His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s Puja Teachings – July 10, 2016

During the general puja held at the Glorious Jewel Buddhist Center in Taipei, disciples and believers listened with reverence to a recording of extracts from His Eminence RinchenDorjee Rinpoche’s teachings bestowed during the Ksitigarbha Blessing Puja that had been held on December 19th, 2015 at the Japanese Buddhist Center.

“Today I will be performing the Dharma of Ksitigarbha, and expounding the significance of the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows. I have not taught this sutra in Taiwan, but I especially wanted to perform this Dharma for Japanese believers due to the fact that in many places around Japan, there are sacred statues of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. These are made of stone and other materials and worshiped in various ways. For example, a stone statue of Ksitigarbha has been erected at the intersection one passes when entering this Buddhist Center. However, Japanese believers do not understand how Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, this Mahasattva, can help us sentient beings. They only know how to implore Ksitigarbha for peace and protection for their children, and to chant His name when someone passes away.

“According to what was recorded in the sutras, Ksitigarbha is one of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, and the only one that takes the form of a monastic or a Bhikkhu. The other seven take the form of lay practitioners. What is a Bodhisattva? To put it simply, a Bodhisattva is an awakened sentient being. ‘Awakened’ means realized, and sentient beings exist in the Six Realms—the Heaven, Asura, Human, Animal, Hungry Ghost, and Hell Realms. We call all beings of these Six Realms sentient, meaning they are prone to the seven emotions and the six desires, have afflictions, and possess the ability to choose. As someone once pointed out, vegetables are life forms, too. If, as a Buddhist practitioner, you eat vegetarian, then aren’t you eating living beings as well?

According to the Buddha’s definition, there is a separation between sentient life and non-sentient life. Plants do not experience the seven emotions and the six desires; they only know how to extract nutrients from cells so that they can grow. That is very different from sentient beings of the Six Realms, which have those emotions and desires, afflictions, and ability to choose. An awakened sentient being is a Bodhisattva; having not yet attained Buddhahood, Bodhisattvas are sentient beings, but they differ from us in that they have attained realization. They have a clear understanding that all the various matters of the mundane world are afflictions, and they know very well which sorts of behavior result in going to which realms. They also understand how to keep themselves and other sentient beings from falling into the Three Evil Realms and suffering in reincarnation.

“A lot of people don’t really believe in ‘reincarnation;’ they all think one only lives once. Actually, there are many records of reincarnation in multiple places around the world, including Japan, China, Europe, and America. Some people are quite cognizant of where and when they lived in the previous lifetime and of what their names were, and can even state in great detail who their parents were back then. Recently an incident occurred in Europe in which a three-year-old boy who knew he’d been murdered in his previous lifetime was able to explain everything about his death, including where his corpse was, what the murder weapon had been, and his killer’s name.

“Therefore, reincarnation was not invented by the Buddha; it is a natural law of the universe. To put it in simpler terms, even we humans are made of matter, and all matter experiences birth and death: It is constantly coming into being and ceasing to exist, over and over, and this cycle has never stopped. The Buddha realized that reincarnation is a form of suffering. Throughout our lives, we undergo eight different kinds of suffering: Birth, old age, sickness, death, inability to get what we want, having to say goodbye to loved ones, and hateful rage—meaning being forced to be with people we hate the most and go through the Five Aggregates of burning and hardship. We are constantly reincarnating through these eight sufferings, through lifetime after lifetime. Therefore, an awakened sentient being is a practitioner who has cultivated to the level of a Bodhisattva and then gains a profound realization of the suffering endured by all sentient beings; this realization causes such a Bodhisattva to want to help them.

“The fruition level of a Bodhisattva is measured in terms of Grounds; that is, one begins at the First Ground and cultivates all the way to the Sixteenth Ground. Upon reaching the Seventeenth Ground, a Bodhisattva has attained Buddhahood. Those of the First through the Eighth Grounds are Bodhisattvas of initial aspiration. It is written in the sutras that prior to attaining the Eighth Ground, Bodhisattvas still have a chance of retrogressing. What is retrogression? It means losing the aspiration or even the will to help sentient beings. A Mahasattva is one that has cultivated higher than the Eighth Ground; in the sutras, these are often referred to as Dharmakaya Bodhisattvas. What does the partial word ‘Dharma’ here mean? It means these Bodhisattvas are completely enlightened, in a state of Emptiness, immersing Themselves with all phenomena in the universe. Bodhisattvas of the Ninth Ground and higher are called Dharmakaya Bodhisattvas, or Mahasattvas. Basically, this means all Bodhisattvas higher than the Eighth Ground are preparing to attain Buddhahood. Ksitigarbha is one of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas.

“I hope that I can finish expounding the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows to you Japanese believers as quickly as possible so that you will know which actions in life result in which effects, and understand how to change your future.
“The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows is an account of the introduction of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha given in Trāyastriṃśa Heaven by Shakyamuni Buddha while speaking the Dharma to His deceased mother. Therefore, this sutra is of great importance to humankind. Furthermore, in this text Shakyamuni Buddha instructs Ksitigarbha to relay Shakyamuni’s teachings to all sentient beings after the Buddha enters nirvana and before the arrival of the next Buddha, Maitreya. Thus, worshiping and revering Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is tantamount to respecting Shakyamuni Buddha; this is why we are able to learn the Right Dharma in this lifetime.

“Today we will performTantra first. Buddhism is divided into two major types, one of which we call Exoteric. Exoteric Buddhism involves studying the sutras, which is why they fall under the purview of Exoteric Buddhism. Is it possible to attain Buddhahood by practicing Exoteric Buddhism? It is, but it takes a very long time; it requires three great Asana-khyeyas—a length of time immeasurableusing human mathematics. Exoteric teachings include all Buddhist theory. Many people learning Buddhism make the error of hoping that they can wait to start practicing after they have gained an understanding of the Dharma. You have all gone through school; when you were in elementary school, did you ever tell your teacher that you would only start going to class after you had learned everything? Okay, so why do you think learning the Dharma is any different? In Buddhism, you are actually not even at the level of elementary school students yet; you are more like kids just entering kindergarten. Don’t assume that just because you are educated, experienced, or are even a CEO, it means you can see the characters in the scripture and automatically understand what they mean.

“There are two parts to Buddhism; Exoteric teachings comprise one of them, which involve theory. Parallels can be drawn to anything in life; for example, in cooking, a master chef might teach his students a lot of theory, but if they don’t put those principles to practice, they will not be able to cook up any tasty dishes. Thus, theory is merely a foundation; it teaches what to do, but in order to learn how to actually do it, you must learn Tantra. Tantra is neither secret nor mysterious; the word ‘Tantra’ means that a Tantric practitioner’s mind is very firm in that he or she would never stop cultivating due to any mundane interferences or let anything hinder him or her from helping sentient beings. To explain Tantra from another angle, using an example I often give, from the point of view of elementary school students, the curricula taught by a university professor might seem like secrets, because to them such teachings are abstruse. Even if the professor were to explain those lessons over and over, the students would still have a hard time understanding; it would all seem very mysterious. Tantra is a step up from Exoteric cultivation, but it cannot be learned without first having a solid foundation in Exoteric Buddhism. When learningTantra, one’s lineage is of particular importance, which has to do with which guru you follow and learn from. One does not become a guru simply by being able to chant a mantra or two. He must be able to very clearly demonstrate where he learned Tantra and how he learned it. My guru is His Holiness the DrikungKyabgonChetsang. I conduct a retreat just about every year; I am not a Rinpoche just because I say so.

“Today I will start out by performing Tantra to respectfully invite Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to approach this mandala and bestow blessings so that we can reduce the attachments and afflictions from our past lives, and to reveal the pure Dharma nature with which we are each naturally endowed. This allows us to receive Ksitigarbha’s teachings and plant good causes and conditions, thus allowing all our future endeavors to go a bit more smoothly, whether in our Buddhist practice or in our mundane affairs.

“At the beginning of the puja, I had you recite the Refuge Aspiration Prayer and the Four Immeasurables. These represent our motive for participating in the puja. If your purpose in being here is to seek protection and blessings, then assistance and blessings bestowed upon you by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will be limited. Why? The reason is that Their intention and aspiration is to help sentient beings escape the suffering sea of reincarnation. Therefore, if your vows, what you recite, and your intention are the same as Theirs, then They naturally will have more power to assist you. If you are only here out of curiosity or to gain a sense of security, then will attending the puja with such narrow-mindedness be of any use to you? It still will, but you’ll merely obtain a bit of good fortune. However, this sort of good fortune will not help you in your cultivation, nor will it help you to change your future. Simply put, it is like earning a little money, but this currency can be used up; you cannot continue to use it indefinitely.

“Therefore, I hope that this Ksitigarbha Blessing Puja held over the next couple of days will bring benefits to Japan, all its believers, and the rest of its people. When the Buddha spoke of ‘benefits,’ He was referring to a hope that this place would be harmonious, experience a reduction in disasters, famine, and so on, and even avoid the occurrence of wars. That is the aspiration of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

“If you are unable to settle your mind down, it is okay; you may look at the mandala, and that will help, as will looking at the guru. You are not true practitioners yet, so your mind being full of thoughts is quite normal. While there is nothing wrong with this, you should learn to control your thoughts and keep them from continuously stretching out. If you get drowsy, concentrating your gaze on the oil lamps atop the mandala can revive you. What causes you to feel sleepy? First of all, if you ordinarily eat meat, then you will easily fall asleep while attending pujas. The karmic retribution for dozing off is to be reincarnated in your next lifetime as a pet, in the Animal Realm. You have some good fortune due to having heard the Dharma, but if you fall asleep and stop listening, then you will be reborn as an animal that cannot understand human language. Another reason you feel sleepy is that you do not possess sufficient respect for the Three Jewels, which include the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the Dharma spoken by the Buddha, and the teachings of your guru. What does it mean that you don’t have enough respect? It means you do not completely believe in Them, so you are quite liable to fall asleep. A third reason has to do with your health. It is not that you aren’t getting enough sleep at night; rather, it is that you do not have very good qiand blood flow, so you get drowsy very easily. Nevertheless, it is very important that you do your best to keep from dozing off.

“Therefore, we will begin by inviting the yidam to this mandala to bless sentient beings, and this afternoon I will expound the significance and contents of the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows so that you can understand Shakyamuni Buddha’s true purpose in introducing Ksitigarbha to us. The Buddha went out of His way to do this, and to speak the Dharma to His mother in the Palace of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, because Ksitigarbha is extremely important to humankind. Without this Bodhisattva’s help, many bad things would happen; for this reason, great reverence is paid to Ksitigarbha in both China and Japan. Not many people are able to master the Dharma of Ksitigarbha, though, because Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha works very hard, and His Dharma therefore is noteasily learned. What I mean by ‘hard’ is that He is extremely busy, benefiting and assisting sentient beings non-stop. However, as long as you form a connection with Ksitigarbha, and cultivate accordingly, then He will help you and bless you both in your Buddhist practice and in your mundane lives. Furthermore, why am I making a point of expounding this sutra? It contains very clear explanations of cause and effect, as well as cause and condition. If we have no understanding of these principles, then we could mistakenly commit evil while thinking we are doing good. Causality is not invented by the Buddha; it comprises a natural principle of the universe. Because the Buddha could see clearly the causes we had planted through many long ages into the past, as well as the effects that would happen in our future, He gave us a very detailed explanation of them.

“Buddhism lays great importance on two aspects: cause and condition as well as cause and effect, and how to resolve the suffering of reincarnation endured by ourselves and other sentient beings. Herein lies the true significance of the Dharma; it is not a simple matter of making a few prostrations, burning some incense, and tossing five hundred yen or so into the collection tray in return for protection and blessings. Surely your life is worth more than that! You only dropped that five-hundred-yen coin into the basket because everyone else did, and you were too embarrassed not to follow suit. However, this does not count as an offering; you’ve merely provided that temple with a bit of financial support. Therefore, if we genuinely wish to learn Buddhism, we must make a firm resolution to practice. Do not see it as a leisure activity, or assume the Dharma will protect you after you’ve just come to listen when you had nothing else to do.

“As you all know, I am a lay practitioner, and I have my own business comprising more than ten companies. A few days ago I learned that I now have over 130 employees. Who would you say is busier—you or I? The number of disciples I have in Taiwan has grown to 1,500, so do you really think your hands are fuller than mine? I don’t do business all that aggressively, but because Buddhism is my life, I do everything just right. You, on the other hand, have not even made a firm resolution to practice. You do not understand that the Dharma can truly raise up our quality of life. Everyone thinks practicing Buddhism means finding monks to recite the sutras when a family member dies, and that inviting them to your home to recite the sutras each month will provide you with blessings and protection. As I often mention, His Holiness is my guru; I can speak the Dharma, too, but does that mean I don’t have to cultivate or conduct retreats? Therefore, Buddhism is not just of use to the deceased, and its purpose is not limited to providing some blessings and protection. It gives us a very good method of education. If you can learn and accept the Dharma, then I can tell you without a doubt that your future will change. I am a very clear, definite example of this; without my Buddhist practice, I would not be here. I hope you all can come to realize the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ compassion, and understand that they would never coerce or intimidate us. Who, then, has not decided to act? You. If you haven’t seen anyone benefit from Buddhism, then of course you will not believe in it.

“I am nearly seventy years old, and ever since I was thirty-six, all that I’ve obtained in life has come from Buddhism. Many people say doing business is very important to them, but they can’t compare to me! Why do I still have time to practice, conduct retreats, and help sentient beings? I have made a firm resolution and understand the benefits of the Dharma, whereas you have not, so you find all sorts of excuses and constantly complain about how you are far too busy to practice! None of you is busier than I am! In Taiwan, a lot of people seek my help in resolving their problems on a daily basis. Thus, the reason I am specially performing the Dharma of Ksitigarbha today is that He has a very good affinity with us humans, and an especially close connection with Chinese and Japanese. It is my hope that the Japanese believers will give rise to a true, genuine faith in Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, that His Dharma can begin to spread throughout Japan, and that it can benefit even more people who are suffering.

“Every time I come to Japan, I see the country helplessly embroiled in a lot of impossible situations. Even if the government wants to resolve them, it cannot. I saw a story on the news today that said that because so many couples are not having children these days, fewer and fewer people are available to provide childcare, and the same is true of old age care. This might seem like someone else’s problem, but from the point of view of causality, it isn’t; it’s an issue that affects us all. If we don’t have any notion of caring for the elderly when we are young, then we won’t have anyone to care for us once we ourselves grow old. Why do Chinese say we should practice filial piety and treat the elderly well? The reason is quite simple: If you are good to them now, then later on, in your old age, others will treat you well, too. This is cause and effect.

“Take my mother, for example: She can’t even read, so why should her son constantly be so filial toward her? Ever since I was little I have seen how well she treated her own mother, so it is quite natural that this karmic effect has happened to her! However, nowadays we are all being influenced by Western culture in which the norm is to look after oneself first and foremost, without regard for anyone else. Therefore, people often feel sorry for the elderly living in Western countries. One day when I was chatting with His Holiness, he pointed out that I had done very well to take care of my mother until she passed away at the age of ninety-one. He said that he’d seen some pitiful old people in America who had no one to care for them, and had even seen one elderly man standing in the street, pissing his britches, completely unaware. This is a human tragedy; peoplehave become like animals, urinating unconsciously.

“The reason I am specially expounding this sutra today is to help all humans to avoid suffering in their old age. Everyone grows old, and the suffering process is greater than you can imagine—part of the so-called ‘suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death.’ Thus, the purpose of Buddhism is not to help you in this moment; it is for your future. If you can accept the Dharma, believe in it, and even make a firm resolution to implement it in your everyday lives, then I can guarantee that your future will change for the better, because I am a very obvious example of this. In the past I have been so poor I could not afford a bite to eat; there was no way I could have predicted that one day I would have more than a hundred employees as I do now. Therefore, if I can do it, then you can, too. If you do not succeed, it is for a very simple reason: You do not believe. As is written in this sutra, you have scorned the Three Jewels.

“It is also written in the sutra that as long as we can listen to its teachings closely, we will benefit our karmic creditors from past lives and our ancestors. When it comes to expounding the sutras, my approach is a bit different from others. In China, this sutra is read by just about every disciple who has taken refuge in Buddhism. However, many think erroneously that the point of reciting this sutra is merely about transferring consciousness and liberating ghosts, when it actually is most useful for expecting mothers. Reciting it while pregnant is very good, and can guarantee a smooth delivery; this is even mentioned in the sutra. While expounding its contents, I do not simply leaf through a bunch of other sutras for evidence to confirm line by line what is written there; rather, I draw from more than twenty years of cultivation experience as well as my guru’s teachings.

“In other words, without experience in cultivation, expounding the sutra is reduced to using the written word to explain the written word. We should be clear about something—that the sutras are not just any books, nor are they a teacher’s textbooks. Just because you might understand them literally does not mean you canread and comprehend their meaning. You must verify for yourselves, through your own cultivation, to determine whether the Dharma you practice is in line with what is written in the sutras. Only if it is will you be qualified to expound them to sentient beings. Hence the ancient saying that the Dharma is not explained by way of literal interpretation; its true meaning and significance can only be realized through practical experience.

Chapter Three: Contemplation ‘on the Karmic Connection between Sentient Beings

“The word ‘contemplation’ here refers to the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ use of Their Dharma Eyes and Buddha Eyes. The Buddha pointed out that sentient beings living in the Six Realms possess naked eyes, deva eyes, and so on, but that only Buddhas have Buddha eyes. Usually when we talk about someone with supernatural powers, he or she can see all things in the universe with deva eyes. Dharma eyes are different from deva eyes in that the former allow someone who is free of distracting thoughts and has recovered his or her pure nature, like the Buddha’s, to observe all the phenomena of sentient beings’ existence. Therefore, this ‘contemplation’ does not mean looking at it with our naked eyes; it means seeing with Dharma eyes things which even deva eyes cannot reveal. Thus, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas use Their Dharma eyes and Buddha eyes to observe all reincarnating sentient beings in the Six Realms. Next in the title of this chapter, ‘karma’ is the force that causes us to keep reincarnating. Whether our actions in this lifetime are good or evil, as long as they produce karmic energy, they will cause us to reincarnate. Therefore, this chapter is about seeing all of the good and evil karma produced by sentient beings, as well as all their causal conditions, with Buddha eyes. The words ‘Chapter Three’ simply mean that this is the third section of the sutra.

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, Lady Maya, the Buddha’s mother, with palms joined, asked Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha respectfully, “O Holy One, what will be the retribution for the various karmas created by the sentient beings of Jambudvipa?”’

“At that time, the Buddha’s mother, Lady Maya, spoke. Though she had the honor of being the Buddha’s biological mother, she herself had not attained the fruition of a Mahasattva; as such,when imploring the Dharma, she still needed to ask Ksitigarbha respectfully ‘with palms joined.’ Putting one’s palms together like this is done in many religions around the world, but in Buddhism it means something different. As we all know, humans have ten fingers; when we steeple them together, it means we are reverently imploring the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on behalf of all sentient beings in the Ten Directions of the Dharma Realm. Additionally, our left hand represents compassion, and our right hand represents Buddhist activities. If we are compassionate but unable to act, then our compassion cannot come to fruition; if we are able to help sentient beings but have no compassion, then we will have attachments. As such, we must possess the compassion of Emptiness. Joining our palms together indicates that we wish to learn the Buddha’s compassion and the ways in which He benefits sentient beings.

“Secondly, this gesture also represents our intention to accumulate good fortune through practice. What is good fortune used for? It is divided into two types. One is good fortune of the Human and Heaven Realms, and that comprises our human bodies as well as everything we enjoy and use in this lifetime. Whether or not we have money, or live in comfort, has to do with the good fortune we cultivated in our past lives which has carried forward to this one. It can be used up, and this is true in the Heaven Realm, too. In many religions, it is believed that after we die, we go to heaven. They pay no heed to the fact that one day, all our humanly and heavenly fortune will be exhausted. It’s as if we have some savings in a bank account; if we do not continue to make money, those savings will eventually get used up, just as good fortune of the Human and Heaven Realms can be. So what sort of fortune should we cultivate? It is the supramundane kind. By practicing the Dharma, we can obtain good fortune of merits. These are what we generate by keeping the precepts, conducting retreats, and so on.

“This sort of good fortune can, on the one hand, change our karma from past lives; on the other, it can allow us to attain Buddhahood. Thirdly, it can enable us to benefit sentient beings. Therefore, the need to make offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas prior to performing any Dharma is yet another way of cultivating good fortune. In addition, we still have to unlock our innate wisdom. Every sentient being possesses the same wisdom as the Buddha, but our wisdom has been concealed from us by the Five Poisons: Greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. Wisdom is not smartness; it has nothing to do with mundane intelligence. Only through cultivation can we unlock our wisdom. A practitioner needs to accumulate good fortune and unlock his or her wisdom, so joining one’s palms together represents the dual cultivation of fortune and wisdom.

“The action of clasping our palms together thusly, from the base of our palms, means that by learning the Dharma, we can break away from all that would cause us to fall into the Three Evil Realms. Therefore, I could speak for more than an hour about this seemingly simple gesture and still not completely explain its significance. Do not underestimate the Dharma; it is very profound, and each of the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ actions has its own very deep meaning. Is it a pain that everything is so abstruse? Actually, it isn’t abstruse at all; once you have cultivated and reached a certain state, you will understand the Buddha’s words quite well. Thus, when Lady Maya addressed Ksitigarbha respectfully ‘with palms joined,’ she was not being superficially polite or casually bowing her head; her reverence was genuine, and she was asking a question of the Bodhisattva with great sincerity.

“‘Holy One’ here is an appellation for Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, and the word ‘Jambudvipa’ refers to the realm in which sentient beings live. Compared to the rest of the universe, Earth is a very strange place. On our planet there are the Hungry Ghost Realm, the Animal Realm, the Human Realm, and even a few Heaven Realms, all coexisting. ‘Jambudvipa’ is a name Buddha specially gave to Earth long ago. It is written in the sutras that Mt. Sumeru contains two planets that are the same as Earth. In astronomy, indications that there might be an Earth-like planet out there have gradually been discovered, but that still hasn’t been confirmed. Thus, ‘the sentient beings of Jambudvipa’ means all sentient beings living on Earth. The question, ‘What will be the retribution for the various karmas created,’ means ‘What are the reasons behind the different karmic effects experienced as a result of their good and evil actions?’

“The sutra reads, ‘Ksitigarbha replied, “Regarding the thousands of myriads of worlds and lands, some contain hells and some do not. In some there are women, while in others there are none. In some there is Buddhadharma and in others there is not. This also applies to the presence or absence of sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas in all these worlds. Thus, the retribution for evil acts in the various hells falls into more than just one category.”’

“In speaking of ‘thousands of myriads of worlds,’Ksitigarbha was not merely referring to our solar system or even the Milky Way. In the Buddha’s view, the universe contains many, many worlds, on each of which resides a Buddha. Scientifically speaking, this means that there would be a great many galaxies out there, a fact verified by contemporary astronomy. In the sutras, the Buddha also said that this void is infinite, meaning it is so large that is has no end. Present-day astronomy has also proved that the universe is constantly expanding, but the Buddha had actually seen this to be true thousands of years ago.

“The words, ‘and lands,’ mean that some places in the Milky Way Galaxy might only contain the land of one nation and some contain hells, while others do not. On some reside women, on some they don’t; in some worlds the Dharma exists, while in others, that is not the case. ‘This also applies to the presence or absence of sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas in all these worlds.’ This means that on each world there exist different causal conditions; not every world necessarily has a hell, or women, or Buddhism, or even sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, meaning arhats and PratyekabuddhaBuddhaswho have attained fruition by themselves. ‘The retribution for evil acts in the various hells falls into more than just one category.’ This means that whether or not a world contains a hell, the karmic retribution of going to hell is the worst. In other words, the karmic retribution for the worst sorts of evil acts is to fall into hell. Thus, going to the Hungry Ghost Realm is a bit better than falling intothe Hell Realm, and going to the Animal Realm is better than both of those. Of course, being reborn in the Human Realm is somewhat better than reincarnating in any of the Three Evil Realms.

“The sutra reads, ‘Lady Maya addressed the Bodhisattva again, saying, “I still wish to hear about the kinds of retribution induced by committing evil in Jambudvipa.” Ksitigarbha replied, “O Holy Mother, please listen; I shall speak briefly on this subject.” The Buddha’s mother said, “Please do, O Holy One!” Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha then addressed the Holy Mother: “In southern Jambudvipa, the retribution for various sins is as follows….”’

“Lady Maya went on to implore Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to speak about the evil acts of sentient beings on Earth, and which ones would send them to which of the Three Evil Realms. Ksitigarbha replied, ‘O Holy Mother, please listen; I shall speak briefly on this subject.’ The reason He addressed her as ‘Holy Mother’ was that He was speaking to Shakyamuni Buddha’s mother; without her, Shakyamuni Buddha would not have been born—hence the very respectful form of address. What is the significance of this? If she had not cultivated great good fortune through Buddhist practice in her past lives, then she could not have given birth to Shakyamuni Buddha. Therefore, the Chinese saying, ‘good fortune will come to those families that practice virtuous deeds,’ means that good things are sure to happen to households that do a lot of good deeds through generation after generation, and they are bound to produce good offspring. In other words, good children and grandchildren do not simply appear out of nowhere; their behavior definitely has to do with their parents and even their ancestors. What sort of connection is it? It determines whether they commit evil or do good deeds. Thus, your offspring’s virtue does not come from how successful they are in their work, how much money they make, or how educated they are; these are all just mundane factors. From a Buddhist point of view, a family is only virtuous if it produces a practitioner. If it does not produce any at all, then it will only ‘smell of copper’—meaning it will never have anything more than financial wealth. A family that does not produce any Buddhist practitioners will reincarnate according to its karmic force. This is the reason Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha respectfully addressed Lady Maya as ‘O Holy Mother.’

“The words, ‘please listen,’ mean ‘I hope you can listen to me speak.’ ‘I shall speak briefly on this subject’—this means Ksitigarbha would only give a summary rather than speak in great detail about it. The reason for this is that sentient beings would not have the patience to listen to it all. If Ksitigarbha had given a very detailed explanation, many of the sentient beings present would have run off. For example, right now if I were to expound this sutra very meticulously and penetratingly, a bunch of you would stop listening. Why is that? You’d say you’ve never heard it before, or that you didn’t know about it; isn’t that the case? I therefore have to relate the sutras’ meaning to you briefly, speaking only on the matters that you can understand; it would be useless for me to talk about content that you cannot fathom.

“Lady Maya said that she hoped the Holy One would tell her these things. In reply, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha immediately started telling Shakyamuni Buddha’s mother about southern Jambudvipa. Earth is in the southern part of Mt. Sumeru, which is why it is called ‘southern Jambudvipa.’ ‘The retribution for various sins is as follows….’ This means that these are the names of the various karmic retributions for offenses committed.

“The sutra reads, ‘“If one should fail to fulfill one’s filial duty toward his or her parents or, even worse, kill or harm them, that person will fall into Avici Hell, where he or she will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.”’

“The first subject Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha spoke of was filial piety. Being unfilial brings the worst possible karmic retribution. What does it mean to truly be a good son or daughter? There are two types of filial piety. In a mundane context, at the very least, you must fulfill the four offerings, which include providing your parents with food, clothing, medicine, and a place to live. You must continuously make these offerings in earnest and according to the Dharma; ‘in earnest’ means you can’t just casually cook an easy meal or buy just any garment for your parents; rather, you must get them something they like. In years past, I would always buy my elderly mother one or two pieces of clothing whenever I came to Japan. It always made her very happy, not because her son had bought something for her, but because she knew I had remembered her, including what colors she liked. Why is it imperative that we practice filial piety? In the sutras it is written that even with all the wealth in the universe, we can never repay the debt of gratitude we owe our parents for giving birth to us and raising us. Therefore, besides this mundane sort of filial piety, these four offerings, we also must keep from allowing our affairs to become afflictions on our parents. It seems common among kids these days to go through a rebellious period, run away from home, and try to break away from their parents’ supervision; this shows a lack of filial piety.

“Why are children these days more and more difficult to teach?To mention a very simple matter, mothers nowadays don’t breastfeed anymore; they feed their children cow’s milk and goat’s milk. Well, you are what you eat. Is there any evidence of this? To give an example, I have four siblingsand my second-eldest sister was raised on a wet nurse’s milk; as a result, she has a very different temperament from her brothers and sisters. Her personality is more like the wet nurse’s. Therefore, if you feed your children cow’s milk, they will have the same temper as a cow—stubborn and difficult to teach. This is happening more and more to so many children these days, especially now that cow’s milk has a bunch of strange additives. This is why there are so many more children’s diseases now.

“You should not trouble your parents with your own affairs. Many people like to take their issues home and discuss them with their parents, thinking that in doing so they will be able to get their parents’ opinions on the matter at hand. I remember that from the time I was eighteen and had begun looking for my first job, right up until my mother passed away, not once did I ever bother her with any of my problems. I became so poor that I couldn’t even afford to eat, but my mother didn’t know about it; I didn’t even let her be affected too much by my divorce. Why was that? My elderly mother had lived for decades, and I was an adult, so why would I dump my afflictions on her? Good sons and daughters naturally do not wish to cause trouble, do anything beyond their capabilities, or make their parents worry about them. This is called mundane filial piety. To be honest, not all parents hope their children will rise among the masses; their main hope is that their kids can grow up safely and soundly. What happens next is entirely up to the children.

“As for supramundane filial piety, our duty is to practice Buddhism with diligence so that we can help our parents to leave the suffering sea of reincarnation. As you saw from my mother’s death, if she had not given birth to me in this lifetime, how could she have gotten qualified to go to Amitabha’s Pure Land? She was illiterate and did not understand how to repent or make a vow; furthermore, I am not a reincarnated Rinpoche. As a result, the opportunity to make her develop complete faith in the Dharma never existed! However, because I had cultivated diligently, I was able to help her go to the Pure Land. This is the greatest form of filial piety.

“Therefore, instances of being unfilial toward one’s parents or even murdering them are happening all over the world. For example, cases of patricide and matricide happen with terrible frequency in Taiwan. If that ever happened in ancient China, though, the local parental officer (such as the county magistrate) would immediately be sacked and put in jail. Why was that? It was because that person in charge had not done a good job of teaching the people how to behave. In modern times, though, it’s like it’s no big deal. Perhaps these children were raised in abusive households, and after not being able to take it anymore, they killed their parents. In some cases, the mother is being beaten by the father, so the child rises up and kills the father. There are so many stories like this. Whether or not our parents brought us up, we still owe them a debt of gratitude for giving birth to us. If it weren’t for our mothers and fathers, we would not exist today. If your parents had not had you and raised you, then would you be able to enjoy any of your so-called worldly good fortune? Since we owe our parents a great debt of kindness, we have no reason to kill them. Never mind matricide or patricide; even just fighting with them or raising a hand to them would be wrong.

“The line, ‘…that person will fall into Avici Hell,’ means that anyone who is unfilial or commits matricide or patricide is bound to go to Avici Hell. What is Avici Hell? First of all, it is timeless. Second, the suffering there is non-stop. Third, it has no set space. That means that even if you were alone there, in such a huge hell, you would feel as though you were just in a tiny room. You would be surrounded by many suffering sentient beings, but it would seem to you like you were the only one suffering. This is very horrifying. I have seen it, but this horror is difficult to explain. When I say I’ve seen it, I do not mean I’ve dreamt of it; I have seen it while cultivating. If you fall into this hell and the world it is in—such as Earth—is destroyed, then the sentient beings in Avici Hell would be moved over to another world, where they would continue suffering and facing their karmic retribution. Therefore, anyone who is unfilial to his or her parents in this lifetime should be careful.

“‘…Where he or she will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.’ When the Buddha says the word ‘kalpa,’ He means a very, very long time. There are two sayings regarding this. One is that we humans used to live until we were eighty thousand years old, but every century that passed, our lifespan was shortened by a year. After it was shortened to only being a decade long, a year was added to our longevity each century until we again lived until we were eighty thousand years old. This cycle is called a minor kalpa. At the moment, humans exist in the part of the cycle in which our lifespan is being shortened; that is, every century that passes, we lose a year from our lifespan. You would surely object and point out that there are still many who live into their seventies or eighties; even my own mother lived into her nineties, it seems. However, there are not many like this. If you pay attention to the people around you, just about all of them are dying when they are sixty-something years old. Right now our longevity has been reduced to around seventy. This means that in the future, our human lifespans will get shorter and shorter, and this cannot be changed no matter how advanced medicine gets. The only way to circumvent it is if all of humanity were to stop committing acts of killing and only do good deeds; that would turn our longevity around. Another explanation is that a kalpa is the time it takes for a planet to go through the cycle of Formation, Existence, Destruction, and the Succeeding Void. In other words, this planet was formed, and now we sentient beings are living on it; eventually this planet will be destroyed and turn into nothing. Here on Earth we have begun to enter the Destruction phase; as you can see, many things are happening that indicate the world is beginning to fall apart. ‘Thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas’ is a very long time indeed; though you beg to be released from Avici Hell, your time there might as well be endless.

“The sutra reads, ‘“If someone should shed the blood of a Buddha, ridicule the Three Jewels, or fail to respect the sutras, then he, too, will fall into Avici Hell, where he will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.”’

“Regarding the words, ‘shed the blood of a Buddha,’ this happened in the past, back in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Out of jealousy, Devadatta dropped a rock on the Buddha’s foot, causing it to bleed. Now we don’t have any opportunities to see a living Buddha, so how could we possibly cause one to bleed? There are two ways to ‘shed the blood of a Buddha.’ One is to ruin a Buddha statue. For example, some people deliberately destroy Buddha statues whenever they see them. ‘Deliberately’ means doing it intentionally; accidentally ruining a statue does not count. ‘Accidentally’ means doing it unconsciously, without planning to. Destroying a Buddha image counts as shedding the blood of a Buddha, too.

“One time, about twenty years ago, I accompanied some people to a Buddhist shop that specialized in selling Tibetan Buddhist statues. It was summer, and we were in short sleeves. As I took my time strolling through the shop, looking at its wares, I suddenly felt an intense itch on my arm. I scratched and scratched, and eventually it bled a little. I was perplexed, because the shop was closed off from the outside so there could not have been any mosquitoes, especially during the daytime like that. I left those friends and continued viewing the Buddha statues on my own. Abruptly I turned to see the very statue of Four-Armed Avalokiteshvarato which you now make prostrations. In one of its left arms, right in the spot where I’d bled, was an indentation. I realized then that I should buy this statue of the Bodhisattva, so I asked the proprietors to fix the indentation. Wherein lies the significance of this story? For any Buddha statue, it doesn’t matter whether you like it or want it or not; the important thing is that you must not criticize or damage it. We must be very careful about this. This is a true story, and I don’t mention things casually.

“Another way to shed the blood of a Buddha is to do things in the name of the Buddha which are not representative of His teachings, thereby causing people to criticize Buddhism. This, too, causes the Buddha to bleed. The phrase, ‘incorrect form of livelihood,’ means exploiting Buddhism to gain riches. For example, when the Glorious Jewel Buddhist Center in Japan applied to the Japanese government for designation as a religious group, government officials kept asking me a certain question: ‘Where does your money come from?’ This is because in Japan, every Buddhist temple has to engage in business in order to afford its own upkeep. When I answered that I was paying for it with my own money, the officials looked at me strangely and asked why I would do such a thing. People have different customs. In my Buddhist practice, I would never take advantage of the fact that I am a Rinpoche, use Buddhism, or utilize any related methods to make money. Therefore, fabricating excuses to profit from Buddhism is just another way of shedding the blood of the Buddha and slandering the Three Jewels. Many people have engaged in such defamation; for example, saying, ‘Don’t be so superstitious! You don’t have to spend the whole day in worship; are you even sure whether the Dharma he’s speaking is real or not?’—this, too, falls within the scope of slandering the Three Jewels.

“To ‘fail to respect the sutras’ means being irreverent or disrespectful toward the sutras. Many people have committed this offense by saying, ‘Is what is said in Buddhism and its sutras really true? I don’t believe it.’ I’ll remind you once more that after Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment, He propagated the Dharma for forty-nine years, and every word He uttered was to help sentient beings become liberated from life and death. Nothing He said was nonsense, and He would never chat with anyone aimlessly. There is a story written in one of the sutras in which a prince, upon hearing that Shakyamuni Buddha had supernatural powers, sought an audience with the Buddha and brought a lot of gifts with him. He said, ‘O Buddha, you have great supernatural powers, so you should be able to look at that star up there and tell us about it.’ The Buddha did not answer. This prince asked this same question several times, yet the Buddha still refused to say anything. Finally, the Buddha answered, ‘Today, I am a person who propagates the Dharma, and everything I say is related to it. This question you have asked has nothing to do with the Dharma. Even if I were to tell you all about that star, or any of the stars in the sky, would that mean you are cultivating? Would it mean you are learning Buddhism? No, it would not, so I won’t waste time on such superfluous talk.’ Now that the Buddha is not present, many people try to give me a hard time by asking a bunch of questions that have nothing to do with the Dharma.

“There is a similar story involving His Holiness the DrikungKyabgonChungtsang, thirty-sixth throne holder of the Drikung Kagyu Order. A dozen or so years ago, I respectfully invited him to go to Yunnan. Hearing about this, a believer in Taiwan went as well, and upon arrival she made an offering to His Holiness of RMB10,000. Back then that was worth about what RMB200,000 is today. After making her offering, she got out a pair of name cards and asked His Holiness, ‘Which of these two people would be better for me to do business with?’ His Holiness just sat there, not saying anything. Another five minutes passed, and he still had said nothing. Seeing the impasse, I answered her on his behalf. I said, ‘First of all, the question you’ve asked today is not related to the Dharma, so His Holiness has no need to answer. You may have made an offering, but you are the one receiving the benefit, not he. Secondly, if His Holiness were to tell you which of the people on these name cards is better or worse, then he would be breaking his precepts. He would never criticize anyone like that.’ This believer then took her name cards back.

“Girls often run up and ask me to choose for themwho is the better between two guys. I don’t answer; every time, I simply analyze each boy’s personality for the girl so that she can decide which one she likes better. Thus, disrespecting the sutras happens very frequently. A lot of people think what is written in them is just fiction, but I can tell you with utter certainty that this is not the case; they are absolutely factual. Therefore, in addition to what I mentioned a moment ago about being unfilial to one’s parents, causing the Buddha to bleed, slandering the Three Jewels, and disrespecting the sutras are other ways of falling into Avici Hell for millions of kalpas with no set date for release.

“The sutra reads, ‘“If someone should encroach upon or damage the property of some Buddhist establishment, slander Bhikkhus or Bhikkhunis, indulge his carnal lust in a sangharama, or kill or harm others, then he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.”’

“This is what happens if someone should ‘encroach upon’—meaning steal—or damage some ‘Buddhist establishment,’ which includesany object in a Buddhist temple. Because all of these things were paid for and made as offerings by sentient beings, they therefore belong to them and the Dharma protectors, not to you. If you steal them for your own use, this is what will happen to you. It seems that a lot of people in Taiwan love to steal Buddha statues and images of deities. ‘Damage’ means to deliberately destroy some objects, such as intentionally breaking some Dharma instruments. To ‘slander Bhikkhus or Bhikkhunis’ means to speak frivolously about male or female monastics, or even defile one (meaning rape). This includes, for example, seducing a male monastic or raping a female monastic. The line, ‘indulge his carnal lust in a sangharama,’ means engaging in sexual activity inside the main hall of a temple. That does not necessarily limit to physical relations between two people; it also includes, for example, foul or flirtatious language between men and women.

“I once saved a person who had gone to Mainland China to find a cure for his heart condition, to no avail. When he asked me what had gone wrong, I asked if he had said anything improper in the entrance of a temple. He replied that he had. Even though it had only happened in the doorway, before he’d even entered the main hall, the Dharma protectors had dealt with him. A lot of Japanese these days, for example, visit temples as tourists, and many act very frivolously when setting foot in the main hall. I have witnessed this; some young men and women push each other, jostling around teasing and laughing, and all of this counts as frivolous behavior. ‘Or kill or harm others’—some people intentionally harm or kill monastics or practitioners. Such a person ‘will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.’ There have been many instances throughout history of rulers killing monastics and practitioners; this is a very grave offense.

“The sutra reads, ‘“If someone should pretend to be a sramanabut actually is not one at heart, and instead abuses the establishment, cheats the laity, breaks the precepts, and commits all kinds of evil, such a person will fall into Avici Hell, where he or she will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.”’

“This refers to people who pretend to be monastics by shaving their heads or donning monastics’ garb, but who are not sramanas at heart. Monastics are people who have renounced the home of reincarnation and become practitioners. However, if they are just pretending, and their hearts are not really in their cultivation, it means they still are greedily attached to various worldly desires. The word ‘sramana’ has two definitions; one is an ordained practitioner who has genuinely shaved his or her head and donned a monastic’s clothing, and the other is a lay practitioner who has renounced reincarnation. If any such person is just pretending—seeming on the surface to be a practitioner, while deep down not actually wanting to become liberated from reincarnation—then he or she will have a mind full of the same desires as ordinary people.

“The words, ‘abuses the establishment,’ mean to destroy any objects on the premises of Dharma centers. The sutras contain a story in which a monastic went to take up residence in a monastery. Back then, monastic houses were all made of wood, and in the middle of the night he awoke to the smell of wood burning outside his window. When he opened it, he saw the ghost of a monastic wearing a cangue around its neck—an instrument of punishment used in the past. The cangue had caught fire, and because it was so heavy, the ghost was resting against the side of the window. The monastic inside asked, ‘Why are you being punished so?’ The ghost replied, ‘In a past life I was this monastery’s abbot. Some believers brought me money as an offering to be used to craft a Buddha statue, but I used it to build housing for my disciples. Ever since I died, this has been my punishment.’ What is the moral of this story? When we receive money as an offering, we must do with it exactly what was intended; we may not just use it whenever or however we like. For example, people in some temples might say they need to raise funds to build a main hall. If they then take some of the money raised and use it for something else, then they have committed an offense. The words, ‘cheats the laity,’ refer to deceiving lay practitioners with all manner of promises. The word ‘cheats’ means using the Dharma to swindle their money from them or make them listen to something that is essentially not true. For example, some people say, ‘Hey, is this how you act? You need to be very careful, because cause and effect are very serious!’ However, they don’t explain why cause and effect are so serious; they just try to scare the laity into coming and listening to the Dharma.

“‘Breaks the precepts.’ Monastics have precepts they vowed to keep when they became ordained. Male monastics have two hundred to keep, while female monastics have more than two hundred and fifty. To ‘break’ them means to completely fail to observe any of those precepts through such behavior as drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, eating meat, or getting married; indulging in any of these acts results in breaking the precepts. ‘Such a person will fall into Avici Hell.’ Thus, the reason I sighed just now is that I have seen far too many people like this. If you are a monastic, then you should behave like a monastic; if you are a lay practitioner, then you should act like one. Monastics have their precepts to keep, and lay practitioners have theirs. There is no mention in the sutras that it is okay to eat meat, drink alcohol, or get married in a temple; if you want to get married, then you should go back to being a lay practitioner. Of course, local customs vary from place to place.

“The sutra reads, ‘“If someone should steal from the establishment any property at all—grain, rice, other food, or clothing—or take any kind of article whatsoever without permission, he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release.”’

“In other words, people must not take anything at all from a temple or monastery—even something simple like rice, other food, or clothing. To ‘take any kind of article whatsoever without permission’ means taking something that has not been given to you. If you do, you will fall into Avici Hell. That is, this is what will happen if you take something without asking. This line is the reason I run the Glorious Jewel Buddhist Center so strictly. Don’t think this is such a trivial matter. Is it a big deal if you take just one thing? It is. For example, I used to have an ordained disciple whose mother had lived at a temple for more than twenty years, despite being a lay practitioner. Having eaten the temple’s food every day, her fate should have been to fall into Avici Hell. However, because her daughter was disciple monastic who had taken refuge in me, I agreed to help her. I therefore performed the Phowa for this disciple’s mother, even though that left me feeling unwell for a day or two afterward. Therefore, as an ordinary believer visiting a temple, if you see anything you want, you should ask the residents first, and only take it if you’ve been given permission. Don’t think it won’t matter if you just take a little flower; nothing inside the temple belongs to you, so you must ask first. If you are told ‘no,’ then you may not take it; you can’t just do what you like. If no one in the temple has asked you there to eat, then you may not eat the food there—unless you pay for it or a resident there has invited you, in which case it’s fine.

“The sutra reads, ‘Ksitigarbha concluded, saying, “O Holy Mother, anyone committing such offenses will certainly fall into Avici Hell, where he or she will suffer incessantly, without even an instant’s relief.”’

“Here Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha says that any sentient beings that commit any of the aforementioned offenses will have to go to Avici Hell. Even if you implore for a moment’s rest from the suffering there, your request will not be granted, because these torments will continue unabated.

“The sutra reads, ‘Lady Maya addressed Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha again, asking, “What is that hell known as Avici?”Ksitigarbha replied, “O Holy Mother, the hells of the different worlds are situated inside the great Cakravada (Iron-Enclosed Mountain). There are eighteen major hells, as well as five hundred secondary ones with various designations. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of lesser hells, each also having a unique designation.”’

“Here Lady Maya again asks Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha why it is called Avici Hell, and He replies that all hells exist inside Cakravada, the great Iron-Enclosed Mountain. Our modern science has proved that the core of the Earth is made of iron and other metals. A lot of people think the ‘Iron-Enclosed Mountain’ refers to a place outside of Earth, but it does not; it means the Earth’s core. It contains a very large hell divided into eighteen parts. This is where the idea of the ‘eighteen layers of hell’ comes from. Are there really eighteen levels? No! It just means they all are part of this hell, like eighteen different houses. It is the equivalent of containing eighteen different major hells. These are subdivided into a further five hundred secondary hells, each with its own name, that are not as big the eighteen major hells. What does ‘big’ mean? First of all, it means they can contain many sentient beings. Secondly, it means the punishment meted out there is relatively severe. ‘There are hundreds of thousands of lesser hells, each also having a unique designation.’ In addition to these five hundred secondary hells, there are thousands of lesser ones, each called something different.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Avici Hell refers to a hell reinforced with iron and surrounded by walls of pure iron that are more than eight million miles in circumference and one million miles high. These hells are filled with flames and are linked with other hells, each with a different name.”’

“The more we talk about this, the scarier it sounds. What does our Earth contain, just outside of its core? Fire! It is all molten lava, continually burning with intense ferocity! Thus, all of this is mentioned in the sutra!This hell’s walls ‘are more than eight million miles in circumference.’ We don’t know how much distance was meant by ‘mile’ back then, but Earth’s core is surrounded by a very thick layer of molten lava. ‘Walls of pure iron’ means this great Iron-Enclosed Mountain has walls made purely of iron. ‘Ten thousand miles high. These hells are filled with flames.’ This means that they are wreathed in flames, without a single break for one to pass through. ‘…And are linked with other hells, each with a different name.’ This means that in this hell, each section is linked together, but they all have unique names.

“The sutra reads, ‘“One of these is the unique hell known as Avici. Its dreadful walls are more than eighty thousand miles in circumference, ten thousand miles high, and made entirely of iron. Conflagrations blaze from these walls, wreathing them entirely from top to bottom, and again from bottom to top. Iron serpents and hounds spit out fiery flames and chase about, running along the hellish walls in an east-west direction.”’

“One of these hells is called Avici. ‘Its dreadful walls’ are more than eighteen thousand miles in circumference. ‘Conflagrations blaze from these walls, wreathing them entirely from top to bottom, and again from bottom to top.’ This means the surrounding flames burn downward from above and upward from below, completely containing Avici Hell inside. ‘Iron serpents and hounds spit out fiery flames and chase about.’ Sometimes I watch some science documentaries about the inside of the Earth, and the flames they show leaping outward remind me of what is written in the sutra about iron snakes and dogs that ‘spit out fiery flames and chase about.’ You may have seen the flames that spit forth from a volcanic eruption; actually, this molten lava is continually flowing beneath the Earth’s surface. ‘Running along the hellish walls in an east-west direction’ means this fire burns from east to west and then returns.

“The sutra reads, ‘“There is a bed in this hell, tens of thousands of miles long. While being punished, one can see oneself lying prone, stretched across thebed’s entire length. When thousands of myriads of people all take their punishment together, they, in like manner, can also see themselves lying prone there, with their bodies stretched out over this bed. Such is the karmic retribution for various evil acts.”’

“In the middle of this hell is a bed, ‘tens of thousands of miles long’—it is very big. ‘While being punished’—this section means that while you are receiving punishment for your evil acts, you can see your body stretched prone across the length of the bed. ‘When thousands of myriads of people all take their punishment together, they, in like manner, can also see themselves lying prone there, with their bodies stretched out over this bed.’ I have witnessed this same thing, even though I have never read this section before. It means that millions of people suffer the same punishment by lying simultaneously on this bed; however, each of them feels all alone, and is unaware of others nearby. This means that the Hell Realm was not created by the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, nor is it the sole providence of Buddhism; it was called into being by sentient beings and the evil acts we have committed. For example, there is no hell in Amitabha’s Pure Land, because the sentient beings that go there are all good. There is no hell there due to their virtue; they have not attracted evil to them. Thus, hell was not made by a god or gods the way other religious doctrines say it was; nor was it created by the Buddha. If the Buddha had made hell, then He would not have urged us not to commit evil while we are alive or worried that such offenses would cause us to fall into the Hell Realm. Therefore, the reason you will feel alone while lying on that bed of torture among thousands of evildoers like you is that your punishment is of your own making! Those people are not keeping you company to suffer! Only you can feel the suffering from your offenses; others around you cannot. Another reason is that you will already be in so much anguish from your own punishment, you will not be able to notice whether or not there are any other sentient beings around you. You will be ignorant of their presence, and very lonely. I really have seen this with my own eyes, and it is quite frightening. ‘Such is the karmic retribution for various evil acts.’ This means that the karmic retribution suffered is the same for all evil acts.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Moreover, these evildoers suffer all manner of other tortures and afflictions. Hundreds of thousands of yaksas and other wicked demons with sword-like teeth, eyes flashing with lightning, and copper-clawed hands drag such miserable wrongdoers to their punishment. Other yaksas hurl great iron spears at these wretched people, some hitting their mouths and noses and others striking their bellies and backs. They throw these unhappy evildoers into the air and then catch them againor toss them directly onto the bed.”’

“Why is everything you see in the Hell Realm so ugly? It contains yaksas and wicked demons. Why do the sentient beings of the Heaven Realm look so good? This has to do with what your own mind has called forth. To give an example that humans can more easily relate to, if you like to drink and you go to an izakaya, you’re bound to be hoping to see some fellow lovers of alcohol there. When you meet one, you’ll feel like you’ve found a friend. Instead, if you go to a place in which everyone is very quietly and slowly sipping tea, you will feel uncomfortable and want to leave immediately. Now do you understand? To give another example, if a man who likes the smell of perfume visits an escort lounge, he will of course hope to meet some pretty young women there. If instead he walks in and sees a bunch of sixty- or seventy-year-old women, don’t you think he would run away? Of course he would!

“The concept here is that you attract kindred spirits according to your frame of mind. Therefore, a person who committed evil acts while living is bound to end up in an evil place, not a good one; this is why we say ‘like attracts like.’ If a yaksa appeared in hell looking like a very handsome, effeminate young man, would you be afraid of it? Of course not! Why do ghosts take the form of yaksas and demons? It is so that evildoers know that they are being watched. We can give examples from the human world, too; if a man commits a crime and goes to jail for it, do you think he’ll have pretty faces to look at while there? They’ll all at least look quite stern! They might seem to speak politely, but their expressions will be serious, and they certainly won’t spend the day laughing. Do you think the police grin merrily at criminals? No, they don’t; they look very stern while arresting them! The same reasoning applies. Because you have committed a crime, what you get and what you see definitely won’t be good.

“Why are these ghosts described as having ‘sword-like teeth’ and ‘eyes flashing with lightning’? Truthfully, the actions of these yaksas and demons, and the forms they take, are for the benefit of sentient beings that have fallen into the Hell Realm. They only take these horrifying forms to provide an opportunity for these evildoers to repay their karmic debt. They do it to let sentient beings know of the offenses they have committed in the past so that they won’t dare to commit them ever again. This is why people who are reborn after having spent time in this hell are so timid. If they are afraid of their own shadow, or tremble whenever someone gets the slightest bit angry with them, it might be because they have been to this place before.

“…‘And copper-clawed hands drag such miserable wrongdoers to their punishment.’ Such punishment includes sticking them, prodding them, and tormenting them. This does not mean these yaksas take revenge on behalf of the people on Earth who were harmed by these wrongdoers; rather, it means they make these sentient beings who are being punished understand that since their causes were evil, the karmic retribution they must suffer is evil, too. The yaksas and demons show them that what they did was wrong, and that they must face up to it and take responsibility for their actions. According to the sutras, this sort of yaksa is also an emanation of the Bodhisattvas, helping sentient beings to purify their karma.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Also, there are iron eagles to peck out these miserable people’s eyes, and iron serpents to strangle them.”’

“Why do eagles peck out their eyes and iron serpents strangle them? You are born with eyes, but you don’t have a clear understanding of your parents’ kindness or the benevolence shown to sentient beings by the Three Jewels. You just use your eyes to do things chaotically. Why, then, should your eyes be left undisturbed? When these iron eagles peck out the eyes of evildoers, they don’t just do it once; the ripped out eyes immediately regrow, and the birds keep pecking them out over and over, non-stop. Why do iron serpents coil around the necks of evildoers? How does any evil act begin? With reckless talk or casual criticism; it begins with saying some bad things! Therefore, by strangling these people, the serpents are telling them to stop speaking recklessly, and that there are many things they should not say because such words can harm others.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Long nails are driven into their various limbs and joints, their tongues are pulled out, and their intestines are ripped away and torn to pieces. Molten copper is poured into their mouths, while white-hot iron is coiled through their bodies. These people die tens of thousands of times and only to be revived again for further torture. Such is the retribution of karma. Quite aptly, these hellish anguishes must continue for millions of kalpas without a date for release.”’

“We humans have seen these things spoken of in the sutras while we are still alive. Some people get sick and have their eyes removed; others have trouble breathing and are subjected to tracheostomies and intubation. Some in frail conditions have to get hooked up to an I.V. and a bunch of tubes. When these are stuck into their flesh, isn’t that like having long nails driven in? Some people with bad joints have them replaced with ones made of metal; isn’t that just like being stuck with nails? Their ‘tongues are pulled out’—some people get tongue cancer, and piece by piece their tongues get cut out, very similar to what is described in this sutra. ‘Their intestines are ripped away and torn to pieces’—some people get colorectal cancer and have their intestines removed, or are fitted with artificial anuses. These things all happen before they die, and mean that they have a very high chance of falling into the Hell Realm unless, while still living, they immediately repent and practice Buddhism. Otherwise, they are certain to go to hell. ‘Molten copper is poured into their mouths, while white-hot iron is coiled through their bodies.’ This red-hot copper is poured in through their mouths, and very hot iron coils through their bodies. Since I began helping sentient beings in 1995, I have seen a lot of this. Of course I have not literally seen people have molten copper poured into their mouths, but many people mysteriously consume poisonous substances that cause their mouths and throats to rot away. Some get herpes, are in pain from head to toe, and their bodies’ temperature gets very hot. Isn’t that just like having hot iron coiling through their bodies?

“‘These people die tens of thousands of times and only to be revived again.’ This means they die and come back to life over and over again, non-stop. ‘…These hellish anguishes must continue for millions of kalpas without a date for release.’ How pitiful we are, that we must endure these karmic retributions for having indulged in our desires even just a little while still alive! Let me mention again that I have seen people like this with my own eyes; their fate is exactly as is written in the sutra! I frequently help sentient beings, so sometimes, after they pass away, their family members will ask where they have gone. I can see that they are alone in hell; even though there are many others there, too, they feel utterly alone. There such people will experience again and again the actions they undertook while alive. For example, if they jumped off a building to their death, then for them it will feel like they are alone in a pitch-black room, reenacting that same jump over and over. Once they jump to their death, they will jump off that building repeatedly, dying only to be revived again and again; this will continue until their karma is exhausted. Suicide by taking poison yields the same fate. It is very horrible, so one absolutely must not commit suicide!

“Why do those who commit suicide go to hell? If my life is my own, then why can’t I take it? You might think we should be allowed to kill ourselves, but you’d be wrong! Who gave you that body of yours, anyway? If it weren’t for your parents, would you even have one? Secondly, in Buddhism it is said that killing a person is an evil act that will send you straight to hell, so let me ask you: Are you not a person? If you kill yourself, that is the equivalent of committing murder—so shouldn’t you go to hell for it? In some cultures it is thought that suicide is the most noble form of death, but those people do not understand that it inevitably leads to hell, because in killing oneself one has murdered a person. In Tantric terms, from the moment we reincarnate, this body of ours contains the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas—Their Nirmanakaya; not TheirDharmakaya, of course. Thus, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are inside our bodies, which were given to us for use in cultivation. If you ruin yours, it is the equivalent of ruining this mandala; as such, you will be sent to hell. Therefore I advise you all—including your friends and family—never to commit suicide! The karmic retribution it brings is far too severe. I know this because I have seen it happen too many times.

“The sutra reads, ‘“When this hellish world is annihilated, those miserable evildoers will transmigrate to live and suffer in another realm. When that place, too, is destroyed, they will transmigrate to yet another realm. However, once all of these realms are finally obliterated, the sufferers must continue to transmigrate until they have returned to the original hellish world, which will take form anew. Such is the retribution for evil acts causing one to fall into Avici Hell.Furthermore, this hell is known as Avici because it is conditioned by five factors. What are they?Firstly, punishment is meted out day and night, kalpa after kalpa, without a moment’s interruption or relief. Hence the name‘Avici,’ meaning ‘never-ending.’”’

“This section means that if you have gone to Avici Hell, you should not assume that you will escape just because the Earth is destroyed and hell disappears. On the contrary, you will simply be moved from one Hell Realm to another, cycling continuously ‘…until they have returned to the original hellish world, which will take form anew.’ If the world begins to form again, then you will return; in other words, you will be in it forever. ‘Such is the retribution for evil acts causing one to fall into Avici Hell. Furthermore, this hell is known as Avici because it is conditioned by five factors.’ There are five actions for which you will be punished there. ‘What are they? Firstly, punishment is meted out day and night, kalpa after kalpa, without a moment’s interruption or relief. Hence the name “Avici,” meaning “never-ending.” That is, you will be punished for your offenses every second of your existence, twenty-four hours a day, without a moment’s rest.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Secondly, this hell can be filled completely by one person or by many people; hence the name ‘Avici.’ Thirdly, there is punishment using such devices as forks, clubs, hawks, serpents, jackals, hounds, mills, grinders, saws, chisels, files, choppers, boiling pots, iron nets and cords, and iron mules and horses. Other hideous tortures and penances force these miserable beings to cover their heads with their own skin after being flayed alive, after which hot molten iron is poured onto their bodies; and when they are hungry, they are forced to swallow chunks of iron, and drink molten iron when thirsty.”’

“This is in line with what I have seen. One person there alone can feel the space is filled, and that there isn’t any spare room—but the same is true when many people are there. This is why it is called Avici. The third factor of punishment includes the forks, clubs, hawks, serpents, jackals, hounds, mills, grinders, saws, and chisels just mentioned; these are Dharma instruments used to penalize us. To put it simply, it’s the same as being stabbed to death by a fork or a club, being bitten to death by a hawk, a poisonous snake, or a dog, or being killed by a grinding saw or chisel; it is even like dying from a car accident, being boiled to death, falling onto a power grid, getting hit on some railroad tracks, or being hanged by an iron cable. ‘Iron mules and horses’ refer to dying in a car accident. ‘…To cover their heads with their own skin after being flayed alive, after which hot molten iron is poured onto their bodies’—this means dying from mysteriously having something scalding poured onto their heads, thus killing them. This sort of thing has happened before, too.

“‘…And when they are hungry, they are forced to swallow chunks of iron, and drink molten iron when thirsty.’ In other words, when hungry or thirsty, sentient being have to swallow extraordinary things. They might think they are eating food, but as soon as it enters their mouths, it turns to chunks of iron. When they are thirsty, they have to drink molten iron. So does this mean these punishments only happen to you after you’ve gone to hell? No; they occur in the mundane world as well. If you die from these circumstances here, then you will definitely go to hell; they are omens portending your descent to the Hell Realm. Thus, it is written in the text that if your guru performs certain Dharmas for you, then those sorts of deaths will not befall you. What does that mean? It means the karmic retribution for the evil acts you have committed in your past lives will not manifest so heavily in this lifetime, and the manner in which it manifests will be different. Many things mentioned in the sutras, therefore, can actually happen to you before you die; you can see them while you are still living.

“The sutra reads, ‘“This unimaginably horrible torture goes on and on through nayutas of years and kalpas. In this manner, they suffer continuously with no cessation whatsoever. Hence the name ‘Avici.’ Fourthly, irrespective of whether the evildoers are male or female, barbarian or civilized, young or old, noble or mean, nagas or gods, devas or ghosts—all will receive their due karmic retribution. Hence the name ‘Avici.’”’

“This continues for a very, very long time—it is unknown how long—and never ceases. ‘Fourthly, irrespective of whether the evildoers are male or female, barbarian or civilized, young or old, noble or mean….’ This line states very clearly that while there you will be punished regardless of whether you are male, female, barbarian, or civilized. In other words, all humans on Earth receive the same treatment. These words, qianghuyi di, are actually names given by people in ancient China for other nationalities. This means that whether you are Chinese, Japanese, of Western origin, Arabic, or whatever, and whether you are a man or woman, this is what will happen to you if you commit these offenses. ‘Young or old, noble or mean’ refers to your age and your social status. ‘…Nagas or gods’—even nagas and deities have committed these sorts of evil acts. Some try to destroy the Dharma. ‘Devas or ghosts’—this includes sentient beings in the Heaven Realm as well as ghosts. ‘All will receive their due karmic retribution. Hence the name “Avici.”’ Any sentient being that has committed these offenses will suffer the karmic consequences. This Avici Hell was not created to make you believe in the Buddha. It does not exist for humanity’s sake, nor did the Buddha deliberately create such a hell for us. Rather, we are the ones who created it. It was called into existence here by all of the evil acts done by all sentient beings.

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha says quite plainly that you can go to this hell whether you believe in the Buddha or not, so don’t think it’s only for Buddhists who ignore the Buddha’s teachings. It is written very clearly in the sutra that you can go there regardless of your nationality, gender, and social status; even nagas, deities, ghosts, and Heavenly beings can be sent there! As long as you have committed these offenses, you will fall into Avici Hell; hence its name.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Fifthly, from the time a person falls into this hell, he or she will continuously die and be revived myriads of times each day and night through hundreds of thousands of kalpas. This person will never have any relief or rest whatsoever from suffering and torture, even for a single instant. It is only with the exhaustion of his or her evil karma that such a person will finally be able to gain rebirth. Owing to such continuity of suffering and torture, this hell is, therefore, known as ‘Avici.’”’

“From the time you first enter this Hell Realm, and for ‘hundreds of thousands of kalpas’ afterward—as I just mentioned, this is a very long time indeed—‘he or she will continuously die and be revived myriads of times each day and night.’ You will die and come back to life in this Hell ten thousand times a day. This happens very rapidly, and means you will suffer at least ten thousand times each day. You ‘…will never have any relief or rest whatsoever from suffering and torture, even for a single instant.’ That is, though you might want a break for a second, that can’t happen; the torture will continue, unabated. ‘It is only with the exhaustion of his or her evil karma that such a person will finally be able to gain rebirth’—only once all of this energy that landed you in hell has completely been depleted will you be able to leave and be reborn in another realm. How long will it take? ‘Hundreds of thousands of kalpas.’ In Earthly human terms, that’s trillions of years.

“The sutra reads, ‘Then Ksitigarbha addressed the Holy Mother, saying, “Avici Hell, roughly speaking, is just as I have described it to you. It would take more than a kalpa to explain, completely and exhaustively, all the torture devices, punishments, and hideous sufferings that must be endured there.” Saddened at having heard this, Queen Lady Maya made obeisance with palms joined and withdrew.’

“Here Ksitigarbha says ‘Holy Mother,Avici Hell is pretty much how I have just described. It would take more than a kalpa to speak exhaustively about all of the different tortures and sufferings there. If I, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, even with all of my supernatural powers, were to try to describe in detail about all the myriad punishments, torture devices, and sufferings contained in this Hell, it would take more than a kalpa—the time it takes for the Earth to go through one cycle of Formation, Existence, Destruction, and the Succeeding Void.’ In other words, these tortures are very complex. ‘Saddened at having heard this, Queen Lady Maya made obeisance with palms joined and withdrew.’ This sadness she felt was not because she worried about what would happen to her; rather, she felt troubled upon learning about how likely it was that many sentient beings would go to this hell. She therefore made prostrations before Ksitigarbha on their behalf, bowed, and withdrew.

Chapter Four: The Karmic Retribution of Sentient Beings in Jambudvipa

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, Bodhisattva-MahasattvaKsitigarbha addressed the Buddha and said, “O World Honored One, by virtue of Your majestic, miraculous power I have been able to divide myself into myriad forms throughout hundreds, thousands, and millions of worlds to liberate and deliver all sentient beings suffering from their karmic retribution.”’

“A Mahasattva is a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva. Bodhisattva-MahasattvaKsitigarbha said to the Buddha, ‘O World Honored One, by virtue of Your majestic, miraculous power….’ This line is very important for practitioners. Despite having already become a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva and been able to emanate freely, Ksitigarbha still said very humbly, ‘by virtue of Your majestic, miraculous power.’ In other words, ‘The only reason I am able to emanate in millions of worlds throughout the universe is because I have received all these blessings and help from Shakyamuni Buddha.’ ‘Divide myself’—only by doing so can Ksitigarbha appear before all sentient beings at the mercy of their karma and save them. This is the reason why, whenever we recite any sutra, must we implore the Buddha and the guru to bless us. If you think you can be accomplished and remarkable in your cultivation merely by way of through your own efforts, then you are wrong. Where do cults come from? They come from leaders who emphasize that they have cultivated under their own power, and who absolutely would never tell you that they have received someone’s blessings, or those of the Buddha or a guru. Instead they try to convince you that they themselves are the most extraordinary. Thus, whenever you are following any religion—and this even happens in the Buddhist community, too—if you hear someone claim to be more powerful than anyone else, you should leave. Why is that? It is because such people lack modesty; they are arrogant. Thus, they have no compassion.

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is a Mahasattva, yet He still says modestly here that He is only able to emanate in so many different worlds, and deliver the sentient beings there at the mercy oftheir karmic retribution, thanks to the blessings of the Buddha. That is to say, Ksitigarbha did not claim credit for saving these sentient beings. By contrast, in everything you do, you always have to show off your own prowess and capabilities; such an attitude is wrong. This is the hardest part of practicing Buddhism; you are fully aware of your competence, yet you must discern whether it derives from your own individual efforts or, instead, from the support given by your guru and the many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. People don’t admit to this gift, however, and very easily fall into patterns of self-righteousness and self-centeredness. As such, they stop being compassionate. Without compassion, you cannot deliver all the sentient beings suffering from their karmic retribution.

“What does this word ‘liberate’ mean? It refers to saving all sentient beings from descending into the Hell, Hungry Ghost, and Animal Realms, which is what I am doing right now. What does the word ‘deliver’ mean? It means to pluck all sentient beings from reincarnation and prevent them from falling back into its suffering sea—another of my endeavors. What this means is that this is exactly what Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do; they do not appear in order to satisfy your various worldly desires. You might want to implore for peace, prosperity, financial wealth, or filial piety in your children, but there is no mention of such things in sutra. It only stresses one point: Liberation and deliverance. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will teach you and save you from falling into the Animal and Hungry Ghost Realms. How will you know? You’ll know before you die. If you do not experience a lot of suffering or have to undergo much intensive medical treatment prior to your death, then this means the Three Evil Realms have no claim on you. How can you attain this state? Of course you can’t get there overnight; it requires some time. What does ‘deliver’ mean? It means extricating you from the suffering sea of reincarnation. This is the job of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as all gurus. The help your guru gives you to deal with your mundane affairs merely involves expedient means to show you how powerful the Dharma is.

“For this reason I tell many believers, ‘I will only save you once.’ By that I mean that if you don’t listen, I won’t try to save you again, because I cannot—though that doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability to. The reason I won’t save you more than once is that you have stopped listening and are full of this mundane world’s greed! Why do I save you the first time? I do it hoping that I can teach you the Dharma, prevent you from falling into the Three Evil Realms, and deliver you from the suffering sea of reincarnation. For those of you—believers and disciples alike—who are able to truly listen to today’s Dharma, I will definitely be able to do this for you: To liberate and deliver you! However, I cannot promise to make you healthy or rich, or to find a good man, because none of that is mentioned in the sutras. I therefore don’t dare to say such things. Anything written in the sutras, however, I will certainly repeat. If you want to be liberated and delivered, you of course must listen to and follow the Dharma.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Without the Tathagata’s great, merciful power, I alone would not be able to perform such transformations. Now I have been commanded by the Buddha to deliver and liberate all sentient beings in the Six Realms until that time when Ajitaachieves Buddhahood. Yes, indeed, O World Honored One, please do not worry.”’

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is so modest. He says that without the Buddha’s ‘great, merciful power,’ the enormous power of the Buddha’s compassion, He would not be able to emanate and help so many evildoing sentient beings. For example, many disciples and believers have seen my transformations. I cannot transform by my power alone; I am only able to emanate thanks to the collective compassion of the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, and all the gurus. Why am I able to perform thus? I have learned Their compassion, so I am one of Their kind. As such, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas support me! Why can’t you transform into different emanations? If you have not learned compassion, then of course you won’t have that ability.

“‘Now I have been commanded by the Buddha to deliver and liberate all sentient beings in the Six Realms until that time when Ajita achieves Buddhahood.’ Ksitigarbha here says that He has received instructions from the Buddha. ‘…Until that time when Ajita achieves Buddhahood’—I have not researched this, so I won’t presume to speak about Ajita Buddha, but this meantKsitigarbhawould follow the Buddha’s instructions to deliver and liberate all sentient beings in the Six Realms—the Heaven, Asura, Human, Hungry Ghost, Animal, and Hell Realms—from that time until the time Ajita attains Buddhahood. ‘…To deliver and liberate’—Ksitigarbha would help sentient beings in the Six Realms to escape the suffering sea of reincarnation. ‘Yes, indeed, O World Honored One, please do not worry.’ In this last sentence spoken by Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, ‘O World Honored One’ refers to Shakyamuni Buddha. Ksitigarbha is telling Him, ‘Don’t worry; I’ll keep doing all this until Ajita attains Buddhahood.’

“The sutra reads, ‘Then the Buddha told Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, “All those sentient beings who have not been liberated are unsettled and precarious in their nature and consciousness. Their evil habits will produce evil karma, and their virtuous habits will yield fruition. Whether they are virtuous or wicked all depends on the circumstances surrounding them. They continue to reincarnate in the Five Realms without cessation….”’

“Here the Buddha tells Ksitigarbha that all sentient beings—including each and every one of you—that have not yet been liberated from life and death ‘are unsettled and precarious in their nature and consciousness.’ In other words, they have never become settled, either consciously and innately. ‘Settled’ here does not mean doing things in a fixed manner; rather, due to their greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt, they have never achieved a state of calm, for they keep chasing after these desires day after day. They hope to obtain a bit more for themselves, to feel a bit better, and to gain some more respect; hence, they are unsettled. ‘Their evil habits will produce evil karma’—all evil habits will cause this karma to accumulate. Sometimes, if you don’t have enough karmic force, it won’t affect you. Therefore, your karma will grow along with your continuous accumulation of evil habits. For example, when I urge some people to quit smoking, they say, ‘Yeah, but hey! I’ve already cut down quite a bit.’ Cutting down doesn’t mean you’ve stopped smoking! As a result, their evil habits continue to accumulate. People who like to smoke are bound to have heart problems! They think that if that happens, they can just go and see the doctor, but again they are wrong. The doctor cannot cure their heart conditions; all they can do is alleviate their symptoms temporarily. What happens if they don’t give up this evil habit? They suffer just the same! Where do smokers go after they die? They fall into the Hell Realm. You’re sure to ask, ‘Is that really true?’ It is indeed, because I have seen it happen. Thus, I advise every smoker I see to quit. If you want to go to hell, then go ahead and keep smoking.

“On the other hand, ‘their virtuous habits will yield fruition.’ If we continuously do good deeds, our karma will accumulate and result in good effects.Therefore, evil actions will yield evil effects, and good actions will yield good effects. However, that does not mean what so many people think it does—that you can do a little evil and then cancel it out with a good deed. You cannot cancel it out; there is no way to. These two lines of the sutra very clearly tell you that committing evil is sure to produce evil effects, and doing good deeds is sure to produce good effects; it’s not a case of one minus one equals zero. The only way to get around this is to completely stop doing evil, and constantly do good—like me. Have I never committed evil? Of course I have! I was not born a Rinpoche, and I used to eat meat and seafood. My karmic retribution for that was to get skin cancer. However, I learned Buddhism and stopped committing evil and engaging in acts of killing, so the cancer was cured naturally.

“A few days ago, in Shanghai, I saw a person I’ve known for decades. He kept noticing that the very rigid mole on my forehead from when I had skin cancer had changed from ordinary black to grey, and that that the area around it had stiffened and darkened. He suddenly exclaimed, ‘RinchenDorjee Rinpoche, that blackness is completely gone now! You are so amazing! How did you do it?’ I did it by stopping all my evil behavior and only doing good. I never visited any doctors! As you all know, I do not like going to the doctor. I’m not saying doctors are useless; I just don’t like going to doctor’s appointments, that’s all. This example should tell you how imperative it is that you learn how to stop committing evil and start doing good.

“‘Whether they are virtuous or wicked all depends on the circumstances surrounding them.’ The tendency to do good or commit evil is easily influenced by your environment. In reference to the earlier line, stating that sentient beings are ‘unsettled and precarious in their nature and consciousness,’ this is because you are unsettled, both consciously and innately. Why did the Buddha say that you should participate in pujas and listen to the Dharma more often? It is because your nature and consciousness are unsettled; your state of mind is easily influenced by your environment. In ancient times, Mengzi’s mother moved three times for the sake of her son’s education in the hope that he would not come in contact with a bad environment—because of this principle. The reason we Buddhist practitioners caution you all away from certain places is that your consciousness and nature are unsettled, so you cannot control yourselves. Sentient beings’ behavior ‘depends on the circumstances surrounding them,’ meaning that if you are in a good environment, you will gradually accumulate good habits and see good effects. If you are in an evil environment, however, you will gradually accumulate evil habits, and therefore evil karma. ‘They continue to reincarnate in the Five Realms.’ As a result of our good and evil deeds, we continue to reincarnate through lifetime after lifetime. If you do not practice Buddhism, you will have no way of differentiating between good and evil; you will merely be able to live according to human culture, ethics, and morality.

“Japan has Japanese culture, Taiwan has Taiwanese culture, and America has American culture. Each nation thinks the way it does things is correct and righteous, but that doesn’t mean other people will act the same way. In these different environments, we continue to commit evil and do good, which is why we keep on reincarnating in the Five Realms—meaning, the Hell, Hungry Ghost, Animal, Human, and Asura Realms. There is no mention of the Heaven Realm here because that’s where Shakyamuni Buddha’s mother was. The upshot is that due to our unsettled nature and consciousness, we have no way of clearly discerning good from evil. Many people think, ‘What does it matter if I reincarnate? I’ll just come back in the next lifetime as another person.’ They are wrong! You won’t necessarily reincarnate as a human. How long will it be before your next lifetime begins? Will you reincarnate immediately after death? It really is a very complicated process! Believe me! A lot of folks don’t think reincarnation brings much suffering, but it actually does!

“In 2007, I conducted a three-month retreat high on a 4,500-meter mountain. When I attained Emptiness, and saw with my own eyes the suffering of the Six Realms of reincarnation, I couldn’t stop crying! I didn’t cry because I saw those sentient beings in anguish, but because I realized I had not succeeded in helping them to escape the suffering sea of reincarnation. I felt ashamed! Second of all, I saw how foolish sentient beings are; despite it being obvious that their behavior leads to reincarnation, they continue on in ignorance! Thirdly, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have expounded so many Dharma methods for us to practice, yet we are unwilling to accept them; this results in our continued reincarnation. Therefore, after I’d completed my retreat and reported this to His Holiness, he said, ‘You have attained Emptiness.’ He went on to tell me, ‘The Venerable Milarepa once said that he felt sad even upon just hearing of the suffering of sentient beings in reincarnation.’ Thus, none of you has cultivated compassion, so you really cannot understand this.

“What is our purpose in propagating the Dharma? We don’t do it to expandthe temple or gain more believers, nor is the point to have the capacity to hold a bunch of events. Rather, our goal is to be able to deliver sentient beings. Reincarnation is ‘without cessation,’ after all—it never stops; it keeps on going.

“The sutra reads, ‘“…most likely continuing thusly for countless kalpas, in confusion, delusion, hindrance, and difficulty, like fish caught in nets from vast streams, that, though escaping from such traps and achieving temporary freedom, will soon become entangled in those nets again. For such people, I would normally be worried.”’

“‘…Most likely continuing thusly for countless kalpas’ means sentient beings will keep reincarnating until this Earth has turned to dust. ‘…In confusion, delusion, hindrance, and difficulty’—meaning, as they reincarnate, they will be very confused, not recognize reincarnation as a bad thing, and not of existence past or future lives, thinking instead that they only live for a single lifetime. If that were the case, then what would be the point of working so hard all your life? You wouldn’t have to do anything. Does reincarnation only happen after you die? No; you are constantly reincarnating throughout this lifetime, starting with the day you were born. For example, when you were born, your skin was very taut, your hair wasn’t white, and you did not doze off so easily. Why did that believer doze off earlier? It is because he has aged! As a person ages, it gets easier to fall asleep; it’s not that he wasn’t listening attentively. I am the same age as he is, so can understand, but my body is different. Thus, we are constantly reincarnating, from when we are young into old age! From peak to trough, we reincarnate. Many people hope for eternal beauty, but that isn’t possible! Everyone ages and turns ugly; the day will certainly come when you are old. Even if you get plastic surgery, doing that actually still ages you, and you end up looking like a monster; your appearance will not match your years.

“Thus, ‘in confusion, delusion, hindrance, and difficulty’ means you will encounter many hindrances and difficulties. Every time we reincarnate, our good and evil karma is activated anew, so we continuously accumulate hindrances and encounter many disasters. ‘…Like fish caught in nets’—like fish swimming into a net, at first we are unaware of the danger, and think it is okay to enter; afterward, though, we cannot leave. If you have ever seen a fish caught in a net, you will have noticed that it cannot escape even if there are holes in the net, because it just turns around and around in circles, trapped. Humans are in the same boat. Even our mood cycles count as a sort of reincarnation; we flit back and forth from happiness to suffering like fish caught in a net! The words, ‘from vast streams,’ mean it is like continuously flowing water. ‘Though escaping from such traps and achieving temporary freedom, will soon become entangled in those nets again’—Even if you feel like you have escaped, that feeling is short-lived. Some fish might surge forward through the water and leave the net, but they are soon caught again. The force of reincarnation is like water that is continually rushing at us. Even if you are given the strength to charge outward temporarily, you will just splash back into it.

“‘For such people, I would normally be worried.’ The Buddha is so compassionate; He says here that he would be very worried about such people. This is why I have said before that for me my disciples are like jewels and treasures, and I worry about their continued reincarnation! As long as they remain unwilling to listen, I will keep on scolding and punishing them, because I don’t want any of the disciples that have taken refuge in me to have to repeat the suffering of reincarnation. So does this mean we should live passively? Not at all! It means we should live even more actively! Practicing Buddhism does not require you to stop living your daily lives or quit conducting your business; rather, you should continue living your so-called normal family lives and engaging in your everyday activities. However, your mindset should be different.

“The sutra reads, ‘“However, since you are going to honor your past wishes and solemn vows, taken through kalpa after kalpa, to deliver all those evildoers from suffering, what further cause do I have to worry?”’

“The previous line was, ‘I would normally be worried’—meaning the Buddha is always concerned about sentient beings. ‘However, because of the vow you’—referring to Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha—‘you made, “taken through kalpa after kalpa,”’ meaning ‘no matter how long it takes to fulfill it, this vow is so profound that it remains unchanging through the eons.’ ‘…To deliver all those evildoers from suffering’—that is, to liberate all sentient beings that have committed evil acts. ‘What further cause do I have to worry?’ In other words, ‘With Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha here, I don’t need to worry anymore.’ From this you can see that Shakyamuni Buddha considers Ksitigarbha to be a very important Bodhisattva. Therefore, the reason Ksitigarbha is so widely revered and accepted by us Earthly sentient beings, especially in the Eastern world, is that the Buddha exerted His blessings to teach us about this Bodhisattva. Why do so many of us in Japan and China worship Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha? In both countries, ever since ancient times, we have engaged in much killing and fought many wars, and only Ksitigarbha can save us. This is the reason the Buddha said, ‘With you here, I don’t have to worry.’ Conversely, that meant Ksitigarbha had a very difficult job to do. Many years ago I told His Holiness I wanted to retire, and he replied that I couldn’t; this is a similar situation. It is as if His Holiness said to me, ‘With you here, what further cause do I have to worry?’ I therefore have a long road ahead of me. Thus, reading the sutras can be very interesting, because the stories contained are very similar to how we humans speak. This helps us to realize the truth of the Buddha’s teachings. Despite the Buddha’s great powers, He hoped a bunch of Bodhisattvas would go and do the liberating of sentient beings. Why is that? It’s not that He couldn’t do it; rather, each Bodhisattva has a different affinity with every sentient being. Namely, Bodhisattvas are able to help sentient beingswith whom They have formed connections throughout past lifetimes.

“The sutra reads, ‘After these words were spoken, a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva in the assembly named Samadhisvararaja addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, what vows did Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha take kalpas ago that deserve Your profuse commendation and praise? I only wish that You, O World Honored One, will describe them briefly.”’

“As soon as the Buddha spoke the Dharma at this puja, as mentioned earlier, many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and sentient beings from the Heaven Realm gathered to listen. One participant, a Mahasattva named Samadhisvararaja who had attained the Dharmakaya, stood and asked the Buddha, ‘O Honored One! What vows did Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha take kalpas ago’—meaning, such a long time ago—‘that deserve Your profuse commendation and praise? I only wish that You, O World Honored One, will describe them briefly.’ He hoped the Buddha would explain this to him briefly.

“The sutra reads, ‘Then the World Honored One said to Bodhisattva-MahasattvaSamadhisvararaja, “Listen closely! Listen closely and think carefully about all that I say, for I am going to describe each vow individually for you.”’

“Shakyamuni Buddha tells Bodhisattva Samadhisvararaja, ‘Listen closely!’ What does that mean? It means ‘you should concentrate and listen very attentively.’ Thus, when you don’t listen to the Dharma very closely, and fail to focus on it, you fall asleep easily. Another meaning of ‘listen closely’ is ‘the words I speak to you today are emperors of all language; I am not chatting with you casually.’ In other words, the Dharma is not idle chatter, nor is it just a bunch of stories for your entertainment or which you have no use for. Every line of the Dharma is useful; it just depends on when. You might need it now, or in the future, or in a future lifetime, but as long as you are here today, willing to listen closely, and you accept it, I guarantee you will one day be able to practice it. It might not happen in this lifetime, but you definitely won’t be able to escape this. ‘Think carefully’ means ‘While I’m speaking, you should contemplate what I say with a virtuous aspiration, and remember every thought.’

“‘I am going to describe each vow individually for you.’ In other words, ‘I will only speak of these as long as you have met these two conditions first.’ Therefore, the reason I caution you not to doze off during the puja is that when you don’t listen closely, you are in no condition to hear the Dharma. ‘Think carefully about all that I say.’ I am constantly urging you to listen and accept what I say, and think carefully about it while thinking good thoughts. That is, my expounding the Dharma to you today has not harmed you; I have not told you to do anything unethical. The Dharma teaches you for the good of your future. Only by listening to these good teachings with a virtuous mind can you immerse yourselves in them. If you feel that the Dharma you hear does not concern you, or you refuse to accept it, then you are not thinking from within a virtuous mindset; as such, the good Dharma being spoken today won’t have anything to do with you. Therefore, every line of the sutra has its purpose.

“‘I am going to describe each vow individually for you’—‘If you are willing to do this (listen closely and think carefully about all that I say), then I will describe each vow for you one by one.’ Isn’t this similar to teaching a child to ‘pay attention, sit still, and listen up’? Teachers have to say the same thing to their students: ‘Everyone sit upright’—and only then will they begin to teach. Why should I allow you to fall asleep and snore during the puja? That would be impossible. Even in normal, everyday society, you are taught to sit still and listen, so why should you sit crookedly while listening to the Dharma? Therefore, I only dare repeat the Buddha’s words; if it wasn’t written in the sutras, then I won’t say it. Listen up, everybody: I am not deliberately scolding you. Even Mahasattvas had to meet this sort of prerequisite when listening to the Dharma, so why should an exception be made for you? Thus, you should listen attentively, knowing the Buddha would not intentionally scold you. It is quite simple: Only if you are of the same mind as the Buddha will you be able to actually absorb what He has to say; if you are not, then how can you take in His words? Back when we were still in school, some of us understood our teachers as soon as they taught us something, while others in the same class didn’t. What does that mean? Most of those kids who didn’t understand the lesson were being naughty. Some of them might have had learning disabilities, but most didn’t understand because they didn’t like the teachers, right? This is especially the case in middle school, high school and university: ‘I don’t like attending that teacher’s class; I have a hard time understanding him!’

“Thus, in saying, ‘Listen closely and think carefully about all that I say,’ the Buddha seems to have been speaking to Bodhisattva-MahasattvaSamadhisvararaja specifically, but He was not; He was speaking down through the ages to all of you sentient beings who are burdened with heavy karma. You must listen exactly like this if you want the Buddha to speak to you. Therefore, these lines are extremely important, both for those who want to begin learning Buddhism and for those who want to start understanding the Dharma. You must not look down on these words.”

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Updated on February 19, 2017