In Japanese Buddhism, Jizo Bosatsu, or O-Jizo-Sama as he is respectfully addressed; is one of the most loved and venerated deities in all of Japan. He is the guardian of the deceased children, the protector of travelers, the expectant mothers, the firemen and the pilgrims.
Jizo is the only Bosatsu that is depicted as a monk, who is sometimes seen with a halo surrounding his shaved head. He is dressed in simple kesa (monk’s robes), and comes without any embellishment. He is oftentimes seen holding a shakujo (six-ring staff) and hojunotama (wish-granting gem). Jizo figures are often seen in gardens, cemeteries, temples and roadsides.
“Only after the hells are empty will I become a Buddha.”
The word Bosatsu (or Bodhisattva in Sanskrit) in Buddhism refers to the penultimate state before reaching Buddhahood. They are oftentimes referred to as the ‘Compassionate Ones’, as compassion is the paramount characteristic of a Bosatsu. Bosatsus are those who have sought for enlightenment and have achieved the absolute stage of transmigration. Bosatsus like Jizo, are bound to attain Buddhahood and Nirvana (full awakening). However, they renounce such state and have instead vowed to remain on earth in different lifetimes (reincarnation) in order to help all beings achieve salvation.
O-Jizo-Sama has vowed to stay with the living and continue doing good works. He stayed to help and instruct all those beings trapped in the six realms of suffering, particularly for the souls of all those enduring the judgment of the Ten Kings of Hell. He vowed to unceasingly fulfill this promise despite the eons from the death of Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha) to the rise of Miroku Bosatsu (Buddha of the Future).
As a Bosatsu
In Japanese Buddhism, Jizo is venerated as the guardian of the deceased children, the unborn, the miscarried, the stillborn and the aborted. In his many manifestations in all his lifetimes, Jizo appears light and is as a friend to all, especially to the young ones.
One of the legends in Japanese Buddhism, the Sai No Kawara Mythology says that these deceased children were sent to the underworld as punishment for bringing sorrow and pain to their parents. This underworld is known as Sai No
Kawara – a purgatory, wherein these children pray for the salvation of their souls. This is where the soul undergoes trial by the Ten Kings of Hell. Under the first judge, Shinko-o, the souls of the innocent are allowed to walk across the bridge in to cross the River Sanzu (River Styx in the West). The guilty however, must swim across the deep water. In the legend, these wandering souls are told by the evil Datsueba to build a pile of pebbles and stones to help them cross. The demons however, knock their piles off before it could reach any height.
O-Jizo-Sama, protects the souls of the departed children in their journey to afterlife. He hides them in the wide sleeves of his robe as protection from demons. That is why mourning parents in the Japanese countryside offer toys and children’s clothing to Jizo statues in faith and prayers that O-Jizo-Sama may save their children.
Veneration of Jizo
In olden times, the Hindu Goddess Prthivi has described Jizo to be the most beneficial Bosatsu to all those who revered him. She said that all those who built places of worship for Jizo and place his image in it, unceasingly venerate and offer prayers to him shall gain benefits.
Most importantly, Prthivi has vowed to protect all of Jizo’s devotees with all of her heavenly powers. In answer to this, the Buddha has affirmed that all those who venerates Jizo will earn Prthivi’s blessings as well.
These benefits are:
- Fertile lands
- Harmonious family
- Rebirth of deceased ancestors in the heavens
- Longer life
- Answered prayers
- Deliverance from flood and fire
- Liberty from fruitless beginnings
- End of bad dreams
- Protection by guardian deities
- Holy interventions
In another account, the Shakyamuni Buddha also said that all creatures who have heard of Jizo’s name and thereafter worship him will also gain the following:
- Freedom from bad karma
- Ascension to the divine stages of advancement
- Protection by all the Buddhas
- Freedom from all the hindrances along the Bodhi path
- Stronger will to do good
- Ability to recall experiences in all their past lives
- Eventual attainment of Buddhahood