The Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva
As long as any hell is not empty, he will refrain from reaching full awakening. If ever all the hells are empty, he will become a full-awakened being—a Buddha. Consider how vast the scope of that vow is! Earth Store Bodhisattva said:
I will be in the hells to receive and guide all the hungry ghosts. For each day that they have not been lead from suffering to bliss, for one more day I will hold off on Buddhahood. The hungry ghosts in the hells must completely gain deliverance, leave suffering, and attain bliss, and then I will become a Buddha.
Let’s think that over. The karma sentient beings create is endless, so are their afflictions. Then how could the hells ever come to an end? Only if sentient beings’ afflictions were ended and their karmic obstruction cleared would the hells then be empty. Yet, for ordinary beings, karmic obstructions cannot be eradicated and afflictions cannot be ended, so how could the hells ever be empty?
From the standpoint of contemporary scientists and philosophers, wouldn’t the vows which Earth Store Bodhisattva made—the power of his vows—be considered the dumbest of conduct and notions? Why do I say “the dumbest of conduct and notions?” He made a resolve and put it into action, but the action he has chosen appears to be quite foolish because it cannot be done. Fundamentally, the hells can never be empty, which means that Earth Store Bodhisattva stands no chance to ever become a Buddha, right? Not right. In fact, far from being a dumb notion put into practice, it is a most compassionate and most filial sort of notion and practice.
Why do I say it is an extremely filial concept and practice? Earth Store Bodhisattva perceived in his contemplation that his mother had fallen into the hells where she was undergoing great sufferings, and he asked the Buddha to help rescue his mother. Who is Earth Store Bodhisattva, really? He is the Venerable Mahamagayayana, and he serves as a Bodhisattva in the hells. Why would he want to do that? He felt the pain that his mother underwent in the hells, and reflected on the issue of ‘extending filiality for one’s elders to others’ elders.’ His thought was: If my mother went through such sufferings, others’ mothers could also be put through similar sufferings. His is an unprejudiced filial conduct that is extended equally to all. He hopes to rescue all beings from the hells and guide them from suffering to bliss. That is what Earth Store Bodhisattva’s vows are about. No amount of words can fully describe the extent of his vow-power.