CHAPTER THREE Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Living Beings

CHAPTER THREE

Contemplating the Karmic Conditions of Living Beings


 

Sutra:

            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.”

 

Commentary:

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 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 Sakyamuni 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.  TheLandofUltimate 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.  TheLandofUltimate Blisshas 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 theLandofUltimate Blissgrows 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.

 

Sutra:

            The Lady Maya again spoke to Earth Store Bodhisattva; “I wish to hear only of the bad paths that are the retribution from 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.”

 

Commentary:

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 once 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 I 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 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 aspects 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.

 

Sutra:

            “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.”

 

Commentary:

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 beneathVulturePeakwhen Devadatta, hoping to crush the Buddha, used his spiritual powers to cause an avalanche.  A Dharma protector name Pei La, the spirit ofVulturePeak, 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, don’t 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.  The 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 atWest Lakein 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 Dharmas, 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.

Sutras 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.

 

Sutra:

            “Living beings who usurp property of the ‘permanently dwelling,’ who defile bhiksus 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.”

 

Commentary:

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 this 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 anyplace 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 decease 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.

 

Sutra:

            “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.”

 

Commentary:

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 is discussed in the sutra passage cited here, are sramanas 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 Cucchadharma 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 are, 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 Bhiksuni.  Some people say 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.  ‘The 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.

 

Sutra:

            “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.”

 

Commentary:

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 burn 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 corner 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.

 

Sutra:

            “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 lightening, 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.”

 

Commentary:

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.

 

Sutra:

            “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, bin 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.”

 

Commentary:

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 Sakyamuni 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.

 

Sutra:

            Earth Store Bodhisattva said to the Holy Mother, “This is a general description of the uninterrupted hell.   If I 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 Lady Maya Placed her palms together sorrowfully, made obeisance, and withdrew.

 

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The Buddha told Empty Space Store Bodhisattva, “Listen attentively, listen attentively, I shall enumerate and describe them to you. If there are good men and women in the future who see Earth Store’s image, or who hear this sutra or read or recite it; who use incense, flowers, food and drink, clothing, or gems as offerings; or if they praise, behold, and worship him, they shall attain twenty-eight kinds of advantages:

They will be remembered and protected by gods and dragons.
Their good roots will increase daily.
They will accumulate superior causes of wisdom.
They will not retreat from Bodhi.
Their food and drink will be abundant.
Epidemics will not touch them.
They will not encounter disasters of fire and water.
They will not be trouble by thieves.
They will be respected by all who see them.
They will be aided by ghosts and spirits.
Women will be reborn as men.
If born as women they will be daughters of kings and ministers.
They will have upright and proper appearances.
They will often be born in the heavens.
They may be emperors or kings.
They will know their past lives.
They will attain whatever they seek.
Their families will be happy.
All disasters will be eradicated.
They will eternally be apart from the paths of karma.
They will always arrive at their destination.
At night their dreams will be peaceful and happy.
Their deceased relatives will leave suffering behind.
They will receive the blessings from their past lives.
They will be praised by the sages.
They will be intelligent and their roots will be keen.
They will have magnanimous, kind, and sympathetic hearts.
They will ultimately attain Buddhahood.

"If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? ... if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi." -Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha

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