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Kṣitigarbha, known by the Japanese name Jizō (地蔵) or the Mandarin Chinese name Dizang (地藏 Dìzàng) Vietnamese name Địa Tạng - A popular Mahayana Buddhist Bodhisattva, usually depicted as a Buddhist monk in the orient. The name Jizō or Dizang may be translated as "Earth Treasury", "Earth Store", "Earth Matrix", or "Earth Womb." It is derived from shortening of Chinese script reading of Sanskrit word ksiti (earth; 大地) and garbha (womb, matrix; 蔵).

Kṣitigarbha is often referred to, because of his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied, as the bodhisattva of the hell beings. His famous vow recited by many Buddhists is "Not until the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha; Not until all beings are saved will I certify to Bodhi."

Usually depicted as a monk with a nimbus 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.

Kṣitigarbha is one of the four principal bodhisattvas in Oriental Mahayana Buddhism. The others are Samantabhadra, Manjusri, and Avalokitesvara.

At the pre-Tang Dynasty grottos in Dunhuang and Longmen, he is depicted in classical bodhisattva shape. After the Tang Dynasty, he became increasingly depicted as a monk, carrying rosaries and a staff.

His full name in Chinese script is (traditional Chinese: 大願地藏菩薩; simplified Chinese: 大願地藏菩萨; pinyin: Dàyuàn Dìzàng Púsà), or the Bodhisattva King Dizang of the Great Vow, pronounced as Dayuan Dizang Pusa in Beijin Mandarin dialect, Daigan Zizo Bosatu in Japanese.

This is a reference to his pledge, as recorded in the sutras, to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in six worlds, in the era between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya Buddha. Because of this important role, shrines to Kṣitigarbha often occupy a central role in any Oriental Mahayana temples.

In Japan, Kṣitigarbha, known as Jizō, or Ojizō-sama as he is respectfully known, is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, the tendency developed in which he was worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses. In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance, by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.

Jizō statues are usually accompanied by a little pile of stones and pebbles, put there by people in the hope that it would shorten the time children have to suffer in the underworld (the act is derived from the tradition of building stupas as an act of merit-making) . The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Jizō for saving their children from a serious illness. Jizō's features are also commonly made more babylike in order to resemble the children he protects.

As he is seen as the savior of souls who have to suffer in the underworld, his statues are common in cemeteries. He is also believed to be the protective deity of travellers, and roadside statues of Jizō are a common sight in Japan. Firefighters are also believed to be under the protection of Jizō.

The story of Kṣitigarbha is described in the Sutra of The Great Vows of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, one of the most popular Mahayana Buddhist sutras. This sutra is said to have been spoken by the Buddha towards the end of his life to the beings of the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven as a mark of gratitude and remembrance for his beloved mother, Māyādevī. It stated that Kṣitigarbha practiced filial piety as a mortal, which eventually led to making great vows to save all sentient beings.

Information source: “Ksitigarbha.” Article date: 10 Feb. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 12 Feb. 2008 <Ksitigarbha>.

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