Buddhist Deity Ksitigarbha
Table of Contents
- 1 - Iconography of Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha
- 2 - Traditional iconography
- 3 - Iconography of Ksitigarbha in Japan
- 4 - Akasagarbha
- 5 - Buddhist Monk Phra Malai
- 6 - East Asian Mahayana Buddhism and Ksitigarbha
- 7 - The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
- 8 - The Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment
- 9 - Ksitigrabha as a Monk
Iconography of Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha
Kshitigarbha is yellow with a yellow upper garment, peaceful eyes, red at the sides, a headdress garland of blue flowers.
The right-hand holds fruit and the left a jewel above a lotus.
Arya Kshitigarbha, white in color, with one face, peaceful in appearance. With two hands the right holds to the heart a precious seed.
The left a bell turned up [at the waist], resplendent and seated in a relaxed posture.”
In the Akshobhyavajra Guhyasamaja mandala, there are eight bodhisattvas in the outer square – two in each direction. In the East are Maitreya and Kshitigarbha. They are both white in color, peaceful, and have three faces and six hands, seated in vajra posture.
In the Kalachakra mandala of 634 Deities, in the third level of deities between the four gates are six bodhisattvas, each with a consort. Kshitigarbha is represented with three faces, red in color, having six arms and embracing the consort Rodorjema.
In the Vajradhatu mandala of 37 deities according to the Samputa Tantra, the eight bodhisattvas are represented in the second square of the palace. In the eastern direction are Maitreya and Kshitigarbha, both with one face and two hands.
In the Vajrasattva mandala of 37 deities according to the Samputa Tantra, the eight bodhisattvas are represented similar to the previous Vajradhatu mandala.
In Buddhist iconographies, Ksitigarbha is typically depicted with a shaven head, dressed in a monk’s simple robes.
In Ksitigrsbhs’s left hand, Ksitigarbha holds a wish-granting jewel in his right hand, he holds a monk’s staff called in Japanese a shakudo, which is used to alert insects and small animals of his approach so that he will not accidentally harm them. Such a staff is traditionally carried by high ranking monks of Chinese Buddhist temples.
Like other Bodhisattvas, Kṣitigarbha usually is seen standing upon a lotus base, symbolizing his release from the karmic wheel of rebirth. Kṣitigarbha’s face and head are also idealized, featuring the third eye, elongated ears and the other standard attributes of an enlightened being.
Iconography of Ksitigarbha in Japan
The Narihira Santosen Temple which is located in Katsushika, Tokyo contains the Bound Jizo of Ooka Tadasuke fame, dating from the Edo Period.
When petitions are requested before the Jizo, the petitioner ties a rope about the statue. When the wish is granted, the petitioner unties the rope.
On the occasion of the new year, the ropes of the ungranted wishes are cut by the temple priest. The vandalism of a Jizo statue is the theme of the J-Horror movie Shibuya Kaidan. The anime series Jigoku shoujo is also loosely based on the legend of the Jizerou.
Ksitigarbha has a twin known as Akasagarbha the Void Store. While theologically equally important, Akasagarbha entirely lacks the popular cult of Kṣitigarbha. Kstigrabha was also known as Akasagrabha.
Buddhist Monk Phra Malai
In Theravada Buddhism in the world, the story of a Buddhist monk called Phra Malai. Phra Malai who has similar qualities of Ksitigarbha is well known throughout Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand and Laos. Legend has it that he was an arhat from Sri Lanka, who has achieved great supernormal powers through his own merits and meditation.
In the story, this pious and compassionate monk descends to Hell to give teach & comfort the suffering hell-beings there. He has also learned how the hell-beings are punished according to their sins in the different hells.
East Asian Mahayana Buddhism and Ksitigarbha
At the pre-Tang Dynasty grottos in Dunhuang and Longmen, Ksitigrabha is also called depicted in classical bodhisattva shape.
After the Tang Dynasty, Ksitigrabha has become increasingly depicted as a monk, carrying rosaries and staff. Ksitigrabha’s full name in Chinese script is the Bodhisattva King Dizang of the Great Vow, which is also pronounced as Dayuan Dizang Pusa in Mandarin Chinese, and Daigan Jizo Bosatsu in Japanese. Because of the important role, shrines to Kṣitigarbha often occupy a central role in any Oriental Mahayana temples.
The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
The story of Ksitigarbha sutra is described in the Sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, which is also called one of the most popular Mahayana Buddhist sutras.
The sutra is also said to have been spoken by the Buddha towards the end of his life to the starting of the Trayastriṃsa Heaven as a mark of gratitude and remembrance for his beloved mother, Mayadevi. This also stated that Kṣitigarbha practiced filial piety as a mortal, which eventually led to making great vows to save all sentient beings.
The Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment
In the Ksitigarbha Sutra, the Buddha has claimed that in the distant past eons, Ksitigarbha was a Brahmin maiden by the name of Sacred Girl. She was very deeply troubled when her mother died because a sacred girl had often been slanderous towards the Triple Gem.
To save her from the great tortures of hell, the young girl sold whatever she had and used the money to buy offerings that she offered daily to the Buddha of her time, known as The Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment.
She made fervent prayers that her mother is spared of the pains of hell and appealed to the Buddha for help. while she was pleading for help, she heard the voice of the Buddha advising her to go home immediately. He has also suggested to sit down and recite his name if she wanted to know where her mother was.
Ksitigrabha did as she was told and while doing so, her consciousness was transported to a Hell Realm. where she met a guardian who informed her that through her about fervent prayers and pious offerings. Ksitigrabha’s mother had accumulated much merit and therefore, she had already been released from hell and ascended to heaven.
Ksitigrabha was greatly relieved and should have been extremely happy. Buy the sight of the great suffering Ksitigrabha had witnessed in Hell so touched her tender heart. Ksitigrabha made a vow to do her very best to relieve beings of their suffering forever in her future lives of Kalpas to come.
Ksitigrabha as a Monk
There is another legend about how Kṣitigarbha manifested in China and chose his Bodhimanda to be Mount Jiuhua, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of China in Buddhism. In the Eastern of China Han dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Ming, Buddhism started to flourish, reaching its peak in the era of the Tang Dynasty, eventually spreading to Japan and Korea. At the time, monks and scholars arrived from those countries to seek the Dharma in China.
One of all these pilgrims was a former prince of Korea and which was at the time divided into three countries. The monk, whose Korean romanization was Kim Kiaokak was a prince from Silla who became a monastic under the name of Earth Store. Ksitigrabha came to the region of Anhui to Mount Jiuhua.
After ascending, Ksitigrabha decided to build a hut in a deep mountain area so that he may be able to cultivate. According to records, the monk was bitten by a poisonous snake but did not move. Thus letting the snake go.
A woman happened to pass by and gave the monk medicines to cure him of the venom, as well as a spring on her son’s behalf. For a few years, the monk continued to meditate in his hut until one day and a scholar named Chu-Ke led a group of friends and family to visit the mountain. Noticing the monk meditating in the hut, they went and took a look at his condition.
Chu-Ke led group had noticed that the monk’s bowl did not contain any food and that his hair had grown back. Feeling pity for the monk, Scholar Chu decided to build a temple as an offering to the monk. The whole group descended the mountain immediately to discuss plans to build the temple.
Mount Jiuhua was also called the property of a wealthy person named the elder Wen-Ke, who was obliged to build a temple on his mountain. Therefore, Wen-Ke and the group ascended the mountain once more and asked the monk how much land he needed. The monk Ksitigrabha has replied that he needed a piece of land that could be covered fully by his Kasaya.
Sometime later, Wen-Ke’s son also left the home life to start his life as a monk. The monk Ksitigrabha lived in Mount Jiuhua for Seventy-five years before passing away at the age of ninety-nine. Three years after his nirvana, his tomb was opened, only to reveal that the body had not decayed. Because the monk-led his way place with much difficulty, most people had the intuition to believe that he was indeed the transformation body of Kṣitigarbha.