Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra

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Chinese Buddhist bhikkhus and laypersons in Taiwan reciting the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra

The Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra (Sanskrit; Chinese: 地藏菩薩本願經) or Kṣitigarbhasūtra is a Mahāyāna sūtra teaching about the bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha and is one of the more popular sūtras in Chinese Buddhism. The longer form of its name translates as Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha. The sutra tells of how Kṣitigarbha became a bodhisattva by making great vows to rescue other sentient beings and a description of how he displayed filial piety in his past lifetimes. The sutra also expounds at length the retributions of unwholesome karma, descriptions of Buddhist hells and the benefits of good merit both great and small.


Statue of Kṣitigarbha in Taiwan

The Kṣitigarbhasūtra was first translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the 7th century during the Tang dynasty by the Tripiṭaka master Śikṣānanda, a monk from Khotan who also provided a new translation of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. (Buswell & Lopez 2013, p. 448)

Some scholars suspected that instead of being translated, this text may have originated in China since no Sanskrit manuscripts of this text have been found.(Buswell 1990, p. 178) Part of the reason for suspicion is that the text advocates filial piety, which was stereotypically associated with Chinese culture. Since then, other scholars such as Gregory Schopen have pointed out that Indian Buddhism also had traditions of filial piety. (Schopen 1984) Currently there is no clear evidence indicating either an Indian or Chinese origin for the text.


There are a total of thirteen chapters in the Kṣitigarbhasūtra, which are divided into three sections. The teaching is presented in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and Kṣitigarbha and takes place in the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, located on the top of Mount Meru, in front of a vast multitude of sentient beings. It includes tales of Kṣitigarbha's skill at freeing beings from the hells and instructions on dealing with the dying and the dead. (Buswell & Lopez 2013, p. 448-9)

This sutra is fundamentally a teaching concerning karmic retribution, graphically describing the consequences one creates for oneself by committing undesirable actions. This sutra also deals with filial piety – not only that between oneself and one's parents, but also in an ultimate sense of a universal code of duty or responsibility for all living beings. In Chapter Ten, for example, the Buddha frequently mentions the benefits of dedicating any good merit done to all sentient beings: "Moreover, if they should be able to dedicate rewards thus gained for the benefit of the entire Dharmadhatu, then their bliss will defy comparison." (Shih 2001, p. 68)