Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Jizo Bodhisattva - Guardian of Children, Travelers & Other Voyagers

This book, written by American Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays, provides an informative overview of the history of Jizo Bodhisattva. For those who are familiar with or live in Japan, you probably have heard of Jizo Bodhisattva and you probably have seen many Jizo statues. It is a common sight in Japan.

I also had heard of Jizo but I did not know too much about what Jizo was or signifies. This book provided a good overview from a Zen Buddhist's perspective. The book also provided good information about some of the basic beliefs of Buddhism such as rebirth and the various realms such as the Hell realms.

Here are some of the interesting things I learned from this book.

A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who vows not to enter nirvana, but instead works to free all others who suffer. Jizo's two most important vows are: "Only after the Hells are empty will I become a Buddha" and "Only after all beings are taken across to Enlightenment will I myself realize Bodhi."

Jizo is known to be the protector of children and travelers. You sometimes will see Jizo statues along roads or highways. At temples or cemetaries, a Jizo statue may be seen holding a child.

Statues of six Jizo's are often found at the entrance to cemetaries. The six Jizo's represent the division of Jizo into six bodies, one to help suffering beings in each of the six realms. The six realms are the Hells, Hungry Ghosts, the Animal Realm, Human Realm, the Realm of the Asuras, and the Realm of the Gods.

There are actually many forms of Jizo. Below are some of them:

Emmei or Enmei Jizo - Jizo who prolongs life and provides benefits including watching over children and curing illness
Hara Obi Jizo - Stomach-wrapper Jizo who protects women during pregnancy
Hikeshi Jizo - Protects houses and harvests from fire
Indo Jizo - Saves humans after death and leads them to enlightenment
Meyame Jizo - Restores eyesight
Taue Jizo - Helps farmers plant rice
Mizuko Jizo - Water-Baby Jizo

There are many other Jizo's besides these above.

The popular Mizuko Jizo or Water-Baby Jizo is often portrayed as a monk with an infant in his arms and another child or two at his feet. In Japan, a ceremony called a Mizuko Kuyo is performed for grieving parents who have lost an infant either before birth or within the first few years of life. The Mizuko Jizo is a more recent creation. This Jizo and the Mizuko Kuyo ceremony arose in Japan in the 1960's.

The Jizo that is the special protector of Children arose during the medieval times in Japan. According to Japanese Buddhist beliefs, young children who have died are innocent souls who are unable to understand the teachings of the Buddha or to separate right from wrong. This also means that, through no fault of their own, they cannot become enlightened. They are stuck in a kind of limbo. Jizo protects the children in this limbo realm from demons.

Jizo statues often carry a pilgrim's staff. At the top are rings, usually four or six. Four for the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism or six for the six realms of existence such as the Hell or Human realms.

In the other hand of most Jizo statues is a cintamani jewel. The cintamani is the jewel that fullfills all wishes. The jewel is supposed to emit a warm brilliant light which illuminates the deepest reaches of hell.

There were many other interesting facts I learned about the Jizo from this book. If you are curious about the many Jizo's located around Japan, I would recommend this book.


  1. I've always liked these statues when I've seen them on temple grounds. Something about how they are often in long rows, each with a different little personalized hat or other thing on them.

  2. Thanks for information. I will look for that book - as is typical with most countries, the locals do not really have a deep historical knowledge of the culture. Seriously - ask me anything about Montreal's history, and I could probably only tell you what year Station C opened.

  3. Jason, yeah, I like those scenes at temples.

    Tracy, I guess that is true everywhere.

  4. Anonymous9:25 AM

    What a sweet message, I think you understood jizo quite well. Now, imagine trying to convey that to people (in Europe or North America) who don't know about Buddhism...

    Tracy, "the locals do not really have a deep historical knowledge of the culture..." what do you mean?


  5. Thank you. I think there are many aspects of Buddhism that people in the west would be well off to know about.

  6. Sounds like a really interesting book.

    I remember discussing Jizo with a (Japanese) friend of mine, and she told me that the unborn children (and aborted) are sent to limbo as a punishment for the grief they caused their parents. I was alway really disturbed by this, but much prefer the version of the Buddhist beliefs you've just written. I probably should note here, that unlike most Japanese who are Buddhist and Shinto, her family is purely Shinto, so I wonder if that has anything to do with her beliefs.

    There is a shrine in a forest near where I used to live and has a mountainside covered in jizo with red bibs. I always cry whenever I see it.

  7. :0 Wow!
    Great blog.

  8. Nice. This is the first I've seen of what these guys are.

    It's interesting that their jewels shine hell's light ...

  9. Melanie, the book talks in depth about Limbo. Yes, the beliefs are that they are sent to this limbo, which is not a very friendly place, and they are punished for the grief they have brought on their parents.

    Jizo protects them and allows them to work towards enlightenment.

    Thomas, I learned many interesting facts like that one.

    Thank you mama.

  10. I've lived in Japan for awhile, but I have to say that this post has enlightened me ;)

  11. Thank you Billy for the nice comment.