The Greatest Compassionate Vower: Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha

One Of 4 Principle Bodhisattvas: Ksitigarbha

One of the most-known bodhisattvas, Kshitigarbha, is highly revered and venerated by Chinese and Japanese Buddhists. He is one of the four principal bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was his vow to take full responsibility for all living things found in the six realms between the passing of Lord Buddha and the ascension of Maitreya, the future Buddha. According to the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition's history, Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha vowed not to become a Buddha until every living thing was released from hell and every hell had been empty.

Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit means' Womb of Earth'. He is referred to as Jizō Bosatsuin Japan. This translates to Earth Stone, Earth Treasury, Earth Womb, or Earth Matrix. In Tibetan, he is termed Sa Yi nying po, meaning 'Essence of Earth,' while in China as Di Zang Wang Pu Sa.

"If I do not go to hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? ... if the hells are not empty, I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved will I attain Bodhi."

– Ksitigarbha Greatest Compassionate Vow

As a Brahmin Maiden, Ksitigarbha

One of the most well-known Mahayana Sutras, the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Purvapanidhana Sutra, relates to the account of Ksitigarbha. According to the Ksitigarbha Sutra, Ksitigarbha was formerly a Brahmin maiden. Her mother's passing had caused her a lot of distress. She became concerned that her mother would endure severe torment in hell because of her fraudulent statements about the three jewels. She sold all of her possessions to make an offering to the Buddha of her time. At that time, the Buddha was referred to as the Buddha of the Flower of Enlightenment and Meditation.

She prayed to Buddha to assist so that her mother wouldn't suffer in hell. Later, after witnessing Ksitigarbha passionately praying, Buddha instructed her to return home and say his name if she wanted to locate her mother. Her awareness entered the Hell world after following the Buddha's instructions, and the gatekeeper told her that her mother had entered paradise due to her earnest prayers and offerings. She accepted a promise to assist beings in being released from the torment of hell after learning that her mother had gone to paradise. However, she was also saddened by the misery in hell.

Being a Buddhist Monk, Ksitigarbhaksitigarbha-monk-statue

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According to Mahayana Buddhist tradition, there is a mythology of how Ksitigarbha appeared in China and how Mount Jiuhua became one of the four sacred mountains in China known as Ksitigarbha's Bodhimanda. Records indicate that Ksitigarbha, a former prince of Silla who went by the name Kim Gyo-gak, traveled to Mount Jiuhua to practice his dharma.

According to certain tales, Ksitigarbha was bitten by a snake while climbing Mount Jiuhua. Due to the snake bite, he lives on Mount Jiuhua, immobile. A lady bystander who was giving him medicine was able to heal him. After that, he began his meditation in a little cabin on Mount Jiuhua. A scholar, his companion, and their family happened to be on the mountain as Ksitigarbha was sitting in meditation.

However, in light of Ksitigarbha's poor health, they decided to construct a temple as an offering to him. He said he needed a plot of land that could be covered by his robe when they inquired how much he required. The scholar and his companion were taken aback when he tossed his robe, which spanned the entire mountain. The owner of Mount Jiuhua, Elder Wen-Ke, gave the whole mountain to Ksitigarbha and gave it the name of Ksitigarbha. Jijang passed away at Mount Jiuhua at the age of 99. At present, Mount Jiuhua is regarded as Ksitigarbha's bodhimanda.

He is the savior of the oppressed, the dying, and the dreamer of wicked thoughts because he has pledged to continue working until all of the deceased people sentenced to hell have had their souls saved. He is called upon when someone passes away since he is revered as the ruler of hell in China. As Jizō Bosatsuin, he does not rule over hell in Japan (the job of Emma-o). Still, he is revered for his generosity to the deceased, particularly to children who have passed away, especially aborted fetuses.

Depiction & Iconography of Ksitigarbhaksitigarbha-thangka-iconography

Source: Enlightenment Thangka

Ksitigarbha is usually portrayed as a monk with a shaved head, a nimbus, and an urna (tuft of hair) between his eyebrows. He is seen holding the clerical staff (khakkara), which he uses to pry open the gates of hell, and the fiery pearl (Chintamani), which he uses to illuminate the darkness. Ksitigarbha is frequently shown in Japan in 6 aspects, each of which corresponds to one of the 6 realms of desire. This is because Ksitigarbha can express himself per the needs of the suffering.

He is often seen with bare feet. This symbolizes that he travels wherever he is required. He could be engulfed in the halo of flames of hell. He is occasionally shown sitting on a lotus throne in China and donning magnificent garments. The five parts of the "five-leaf" or "five-section" crown he wears feature images of the Five Dhyani Buddhas. He still holds the staff with six rings and the jewel that grants wishes. Usually, at least one barefoot will be seen.

The Bodhisattva may occasionally travel with a dog in China. This refers to the myth that the Bodhisattva discovered his mother's rebirth as a dog in the world of animals and took her in.

He might be depicted either standing or seated. He always wears a serene smile on his face and holds either one of his symbols—the Cintamani, also known as the "Wish-fulfilling Jewel"—or both—the "Ringed-Staff," known as the Khakkhara. Buddhist monks frequently travel with this ringed staff so that the jingling rings can alert insects and small animals to their presence to prevent them from being crushed and killed.

Ksitigarbha Mantra 

“OM AH KSHITI GARBHA THALENG HUM”

This is the mantra that Ksitigarbha heard spoken by Buddhas, which is equivalent to the number of sand grains of the Ganga river. After making offerings to them, he was given this mantra. This mantra should be spoken for any difficulties or issues; it is the best thing to do for challenges in any circumstance. It is effective even after a few repetitions—four or five times. Just thinking or reciting the Bodhisattva's name has great power. It has incredible power. 

"This practice is especially beneficial for those with insurmountable problems, serious health problems, difficulties in big projects, and financial challenges. I suggest they recite either the long or the short mantra every day for protection, or at least four or five times or more, depending on the magnitude of the problems.

This practice is also effective for people who want a good yield of their crops and protection of their harvest and land. In the Sutra of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, the extensive benefits that can definitely fill up the sky are explained.

By offering Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, whatever prayers you make become most unbelievably powerful—a hundred million times more potent for success, and it is much more powerful than praying to other bodhisattvas. It is unbelievable for great success to happen as quickly as possible."

                                           -Lama Zopa Rinpoche

 Sakyamuni Buddha provided the following counsel in the Ksitibarbha Sutra's last chapter for the good of all people:

"Pay close attention while I explain; I'll give you the details. Future good people will get these benefits if they view the image of the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, hear the Ksitigarbha Sutra, recite this Sutra, present offerings to Ksitigrabha, and show respect to him":

  • Spirits, Devas, and Dragons will protect the individual.
  • Capacity for good deeds will grow alongside opportunities to make a difference.
  • Clothing and food will be available, and no one will suffer from the illness.
  • Fire and floods won't harm them, and thieves won't trouble them.
  • The females will descend from noble and prominent lineages as daughters.
  • They will have several reincarnations in the heavens.
  • The negative energy will be erased, and they will accomplish their goals.
  • They will strive to attain and eventually attain Buddhahood.

 On July 30, the day designated as the birthday of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, practitioners visit the temple to donate fragrant flowers, read the "Sutra of the initial vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva," and recite the name of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. On the one hand, people hope that their ancestors and departed family members will be freed to thank Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva for his tremendously merciful favors.

On the other side, they want to embody and practice the spirit of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, who resolved to practice filial piety and free all sentient beings. With his Dharma resources and merits, he will grant our requests, encouraging us to realize our Buddha nature.  

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