An Explanation of the Title
Fourth, an Explanation of the Title. xiao as in ("to extinguish"). What does the word xiao mean? It means to explain clearly the meaning of the text. Therefore—an explanation of the title of the Sutra: Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store(Ksitigarbha) Bodhisattva.
The Sutra incorporates Earth Store Bodhisattva's name in its title, which refers to a person, and "Past Vows" denotes dharma—therefore, in the Seven Categories of Sutra Titles, this Sutra belongs to the category of "Titles Consisting of Person andDharma." "Dharma" is just a kind of karma; "Past Vows" refers to his fundamental activity karma — deeds and karma created in his past lives.
Why the name "Earth Store"? Earth nurtures the growth of all things, and "Store" refers to treasure troves—all the treasuretroves are in the ground. "Store" can also mean "to keep hidden", i.e., "to keep from view." All the treasure troves are hidden from view underground. The earth can grow the myriad things; it can also keep the myriad things hidden—buried underground.
Like the great earth, this Bodhisattva is able to make the myriad things grow. Like the great earth, he has endless, boundlesstreasure troves in the ground for people to uncover. Those who believe in this Bodhisattva are entitled to the treasureswithin. Anything (you can think of) can be found in these treasure troves, and there is something to suit everyone's fancy: all the precious diamonds, gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, mother-of-pearl, to name a few.
If, say, you come into possession of a big, three-hundred-pound diamond, that should make you the world's richest person. I made some people laugh when I said "three-hundred-pound." They thought that was way too big. In fact, that is still "way too small"—the smallest of all, because the one that is "way too big" is practically too heavy for you to (even) pick up.
This Bodhisattva is replete with all these gracious virtues, thus the name "Earth Store."
The word Bodhisattva is Sanskrit, translated into Chinese means "an enlightened sentient being"—an enlightened one among (sentient) beings. It can also be translated "to enlighten beings"—leading others to enlightenment with the principles that oneself has become enlightened to.
In other words, it is "the enlightened (one) enlightening others"—oneself has become enlightened and wishes for all (sentient) beings to become enlightened. Put another way, it is "the benefited (one) benefiting others"—oneself has attained to great wisdom, and wishes for all (sentient) beings to attain to great wisdom. With great wisdom, there will be no more upside down thinking.
"Past Vows" refers not to vows made in the present but the ones he had made since the origin. Since the origin—when was that? It was countless eons ago when he made those vows. The power of vows from lives past is called "past vows." Similar to the Events of the Past Lives—one of the Twelve Divisions of Sutras—which are accounts of events in lives past, here, the pastvows of Earth Store Bodhisattva are the vows he made in his past lives—not at the present, because by now he has already fulfilled his vows.
What were the vows he made? He vowed:
Until the hells are empty I vow to forgo Buddhahood;When all beings are saved will I then certify to bodhi.
"Hells" refers to all the hells. Anytime the hells are not (yet) empty, he will hold off on becoming a Buddha; only when thehells are completely empty will he become a Buddha. Now, think about that. How great is that vow-power?
Earth Bodhisattva says, "I will be in the hells to receive and guide all the hungry ghosts. For each day that they have not been lead from suffering to bliss, for one more day I will hold off on Buddhahood. The hungry ghosts in the hells must completely gain deliverance, leave suffering, and attain bliss, and then I will become a Buddha.
Let's think that over. The karma (sentient) beings create is endless, so are (their) afflictions. Then how could the hellsever come to an end? Only when (sentient) beings' afflictions were ended and their karmic obstruction cleared would the hellsthen be empty. Yet, as we (sentient) beings’ karmic obstruction cannot be eradicated or their afflictions ended, how will thehells ever be empty?
From the standpoint of contemporary scientists and philosophers, wouldn't the vows which Earth Store Bodhisattva made—the power of his vows—be considered the silliest of conduct and notions? Why do I say "the silliest of conduct and notions"? He (first) had the notions which he put into action and which manifested in his conduct. However, isn't this kind of conduct and notions (way) too foolish? Why? The bottom line is: It cannot be done. Since fundamentally, the hells can never be empty, does it follow that fundamentally, Earth Store Bodhisattva stands no chance to ever become a Buddha?
No. It is not the silliest kind of conduct and notions. It is the kindest, most compassionate type of conduct and notions—and also the most filial. Why do I say that?
Earth Store Bodhisattva perceived in his contemplation that his mother had fallen into the hells where she was undergoing great sufferings, and he asked the Buddha to (help) take his mother across. Who is Earth Store Bodhisattva, really? He is theVenerable Mahamaudgalyayana, and he serves as a Bodhisattva in the hells. Why would he want to do that? He felt the pain which his mother underwent in the hells, and reflected on the issue of "extending filiality for one's elders to others' elders." "If my mom went through such sufferings, others' moms could also be put through the same sufferings," he thought.
Therefore, with a filiality that is equal, level and indiscriminating, he sought to rescue all hell beings and guide them fromsuffering to bliss. That is what Earth Store Bodhisattva's vows are about. No amount of words can fully describe the extent of his vow-power.