Again, let us go over the word "Earth." There are ten meanings to the word, and though the ten still cannot cover all its functions, they give a general idea.

First, Vast and Great: Do you see that the earth is vast and great? Some of you are saying, "Dharma Master, you may skip that one. We all knew it's vast and great. Why bother?"

Just because everyone knew that, all the more I need to bring it up to your attention.

Second, Relied upon by [Sentient] Beings: All [sentient] beings rely on the earth to sustain life. Do you know of any [sentient] beings that do not do that? Surely none of them lives in empty space.

Third, Not Given to Likes and Dislikes: The earth has no likes or dislikes. It does not pick and choose, dictating, "You! Stay here. That [sentient] being there, I don't want you." No way. [Sentient] beings: good, bad, wholesome, and evil, together with tigers, sila deer, monkeys and everything else all live and rely on the earth. All the more, it is not given to preferences or biases.

Some people might claim, "Oh, I know! The earth simply has no awareness. It's insensate."

Do you know for sure that it has no awareness? The earth's awareness and perception is beyond the scope of our awareness and perception. The earth has its awareness, because it is also one of the [sentient] beings.

Fourth, Acceptant of Great Rains: It can withstand the most forbidding of downpours.

Fifth, Bringing Forth Vegetation.

Sixth, A Repository for Seeds: All the seeds are buried underground.

Seventh : The seventh is Bearing Many Treasures: There are lots of valuables in the ground.

Eight, Yielding Various Medicines: All medicines are produced from the earth.

Ninth, Unmoved by Blowing Winds: Not even the gustiest of winds, not even hurricanes, can move the earth. What about earthquakes? They are not caused by movement of winds.

Ten, Unstirred at the Lions' Roars: When the lions roar, all creatures are scared, but the earth does not flinch.

In light of these ten meanings, Earth Store Bodhisattva takes the earth to represent his name.

This Sutra bases its title on a person and a dharma, with "Earth Store Bodhisattva" being the person and his "past vows" the dharma. The Chinese word for "past" is 本 ben as in foundation or origin—both suggest "the past" and indicate that these were the vows Earth Store Bodhisattva made previously. Previously—countless eons ago—in life after life he constantly made these vows to perfect his filiality, to serve his parents with filial devotion, and to save and take them across at the expense of his own life—such was Earth Store Bodhisattva's vow-power.

I have explained the term "sutra" on many previous occasions, but it helps to go over it in every sutra lecture. Some of you learned it from prior lectures, yet others have not been to one until now and are not clear about its principles.

"Sutras" offer a "path" for cultivation which everyone may walk on. If you wish to become a Buddha, you must take this route. This is the way to Buddhahood. Therefore, "Sutra" means "path."

It also has the meaning of the carpenter's chalk line, or as in China, the carpenter's ink line. The carpenter snaps the line he pulls out of the ink pad to mark a straight black line. By the same token, Sutras help us tell the proper from the deviant.

Moreover, "Sutra" has the meaning of "garland" as Sutras string together principles like flowers in a garland.

There are four more meanings: threading, attracting, permanent, and law. Threading is "to perforate into and thread together the said principles" so none would be left out or lost.

Analogous to the magnetic pull on iron filings, "attracting" is "to attract and support those with the potentials for transformation." The Dharma the Buddha taught takes across and transforms living beings according to their potentials and affinities. The scriptures based on the Buddha's words, like magnets, draw those [sentient] beings who are due to be transformed.

Similarly, you have come to my sutra lectures because this attracting power brought you here. Weaker power, [like mine,] draws fewer people; stronger power, more people. This attracting power has drawn someone [Ron Epstein] all the way from Seattle here. Like the magnetic pull on iron [filings], before you know it, its invisible power has already drawn you in—thus, "attracting."

In the Cantonese dialect, the word "attracting" is used to describe parents' loving care for their children. The term "to attract and to accept" refers to how the Buddhas treat sentient beings with kindness and compassion, and [in turn] sentient beings regard the Buddhas with respect. That is how the Buddhas "attract and accept" all sentient beings.

Another meaning for "sutra" is "permanent": "that which does not change." Not one word may be omitted and not one word added—that which may not be increased or reduced is called "permanent"—unchanged and forever unchanged. So you want [the sutras] changed? You will end up in the hells—not [due to] some strong-arm autocracy, but [because] the principles in the sutras, as it were, are steel-like and cannot be changed—thus, "permanent."

The fourth meaning is "law," which is adhered to throughout the three periods of time— those of the past, present and future—while the [third] meaning, "permanent" means being unchanged from days of old to today. In all three periods of time, this is the law to abide by in cultivation—an eternal law, a permanent—not temporary—constitution.

"Sutra" is a Sanskrit word; its Chinese translation means "scriptures that tally." In the olden days in China, transfers of real estate titles did not have to be recorded at the County Recorder's Office. Instead, the contract would be written on a piece of paper which was then folded and cut zigzag with scissors into two halves for each of the parties to hold on to.

So what proof would we have if, say, you offered to sell me your lot and I agreed to buy your land? We would each produce our tally and the zigzags should match to a T, as in the Chinese proverb [alluding to the practice of scribing (words or insignia) on a bamboo segment later split into two tallies, the matching of which identified their bearers (as parties to the prior agreement):]

A match like the two tallies of a halved bamboo denoting an agreement.

That is called "tallying"—to correspond [, agree] or match.

What does "scriptures that tally" mean?

Above, they tally with the principles of all Buddha;

The principles of all Buddhas are just the minds of all Buddhas, i.e., upward, they match the Buddhas' minds.

Below, they tally with the potentials of sentient beings.

Downward, they are in keeping with sentient beings' propensities.

What are sentient beings' potentials and propensities? Sentient beings are like grass, trees, medicinal herbs—i.e., vegetation. All the plants, being [rooted] in the earth, are equivalent to the "potentials." Also, the plants themselves may be likened to sentient beings—this analogy might help you understand better.

Comparing plants to sentient beings, when it rains and as the rainwater falls to the earth, all the flowers, grass, shrubs and trees flourish in their own way. Big trees get more nourishment; small shrubs, less nourishment. Grass gets the nourishment befitting grass; flowers get the nourishment befitting flowers—equal and level, and that is "tallying with sentient beings' potentials." Sutras are like the rainwater falling on all the myriad things, thus, "below, tallying with sentient beings' potentials."

They tally in the sense that you will receive however much you are due for. For instance, as I am lecturing on the Sutra, those among you who are wise will add to their wisdom, and the dim ones will also add to their wisdom, but the wise ones will get to add a bit more. Each person will get each's own nourishment, own a share of benefit, while those lacking good roots reject the Dharma-rain and get no benefit [from it]. Therefore, it works to each's own benefit by tallying downward with sentient beings' potentials.

"Sutra" has all those meanings, plus many more if we were going to cover more of them. That was just an overview.

In life after life, Earth Store Bodhisattva remained filial to his parents, and therefore Earth Store Sutra is a Buddhist scripture on filial piety.

Filiality is the root and foundation of humanity. If one fails to be filial to one's parents, one is remiss in the responsibilities of being human. Why? Our parents gave birth to us and raised us. Now that we have grown up, if we neglect to repay their kindness, we have not lived up to our obligations as human beings.

All through his life, Confucius advocated filial piety, and as part of his legacy, Classic of Filial Piety gives an account of a dialogue between Confucius and his disciple Zeng Zi [Zeng Shen] on the subject of filiality:

When Confucius was at his abode, and his disciple Zeng Zi was in attendance on him, the Master said, "Shen, the ancient kings had an ultimate virtue and a crucial principle. By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. Do you know what it was?"

Zeng Zi rose from his seat, and said, "How would I, Shen, lacking intelligence, be able to know this?"

The Master said… Our bodies—and hair and skin—we received from our parents, and must not presume to injure or wound them: This is the beginning of filial piety.

[—The Classics of Filial Piety, Chapter 1: The Scope and Meaning of the Treatise]

(Once,) When Confucius was unoccupied, and hisdisciple Zeng [Zi] was sitting by in attendance on him, the Master said, "Shen, the ancient kings had a perfect virtue and all-embracing rule of conduct, through which they were in accord with all under heaven. By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony, and there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. Do you know what t was?"

Zeng rose from his mat, and said, "How should I, Shen, who am so devoid of intelligence, be able to know this?"

The Master said, "(It was filial piety). Now filial piety is the root of (all) virtue, and (the stem) out of which grows (all moral) teaching. Sit down again, and I will explain the subject to you. Our bodies—to every hair and bit of skin—are received by us from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them:--this is the beginning of filial piety. When we have established our character by the practice of the (filial) course, so as to make our name famous in future ages, and thereby glorify our parents:--this is the end of filial piety. It commences with the service of parents; it proceeds to the service of the ruler; it is completed by the establishment of character. ]

When Confucius was at his abode, [in] his dormitory at the school, hisdisciple Zeng Zi was in attendance on him. As a student of Confucius, Zeng Zi was obliged to serve his teacher. Confucius stressed filiality in that one should be filial to one's parents, and likewise, [be respectful] to one's teachers and elders. So for instance, sometimes Confucius might like some tea, and Zeng Zi would oblige with a cup of tea. He would take care of things that Confucius wanted done.

Confucius said, "The ancient kings, China's former sagely emperors of yore, had an utmost virtue, the greatest and of the highest degree attainable, and a crucial principle which is most important.

[Through which they were in accord with all under heaven. ]

By the practice of it the people were brought to live in peace and harmony. If the common people made use of this principle, they would trade strife for peace.

[And there was no ill will between superiors and inferiors. ]

"Do you know what it was?" [Confucius asked.]

Zeng vacated his seat. He got up, and said, "How would I, Shen," being very dense and lacking intelligence, be able to know this? No, I do not know."

The Master said— Confucius went on to say that our bodies—and hair and skin—we received from our parents, and must not presume to injure or wound them. Do not casually harm or damage them. This is the beginning of filial piety, the start of filiality.

However, currently there is a group of individuals in the United States who misunderstand filiality. What is that about? Raving China's "Confucius Says":

"Our bodies—and hair and skin—we received from our parents, and must not presume to injure or wound them: This is the beginning of filial piety,"

a bunch of hippies crop up who do not cut their hair or wash their faces—that would amount to "injuring the hair" and "wounding the skin"—you see. That thinking is wide of the mark.

To "not presume to injure or wound them" does not equate to not cutting one's hair or washing one's face. It is telling you not to bring damage to them. Haircuts are part of the times. [Since] The going trends call for haircuts, [then] one should go with the trends.

Today's hippies want to turn the times around. Brandishing "Confucius Says" yet at the same time—guess what?—they smoke opium and marijuana, and take LSD as if those do not injure or wound their bodies. Those things kill off who-knows-how-many body cells, ruin their health, and practically run their bodies down. They chalk it up to "filiality," and meanwhile, their parents are the furthest thing from their minds—consigned to oblivion. Ask them who their parents are and they draw a blank—and they are supposedly observing Chinese filiality. That is a complete mix-up.

This erroneous thinking needs to be completely corrected. From refusing to cut their hair to engaging their bodies in shady dealings, even robberies and vices—where do you suppose they will end up? If one day they should get gunned down, that would truly be unfilial. Once they get into illegal dealings or robberies, they will either end up killing some policemen or getting killed by the police. Now, is that "to not presume to injure or wound them—the beginning of filial piety"? What a mistake.

Me being in this country, I wish for this country's citizens to follow rules and abide by the law, and therefore I hope to set this deleterious habit right. Do not give in to hatred and resentment. Adopt the nature of the sages and worthies. Be careful with your thoughts and actions. Wherever we are, we should be of benefit to the local people, to that country and to the world. Do not be a menace to the world. That is my wish.

If everyone behaves this way— rejecting work and refusing to be productive—this country will definitely go downhill. Therefore, as we are now learning the Buddha’s teachings, we should all take up jobs and, by working at our jobs, help the world and humankind. [By] setting good examples ourselves, we influence society so [that] human minds [as a whole] will change for the better. That is the responsibilities of Buddhists.

The United States has a great legal system and many fine institutions, especially the education system, which has made education widely available and better. It serves as an exemplar for the world.

Just one more thing [to add to that]: if everyone also learns to be filial to his or her parents, and—as it is said,

A superior person tends to the basis, for when the basis is established, the Way comes forth;

Filial piety and fraternal regard—are they not the basis to being human?

if they can further find that basis and source, then when everyone is filial to their parents, this country will definitely prosper.

A superior person needs to find the foundation and source, and once the foundation and source can stand firm, the Way will come forth.

What is the foundation? Filial piety toward parents and fraternal regard for siblings, i.e., courtesy toward one's siblings [and peers]--no fighting. Filial piety and fraternal regard are the foundation for everyone.

People who are filial to their parents steer clear of the various illegal dealings, and abide by the law making them good citizens of the country. When all the people of the country have become good citizens, they can serve as good citizens of the entire world. They will lead humanity as a whole well onto the right track.

That is why the first order of business for everyone is to know to be filial to his or her parents. Otherwise, what is the point in parents having kids? After giving birth to them, the parents still have to raise them for the next 18 years, and then the kids fly away from the nest, leaving their aging parents behind.

Sure, the parents can move into retirement homes and will have the government as their support system, but there is no kindred affection to speak of. They are left on their own, almost like they are all alone [in the world] and with no one to rely on.

It would be best for children to show filial devotion and care for their own parents, allowing them peace of mind in the waning years of their lives. Or else, once the kids grow up they fly away just like birds, off to no-one-knows-where.

[Of Lambs and Crows]

A Chinese saying goes:

The lamb kneels to nurse;

the crow returns to feed its parents.

When a young crow grows up, it finds food for its parents, and nourishes them until the old crows are strong enough to fly again—only then will the young crow's duties come to an end. Therefore, to the Chinese people, the crow is "the filial bird." When a suckling lamb takes milk from mom, it kneels down on its forelegs.

Humans who fail to be filial to their parents do not even measure up to lambs or crows—that is not intended as a put-down, rather a principle [that] everyone should be aware of. It is especially efficacious if humans can be filial to their parents. How is that so?

[The Story of Guoju]

There is a "Guoju Burying His Baby" story in China that goes like this:

Guoju was a very poor man—the poorest of the poor. He had a wife and a baby son. He also had a very old mother. His mom had lost all her teeth and could not eat any solid food. So she would take the milk of her daughter-in-law—that is, up until the baby came along. Now with two mouths to feed, there was not enough milk to go around, and both grandma and the baby were left hungry.

If the milk were to go to feed grandma, the baby would starve to death; if the milk were allotted to the baby, grandma would die. So it was up to Guoju to come up with a solution.

Guoju talked it over with his wife and, being the most filial person, presented this rationale: Since they both were still young, they could have many more children in their long, married life ahead, but mom was very old and her days were numbered. So they should dispose of the baby for now to focus on keeping mom alive.

Tough as it was for his wife to give up the baby, in order to fulfill their filial duties she relented in the end.

After reaching a decision in their family meeting and with the baby in tow, the couple headed out to the wilderness. What had been their pride and joy they were now going to bury in the ground. No sooner had they begun digging than they hit the jackpot—a huge trove of gold and silver ingots, all with the wording "Heaven's Gift to Filial Son Guoju" inscribed on them! The idea to bury the baby came about because they were poor. Now that they had struck it rich, they could afford to scrap that plan.

This public record is well known to every Chinese person. Many Chinese willingly follow filiality, not out of greed for riches but because they recognize the importance of filial piety.

[V. Its Transmission and Translators]

Fifth, the Translators. According to some editions of the Sutra, the Earth Store Sutra was translated by a Chinese Tripitaka Master, Dharma Master Fa Deng ["dharma-lamp"] circa the late Chen Dynasty. Some other editions list the translator as follows: Translated by Tripitaka Master Shramana Shikshananda of Udyana during the Tang Dynasty .

[ Udyana during the Tang Dynasty :] During the Tang Dynasty, roughly bordering China's Yunnan Province there used to be a kingdom whose name, Udyana, which had a mythical origin. Legends had it that, at a time when the kingdom did have a name which was beyond recall, its emperor who was heirless prayed to the deity of a local temple for a son. Out came a baby boy from the forehead of the deity's image. Isn't that incredible?

However, this baby boy refused to drink milk—no human milk, no cow's milk for him. Later, an udder-like structure appeared on the ground, and the baby boy would nurse on the milk produced from the earth. That was how the country got the name Udyana, a Sanskrit term meaning "Earth Milk." No ordinary cow's milk, mind you, but earth's milk, thus the name "Earth Milk Kingdom." Quite a legend?

A Tripitaka Shramana hailed from Earth Milk Kingdom. Speaking of [the term] "Shramana," since its Chinese transliteration is shamen, "sand door," some Dharma Masters poorly versed in the lecturing of Sutras would explain it like this: "Sand, river sand; sand door, a door made of river sand, and this monk goes in and out of that door, thus shamen, 'sand door.' "

That is wrong. "Shramana," a Sanskrit term, translated into Chinese means:

Diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi and wisdom;

Putting an end to greed, hatred and ignorance.

The phrase has the same meaning as "Shramana."

Diligently cultivating precepts, samadhi and wisdom.: Do not be lazy. Do not think getting more sleep does you good. It might feel natural for your physical body to sleep more, but it is unnatural for your Dharma-body. So, diligently cultivate precepts, Samadhi and wisdom, and put an end to greed, hatred and ignorance.

[Shikshananda:] " Shikshananda," also Sanskrit, translated into Chinese means " Study with Delight." This Shramana was never lazy and was most delighted in learning the Buddhadharma — learning the Shurangama Mantra, the Great Compassion Mantra, and all the areas of Buddhist studies. It gave him great joy, thus his name, Shikshananda.

Translated: To translate is to render the Sanskrit texts into Chinese. It refers to an exchange—exchanging the identical texts in Sanskrit for Chinese.

[The Chinese word for "to translate" is yi.] During the Zhou Dynasty in China, an office was created to oversee languages used in the four directions of the land. The official installed in the north was called "yi," and this word has since come to mean "to translate."

That was Fifth, Its Transmission and Translators.

[VI. Discerning and Explaining the Meaning of the Text]

Sixth, Discerning and Explaining the Meanings of the Text. To discern is to distinguish, and to explain is to elucidate. "Meanings of the Text" refers to meanings of the Sutra text proper.

previous * next * contents

return to top