Saturday, August 31, 2013

To save all beings from Hell (Ksitigarbha)

Dr. Rei-Rei, Ashley Wells, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly; UPDATED
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva helping beings out of the many hells (namo-amituofuo)

Poetry, metaphor, and myth can often express the most profound ethical, psychological, and spiritual insights and aspirations of a people or culture in a way that communicates to the imagination more immediately than a literal narrative may.
The impact of these literary forms lies not only in the written word, but also resonates on other more subtle waves. Perhaps they communicate more to the heart or the intuition than strictly to the intellect.
Whatever the reason, great works like India's Vedas, and Upanishads, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad-Gita, the Greek myths and epics, the Tao Te Ching, Zen koans and poems -- earth-treasures such as these have all helped to shape the thinking of whole civilizations for hundreds even thousands of years and thus have influenced the histories and the destinies of the peoples who inspired and absorbed them.
The Mahayana Buddhist discourses belong to this class of inspired world literature, giving expression as they do to many noble truths and -- with some, like the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, and the Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) Sutra -- attempting to express in a few words ultimate truths: "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form," "All that we see is a product of the mind," "All living beings are of a nature with the potential to awaken" (or become buddhas because they have an innate "Buddha Nature").
The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha Vow Sutra is presented here, and whether viewed as literal, mythical, or perhaps somewhere between the two, it can take its own unique place among the sutras -- its ever-present underlying theme expressing the great universal truths of love, compassion, and interdependent responsibility for all beings.
The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha Vow Sutra
Ksitigarbha and the Great Vow (HL Wang)
This Mahayana sutra was first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the 7th century A.C.E. T'ang Dynasty. The English here has been faithfully translated directly from the original archaic Chinese. In China this sutra has for hundreds of years been one of the most well-known and popular Buddhist sutras. But compared to such bodhisattvas as Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri, the name Ksitigarbha (Kishitigarba) appears to be relatively unknown in the West. 
According to one Chinese authority on Ksitigarbha, the reason for this obscurity lies in an ancient prophecy foretelling that this sutra would not be known outside of China and Tibet for 2,500 years after the time of Buddha -- until the Dharma-Ending Age -- our present age -- which would be ready to receive and understand it.
The sutra would then be revealed and spread to distant lands. Regardless of any mystique surrounding this explanation, the fact is that together with Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Samantabhadra, Ksitigarbha is one of the most revered and celebrated bodhisattvas in China. Respectively, they personify the four basic Mahayana qualities of Great Compassion, Great Wisdom, Great Meritorious Deeds and, in Ksitigarbha, the Great Vow -- the vow to save all sentient beings, including hungry ghosts and beings in the hell(s).
Kwan Yin, Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, 1000 limbs to do all things (
The literal translation of the Bodhisattva's Sanskrit name is "Earth-Store." The name in one sense indicates that any undesirable or troublesome thoughts "stored" or hidden deep in one's mind or heart may be uncovered and released with the help of Ksitigarbha's power -- thereby freeing the person from their negative influence.

A less literal translation, which more accurately communicates its complex significance to Western readers, could be to render it as "Earth-Treasure." In this freer sense his name expresses the many marvelous aspects of the Earth and his mysterious connection with it: The Earth is vast, it supports all [kinds of] living beings, it is impartial, it receives life-giving rain, it produces trees and crops, it holds all planted seeds which will ultimately ripen and come to fruition, it holds many treasures, it produces medicines for suffering humanity, it is not moved by storms.
Kwan Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion (wiki)
And the Earth (Sanskrit, Bhumi), too, is in its own way a sentient being. The Earth-Treasure Bodhisattva has a deep relationship with human beings of the Earth and, moreover, with those "below" it -- the hungry ghosts (pretas) and hell beings (narakas). Because these are the most difficult to raise into a more fortunate condition, due to their previous unwholesome actions, and because of his past vow to save them all, Ksitigarbha has been known as the Teacher of the Dark Regions.
"If I do not go to hell to help them, who else will go?" is the famous declaration popularly attributed to Ksitigarbha. No matter what the crime or the karma, he is willing to have a connection with any being and to help free anyone from suffering.
The sutra is fundamentally a teaching concerning karmic retribution, graphically describing the consequences one creates for oneself by committing undesirable actions.
This is especially for the benefit of future beings in the Dharma-Ending Age in order to help these beings avoid making the mistakes that will cause them to be reborn in a low condition. With the motivation to help suffering beings always in mind, the sutra is [structured as] a discourse given by the Buddha in praise of the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha and his heroic vow, and of the benefits one can receive from honoring Ksitigarbha and reading the sutra.

Presented in the form of a seemingly mythic dialogue between the Buddha and Ksitigarbha, the teaching takes place in a certain heaven called Trayastrimsa ("The World of the Thirty-Three"), in front of a vast multitude of buddhas, bodhisattvas, devas, and spirits [i.e., pretas, asuras, nagas, yakshas]. Immediately prior to his departure from this world, the Buddha manifested in Trayastrimsa so that he might repay the kindness of his mother who dwelt there by speaking the Dharma on her behalf.

[This would mean that, if it happened, it would have happened in the few moments before reclining into into final nirvana, Earth time, when the Buddha briefly traversed the meditative absorptions called dhyanas/jhanas. See The Last Days of the Buddha (DN 16).]

Ksitigarbha Sutra/《地藏王菩薩的故事》(3D 動畫/生命基金會)
So from another aspect the sutra deals with filial responsibility -- not only between oneself and one's parents, but also in an ultimate sense of a universal code of duty or responsibility for all living beings, all of whom a bodhisattva regards with the same kindness, consideration, and respect one would accord to one's own parents. This, together with the practice of acts for the good of all, is the Bodhisattva's vision. More

1 comment:

Jeff Albrizze said...

Great article! In Japanese Buddhism, Ksitigarbha is called "Jizo" and is also one of the most revered Bodhisattvas. He is the "patron saint" of travelers and children.Statues of him are often seen at Japanese Buddhist temples with red fabric hats and bibs sewn by the children of the temple. Small outdoor mini-altars to Jizo are often seen at crossroads in Japan as well.