The sutra is divided into three parts
- Chapter 1 – Divine Power in Trayastrimsa Heaven
- Chapter 2 – Ksitigarbha Incarnated in the Assembly
- Chapter 3 – Observing the Karma of All Beings
- Chapter 4 – Beings’ Karmic Retribution
- Chapter 5 – Names of the Hells
- Chapter 6 – Admiration from the Buddha
- Chapter 7 – Benefits for Deceased and Existing Beings
- Chapter 8 – Admiration from Ghost Kings
- Chapter 9 – Benefits from Reciting Buddha’s Name
- Chapter 10 – Comparing the Merits of Making Offerings
- Chapter 11 – Dharma-Protection from the Earth God
- Chapter 12 – Benefits from Seeing and Hearing Ksitigarbha
- Chapter 13 – Entrusting the Human and Heavenly Beings
Divine Power in Trayastrimsa Heaven
Thus I have heard:
At one time, Buddha Sakyamuni appeared in Trayastrimsa Heaven to preach the Dharma for his mother, Lady Maya. At that time, uncountable Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Mahasattvas from the Ten Directions went there for this instructions. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas admired Buddha Sakyamuni for His ability to help all hard and violent living beings learn how to achieve happiness and rid themselves of distress. Every Buddha and Bodhisattva sent their envoys to request the World Honored One’s instructions.
When Buddha smiled, millions of bright clouds appeared. The Bright Cloud of Great Perfect Fullness, The Bright Cloud of Great Compassion, The Bright Cloud of Great Wisdom, The Bright Cloud of Great Prajna, The Bright Cloud of Great Samadhi, The Bright Cloud of Great Refuge, The Bright Cloud of Great Praise and countless others. Following the bright clouds, he also emitted many kinds of wonderful subtle sounds. The Sounds of Contribution, The Sounds of Discipline, The Sounds of Patience, The Sounds of Dauntless Energy, The Sounds of Meditation, The Sounds of Enlightened Wisdom, The Sounds of Benevolence and Compassion, The Sounds of Joyous Giving, The Sounds of Release, The Sounds of No-Outflows, The Sounds of Wisdom, The Sounds of Great Wisdom, The Sounds of Lion’s Roar, The Sounds of Great Lion’s Roar, The Sounds of Thunderclouds, The Sounds of Great Thunderclouds and other endless sounds.
Uncountable billions of heavenly beings, dragons, ghosts and gods from the Saha World and many realms gathered in the Palace of Trayastrimsa Heaven. They came from the Heaven of Four Kings, the Heaven of Trayastrimsa, the Heaven of Suyama, the Heaven of Tusita, the Heaven of Transformation Happiness, the Heaven of Transformation Comfort, the Heaven of Brahma’s Multitudes, the Heaven of Brahma’s Ministers, the Heaven of Great Brahma, the Heaven of Little Light, the Heaven of Endless Light, the Heaven of Light and Sound, the Heaven of Little Purity, the Heaven of Endless Purity, the Heaven of Universal Purity, the Heaven of Blessing Birth, the Heaven of Blessing Love, the Heaven of Many Fruit, the Heaven Without Thought, the Heaven Without Upset, the Heaven Without Heat, the Heaven of Good Views, the Heaven of Good Manifestation, the Heaven of Ultimate Form, the Heaven of Mahesvara, the Heaven of Neither Thought Nor Non-Thought. Numerous gods including the God of Oceans, the God of Rivers, the God of Streams, the God of Trees, the God of Mountains, the God of Earth, the God of Swamps, the God of Grains, the God of Days, the God of Nights, the God of Space, the God of Skies, the God of Food, the God of Grass and so on assembled for this teaching. Many ghost kings from other lands and the Saha World also joined this instruction. The Ferocious Eyes Ghost King, Drinking Blood Ghost King, Absorbing Vitality Ghost King, Embryo Eating Ghost King, Spreading Diseases Ghost King, Collecting Poisons Ghost King, Kind Heart Ghost King, Welfare People Ghost King, Protecting and Respecting People Ghost King and numerous ghost kings all assembled together.
At that time, Buddha Sakyamuni asked Bodhisattva Manjushri, Mahasattva, ” Do you know how many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, heavenly beings, dragons, ghosts and gods from other lands and worlds are here in the Trayastrimsa Heaven for this instruction?” Manjushri answered, ” World Honored One, even using my divine power for thousands of aeons, I still would not be able to calculate how many are here.” Buddha Sakyamuni said to Manjushri, “Even if I use my Buddha eye, I too cannot calculate them. These multitudes include all whom Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha has released, is releasing, and will release from suffering. That is, these multitudes include all living beings who live in the past, present and future!”
Manjushri said to Buddha, “World Honored One, I have long cultivated good roots and have acquired extensive and profound wisdom. So, as soon as I hear anything the Buddha says, I understand and believe it immediately. However, other living beings may doubt Buddha’s sincere words. They might believe them temporarily but they cannot hold the words in their hearts, and will begin to doubt them and then criticize them, I hope the World Honored One can provide more detailed information about Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, Mahasattva, and tell us what this Bodhisattva did. What kind of vows did this Bodhisattva make that allowed him to achieve this inconceivable thing?”
Buddha told Manjushri, “As an analogy, it is as if in the thousands of worlds, all the grasses, trees, bushes, straw, hemp, bamboo, reeds, mountains, stones, dust and every object is made into the Ganges River. And each grain of sand in the Ganges River becomes a great world. And each speck of dust in the each world is compared to an aeon. And within those aeons the specks of dust that would accumulate would also become aeons. Increase this amount a thousand times and this is how long Ksitigarbha has maintained the position of the Ten Ground – the highest ground or position that a Bodhisattva can reach. Manjushri, the power from Bodhisattva’s vow is unimaginable. In the future, if there is any good man or good woman who hears this Bodhisattva’s name, who praises, gazes at and worships, who recites the name Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha or make offerings and who paints, engraves, or moulds an image of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, he or she will go to that area of Heaven called ‘Thirty-Three Heaven’, more than one hundred times, and will never fall into the evil levels.
“Manjushri, many aeons ago, this Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, Mahasattva, was the son of a powerful and rich person. At that time, there was a Buddha name ‘Lion-Lightning-Sprint-Vast-Tasks-Complete’ who had a very dignified appearance. The son asked what kind of vow he had made to achieve such a dignified appearance. Buddha Lion-Sprint told the son that if he wanted to have this appearance, he would have to relieve all living beings from suffering and distress. So therefore, Manjushri, he made a vow: “From now on for countless aeons, I will provide all kinds of possible ways to relieve all beings from suffering. I will not become a Buddha until they have all been released from pain.” So, even after such a long time, he still has not become a Buddha and still a Bodhisattva.
“Boundless aeons ago, there was a Buddha who lived on the earth. His name was Enlightenment-Flower-Self-Sufficient King and he had lived for innumerable aeons. During this time of the Dharma-Image Age, there was a girl who was born in the Brahmin caste, and because she had done so many good deeds everybody admired and respected her. Many gods from heavens protected her every move. However, her mother had improper beliefs and did not respect the Triple Gems. She used many ways to convince her mother of the truth of Buddha’s teachings, but her mother died before completely accepting them. Her soul fell into Endless Hell. This daughter knew that her mother who did not believe in cause and effect, resulting in retribution, might have fallen into the evil level because of her karma. To save her mother, this daughter sold all her family possessions and properties to buy flowers and offerings for Buddha. She went to the temple in which there was a shrine to Buddha Enlightenment-Flower Self-Sufficient King, then contributed all her offerings.
“At the temple, gazing at and worshipping the venerable face of Buddha Enlightenment-Flower, this daughter spoke quietly to herself, “Buddha has complete wisdom. If Buddha were still in this world, I would be able to ask him where my mother is.” This daughter cried a long time and gazed tenderly at Buddha. Suddenly, there was a voice in the sky, “Saintly woman, do not grieve too much. I am now going to tell you where your mother is.” The daughter placed both her hands together gratefully and answered, ” Who are you that has come to comfort and relieve me of my anxiety? Since my mother passed away, I think of her day and night. I do not know where I can go to ask about her.” The voice sounded in the sky again, “I am the Buddha you are worshiping, Buddha Enlightenment-Flower Self-Sufficient King. I know you miss your mother more than those ordinary beings. So I come especially to tell you.” The daughter jumped up happily after listening to the words. She jumped so vigorously that she hurt her knees and fainted. After she had revived, she said, “May Buddha be benevolent and compassionate. I know that I will not live long – please tell me where my mother is.” Buddha Enlightenment-Flower Self-Sufficient King said, “After your offerings here, go home and meditate on my name. Then you will know where your mother is.”
The daughter meditated for one day and one night. Unexpectedly, she felt that she had arrived at a shore next to a sea with bubbling, boiling water. Many fierce beasts with iron bodies were flying and running back and forth above the sea. She saw many men and women who were eaten and bitten by evil blood-thirsty animals. She saw many monstrous devils with many hands, eyes, legs or heads. Their teeth grew out of their mouths and were sharp as swords. The devil frightened, chased and seized criminal persons, and twisted their heads and feet together. No one dared to willingly look at these terrifying sights. Because the daughter was meditating on Buddha, she was not afraid of these scenes.
A ghost king named Poisonless greeted this saintly woman and said, “Excellent, Bodhisattva, why are you here?” The Brahmin daughter asked of the Ghost King, “Where am I?” Poisonless answered, “This is the first ocean of the western side of Big Iron-Fence Mountain.” The saintly woman asked, “I have heard that there is a hell inside the Iron-Fence Mountain. Is it true?” Poisonless answered, “Yes, there indeed exists a hell.” The saintly woman asked, “Why am I here?” Poisonless answered, “Only those with either a god’s power or those by their karma come here. If it were not because of these two things, you would not be able to come here.” The saintly woman asked again, “Why does the sea keep boiling? Why are there so many criminal persons and fierce beasts?” Poisonless answered, “These are those beings who committed bad actions in their past lives. If someone dies and no one arranges proper rituals or does good deeds to relieve their suffering during the first forty nine days after death, and he or she did not have any redeeming merits from benevolent actions when alive, he or she will fall into this hell in accordance with his or her own actions. On the way to hell, it is necessary to cross this sea of suffering first. Four million miles to the east of this ocean is another one, where the beings there suffer twice as much as in this ocean. East of this second ocean is another with even more suffering. These areas are called the Karma Oceans, and are caused by the three causes of Karma: body, speech and mind.” The saintly woman asked the ghost king, “Where is hell?” Poisonless answered, “Among these three oceans, there is Big Hell. This Big Hell is divided into hundreds or thousands of hells. Each divided hell is completely different from the others. The reason why this Hell ‘Big’ is that these hells are classified into five hundred or more small hells. Each hell contains endless sufferings. Within these five hundred hells, there are thousands of smaller hells which also contain boundless sufferings.
“The saintly woman asked the ghost king again, “My mother recently died, and I wonder where her soul has gone. The ghost king asked the saintly woman, “Bodhisattva, what did your mother do when she was alive?” She answered, “My mother had improper beliefs and disrespected the Triple Gems. At one time she believed, and then soon after fell into disrespect. Poisonless asked, “Bodhisattva, what is your mother’s name?” The saintly woman responded, “Both my parents are of the Brahmin caste. My father’s name is Sila Sudarshan, my mother’s Yueh Tili. Poisonless placed both hands together and told Bodhisattva, “Please saintly woman, return home and do not be sad. The criminal woman Yueh Tili ascended to heaven three days ago. It is said she was saved by the filial piety of her daughter who made offerings at the temple of Buddha Enlightenment-Flower Self-Sufficient King for the purpose of saving her mother. Not only was your mother released from hell, but also as a result those other criminal persons in Endless Hell have been reborn.” After the ghost king had finished speaking, he placed both his hands together in respect and withdrew.
“Within a short time, the Brahmin daughter woke up as if from a dream. Realizing the truth, she faced the statue of Buddha Enlightenment-Flower Self-Sufficient King and vowed, “May I use the future aeons to establish as many possible ways as I can in order to release from pain all beings who are suffering from their criminal behavior.
Buddha told Manjushri, “The ghost king, Poisonless, is actually a Bodhisattva named Wealthy Leader now. And the Brahmin daughter is the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.”