Kishitigarbha (Jizo)

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Jizo as earth mother, earth daughter

The rich relationship of Jizo, the Earth Womb Bodhisattva, to the earth mother archetype is revealed in two past-life stories. In both stories, Jizo is the daughter of a woman destined for hell after death.

Desiring her mother's liberation, each daughter sincerely vows to work to benefit all suffering beings throughout the future. Both daughters arrive in hell to learn that through their dedication and sincerity not only are their mothers saved but so are all beings then in hell. The deep vows of the two daughters to continue their liberating work for all who suffer led to their becoming Jizo Bodhisattva.

All beings are like our mothers

In seeing Jizo as an earth daughter, caring for all suffering beings, we may recall the traditional Buddhist practice of seeing all sentient beings as one's mother. Tibetans believe that we have all lived so many lives that every single person we pass in the street was in some former life either our parent or child. We come into existence in each moment totally mutually dependent, and interdependent, with all phenomena. Thus all beings are like our mothers, helping give us birth, and are worthy of our love.

Jizo as the archetypal monk emphasizes that Buddhist home-leaving does not necessitate the abandonment of family members as beings unworthy of compassionate care. In fact, charity, compassion, and liberative work begin at home.

Jizo and the earth spirits

In the Sutra of the Past Vows, there appears a protective earth spirit named Firm-and-Stable, who guards the land. The Buddha states that it is through this earth spirit's power that all vegetation and minerals come forth from the ground. His role is like that of Demeter in Greek mythology. Out of great appreciation for Jizo and his vow, Firm-and-Stable promises support to all those in the present or future who enshrine and venerate images of Jizo. He mentions such benefits as fertile lands, long life, protection from floods, fires, robbery, and nightmares, and many conditions for arousing sagehood.

This highlights bodhisattva practice as earth-based spirituality, valuing the ground of this very world and life rather than some other, idealized state of being or some otherworldly goal of practice.