Boddhisattvas are beings who commit themselves to wanting to help other sentient beings with their readiness to undergo any suffering for the benefit of others. They are not themselves Superior Gods but ordinary beings who through millions of years of spiritual practices have attained an exalted state of realisation thus are shining examples of man’s highest potential.
Meaning and Origin
The meaning of Ksitigarbha is ‘one who encompasses the earth’ or ‘Earth Store’ or ‘Earth Womb’. The earth signifies stability, hardness, vastness, stillness and versatility. It is a representation of the mind where all thoughts grow. Store represents immeasurable treasures which are deep, subtle and profound.
Kshitigarbha Boddhisattva is referred to as the Boddhisattva of Hell beings as he is said to have vowed not to achieve Buddhahood until ‘all Hells are empty’ implying all beings became pure. He is the master of the six Paths namely Hell, Ghost, Animal, Man, Asura and Deva. His aim is to free any being from suffering irrespective of whatever crime or karma he has committed.
Kshitigarbha is represented by many symbols and images. He holds a pilgrim staff to force open the gates of hell and a Chintamani(wish fulfilling jewel) to light up the darkness and in some pictures is surrounded by the ten Kings of Hell. He appears in different transformations depending on which realm he is in.
In more traditional statues, the staff of Kshitigarbha carries six rings, each ring representing Buddha’s Perfections namely patience, kindness, persistence, morality, insight and attention. As he travels the rings are said to jingle thereby sending the sounds of these Perfections throughout the Universe.
He is the only Boddhisattva to be portrayed as a monk with shaven head, no royal attire and no adornments.
He is referred to as Dayuan Dizang Pusa in China and the Jinhua Mountain in Anhui is considered to be Kshitigarbha’s seat which is a popular pilgrimage centre for the Chinese.
His birthday falls on 30th day of the 7th moon of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
He is referred to as Jizo Bosatsu or Ojizo Sama in Japan and is one of the most loved and revered deities. His statues are common even in roadsides and said to protect travellers and are also found in graveyards. He is worshipped as the guardian of children, particularly souls of miscarried, stillborn and aborted foetuses. In Japanese mythology it is said that these souls have made their parents suffer and have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and so are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to afterlife. He specially protects these souls and saves them and this is represented by stones and pebbles which are put near his statue by their loved ones. Sometimes the statues are also found with bibs, toys, scarves and other children’s clothes as offerings by grieving parents. The statues are revered even when children make a recovery from a serious illness. He is also the protector of firefighters.
In Other Countries
Kshitigarbha is referred to as Jijang Bosal in Korea, in Tibet as Sa Yi Snying Po and in Vietnam as Dia Tang.
The Kshitigarbha sutra is said to have been revealed by Buddha to the beings of Trayastrimsa Heaven towards the end of his life as a mark of remembrance and gratitude for his beloved mother Mayadevi.This sutra reveals the methods to follow the Buddhist teachings and explains the merits and virtues of Kshitigarbha Boddhisattva. It concerns Karma and its workings graphically describing the consequences created by undesirable actions. It also helps beings to avoid making mistakes in the future which will cause untold suffering. The Sutra deals with filial responsibility which not only implies ones immediate family but towards all living beings who are part of one large family in the universe.
In the Kshitigarbha Sutra the Buddha states that eons ago Kshitigarbha was a Brahmin maiden named Sacred Girl who was deeply troubled for her mother’s soul when she died as she had slandered ‘The Triple Gem’ namely Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. She sold whatever she had and used the money to buy offerings with which she worshipped Buddha daily to save her mother from hell. One day in her prayers in the temple she heard the Buddha tell her to go home and sit down and recite his name. On doing as she was told she found herself transported to the Hell Realm where the guardian told her that her mother had acquired much merit due to her daughter’s fervent prayers and had already ascended to heaven. Sacred Girl was overjoyed but witnessing the sufferings of all the other beings in hell she vowed to do her best to relieve them in all her future lives for Kalpas.
The mantra for prayer to Kshitigarbha is’ Om(or Namo) Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva’.
The mantra for eliminating fixed Karma is ‘Om Pramardane Svaha’.
The mantra of Kshitigarbha from the Treasury of Mantras section of the Mahavairochana Sutra is ‘Namah Samantabuddhanam, Hahaha,Sutanu Svaha’ and ‘Om Hahaha Vismaye Svaha’.
Kshitigarbha is the embodiment of compassion, supreme spiritual optimism and universal salvation. He is the protector of the Underworld and has the power to intercede with the Buddha on behalf of those who have prayed to him. His great vow of not attaining Buddhahood until all sentient beings have transcended suffering and attain perfection indicates the depth of his mercy and such Great Beings are born only to liberate mankind and redeem them from the cycles of birth and death.