The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva《佛说地藏菩萨经》Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s Link With Āmítuófó 地藏菩萨与阿弥陀佛的关系

[The] Sūtra [In Which The] Buddha Speaks [Of] Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva
(Dùnhuáng Treasury Version)


Then, Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, who was abiding in the southern direction’s world of lapis lazuli, with his pure heavenly eye, observed the hells’ suffering beings, [suffering from] metal pounding, metal grinding, metal ploughing, metal sawing and dismembering, in cauldrons overflowing from boiling, with fierce fires reaching the sky, swallowing hot metal balls when hungry, drinking molten bronze when thirsty, experiencing all suffering and afflictions without rest.


Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, who cannot bear seeing this [suffering], immediately, from the southern direction, came into the hells [here]. With King Yama together at one place, [but] seated apart, for four kinds of causes and conditions. First, fearing that King Yama’s convictions of misgivings are not believed [by the guilty, or ‘cannot be believed due to misjudgement’]. Second, fearing that official [karmic] documents are mixed up [or criss-crossed, thus leading to misjudgements]. Third, [fearing that] some are ought not to have died. Fourth, for those who have received retribution [for their misgivings], who are exiting by the side of the pool(s) of the hells.


If [there] are good men [and] good women, who create Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s images, write this Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra, and are mindful [of] Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s name [with Faith and Aspiration], these persons [will] definitely attain rebirth [in the] Western [Pure] Land [Of] Ultimate Bliss [of Amitā(bha) Buddha], from one Buddha Land, [able to] reach [another] one Buddha Land, from one heaven, [able to] reach [another] one heaven.


If there are those who create Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s images, write this Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra, and are mindful of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s name, these persons will definitely attain rebirth in the Western [Pure] Land Of Ultimate Bliss. These persons, [on the] days [they] renounce [their] lives, [will have] Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva personally come [to] welcome [them, and] always [be] able [to be] with Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva together [in] one place.


Hearing what the Buddha thus said, all rejoiced greatly, received this with faith, and practised accordingly.


[1] Out of great compassion, Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva is constantly looking out for beings in suffering, for wherever help is needed and possible to offer. This naturally includes the hells, where there is the most suffering. He is also with King Yama (a wrathful Dharmapāla deva; Dharma-protector god) to support his work of meting out justice. With King Yama together at one place, which represents their like-mindedness in wanting to serve justice, he is however seated apart, which represents Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s objectivity.

[2] Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva is in the hells to help ensure that the guilty realise their mistakes, to offer second opinions in case judgements and karmic records are muddled up, to ensure those who reached the hells are karmically there at the right time, as some might die in untimely ways, who karmically should resurrect to their previous lives, thus escaping the hells (for good later, if they make amends in time). He also receives and guides those departing from the hells, so as to ensure they are reborn accordingly, with appropriate parting advice where possible.

[3] These deeds above do not limit his boundless skilful means in the hells. For example, he also encourages those with the appropriate conditions to be mindful of Amitābha Buddha (Āmítuófó), so as to swiftly create great merits (to dilute the effects of negative karma) and connect to the Other-power of a Buddha to leave the hells. However, it is very difficult for the very evil who have weak good roots to practise this well. (The more reluctant one is to practise mindfulness of Buddha well in the human realm, the harder it will be to do so if one reaches the hells. See to check if your Faith, Aspiration and Practice are resolute enough, and for the story of ‘The Boy Who Lacked Good Roots’.)

[4] It is interesting that Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva is sometimes mistaken as King Yama in Chinese culture. In a way, since he aids King Yama in his work, he is as if an extension of King Yama, and can override King Yama’s role in authority too. In this sense, King Yama’s final decisions and actions are ultimately bodhisattvic in nature, to admonish the evil and to awaken repentance in them. Judgements in the hells will always be karmically fair and accurate – as manifestations of the natural processing of karma.

[5] Even when there seems to be some ‘unfairness’ or ‘misjudgements’ along the way, they are still natural karmic processes in function, unfolding and ironing out themselves, with lessons to learn for the guilty. Such is the case for ‘unfair’ sentences in the human world too, which can be appealed against, just as Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva can change the mind of King Yama. Appeals fail only when one is truly guilty in one way or another. In the larger picture, everything turns out fair. If karma can process itself naturally, is there a need for the roles of King Yama and Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, in helping to ensure there is justice? Ultimately, no. However, just as it is useful to have good human judges in our world to serve as living moral examples and purveyors of justice, their compassionate and educational presence makes a lot of sense.

[6] Perhaps not all hell-beings get to encounter King Yama and Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, as there are non-Buddhist recollections of hell experiences (if they are true accounts) without mention of them. Perhaps the presence of the two can be seen as skilful manifestations by beings of great compassion, only perceived by those who have the karmic affinity to receive their teachings of both gentle and tough love, as exemplified by Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva and King Yama respectively? Of course, with or without King Yama and Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, life in the hells, being a realm manifested and sustained naturally by karma, goes on.

[7] If King Yama is, as described in the sūtras, an actual being, could the demonic hell guards be ‘actual’ too? Or are they merely manifestations from hell-beings’ guilty minds? It is possible both ways. They can be karmically manifested from hell-beings’ minds and/or be ‘actual’ beings, also experienced karmically. Usually, they are taught as the first, to emphasise the primary cause for their appearance being karmic, of hell-beings’ own making. Hell guards being ‘actual’ is only possible when they are enlightened beings manifesting to teach hell-beings via the wrathful way, because the suffering in the hells is so intense for hell-beings that no ordinary beings there would be urged to cause ‘more’ suffering. In this sense, any ‘actual’ hell guards must be very special. They must be ‘above the law’, as in not being able to suffer themselves, and not being able to create any negative karma, as there is nowhere worse to go to as a negative karmic result of inflicting great suffering upon others. However, when we speak of ‘hell in our world’, such as during a World War, there can be actual torturers, who are also experienced karmically through their victims, although the torturers definitely create negative karma if their intention is to truly harm.

[8] The mindful and thus meritorious practice of creating Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s images, copying of this sūtra, and/or mindfulness of his name enables one to reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land if the process of doing so includes the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice. (See for details.) Of the above practices, mindfulness of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s name is the easiest, and the guidelines for doing so are the same as those when practising mindfulness of Āmítuófó’s name, including on the deathbed, which is crucial for connecting to Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, to be received by him, to be directed to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. Upon reaching Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, as empowered by Āmítuófó’s vows, one will be able to access other Pure Lands, heavens and any other realms to accumulate wisdom and merits, and practise compassion.

[9] This sūtra about Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, ‘The Sūtra in which the Buddha Speaks of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’ (佛说地藏菩萨经), is very concise, in comparison to ‘The Sūtra of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s Original Vows’ (地藏菩萨本愿经), which is much lengthier. However, despite its brevity, it doubly focuses (i.e. repeats) on how Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva vows to personally guide beings to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land by default. This is in contrast to the longer sūtra which teaches the benefits of mindfulness of ten Buddhas in general, without clear focus on a specific one. (Note that the specific Buddha or Bodhisattva one is sincerely mindful of will manifest to guide by corresponding cause and effect when dying.) All great Bodhisattvas will guide beings to be reborn in the Pure Lands these beings choose. For beings unsure of which Buddha or Bodhisattva to be mindful of, and which Pure Land to go, mindfulness of Āmítuófó is recommended directly by default, as his Pure Land is universally recommended by all Buddhas and great Bodhisattvas.

[10] It should no longer be mistaken that Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s good works are confined to guiding beings in the hells, as they extend to guiding beings to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land too. (He guides beings to avoid and leave the hells; not to reach there, and the point furthest and safest from the hells is Pure Land.) In fact, as stated in the sūtra, he also manifests in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land to always accompany and guide beings to Buddhahood. This is after all, the complete scope of perfect compassion, the guiding of beings at every level – from the ‘worst’ to the ‘best’. As Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva personifies perfect Vows (Aspirations) in Buddhism, and was entrusted and empowered by Śākyamuni Buddha to guide beings in our world to enlightenment, (at least) before the arrival of Maitreya Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha, his choice of guiding beings here (and in the hells) to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land also represents it being the most skilful choice for us, both due to its excellence and our great affinity with it.

[11] There is an account of a man who felt closer to Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, who requested that the longer sūtra above be chanted to aid his smooth passing, instead of the relatively more popular Amitābha Sūtra with the name of Āmítuófó. However, amazingly, after his confirmed passing, a single recital of ‘Námó Āmítuófó’ was heard from his deceased body left alone in his room. What could had happened is that the deceased managed to connect to Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, who appears and teaches him to be mindful of Āmítuófó with the Three Provisions, to be born in his Pure Land. Such redirection is surely aligned to the teaching in this sūtra!

[12] The default and best ‘one place’ mentioned in the line – ‘always [be] able [to be] with Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva together [in] one place’ (常得与地藏菩萨共同一处) is Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, as it is the easiest Pure Land for him to guide to, and to be further guided by him. This calls to mind this line in the Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》- ‘To attain being with all such superior good persons, together meeting in one place’ (得与如是诸上善人,俱会一处), with this ‘one place’ also being Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. The Bodhisattva is one of these ‘superior good persons’, as a Great Bodhisattva. From the low hells to realms above, he has countless manifestations in many realms, wherever it is possible to guide beings towards Buddhahood, including via and in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. With their great compassion, all Great Bodhisattvas do this, so as to maximise their outreach to as many beings as possible.

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

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