Buddha of the Three Worlds
Sanskrit Seed Syllable
for Jizo Bodhisattva
KA in Japan
Jizo promised to remain
in this world until the
advent of Miroku Buddha.
Our praying-hands statue
presents Jizo & Miroku
together in a charming duet.
Jizo Bodhisattva (Sanskrit = Ksitigarbha)
Jizo Bodhisattva, along with Kannon Bodhisattva, is perhaps the most popular deity of the common people in Japan today, a friend to all, never frightening, even to children. Jizo's many manifestations -- often cute and cartoon-like in modern Japan -- incorporate attributes from both Buddhist and Shinto traditions.
Jizo statues can be found everywhere in Japan, especially in graveyards, for Jizo is a savior par-excellance from the torments of hell. Jizo is often translated as "Womb of the Earth," for JI means earth, while ZO means womb. But "ZO" can also be translated with equal correctness as "store house" or "repository of treasure." Thus Jizo is also translated as "earth store" or "earth treasury."
Jizo provides assistance to those in hell or purgatory, especially children, but Jizo is also the patron of expectant mothers, firemen, travelers, and pilgrims. Jizo comes in various forms in Japan, many of modern origin, especially as the protector of aborted or miscarried babies (Jp. = Mizuko Jizo). In the broader and older Asian tradition, Jizo acts as a savior to all sentient beings trapped in the "Wheel of LIfe," in the "Cycle of Suffering (Sanskrit = Samsara)," in the "Six States of Reincarnation." This role is reflected in Jizo iconography, for Jizo typcially carries a six-ringed staff, or is shown in groupings of six Jizo statues. This symbolizes Jizo's role as savior to all those trapped in the six states of rebirth. For details on the Six Worlds, see the Learn More section. Other modern manifestations of Jizo in Japan, such as the Asekaki Jizo (Sweating Jizo; outside site), are unique to Japan and not found elsewhere in mainland Asia.
Sanskrit and Chinese Spellings & Translations:
Japanese Spellings and Translations
- Guardian of Souls in Hell
- Savior from the Torments of Hell
- Master of Six States of Reincarnation
- Protector of Children, Expectant Mothers, Firemen, Travelers, and Pilgrims
- Protector of Aborted or Miscarried Babies
- Guardian of Children Who Die Prematurely
- Described in the Earth Womb Sutra, Garland Sutra, and Sutra of the Ten Cakras
Jizo in Japan. Although associated with Yama (the Buddhist King of Hell), and with the dead and the underworld, Jizo's main role is that of savior. Jizo's customary symbols are the six-ring staff (Jp. = shakujo) and the wish-fulfilling jewel (Jp. = hoshunotama). When he shakes the staff, he awakens us from our delusions, to help us break free of the six states of rebirth (see Learn More for details) and achieve enlightenment. The wish-granting jewel (Sanskrit = Cintamani) signifies his bestowal of blessings on all who suffer, for the cintamani is a gem that grants wishes, pacifies desires, and brings clear understanding of the Dharma (Buddhist law). A halo often surrounds Jizo's head. Jizo is the only Bodhisattva portrayed as a monk -- shaven head, no adornments, no royal attire, nearly always dressed in the simple robe (Jp. = kesa) of a monk. NOTE. The six-ring staff traditionally consists of a wooden pole topped with a finial with two sections, each with three rings, for a total of six rings, which represent the Six States of Rebirth -- the cycle of samsara, the cycle of suffering and reincarnation. In Japan, Jizo Bodhisattva and Kannon Bodhisattva are often shown holding this staff. Due to the small size of our eStore statues, however, the pilgrim's staff is not carved with six individual rings, but is instead shown as a pole with two holes, each hole representing three rings, for a total of six rings.
Although of India origin, Kshitigarbha (Jizo) is revered more widely in Japan, Korea, and China than in either India or Tibet. In Japan, Jizo first appears in records of the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD), and then spreads throughout Japan via the Tendai and Shingon sects. In China, Jizo worship can be traced back to at least the fifth century AD (to the Chinese translation of the Sutra of the Ten Cakras), and in later centuries Chinese artwork often shows Jizo surrounded by the ten kings of hell to signify Jizo's role in delivering people from the torments of hell. But Jizo is mentioned even earlier in the Mahavaipulya Sutra (Garland Sutra) of India, in which he appears to the Historical Buddha at the time of the Buddha's death. Jizo is a Bodhisattva (Bosatsu), one who achieves enlightenment but postpones Buddhahood until all can be saved. Jizo promised to remain among us doing good works, to help all those spinning endlessly in the six realms, until the advent of Miroku (Maitreya; the Buddha of the Future). Miroku is scheduled to arrive, according to Japan's Shingon Sect, about 5.6 billion years from now.
In Japan, Jizo first appears in the Ten Cakras Sutra in the Nara period (now a treasure held by the Nara National Museum), but the height of his early popularity was during the late Heian era (794 to 1192 AD) when the rise of the Jodo Sect (Pure Land Sect devoted to Amida Buddha) intensified fears about hell in the afterlife. Since then, Jizo worship has attained a tremendous following in Japan, and even today Jizo is one of Japan's most common and widely revered deities. Due to his association with the realm of death and suffering souls, he is also closely associated with Amida Buddha and with Amida's Heavenly Western Paradise, where true believers may seek enlightenment and avoid the torments of hell. However, Amida is not revered by the Nichiren sect (another popular Buddhist sect in modern Japan), who hold Amida worship in low esteem. Nonetheless, the Nichiren sect worships Kannon Bodhisattva (Goddess of Mercy) -- and Kannon, together with Jizo and Amida, are perhaps the three most commonly found and worshipped divinities in Japan today.
Buddhism for the Common Folk. The three deities Amida Buddha, Kannon Bodhisattva, and Jizo (this page) are intimately connected with Japan's popular Pure Land sects, which came to prominence among the common folk during the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333 AD). All three remain the bedrock of folk Buddhism in modern Japan -- Amida for the coming life in paradise, Kannon for salvation in earthly life, and Jizo for salvation from hell. Both Kannon and Jizo serve Amida. The three, along with Fudo Myo-o, are perhaps the most widely venerated Buddhist deities in Japan, and statues of all four, in stone or wood or plastic or ceramic, are found throughout the Japanese islands. In addition, in Asia, there is a grouping called the Four Great Bodhisattva, with each of the four symbolizing a specific aspect of Buddhism. They are Kannon Bodhisattva (compassion), Monju Bodhisattva (wisdom), Fugen Bodhisattva (praxis), and Jizo Bodhisattva (vast patience and salvation from suffering).
In modern Japan, Jizo and Kannon Bodhisattva (the Goddess of Mercy) are two of the most popular Buddhist saviors among the common folk. Like Jizo, Kannon is intimately associated with Amida Buddha, for the Kannon is one of Amida's principal attendants, and she often wears an effigy of Amida in her headdress. Curiously, however, both Jizo and Kannon underwent a sex change after arriving in Japan from China. The Kannon was originally male, but is now portrayed almost always as female, while Jizo was initially female, but is now portrayed almost always as male (except, perhaps, when appearing as Koyasu Jizo (Child-Giving) Jizo.
Stones and Mizuko Jizo
Throughout Japan, Jizo plays the role of guardian for stillborn, miscarried, or aborted children. For example, hundreds of Jizo statues can be found at Hase Dera Temple in Kamakura city. According to legend attributed to the Jodo (Pure Land) Sect around the 14th or 15th century, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld as punishment for causing great sorrow to their parents. They are sent to Sai no Kawara, the river of souls in purgatory, where they pray for the Buddha's compassion by building small stone towers, piling stone upon stone. But underworld demons, answering to the command of the old hag Shozuka no Baba, soon arrive and scatter their stones and beat them with iron clubs. But, no need to worry, for Jizo comes to the rescue. In one version of the story, Jizo hides the children in the sleeves of his robe. This traditional Japanese story has been adapted to modern needs, and today, children who die prematurely in Japan are called Mizuko, or water children, and the saddened parents pray to Mizuko Jizo. This form of Jizo is unique to Japan, and did not appear until after the end of World War II. See Mizuko Jizo in Learn More section.
Even today, you will invariably find little heaps of stones and pebbles on or around Jizo statues, as many believe that a stone offered in faith will shorten the time their child suffers in the underworld. You will also notice that Jizo statues are often wearing tiny garments, especially a red bib or red hat. Since Jizo is the guardian of dead children, sorrowing parents bring the little garments of their lost ones and dress the Jizo statue in hopes Jizo will specially protect their child. A toy is often seen as well, the gift of a rejoicing parent whose child has been cured of dangerous sickness thanks to Jizo's intervention, or a gift to help the deceased child in the afterlife.
Another tradition in Japan related to Jizo is Omokaru-ishi. There are numerous variations of these stones (or statues), but you essentially make a wish and try to lift the stone (or statue); if you can carry it, your wish will be granted; if you cannot carry it, you must come back another day and try again; sometimes a statue of Jizo is used instead of a stone.
Omokaru-ishi (Stones and Jizo)
For details and a list of sites where these Jizo-related stones are located, please see Gabi Greve's Web Page on OMOKARU-ISHI.
Six States of Existence (Jp. = Roku Dou)
Jizo vowed to assist beings in each of the Six Realms of Existence, in particular those in hell, and is thus often shown in groupings of six. Within the six realms (or states), the lowest three are called the three evil paths. They are the states of (1) people in hell, (2) hungry ghosts, and (3) animals. Above these three realms are the states of (4) Asuras, (5) Humans, and (6) Devas. For details on the six states (also called the Six Paths of Transmigration or Reincarnation, the Wheel of Life, or the Cycle of Suffering), see the Learn More section.
Six Jizo (Jp. = Roku Jizo)
In Japan, groupings of six Jizo statues (one for each of the Six Realms) are quite common and often placed at busy intersections or oft-used roads to protect travelers and those in "transitional" states. Jizo also often carries a staff with six rings, which he shakes to awaken us from our delusions -- the rings likewise symbolize the six states of existence. The six Jizo come in various versions. One common grouping is:
- Enmei (long life; prolonger of life; Beings in Hell)
- Hoshu (Ratnapani; treasure hand or possession; Hungry Ghosts)
- Hoin (Ratnamudrapani; treasure seal; possession of earth; Animals)
- Hosho (Ratnakara; treasure place; place of treasures; Asura)
- Jichi (Dharanidhara; land possession; earth; Humans)
- Kenko-i or Nikko (strong determination; Deva)
Wish-Giving Jizo (Jp. = Onegai Jizo)
Another form of Jizo is the "wish-giving" or "ask-a-favor" Jizo. At many temples, visitors can buy tiny images of Jizo, which they deposit around the main Jizo statue at the temple to pray for Jizo's help.
Japanese Mantra for Jizo Bosatsu
On kakaka bisanmaei sowaka (Japanese)
Om ha-ha-ha vismaye svaha (Sanskrit)
LEARN MORE ABOUT JIZO AT THE
A-TO-Z PHOTO DICTIONARY (SISTER SITE)