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Who is Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha?

…any good person who reads the Sutra or who worships Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha will earn extraordinary merits, be free of suffering due to past karma and ultimately, be born in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Ksitigarbha
Ksitigarbha (地藏王菩薩; Dìzàng Wáng Púsà) is one of the four principal Bodhisattvas in Oriental Mahayana Buddhism. The others are Samantabhadra (普賢菩薩; Pŭxián Púsà, Manjusri (文殊師利菩薩; Wénshū Púsà, and Avalokitesvara (觀世音菩薩; Guānshì Yīn Púsà).

These four Bodhisattvas represent the four basic qualities of the Buddha i.e.

  • Manjushri for Great Wisdom;
  • Avalokiteshvara for his Great Compassion;
  • Samantabhadra for his Great Meritorious Deeds; and
  • Ksitigarbha for his Great Vows (to help and liberate all sentient beings residing in the hells).

The famous pronouncement of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha “If I do not go to hell to help them there, who else will go?” is the manifestation of this profound vow.

After the death of Sakyamuni Buddha, there would be no Buddha on Earth until the appearance of the Bodhisattva Maitreya over a few billion years later, who is to become the next Buddha. During this transition period, in the era between the death of Sakyamuni Buddha and the rise of Maitreya Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha assigned and delegated to Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha to act on His behalf, in order to save the sentient beings.

Ksitigarbha Great Vows Sutra

The sutra was first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the 7th century A.D., T’ang Dynasty by Venerable Tripiṭaka Master Shikshananda of Khotan in Central Asia. Speaking the Dharma for the sake of his mother, Lady Maya, this Sutra was spoken by Sakyamuni Buddha towards the end of his life to the beings of the Trayastrimsha Heaven as a mark of gratitude and remembrance for his beloved mother.

This is also known in Buddhism as the filial piety sutra. It tells the story of Earth Store – (the literal translation of the Bodhisattva’s name in Sanskrit) Boddhisattva’s vows. How in past lives as a filial daughter of a Brahmin woman she saved her mother from Hell by making offerings and cultivation. Later she vowed to save all beings from suffering and is now the Earth Store Bodhisattva.

This Sutra describes the past lives of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, his great vow made to that effect by him and the benefit accruing from that vow. The vow is that “if the hell is not yet empty, I vow not to become a Buddha.”

Until the Hells are empty, I vow not to become a Buddha,
Only after all living beings are saved, will I myself attain Bodhi.
Ksitigarbha

Presented in the form of seemingly mythic dialogue between the Buddha and Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, the Sutra is fundamentally a teaching concerning karmic retribution, graphically describing the consequences one creates for oneself by committing undesirable actions. This is especially for the benefit of future beings in the Dharma-Ending Age in order to help these beings avoid making the mistakes that will cause them to be reborn in a low condition.

With the motivation to help suffering beings always in mind, the Sutra is a discourse given by the Buddha in praise of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha and his heroic Vow, and of the benefits one can receive from worshipping Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha and by reading the sutra.

Another importance of the Great Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, the Ksitigharba Sutra is on the teaching of filial piety. Filial piety is the first step in morality. That is why this Sutra is so important for all Buddhist beginners.

It not only relate to the relationship between oneself and one’s parents but also as a universal code of duty for all living beings. It is an initial step toward embodying one’s universal duty, one begins with duty to one’s immediate family and friends, of which parents are foremost in importance.

Buddha said, “….The reason why this person is protected by many gods is that he or she respects and worships Ksitigarbha’s image and recites this Vow Sutra. These people will removed from the ocean of suffering and will be proof of the bliss of Nirvana.”
The Sutra – Chapter 11

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