English9-14-DM Heng Ching
The first time I was actually introduced to the Earth Store Sutra was when I was seven years old. My sister and I went to Gold Wheel Monastery’s Sunday school. It was the first time we were there and the teacher so happened to be lecturing on the Earth Store Sutra. In the morning, before the Meal Offering ceremony, we had a class on Chinese phonetics, (the Bopomofo), for people who didn’t know Chinese, and in the afternoon, we had a Buddhist class. Since we joined the Sunday school a little later than everyone else, they had already begun the classes.
There’s a pretty popular comic book of the Earth Store Sutra that we actually have in our library somewhere. Buddhist teacher, Zhuang Gwo Nan, was using that comics to introduce the Earth Store Sutra to all the children there at Sunday school. I think we were studying Chapter Five, which is the “Names of the Hells.” As we sat there looking at pictures that depict living beings undergoing suffering in the hells, I just thought, Why is this teacher showing us all of these really scary pictures? He then wrote three words on the board—and I still remember them—he wrote: greed, hatred and stupidity (delusion).
It was also the first time I was introduced to the so-called three poisons in Buddhism. At that time, I didn’t understand why he wrote these three words on the board. But of course, I understand why now. The Earth Store Sutra, as Dharma speakers mentioned yesterday and in the previous days in their talks, is a sutra of filial piety, because it does indeed emphasize filial piety and filial practice. But another big part of the sutra— I’m sure people have noticed as today is the fifth day of the session—is cause and effect. Living beings create evils and undergo the according retribution. Even the Master said in today’s evening lecture that we living beings create afflictions and false thoughts that make us do evil actions, and they all come from our greed, hatred, and delusion. So I do know now why Zhuang Gwo Nan wrote those three words on the board.
The first time I actually recited the entire Earth Store Sutra was not too long after left the home life. At that time, there was a group of young shamanerikas and the five of us lived in one room. After the Buddha Hall ceremonies and rituals were over in the evening, we went back to our room and three of the girls were getting ready to rest. I was actually preparing to take my rest as well, and then I saw that the shamanerika next to me was still wearing her sash. She wasn’t even preparing to rest and I asked her why she wasn’t getting ready. She told me that she just had remembered that it was her father’s anniversary of his death. Then she turned to me and said, “But I’m really tired. So can you read it on behalf of me for my father?” My first thought was that I didn’t really want to agree to recite the sutra, because at that time I actually didn’t know Chinese and I knew that if I were to recite it, it would be a very long process. Also, at that time we used a different printed version of the sutra text. It was in a big thick red cover that was really hard to hold open. Also, all the pinyin phonetics were capitalized, so it was really difficult for me to recite. So I didn’t want to do it. But then my second thought was that it was such an important day and that we should recite the Earth Store Sutra for him and so I agreed to do it.
It took me until the next day, until past 2 AM to finish. Actually, I personally cultivate the Guan Yin Dharma door, but for some reason the sutra that I recite the most is the Earth Store Sutra. Just a few days ago, one of the Dharma speakers shared how when she first recited the Earth Store Sutra there were some conditions that sort of pushed or allowed her to recite the sutra, and I actually have a similar experience.
There are some conditions that push you to do things. So this also happened not long after I left the home life. At that time, our guardian Dharma master’s relative passed away, I believe it was her father. She told us that because it was her personal affairs, she didn’t want to force us to help her relative recite a sutra, but if we had the time and energy, we could recite two rolls of the Earth Store Sutra for her relative every day. Thus, after all the day ceremonies were finished, we went to the nun’s small Buddha hall and recited two rolls of the Earth Store Sutra. When the 49 days were almost over for my guardian’s relative, my paternal grandmother died. My father brought her and my paternal grandfather’s ashes back to CTTB. And so we asked each other whether or not we should continue reciting now for my grandmother who just passed. We decided to continue reciting. when those 49 days, the second set of 49 days was almost over, One of the shamanerika’s uncle died. And so we asked again each other whether we should continue reciting the sutra. And again we decided to continue reciting it. In my memory, we just recited the Earth Store Sutra for very a long time. After we finished reciting the sutra for everyone, a few months had passed, and we had gotten into the habit of reciting the Earth Store Sutra. We asked each other should we continue reciting it? We decided to continue to recite it. But it was not everyone from our group continued, just a few of us started to recite the Earth Store Sutra as one of our daily cultivation practices. And I’m not sure how long the other people continued with this Dharma door, but I kept it for around 20 years.
As we know, it is really important to have and to persist in your cultivating of a Dharma door as a daily practice, but sometimes as living beings, at least for myself, after a while you get really comfortable with your lifestyle, especially if everyday is almost the same, and then you start to get laxed. Therefore sometimes we need different kinds of conditions to really shake us into action, to have a revival of our bodies and minds. One of those kinds of conditions is actually participating in a session.
Actually, if you look at our session schedule, it’s really, really wonderful, because we recite the sutra, we recite the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas name as we circumambulate the Buddha Hall and we also sit in silent recitation. This gives us a time to calm our minds and focus because usually we’re so busy with work or with our everyday lives that we can’t actually calm our minds at all, and to have a special time to do that is actually a very valuable experience for me.
It was around five years ago, although I left home for quite a while, when I heard Shrfu (the Master) retelling his experience when he first encountered and read the Earth Store Sutra, I felt as if I heard it for the first time. He said that when he read it, he was extremely happy; he was so happy about this wondrous Dharma that he decided to kneel on the floor without anything below his knees and recite the Earth Store Sutra every day once the Dharma assemblies were over. But then his karma obstacle came. Some people thought that he was showing off, and so he stopped it. I heard this on the day before we purified the boundaries of that year’s Earth Store Session, and I all of a sudden had this thought that I really wanted to emulate Shrfu’s actions and recite 108 times of the Earth Store Sutra within the week of the Earth Store session. And I wanted to emulate Shrfu’s spirit in that I would be kneeling on the floor without anything beneath. During that session, I had to recite before the morning ceremony, after the morning ceremony, during lunchtime, after lunchtime, after the session was over, and in the evenings at night until midnight in order to fulfill this wish of mine. When I was a kid, I was punished a lot and needed to kneel for the duration of an incense stick. As a result, I could kneel for many hours, but on the fifth day of that recitation session, I didn’t know why, but all of a sudden my knees were hurting excruciatingly. After I finished my recitation that day, I looked at my knees, and saw that they were really enlarged and big. I never knew that your knees swell because of the kneeling, because Shrfu never said that his knees swelled. But it’s probably because I am just a mundane, regular person. When I finished my 108 recitation of the sutra that week, my knees were very swollen and the swelling didn’t go away until after more than three weeks later. It’s obviously that the Master is on a different level up level than I am.
From my experience of reciting the Earth Store Sutra, I really realized that sometimes in life or in our cultivation path, we have a lot of conditions that push us to do something, whether it’s in the good way or in the bad way. One way to see this is that this force might be our karma that is pushing us toward a direction. Sometimes this is not within our control, but sometimes if we don’t actually do anything about it, or if we don’t really want to do it, that condition will sort of go away.
For example, right now we have this Earth Store session, and some people will try to attend a lot and some people, for various reasons or work, might not be able to attend. This condition that is here but whether or not we participate in it is up to us. We can also create our own conditions, but this you have to actually do it in order to really help our bodies and minds to work on cultivation. This is important, because as I mentioned earlier, as mundane living beings, we can easily fall into our bad habits. Although it seems that this year we have fewer people participating in the session, maybe because we just reopened, I’m really happy that I can attend the Earth Store Session this year at CTTB. However, this year my conditions are not as complete, because I have to teach at the girls school, and I can’t participate in the entire session. But I really hope that in the near future, I can participate in the entire session.