THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

Sutra:

Putting his palms together respectfully, he asked Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Great Lord, after people in Jambudvipa die and their close and distant relatives cultivate merit by making vegetarian meal offerings and doing other such good deeds, will the deceased obtain merit and virtue significant enough to bring about their liberation?”

Earth Store replied, “Elder, based on the awesome power of the Buddhas, I will now expound this principle for the sake of beings of the present and future. Elder, if beings of the present and future when on the verge of dying hear the name of one Buddha, one Bodhisattva, or one Pratyekabuddha, they will attain liberation whether they have committed offenses or not.

Commentary:

Putting his palms together respectfully, he the elder asked Earth Store Bodhisattva, “Great Lord, after people in Jambudvipa die and their close and distant relatives cultivate merit by making vegetarian meal offerings for the Triple Jewel and doing other such good deeds, will the deceased obtain merit and virtue significant enough to bring about their liberation, being freed of their offense karma?”

Earth Store Bodhisattva replied, “Elder, based on the awesome power of the Buddhas. . . You see, Earth Store Bodhisattva does not claim that he has any great awesome spiritual power, instead he says based on the Buddha’s great awesome spiritual power. Why? This means that he respects the Buddha so always names the Buddha before himself. I will now expound this principle briefly for the sake of beings of the present and future. Elder, Earth Store Bodhisattva calls out again, if beings of the present and future when on the verge of dying hear the name of one Buddha, one Bodhisattva, or one Pratyekabuddha (One Who Enlightens to Conditions), they will attain total liberation whether they have committed offenses or not. How come one can eliminate his offense karma by hearing the name of one Buddha, one Bodhisattva, or one Pratyekabuddha at the time of death? It is because at the time of death, one’s life source, composed of warmth, breath, and consciousness, ends. One’s life source ends in this order: first there is no warmth, then no breath, then consciousness leaves. When these three things end for someone, his life ends. Someone dies when his life source ends. “When the bird is about to die, its chirpings are sad too; when a person is about to die, his words are kind too.” At the time of death, people discover their conscience; hence noticing and reflecting on everything they did right and wrong. They know where they were really wrong and become penitent. Once they are repentant, then even if they only hear the name of one Buddha, one Bodhisattva, or one Pratyekabuddha, they will eliminate endless offenses, good roots, and offenses. The time of death is most critical; it is precisely at this time that good thoughts come forth. Why do we usually recite the Buddha’s name? We recite Homage to Amitabha Buddha to prepare ourselves from forgetting at the time of death. Since we typically recite; we will not forget at the time of death. If you wait until the time of death to recite and develop good thoughts, then it will be difficult. Of course, if such good thoughts do occur, they will be very effective. As long as you are repentant, all offenses are eliminated.

Sutra:

“When men or women laden with offenses who failed to plant good causes die, even they can receive one-seventh of any merit dedicated to them by relatives who do good deeds on their behalf. The other six-sevenths of the merit will return to the living relatives who did the good deeds. It follows that good men and women of the present and future who cultivate while they are strong and healthy will receive all of the benefit derived.

“The arrival of the Great Ghost of Impermanence is so unexpected that the deceased ones’ consciousnesses first roam in darkness and obscurity, unaware of offenses and blessings. For forty-nine days the deceased are as if deluded or deaf, or as if in courts where their karmic retributions are being decided. Once judgment is fixed, they are reborn according to their karma. In the time before rebirths are determined, the deceased suffer from thousands upon thousands of anxieties. How much more is that the case for those who are to fall into the bad destinies.

“Throughout forty-nine days, those whose lives have ended and who have not yet been reborn will be hoping every moment that their immediate relatives will earn blessings powerful enough to rescue them. At the end of that time, the deceased will undergo retribution according to their karma. If someone is an offender, he may pass through hundreds of thousands of years without even a day’s liberation. If someone’s offenses deserve Fivefold Relentless Retribution, he will fall into the great hells and undergo incessant suffering throughout hundreds of millions of eons.

Commentary:

“When men or women who practice the Five Precepts and the Ten Goodnesses laden with offenses who failed to plant good causes die, even they can receive one-seventh of any merit dedicated to them by relatives who do good deeds on their behalf. Although they received the Five Precepts and the Ten Goodnesses, they do not create any good causes or do good deeds. They create many offenses. If after their death, their relatives create some small amount or large amount of blessings for them. Among the sacred deeds, or good deeds done, the deceased can receive one out of seven portions. The other six-sevenths of the merit will return to the living relatives who did the good deeds. It follows that good men and women of the present and future who cultivate while they are strong and healthy will receive all of the benefit derived in their present lifetime. They receive every part of the merit that they did while they were alive.

“The arrival of the Great Ghost of Impermanence is so unexpected that the deceased ones’ consciousnesses first roam in darkness and obscurity, unaware of offenses and blessings. What is the Ghost of Impermanence? When he arrives, you are no longer permanent. But you do not know when the Ghost of Impermanence will arrive. One’s consciousness or soul, which is the body between skandhas or existences, travels about. The Twelve Causal Links are: ignorance conditions activity, activity conditions consciousness, consciousness conditions name and form, name and form conditions the six entrances, the six entrances condition contact, contact conditions feeling, feeling conditions love, love conditions grasping, grasping conditions existence, existence conditions birth, birth conditions old age and death. The existence in “the body between existences” is the existence in “existence conditions birth”. The prior Five Skandhas have ceased while the Five Skandhas to come have not yet occurred. In between the prior and later Five Skandhas is the body between skandhas. This body sees the great earth like ink, devoid of light from the sun and moon, hence its consciousness roams about in darkness and obscurity, unaware of whether it is creating offenses or accruing blessings.

For forty-nine days the deceased are as if deluded or deaf, or as if in courts where their karmic retributions are being decided. Due to the Buddhist teachings, the Chinese will invite Buddhist monastics or Taoists to recite sutras to save the deceased. Since the Earth Store Sutra makes it clear that the deceased is as if deaf and dumb during these seven weeks. The hells do not have only one King Yama, but ten; one for each hall of the hells. Each lord of the underworld supervises many departments and five officers: one on the prohibition of killing, one on the prohibition of stealing, one on the prohibition of sexual conduct, one on the prohibition of double-tongued speech, and one on the prohibition of intoxicants. These five officers are in charge of all the offenses that one has created. The deceased goes on trial and debates with an officer depending on the category of offenses he or she committed.

Once judgment is fixed, they are reborn according to their karma. Once their future retribution is determined according to the karma they created, they go on to face their retribution. In the time before rebirths are determined, the deceased suffer from thousands upon thousands of anxieties. They are really worried and concerned because they do not know whether they will become ox or horses, swine or sheep, humans or what. Hence they are extremely sad and suffer. How much more is that the case for those who are to fall into the bad destinies? Not to mention those who have already fallen into the evil destinies of hell-beings, hungry ghosts, and animals?

“Throughout forty-nine days, those whose lives have ended and who have not yet been reborn will be hoping every moment that their immediate relatives will earn blessings powerful enough to rescue them, such as reciting the Earth Store Sutra, bow the Earth Store Repentance, bow to Earth Store Bodhisattva, create various blessings, or make offerings to the Triple Jewel.

At the end of that time, the deceased will undergo retribution according to their karma. If someone is an offender, he may pass through hundreds of thousands of years without even a day’s liberation. If someone’s offenses deserve Fivefold Relentless Retribution, he will fall into the great hells such as the Eight Cold Hells, the Eight Hot Hells, and others, and undergo incessant suffering throughout hundreds of millions of eons, essentially in the hells forever.Someone who has committed the five extremely evil offenses such as murdering one’s father, murdering one’s mother, murdering an arhat, shedding the blood of a Buddha, or ruining the harmony of the Sangha, then one will fall into the Relentless Hells and suffer relentlessly.

The Fivefold Relentless Retribution are: 1. Relentless in terms of time: from entering the hells at first to the end of the stay, there is not a moment when suffering pauses. 2. Relentless in terms of form: someone sees his body, as well as many individuals’ bodies, filling up the entire hell simultaneously. 3. Relentless in terms of suffering: since entering the hells, all the punishments using various instruments and implements do not quit. 4. Relentless in terms of life: the offenders’ lives, be it one day and a night, numerous cycles of birth and death, feel relentless in the hells. 5. Relentless in terms of retribution: the retribution they face never ceases.

Sutra:

“Moreover, Elder, when beings who have committed karmic offenses die, their relatives may prepare vegetarian offerings to aid them on their karmic paths. In the process of preparing the vegetarian meal and before it has been eaten, rice-washing water and vegetable leaves should not be thrown on the ground. Before the food is offered to the Buddhas and the Sangha, no one should eat it. If there is laxness or transgression in this matter, then the deceased will receive no strength from it, but if purity is rigorously maintained in making the offering to the Buddhas and the Sangha, the deceased will receive one seventh of the merit. Therefore, Elder, by performing vegetarian offerings on behalf of deceased fathers, mothers, and other relatives while making earnest supplication on their behalf, beings of Jambudvipa benefit both the living and the dead.”

After that was said, thousands of billions of nayutas of ghosts and spirits of Jambudvipa who were in the palace of the Trayastrimsha Heaven, made the unlimited resolve to attain Bodhi. The elder Great Eloquence made obeisance and withdrew.

Commentary:

Earth Store Bodhisattva again told the Elder, “Moreover, Elder, let me explain in detail for you, as described earlier, when beings who have committed karmic offenses die, their family, friends and relatives may prepare fine vegetarian offerings for the Triple Jewel to aid them on their karmic paths. They help to reduce their evil karma. In the process of preparing the vegetarian meal and before it has been eaten, rice-washing water and vegetable leaves should not be thrown on the ground and wasted. Before the food is offered to the Buddhas and the Sangha, no one should eat it. This is why whatever is made in the temples or Buddha hall, must be offered to the Buddhas first. We are supposed to make some delicious foods to offer the Buddhas on a Buddha’s birthday. People can only eat the food after it has been offered to the Buddhas. In China, offerings to the Buddhas are sometime done with three bowls of rice and vegetables. They are placed squarely before the Buddhas instead of set aside casually. The three bowls need to be placed in the middle and neatly; the fruits too. Nothing else can be set down on the place where offerings for the Buddhas go. This is a form of respect. If you set things down casually, that is a sign of disrespect toward the Buddhas. Why? For instance, you put a bunch of things in a mess before someone, he will not be happy. People who are careless, casual and live like swine may be okay with it. But put a mess in front of someone who is neat and clean will make him upset. The Buddhas are very clean, so it is wrong for you to put a mess in front of the Buddhas. We can only place offerings of fruits and vegetables before the Buddhas and not anything else. Besides offerings with three bowls, there are also offerings using five bowls, seven bowls, nine bowls, or many bowls.

Especially on days for offerings, several tables before the Buddhas are full with vegetarian dishes neatly lined up for the Buddhas. We do not just place a huge pile of something somewhere or leave a bag of unopened cookies before the Buddhas. That is not an offering to the Buddhas, but an insult to the Buddhas. Open or uncover offerings to the Buddhas rather than just leave them there wrapped in paper. That would not be an offering to the Buddhas. It is impolite to just leave things there. Even with people, you do not just set things down and say, “Eat!” They will not eat it. The Chinese has a phrase, “The gentleman does not eat food thrown at him.” For instance, someone gives food to a beggar but condescendingly yells, “Hey, eat it!” He will refuse food thrown rudely at him, not to mention offerings to the Buddhas, sometimes left in closed bags. I have seen it many times but I do not have so much time to explain these things.

Now that the Buddhadharma has come to the West, we must know about the ceremonies and the looks of them. Offering bowls must be squarely and neatly placed. Fruit offerings and vases must be placed properly. For instance, vases should balance each other; it does not look good if you should have one here but you place it somewhere else. There are rules to everything. How can we handle all these rules? If you cannot handle it, do not cultivate. Cultivation requires us to accord with the Dharma and to observe the rules.

Furthermore, there are rules for monastics and there are rules for laity. Having left the home life, the senior disciple must listen to the master; the disciple second in seniority must listen to the most senior disciple; the disciple third in seniority must listen to the disciples first and second in seniority. We cannot dismiss our teachers and elders so that the senior disciple rejects the master’s teachings. The disciple second in seniority must listen to his elder brother’s teachings instead of slighting his fellow cultivator. The disciple third in seniority must obey the ones first and second in seniority. Do what the first and second in seniority ask you to do. If you refuse, then you are not following the rules. Do not do anything that you are not told; otherwise you are unruly too.

There must be teachers and elders in the Buddhadharma, a fact that you cannot dismiss. Someone who left the home life one day later than you is junior to you; while someone who left the home life one day earlier than you is senior to you. Whoever left the home life first is older; whoever left home later is younger-- regardless of your age. You can be 100 years old but if you leave the home life later, you are junior; you can be one year old but if you left the home life first, you are senior. The day you left the home life is your birthday in leaving the home life. At the time of your death, you must count up the number of your precept years. For instance, you may be 60 years of age but you have 40 precept-years. Whoever receives the precepts first is senior; even during the same ordination, those who receive the precepts before you during the platform are your senior precept brothers. Those who receive the precepts later than you are your junior precept brothers. However, during the precept platform, everyone simply calls each other precept-brothers instead of saying “junior precept brother”. Everyone is so polite that even if you are junior, you are called an older precept brother. Also, young novices must listen to the directions of more senior novices. Refusing to listen is insubordination, a sign of unfiliality. Buddhist monastic rules emphasize a hierarchical order based on seniority and status. You cannot be the way you are at home.

I usually do not have time to explain these rules for offerings to the Buddhas, so we have been casual. I was checking to see whether you are really stupid or wise. Wise individuals do not need to be taught. I never had anybody teach me, but I can tell right away. Idiots will not remember even if you teach them. Everything at all times and places show whether someone is wise.

Before food is offered to the Buddha and the Sangha, do not eat it first. This is why laypeople must wait until food is offered to the Buddhas before they can eat the food in the temple. They have to wait until the monastics come and everyone eats together. Do not eat before the monastics; that is not allowed. Things should be offered to the Buddha and the Triple Jewel in this manner. If there is laxness or transgression in this matter by not paying attention, not doing a good job, or being casual, then the deceased will receive no strength from it. Do not make offerings to the Triple Jewel in a sloppy manner, because that way the deceased will not gain anything by it. But if purity is rigorously maintained in making the offering to the Buddhas and the Sangha, the deceased will receive one seventh of the merit. Offerings must be done respectfully. I recall during the passing of offerings last year, everyone knelt to pass the offering and vegetarian food in bowls and plates to one another in turn and then place them before the Buddhas. In the temple, everyone earnestly makes offerings to the Buddhas with numerous vegetarian dishes, possibly several dozen or hundred kinds. All these are placed in square plates and passed about. Some make offerings with recitation beads; some with clothes. Anything can be offerings to the Buddhas, as long as it is new and good. Do not offer the Buddhas your unwanted items, rotten or bad goods. For example, someone bought some parsley to offer the Buddhas but kept the tender and nice ones for himself while giving me the tough and hard to chew. It does mean that he made offerings and it is not completely devoid of merit and virtue. But this is why we talk about being diligent, paying attention and taking care to make these offerings to the Buddhas and the Sangha on behalf of the deceased. Out of the seven portions of merit, the deceased will receive one portion while the other six portions are received by the living.

Therefore, Elder, by performing sincere vegetarian offerings for the Triple Jewel on behalf of deceased fathers, mothers, and other relatives while making earnest supplication on their behalf, all beings of southern Jambudvipa benefit both the living and the dead.”

After that was said, thousands of billions of nayutas of ghosts and spirits of Jambudvipa who were in the palace of the Trayastrimsha Heaven, made the unlimited resolve to attain Bodhi, annuttarasamyaksambodhi. The elder Great Eloquence made obeisance to Earth Store Bodhisattva and Shakyamuni Buddha and withdrew to the side. Not only should monastics bow to their master, the junior monastics should also bow to the seniors. Conversely, in American families, parents and siblings do not bother with one, or each other, at all. “I do not care about you and you do not watch over me.” You have to be this way because you are junior. Who told you to be junior? Who told you leave the home life later? Since you left the home life late, you have to respect your elders. It is a transgression to not respect your seniors, which is a violation of Buddhist rules that deserves death by fire in the future.

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