|Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva vowed that as long as there was still one suffering soul in hell, he would not attain buddhahood. Since there are always many souls in hell, Ksitigarbha has a lot of work to do! However, because of his great compassion, the bodhisattva still vowed to save them all. He does not want to see people being punished in hell and then committing still more crimes in their next lives. In addition to suffering souls in hell, the bodhisattva also helps living beings in other realms: humans, celestial beings, asuras, hungry ghosts, and animals and insects. He hopes that by teaching all these creatures, he will be able to stop them from committing more crimes, and thus help them to end their constant suffering.
The standing posture of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is particularly popular in Japan where he is known as Jizo Bosatsu. It represents the readiness of Jizo to respond immediately to the calls of help made by those who have faith in his saving powers. He is usually portrayed holding a lotus flower in his left hand and forming a gesture of courage with his right hand. Other well-known images show his left hand holding a precious jewel while the right hand either forms a gesture of granting wishes or holds a Buddhist staff. In these cases, the jewel symbolizes the treasure of another world. He is ever ready to force open the gates of Hell with the staff and to dispel the darkness of the infernal realm with his luminous gem. In addition, another popular depiction of him is in this standing with his left hand holding an alms bowl against his navel, while his right hand forms the mudra (hand-sign) of “giving consolation and peace to all living beings”.
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is one of the four principal bodhisattvas in Oriental Mahayana Buddhism. The others are Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Manjusri Bodhisattva, and Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. He is also known as Earth Store Bodhisattva or Ti Tsang Bodhisattva in China, Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit, and Jizo Bosatsu in Japan.
Ksitigarbha is an extremely popular Bodhisattva among the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists. ‘Ti Tsang’, meaning ‘Earth-Store’ is a direct translation of the Bodhisattva’s name KSITIGARBHA in Sanskrit. Among the countless Bodhisattvas in the universe, he and three others have firmly captured the hearts of the Mahayanists. In Japan, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, known as Jizo, or Ojizo-sama as he is respectfully known, is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, the tendency developed in which he was worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses.
In some areas, the admixture of traditional religions has led to Ksitigarbha being also regarded as a Taoist deity. For example, in Taiwan, followers of Buddhism, Taoism or folk religion can be found venerating Ksitigarbha, 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.
In one of his incarnation, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was the ruler of a small kingdom. He and the king of a neighboring realm were good friends, as well as good and righteous kings. However, some of their citizens still committed all kinds of crimes. So one day, these two kings got together and decided to help their people. One vowed to attain buddhahood as soon as possible so that he could save these poor people. The other king vowed to save these poor people first, and then he would be willing to attain buddhahood only after all his people had done so. The latter king was the one we know today as Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.
There are two places seen as the Pure Lands of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. The one in India is called as Kharadiya Mountain which is situated near the ancient city of Gaya, ninety-six kilometers southwest of modern Patna. The other one is at Chiuhua Mountain, one of the four most famous mountains in China. It is situated in Anhui Province of eastern China. It is one of the four great Buddhist mountains of China and at one time housed more than 300 temples. Today, 95 of these are open to the public. The mountain is a popular destination for pilgrims offering dedications to Ksitigabha.
The Buddha once gave a lecture about Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva on this mountain. Just before he began to speak, all sorts of astounding things happened – clouds made fantastic formations around the mountain, and the people in the audience saw themselves decorated with flowers, jewels, and other ornaments. The radiance of the jewels shone in every direction to the Pure Lands of other buddhas. Then, the Buddha told the people why all this was happening.
A Korean monk named Chin Chao-chueh once lived there with his white dog. It is said that during the day Chin gave lectures on Buddhism to his disciples and lay followers, but at night he also taught ghosts and suffering souls in hell. Therefore, people believed that Chin was a transformation of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, and they built a temple on the mountain to commemorate him after he died. Chiuhua Mountain thus became this bodhisattva’s Pure Land in China.
Whenever you have the urge to pray to Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva for any help, focus at his picture intently for a few seconds as you silently recite, “NAMO TI TSANG WANG PUSA, NAMO TI TSANG WANG PUSA” before closing your eyes to visualise him. He is very responsive to sincere prayers of faith and he may yet grant you your wish, if it is not too unselfish or unreasonable. All may pray to him with this simple invocation and, who knows, your past karmic links with him may yet make you into another ardent Ksitigarbha devotee again in this lifetime.