Lesson
6

Kishitigarbha (Jizo)

4 of 11

Jizo as Protector of Women and Children

Jizo's role as a protector of women dates back to the Sutra of the Past Vows and appears throughout East Asian history up to the present. Many medieval Japanese nuns were especially devoted to Jizo. Though most Japanese Buddhist sculpture included robes as part of the carving, one genre of medieval Japanese Jizo statues were carved as naked, and then covered with cloth robes. Modern scholars have discovered that a number of these "naked" Jizos, commissioned by nuns, were anatomically female under their robes, apparently in secret affirmation of the enlightening capacity of women, and of the feminine side of the conventionally male Jizo archetype.

Jizo has continued to have a special relationship with women, sometimes as a healing figure for women's ailments, and also as protector of children in Japan. Jizo is considered to help bring an easy childbirth. In modern Japan, Jizo is much revered by women and has gained prominence in ceremonies to aid the spirits of abortions and deceased children.

 

Jizo is popularly considered a guardian of travelers and children in Japan, and many statues of the bodhisattva are set at crossroads, riverbanks, and seashores, all liminal or transitional spaces. Jizo is said to guide people across the "river of three crossings," the passage between this world and the afterlives.

Historically, the roadside stone Jizos seem to have supplanted old phallic stones that were part of native Japanese traditions. As they weather and their features fade, some upright stone Jizo statues indeed have phallic overtones. Thus, in popular Japanese religion, Jizo has had a complex of blessings to offer to women devotees, including fostering fertility as well as easing childbirth and protecting deceased children and abortions.