Sutra of the Past Vows of
Earth Store Bodhisattva
“Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Purvapranidhana Sutra”, or “Ksitigarbha Sutra”, is a popular Mahayana sutra in Chinese Buddhism. In direct translation, the title means “Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva “.
Ksitigarbha is one of the Four Great Bodhisattvas in Chinese Buddhism. He is usually depicted as a Buddhist monk with a halo around his shaved head, a staff to force open the gates of hell, and a wish-fulfilling jewel to light up the darkness. Ksitigarbha can be translated as "Earth Treasury" or "Earth Store". This Bodhisattva is known for his vast vow on taking responsibility on instructing of all sentient beings in the six worlds between the Nirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha and the arrival of Maitreya, as well as his great vow for not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied.
“Ksitigarbha Sutra” illustrates how Ksitigarbha becomes a Bodhisattva by being filial piety to his parents in his past lifetimes and by making great vows to rescue sentient beings. Ksitigarbha emphasizes that filial piety is not only limited between oneself and his parents, but it should be for all living beings. The sutra also graphically describes about the consequence of karma and hells if someone commits into undesirable actions. Also, the sutra frequently mentions the benefits of dedicating merits to all sentient beings.
There are thirteen chapters in “Ksitigarbha Sutra”, and they are divided into three sections. The teaching is presented in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and Ksitigarbha at Trayastrimsa Heaven. The sutra also includes instructions on how to help the dying and the deceased. In one of the chapter, Buddha states that in the distant past eons, Ksitigarbha was a maiden and she prayed faithfully that her deceased mother be spared from the pains of hell. Her consciousness was transported into the Hell realm. She met a guardian, and due to her praying and offerings, her mother had accumulated enough merits and was ascended from hell to heaven. Ksitigarbha was greatly relieved, but the sight of the suffering in Hell touched her heart. She vowed to relieve beings from suffering in her future lives.
“Ksitigarbha Sutra” is a popular sutra that is widely accepted in most of the Buddhist temples, as this doctrine covers most of the key concepts in Buddhism, such as karma, Samsara, merit, filial piety and so on.