The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha's Fundamental Vows
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Chapter 7: Benefitting the Living and the Dead
At that time, the Bodhisattva-Mahasattva Ksitigarbha addressed the Buddha, saying, "O World Honored One, I see that the sentient beings in Jambudvipa are doing nothing but committing sins when a thought arises or when an idea is generated. When, by chance, they happen to gain some good benefits, they often retrogress from their initial minds. In evil conditions, evil thoughts grow one after another.
"Such people, individually, are just like a person plodding along a muddy road carrying a heavy load of rocks, which becomes heavier and more burdensome, causing him, with each step, to sink ever deeper into the mud. If he were to encounter some friend, this friend, no doubt, would share or help with his load or take it over entirely. Since this friend is very powerful, he would also hold up and help the overburdened one, advising him to keep his step steady and firm or to reach a safe, level road, avoiding and not retracing the bad road.
"O World Honored One, sentient beings who practice evil may begin by performing only one small evil act, which, if not controlled and stopped, eventually grows to an immeasurable proportion of evil. When these sentient beings having such bad habits are at the ends of their lives, their parents or other relatives should, advisedly, generate bliss for them as a provision to urge them forward on the path ahead. This can be done either by hanging banners and canopies and burning oil-lamps or by reading and reciting venerated sutras or by displaying images of Buddhas and of other holy ones or even by invoking the names of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Pratyekabuddhas. When one name or one title reaches the ears of the dying one and is accepted into his consciousness-even though such a sentient being, on account of the results induced by the evil karma he produced, will certainly fall onto some evil path of existence-then, because of the holy causes for the dying which his relatives have cultivated, he will be entirely exonerated from his sins. Furthermore, it is recommended that many good deeds be performed by the living during the seven-day period just after his death, the force of which will permanently distance the departed one from all evil paths and enable him to be reborn as a human being or a deva in order to enjoy extraordinarily wonderful happiness and bring, as well, countless benefits to his living relatives.
"Therefore, now, in the presence of Buddha, the World Honored One, and the eight categories of beings, including devas and nagas as well as human and non-human beings, I advise the sentient beings in Jambudvipa to be careful during the days immediately after someone's death, not killing or destroying or creating evil karma by worshipping or offering sacrifice to demons and deities or by having recourse to monsters and goblins. And why? Just because such killing and slaughtering committed or such worship performed or such sacrifice offered would not have even an iota of force to benefit the dead, but would entwine even more sinful karma into previous karma, making it even deeper and more serious. In the future or at present, one might be entitled, by sacred right, to rebirth among devas or human beings; but if his relatives create any evil karma at his deathbed or during the weeks after his death, he will be obliged to defend himself by counteracting such evil causes and, thus, delay his rebirth to a good state. How much worse it must be, then, for those who, dying, have had few good roots and who, by themselves, will fall onto evil paths in accordance with their respective karma! How can their relatives be so merciless as to increase the evil karma of the dying ones? This is just like the situation in which someone has plodded over a long distance and has been without food for three days while bearing a heavy burden of over one hundred catties when he chances to meet a neighbor who, thoughtlessly, piles something else on his back for him to carry. This would, mercilessly, make his already heavy burden even heavier!
"O World Honored One, I see that if the sentient beings in Jambudvipa are able to perform some good deeds as Buddhadharma-even though such deeds be only as small as the point of a hair, a mote, a grain of sand or a droplet-they will be able to gain benefit for themselves."
As this utterance was being concluded, an elder in the assembly by the name of Mahapratbhana, who had long realized the increate condition of no-birth and was converting and delivering sentient beings in all quarters in the form of an elder, with palms joined, reverently asked Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, "O Mahasattva, after the death of some sentient being in southern Jambudvipa, if his relatives-either juniors or seniors-should cultivate meritorious virtue for him or provide vegetarian meals to create good karmic causes, would such a dead person gain great benefit as well as deliverance and liberation?"
Ksitigarbha replied, "Sir, by means of the Buddha's majestic power, I am going to talk briefly on this matter for the benefit of all sentient beings of the present and future generations.
"O, Your Excellency, if any sentient being in the future or at present should be able, at the end of his life, to hear the name of a Buddha or of a Bodhisattva or of a Pratyekabuddha, he will gain deliverance and liberation, whether he is sinful or innocent. Should some men or women not cultivate good karmic causes and commit many sins while living, but should their relatives-whether junior or senior-perform, on their behalf, all the blissful, beneficial sacraments, then one out of every seven parts of the meritorious virtue thus gained will go to the dead person, while six parts will go to the living themselves. For this reason, good men and good women of the future and the present should cultivate themselves while they are still healthy so that they may gain every part of such meritorious virtue.
"The powerful demon Avidya (Impermanence) could arrive unexpectedly. Then one's unsettled spirit, wandering in the dark, would not know whether it was undergoing suffering or enjoying happiness, but would just, senselessly and dumbly, within a seven-day period, be brought before some authority who will weigh and consider his karmic result and make a judgment, after which he will go to rebirth according to his karma. In the meantime, however, his unpredictable situation, over which he has no control whatsoever, would cause him thousands of worries and myriads of miseries. How much worse, then, would be the situation for those who are condemned to evil paths!
"This dead person who has not yet gone to rebirth would, no doubt, hope from instant to instant during this seven-day period after his death that his blood relatives would do something to exert some blissful power to deliver him. After this period, he will be meted out his retribution in accordance with his karma. For a sinner, it is apt to be hundreds of thousands of years before his day of acquittal. However, for the five unpardonable sins-whereby one deserves to be cast into the major hells-there will be thousands of myriads of kalpas of suffering and everlasting misery before there will be any acquittal.
"Moreover, O Elder, if, after the death of such a sentient being with sinful karma, his blood relatives should prepare and supply vegetarian meals on his behalf in order to provide for him and help him along his karmic path, they must do it in such a way that no rice washing or trimmed vegetable blade whatsoever is wasted or thrown away during the preparation or before the conclusion of such a meal; they must, as well, make sure that no one partakes of any food before it has been offered up to the Buddha and the Sangha. Any negligence or breach of these precautions would render the work for the dead person ineffective. If care and diligence are employed to maintain purity in the offerings to the Buddha and the Sangha, then the dead one will obtain one out of seven of the merits thus gained.
"Consequently, O Elder, if a sentient being in Jambudvipa is able to provide, on behalf of his parents or his relatives after their deaths, vegetarian meals as offerings, in a whole-hearted and sincere manner, this would be beneficial to both the living and the dead."
As these words were being uttered, thousands of myriads of millions of nayutas of the demons and deities of Jambudvipa, then and there, in Trayastrimsas Heaven, all made up their minds to achieve unlimited Bodhi. Then Elder Mahapratbhana made obeisance and withdrew.
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