This month we celebrate the birth of Kṣitigarbha. It is typically celebrated on the 30th of the seventh lunar month. The story of Kṣitigarbha was first described in the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra one of the most popular Mahayana Sutras. In the Sutra, the Buddha states that in distant past eons, Kṣitigarbha was a maiden of the Brahmin caste by the name of Sacred Girl.
The maiden was deeply troubled upon her mother's death--who had often been slanderous towards the Three Jewels. She prayed fervently that her mother is spared the pains of hell. She appealed to the Buddha. The Buddha told her to go home and recite his name. She did as she was told and her consciousness was transported to the Hell realm. There, she was told, because of her prayers her mother accumulated much merit and had ascended to heaven. But the suffering that she had seen in the Hell realm touched her heart. She vowed to do her best to relieve the beings of their sufferings in her future lives for many kalpas*.
Unlike other bodhisattvas, Kṣitigarbha is usually depicted as a monk with a halo around his shaved head. He carries a staff to force open the gates of hell and a wish-fulfilling jewel to light up the darkness. There are six rings on the staff, one for each of the six realms**. The jingling of the rings is a reminder that we carry the six realms with us a all times.
His name may be translated as "Earth Treasury", "Earth Store", or "Earth Matrix". He is known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Guatama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya, the future Buddha, as well as his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied.
He is therefore often regarded as the bodhisattva of hell-beings, as well as the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children in Japanese culture where he is known as Jizō or Ojizō-sama.
We invoke your name Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva. We aspire to learn your way so as to be present where there is darkness, suffering, oppression, and despair, so that we may bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places.
Rev. Anwol Devadipa
* kalpa is a Sanskrit word for a particularly long measure of time. It can be thought of as another word for eon. In Hinduism, a kalpa equals 4.32 billion years. Buddhism is less specific for the amount of time a kalpa represents, deferring to analogies such as the time it takes for a bird to fly around the world, and with each circumambulation that bird's wing to brush against a gigantic rocky mountain and wear that mountain down dust.
** The six realms in Buddhist cosmology are the six realms of rebirth and existence: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hells.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members