His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s Puja Teachings – August 16, 2016

On August 16th, 2016, His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche presided over the auspicious Ksitigarbha Blessing Puja at the Glorious Jewel Buddhist Center in Kyoto, Japan, and drew from his considerable attainments in cultivation to expound the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows. There were a total of 129 attendees, including 10 believers from Japan, and Taiwan as well as 119 Japanese and Taiwanese disciples.

At 9:30 in the morning, H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche ascended the Dharma throne and bestowed precious Dharma teachings upon all the attendees.

“Today I will continue performing the Dharma of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. Ksitigarbha is one of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas. The word ‘great,’ does not refer to size; rather, it means that Their intention and power to help sentient beings are far above those of ordinary Bodhisattvas. ‘Great’ has another layer of meaning as well: The fruition levels of Bodhisattvas are divided into a total of sixteen Grounds. The bodhicitta possessed by those of the first eight Grounds is such that Their intention to help sentient beings still has a chance of retrogressing; only Bodhisattvas of the ninth Ground and higher are immune to this. Great Bodhisattvas of the Tenth Ground or higher are classified as Dharmakaya Bodhisattvas, and are reverently referred to as ‘Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas.’ The definition of a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva is one who is very close to attaining Buddhahood—very close for a Buddha, that is, but still quite far from the perspective of ordinary people. All Bodhisattvas of the Tenth through the Sixteenth Grounds are Great Bodhisattvas, and those that make it to the Seventeenth Ground have attained Buddhahood.

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is also known as the ‘Bodhisattva of the Great Vow.’ His aspiration was to rescue all sentient beings from reincarnation: ‘I vow not to attain Buddhahood unless and until all the Hells are empty.’ Because it is impossible for the Hell Realm to be completely empty, this aspiration essentially represented Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s having already attained Buddhahood. In the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows it is written that the people of Earth are willful, indulgent in body, speech, and mind, and prone to commit many evil acts. Every thought produced by an ordinary person generates karma and vice. Our thoughts are only geared toward our own self-benefit; however, when something is to one’s advantage, it causes others harm.

“Ever since I began coming to Japan in 2005, I’ve observed the zealous fervor with which people here worship Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. In every street, alley, and mountainside graveyard there is a stone statue of Ksitigarbha; from this it is apparent that He enjoys a very high position in Japan. However, very few temples specialize in practicing His Dharma method. I also sense that Japanese tend to worship Ksitigarbha as an earth deity, yet are unclear as to how exactly He can help us. The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows is a very important Dharma, which Shakyamuni Buddha instructed Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to transmit to all sentient beings so that we could understand it. For humans, too, this sutra is essential, for it contains teachings about what effects will result from what actions—and these are facts that cannot be changed. ‘Cause’ and ‘effect’ are not just ideas pertinent to Buddhism, nor were they invented by Shakyamuni Buddha; they are human words used by the Buddha to describe universal phenomena. Cause and effect tell you what the consequences of your actions will be. For example, if you love to drink alcohol all the time, then your karmic retribution will be to suffer illness in old age. Let’s not say where you will be reborn after this lifetime is over, because you do not want to know, you cannot know, and you are afraid to know.

“Modern medicine tells us that eating a lot of meat significantly increases the chances of getting cancer. Nowadays Westerners are promoting vegetarianism, and not completely due to religious factors. On the one hand, it is due to their respect for life, and animals are lifeforms, too. Secondly, Westerners have discovered that raising domesticated animals requires a large amount of grain, and the gases they excrete are among the worst air pollutants. A third reason is that current research has shown that animals feel a profound degree of terror when they are being killed; this causes their bodies to produce poisons which, if consumed, are harmful to our health. That is not to say that vegetarians can’t get cancer; you can get it even if you don’t eat meat, because it has to do with the karma you created in your past lives. However, if you eat vegetarian, you will have a much smaller chance of getting lifestyle diseases than most people. I am almost seventy years old, yet I have never had high cholesterol or blood pressure. This is a direct result of my vegetarianism.

“The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows teaches us which sorts of behavior result in which kinds of karmic effects, but we humans are afraid of knowing, preferring to remain ignorant. We just want to hear what we will get out of investing our time and energy into something; we desire instant gratification, are short-sighted, and do not have the patience to think about our future. Will the future happen or not? Of course it will. If not, then why are we working so hard? If the future didn’t exist, then what would be the point of going to school or making so many plans? Many of our goals will never come to fruition, of course, because we do not act according to our causes, effects, and conditions.

“I have come to Japan to expound the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows because I hope to educate you all about Ksitigarbha’s aspiration, compassion, and merits. This is a very difficult endeavor, for despite what you think, comprehending a sutra’s teachings is not as easy as listening to and understanding a classroom lecture. The Dharma is not academic knowledge; you cannot put it into practice after simply having listened to it spoken. After hearing it, you must first reflect upon your everyday actions of body, speech, and mind to discern whether or not they are in keeping with Buddhism. If they are, then you are a Buddhist practitioner cultivating the Dharma. However, if you still see Buddhism as a mere curiosity or academic pursuit, then no amount of research you do will yield any meaningful results. The most important lesson in Buddhism is how to use the Dharma to amend your thoughts and mindset. Learning this is guaranteed to change your speech and behavior; you will naturally begin to walk along the path to virtue. Making a firm resolution to do so is not at all easy, because we have already formed habits due to what we’ve learned—from certain areas of knowledge, for example, or about how to cook, from our various life experiences, and so on. This is exactly how you have lived over the past few decades, and you are too afraid to change. You are not prepared to, either, because you’re worried that in doing so you would lose a lot of things. For you, Buddhism seems like something completely new—something unattainable. However, it actually is not like that at all.

“It is recorded in the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows that before becoming a Bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha was an ordinary married woman. She was able to achieve such a high fruition because she acted step by step in strict accordance with the Buddha’s teachings, reduced her concepts of right and wrong, and lived life with the Dharma as her standard. In this way, she eventually became Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. It is also written in the sutra that Ksitigarbha manifests in hundreds of millions of emanations across every Buddha Land to help sentient beings. This means two things: One is that the power of Ksitigarbha’s compassion is great enough to reach every corner of the universe; as long as we implore for help, we will grow attuned to His compassion and blessings. The other is that wherever people cultivate His Dharma, they will become Ksitigarbha’s emanations. In coming here today to listen and participate in this puja, as long as you are willing to start respecting and learning from Him and the Dharma, then you, too, will become tiny parts of His emanations.

“Buddhism is divided into Exoteric Buddhism and Tantrism. The former includes all of the theories contained in the sutras, but to achieve attainment using only Exoteric means would take a very long time. In this age of commerce, no one can practice Buddhism eight hours a day. Today’s puja will first employ Tantra and its methods so that Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s aspiration can be united with that of the presiding guru in order to help all sentient beings. Learning Tantra is analogous to having already graduated with a bachelor’s degree and, wishing to do further research, going to graduate school for a master’s or a PhD. Merely receiving such a degree, however, does not entail your success; you must also put your knowledge to the test by using it in society. In Buddhism, if practicing Tantra is analogous to working on a doctorate, then Exoteric Buddhism is like the education one gets in elementary, middle, and high school, and college. No one can skip those steps and go straight into graduate school. Exoteric teachings are the foundation of all Buddhism, and a house cannot be built without a foundation. Not many people can learn Tantra. I don’t know about other Orders, but of all the disciples and monastics in the Drikung Kagyu Order, very few are able to achieve attainment in Tantra. Despite what you might imagine, Tantra involves much more than simply performing a fire offering and chanting some mantras. This is part of the Kriyayoga, and such activities only seem to be related to Tantra.

“I will begin by performing Tantra. Every Buddha and Dharmakaya Bodhisattva is divided into three different forms: The Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya. The Nirmanakaya is the form used to help all ordinary people and sentient beings that have not yet made a firm resolution to renounce the suffering sea of reincarnation; it includes the light and power of compassion mentioned earlier. The Sambhogakaya is that to which all Buddhas, Dharmakaya Bodhisattvas, and the presiding guru are attuned; in other words, only those who achieve the fruition of a Bodhisattva can grow attuned to a Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s Sambhogakaya. The Dharmakaya will only appear to one who has attained Buddhahood or become a Bodhisattva. In simpler terms, your level of cultivation determines which level of Bodhisattvas will come to help you.

“Today I will use the level of a Sambhogakaya Bodhisattva to help you ordinary people. These blessings are especially powerful and vast. As long as you are respectful during today’s puja, engrave its teachings, my Dharma title, and Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s sacred name into your memory, and stop committing evil in the future, then I guarantee from this Dharma throne on which I sit that you will not fall into the Hell Realm. However, the most important factor is your mindset, not any guarantee I might make; the crux of the matter is that you must not commit evil. If, after participating in the puja, you still willfully take life by eating meat, or commit any other evil acts, then that promise I just made won’t be of any use. If you can refrain from killing, stop committing evil, and remember today’s puja, then even though you are not at the same cultivation level as I am, I guarantee that you will have practically no chance of going to hell. The brief explanation I just gave was meant to let you know the significance of today’s puja.

H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche began to perform the Dharma of Ksitigarba and bestowed the teachings afterward.

“Today I’ll be performing Tantra. The first line of the Dharma text is an obeisance to the guru. In Tantra, the guru is of the utmost importance, because without one to transmit the Dharma, you cannot listen to it. A guru is not just anyone able to speak about the sutras; rather, he is a practitioner who can use the Dharma to benefit himself and other sentient beings. Without a guru to transmit the Dharma, you have no opportunity to listen to it. For this reason, the first thing we want to do is make prostrations before the guru, the Buddhas, and the Mahasattvas.

“A guru gives rise to bodhicitta, and ‘sincerity and utmost respect shall be shown.’ ‘Sincerity’ means we must participate in today’s puja with genuine sincerity, and no assumptions in mind. Any hopes that we can obtain or change anything as a result of this puja are false. Genuine sincerity means that as long as you respect the guru, the Buddhas, and the Bodhisattvas, then you are certain to get something out of it. That does not mean a fulfillment of your desires; rather, as I stated a moment ago, as long as you are respectful toward the puja, allow it to leave a deep impression on you, and stop committing evil acts, then you are guaranteed not to fall into the Hell Realm in this lifetime—this is what you get out of it. Many people hope their participation in a puja will immediately change their circumstances for the better, but what is happening to you right now is the result of karmic retribution for your past behavior. If simply attending a puja could suddenly change your current situation, then that would mean cause and effect do not exist. Being here right now will change your future, not your present; nor can it prevent the karmic retribution from any evil acts you committed in the past from manifesting. If it could, then logic would dictate that it would also keep any good karmic effects brought about by your former virtuous acts from manifesting as well. Good deeds always result in good karma, just as evil deeds always result in evil karma. As long as you continuously do good, you will have fewer and fewer chances for your evil karmic effects to appear, or even disappear, due to the fact that the power of your virtue will be so great.

“‘Generally speaking, this kind of puja is not commonly seen.’ The teachings of today’s puja are not something you can hear very frequently, nor are you able to listen to them just because you want to. In general, when we go to a temple and burn some incense or offer some money, we think we are worshiping the Buddha. We think such worship includes listening to someone in the main hall talk about the history of the temple and its Buddha statues. Some people think cultivation means sitting in meditation for an hour or sleeping in a temple at night, but all those are simply ways of planting a seed to form an affinity with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Holding a puja like this requires a great deal of manpower, financial resources, and time, but from the point of view of you Japanese believers, all you need to do is attend. I don’t need to preside over this puja; there is nothing in it for me personally. My disciples have come because they always follow me wherever I hold a puja. If the Japanese believers attending today’s puja had not practiced Buddhism in their past lives, they would not be here today. You can go to other places—Kyoto has a lot of temples, for example—where the gurus will not scold you. When you come here, though, I will reprimand you quite frequently. This sort of puja is not easily accessible for most of you; this text I mentioned earlier was translated from Tibetan into Chinese, not made up by me. In other words, I am telling you to cherish this opportunity, because it is the result of your good fortune and causal conditions; you weren’t able to participate just because you wanted to. If I were to hold a private Tibetan puja like this for anyone, the cost would be astronomical, and you would be too stingy to pay it anyway. A meritorious guru sacrifices his time, money, and energy to help sentient beings, which is an indication to you believers that you should appreciate this puja. You had the good fortune to be here, so cherish this opportunity to participate; don’t assume that it is enough for you to simply come here and listen.

“‘You will become just as meritorious and auspicious.’ As long as ‘…you are sincere and extremely respectful’ while participating in today’s puja, then in a future lifetime, you will obtain merits that are no different than, and equally meritorious as, those of the yidam and your guru. However, it definitely will not occur in this lifetime, so don’t think you will necessarily achieve the same attainment as I have before you die. I have worked very hard, and put my life on the line for the sake of cultivation. As is written in the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows, Ksitigarbha was a woman in a previous lifetime, and did not become a Bodhisattva until many lifetimes had passed. Today you were able to come to this puja, and as long as you give rise to genuine sincerity and respect, and understand that this is not just a common puja, then at some point in the future you will be endowed with the same merits and auspiciousness as the yidam. Right now you are ordinary people and believers, but in a future lifetime you will be able to help sentient beings just as Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha does. Let me remind you once more, though: It will not happen in this lifetime. I am not trying to rain on your parade; I am just promising that if you are willing to heed the contents of this Dharma text and act accordingly, then in a future lifetime you are sure to succeed.

“The last two lines refer to the fact that there are many words in the Dharma, but their meaning has not been revealed. Thus, these lines teach, ‘The only thing that matters is to have faith, which will end up shouldering the burden for you.’ Whether or not you understand today’s teachings, and whatever your reasons for attending this puja, the important thing is that you believe. That is, you must have faith that as long as you are sincere and respectful, then one day you are sure to ‘become just as meritorious and auspicious’ and possess the same merits as the yidam. You must believe without a doubt that you will eventually succeed in this in some future lifetime. The words, ‘shouldering the burden,’ here mean that regardless of how many evil acts you have committed in the past, as long as you have faith, it will help you bear the weight of all that karma your actions created, allowing you an opportunity to practice Buddhism in this lifetime. Being able to shoulder that burden does not mean you will live happily without any issues; it means that as soon as you give rise to faith, the forces that hinder your cultivation will gradually disappear or even vanish altogether. This is a very important point.

“Before performing the Dharma, your guru will always reveal some teachings to you so that you understand what the purpose of today’s puja is. If your motive for being here is in line with what is written in the sutra, then you will obtain great benefits from it; if not, then your benefits will be quite marginal.

“First we will conduct the Refuge Ritual, and then visualize the presiding guru as being no different from Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. Even though Ksitigarbha appears to us in the form of a Bodhisattva, all of His Dharma activities are the same as the rest of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, and essentially He has already attained Buddhahood. In order to help sentient beings, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has shown again and again that He has attained Bodhi fruition. Among the Bodhisattvas, His great aspiration is to liberate countless sentient beings in the Dharma Realm and the universe, constantly enabling them to come in contact with the Dharma, be truly freed from the suffering, and eventually attain Buddhahood. To ‘truly be freed’—these are not empty words; they mean we genuinely can be liberated from the suffering sea of reincarnation.

“This Dharma text was transmitted to Southern Tianzhu (which, today, we refer to as southern India) by Vajravarahi, who is a very important yidam in Tantra. When I wanted to cultivate the Phowa, I had to achieve attainment in Vajravarahi’s Dharma methods, which were passed down through sage after sage to this day. She personally wrote 108 Dharma texts, and these became one of the twenty-four expedient methods taught by the Eight Great Bodhisattvas. Expediency here does not mean the same as convenience; it involves being able to use different Dharma methods to benefit sentient beings according to their karma and causal conditions. All Dharma texts are based on something; no one can casually claim credit for writing them.

“This Dharma lineage has been transmitted continuously ever since the time of Vajravarahi; many practitioners, all the way down to and including myself, have cultivated according to this Dharma text without ever stopping. Oral transmission, the Dharma transmission passed down by a Mahasattva and Dharmakaya Bodhisattva, occurs in a strict sequence of stages as prescribed by the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas, which means that every line of the Dharma must be transmitted orally to you by your guru; you cannot cultivate simply by opening up the Dharma text and reciting it yourself. The tradition of oral transmission was begun by Shakyamuni Buddha. You might think that was because there was no such things as tape recorders or telephones back then, but that was not actually the reason; rather, the Buddha wanted to bestow teachings upon his disciples in person. Nowadays we might be able to view images of people speaking the Dharma through video devices, but strictly speaking, those are not the same as oral transmission, which therefore only can occur when people actually participate in a puja in person. Before listening to it, let us first make mandala offerings.”

Next was the mandala offering ritual in which the representatives implored the Dharma from H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche said, “Even though you are not receiving an Empowerment today, I’ll still tell you to visualize and chant the mantra so that you have something to do.

“You should see the guru as being no different from the yidam. We should be moved to tears by the gratitude we feel toward our guru, because without his transmission of the Dharma, we would continue on through lifetime after lifetime, unable to escape the suffering sea of reincarnation. The benevolence shown to us by our guru is incomparable, so we should feel utterly grateful to the point of tears streaming down our faces and snot running out our noses. You, however, are unable to do this. We must give rise to joy, but that does not mean having a change or luck or getting healthier; rather, it means that only a hundred or so of the six billion people on Earth were able to attend this puja and possess the causal condition to chant this mantra, so you should cherish this opportunity.

“The next part, the conducting of the ritual, is the guru’s job, so all you have to do is listen attentively. In the text it is written that the Ksitigarbha Puja must be performed in a clean location that has never been involved in killing or served as a slaughterhouse, brothel, or graveyard. To begin, we must give rise to a pure aspiration, compassion, and bodhicitta. First I will bless this land as the Buddha’s Pure Land; secondly, I will bless this building as the Bodhisattvas’ palace; thirdly I will bless the guru’s Dharma throne as a treasured lotus seat, and finally, I will bless these offering items.”

Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche instructed the attendees to kneel on their right knees and hold flowers in their hands. The monastics then lit incense as an offering to the Buddha on behalf of sentient beings, and reverently welcomed Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to approach the mandala. Next, the guru implored Ksitigarbha to descend to the thangka, and instructed the ordained disciples to represent sentient beings by respectfully present a khata to the main yidam Ksitigarbha’s thangka on the mandala.

After performing the ritual for a while, Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche said, “Now we will recite a supplication prayer for accumulating good fortune and wisdom. Good fortune does not refer to luck in worldly matters; rather, it means obtaining the fortune of being able to listen to the Dharma. Accumulating the resources of wisdom—this does not mean how much you know; it refers to understanding the true nature of the universe and the significance of all Dharmas. It also includes comprehending all the ways in which sentient beings can be helped.

“‘We implore the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to bless us so that we can give rise to bodhicitta as soon as possible, and help sentient beings. May the yidam protect us from falling into the suffering of the Three Evil Realms, and all sentient beings obtain the blessings of the Dharma as well.’

“The next part is the Ksitigarbha Dhāraṇī Sutra. The above section of the sutra was recited by the guru. If you do not possess good fortune, then you will not have the patience to continue listening; if you do not have wisdom, then you will not be able to settle down and focus. Therefore, I had to do a few things to get you prepared first. The function of this sutra is to help us to understand what Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s merits are, and He will transmit them to us as well.

“There are many mantras associated with Ksitigarbha to which only people with the right causal conditions may listen. All merits originate from mantras, and all sentient beings suffer in reincarnation; in order to resolve their karma, they must listen to this Dharma. Some people, claiming to have committed no offenses and broken no laws, wonder how they could have any karma. From a Buddhist point of view, as long as you have ever taken life, deceived anyone, been greedy or hateful, or not believed in cause and effect, then through such acts you have created karma that keeps you suffering in reincarnation. The ‘offenses’ referred to in Buddhism are different from those in other religions, which include not believing in a certain god. In Buddhism, you commit your own offenses; they were not imposed on you by someone, and they did not happen because you did not believe in a god or gods. Right now you need to come to terms with your karma. So many of you suddenly stop practicing Buddhism, or only come to listen for a while before losing interest or even growing doubtful. This happens not because the Dharma is not great or auspicious enough, but because you have evil karma which hinders you from being able to listen to the Dharma and can even prevent you from believing, even if you were to see the Buddha with your own eyes. You have eaten a lot of fish and crabs, so they have a great deal of hatred for you; their resentment will hinder you. The ritual just performed was to resolve your accumulated karma and cause all those sentient beings to stop hating and resenting you so that you have a chance to hear the Dharma. Your ability to listen enables them to listen, too.

“If your legs hurt after sitting cross-legged during the puja, it is because you have eaten too much meat and too many crabs and prawns. Raise your hands if you have never eaten crabs’ legs.” None of the attendees raised a hand. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche continued: “Because you have consumed the flesh of so many sentient beings, your feet will hurt and go numb. I have nerves, too, and am likewise made of flesh and blood, but I am not in pain, because I have already finished repaying my karmic debt. Right now I am helping you to resolve this problem, but that doesn’t mean you have nullified your debt; it means I have somewhat urged those sentient beings to stop hindering your participation. As such, you have the patience to listen to the Dharma. Japanese believers might think it strange that they are now more patient than they were before. In the past, some believers were very impatient, and would leave after only listening half the day. This was because they had not resolved their karma.

“All any suffering sentient being need do to give rise to bodhicitta and an unwavering, unsuspicious mind is chant Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s mantras.

“Next we will praise the merits of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha and Shakyamuni Buddha. Ksitigarbha’s merits extend to all sentient beings in the Heavens and the Six Realms. We implore Him to help us suppress all demons, which refer to any attitudes or ways that prevent us from becoming liberated from life and death. Because we have chanted Ksitigarbha’s sacred name, His immense powers can help us by pacifying our enemies. We have harmed lots of sentient beings, so they feel a great deal of anger toward us. Why do you get some diseases that doctors cannot cure, the suffering from which even surgery can only temporarily alleviate? It is because the sentient beings you have harmed are furious with you; that wrath causes you to fall ill—and even worse, can send you to the Hell, Hungry Ghost, or Animal Realms. Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s great, awe-inspiring power can pause that suffering for us and temporarily quell the wrath our enemies feel toward us; only in this way can we practice diligently and listen to the Dharma.

“If we reverently recite Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s mantras, then all our karmic hindrances can be purified. Karma includes both good and evil karma, and too much of either can hinder our cultivation. Purifying our karmic hindrances means eliminating the forces that would stop us from practicing Buddhism. ‘Take me far away from defiling elements’ means distancing us from all things that produce the fundamental darkness that obscures our pure Buddha nature. ‘Take me far away from defiling elements, that I may obtain merits.’ Merits are not obtained through trade, such as only performing the Dharma in exchange for money; this, on the contrary, results in a lack of merits, as does demanding payment for liberating sentient beings. All a practitioner can gain from such actions is a bit of good fortune. We can definitely obtain some fortune from chanting the Buddhas’ names or reciting the sutras for the deceased, but that cannot be used in this lifetime; it is merely a force that can help us to be reborn in the Human or Heaven Realms. It cannot change the karma we have accumulated through lifetime after lifetime; only having merits can help us do this. Anyone participating attentively in today’s puja and who looks forward to being perfectly propitious—meaning, anyone who practice the Ten Meritorious Acts—should chant this mantra often.

“As long as you believe deeply in this mantra and chant it often, you will be able to succeed in everything you want to do. Such success does not refer to getting married, striking it rich, or avoiding illness; it means you will be able to accomplish all of your Buddhist endeavors. If you frequently praise Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s auspicious merits and chant His mantras with absolute sincerity, then you are sure to very quickly become liberated from the suffering of reincarnation.

“We receive the blessings of the Buddhas and the Three Jewels—the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—and the benefits they bring us and all sentient beings. ‘May the yidam’s light shine upon every corner of the universe, extricating sentient beings from the Hell, Hungry Ghost, and Animal Realms so that they can leave those evil paths and set foot upon virtuous ones. May the illumination from Ksitigarbha’s mantras give us the strength to grow attuned with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in body, speech, and mind, so that sentient beings can be free from physical and mental suffering. May all sentient beings possess sufficient root capacity to enter Samadhi’—this line is very important. Until you have undergone this sort of cultivation, you will not have the root capacity to enter Samadhi by sitting in meditation. Nor can you gain such root capacity simply by visiting a temple and having someone hit you on your back; in order to obtain the root capacity, conditions, and essence necessary for attaining Samadhi, you must first complete the aforementioned practices and supplications. Some people think spending the night at a temple will enable them to meditate, but all that does is help them form a connection. We must continuously purify our minds of greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt until they are completely gone; only then will we be pure enough to receive blessings.”

As Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche had led the attendees in a chanting of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s mantra for a long time, they all gained a profound sense of the guru’s great compassionate aspiration to liberate sentient beings. Syllable after syllable, the sounds of the mantra rushed forth to fill the void, the unfathomable power of their blessings benefiting countless sentient beings.

After the mantra chanting was finished, Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche said, “Anyone chanting mantras should remember that they can help our speech and thoughts; that is, they purify our minds. Those who frequently chant mantras experience a strengthening in the power of their speech. Therefore, whether you are saying something good or something bad, the power of your words will be increased. For this reason, you should not say anything to do with cursing or hating other people.”

Next, Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche instructed an ordained disciple to recite Chapter Eight of the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows, after which the guru expounded its contents.

Chapter Eight: The Praises of Yamaraja and Others

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, Deva Yamaraja and countless ghost kings from within Cakravada Mountain all journeyed to Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, arriving at the Buddha’s residence.’

“There are innumerable ghost kings in the Hell Realm. What causes someone to turn into one? One type of ghost king is an incarnation of a person who, while still alive, practiced Buddhism or some other religion. Because he did not get rid of his hatred, he went to the Hell Realm after death. However, still in possession of some good fortune, he was put in charge of supervising other ghosts there. Another kind is a Bodhisattva taking the form of a ghost king to liberate ghosts, because they are similar. In the same way, those supervising humans must be human; they cannot be animals. Japanese like to worship King Yama, thinking that will keep him from coming for them. Actually, as soon as your time is ripe, He’ll come for you anyway. Yama is a Bodhisattva, too. He uses various methods to help sentient beings, who committed evil acts that sent them to the Hell Realm, to repay their karmic debts as soon as possible so that they can leave hell and go to the Three Virtuous Realms. Therefore, it can be said that King Yama is a Mahasattva. We worship Yama so that He will help us to stop committing evil.

“Ghost kings exist among humans, unable to go to the Heaven Realm. Only by way of King Yama’s great, awe-inspiring powers can He take ghost kings before the Buddha to listen to the Dharma in the Palace of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven.

“The sutra reads, ‘Among these ghost kings were Pretarajas Evil Poison, Much Evil, Big Quarrel, White Tiger, Blood Tiger, Red Tiger, Calamity-Spreader, Flying Body, Lightning Flash, Wolf Fang, Thousand-Eye, Animal Devourer, Rock Carrier, Master of Exhaustion, Master of Disaster, Master of Food, Lord of Wealth, Master of Beasts, Master of Fowls, Master of Animals, Master of Goblins, Master of Birth, Master of Lives, Master of Diseases, Master of Risks, Three-Eyes, Four-Eyes, Five-Eyes, Chislis, Great Chislis, Chiliksa, Great Chiliksa, Anato, and Great Anato.’

“This part is an introduction to several of the ghost kings. ‘Evil Poison’ is primarily in charge of people who did a lot of vicious deeds while still alive, and ‘Much Evil’ is a ghost king who commits a lot of evil acts. ‘Big Quarrel’ gets his name from overseeing people who, when living, loved to take people to court, use lawsuits to harm others, and argue until they won. The ‘White Tiger, Blood Tiger,’ and ‘Red Tiger’ ghost kings are in charge of those who loved to eat meat, especially meat that is especially fresh and bloody. ‘Calamity-Spreader’ supervises those who died early and abruptly. ‘Flying Body’ will sit to one side, and then you’ll suddenly see him fly over. ‘Lightning Flash’ is the ghost king people will encounter after being killed by a lightning strike, because ghost kings exist in lightning as well. As for ‘Master of Exhaustion,’ why do some people, despite their past virtuous acts that endowed them with a longevity that should have let them live to the age of ninety, instead die when they are in their forties? In war, some die who shouldn’t have, while others remain the last one standing out of an entire group of people who got killed. To mention a great tragedy, when Japan was devastated by those atom bombs, there were places where many people perished while others somehow were spared. This is because all of the evil acts they commit in this lifetime—especially their acts of killing—drain away their good fortune, and this includes longevity, health, wealth, and familial harmony. Thus, this ghost king oversees people whose good fortune was continuously eroded away by their evil acts.

“The ‘Master of Disaster’ is a ghost king who supervises those who were prone to accidents because they did not repent for the constant evils they committed in their present and past lives. The ‘Master of Food Ghost King’ oversees people who indulged in too much food, such as the winners of those eating contests on television who eat until they weigh two hundred kilos and their stomachs are so full they are about to burst—yet they keep on eating. It is written in the sutras that people who eat too much will go to hell, because such gluttony consumes too much of their good fortune. Medical professionals say overeating is bad for your health; it makes it take too long to digest, and this shortens your lifespan. Therefore, the approach advocated by Chinese is the best—to only eat until you are seven tenths full.

“The ‘Lord of Wealth Ghost King’ will not give you money. Why does all of the wealth you should have had in life disappear? It is because you have engaged in behavior that erodes away your good fortune, such as deceiving people. Your money will unaccountably go missing, or your investments will bizarrely fail, or a man or woman will use all your wealth up. Whether or not you have wealth in this lifetime has to do with the offerings you made and alms you gave in your past lives. Here in Japan, compared to before when money in the bank always grew, now you might deposit your money and not see it gain any interest; it could even be whittled away by fees. Thus, your wealth will dwindle down even though you’ve kept it in the bank. This means this country and the people in it are continuously experiencing an erosion of their wealth. Why is that? It is because they have committed so many evil acts. Among many investors, for a time it was popular to purchase mutual funds; the result was that some made a profit, while you ended up losing money instead. Some art buyers are able to get their hands on authentic pieces, whereas all the works of art you buy are fakes. Some purchases increase in value over time, but yours, by contrast, get devaluated. If these things are happening to you, it is because your wealth is constantly being consumed. The evil acts you’ve committed have eroded away all the good fortune that originally was yours.

“The ‘Master of Beasts’ and ‘Master of Fowls’ are in charge of those who engaged in acts of killing while still alive. The ‘Master of Goblins’—goblins are ghosts that harm sentient beings. If you have spent your life constantly wishing to hurt others in whatever way you can, then you will be placed under this ghost king’s charge. As for the ‘Master of Birth,’ many women have a lot of ghosts nearby while giving birth; if the ghost king Master of Birth does not come, then bad things could happen to their babies. For example, the infant might suffer postnatal jaundice; this is caused when a ghost comes to suck its blood while the baby is being born. For some mothers, menorrhagia can occur for the same reason. If a woman eats vegetarian and has done good deeds, the ghost king Master of Birth will come to help her by chasing off those ghosts that were hovering around, waiting to suck her blood. Because the nature of human longevity is that it gets consumed over time, the ghost king Master of Lives helps you see a lesser degree of that consumption by driving away those ghosts that would drain your longevity away. In other words, these ghost kings can help true practitioners while punishing those fake practitioners and evildoers. The ghost king Master of Diseases looks after people who succumbed to sickness in life, and the ghost king Master of Risks protects you from danger in places where people usually encounter mishaps. That is, this ghost king will come to your aid.

“Chislis, Great Chislis, Chiliksa, and Great Chiliksa all have to do with those demons and ghosts that want to suck away your wealth, good fortune, and longevity. The sutras tell us that Buddhist practitioners may not eat scallions or garlic; any monastics or other practitioners who like to eat those things raw on a frequent basis will grow lustful, and if they eat them cooked, they will become angry. There is one kind of ghost that loves the scent of scallions and garlic, so if you eat a lot of those, it will visit you at night, kiss you, and suck at your chi, draining a lot from you. Thus, you will have a shortened lifespan because your chi will weaken until you die. If you love garlic and onions, then no matter how much you chant mantras, the devas, nagas, and others of the eight groups of beings will not listen to you.

“The sutra reads, ‘These great ghost kings were each accompanied by hundreds of thousands of lesser ghost kings who dwelt in Jambudvipa, each of whom had his own responsibilities and his own charge….”

“Ghosts all live on Earth; they are everywhere. As soon as you walk out the door of the Buddhist Center there are some; the great ghosts lead the lesser ghosts around, from place to place. I have seen them. Before I had ever read this section of the sutra, I mentioned that all ghosts live on Earth; now, this has been confirmed by the sutra. These ghost kings are each in charge of various matters.

“The sutra reads, ‘…All these ghost kings and Deva Yamaraja, by virtue of Buddha’s majestic spirit and Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ksitigarbha’s power, arrived at Trāyastriṃśa Heaven and stood to one side.’

“It was only because of the awe-inspiring powers of the Buddha and Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha that Deva Yamaraja and the ghost kings were able to gather in the Palace of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. There they stood to the side, not daring to sit down. You should not assume you should sit wherever you go. One reason they did not dare to take a seat was that their cultivation levels were different; another was that they had great respect for the Buddha.

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, Deva Yamaraja, kneeling with palms joined, addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, now it is only by virtue of Your majestic spirit and Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ksitigarbha’s powers that we and the ghost kings have been able to attend this great assembly here in Trāyastriṃśa Heaven. This also creates a causal condition that will help us to obtain good benefits.”’

“‘Kneeling with palms joined’ is the position you were all asked to take right after the Dharma had been performed in which you kneeled down on one knee; kneeling with both knees doesn’t count. Deva Yamaraja addressed the World Honored One with palms clasped and said that he was only able to participate in this glorious puja in the Palace of Trāyastriṃśa Heaven thanks to the great awe-inspiring powers of the Buddha and Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. ‘Help us obtain good benefits’ means that they could receive good benefits. ‘Good’ is anything that helps sentient beings.

“The sutra reads, ‘However, there is a minor concern about which I would ask You, O World Honored One. My only hope is that, in Your mercy and compassion, You might deign to bestow an answer upon me.’

“Deva Yamaraja ventured to ask a small question of the World Honored One, hoping that in His great compassion, the Buddha would answer. These two lines indicate a level of respectfulness that is completely different from how some of you kneel down and say ‘I’ve got something to ask,’ without any sense of humility at all. Deva Yamaraja was very polite and humble when addressing the World Honored One. He said, ‘My only hope is that…’ and ‘…You might…;’ he did not say ‘World Honored One, I demand an answer from you.’ Deva Yamaraja hoped that the Buddha would be compassionate enough to reply to his question; he did not expect Him to satisfy his desires.

“The sutra reads, ‘The Buddha said to Deva Yamaraja, “I shall answer whatever question you ask.” Then Deva Yamaraja made obeisance to the World Honored One, nodded respectfully to Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, and addressed the Buddha, saying.…’

“Here the Buddha gave Deva Yamaraja permission to go ahead and ask his question. This is why, when so many people kneel before me and implore for permission to ask a question, I always reply, ‘You may ask, but I will decide whether or not to give you an answer.’ Usually when I say this it means I am not planning on answering, because you always ask questions related to your desires. For example, a lot of people when seeking audience with me do not have the guts to look me in the eye; instead, they glance at the attendant standing next to me in the hope that she will address me on their behalf—as if she were a Jitong spirit medium’s assistant. Such behavior is very rude. Why are they afraid to look at me? It is because they have a guilty conscience, and know that as soon as they ask me a question, they are going to get scolded.

“‘Made obeisance’ means he looked at the Buddha not with adoration, but with respect, and he regarded Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha in the same manner. Thus, he was very conscientious and complete in his actions. This Dharma was implored from the World Honored One by Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, which is tantamount to Ksitigarbha being the host of the assembly—to whom Deva Yamaraja also showed his respect while imploring the Buddha for help. By contrast, you only know how to make prostrations to His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang without even noticing me standing over to the side. You need to understand that without me, you would never have met him. If it weren’t for me, how would you have the opportunity to make prostrations to His Holiness? This is why Deva Yamaraja became who he is, while you remain mere ordinary people. All those that appear in the sutras teach us that we should show our obeisance; unless we are sufficiently courteous, we aren’t complete. We must observe etiquette!

“The sutra reads, ‘“O World Honored One, I see that Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha resorts to hundreds of thousands of expediencies in the Six Realms to liberate all sentient beings who are suffering and bearing punishment, and never shies away from this endeavor out of tiredness or fatigue. This Mahasattva has done such inconceivably miraculous things! However, despite being emancipated from their deserved punishment, these sentient beings will fall back into the Evil Realms before long.”’

“The word ‘see’ here does not refer to using the eyes; it means seeing with his Dharma nature. He saw that Ksitigarbha used ‘hundreds of thousands of expediencies,’ or various methods, to help those sentient beings suffering because of their evil acts in the Six Realms—Hell, Hungry Ghost, Animal, Human, Asura, and Heaven—without ever feeling exhausted. Ksitigarbha possesses unfathomable powers; we humans of this world cannot imagine why such a mighty Bodhisattva exists, and we really have no idea how mighty He is. As for ‘miraculous things,’ Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is endowed with either five or six supernatural powers. However, soon after receiving His help and leaving the Three Evil Realms, these sentient beings fall right back in.

“The sutra reads, ‘“O World Honored One, given that this Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha possesses such unfathomably phenomenal powers, how, then, is it possible that sentient beings fail to remain on virtuous paths and obtain permanent liberation? My only hope is that You will explain this to me, O World Honored One!”’

“This line is crucial. Yamaraja is a deva, yet he knows what is on your mind, and asked a very good question on your behalf. He wanted to know why, given the unfathomable supernatural powers of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, sentient beings cannot stick forever to virtuous paths—meaning, always behave in keeping with the Ten Meritorious Acts. To put it in simpler terms: Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha saved all these people, yet they hurried back to the Evil Realms; so why won’t they listen?

“The sutra reads, ‘The Buddha explained to Deva Yamaraja as follows: “The sentient beings in southern Jambudvipa are stubborn and obstinate by nature. They are difficult to tame and difficult to teach.”’

“This line is very important. I would like our Japanese interpreter to point out to the Japanese believers that they should pay special attention to this part. ‘Southern Jambudvipa’ refers to Earth. In the sutras it is mentioned that there are four planets in our Milky Way galaxy that are inhabited by humans, but the Dharma does not exist on the other three; only humans on Earth—in southern Jambudvipa—practice Buddhism. Scientists these days are constantly doing research into whether or not humans live on other planets, but actually places like Mars and Venus are uninhabited. Behind the sun there is a planet that is very similar to Earth, but as of yet scientists have no way of detecting it.

“As I’ve mentioned before, all humans on Earth are extremely stubborn by nature. I am not just talking about you Japanese believers; people in Taiwan are the same—they refuse to listen. ‘Stubborn and obstinate’ means they believe in themselves, and expect to get whatever they want from others and be heeded no matter what. They want to control others so that everyone listens to them and meets their demands. They refuse to listen, no matter what other people say, and they are determined to act as they please. This is where wars come from. These days all nations are in it for themselves; they think that if others die, they deserved it. Vast numbers of people always perish whenever a war breaks out. You have seen the conflict happening in the Middle East; many people have suffered enormously. At first it was thought that only the Middle Eastern region was affected, but now Europe is embroiled in it, too, as so many refugees have fled there.

“Obstinate people are stubborn by nature, and unwilling to listen to advice. If you urge them not to eat seafood, they turn around and tell you, ‘But it tastes delicious! It’s crab season, and I am entitled to enjoy eating some. Lots of people do, and nothing bad happens to them!’ This is obstinacy. I have helped many people who got into trouble as a result of eating seafood; I’ve recently encountered a person in just such a predicament. ‘Difficult to tame and difficult to teach’ means that no matter how you try to bring them into line, they refuse to do as you say. They will always act according to their own opinions; even if you use such methods as coercion and so on, they still won’t listen. Having been helping sentient beings for so long, this line resonates with me quite a bit.

“The sutra reads, ‘“This great Bodhisattva has, through hundreds of thousands of kalpas, saved and plucked such beings one head at a time, and led them to an early liberation.”’

“In answer to the question of why sentient beings on Earth keep returning to the Evil Realms, the Buddha said that they are difficult to tame and difficult to teach. However, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has been helping us for ‘hundreds of thousands of kalpas.’ One kalpa is the length of time it takes for the Earth to go through the cycle of Formation, Existence, Destruction, and the Succeeding Void, and then back again in the reverse order—a very long time, in other words. Ksitigarbha, a Mahasattva, has been liberating sentient beings one head at a time for many eons. The reason it says ‘one head at a time’ is that humans are born head-first. When a baby comes out feet-first, the mother is in mortal danger. Even other animals are born head-first, so the Bodhisattva ‘plucks’ us from the Hell Realm by the ‘head.’ There are of course some animals that are not born the same way, such as crabs and insects, but there is no need to quibble. Sentient beings trapped in hell all have their hands raised above their heads in the hope that the Bodhisattva will come to save them, so their heads are sticking straight up. This section implies that they are plucked from the Hell Realm by the head.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Such people, even if they might fall into the major Evil Realms as retribution for their evil acts, will give thanks for this Bodhisattva’s power to use expediencies to exonerate them from their fundamental karmic connections.…”’

“This section explains that despite Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s previous liberation of these evildoers, their karmic retribution later matured and had already landed them back in the Three Evil Realms. The Bodhisattva uses various expedient means to extricate them from their ‘fundamental karmic connections’—ridding them of their underlying opportunities to commit evil. For example, getting you to eat vegetarian means removing the karmic connections that would cause you to create karma from killing. Don’t assume you are great just because you eat vegetarian; it is simply a way of removing any conditions that would cause you to engage in killing. If you eat vegetarian, will you kill anything? Or will you have an accident? Will you still frequently get sick or be in a bad mood? When people are in a bad mood, it is because they have eaten too much meat and the sentient beings inside them are angry. How can you feel good then? I have helped many people who had gotten food poisoning from eating crabs. People in Japan love eating mentaiko, which is made of fish roe that originally were supposed to hatch. If you eat them, don’t you think they’ll resent you?

“‘To exonerate them from their fundamental karmic connections’ means helping to rid them of all opportunities to commit evil, and telling them not to do it anymore. For example, someone might tell you not to drink to excess. Those who drink too much naturally do a bunch of things they shouldn’t, which they later regret. For example, if you get overly drunk and end up with the wrong person, you’ll regret it, so why bother? Thus, the Bodhisattva helps by removing this opportunity from you at a fundamental level.

“The sutra reads, ‘“…and to make them aware of all their actions and circumstances of their previous lives. Naturally, however, since the sentient beings in Jambudvipa, heavily attached to their evil ways, would just as soon fall back into those old habits as get out, this Bodhisattva must take the trouble to work for long kalpa after kalpa to bring about their deliverance and liberation.”’

“This means the Bodhisattva will help sentient beings to understand how the evil actions they committed in their past lives are affecting their current ones. That does not mean telling you that in a past life you were a princess, a prince, or a general; that isn’t the point. The point is this: Why are you the way you are in this lifetime? You created this cause in a previous lifetime, and in this one you are reaping its effect. You committed that evil act in a past life, so you shouldn’t repeat in this lifetime; this echoes what was mentioned earlier about fundamental karmic connections. What causes some people to get sick so much? It is that they have heavy karma from killing in their past lives; they should therefore stop killing in this one. Why are some people unable to earn money, or lose whatever money they make? It is because in their past lives they did not know to give alms and make offerings. Why do some have so many boyfriends or girlfriends in this lifetime? It is because they owe a lot of people from their past lives, and still haven’t repaid all that debt; now those people have come to collect—and they assume it’s because of love. Why do some of you have to look after a sick husband? It is because he attended you in a past life, and you still owe him for it; he has come back to collect his debt in this lifetime. ‘To make them aware of all their actions and circumstances of their previous lives’—Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha tells you where your karmic effects and retribution in this lifetime came from, and exhorts you not to repeat those actions.

“‘Heavily attached to their evil ways’—for example, some people feel that smoking cigarettes is something they should do, because it is a part of their life. Some say a meatless diet is not nutritious. These are examples of people who cannot change their severe evil habits. Some even say, ‘You want everyone to eat vegetarian, but wouldn’t that deprive fishermen of their livelihood? If the slaughterhouses go out of business, then how will butchers make any money?’ They come up with all sorts of such fallacious reasoning. Never mind that ever since I started cultivating, I’ve been managing my business according to Buddhist principles and never had to close my doors, and can continue running my company into the future. Thus, many of the evil habits people accumulate are quite severe. ‘Would just as soon fall back into those old habits as get out’—after they leave the Three Evil Realms, the weight of all these evil habits drags them right back in. This means they come out to enjoy themselves for a short while and then re-enter the Evil Realms. For example, someone might think she is very lucky and can find a few more boyfriends or do a bit more business, but soon she gets dragged right back into her old evil ways.

“‘This Bodhisattva must take the trouble to work for long kalpa after kalpa to bring about their deliverance and liberation.’ The burden is placed upon this Mahasattva to constantly help us foolish sentient beings over a span of many kalpas.

“The sutra reads, ‘“It is just like someone who, having strayed from his home, inadvertently finds himself trapped on some dangerous path aswarm with yaksas, tigers, wolves, lions, lizards, serpents, vipers, and scorpions. Such a lost person would meet with malice in every instant on that dangerous path.”’

“For example, someone might get lost on the way home, take the wrong street, and end up in a very dangerous place full of yaksas, which are ghosts that eat people. There is a type of disease caused when a certain insect bites the patient’s skin, and the resulting bacterial infection is so severe that entire chunks of flesh end up rotting away. Medical research has still not be able to determine why that sort of insect carries such terrible bacteria in its venom, but in fact they are yaksas that eat your flesh. Cellulitis patients are in the same boat, and just about everyone who loves to eat seafood and meat come down with this sort of disease. It might appear that you have gotten an illness, but actually, when eating meat you were just like a ghost, so the yaksas feel akin to you—and when your luck fails, they eat you.

“Such lost individuals will encounter swarms of tigers, wolves, lions, poisonous snakes, and scorpions that will harm them in the blink of an eye.”

“The sutra reads, ‘“However, should someone who understands and is capable of great mystical powers and is well versed in how to combat, control, and wipe out such malice, evil poisons, and yaksas happen to encounter this lost individual about to embark on that dangerous path, that wise person would address him, saying, ‘Ugh, man! Why would you take such a path? What magic do you have for controlling all this malice and evil?’”’

“A very capable person with magical powers, expertise in certain areas, and the ability to fend off all those poisons and yaksas might happen upon that lost person about to set foot upon the dangerous path and ask, ‘Hey, you fool, why are you going that way? How can you ward against such deadly poisons?’

“The sutra reads, ‘“This straying person, upon hearing these words and suddenly realizing that such a path was indeed dangerous, would retreat directly. Such a virtuous mentor would then lend a hand to lead him away from that dangerous path.…”’

“After listening to the learned person, the lost one would realize he had set foot upon a dangerous path. For example, while you are here participating in today’s puja, I might see that you are on your way to hell, so I will tell you a bunch of ways to avoid it. This would enable you to suddenly wake up and start listening. Afterward, you would turn around and ask me, ‘How do I keep from falling into the Hell Realm?’ The words, ‘would retreat directly,’ refer to the fact that anyone who actually listens to the Dharma will know that eating the flesh of sentient beings is bad, but that does not mean they will follow immediately. They might go home and eat vegetarian for a few days but then go right back to eating meat.

“A ‘virtuous mentor’ is a guru, and ‘lend him a hand’ implies that the lost person’s hand must be outstretched. If you have not yet made a firm resolution to practice Buddhism and amend your ways, then that is the same as not reaching your hands out for help. How, then, can a virtuous mentor lead you to safety? In other words, if these thoughts have occurred to you and you have decided to practice, then that is the equivalent of having your hand stretched out; only then can you be led away from your dangerous path. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas helped you escape the Three Evil Realms in the first place, but now it is up to you to decide not to re-enter them. Some of you, however, refuse to listen no matter what. Some just say, ‘Autumn has arrived, and the crabs are nice and plump; I’ll just go home and eat a few, and then come back.’ That’s the same as going backward. Some of you say, ‘It’s such-and-such season, so we should eat this sort of fish; it’s fine to just eat a few of them.’ You might ask, ‘Would it matter if I just ate a single fish?’ Of course it won’t matter to you, at least not just yet—but it will certainly matter to the fish. Eventually, when the fish has an issue with you, you’ll naturally end up in hot water, too.

“The sutra reads, ‘“…avoiding all evil and malice, and show him how to reach a safe path so that he might attain happiness.”’

“The significance of the Dharma is that it can keep you from falling back into the Three Evil Realms by guiding you onto that virtuous path. Why do Buddhist practitioners get gradually better? It is because when you walk along a good path, you are also walking away from those evil ones. Imagine you are on a road swarming with lions, tigers, and scorpions. Would you feel safe? You would worry every step of the way. If you were to take a route that you felt was nice and scenic, without any twists or turns, and was quite relaxing to walk along, you would feel very much at peace. This is the concept of the Dharma; it can help us to feel that we can find peace, after which our minds will naturally change.

At that time, Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche asked a disciple to leave because her eyes had closed for a long time several times during the puja. The guru said, “I didn’t believe she was so good at meditating, so she will not be allowed to participate in this afternoon’s puja. I am going to return the entire amount of the offering she made today. If she is that tired, she might as well go back to the hotel and get some sleep.

“The analogy made by the Buddha was not that we are literally walking along a dangerous road, but that the paths we take in life are all full of danger and things that would harm us. If we can listen to the Dharma and are willing to learn from it and act accordingly, then we will walk in safety and in peace, no longer in any danger. I am one of the best examples of this; I used to encounter many dangers and problems, but ever since I started cultivating, I’ve met with fewer and fewer until now I practically don’t even come across them anymore. This is thanks to the help of the Dharma, but you have to put it into practice for it to work. Neither I nor the Buddha can give you anything; all we can do is lend a hand. However, it is your job to reach out and grasp it and walk on your own two feet! Given my physique, I cannot pull more than about a hundred kilos, so you will need to put a little leg muscle into it. If you have no intention to reach your hand out or move your legs, then even Shakyamuni Buddha and the other Bodhisattvas cannot help you.

“I keep coming to Japan to expound the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows because it is quite easy to comprehend. That does not mean it is simple; it means that this sutra addresses problems to do with people’s mindsets. You all feel that you are still young, so there isn’t any hurry. You are still busy with your business, and you think it’s fine to wait and decide to begin practicing Buddhism once you are older or after you’re dead. You are already out of time, though, so you should make that decision immediately. It’s as if you clearly know you’re facing danger, yet you are unwilling to take my hand. I don’t have that long to wait for you, and the ball’s in your court. Your future is not arranged by the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, or your guru; you are the one who must decide. Once you make a firm resolution to go forward, your guru can lead you from this dangerous path; this is a guru’s job. If you are unwilling to make that decision, and are still just thinking it over, then that means you are obstinate, stubborn, difficult to tame, and difficult to teach. You might think you don’t have time to practice because of your career or business, but I run a business, too, and I guarantee you that mine is bigger than any of yours; my company is large enough to be on the stock market, but I wouldn’t put it up there.

“Therefore, it depends on whether or not you have decided to act. Have you brought your mind into submission? Do you believe in the Buddha? Or are you still just in it for your own benefit? You should not think that once you start practicing you’ll have to live apart from other people. Do I live in isolation? No. You also shouldn’t think you won’t be able to do a lot of things, because you never were able to in the first place. Why have you still not decided to practice? It is because you do not believe, and because you still don’t know that the path you are on is rife with dangers. You feel you are young, have plenty of time, and can think about it when you are older.

“These days lot of elderly Japanese end up living alone, but not because this country is particularly developed. So why is it? Speaking in terms of cause and effect, one reason is that when they were younger, they did not take care of people or fulfill their filial duties to their parents; now that they are older, no one comes around to look after them. Another reason could be that they often deceived others, so now no one trusts them anymore. This means that if you behave badly when you are young, no one will take care of you in your old age. This sort of phenomenon is very widespread in Japan and America, though to a lesser degree in Taiwan. Here in Japan, many elderly living alone without anyone to care for them can die at home and a few months will pass before anyone even notices. This is the impetus behind a new industry for businesses that handle and remove such people’s corpses. Every time I see this sort of news on television, I feel very sad. Why do such things distress me? It is because I feel sorrow at humans’ lack of dignity; we are less dignified even than animals. You can control a lot of things, but once you are old and alone, what a pity! You do not possess enough good fortune to have people to look after you, because you used it all up when you were younger. Now, in your old age, you have none left.

“All the teachings in the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows are about real issues, so you should listen closely. Whether or not you act accordingly is up to you. Neither the Buddha nor your guru would force you; we can only take you by the hand and guide you away from evil if you reach out. If you won’t, then how can you be led? Even if Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha wanted to, it would be no use, even if He brought His entire arsenal of expedient means to bear. I am reiterating all this not because I want you to believe me; rather, I hope you will trust in Shakyamuni Buddha and Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, because They don’t need anything from the world; as such, They have no reason to deceive you. If the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were the same as religious deities, then They would not say words like ‘I will lend you a hand if you reach out to accept it;’ instead they would say, ‘Just believe in me so I can save you.’ By contrast, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas say, ‘Reach your hand out so that I can lead you onto the right path.’ In other words, the decision to act is yours and yours alone; your future is not decided by Their arrangements, nor can you get whatever you want just by clapping your hands. You are the one who has to decide not to walk that dangerous path, because only then can you be guided away from it. In other words, your guru will lead the way, and if you walk in his footsteps, you will definitely not come to any harm. If you stick to your own views and keep on walking in whatever direction you desire, you will get lost; you won’t even be able to see your guru anymore.

“This is why I expound the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows: It addresses human issues. For example, what if I urged you not to drink alcohol but you kept drinking anyway, despite your doctor’s exhortations against it? Humans are very unruly, are we not? This is why, two and a half millennia ago, Shakyamuni Buddha said that sentient beings on Earth are stubborn, difficult to tame, and difficult to teach. Shakyamuni Buddha has a lot more to reveal about the human mind than any psychologist. I hope you all give today’s teachings a lot of thought. We’ll reconvene at 2:30 this afternoon.”

Upon the perfect completion of the morning puja, all the attendees paid reverent homage as His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche descended the Dharma throne. In unison they thanked the guru for compassionately performing the Dharma and bestowing teachings.

At 2:30 in the afternoon, H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche again ascended the Dharma throne to impart the teachings of the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows to the attendees.

“The sutra reads, ‘“The good, learned friend might say to him, ‘My dear lost friend, please never take this path again!’”’

“The guru also told this person who had lost sight of his future, ‘I’m saving you now, but after today, you must not go back there again.’ This line clearly illustrates that a guru can bring you back on track, but whether or not you revert to your old ways is entirely up to you. Many people give up halfway through their Buddhist practice because they have fallen back into bad habits. If this happens to you, it is not your guru’s, the Buddhas’, or the Bodhisattvas’ problem; it is yours. From now on, you must not retrogress. It’s like when our teachers or parents reprimand us and tell us not to make the same mistake again. Nevertheless, our habit of repeating our mistakes over and over continues well into adulthood.

“The sutra reads, ‘“‘Anyone who takes this path would have a difficult time escaping and would surely, eventually, lose his life.’ This straying person would also feel a heavy sense of dread.”’

“If you fall back onto this path to reincarnation, it will be very difficult to find your way out again, and it will cause you to lose your life. Moreover, being lost like that would make you feel a deep sense of dread.

“The sutra reads, ‘“This mentor might also say to him as they parted, ‘If you see someone you know or some other traveler, whether male or female, please tell him or her that this path is thronging with evil and malice that can cause loss of life.’”’

“After leading you back from your wayward path, the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and your guru will not stay with you forever, because there are a great many other sentient beings who are lost and need help as well. Therefore, ‘as they parted’ does not mean the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and guru have left us; rather, it means that despite what we might imagine, our guru will not continuously watch and care for us every single minute, twenty-four hours a day. The guru will take us from confusion back onto a broad, open road leading to a better future, but after that it is up to us to decide to actually walk along it.

“The words ‘as they parted’ indicate that they said farewell, but parting ways does not mean your guru is leaving you. To give a simple example, in 2007 His Holiness instructed me to conduct a retreat lasting more than three months on the 4,500-meter-tall Lapchi Snow Mountain in Nepal. Afterward, instead of telling me to stay by his side, His Holiness charged me with returning to a place with which I had causal connections so that he and I could both benefit sentient beings. This is what parting ways means. That is, cultivation does not require you to always be with your guru, and following him does not mean remaining at his side all day long. Rather, the point is this: Have you been doing your best to walk along this broad, open road leading away from the dangers of reincarnation? If you have, then one day it is sure to reunite you with the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and your guru.

“‘This mentor’ refers to the very capable person who, before parting ways, adds, ‘If you are escorted by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas away from this path of reincarnation, then not only should you not get lost again and return to it, but in addition, if you should see someone walking along it—whether a close friend of yours or someone don’t know, and whether a man or a woman—then you should warn that person off it, lest he or she follow it down into the reincarnation of the Three Evil Realms.’ Such a road is full of danger and malice ‘…that can cause loss of life.’ A life has two different sorts of circumstances: Those still in possession of human form will cause you to lose your physical life; once you’ve lost human body and fallen into the Three Evil Realms, then you will lose your Dharma life. In the Hell, Hungry Ghost, and Animal Realms, you will not have any opportunities to even listen to the Dharma, let alone practice Buddhism. Also, you don’t have to go as far as hell to lose the chance to practice; right here on Earth there are not many places or communities in which one can listen to the Dharma, and even fewer opportunities to genuinely come in contact with a meritorious guru who can teach you Buddhism. Don’t assume that just because you want to learn, you will necessarily be able to; if you think so, you are wrong. For example, out of so many disciples, His Holiness only took me to Nepal to conduct a retreat; he had never taken anyone else, nor will he in the future. This means that if I hadn’t listened and cherished this chance when His Holiness first spoke to me, then I would have lost this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many people say they’ll practice Buddhism someday when they have time, or once they’ve completely figured things out, but in reality they are missing out on all their opportunities.

“The sutra reads, ‘“‘…and let no such traveler, in effect, commit suicide by taking such a path.’”’

“Today we have received the benevolence bestowed upon us by the guru, the Buddhas, and the Bodhisattvas, and we hope that if the opportunity should arise, we can advise people we know—and even people we don’t know—not to walk this dangerous path. Therefore, when you see someone drinking to excess, indulging in the flesh of sentient beings, or committing other evil acts, you should not go along with such behavior or think it is correct. For example, instigating a war and occupying someone else’s territory are both bad. To give the simplest of examples, would you let someone else seize your home from you? Of course you wouldn’t; you would report that person immediately. Why, then, should it be alright for you to occupy another country? It is most certainly not alright!

“The sutra reads, ‘“Thus, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha possesses great mercy and compassion with which to liberate all sinful, suffering beings, thereby helping them to be reborn as humans or devas so that they can enjoy wonderful happiness;….”’

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha possesses great cibei—mercy and compassion—but they are two different things. Ci means exchanging what is good in you for what is bad in sentient beings, while bei means helping them to transcend the suffering sea of reincarnation. A broader definition is that this cibei is far-reaching and never-ceasing; it is not targeted at anyone in particular, nor is it carried out for any special reason. This broader definition does not imply a comparison of great and small; rather, it means that the power of cibei never stops. It crosses all boundaries and shines into every corner of the universe; it is ubiquitous.

“‘With which to liberate all sinful, suffering beings.’ Therefore, we need to understand that so-called liberation does not come about simply from reciting the sutras, and you cannot liberate people just by telling them to come and learn Buddhism. ‘Liberation’ involves leading them, as well as having the ability to lead them, away from their dangerous paths, in the same way that that virtuous mentor lent a hand to the man who had lost his way. If the virtuous mentor had not had the means to take him away from the path, he could not have liberated him. ‘Sinful, suffering beings’ refers to liberating all sentient beings from the suffering caused by their evil acts so that they can be reborn in the Heaven and Human Realms and find happiness.

“‘…So that they can enjoy wonderful happiness’—this is not the same as what humans think of when we hear the words ‘enjoy happiness.’ Instead, it means being given the wondrous, eternal bliss of learning and practicing the Dharma. This is very different from some other religions in which you are told that if you kill the infidels, you will go to heaven and enjoy the company of many beautiful women. In fact, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha plucks sentient beings from the Three Evil Realms and delivers them to the Human and Heaven Realms so that they can receive the eternal bliss of being able to learn Buddhism. Hearing this, you might think it means Ksitigarbha sends sentient beings to Amitabha’s Pure Land, but it doesn’t, because of the line, ‘liberate all sinful, suffering beings.’ In other words, the reason these sentient beings had to suffer in the first place had to do with the evil acts they’d committed. How can they possibly go to Amitabha’s Pure Land without first repaying the karmic debts they owe? For example, some sentient beings, while still living, never believed in the Buddha; they committed such acts as eating meat, killing, polluting the water supply, and so on—and no matter how many times you chant Amitabha’s name for them, they still won’t be able to go to the Pure Land. However, you still should do it, because whenever you chant any Buddha’s name, sacred title, or mantra with compassion and sincerity, the deceased will be received by Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. This is true in my experience, because one time, back before I started learning Tantra, I was chanting Amitabha’s name for a deceased individual, and Ksitigarbha came to receive him. This person had suffered a stroke nine years previously, so could not chant the Buddha’s name himself and had never repented before. Nevertheless, because I chanted the Buddha’s name on this man’s behalf, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha came and took him to the Heaven Realm so that he could have an opportunity to learn Buddhism in his next lifetime.”

“The sutra reads, ‘“Ksitigarbha makes those evildoers aware of the suffering that is their due as a result of their karma so that they may ultimately renounce those evil paths and never set foot upon them again.”’

“These sentient beings who had committed evil acts know that those bad paths are full of suffering, so, thanks to Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s help, they are able to leave them behind and never want to experience such terrible things again. This means that any guru who has cultivated from the level of an ordinary person to the point of achieving great attainment has definitely gone through just such a process. For example, if, in this lifetime, you can make a firm resolution to practice Buddhism, it means you must have experienced these sorts of suffering in the Evil Realms in your past lives. Because you were helped by Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, you were able to incarnate as a human in this lifetime, so you are therefore in possession of a sort of habit of wanting to practice Buddhism. You are not doing so purely out of curiosity or wishing to solve the problems that plague you. If you did not have this causal condition and had not gone through this process, you most certainly would not want to listen to the Dharma. You might ask why you have experienced it in your past lives. Even Shakyamuni Buddha spent a lifetime in the Hell Realm; none of you present has attained Buddhahood, nor are you current or future Buddhas, so there is a 100% chance that you have been to hell in the past. However, in a previous lifetime you must have listened to the Dharma and been helped by Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, so this time you were able to come back in human form. Moreover, in this lifetime spent as a human, you have not committed any major evil acts such as working as a butcher, instigating wars, or manufacturing drugs or alcohol. The professions you have been engaged in in this lifetime, such as horticulture and so on, have created relatively light karma, and this has to do with your past lives. As I mentioned before, a Bodhisattva can know what you have done in your previous lifetimes, and then can tell you.

“The sutra reads, ‘“This situation is akin to one in which a person has gone astray and takes a dangerous path, but who has a good friend that guides him back to safety. He would never again knowingly take such a path, and would advise any others against doing so, too.”’

“This lost person is unaware of the evil acts he has committed because they’ve already become habit. For example, in some places, countries, or regions, people think selling narcotics is justified because they are poor. To this day they continue to think this way; they do not believe selling drugs is bad. They just think everyone does it, so if they don’t they will starve. This is an example of heading down a dangerous path out of ignorance.

“Such a man, after encountering a virtuous mentor who has led him out to safety, will never set foot upon that evil path again; moreover, that he will advise others he sees that that path is dangerous and that they should avoid it.

“The sutra reads, ‘“He would tell them that having taken the wrong path himself, and now that he had been saved, he would never knowingly stray in that manner again, and that if he should ever set foot upon it once more by mistake, not realizing that it was the same dangerous path he had taken before, he might, indeed, lose his life. He would compare such ramifications to being imprisoned, having chosen evil over good,…”’

“The man would be thinking, ‘I was lost, but now I’ve been liberated, and now I won’t even consider returning to that evil path ever again. If I do, and get lost all over again, I could forget the dangers of such a path, or that I had lost my life in the past and fallen into the Three Evil Realms.’ This section is about us. We have spent time in the Three Evil Realms in the past, although we are unaware of having gone there. The sutras describe very clearly that a person’s circumstances and habits in this lifetime are determined by the previous realms he or she came from. For example, if a man likes harming sentient beings, then he definitely came from the Ghost Realm. Why was he able to leave that place? It was because the karmic retribution that landed him there in the first place had matured, and his good karma of the Human Realm manifested, thus enabling him to be reborn as a human. However, the evil karma he had in the Ghost Realm has caused him to act the way he does now that he is a human.

“The sutras reads, ‘“…but is, by virtue of the expedient methods at Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s disposal, liberated to be reborn among humans or devas; but if he should, sooner or later, choose to re-enter that prison as a result of a new, heavy karmic entanglement, then he would remain in hell forever with no date for his acquittal.”’

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha uses all expedient means and powers at His disposal to liberate sentient beings. However, they continue to commit evil acts even after they are reborn in the Human and Heaven Realms. A lot of people nowadays are exactly like this. They’ve been reborn as humans, yet they keep committing evil, thinking it is their right to do so. As such, they are bound to fall back into the Evil Realms. If the shackles of their evil karma are heavy enough, then they will spend eternity in the Hell Realm, with no hope of being released. The words of this section are a warning to all of us that just because we have been given human form in this lifetime, it does not mean we definitely will again next time. Moreover, having worshiped a certain deity does not guarantee us passage to the Heaven Realm, either. Rather, it is how we behave in this lifetime that will determine where we will be reborn in the future. If we commit evil, then there is no way we will be reborn in the Heaven Realm. It is the karma we create in this lifetime that dictates where we will go, not some ruler in heaven. ‘He would remain in hell forever with no date for his acquittal’—if the evil karma you create in this lifetime is heavy enough, then it will drag you back into the Hell Realm with no hope of being liberated. Evil acts that can cause this include nonchalantly starting wars, selling narcotics, harming sentient beings, and so on.

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, Evil Poison Ghost King reverently pressed his palms together and addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, we, the ghost kings of Jambudvipa, incalculable in number but each different from one another, are either beneficial or harmful to people. However, it is karmic retribution that forces our retinue to travel around the world, constantly doing many evil deeds but very few good ones.”’

“Just then, the ghost king named Evil Poison respectfully clasped his palms together and mentioned to the Buddha that there are countless ghost kings on Earth. I have never read this line before, but I was just talking about this. Some ghost kings benefit people, while others are harmful. Each one is different. As for which ones we will encounter, it depends our karmic effects from the good and evil acts we have committed in our past lives. The words ‘travel around the world’ imply that the ghost kings lead all the lesser ghosts from place to place, never stopping. Those that love to drink are called wine ghosts, not wine deities. In all of Chinese history, there has only been a single wine deity—Li Bai—but even he became a ghost in the end. Ghost kings are countless in number, so their retinue, including all the yaksas and lesser ghosts, are even more innumerable. Many people think they can avoid ghosts as long as they don’t go to a graveyard, but that is not true. As soon as you leave the Buddhist Center, there are ghosts; they even hang out just outside the front door. If a temple were only after money without performing the Dharma, then it would certainly be full of ghosts.

“‘Doing many evil deeds but very few good ones’—in other words, his retinue commits a lot of evil, and is very rarely virtuous.

“The sutra reads, ‘“So, to increase our virtue, whenever we pass a city, town, marketplace, plantation, garden, household, or family….”’

“These ghosts walk around all day long. Passing by a household does not mean walking past its door; ghosts can enter your house. Why must you absolutely never kill anything at home? If, for example, you have eaten live shrimp, or live fish, or you have killed any pets there, then the ghost kings, thinking you are kin, will take up residence with you. Ghosts need a place in which to receive offerings; once they find such a location, they will stop roaming and live there. Ghosts like to live in two sorts of places: One is where ghost kings gather with other ghosts; the other is where people like to kill. They feel they fit in enough to take up residence in such locations.

“They travel around the world, wandering around from place to place. Ghosts don’t just appear at night; they are active any time after 11:00 in the morning when the sun isn’t too bright. Most people like to drink alcohol at night, and the later the more satisfying; very few drink during daylight hours. In Taiwan, people consume alcohol in nightclubs, whereas in Japan people drink in pubs. All such businesses open their doors at night, and often don’t close until three or four in the morning. A heap of ghosts will go there to drink with you. You’ll find that the vast majority of crimes are committed once the afternoon has passed, though of course there are exceptions.

“Ghosts will go to any settlement; not just cities. You are wrong when you say they don’t dare to go anywhere with strong yang chi; they’ll go there just as fearlessly. You might think that ghosts feel afraid when they see a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, but they do not; rather, feeling moved by the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ compassion, their hatred disappears. They accept this and move on, not because of fear though. If they were not afraid of cause and effect while still living, then do you think they’ll feel afraid now that they are ghosts?

“The sutra reads, ‘“…and see a man or woman who would perform even a slight good act—such as hanging up a banner or canopy, burning a bit of incense, arranging a few flowers in honor of the Buddhas’ or Bodhisattvas’ images, or reading and reciting the revered sutras while burning incense and renouncing their desire with even a single line or gatha—then we ghost kings should make obeisance to such a person….”’

“As the ghosts kings are passing by a place, they might see a man or a woman ‘who would perform even a slight good act’—meaning even the tiniest of virtuous deeds, such as hanging up a Buddhist flag or canopy, lighting a bit of incense and placing a small bouquet as offerings before a statue of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, or reciting the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows. Therefore, reciting a sutra does not simply involve opening up the text and reading it aloud, or transcribing it; beforehand you also have to burn some incense and make offerings. You should offer flowers and incense to the mandala. When buying incense, you should not get the chemical kind; instead you should buy the sorts that are manufactured in accordance with the sutras, such as the Tibetan incense we use. The sutras tell you how to make incense correctly.

“Even if that person just recites a single line or gatha from the sutras—gatha means a stanza of four or five lines. ‘…Then we ghost kings should make obeisance to such a person’—the ghost kings should revere him or her. If you do these sorts of things in your home, then the ghost kings will treat you with respect. This means that if you behave virtuously, thus naturally keeping from committing evil in your home, then you will not need to implore for help from your ancestors or anyone else, for these ghost kings will know about it. For example, I often visit certain places to perform the Dharma, and as soon as I start chanting, I immediately know from which direction the ghosts and deities are approaching. This confirms what is written in the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows. Whenever I chant mantras, it quickly becomes very clear to me which places have ghosts and deities. This is true whether I go to India or come here to Japan. Even the deities of Kyoto’s shrines come to see me.

“Even if you do not practice the way as I do, as long as you are willing to act virtuously every day, then those ghost kings will approach to pay their respects to you, too. When they do, will those lesser ghosts disperse? Of course they will. Will the ones that would harm you continue residing in your home? No, they won’t. The ghost kings won’t pay their respects to you because you have recited the sutras to liberate them; rather, they believe that you are a past, present, and future Buddha—one of the Buddhas of the Three Times. This is because they benefit from your reciting even a single line from a sutra, which represents the fact that you have begun to act virtuously. Thus, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas began their cultivation with a single virtuous act. If you stop committing all evil and begin to do only good, then you will become a Buddha in the future. If you had never encountered the Dharma in your past lives, then you certainly would not have been able to come in contact with it in this lifetime. Likewise, if you do not encounter the Dharma in this lifetime, then you cannot possibly come in contact with it in your future lives.

“The sutra reads, ‘“…just as we do to the past, present, and future Buddhas. We also should order the lesser ghost kings, each having great power and responsibility in his own domain, to guard such a person lest any evil, unexpected event, disease, or, indeed, any undesirable thing whatsoever might even loiter in the vicinity of his household, let alone cross its threshold.”’

“The ghost kings will all tell the lesser ghosts that if they don’t do as they are told, they will be beaten to death. Ghost kings are not very easygoing. Every major sort of ghost has a unique power; ‘each having great power and responsibility in his own domain’ refers to local deities such as the earth god in China, and the local shrine deities here in Japan fall under the same category. ‘To guard such a person’—they will protect this person and his or her family, not allowing any harm to come to them including serious illnesses. If you do not recite the sutras, make prostrations to the Buddha, burn incense, or make flower offerings in your household, then no amount of supplication will bring you protection. If you do all these things, then you will obtain many benefits. Burning incense and offering flowers bring benefits, but basically you have to stop committing evil. You can’t be drinking alcohol on the one hand while reciting the sutras on the other, because such recitations will then be useless. If, after reciting from the sutras, you drink some shots and eat some chicken feet, that won’t work, either. Only if you refrain from drinking alcohol and eating meat will the ghost kings come to drive away those lesser ghosts for you.

“The household will be guarded against evil things, bad events, and diseases; here ‘diseases’ refers to epidemics. The ghost kings will not let such undesirable things get near this abode. For example, some of you say you have evil neighbors; this is not because you have a bad relationship with them, but because there are ghosts at play. A great Rinpoche once said that if you see people quarreling on the street, you should leave immediately, because there might be ghosts making them fight. Sometimes when a car accident occurs, and the drivers get into a brawl, they later don’t know why they were fighting; in such cases, it could have been ghosts instigating the madness. The ghost kings can even protect you against people standing in your doorway and yelling at you, let alone entering your house. Now do you understand why you should practice Buddhism? I am not trying to bargain with you; I’m simply telling you the truth. We are not the only ones on this Earth; there are ghosts living here with us. Where did they come from? They used to be in the Human Realm; they still possess human habits, and can differentiate good from evil. They were reborn in this lifetime as ghosts, and they continue following their evil habits, but if they suddenly see a human doing good—such as reciting the sutras or burning incense—then they are moved by such benevolence, and feel that they should help this person. By helping, they, too, can obtain good fortune and merits.

“The sutra reads, ‘The Buddha commended the ghost kings, saying, “Excellent, excellent! You and Yamaraja can support and defend all good men and women, and I shall order the Brahman king and Lord Śakra to guard and protect you.”’

“The Buddha praised the ghost kings for all the good deeds they had done, and told them that they and Deva Yamaraja should protect and support those good men and women. ‘Good’ here refers to those who practice the Ten Meritorious Acts, not people who just burn the occasional stick of incense. As I said earlier, it is not okay to be ‘practicing’ on the one hand while drinking alcohol and eating crabs’ legs on the other. Some people invite monastics to their homes to recite the sutras, but their families continue to have problems. That is useless if they are drinking alcohol and eating live crabs while monastics are reciting sutras; there is no way the ghost kings will come to help them, for those people have not met the conditions of being good men and women. ‘I shall order the Brahman kings and deities to guard and protect you.’ In other words, ‘I will tell the Brahman king and Śakra’—Brahman kings refers to Lord Brahma, and Śakra is the Jade Emperor—‘to both protect you ghosts that are doing good deeds.’ Ghost kings need the protection of heaven, too; without it, lightning and thunder might get them; all manner of things could take these ghost kings away.

“The sutra reads, ‘Just then a ghost king in the assembly named Master of Lives addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, my causal conditions have placed me in charge of all human lives in Jambudvipa, and I take responsibility for them both when they are born and when they die.”’

“In this section another ghost king attending the puja, called Master of Lives, told the Buddha, ‘As a result of my karma, I am in charge of all human lives on Earth; I dictate what happens to them during both birth and death.’ What does this mean? Some people assume that any couple can have children after getting married, but that is not necessarily the case due to the existence of Ghost King Master of Lives. Your birth and death both have to do with him. People without good fortune cannot die even if they want to; some hospital patients suffer horribly, trapped in a state of being that is neither living nor dying, because Ghost King Master of Lives will not come to them. Why won’t he? It is because they have committed so many grave wrongdoings; first they have to suffer a little before he comes, and then they die. If they had any good fortune, then their suffering would have disappeared.

“I have a disciple whose father, who had not taken refuge, came down with colorectal cancer; last Saturday, he told his son to hurry up and make an offering to me. After the disciple made his offering, he returned home to find that his father had passed away. Thus, his father’s intention to make an offering had given him the good fortune to be able to die. You would say, ‘Yeah, but after making that offering, he died.’ True, but everyone dies. That disciple’s father did not suffer; he passed away very peacefully, unlike so many cancer patients who have to get pieces of their body hacked away in surgery until they are left on their deathbeds looking like zombies.

“The sutra reads, ‘“In accordance with my fundamental vows, I very much want to benefit them. However, those sentient beings fail to understand my intentions, which causes neither the living nor the dead to have any peace. Why is this?”

“Here the ghost king says that his original vow was to help sentient beings, but that they couldn’t understand his intention; as such, they were unable to find peace in both birth and death. Who feels at peace when about to give birth? Most go back and forth, worrying over whether they should undergo natural childbirth or have a C-section. You do not know how to give birth, nor can you comprehend the process of death; this is because you do not understand that Ghost King Master of Lives is here to help us. As was mentioned previously, sentient beings are obstinate, stubborn, difficult to tame, and difficult to teach; in their self-righteousness, they even have to ask what time is best to give birth. Some people, for example, would demand that their doctors deliver their babies at a specific time no matter what.

“The sutra reads, ‘“If those people in Jambudvipa could only perform some virtuous deeds immediately before or while giving birth, either to a boy or a girl….”’

“If Earthly humans perform a lot of good deeds when about to give birth to either a boy or a girl, ‘this will benefit their home’—meaning, the place in which they give birth will naturally become a virtuous location. You, too, have heard about several babies dying all at once in a place like a nursery. Some infants are stillborn; this happens when the place of birth is not virtuous enough due to a lack of good deeds being performed there both before and while the mother gives birth, and if she has committed evil through continuously supplementing her nutrition by eating meat. Giving birth can be very dangerous, too. These days it is very popular to have the baby surgically removed; this is required as a result of the mother’s karma from killing. In the past, no one had C-sections; all births were natural. You might point out that back then it was quite common for mothers to miscarry and die, but that was karmic retribution resulting from their evil acts. For this reason, I encourage pregnant mothers to recite the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows and eat vegetarian. If you don’t do good deeds at home, then the ghost king will not come to help you. Can a house become good or evil? No; it is the people living there that change. When a person becomes virtuous, the ghost king will naturally sense that his or her home has good energy, and will approach to lend a hand.

“The sutra reads, ‘“…it would naturally delight the divinity in charge of the land to an immeasurable degree, causing him to support and protect both mother and child; this would bring great happiness and benefits to them and their family. Also, after the baby is born, care must be taken not to kill any animal in order to feed the mother with meaty delicacies or to assemble many relatives to drink liquor or eat meat while singing and playing string or wind instruments, for such indulgences deprive the mother and child of peace and joy. Why is this?”’

“If many good deeds have been performed in the place of birth, the earth god will be pleased, and guarantee protection against such calamities as landslides or sinkholes. If any do occur, they will be too slight to do any harm to this household. The virtuous acts performed there, such as making prostrations to the Buddha, will make this local deity happy enough to come and protect the location, the baby being born, and the mother so that she can feel very happy and at peace. The child will not have any illness, and the mother will be able to recuperate quickly without having to suffer very much. ‘Also, after the baby is born, care must be taken not to kill any animal.’ After the baby has been born, you absolutely must not kill any sentient beings or prepare any meat for the mother to eat. Before you started practicing Buddhism, you ate sesame oil chicken and even held family gatherings at which you slaughtered chickens or pigs and drank celebratory toasts to the newborn. Especially when a baby boy is born, it is customary to celebrate by drinking liquor and eating meat. In the past singers were hired to sing at these parties, but nowadays people just sing karaoke. Doing these sorts of things will cause the mother and baby to feel ill at ease and develop lots of illnesses. Why is that?

“The sutra reads, ‘“It is because, at the difficult time of birth, there are innumerable evil demons, monsters, and goblin essences wishing to consume the smelly blood, and it is I who previously commanded the deities and divinities in charge of the household and the land to protect both mother and child, keeping them safe and happy and obtaining benefits for them. However, some people, after seeing how safe and happy the mother and her baby are, will make some collective offerings in thanks to the local deities by ignorantly and adversely resorting to killing animals for food and assembling relatives for just such noisy indulgences. As a result, they will bring curses down upon themselves which are detrimental to both mother and child.”’

“While the mother is having such a hard time giving birth, countless evil ghosts, monsters, and goblins will smell the blood and approach. Monsters and goblins are different from ghosts; they are more devilish and vicious—hence the name, ‘goblin essences.’ Ghosts are sure to appear wherever there is smelly blood; for this reason, slaughterhouses, meat restaurants, and delivery rooms are all infested with ghosts. To prevent goblin essences from coming to drink the blood, the ghost king gave orders long ago for these earth gods and local deities to safeguard mothers so that they could give birth in peace and obtain benefits.

“Some people think a successful birth results from doing a good job, having sufficient good fortune, giving the fetus the proper nutrition, being a healthy mother, and having highly skilled medical professionals involved, thereby allowing the birth to go very smoothly. ‘However, some people, after seeing how safe and happy the mother and her baby are, will make some collective offerings in thanks to the local deities by ignorantly and adversely resorting to killing animals for food.’ Not knowing the ghost king sent these ghosts to protect you, you start thinking you can thank your ancestors and the local deities by killing sentient beings. ‘As a result, they will bring curses down upon themselves which are detrimental to both mother and child.’ You will discover that as soon as the mother started to feel safe and began drinking wine, eating meat to restore her nutrients, and celebrating the one hundredth day of her baby’s birth, the child will suddenly fall ill and so will she. For example, some babies will abruptly fall out of bed or die while sleeping on their stomachs. This sort of thing happens a lot, especially these days. Doctors tell us they die because they cannot breath properly in that position, but it is actually the result of karma from killing—the many sentient beings the mother killed in order to provide nutrients to herself and the infant.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Furthermore, I do not wish for any dying person in Jambudvipa, whether virtuous or evil, to fall into the Evil Realms. Moreover, if he has already cultivated a good root, it will enhance my powers.”’

“The Ghost King Master of Lives said that he did not want anyone on Earth to fall into the Three Evil Realms, no matter how many good or evil acts he or she committed while living. If a person nearing death has cultivated a good root, then that will enhance the ghost king’s power to help. The first part indicates that Master of Lives intends to prevent people who are about to die from falling into the Hell, Hungry Ghost, and Animal Realms. If you have a good root from doing such things as chanting the Buddha’s name, then this will add to the ghost king’s powers, even if you have not achieved any particular level of attainment.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Moreover, when even a virtuous resident of Jambudvipa is about to die, there will also be hundreds of thousands of wicked ghosts and deities which, pretending to be either parents or other relatives, will try to lure the deceased into the Evil Realms. How much more precarious, then, must be the position of a persistent evildoer on his or her deathbed!”’

“Even virtuous people on Earth, on their deathbeds, will be approached by many ghosts and deities from the Evil Realms who will, perhaps having taken the form of their parents or other family members, try to lure the deceased into the Evil Realms. This is not made up. I have a disciple who was once in a severe car accident; while she was unconscious, she saw an elderly man transform into a family member she knew, and he tried to lead her away. He could not transform himself to look like me, however, and luckily that disciple believed in her guru. She told him she would wait for Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche to come, and that is why she was saved.

“In this context, ‘virtuous’ refers to your having done some worldly good deeds; this is different from being a ‘good man or woman.’ For example, it could mean you have donated to charity, hired a monastic to perform a sutra recitation, or made some small monetary offerings. Even so, this can still happen to you: Several ghosts and deities from the Evil Realms might try to drag you back down there—and this is even more likely to happen to someone who has committed a lot of evil acts. In other words, even if you have done some worldly good deeds, you are still at risk of seeing those evil ghosts transform to look like your parents or living relatives in the hope that they can lure you into the Hell Realm, and you are even more at risk if you have not done any good deeds.

“The sutra reads, ‘“O World Honored One, such a Jambudvipan man or woman, approaching the end of life, might be in a coma or an unconscious stupor and therefore unable to differentiate between good and evil, or have even gone completely deaf and blind. His or her family members should therefore make major offerings, read and recite the revered sutras, and invoke the names of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Such virtuous acts may divert the deceased away from the Evil Realms, and then all the demons, ghosts, and deities will withdraw and scatter.”’

“Would the Buddha have been unaware of these matters mentioned by the ghost king? Of course not. However, the causal condition created by his voicing them to the Buddha was the reason we are now able to learn about them. Without it, even if the ghost king were to run up and tell us directly, we wouldn’t hear him. How could he transmit his intentions to this world? He used the opportunity provided when Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Dharma, in order to pass these words down to us. Thus, it can be said that Ghost King Master of Lives is a Bodhisattva, too, who used this sutra to tell us about his intentions.

“Men and women of Earth, when nearing death, often lose consciousness and cannot recognize anyone. Even if they see someone they can identify, they cannot do so very clearly, and a moment later they have already forgotten. They cannot distinguish between good and evil, they are blind, and they cannot hear very well, either. You might lean close to a dying man’s face and ask, ‘Who am I?’ He won’t be able to answer, and even if you speak very loudly into his ear for five minutes straight, he still won’t hear you very well. Three thousand years ago there were no scientific instruments, yet the ghost king was still able to speak about this. ‘His or her family members should therefore make major offerings’—at this time, all his family members, such as his sons and daughters, should make major offerings. A major offering is more than just casually throwing some flowers or placing a copy of a sutra before the Buddha statue; it involves having the good fortune and causal conditions to find a meritorious guru, a virtuous mentor, to whom to make offerings. The offering that disciple I mentioned earlier made was a major one. Actually, he did not even offer that much money, and he just placed it in the offering box. I told him to go home and chant the Great Six-Syllable Mantra, because it would be of help to him. ‘Read and recite the revered sutras’ does not mean it is enough for you to simply recite from the sutras yourselves; you first must meet the prerequisite of having made a major offering, which does not necessarily mean giving money. Rather, it means feeling great reverence and faith toward the meritorious guru. It has to do with whether or not you respect this guru and believe that he can liberate the deceased. Once these conditions have been met, you then should respectfully read the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows and chant the Buddhas’ and Bodhisattvas’ names. Because this is an Exoteric sutra it says to recite the sutras instead of chanting mantras, but chanting the Great Six-Syllable Mantra is useful, too. As long as you follow these instructions, then even if the deceased committed evil acts during his or her lifetime, the good causal condition you are creating will help the deceased to stay away from the Three Evil Realms. An exception to this is if the deceased committed any of the Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts; any others are fine.

“The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are compassionate, and despite what you might think, are also quite reasonable. All that is necessary is for someone to follow these instructions on behalf of the deceased. Whenever I tell people seeking an audience with me regarding their newly deceased family members that I will protect them and keep them from falling into the Three Evil Realms, I am referring to this. Thus, all my actions have a basis; I did not come up with these things myself. I would not do anything without a reason; everything I do is based on what is written in the sutras. ‘All the demons, ghosts, and deities will withdraw and scatter.’ As soon as I chant mantras, Ghost King Master of Lives comes to drive those lesser ghosts away. Any demons, ghosts, and deities, upon hearing the mantra, will then withdraw. This is not because of my power; it is because of the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

“The sutra reads, ‘“O World Honored One, if sentient beings could, at the end of their lives, hear the name of even just one Buddha or Bodhisattva, or just one line from a single verse of the Mahayana sutras, I believe that such people, with the exception of those who have committed the Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts and acts of killing, will all be exonerated from their minor evil acts which would otherwise cause them to be reborn in the Evil Realms.”’

“This section describes what happens when any sentient being about to die hears the name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. For practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism and the Vehicle of Bodhisattvas, speaking my Dharma title will work, too, as will reciting any of the Mahayana sutras such as the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows or the Avatamsaka Sutra. These people will then be exonerated from any minor evil acts they have committed—which do not include the Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts and acts of killing—and become liberated. The Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts are matricide, patricide, killing an arhat, causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha, and disrupting the Sangha. Therefore, people who start wars are certain to fall into the Hell Realm unless someone performs a great Dharma on their behalf.

“The sutra reads, ‘The Buddha told the ghost king Master of Lives, “Due to your great mercy, you have been able to take such a compassionate vow to protect sentient beings during both their birth and death. In the future, whenever a man or woman is being born or passing away, do not shy away from your vow; instead, always liberate them so that they will be happy forever.”’

“The Buddha told Ghost King Master of Lives, ‘You are very compassionate to have made such a great vow to protect sentient beings while they are being born and dying. Throughout your future lives, may you continue to do so, and you absolutely must not go back on this vow.’ Why did the Buddha tell the ghost king not to shy away from his vow? It was because the ghost king had not reached the level of a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva—a Bodhisattva of the Eighth Ground or higher—so still was at risk of retrogressing in his intention and aspiration to help sentient beings. This was why the Buddha reiterated these instructions to the ghost king. Similarly, His Holiness often exhorts me, ‘You have not come close enough to achieving Emptiness, and you are not compassionate enough.’ He is constantly worrying that I might retrogress. Thus, it was out of compassion that Shakyamuni Buddha exhorted the ghost king to liberate these sentient beings from life and death so that they could find eternal peace and happiness.

“The sutra reads, ‘The ghost king addressed the Buddha, saying, “Please do not worry. I shall, until the end of my present form, constantly support and protect all sentient beings in Jambudvipa so that at the time of their births and deaths they will remain happy. I only hope that these sentient beings trust and accept my words at such times so that they can all be liberated and reap enormous benefits.’”

“The ghost king told the Buddha, ‘You don’t have to worry, for as long as I continue to take the form of Ghost King Master of Lives.’ This ghost king’s form would last a lot longer than a century or two; it could last as many as a thousand or even ten or twenty thousand years. He meant that as long as he remained Ghost King Master of Lives, his every thought would be focused on protecting the sentient beings of Earth. These thoughts would not be about helping us figure out how to drink a glass of good wine, eat some crab, or make more money; they are not those sorts of thoughts. His entire concentration was on safeguarding all Earthly sentient beings so that we can feel happy and at peace while being born and at the time of our death. Master of Lives hoped that during these times we would believe his words, become liberated, and obtain great benefits. Some pregnant women have sought audiences with me before, imploring for blessings to keep them safe and sound. When I told them to start eating vegetarian, they turned and left. All they wanted were my blessings, but everything has a basis in something; even Ghost King Master of Lives says you should do good deeds! If you do not, then you cannot possibly be safe and sound.

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, the Buddha informed Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, “Master of Lives has been a great ghost king for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes. He has supported and protected sentient beings through both birth and death. It is because of this Mahasattva’s vows of mercy and compassion that he takes the form of a great ghost. In reality, however, he is not a ghost.”’

“Here the Buddha is telling Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha that Master of Lives king ghost has been a great ghost king for many lifetimes. As I mentioned earlier, the Buddha is simply reaffirming here that Master of Lives king ghost has taken the form of a great ghost to fulfill his compassionate aspiration to protect all humans on Earth caught in the great ocean of suffering that is life and death. However, he is not really a ghost. Why would he take the form of a great ghost then? Take a prison, for example: There would certainly be jailers in charge there, but would they joke around with the inmates? Of course not! To give another example, would a police officer in charge of a bunch of felons laugh and talk in a friendly manner with them? No, he would not. On the contrary, he would put on a very stern expression to make them fear him. Therefore, when controlling all those ghosts, it is important to take the form of a ghost king. This section is saying that Master of Lives ghost king took on the form of a great ghost not because of the offenses he may have committed, but as a way of fulfilling his vows by stopping these lesser ghosts from committing evil acts that would prevented themselves and other sentient beings from becoming liberated.

“The sutra reads, ‘“After one hundred and seventy kalpas have lapsed, he will become a Buddha with the title of Nirabhasa Tathagata (Animitta). His era will be named Happiness, and his world will be named Suddhavasa (Pure Abode). This Buddha’s lifespan will last for incalculable kalpas. O Ksitigarbha, so inconceivable are this great ghost king’s achievements! Also, he has liberated countless humans and devas.”’

“In this section, the Buddha has bestowed assurance of this ghost king’s future attainment. Only the Buddha can do that; Bodhisattvas and humans are not qualified to. Even Bodhisattvas would be incorrect in trying to bestow such assurance, as it can only be done by the Buddha. Shakyamuni Buddha said that one hundred and seventy kalpas from then, Master of Lives king ghost would become a Buddha named Nirabhasa Tathagata (Animitta). His era would be called ‘Happiness,’ and the world he created would be named ‘Suddhavasa’ (Pure Abode), a place in which the pure could live. This ghost king’s lifespan would last for innumerable years, and he would liberate countless devas and humans. Even the Buddha felt that all of this ghost king’s achievements were unfathomable. For this reason, it is mentioned in the Diamond Sutra that you should see all sentient beings in the Six Realms as Bodhisattvas, not as ghosts, animals, and so on, because there is no telling when or where a Bodhisattva might appear. You cannot know which of the sentient beings around you might be a Bodhisattva come to liberate you and other sentient beings. Thus, even though Master of Lives ghost king took the form of a ghost king, his actions are those of a Bodhisattva cultivating the Bodhisattva Path.

Chapter Nine: The Recitation of the Buddhas’ Names

“The sutra reads, ‘At that time, Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ksitigarbha addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, now I wish to speak on behalf of sentient beings living in future times about the great benefits they will receive in birth and death. I only hope that you, O World Honored One, will allow me to speak on this subject.”’

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha said to the Buddha, ‘If You would so allow it, I would like to speak about things that will help future sentient beings, as well as the great benefits they can obtain in birth and death.’

“Did the Buddha need to listen to Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha say these things? He did not, because the Buddha already knew them. Why did Ksitigarbha say, ‘I only hope that you, O World Honored One, will allow me to speak on this subject’? For one, He wished to transmit the Dharma far and wide by way of the Buddha’s great awe-inspiring power; and secondly, Ksitigarbha hoped to obtain the Buddha’s approval. It’s like how I always ask His Holiness for approval before holding a Grand Puja. I don’t have to ask for it, so why do I? It is exactly for the two reasons I just mentioned. The point of getting such approval is not to flaunt my powers in front of you all, or force you to listen to me; that’s not the idea at all.

“The sutra reads, ‘The Buddha answered Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, saying, “You wish, at this very moment, to be merciful and compassionate in order to deliver all the sinful, miserable beings in the Six Realms, and to perform unfathomable acts for them. Yes! Now is exactly the right time to do so. You should speak at once. Soon I shall enter Nirvana, and if you fulfill this aspiration of yours quickly, I will no longer have to worry about sentient beings now or in the future.”’

“The Buddha told Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, ‘Right now you should follow your compassionate intention to pluck all sentient beings from the suffering of the Six Realms. The Buddha gave special emphasis to liberating the sentient beings in the Six Realms because Ksitigarbha does not just constantly remain in the Hell Realm. Here in Japan, people place a sacred statue of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha in front of every grave, but does Ksitigarbha only liberate ghosts? No, He does not. He liberates all sentient beings from the Heaven, Asura, Human, Animal, Hell, and Hungry Ghost Realms. The Buddha pointed out very clearly that Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha had vowed to liberate more than just ghosts or deceased humans. Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha helps all sentient beings in the Six Realms.

“The word ‘perform’ in the line, ‘perform unfathomable acts for them,’ does not refer to performing on stage; it means doing inconceivable acts. The Buddha is telling Ksitigarbha, ‘You have a very good causal condition today—a great opportunity—so you should hurry up and speak of these matters!’ The Buddha says, ‘Soon I shall enter Nirvana,’ because He had already predicted how long He would remain in the Human Realm. From this it can be inferred that when the Buddha was in the Palace of Heaven speaking the Dharma to His mother, He was already at least sixty years old; if not, then the Buddha would not have said He would soon enter Nirvana. The reason I talk faster and faster these days is not because I am about to enter Nirvana, but because I don’t have much time left; I am going to leave soon.

“The Buddha is telling Ksitigarbha, ‘I hope you can fulfill your vow sooner rather than later so that after I enter Nirvana I won’t have to worry anymore about whether or not a Bodhisattva will liberate the current and future generations of sentient beings.’ The part you all need to understand is that after entering Nirvana, the Buddha would become immovable, unlike Bodhisattvas who constantly run back and forth to help sentient beings. Some people think that if they chant long enough, the Buddha will come, but that is not the case. If you have not cultivated to the level of a Bodhisattva, the Sambhogakaya will not appear for you; likewise, if you have not attained Buddhahood, the Dharmakaya will not appear for you. If you want the Buddha’s Nirmanakaya to appear, then at the very least you must first be carrying out the Ten Meritorious Acts. Ask yourselves this: Are you? If not, then that would be impossible. If you still love to eat meat and are still committing evil acts, then there is absolutely no way that the Nirmanakaya would appear before you.

“Thus, the Buddha promised that until He had entered Nirvana, He would help Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to fulfill this vow so that the Buddha did not have to worry any further about sentient beings living then and in the future. As you can see, the Buddha is so very compassionate! He was like a father, on his deathbed, worrying about a heap of things, such as whether or not his kids would have enough money, be able to find spouses, later have grandchildren with them, and so on. However, the Buddha’s concern was whether or not a Bodhisattva would come to liberate sentient beings before the Buddha had entered Nirvana. No Buddha will appear on Earth again until after Shakyamuni Buddha has spent fifty-six trillion years in Nirvana. Therefore, during this intervening period, no Buddha will reside in this world, so we can only rely on the Bodhisattvas and gurus to transmit the Dharma. This is why gurus are so important in Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism; their position is the foremost, because they can liberate sentient beings.

“The sutra reads, ‘Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha addressed the Buddha, saying, “O World Honored One, incalculable asankhyeya kalpas ago there was a Buddha by the name of Anantakaya. Any man or woman who hears the name of this Buddha and temporarily performs obeisance to him will transcend the serious evil acts committed in life and death over a period of forty kalpas. But how much better will it be for one who would mold or paint this Buddha’s image to worship and praise him! Countless and boundless will be the bliss gained by such a person.”’

“When speaking to the Buddha, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha says, ‘incalculable asankhyeya kalpas ago’—‘asankhyaya’ is a Sanskrit word, from India, referring to a certain number. Just how many years does it encompass? It is much longer than a great kalpa. No specific number is written here, but when Ksitigarbha says ‘incalculable,’ He is speaking of a length of time that cannot be known from the perspective of human history. Way back then, the Bodhisattva says, a Buddha named Anantakaya was born. Any men or women who heard this Buddha’s name and temporarily performed obseisances—meaning, they would immediately feel respect for this Buddha, but then they would forget Him—would ‘transcend serious evil acts committed in life and death over a period of forty kalpas.’ Many people say that making a single prostration to the Buddha can cause one to be exonerated of as many evil acts as there are grains of sand in a river, free one from the shackles of one’s heavy karma, and so on. The idea here is that as long as you give rise to respect for any Buddha, guru, or Bodhisattva, then you will experience a temporary reprieve from the maturation of all karmic retribution resulting from the evil acts you have committed. This will give you enough time to have an opportunity to do good deeds so that you aren’t at risk of falling into the Three Evil Realms. Being ‘exonerated from serious evil acts committed in life and death over a period of forty kalpas’ means that as long as you temporarily revere this Buddha, you will escape all the serious evil acts you commit in life and death over the course of forty kalpas so that for a time, you can transcend the karmic retribution and karma dragging you down; you can leap over it. However, that does not mean it will disappear. You need to understand what is written in the sutra.” Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche asked the monastics whether or not they had ever heard this saying before, and they answered that they hadn’t.

The guru continued: “Transcending it does not mean it has ceased to exist. If it did, then the sutra would have said so instead of using the word ‘transcend.’ The karma created by your serious evil acts blocks you from coming in contact with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If you feel respect, then the resulting good fortune will allow you to temporarily jump over, or transcend, that karma so that you can be close to the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, your guru, and the Dharma. However, your karma will still follow you, and at the slightest misstep, you could fall back into it. You therefore need to jump past it over and over very carefully. Thus, we need to be responsible when explaining the sutras; we must not tell people that if they make prostrations, all of the heavy karma produced in life and death through forty kalpas will completely disappear. If it could, then I would not have conducted retreats, because going into retreat for more than three months was quite grueling; one may never know what might happen during those three months. This is why the word ‘transcend’ is used; because you give rise to respect, you are able to temporarily transcend the obstacles between you and your guru, the Buddhas, and the Bodhisattvas. If you do not practice, though, you will take a leap backward, and your karma will be in your way again. Therefore, when people practice awhile and then say they are leaving but won’t forget the Dharma, they are speaking utter nonsense; they have already gone backward.

“People who respectfully paint or sculpt Buddha statues as offerings in praise of the Buddha’s merits will reap boundless good fortune.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, as many kalpas ago as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, a Buddha came into the world bearing the title of Ratnasuabhava Tathagata. Any man or woman who hears the name of this Buddha and makes up his or her mind, as quickly as it takes to snap one’s fingers, to take refuge in Him, will never suffer retrogression from the state of Supreme Enlightenment.”’

“Why did Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha suddenly start speaking of things that happened in the past? Shouldn’t He have been speaking about the present and the future? Ksitigarbha certainly had his reasons. What this means is that there is definitely not just this one Buddha whom we see in this lifetime; there are many of Them. Moreover, it is not just present-day humans on Earth who suffer. Many Buddhas have appeared over the course of myriad lifetimes throughout this universe, and countless sentient beings have suffered. Many sentient beings have successfully practiced according to these truths and achieved attainment. To this day, this method continues to be transmitted. That is not to say, however, that Shakyamuni Buddha or Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha suddenly invented a new Dharma method. Therefore, if someone tells you the Buddhism he or she teaches is different from what is written in the sutras, you should be careful.

“First there is mention of ‘asankhyeya kalpas,’ and later ‘as many kalpas ago as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River’ is written. This is just another way of describing a very large number. The banks of the Ganges are lined with many, many sandbars, so this means it happened too many years ago to count. Back then, a Buddha named Ratnasuabhava Tathagata came into this world. This part tells of what happens when any men or women who hear His name and instantly—meaning, within a very short period of time—give rise to bodhicitta and take refuge in that Buddha. This does not mean practicing Buddhism because they want to obtain benefits for themselves; they must give rise to bodhicitta. Such people will attain the path of Supreme Enlightenment, and never retrogress; it is the Dharma of becoming liberated from life and death and benefiting sentient beings. Retrogression causes you to fall backward, and many things in this world can cause that to happen to you quite easily.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, a Buddha came to this world by the name of Padmajina Tathagata. Any man or woman whose ear-roots hear this Buddha’s name once will be reborn repeatedly one thousand times in the Heavens of Six Desires. But how much better would it be for one who wholeheartedly recites this name and keeps it in mind!”’

“A Buddha named Padmajina Tathagata also existed in the remote past. There is a lot of mention in the sutras of ‘roots’ and ‘objects,’ and ‘ear-roots’ refer to one of the six roots—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. After passing through these roots, an impulse enters your Mana Consciousness which causes you to initiate an action; this in turn transfers into our Alaya Consciousness, also known as the Eighth Consciousness. Then, the seed—such as the ability to listen to the Buddhas’ names—is planted. ‘Whose ear-roots hear’ does not refer to sounds passing through their ears; it means entering the most fundamental part beneath the nerves of their eyes, ears, noses, tongues, bodies, and minds; namely, the Alaya Consciousness. Similarly, when you listen very closely to the Buddhas’ names I am speaking about today, then even if you don’t remember them, they will enter your Alaya Consciousness. Such men and woman will spend a thousand lifetimes in the Heavens of Six Desires. The Heaven Realm is divided into three different sub-realms: The Heavens of Desires, the Heaven of Forms, and the Heaven of Formlessness. All of the gods and deities worshiped by humans reside in the Heavens of Desires.

“Ksitigarbha points out how much better it would be for a person who ‘wholeheartedly recites this name and keeps it in mind.’ If he or she aspires to and chants this Buddha’s name, then such a person will attain even higher fruition.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, some inexpressible number of asankhyeya kalpas ago, a Buddha was born in the world by the name of Simhananda Tathagata. Any man or woman, hearing this Buddha’s name and wholeheartedly taking refuge in Him, will be able to encounter incalculable numbers of Buddhas who will touch that person’s head and bestow assurance of future enlightenment.”’

“In this section the Bodhisattva introduces another Buddha who lived very long ago—a period of time described previously as being as many kalpas ago as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, but which now is again described as ‘asankhyeya kalpas ago.’ The Buddha can count how many grains of sand there are in the Ganges using His supernatural powers. ‘Asankhyeya’ is an incalculable number; it implies a time so long ago that it cannot be measured. There is a lot of sand in the Ganges River. If we wanted to count it, we might use units of measurement such as kilograms or tons, but time is immeasurable. Thus, when the Buddha says ‘as many as there are grains of sand in the Ganges,’ He is referring to a number too big for us idiots to count. Can they be counted? They can. We could use certain units to express how many there are. However, the word ‘asankhyeya’ implies a number too large for even a supercomputer to calculate. Thus, the Buddha definitely does not have senile dementia.

“A Buddha came into this world named Simhananda Tathagata, and this section talks about what will happen to any man or woman upon hearing His name and ‘wholeheartedly taking refuge in Him’—that is, having an intention to take refuge. This does not mean taking refuge and being done with it; it requires practicing the Ten Meritorious Acts, cultivating, and so on. Such a person will be granted assurance of future enlightenment by countless Buddhas. This again confirms that only Buddhas can bestow such assurance. ‘Touch that person’s head’ here means touching one’s head to bestow future assurance of attainment.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, there appeared in the world a Buddha bearing the title of Krakucchandsa Buddha. Any man or woman who, upon hearing this Buddha’s name, also wholeheartedly worships or praises Him will become a great Brahman king in the Bhadrakalpa of the Thousand Buddhas’ Assembly, in addition to obtaining assurance of future enlightenment.”

“In the past a Buddha named Krakucchandsa Buddha appeared in this world, and any man or woman who hears His name would worship and praise Him. No chanting is even necessary; all you have to do is make prostrations and look respectfully upon a statue or image of Him. Japanese are very good at worshiping; perhaps not many of them believe in the Buddha, but those who do speak praises and show their admiration much better than people in Taiwan, who just look at a Buddha statue and criticize it for not being carved to look dignified enough. What utter nonsense! Have you ever seen what the Buddha looks like? I have seen believers worship like this in Kyoto’s very old temples. However, relatively few members of Japan’s younger generation do. A lot of elderly people speak their praise by saying, ‘How hard it has been to preserve this Buddha statue,’ or mentioning how great its craftsmanship is. On the contrary, we Taiwanese wouldn’t know a treasure if it were staring us in the face; we would just look at it from our own subjective point of view. Thus, Japanese have preserved many old Buddha statues; some of the wooden ones are over a thousand years old. This is why the people of Japan have been able to survive through so many calamities, natural disasters, and so on.”

Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche asked a Japanese believer whether or not that was the case, and the believer replied, ‘It is indeed.’ The guru resumed his teachings: “We cannot call a certain nation a Buddhist country just because it looks like Buddhism flourishes there. We should determine that based on whether or not people there are living in accordance with what is written in the sutras. For example, I have seen people on Japanese television introducing Buddha statues with a completely respectful attitude. Perhaps they do not actually believe that those statues can benefit them, but at least they have been praised and presented with great reverence.

“The ‘Bhadrakalpa’ refers to the kalpa in which a Buddha resides in this world, a time stretching from a Buddha’s first appearance to when the Dharma has ended and another Buddha appears. It is recorded in the sutras that seven Buddhas will reside on Earth, each for a very long time. Humans definitely existed before Shakyamuni Buddha’s time. Therefore, the artifacts dug up by archaeologists are left over from past civilizations of humans, not from alien visitors. They are simply vestiges of generations upon generations of societies that existed in the past.

“A ‘great Brahman king’ means a king of Brahma. Receiving assurance of future enlightenment does not mean attaining Buddhahood; it means obtaining a very high fruition in the Heaven Realm.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, there appeared in the world a Buddha bearing the title of Vipasyin Buddha. Any man or woman, hearing this Buddha’s name, will never fall into the Evil Realms, instead always being reborn as a human or a deva and enjoying auspicious and wondrous happiness.”’

“This section talks about the past, but does not mention how long ago. Deciphering the sutras truly is very interesting. The Buddha used various ways to depict the different time periods when speaking about Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha. However, in the next part, He merely says ‘in the past,’ so it could refer to a relatively short time ago. A Buddha came into this world whose name was Vipasyin Buddha, and any man or woman who hears His name will never fall into the Evil Realms.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, immeasurable, incalculable kalpas ago—as many as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River—there appeared in the world a Buddha bearing the title of Ratnasambhava Tathagata. Any man or woman, hearing this Buddha’s name will not fall into the Evil Realms, and will always enjoy auspicious and wondrous happiness in the Heaven Realm.”’

“Innumerable kalpas ago, as many as there are grains of sand in the Ganges, a Buddha named Ratnasambhava Tathagata appeared. Any man or woman who heard this name can be sure of never falling into the Three Evil Realms—on the condition that he or she does not commit any evil acts—and be wonderfully and auspiciously happy in heaven. That does not mean someone will come to take you there.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, there appeared in the world a Buddha bearing the title of Ratnasambhava Tathagata. Any man or woman, hearing this Buddha’s name and showing respect to Him, will soon attain the fruition of an arhat.”’

“A Buddha named Ratnasambhava Tathagata once appeared on Earth, and this is what will happen to any man or woman who hears His name and gives rise to respect for this Buddha. True respect comes with no strings attached, and is not sullied by ulterior motives; it is a very pure way of praising and revering the Buddha. Such a person will quickly attain fruition as an arhat, never falling into reincarnation again.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, immeasurable asankhyeya kalpas ago, there appeared in the world a Buddha bearing the title of Kasayadhvaja Tathagata. Any man or woman, hearing this Buddha’s name, will be exonerated from all the sins he or she ever committed over the course of one hundred kalpas’ worth of lifetimes.”’

“Immeasurable asankhyeya kalpas ago, a Buddha named Kasayadhvaja Tathagata came to Earth, and any man or woman who hears His name can transcend the karma created in life and death over a period of a hundred thousand kalpas.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, there appeared in the world a Buddha bearing the title of Mahabhijna-Sumeru Tathagata. Any man or woman, hearing this Buddha’s name, will encounter as many Buddhas as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River, preaching extensively to him or her, and will definitely attain Bodhi.”’

“In the past a Buddha came into the world whose name was Mahabhijna-Sumeru Tathagata. Any man or woman who hears His name will encounter many, many Buddhas who will speak the Dharma to him or her, ensuring Buddhahood.

“The sutra reads, ‘“Again in the past, there appeared many other indescribable Buddhas such as Sudhacandra Buddha, Sumeru Buddha, Jnanajina Buddha, Vimalanamanraja Buddha, Jnanasaddhi Buddha, Anuttara Buddha, Sughosa Buddha, Full-Moon Buddha, and Moon-Faced Buddha. O World Honored One, all generations of sentient beings both now and in the future—whether devas or humans, males or females—will receive countless merits upon evoking the name of even just a single Buddha. But how much better even would it be to invoke many names! These beings will automatically obtain great benefits in both life and death, and will never again fall into the Evil Realms.”’

“This next section introduces several Buddhas. We should pay attention to the fact that all Buddha names must be spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha or Bodhisattvas, and that Bodhisattva must be one of the Eight Mahasattvas and a Dharmakaya Bodhisattva. Only the Buddha names written in the sutras are real; any spoken of that are not mentioned in the sutras—no matter how skilled the speaker is—are fake. The merits of each Buddha are written about in the sutras; if someone suddenly comes out and says that we can gain certain merits if we worship a certain Buddha, and those are not mentioned in the sutras, then that person is not telling the truth. Why should we start by practicing Shakyamuni Buddha’s Dharma? It is because the Dharma bestowed upon our era of humanity was passed down by Him. If we won’t even worship this first master, but worship another Buddha instead, then wouldn’t that be strange? If we have worshiped our first master, He might tell us it is okay to worship other Buddhas; thus, we still have time to do so. Even Amitabha Buddha and the Medicine Buddha were introduced by Shakyamuni; the Medicine Buddha did not suddenly run out and exclaim, ‘Hey, I’m the Medicine Buddha.’ As such, you have to read the sutras carefully. Why do we supplicate to the yidam of Shakyamuni Buddha? He transmitted the Dharma to us, so we say the Buddha is our teacher; our guru. Right now we are not yet qualified to receive Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings directly, so we have to learn by way of our guru and what is written in the sutras.

“Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha introduced all these Buddhas because He knew of Them, and we did not. Given our ignorance, we cannot simply invent any Buddhas’ names or Buddhist sects; we must go by the sutras.

“Any sentient beings living now or in the future, whether in the Heaven Realm or the Human Realm and whether male or female, need only evoke a single Buddha’s name. The word ‘evoking’ here does not simply mean saying it with your mouth; it refers to your thoughts. If you completely remember with utter clarity the name of a Buddha, then you will obtain countless merits through cultivation. As long as you give earnest praise to a Buddha and your thoughts are constantly on Him, then that will yield countless merits in your practice—and afterward, you will be able to practice to any Buddha with great ease and expedience. It’s like I said before: How can you worship another Buddha without worshipping Shakyamuni first? If your guru is transmitting you the Dharma, but you stop prostrating yourself before him and follow another guru instead, will that work? It will be even worse if you try to follow several gurus at once.

“Any sentient beings that do what is written here are sure to obtain great benefits both when dying at the end of this lifetime and while being born in the next, and definitely will not fall into the Three Evil Realms. Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha speaks the truth, and would never deceive us. As long as you can remember, believe, respect, and completely stop committing evil, then you will not suffer very much when you are about to die. Anyone who undergoes major surgery at the end of his or her life and is forced to lie in a hospital bed, neither really alive nor really dead, is bound to fall into the Three Evil Realms, and no amount of sutra recitation will prevent it. If you do not suffer very much on your deathbed, however, you are guaranteed to be reborn in one of the Virtuous Realms.

“The sutra reads, ‘“When someone is approaching the end of his life, if any of his relatives or even only one person should, on his behalf, invoke aloud the name of just one Buddha, the deceased will be exonerated from karmic retribution for all his or her wrongdoings except for the Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts.”’

“My advice that you should not hire anyone to perform sutra recitations for your deceased loved ones, and that it should be done by your own family members instead, is based on what is written in this sutra. There is no mention in this text of sutra recitation groups. If Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha had said anything about them, He would have said it here, but He didn’t. When someone is dying, as long as one of his family members is willing to chant for him on his deathbed—and it doesn’t matter if they are Christians or believe in any other religion—by speaking aloud the name of a Buddha before he has passed away, then he will be exonerated of his past evil acts. Why does this name have to be chanted out loud? It is not because the dying person might not hear, but because there are a heap of karmic creditors nearby, all clamoring to get his attention. Family members’ chanting the Buddha’s name can help them, too. Some people might not want to chant it out loud, instead preferring to chant the Buddha’s name silently to themselves. This won’t work. You should not assume all those little ghosts will be able to hear you; they don’t have the supernatural powers of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, so they wouldn’t know what you are chanting. If you aren’t willing to chant out loud, it is because you are afraid of letting others know that you believe in the Buddha. Followers of other religions talk about their faith quite openly, so why are you scared of saying ‘Amitabha’ out loud? By comparison, you who claim to believe in the Buddha don’t dare to reveal your faith, which means you have no respect for the Dharma.

“Chanting out loud is useful for both the patient and his or her karmic creditors, and anyone nearby who hears you might develop respect for the Dharma as well. If they do, then this will be enormously beneficial to the person about to die. Whenever I have gone to a hospital to bestow blessings and chant mantras for patients, others nearby have always heard me. One time, after I’d finished my blessings and was leaving the ward, a lady kneeled down in the hallway and implored me to alleviate the suffering her husband was going through as a result of his illness. He was in the final stages of liver cancer, and had been in the hospital for two months already. By then his stomach had swollen very large. He had worked as a chef, so had very heavy karma from killing. The countless sentient beings he’d killed had turned into ascites in his stomach and were causing him great pain. Therefore, those who love eating live crabs and other seafood are bound to suffer from ascites before they die, and taking weight loss pills won’t help. When people have run out of good fortune, they can’t die even if they want to. This man’s wife was very sincere, though, so I chanted mantras for him and blessed him. Two days later, he passed away peacefully, and by then there wasn’t even any sign of his ascites, because his karmic creditors had been liberated as well. As a matter of fact, I chant mantras in the intensive care ward just as loudly.

“The sutra reads, ‘“The Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts are those wrongdoings of the utmost seriousness, and usually a person committing such offenses cannot be acquitted of them even after millions of kalpas. However, if at the time of this person’s death others invoke, on his or her behalf, any names of the Buddhas, then some of these extremely serious offenses will gradually be reduced and even eradicated.”’

“The Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts are very serious; there is nothing a person can do to avoid their resulting karmic retribution. Even if that person chants a Buddha’s name, he or she will still fall into the Hell Realm and have to stay there for millions of kalpas. However, even after having committed such grave transgressions, someone can help by chanting a Buddha’s name while that person is about to die. This chanting must be done by someone who is full of praise for the Buddha, without thinking, ‘If I chant for him, I’ll get merits and good fortune, and assisting him now will cause others to return the favor for me in the future.’ That is not the correct attitude. That is why you need to understand the meaning behind every word written in the sutras. The word ‘invoke’ here implies praising the Buddha’s merits, and the chanter’s mind should be focused on helping this suffering sentient being—not on the chanter’s own benefits. Why do some people get so afraid while performing recitation assistance for the deceased, to the point that they get sick when they go home? It is because of this: Their Dharma brothers and sisters have all been present, so they feel too awkward to stay. They think that if they keep reciting for the deceased, or soon-to-be-deceased, then they will grow more and more important in front of their Dharma master, and the Dharma master will therefore remember them. Such thinking is bound to cause problems.

“Even if a person has committed any of the Five Uninterrupted Evil Acts, it is helpful to reverently chant a Buddha’s name for that person before he or she dies. How long should you chant? It doesn’t say; you just keep chanting until the patient passes away. Even if the deceased has to go to the Hell Realm as a result of having committed such grave acts, and won’t be able to get out, someone chanting a Buddha’s name can help to gradually lessen and eliminate the deceased’s offenses.

“The sutra reads, ‘“…But how much better even would it be for the dying one to invoke the Buddhas’ names himself or herself in order to gain immeasurable bliss and to be exonerated from countless evil acts!”’

“It would be even better if the person were to praise the Buddhas and chant their names. In other words, you should just chant the Buddhas’ names yourselves; why wait for someone to chant them for you before you die? You should start right now; if you can get such great merits by having someone chant for you when you are about to die, then wouldn’t you benefit even more if you did it yourself? One good thing about Buddhism, therefore, is that you don’t need to wait for someone else to assist you; you can obtain boundless good fortune and rid yourself of the karma from countless evil acts all by yourself. If you can do this, then you will obtain limitless good fortune, and be exonerated of countless evil acts. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are so compassionate; They have given us a bargain!

“At this point, I have finished expounding the middle section of the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows.”

“The sutra reads, ‘Universally Expansive Bodhisattva asked Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to speak of the absolute dust of the Three Realms, and of the Six Realms, and then implored Tathagata to bestow predictions. Tathagata Buddha said that ten days of Uposatha would guide the practitioner to step onto the lotus throne and take refuge in the eternally abiding Dharma of the Ten Directions.’

“Universally Expansive Bodhisattva is a Mahasattva, so everything He does in the Dharma Realm bring benefit to all sentient beings. Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha will reveal all of his achievements to vast numbers of sentient beings. Even evil acts committed in the Six Realms that are as tiny as flecks of sand can be eradicated. On the part, ‘Universally Expansive Bodhisattva implored Tathagata Buddha ‘to bestow predictions. Tathagata Buddha said that ten days of Uposatha would guide the practitioner to step onto…….,’ the ten days of Uposatha do not refer to eating vegetarian for ten days, or doing so for ten days out of every month while eating meat the other twenty days. Uposatha refers to the ten days each month in which the karma from all our evil acts is tallied. During these ten days, the Heaven Realm sends down a representative to take note of which evil acts sentient beings on Earth are committing. If we do good deeds during those ten days, then they are recorded as well. Uposatha means conducting the Eight Precepts Retreat. We are not able to engage in the ten days of Uposatha every month, but we should at least conduct such a retreat at some point in this lifetime. Going into retreat requires completing the ten days of Uposatha; only then can we be led to the lotus seat and the Pure Land. Thus, we take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, and vow to use Buddhism to benefit all sentient beings in the Ten Directions of the Dharma Realm.

“I’ll only expound to here today; next time I will explain ‘Chapter Ten: Almsgiving, Merits, and Causal Conditions.’ This is crucial, as it explains how to accumulate good fortune and change our lives, as well as the importance of almsgiving and merits. I hope to expound this section as soon as possible, but it will also depend on whether or not you continue to be patient enough to listen. All our good fortune comes from giving alms. Everything that comes to you in this lifetime—how much you have to eat and use, how much money you earn, how respected you are by others, how long your lifespan will be—all of this depends on the alms you have given in your past lives. In this lifetime we are constantly using the merits produced by our past acts of almsgiving. It is as if you saved a lot of money in your past lives, and you are constantly using it in this one. You might have forgotten how to give alms in this lifetime, though, or don’t know that you should, which is why Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha teaches us in this chapter how to give alms so that we can rapidly accumulate good fortune. Why do we want to accumulate good fortune? As I’ve said over and over, only by way of these many methods of almsgiving and accumulating good fortune can the living and the dead obtain peace and happiness, and stop suffering. Ksitigarbha teaches us how to give alms on Earth to accumulate good fortune. Besides helping us to become liberated from the suffering of life and death, He also allows us to possess sufficient good fortune to practice the Dharma through lifetime after lifetime, so that we are eventually freed from reincarnation; that is the whole point. Thus, I hope that in the very near future I will be able to expound ‘Chapter Ten: Almsgiving, Merits, and Causal Conditions’ for you.

“The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows is a very important sutra for us humans, because in this lifetime we have all forgotten the Dharma we learned in our past lives, and become ordinary people who are trapped in reincarnation’s sea of suffering, indulging in all manner of evil acts of body, speech, and mind, without even knowing it. Only by way of the teachings contained in this sutra can we learn how to amend our ways. Many people think Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows is rather simple, but it actually isn’t, because if you can follow its directions, you will have gotten off to a good start. All good things require having a good start; without one, how can you have a good future? Therefore, this sutra is extremely important, including the later sections that are very helpful for us Earthlings in learning to deal with the suffering of birth, old age, sickness, and death. When practicing Buddhism, listening to the Dharma is not enough; you have to put it into practice. To truly become a practitioner, a disciple of the Buddha, you must first take refuge in a guru. If you do not, then that would be like merely auditing a bunch of university courses—can you get a degree that way? No, you can’t. You have to register and become a professor’s student before you can. Similarly, Buddhism requires practitioners to take refuge; it is not enough to listen at a puja, go home, and practice by yourself. The most important point of taking refuge is to allow someone to move from a bad place to a good one, and rely anew on the guru, the Buddhas, and the Bodhisattvas to teach you the Dharma. Even if you make a firm resolution to practice, if you do not have the supervision of a guru, you will unwittingly make frequent mistakes. Likewise, whenever we want to learn something, we need a teacher close by to supervise us. This is because throughout the learning process, we will often make mistakes by accident without even realizing we have done something wrong. Thus, taking refuge is a prerequisite for practicing Buddhism.

“Some of you think that if you take refuge, there will be a lot of things you can’t do anymore. However, there are already a lot of things you can’t do anyway. After taking refuge, you will merely be told very clearly what you should not do and what the karmic retribution for doing those things will be, as is written in the sutras. The Buddha does not mean to nail us down with a bunch of rules that limit our freedom. After having practiced Buddhism for decades, I have never felt a lack of freedom. I can go anywhere in the world. I can eat vegetarian in France, too, for example; there are some restaurants with three Michelin stars that are happy to prepare vegetarian meals for me, and the same is true of Tokyo’s major restaurants. Furthermore, they take special joy in cooking vegetarian dishes for me, because for them it is a challenge.

“Whether or not you take refuge is your decision, but if you genuinely want to learn Buddhism and achieve a bit of attainment in this lifetime, then taking refuge is a must. It is not very complicated; taking refuge just involves reciting a few lines. Why, then, is so much importance placed on it? It is different from the ‘baptism’ of other religions; taking refuge does not mean you will then belong to your guru or the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. All that is required is that you undergo this process. Only after you take refuge will the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas recognize you as someone who has begun to transform from evil to good. As all the Dharma protectors and ghost kings learn of this, they will naturally come to support and protect you. Only after you take refuge will your guru be able to keep teaching you Dharma-related matters. Won’t he teach you if you don’t take refuge? No, he won’t. This is the difference. For example, I could not possibly transmit to you the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha Tantra we performed this morning unless you had taken refuge. As you are not prepared to learn, only thinking that Buddhism is a sort of academic pursuit or a virtuous party to attend so that you can have some good thoughts, this is why I will not transmit it to you. After you take refuge, however, I will. I am not trying to force you all into taking refuge; you don’t have to. I would never beg anyone to take refuge.

Then, H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche led the disciples in a performance of the Dharma Protector Achi prayer and dedication. Afterwards, he resumed the teachings.

“In China, Japan, and Korea, this month is regarded as the ‘month of liberation,’ but that is different from its actual meaning in Buddhism. In China, people think this month is when ghosts leave the Hell Realm; this custom has to do with Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciple, the Venerable Maudgalyāyana. Maudgalyāyana possessed the foremost supernatural powers, and attained the highest arhat. He used his powers to learn that his mother was suffering in the Hungry Ghost Realm. Beings trapped there have very large heads and stomachs, sickly brown or orange hair, protruding eyes, and skinny necks, arms, and legs. They are always very hungry and thirsty, but whenever they try to swallow something, it ignites in flame halfway down and vanishes. Constantly starving, they suffer to the extreme. What sort of person is reborn in the Hungry Ghost Realm? Anyone who, while still living, was too stingy to give alms or make offerings, or even tries to hinder others from doing so. For example, people who have money in the bank and are unwilling to use it, or are miserly and count every penny, loathe to part with a single one; or others who, even on their deathbeds, are still very attached to their wealth—these sorts of people will all fall into the Hungry Ghost Realm when they die.

“When the Venerable Maudgalyāyana saw that his mother was suffering in the Hungry Ghost Realm, he felt very sad, but was unable to free her. This confirms the fact that you cannot liberate someone simply by reciting the sutras; even this master arhat couldn’t. Maudgalyāyana therefore used his supernatural powers to conjure some food for his mother to eat. This was no ordinary food; it was made of something akin to nectar. Nevertheless, as soon as it entered her throat, it turned to flames and burned away. Just as powerless to relieve his mother’s suffering as before, Maudgalyāyana turned to the Buddha for help. As we know, some ghosts in the Hungry Ghost Realm possess enough fortune to eat human feces and urine, which is why there are always ghosts in toilets. The ghosts with no fortune cannot even eat that. If you spit, inhabitants of the Hungry Ghost Realm will rush forward and fight over your phlegm. This constant hunger causes them unimaginable suffering. People don’t have to die in order to go there; don’t those children in the poorest countries of Africa look like that? They might not have the sickly brown hair, but their eyes bulge out, they have oversized heads and stomachs, and their necks and limbs are very thin, just like those trapped in the Hungry Ghost Realm.

“Shakyamuni Buddha therefore instructed Maudgalyāyana to make an offering of the finest vegetarian meals to the monastics who had just completed their Vassa Retreat. A Vassa, conducted in summer, is an Indian way of cultivation taught by the Buddha. Summer is very hot, and not conducive to going outside; in addition, there are a lot of bugs out at that time of year that can accidentally be trodden upon. For these reasons, the practitioners conducting a Vassa gathered in a retreat location. All of these disciples had taken refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha, and many had attained the fruition of an arhat. Back then, people placed meals in bowls to offer to monastics; thus, Maudgalyāyana followed the Buddha’s instructions, making the offering of vegetarian meals in bowls to the monastics. This is the origin of the Ullambana Festival. Because he dedicated the merits from giving meals and making offerings to the monastics, he was able to help his mother to leave the Hungry Ghost Realm and go to the Heaven Realm. This is how it started; it is not that we liberate our ancestors when the door to the Ghost Realm is open. When the Venerable Maudgalyāyana saw his mother suffering so horribly, his filial piety caused him to implore the Buddha for help. For this reason, in Buddhism this month is also known as the ‘month of filial piety.’

“Once we understand something’s origin, we can stop being superstitious about it. As long as you keep practicing Buddhism regularly and chant the Buddhas’ names, then a lot of things will change for you. The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows teaches us everything about what to do before we die. Because Shakyamuni Buddha had not yet spoken the sutra at the time, the Venerable Maudgalyāyana had to resort to other means. After spreading around the world for more than two thousand years, Buddhism has been transformed by local cultures into various folk customs. In China, it has been integrated with Taoism, in which it is thought that during the seventh month of the lunar calendar we should pay homage to ghosts to placate them. According to the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows, ghosts have existed in every time and every place, so if you only please them in a certain month and not the other eleven, won’t they get angry and stir up trouble? Japanese have a superstition that they have to burn something during a certain holiday, and only appease the ghosts on that day. What about all the other days? If you only worship them on that one day, won’t they spend the rest of the year haunting you? In the sutra it is written that the ghost kings and other ghosts are constantly roaming around the Earth, but there is no mention of your having to make food offerings to them everyday. Instead, as long as you do good, stop doing evil, and are willing to chant the Buddhas’ names and learn the Dharma, then the ghost kings will come to protect you. Isn’t this easier? No matter what nationality you are, you absolutely must act in accordance with what is written in the sutras. You can’t just make things up.

“It is also mentioned in this sutra that the Hell Realm does not discriminate between people of different race, gender, or creed; as long as you have committed evil, you are bound to go to hell. The Buddha did not invent hell, nor did any religion come up with it; it was created by you. Buddhism has been propagated for more than two thousand years, and every place as added its own local customs and ideas to it, resulting in various impure forms. If you want to learn Buddhism but are not acting in accordance with the sutras, then you are not practicing the Dharma. Many people misunderstand Buddhism. The Dharma is not wrong; rather, in error are those who do not teach and practice according to what is written in the sutras.

“As I said before, I had already spoken of this sutra’s contents before I ever even read them. I have not recited it every day, but because I had fulfilled the teachings here, I understood the sutra’s meaning as soon as I read it. You should not approach your practice with a superstitious or an academic frame of mind; rather, you should learn the attitude of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who wish to deliver sentient beings from their suffering and transmit the auspicious Dharma to the world. It is written in this sutra that if you want to be guided onto a less dangerous path, you must reach out your hands; only then can you be led to safety and taken forward. If you do not reach your hands out, and just keep them behind your back, then what can anyone do to help you? People on Earth are stubborn and obstinate by nature; they are difficult to tame and difficult to teach. I have come to believe these words very deeply ever since I started liberating sentient beings in 1997. They refuse to believe, even when something is written very clearly in the sutras. The Buddha would never deceive us, so whether or not you want to believe and accept it is up to you. Don’t muddle through another year of your life in total confusion.

“It has been ten years since 2005, when I met two of the Japanese believers present here today. In that time, one of them has grown from a youth into a middle-aged man, while I have grown from middle age and become an old man. Time flies; the days go by and leave us very quickly, and soon this life will be over. Before it ends, if you want to learn how to make preparations for your death, instructions are written in the sutras, and I can teach you as well. You should go home and think long and hard about this.”

Upon the perfect completion of the puja, all the disciples thanked the guru for bestowing compassionate teachings. All rising, they paid reverent homage as H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche descended the Dharma throne.

Deriving from his auspicious fruition through genuine cultivation, H.E. Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche expounded the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows, speaking earnestly as a caring parent and filling the void with his compassionate presence. This puja indeed brought countless sentient beings abundant, unfathomable Dharma benefits and caused them to give rise to incomparable faith and respect. All of the attendees voiced their sincerest gratitude and admiration!

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Updated on November 20, 2016