His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s Puja Teachings – March 26, 2017

During the general puja held at the Glorious Jewel Buddhist Center in Taipei, disciples and believers listened with reverence to a video recording of extracts from His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s teachings bestowed during the Ksitigarbha Blessing Puja that had been held on August 16th, 2016 at the Japanese Buddhist Center.

“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.

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 easily get angry, and if they eat them cooked, they will grow lustful. 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 choose not to 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.”

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Updated on April 25, 2017