There are eight great Boddhisattvas or Ashta putras meaning eight holy sons in Mahayana Buddhism who are said to manifest the eight qualities of the Buddha. They are-
1. Avalokiteshwara who embodies compassion is the personification of Buddha’s compassion.
2. Akashagarbha who has the ability to purify transgressions is the personification of Buddha’s blessings.
3. Manjushri who embodies wisdom is the personification of Buddha’s wisdom.
4. Vajrapani who represents power is the personification of Buddha’s power or capacity.
5. Maitreya who embodies love is the personification of Buddha’s activity.
6. Kshithigarbha who increases the richness and fertility of the land is the personification of Buddha’s merit.
7. Sarvanivaranavishkambhin who purifies wrong doings and obstructions is the personification of Buddha’s qualities.
8. Samantabhadra who displays special expertise in making prayers of aspiration and offerings is the personification of Buddha’s aspirations.
Akashagarbha is a Boddhisattva who is associated with the element Akasha or space and his name signifies that his wisdom is as boundless as space. He is sometimes considered to be the twin of Kshitigarbha the Boddhisattva who is associated with the Earth element. He is generally depicted yellow in colour and holding a sword to cut through the destructive emotions. He is called Namkhai Nyingpo in Tibetan, Xu Kong Zang in Chinese and Kokuzo Bosatsu in Japanese.
Akashagarbha is likened to a wealthy man who distributes all his wealth to the poor and needy bringing him immense satisfaction. He personifies great wisdom and is the essence of ether. He is one of the thirteen deities of Shingon school of Buddhism in Japan. He is the patron of artisans and craftspeople and is the Boddhisattva of memory, good fortune and wisdom. He is the guardian of the people born in the Zodiac Year of The Ox and the tiger.
When a human being is born it is said to be perfect and natural and aligned to the Universe. As the child grows up due to conditioning by the environment his perception becomes limited and skewed. He develops an ego, has desires and is bound by body consciousness. Thus he begins to limit himself. The Alaya seeds in space are constantly moving and alive. The Alaya seeds in the body are dormant or asleep. When the Prajna Akashagarbha with its movements, mudras and visualisations are practised, the alaya seeds in the body gradually begin to awaken and begin to follow the alaya seeds in space according to the heartbeat of the universe and not at man’s own speed. This causes healing in man and awakens him to peace, calmness and wisdom.
There are two Sutras associated with Akashagarbha. They are-Akashagarbha Boddhisattva Sutra and Akashagarbha Boddhisattva Dharani Sutra.
The Akashagarbha mantra is said to dispel ignorance and gives rise to wisdom and creativity and is popularly chanted by Shingon Buddhists and Chinese Buddhists following esoteric practices and by other artists.
English translation of the Mantra-Homage to Akashagarbha Bodhisattva
Sanskrit Translation-Namo Akashagarbhaya Om Arya Kamari Mauli Svaha
Chinese translation-Namo Xukongsang Pusa
Vietnamese translation-Nam Mo Hu Khong Tang Bo Tat
Korean translation-Namu Heogongjang Bosal
It is said that Kukai(774-835) the Founder of the Japanese Buddhist Shingon Sect chanted a mantra of Akashagarbha and when he attained enlightenment in the early dawn, Akashagarbha appeared in the form of a morning star and pierced Kukai’s mouth. It was rigorous practice of the Mantra also called the Morning Star mantra that is said to have given him enlightenment. It is said that repetition of the Akashagarbha mantra along with the prescribed rituals within a certain time frame gives one the ability to understand and remember any text.
Akashagarbha was a Boddhisattva who are beings who come on Earth to help mankind relieve suffering and free humanity from earthly bondage and thus transcend the cycles of birth and death. Their compassion alleviates suffering on earth and brings peace and happiness.