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​Practicing Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva's Method

In addition to reciting the Ksitigarbha Sutra and participating in Dharma assemblies, what else can we do to practice Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva's method? The Buddha has taught us many easily accessible methods in the Ksitigarbha Sutra, including giving, making offerings, performing prostrations, chanting the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' names, painting Buddha, etc. However, it must not be Buddha's intent to see us merely participating in Dharma assemblies, counting how many times we recited the Ksitigarbha Sutra or the Buddha's name, or how much merit we gained from those practices. In the following passages, we are going to introduce practice methods such as alms-giving as well as compassion and earth contemplations, so that we can learn from Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva by letting go of ourselves, benefiting others, and assisting more sentient beings avoid suffering and attain happiness.

Alms-giving and making offerings

Alms-giving plays an important role in the Ksitigarbha Sutra. The sutra not only mentions a Brahmin girl and a bright-eyed girl making offerings and cultivating merit in order to rescue their mothers. In fact, it also mentions in the sixth chapter, "Praises from Tathagata", that, in the event that family members are bedridden, have nightmares of vicious spirits, or feel mentally and physically unsettled, we must use the patient's "treasured possessions" to make a large alms-giving, in addition to dedicating the merit gained from reciting scriptures. 

"Alms-giving is letting go." Ven. Guo Kae, the Director of Dharma Drum Mountain Sangha Education Department, explained that the consciousness of most dying people is dim, and unable to distinguish between good and evil. How can we — being so used to clinging and attachment and being preoccupied with our own interests throughout our entire life — not drift with the tide of karmic forces? Therefore, it is necessary to practice letting go in our daily life.

We can begin with abandoning our external possessions. Through the practice of being "neither attached to the desirable; nor dislike the undesirable," we can slowly decrease our attachment to the external circumstances, fame and fortune, and hobbies and habits, so that we can progressively liberate ourselves from the hindrance of desire, aversion, and ignorance. Thus, the act of giving is not just about giving up worldly possessions but, most importantly, to let go discrimination, illusory thoughts, and attachments in our mind.

In addition to abandoning worldly possessions, we can also practice the ultimate giving of Bodhisattva — Abhayadāna, the act of dispelling others' fears. "Having a facial expression with no aversion is a true act of offering; a speech without hostility emits pleasant fragrance from the mouth; a state of mind without hatred is a priceless treasure; the true reality is beyond Eternalism and Nihilism." When Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was mahā-śreṣṭhin, he saw the majestic appearances of the Buddha named Lion Sprint Complete in the Ten Thousand Practices Thus Come One. He was thus inspired to learn Buddhism and rescue all sentient beings. From this we can see that the practice of giving does not necessarily involve monetary donations. As long as we let people feel peaceful and joyful when they see and make contact with us, even a simple glance, smile, or chant of the Buddha's name can be a gift of Dharma for others.

Practicing the contemplation of compassion 

In the Ksitigarbha Sutra, the Buddha urged us to dedicate the merit we obtain, no matter how trivial, to all sentient beings of Dharmadhatu (realm of phenomena). But what if they are those we dislike or those who always pick on us? Can we still joyfully give them our blessings without discrimination, as does Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva?

As Master Sheng Yen taught in his book Subtle Wisdom, we can begin with "compassionate contemplation." The first stage of the method is to divide sentient beings into three groups: those who are beneficial to us, harmful to us, and neither beneficial nor harmful to us. The second stage is "contemplation on oneself". When we interact with others, we usually have two types of feelings: like and dislike. Why? Is it caused by others or by our ego? The third stage is to contemplate all of our interactions with others, and view each interaction as a contact of one individual with another. Whether it involves praise or rebuke, smiles or frowns, treat what we hear merely as an aural sensation and what we see merely a visual sensation, and do not make further discrimination. 

The fourth stage is "contemplation on sentient beings," with a focus on their sufferings. We suffer due to our ignorance. After all, we all experience the same sufferings, and, for this reason, are willing to be compassionate to one another. Lastly, as we return to the first stage with compassion, we will realize that our relationships with others have been subtly changed. As Master Sheng Yen noted: "When we alter our perspective of self, our capacity to accept others as they are grows. In doing so, we will no longer waste our energy on trying to protect ourselves and reject others. When our self-centeredness has completely dissolved, the perfect compassion will emerge."

Whenever we recite the Buddha's name, perform prostrations or make offerings, we can apply the compassionate contemplation by using Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva as a role model, vowing to help ourselves and all sentient beings to transform the self, thereby attaining liberation and leaving hindrances behind.

Contemplation on earth

"[Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is] patient and unmoving like the vast earth; meditating in deep contemplation like a secret store." As the Buddha acclaimed in the Dasacakra Ksitigarbha Sutra, the virtue of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is like the earth that nurtures all creatures, which not only accepts and accommodates the existence of all beings completely, but also nourishes everything.

In every moment of our life, whether we breathe, eat, drink, or clothe ourselves, we thrive upon the bosom of the earth. Thanks to the earth, the animals and plants are able to co-exist . Thầy Nhất Hạnh of Vietnam often urges people to "make contact with the earth," and completely entrust our body and mind to it by prostrating three or five times. Through the first prostration, we express our gratitude to our parents, our ancestors, the Buddha, and virtuous friends for passing on their wisdom, love, and experience to us, and for awakening us, thereby helping us uncover the treasure of compassion and wisdom.

Through the next prostration, we see our close connections with the environment and other species: "I am the deforested woodlands, and I am the polluted streams and air; I am also the one who fells the trees and contaminates rivers and air. I see myself in all other species, and also see them in myself." The last prostration reminds us that there is no such thing as an independent self, as we ourselves are the earth and a part of life. We then vow to pass on this perception to future generations.

"Can our mind resonate with that of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? It depends on how we perceive the earth in our daily lives and daily activities." Master Sheng Yen once said that as long as we are aware of the spirit that the earth represents, its kindness and virtue, as well as its functions, we will not harm the nature at will; instead, we will learn to cherish and appreciate it. Then, everyone and everything we see will become an object of gratitude.

Related articles:

Buddhist Scripture of Filial Piety: Ksitigarbha Sutra

​A Basic Introduction to the Ksitigarbha Sutra

​The Foundation of Attaining Buddhahood — Altruism

​Practicing Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva's Method

​Common Questions on the Practice of Ksitigarbha Sutra

Resource: Issue 372 of Humanity  Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: Sinag-ling Li (李祥苓)
Editing: Keith Brown, James