His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s Puja Teachings – April 30, 2017

During the general puja held at the Glorious Jewel Buddhist Center in Taipei, disciples and believers respectfully watched the Dharma video recorded at the Japanese Buddhist Center on August 16th, 2016 while His Eminence Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche expounded the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows.

“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 their consciousness 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 after the Buddha has entered Nirvana. No Buddha will appear on Earth until 5.6 billion years later. Therefore, during this intervening period, we can only rely on the Bodhisattvas and gurus to transmit the Dharma. This is why gurus are so important in Vajrayana 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 admire and praise Him. No chanting is even necessary; all you have to do is look and praise respectfully upon a statue or image of Him. Japanese are very good at this; perhaps not many of them believe in the Buddha, but they do speak praises and show their admiration. I have seen believers 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. Another Japanese believer, for example, does landscaping for temples while bearing in mind both admiration and respect. This is an area in which Taiwan is lacking; people there are all self-righteous, constantly bragging about their superiority in their Dharma knowledge; no sooner than they learn a sutra than they rush to pontificate about it to people. However, what they say completely strays from the essence of the sutras.

“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? The Buddha 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.

“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 May 30, 2017