues, nevertheless, we could learn from the existence of duplicate bodies the following four points:

  1. Regard all sentient beings that we run across as duplicate bodies of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas that are here to convert us. Therefore, whatever treatment we receive from them, be it beneficial or harmful, would be looked upon as an opportunity to practice and learn to be free from antagonistic attitudes or behaviors.
  2. When we practice or propagate Dharma out of pure Bodhicitta we may be considered as duplicate bodies of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. This is because Buddhas and Bodhisattvas would certainly approve of what we are doing, and so help and guide us through their supernatural powers. Nevertheless, in such thoughts there is not the least trace of self-arrogance because a duplicate body would appear only when it is purely for a salvation mission. As soon as one deviates from the pure Bodhi motivation or engages in improper conducts or speeches, the connection with salvation mission would be lost, and one would remain just a karmic worldling.
  3. There is no definite form into which Buddhas or Bodhisattvas would transform to appear. Furthermore, sentient beings that are used to grasping to forms need not be able to recognize such appearances as rare opportunities for them to receive merciful guidance, but on the contrary could well take them as normal and ordinary, and hence pass them by lightly, or even mistreat them contemptuously or with resistance and animosity. Once we understand thus how difficult it is to engage in conversion and salvation of sentient beings, it makes us respect and appreciate even more the skillful ability of Bodhisattvas that could always provide teachings adequately to suit each and every being not withstanding their vast diversity.
  4. As to practitioners that are imitating the Bodhisattva activities, they should understand thoroughly that, even though in theory "Bodhisattva" is a noble and elevated title and concept, it is hardly applicable in daily life. We can only try to persuade others with an equal or humble attitude. Therefore, usually the main reason that we could affect others is our lifelong adherence to the Dharma in our deeds. Titles raised by mouth could hardly move people.
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Q18. Bodhisattva Earth Treasure said that, by the awesome spiritual power of Tathagata he duplicated this form of his body to distribute over countless worlds, and that, were it not by the power of Tathagata's great compassion such transformations could not be accomplished. Is it just a display of his humbleness, or is there really a profound reason in his saying?

A18. Bodhisattva Earth Treasure proclaimed that his countless duplicate bodies were possible only because of the power of Tathagata's great compassion. On the one hand, this is because from his wisdom perspective there is no self to be proud of, and so naturally he is simple and humble, and in addition he could comprehend the working of causal conditions and therefore appreciate the blessing from Buddha's compassion. On the other hand, it is to teach the following: only when the great compassion born of oneness-of-all transcends grasping to self and that to form could the supernatural power to produce duplicate bodies for salvation purposes go into effect. The great compassion of Tathagata transcends distinction of self and others, and is free from duality, therefore, only in realization of non-duality could it be appreciated, received and applied.

Even though at present we could not produce duplicate bodies to carry out salvation activities, nevertheless, based on Bodhicitta we could employ all sorts of mass communication tools to propagate the theories and practices of Buddhism. As long as we continue to engage in this kind of Bodhi services without regress, our compassion would certainly develop. Later, when our compassion transcends grasping to self and that to form, it will be the beginning of sending our duplicate bodies to conduct salvation missions on a boundless scale.

Q19. We are only ordinary people. Even when we aspire to follow the example of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure, and have pledged extensive great vows of salvation, in reality we could still do almost nothing to realize such lofty ideals. Isn't it the same as having committed great false talks? Furthermore, in case no one believes in our vows nor takes them seriously, then doesn't it amount to mere self-deceit?

A19. Extensive great vows certainly could not be realized at once. Bodhisattva Earth Treasure has been working in accordance with his great vows for innumerable lifetimes. When we imitate Bodhisattva Earth Treasure, sincerely develop Bodhicitta, and pledge expansive great vows of salvation our goal is not to win approval from others but just to set up a goal and guideline for our everlasting efforts throughout future lives. Progress and growth on the Bodhi path and the expansion of salvation activities are all limitless. Even though at present we do not have the strength to realize it, nevertheless, our appreciation of the significance and value of such a career and our determination to devote our mind and efforts on it for all future lives constitute a good and proper beginning, and there is no self-deceit involved whatsoever. As long as vows are pledged out of sincerity, and they are followed accordingly in deeds with perseverance, then vows are not false talks. In fact, for practices to attain realization one's aspiration and vows are important impetus. Without well-established vows it would be difficult to continue Dharma practices with perseverance, and consequently one would not achieve attainment.

Conclusion

The great vows and salvation activities of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure fully illustrate how expansive, profound and careful to all details the compassion born of oneness of the whole Dharmadhatu is. His vows and deeds provide us an epitome for us to imitate so as to open our hearts and minds and fulfill our lives with real significance. From studying this Sutra I have gained three special points. I am sharing them with all Buddhists by listing them below:

  1. Humbleness with perpetual gratitude
  2. The profound intention that never forsakes any sentient being
  3. Recognize what one has in common with all sentient beings, and ignore those trivial distinctions between one and the others, only then could one empathize with sentient beings.

May all readers study this Sutra in depth and thereby obtain their own special insight.

The vows and deeds of Bodhisattva Earth Treasure have revealed to us a life of salvation that is merged into oneness with the Dharmadhatu. When compared with a life that is grasping and partial to a trivial and transient body, the distinction between liberation and imprisonment is obvious. We should wisely choose the lively path as indicated in person through Bodhisattva Earth Treasure's deeds, and practice in accordance with the teachings of the Sutra. Furthermore, we should make known to the public such compassionate vows and deeds so that whoever happen to learn about them would greatly open their views and minds, begin to imitate, and eventually attain ultimate freedom from suffering, and forever abide in the joy and peace of oneness of Dharmadhatu!

Source

By Yutang Lin
yogichen.org