At the pre-Tang Dynasty grottos in Dunhuang and Longmen, he is depicted in classical bodhisattva shape. After the Tang Dynasty, he became increasingly depicted as a monk, carrying rosaries and a staff.
His full name in Chinese script is or the Bodhisattva King Dizang of the Great Vow, pronounced as Dayuan Dizang Pusa in Mandarin Chinese, Daigan Jizo Bosatsu in Japanese.
This is a reference to his pledge, as recorded in the sutras, to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in six worlds, in the era between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya Buddha. Because of this important role, shrines to often occupy a central role in any Oriental Mahayana temples.
In some areas, the admixture of traditional religions has led to being also regarded as a Taoist deity, albeit his duties differ to what Ksitigarbha does. For example, in Taiwan, followers of Buddhism, Taoism or folk religion can be found venerating , where he is often appealed to for protection against earthquakes. There, and in Hong Kong and among Overseas Chinese communities, his images are usually found in the memorial halls of Buddhist and Taoist temples.
Jizō statues are sometimes accompanied by a little pile of stones and pebbles, put there by people in the hope that it would shorten the time children have to suffer in the underworld (the act is derived from the tradition of building stupas as an act of merit-making). The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Jizō for saving their children from a serious illness. Jizō's features are also commonly made more babylike in order to resemble the children he protects.
As he is seen as the saviour of souls who have to suffer in the underworld, his statues are common in cemeteries. He is also believed to be the protective deity of travellers, and roadside statues of Jizō are a common sight in Japan. Firefighters are also believed to be under the protection of Jizō.
The story of is described in the Sutra of The Great Vows of Bodhisattva, one of the most popular Mahayana Buddhist sutras. This sutra is said to have been spoken by the Buddha towards the end of his life to the beings of the Heaven as a mark of gratitude and remembrance for his beloved mother, Māyādevī. It stated that practiced filial piety as a mortal, which eventually led to making great vows to save all sentient beings.
To save her from the great tortures of hell, the young girl sold whatever she had and used the money to buy offerings which she offered daily to the Buddha of her time, known as The Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment. She made fervent prayers that her mother be spared of the pains of hell and appealed to the Buddha for help.
One day at the temple, while she was pleading for help, she heard the voice of the Buddha advising her to go home immediately and there to sit down and recite his name if she wanted to know where her mother was. She did as she was told and while doing so, her consciousness was transported to a Hell Realm where she met a guardian who informed her that through her fervent prayers and pious offerings, her mother had accumulated much merit and therefore, she had already been released from hell and ascended to heaven. She was greatly relieved and should have been extremely happy, but the sight of the great suffering she had witnessed in Hell so touched her tender heart that she made a vow to do her very best to relieve beings of their suffering forever in her future lives of kalpas to come.
In the Eastern Han dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Ming, Buddhism started to flourish, reaching its peak in the era of the Tang Dynasty, eventually spreading to Japan and Korea. At the time, monks and scholars arrived from those countries to seek the Dharma in China. One of these pilgrims was a former prince of Korea, which was at the time divided into three countries (Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje). The monk, whose Korean romanization was Kim Kiaokak (Ch: Jin Qiaojue(金喬覺)) was a prince from Silla who became a monastic under the name of Earth Store (Also called Jijang, the Korean pronunciation of Dizang). He came to the region of Anhui to Mount Jiuhua. After ascending, he decided to build a hut in a deep mountain area so that he may be able to cultivate.
According to records, the monk was bitten by a poisonous snake, but did not move, thus letting the snake go. A woman happened to pass by and gave the monk medicines to cure him of the venom, as well as a spring on her son's behalf. For a few years, the monk continued to meditate in his hut, until one day, a scholar named Chu-Ke led a group of friends and family to visit the mountain. Noticing the monk meditating in the hut, they went and took a look at his condition. They had noticed that the monk's bowl did not contain any food, and that his hair had grown back.
Feeling pity on the monk, Scholar Chu decided to build a temple as an offering to the monk. The whole group descended the mountain immediately to discuss plans to build the temple. Mount Jiuhua was also property of a wealthy person named the elder Wen-Ke, who obliged to build a temple on his mountain. Therefore, Wen-Ke and the group ascended the mountain once more and asked the monk how much land he needed.
The monk replied that he needed a piece of land that could be covered fully by his kasaya. Bewildered that a piece of sash could not be enough land to build a temple, the monk surprised them as he threw the kasaya in the air, and the robe expanded in size, covering the entire mountain! Elder Wen-Ke had then decided to renounce the entire mountain to the monk, and became the monk's protector. Sometime later, Wen-Ke's son also left the home life to start his life as a monk.
The monk lived in Mount Jiuhua for seventy five years before passing away at the age of ninety-nine. Three years after his nirvana, his tomb was opened, only to reveal that the body had not decayed. Because the monk led his wayplace with much difficulty, most people had the intuition to believe that he was indeed the transformation body of .
Monk Jijang's well-preserved, dehydrated body may still be viewed today at the monastery he built on Mount Jiuhua.
In Japan, is almost always depicted in a standing position; the posture of the adjacent picture is rather unusual.
Like other Bodhisattvas, usually is seen standing upon a lotus base, symbolizing his release from the karmic wheel of rebirth. 's face and head are also idealized, featuring the third eye, elongated ears and the other standard attributes of an enlightened being.
The Narihira Santosen Temple in Katsushika, Tokyo contains the "Bound Jizo" of Ōoka Tadasuke fame, dating from the Edo Period. When petitions are requested before the Jizō, the petitioner ties a rope about the statue. When the wish is granted, the petitioner unties the rope. At the new year, the ropes of the ungranted wishes are cut by the temple priest. The vandalism of a Jizo statue is the theme of the J-Horror movie Shibuya Kaidan.
In the story this pious and compassionate monk descends to Hell to give teach & comfort the suffering hell-beings there. He also learns how the hell-beings are punished according to their sins in the different hells.
The Following Mantra is Associated with Ksitigarbha:
In Japanese Shingon Buddhism, a mantra used in public religious services is:on kaka kabi sanmaei sowaka
- Jizo Bodhisattva - Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhism
- Jizo Bodhisattva: modern healing and traditional Buddhist practice (ISBN 0-8048-3189-0)
- Dizang text from Dunhuang
- The Earth Store (Treasury) Sutra is a text on Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
- The Earth Store Sutra with commentary
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