Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, Buddhist friends: Amitabha!
When Ven. Master arrived in North American, he established four DRBA Wayplaces as the Western equivalent to China's four most recognized Buddhist sacred locations of China, and he invited the four great Bodhisattvas who dwell in those four sacred locations to come to the West to host them. CTTB is hosted by the Gwan Yin Bodhisattva primarily and next by the Earth Store Bodhisattva. Therefore, people who come to CTTB not only may learn about great compassion from Gwan Yin Bodhisattva, but also may imitate Earth Store Bodhisattva's great and mighty vow, which in spite of its difficulty to practice, he still practices.
Now you can see there are ten Earth Store Bodhisattva Images on the platform. These ten Earth Store Bodhisattva Images can represent Earth Store Bodhisattva's ten dharma bodies dwelling in the ten dharma realms. These images can also represent his ten fruitions of the ten grounds, wonderful enlightenment. Although his dharma body appears in the ten dharma realms, he especially empathizes/sympathizes with the living beings who are suffering, and so his vow is to be the teaching host of the Dark Realm. He vowed to enter the hells where dwell the living beings who committed the heaviest offenses, who suffer the most, and where living beings are the least willing to go. His vow is full of compassion, which may sound familiar to us, as it says, "If the hell is not empty, I vow not to become Buddha."
After Shakamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood, he wanted to repay his mother Lady Maya's kindness of giving him birth. He went to the Trayastrimsha Heaven to speak the Earth Store Sutra to his mother. This Sutra is the filiality Sutra among Buddhist texts.
This Sutra emphasizes two major powers. One is the power of karma. In the Sutra Text, Earth Store Budhisattva says, "I also will find thousands of expedient ways to cross over such living beings." The karma of living beings is limitless and boundless; likewise, the vow of Earth Store Bodhisattva is endless and inexhaustible.
As the power of deep vow, we learn the great bodhisattvas all made their unique vows in the past. In the first chapter of the Earth Store Sutra, Shakamuni Buddha called Manjushri Bodhisattva to observe how many living beings, from the Buddhas above to the six paths below, come to the Trayastrimsha Heaven to listen to the Dharma Talk? Manjushri said to the Buddha, even if I were to measure and reckon with my spiritual powers for a thousand eons I would not be able to know their number.
Manjushri Bodhisattva is foremost for his being the greatest in wisdom. He is the teacher of the past seven Buddhas. Now his students have attained Buddhahood, and he still remains a bodhisattva. His vow is comparable to Earth Store Bodhisattva's. If all of his students do not become Buddhas, then Manjuri himself also would not become Buddha.
Earth Store Bodhisattva's vow is likewise endless: in order to teach and transform the living beings of the six realms, especially the living beings in the hells, he made the vow that even if one single living being does not attain Buddhahood, he/himself will also not to become Buddha.
When Earth Store Bodhisattva was the daughter of a Brahman and a girl called Bright eyes, he evolved from the small to the great. His vow is initiated in order to repay his mother's kindness by rescuing his mother from hell. Later, he expanded his vow to save all the living beings in the hells. It is one of the great Bodhisattva's paths. In the Brahma Net Sutra, it says, "All males have been my father and all females have been my mother. Through life after life, I was born from them. So, now I can see that all beings within the Six Paths of Rebirth have served as my past mothers and fathers."
Earth Store Bodhisattva made great vows based on the Four Great Vows. As Earth Store Buddhisattva, he vows, "After I help all living beings to become Buddhas, then I will become a Buddha." This is the implementation of the vow, "Living beings are boundless; I vow to cross them all over." In the Sutra, it says, the mother of Bright Eyes is Liberation Buddhisattva. Not only Earth Store Bodhisattva saved his mother out of hell, but he also brought his mother to Sagehood. He treats every living being as his parent and wants to save them all.
Where does the power of karma come from? In Buddhism, we learn the concept of karma - we are the result of our previous lives and we now are creating our personal and collective futures. We know that "what we do will shape what we become. Only when we understand causes and conditions will we be able to stop evil and become good. The various hells are the appearances of our evil karma.
A few months ago, there was a "harvest Festival" in Taiwan Hualien's native religion. During that season, the Hualien's local native people go out hunting a lot. They would target many wild animals. There were two native people who were brothers, and they hunted together for boars or wild pigs at night. Because it was so dark that they could not each other clearly, one brother accidentally shot and killed the other. As the text goes, "To hunters he says that a frightening insanity that destroys one's life will be the retribution."
Today is the actual birthday of Earth Store Bodhisattva, and also is Ven. Master Hsu Yun's birthday. When Ven. Hsu Yun was born, he had signs of the eighth Bodhisattva's state. When he was born, his mother was frightened and died from seeing him emerge as a flesh ball, instead of as a baby. When Ven. Hsu Yun left home, his father was upset and resigned from his official work and returned to his home town. After Ven. Hsu Yun left home about 20 years, he vowed to worship Manjushri Bodhisattva by doing three steps one bow to Wu Tai Mountain in order to repay his parents kindness. This journey took him about 3 years. Although he encountered a lot of difficulties and suffering by doing that, he got a response: "Wen Ji", who is the transformation body of Manjushri Bodhisattva, saved his life. Besides, he also convinced his step mother and his two wives to leave home to cultivate. Ven. Hsu Yun repaid his parents' kindness by cultivating Buddhist ritual and practice to show his highest filial respect to his parents.
Recently, the Chinese government has recognized Ven. Hsu Yun as a contemporary eminent Buddhist monk. The Chinese government has filmed a documentary to recognize Ven. Hsu Yun's contributions to Buddhism. In the film, there is one clip that confirms that Ven. Hsu Yun had the same vision of Shr Fu's coming West to teach and transform living beings. If people are interested, we may show in one of Sat. Evening Lectures.
Ven. Hsu Yun made Shr Fu one of his Dharma heirs. Shr Fu is also well known as "Filial Son Bai". He also made eighteen vows while he was cultivating the practice of filial mourning beside his mother's grave. The ninth vow is: I vow that as long as there is a single hell-dweller who has not accomplished Buddhahood, I too will not attain Proper Enlightenment.
Speaking of the power of vows, Shr Fu also mentioned that if you want to make a vow, all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will help you as you wish. Although we are still ordinary people and our vows are very limited, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all started out as ordinary people.
Among the Ten Dharma Realms, if the places with the most suffering are the hells, then in the mundane world, prison should be one of the places with the most suffering. While hell is the place for living beings who undergo suffering in the Dark Realm, prison is the place for inmates who suffer in their human existence. Shr Fu himself also practiced Earth Store Buddhisattva's great vow, not only he vowed to save the living beings in the hells, but also he instructed his disciples that wherever there is suffering, that's where one should go. Because of these causes and conditions, one of Shr Fu's disciple has spent many, many years guiding the inmates of Hualien Prison, Taiwan, to learn Buddhism and introduce Earth Store Sutra to them, and to teach them how to recite the Sutra and Earth Store Bodhisattva's name as a daily practice. A few years ago, I had shared stories about two of the inmates who received the death penalty here.
Five years later, while I spent 3 months in Taiwan during this past Chinese New Year, I was curious about whether one of the inmates was still alive or not. So, I called Mr. Lee who volunteers to teach Buddhism in Hualien Prison, and I was told that he had committed suicide and died recently. The reason he chose to end his life this way was because he could no longer bear the pain caused from addiction to the drugs. This reminds us that even though we are so fortunate to have faith in Earth Store Buddhisattva's deep and great vow, understand the meaning of the Sutra, or even recite the Sutra every day, we also must not forget to check and reflect on whether we have followed the proper conduct according to the Earth Store Sutra. Only if we have implemented Faith, Study, and Practice can we accomplish the Way.
From this case, we can know that it is not easy for ordinary people to get rid of their bad habits accumulated in the past. As the sutra text goes, "Because beings of Jambudvipa are so bound by their own heavy bad habits, they keep revolving in and out of the various paths over and over" and "Even if living beings are able to escape the retribution for their offenses, they will soon fall into the evil paths ago". After awhile, the power of karma will trap us into the karmic sea. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas expect us to practice true principles in our daily life, not just to recite Sutras every day without reflecting upon and correcting our daily conduct.