Lesson
6

Kishitigarbha (Jizo)

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Jizo folklore

East Asia has a rich folklore about Jizo, and many stories feature unusual, "miraculous" events. One old Japanese tale exemplifies the common feeling of the closeness of Jizo, especially for the humble and those in need.

Some Jizo statues are said to aid laborers, taking on the down-to-earth manual work of others, especially farmers and those working in the soil. One story tells of a hard-pressed farmer praying to Jizo for help during a difficult harvest. Upon awakening the next morning, the farmer found a critical part of his task finished and the lower legs of the neighborhood stone Jizo all muddied, apparently from working the fields.

In a temple on Mount Koya, the sacred mountain of the Shingon School, the abbot told a laborer that he must arise very early and shovel away the snow in front of the Jizo hall, which held an image carved by the school's great founder Kukai, or Kobo Daishi, because Jizo rose early every morning and went out to save suffering beings. One morning the servant gruffly expressed the wish that just once Jizo might shovel the snow for himself. The next morning the servant awoke to find the snow already cleared from the garden and snowy footprints on the veranda of the Jizo hall, leading back to the room where the image was housed.

Jizo as shaman

Jizo Bodhisattva's guidance of beings in the afterlife, his journeying to different realms to help beings, and his relationship to the earth all exemplify Jizo's role as a shaman, or spirit healer. Shamanism most basically refers to healers who journey to other psychic or spirit realms, above and below, usually on behalf of beings in need. Shamans use the protection and assistance of various earth spirits—animals, totems, herbs, and dream beings—just as Jizo is aided by the earth spirit Firm-and-Stable.

Earth-based spirituality universally honors the power and beneficence of the natural world and expresses gratitude and wonder for all elements that support life. Animals and plants as well as geographical features such as mountains, forests, and particular rocks and trees are honored as independent spirit beings and forces, interrelated with the whole.

Shamans are sometimes referred to as "wounded healers." These are individuals who have suffered deeply and have awakened to a calling to care for others. As an archetype, the wounded healer is prominent even in our post-shamanic world view, apparent among many modern psychotherapists, social workers, and teachers, who draw on their own experiences of suffering to help others.