Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrva Praṇidhāna Sūtra, Chapter 4
Countless eons ago, there appeared a Buddha whose lifespan was 40 kalpas. His name was Pure-Lotus-Eyes Tathagata. During His Semblance Dharma period, there was an arhat who accepted offerings to let people accumulate merits and teach them the Dharma. One day, a lady named Bright-Eyes made a meal offering to him. Accepting the meal, the arhat asked her, “What can I do for you in return?”
Bright-Eyes replied, “Today is my mother’s death anniversary, and I would like to know where she is now.”
The arhat went into samadhi and saw Bright-Eyes’s mother under extreme suffering in a lower path. The arhat then asked Bright-Eyes, “What did your mother do while she was alive to deserve this lower path of extreme suffering?”
Bright-Eyes answered, “My mother loved eating fish and shellfish, especially the baby ones. She grilled, steamed, or fried them. She consumed thousands and thousands of them. Revered Master, how can I help her?”
The arhat took pity on her and replied, “You can be fully mindful of the Buddha Pure-Lotus-Eyes and carve or paint the Buddha image. If you do these, both those who are alive and those who have died will receive merits and blessings.”
Bright-Eyes followed the arhat’s advice. She gave up all her cherished belongings and soon drew a Buddha image and offered to the Buddha image. With utmost respect for the Buddha, she worshiped and prayed to Him.
That same night, Bright-Eyes dreamed of a magnificent golden glow-emitting Buddha appearing before her, a giant one, as huge as the mountain Sumeru. He informed her that her mother would soon be reborn in her household. Indeed, soon thereafter, a maid in her household gave birth to a baby boy, and the baby could already speak before he was 3 days old. He wept and said to Bright-Eyes, “I was your mother in the past, and thanks to you, I have come out of the dark hell, where I suffered much. Birth and death are based on one’s own karmic retributions. Due to my heavy negative karma, I was born into a slave family. In this life, I will live for only 13 years, and then I will return to the lower path. Do you know how to free me from all these sufferings?”
Bright-Eyes was sure the baby boy was her mother in the past as soon as she heard the baby ’s words. She wept and asked, “You must know what you did to find yourself in the lower path?”
The slave baby boy answered, “I killed, insulted, slandered, and hurt others. The karmic consequences of my past deeds brought me to the lower path. Owing to the retributions, I will still suffer greatly and can’t free myself.”
Bright-Eyes asked again, “What happens in hell when beings undergo retribution for their sins and offenses?”
The baby boy answered, “Even if I were to live hundreds and thousands of years, I would not be able to divulge all the details of the extreme sufferings one undergoes in hell!”
Upon hearing what the baby boy had said, Bright-Eyes cried again and howled to the sky, “I vow to free my mother from hell forever! At the end of her 13-year life, she will have been done with her karmic retributions and will never have to undergo any of the evil paths again! O, Buddhas of the ten directions with compassion and sympathy, please hear the vow I am making for my mother!”
Bright-Eyes added, “If my mother will never fall into the three evil paths, will never be reborn into a servile class family, and will never be born as a woman, I hereby vow in front of the image of Pure-Lotus-Eyes Tathagata that from this day onward and throughout millions of billions of eons, I will go on relieving and rescuing all those who will undergo suffering for their severe offenses so that they will be liberated from the three evil paths and ultimately become Buddhas. Having accomplished that, I will then attain Buddhahood.”
After making her vows, Bright-Eyes heard Tathagata Pure-Lotus-Eyes say, “Bright-Eyes, the great vow of compassion and sympathy you are making is so touching and merciful! I foresee that after your mother’s death at 13, she will be born as a Brahman with a lifespan of 100 years. When her life is done, she will be born in the Land of No Sorrow, with a lifespan of incalculable eons. Later, she will attain the ultimate fruition of Buddhahood to help immeasurable numbers of people and heavenly beings, as many as the Ganges’s sands.”
The Buddha thus concluded that Bright-Eyes was Boddhisattva Ksitigarbha, the great arhat was the Inexhaustible-Intention Bodhisattva, and the mother would become the Boddhisattva of Liberation.
The principle of cause and effect is inescapable. We can understand that a great vow has an enormous scope and that the motivation for it is of paramount importance.