Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Jizo Bodhisattva: Guardian of Children, Travelers & Souls in Hell
The book, Jizo Bodhisattva - Guardian of Children, Travelers & Other Voyagers, written by American Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays, provides an informative overview of the history of Jizo Bodhisattva or Ojizo-sama. 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 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 cemeteries or temples. 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 the hells.
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.