The Dharma Protection of the Earth Spirit
The name of the great earth spirit referred to in this chapter title is “Firm and Solid,” for that is a primary attribute of the earth. Living beings are to the earth as insects are to a great ocean-going vessel; although they may run back and forth across its surface, they are unable to move the vessel itself at all. Just as a liner moves through the sea, so too does our planet move through space, with living beings on it.
Earth spirits are very numerous. In the Agama Sutras the foremost earth spirit, Firm and Solid, appeared before the Buddha, took a haughty and arrogant stance, and blustered that there were no spirits besides her; she alone was the supreme spirit. She was rather upset to hear the Buddha explain that there were also water and fire spirits as well as earth spirits. When she finally heard the Buddha speak Dharma, she lost her haughtiness and took refuge with the Triple Jewel. Just as the four elemental spirits exist in space, so do the four elements exist within the body of living beings.
The term “earth” was explained earlier in the sutra. Now, it will be explained in another way, this time in terms of the four qualities of nirvana: permanence, happiness, purity, and true-self. Because of the Dharma Door of Prajnaparamita, the earth is unchanging and so can be called permanent; because it supports the ten thousand things it can be said to have the virtues of happiness. The earth gives birth to and supports all things, and since they are pure at birth, it has the virtue of purity; the earth is independent and self-sufficient, and can thus be said to have the virtues of true-self.
In this chapter, the spirit of the earth makes a vow to protect those who recite this sutra and the name of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
At that time the earth spirit Firm and Solid spoke to the Buddha and said, “World-Honored One, from long ago I have personally beheld and paid homage to limitless Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, all of whom have inconceivable and great spiritual penetrations and wisdom, and all of whom cross over many living beings. Among all the Bodhisattvas, Earth Store Bodhisattva, Mahasattva, has the deepest and most weighty vows. World-Honored One, Earth Store Bodhisattva has great affinity with beings in Jambudvipa. Manjusri, Samantabhadra, Avalokitesvara, and Maitreya also transform hundreds of thousands of bodies to cross over those in the Six Paths, but their vows have an end. Earth Store Bodhisattva has made these vows to teach living beings in the Six Paths throughout aeons as many as the number of sand grains in hundreds of thousands of myriads of Ganges Rivers.
“World-Honored One, as I regard the living beings of the present and future, I see those who make shrines of earth, stone, bamboo, or wood and set them in pure places in the southern part of their dwellings. They place within the shrines an image of Earth Store Bodhisattva, either carved, painted, or made of gold, silver, copper, or iron. They then burn incense and make offerings, worship and praise him. By doing these things they will receive ten kinds of advantages and benefits.”
The practice of gazing at the image of a Buddha or Bodhisattva can be likened to that of men and women, who sometimes like to stare ceaselessly at each other for long periods. The gazing between men and women, however, is impure, since it is based on desire. When one gazes at a Buddha, all desire has been transformed into wisdom. Such long gazing is pure and natural, arises spontaneously, and is constantly practices. One may look at an image, look at it again and again, and end up in Buddhahood through gazing.
“What are these ten? Their lands will be fertile; their families and homes will be peaceful; their ancestors will be born in the heavens; they will have benefit and longevity in their present life; what they seek will be as they will; they will escape the disasters of water and fire; they will escape other calamities; their nightmares will cease; they will be protected by spirits in all their comings and goings; and they will encounter many causes of wisdom.”
Those who worship Earth Store Bodhisattva will have fertile lands, and whatever they plant will bring forth abundant harvest. A good harvest is of no major interest, however, if there is not a peaceful home in which to enjoy it, and so the second of the ten benefits is the peace and happiness of the home. In addition to these benefits, those reverent members of the household mentioned above, as well as other relatives who have died, will be able to be born in the heavens, all as a result of having survivors who gaze at and worship Earth Store Bodhisattva.
It may be objected that there is no way to verify these rebirths in the heavens. If you cultivate and work hard, you will attain the penetration of the heavenly eye and be able to see into the heavens for yourself. In any case, the next of the ten benefits is something that can be seen – prolonged lifespans. I had a disciple inHong Kongwho consulted the oracle of the Book of Changes when he was seventy-nine years old. He found he was due to die in that year and was frightened. When he asked me to allow him to take refuge, he also asked to have another ten years of life. I agreed. I told him that if he would strictly obey my instructions and act in accordance with the teachings, I would promise him another twelve years. He did this, and although there was no way to know if my words were true or false, he lived until the age of ninety-two.
All the above benefits affect others. The fifth one promises that one’s own wishes will be fulfilled. If you wish to obtain a good spouse, it will happen; if you have left home and wish to be a good bhiksu or bhiksuni that will occur as well. Of course, it is best not to have any desire for these results, but if you do, they will come about.
The sixth benefit insures freedom from being drowned or burned. Earlier, when discussing the four elemental spirits, I neglected to mention their appearance, but now, since I notice that the fire spirit has come to join us, I’ll describe them to you. The fire spirit is like a great one-legged red bird who runs away as soon as his name, Fang Mien, is called. The water spirit, named Wang Hsiang, looks like a little boy with red eyes and very long ears that droop to the ground. Although it is very difficult to encounter such spirits, if you do, and if you can catch and eat one, you can become a water spirit yourself.
The seventh of the ten benefits which accrue to those who worship Earth Store Bodhisattva is freedom from calamities and unexpected accidents. The eighth is that all nightmares will cease. Sometimes people have dreams and wake up to find that they are immobilized by a large heavy creature who keeps them from moving or speaking. Those who have this problem, caused by ghosts called Nightmare Ghosts, or Kumbhandas, will not have them again after they cultivate the worship of Earth Store Bodhisattva.
The ninth benefit is that such persons will always be protected by spirits in whatever they do. If, for example, they are in an automobile accident and manage to escape without a scratch, it is because of such protection. The tenth of the benefits insures that they will encounter many causes of wisdom. This includes opportunities to hear lectures on sutras and to practice cultivation.
“World-Honored One, living beings of the present and future will obtain these advantages and benefits if they can construct a place of worship and make offerings in their homes.”
Firm and Solid continued to speak to the Buddha: “World-Honored One, if good men or women in the future keep this sutra and an image of the Bodhisattva in their homes, and if in addition they recite the sutra and make offerings to the Bodhisattva, I shall use my spiritual powers to surround and protect them day and night so that all threat of floods, fire, robbery and theft, great calamities, and small accidents, will be eradicated.”
The Buddha told the earth spirit Firm and Solid, “There are few spirits who can match the great spiritual power you possess. Why? All the lands in Jambudvipa receive your protection; all the grasses, woods, sands, stones, paddy fields, hemp, bamboo, reeds, grains, rice, and gems come forth from the ground because of your power. Moreover, your constant praise of the beneficial deeds of Earth Store Bodhisattva makes your meritorious virtues and spiritual penetrations hundreds of thousands of times those of ordinary earth spirits.
“If good men or women make offerings in the future to this Bodhisattva, or recite and rely upon the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva in their cultivation, you should use your spiritual power to protect them and not allow disastrous or unwelcome affairs even to be heard, much less undergone by them. Not only will those people be protected by you, but Brahma, Sakra, and their retinues, as well as the retinues of all the other gods, shall also protect them. Why will they obtain protection from worthies and sages such as these? They obtain such great protection from having beheld and worshipped the image of Earth Store Bodhisattva, and from having recited this sutra of his past vows. They shall naturally leave the sea of suffering and certify to the bliss of nirvana.”
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.