Ksitigarbha (Sanskrit: क्षितिगर्भ Kṣitigarbha) is a bodhisattva primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism, usually depicted as a Buddhist monk in the Orient. The name may be translated as "Earth Treasury", "Earth Store", "Earth Matrix", or "Earth Womb". Ksitigarbha is known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha and the rise of Maitreya 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 and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture. 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.


Ksitigarbha is one of the four principal bodhisattvas in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. The others are Samantabhadra, Manjusri, and Avalokitesvara.

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

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

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


As a Brahmin maiden

The story of Ksitigarbha was first described in the Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra, one of the most popular Mahāyāna sūtras. 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.[1]

The Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva Pūrvapraṇidhāna Sūtra was first translated from the Sanskrit into Chinese in the 7th century during the Tang Dynasty by the Tripiṭaka master Śikṣānanda, a Buddhist monk from Khotan who also provided a new translation of the Avataṃsaka Sūtra and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. However, some scholars have suspected that instead of being translated, this text may have originated in China, since no Sanskrit manuscripts of this text have been found. Part of the reason for suspicion is that the text advocates filial piety, which was stereotypically associated with Chinese culture. It stated that Ksitigarbha practised filial piety as a mortal, which eventually led to making great vows to save all sentient beings. Since then, other scholars such as Gregory Schopen have pointed out that Indian Buddhism also had traditions of filial piety.[2] Currently there is no clear evidence indicating either an Indian or Chinese origin for the text.

In the Kṣitigarbha Sūtra, the Buddha states that in the distant past eons, Ksitigarbha was a maiden of the Brahmin caste by the name of Sacred Girl.[3][4] She was deeply troubled when her mother died, because she had often been slanderous towards the Triple Gem. To save her from the great tortures of hell, the girl sold whatever she had and used the money to buy offerings that she offered daily to the Buddha of her time, known as the Buddha of the Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment. She prayed fervently that her mother be spared the pains of hell and appealed to the Buddha for help.[5]

While she was pleading for help at the temple, she heard the Buddha telling her to go home, sit down, and recite his name if she wanted to know where her mother was. She did as she was told and her consciousness was transported to a Hell realm, where she met a guardian who informed her that through her fervent prayers and pious offerings, her mother had accumulated much merit and had already ascended to heaven. Sacred Girl was greatly relieved and would have been extremely happy, but the sight of the suffering she had seen in Hell touched her heart. She vowed to do her best to relieve beings of their suffering in her future lives for kalpas.[5]

As a Buddhist monk

There is a legend about how Ksitigarbha manifested himself in China, and chose his bodhimanda to be Mount Jiuhua, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of China in Buddhism.

In the Eastern Han Dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Ming, Buddhism started to flourish, reaching its peak in the era of the Tang Dynasty, eventually spreading to Korea. At the time, monks and scholars arrived from those countries to seek the dharma in China. One of these pilgrims was a former prince from Silla named Kim Gyo-gak, who became a monk under the name of Earth Store (also called Jijang, the Korean pronunciation of Dizang).[6] He went to Mount Jiuhua in present-day Anhui province. After ascending, he decided to build a hut in a deep mountain area so that he may be able to cultivate.

According to records, Jijang was bitten by a poisonous snake, but did not move, thus letting the snake go. A woman happened to pass by and gave the monk medicines to cure him of the venom, as well as a spring on her son's behalf. For a few years, Jijang continued to meditate in his hut, until one day, a scholar named Chu-Ke led a group of friends and family to visit the mountain. Noticing the monk meditating in the hut, they went and took a look at his condition. They had noticed that his bowl did not contain any food, and that his hair had grown back.

Taking pity on the monk, Chu-Ke decided to build a temple as an offering to him. The whole group descended the mountain immediately to discuss plans to build the temple. Mount Jiuhua was also property of a wealthy person called Elder Wen-Ke, who obliged to build a temple on his mountain. Therefore, Wen-Ke and the group ascended the mountain once more and asked Jijang how much land he needed.

Jijang replied that he needed a piece of land that could be covered fully by his kasaya. Initially believing that a piece of sash could not provide enough land to build a temple, they were surprised when Jijang threw the kasaya in the air, and the robe expanded in size, covering the entire mountain. Elder Wen-Ke had then decided to renounce the entire mountain to Jijang, and became his protector. Sometime later, Wen-Ke's son also left secular life to become a monk.

Jijang lived in Mount Jiuhua for 75 years before passing away at the age of 99. Three years after his nirvana, his tomb was opened, only to reveal that the body had not decayed. Because Jijang led his wayplace with much difficulty, most people had the intuition to believe that he was indeed an incarnation of Ksitigarbha.

Jijang's well-preserved, dehydrated body may still be viewed today at the monastery he built on Mount Jiuhua.


Traditional iconography

In Buddhist iconography, Ksitigarbha is typically depicted with a shaven head, dressed in a monk's simple robes (unlike most other bodhisattvas, who are dressed like Indian royalty). In his left hand, Ksitigarbha holds a wish-fulfilling jewel; in his right hand, he holds a staff (called shakujo 錫杖 in Japanese), which is used to alert insects and small animals of his approach, so that he will not accidentally harm them. This staff is traditionally carried by Buddhist monks. In the Chinese tradition, Ksitigarbha is sometimes depicted wearing a crown like the one worn by Vairocana Buddha. His image is similar to that of the fictional character Tang Sanzang in the classical novel Journey to the West, so observers sometimes mistake Ksitigarbha for the latter.

Like other bodhisattvas, Ksitigarbha usually is seen standing on a lotus base, symbolising his release from the karmic wheel of rebirth. Ksitigarbha's face and head are also idealised, featuring the third eye, elongated ears and the other standard attributes of an enlightened being.

Iconography in Japan

The Narihira Santosen Temple in Katsushika, Tokyo, contains the "Bound Jizō" of Ōoka Tadasuke fame, dating from the Edo Period. When petitions are requested before Jizō, the petitioner ties a rope about the statue. When the wish is granted, the petitioner unties the rope. At the new year, the ropes of the ungranted wishes are cut by the temple priest. The vandalism of a Jizō statue is the central theme of the Japanese horror film Shibuya Kaidan. The anime series Hell Girl is also loosely based on the legend of Jizō and the zanpakuto of Mayuri Kurotsuchi from the manga series Bleach is Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo (Golden Leg-cutting Jizō). The dark mass spell utilised by Jellal Fernandes in the manga series Fairy Tail features the outline of Ksitigarbha's face when launched.

Ksitigarbha as Lord of the Six Ways

Another category of iconographic depiction is Ksitigarbha as the Lord of the Six Ways, an allegorical representation of the Six Paths of Rebirth of the Desire realm (rebirth into hell, or as pretas, animals, asuras, men, and devas). The Six Paths are often depicted as six rays or beams radiating from the bodhisattva and accompanied by figurative representations of the Six Paths. Many of these depictions in China can be found in Shaanxi province, perhaps a result of Sanjie Jiao worship in the area.[7] A Japanese variation of this depiction is the Six Jizo, six full sculptural manifestations of the bodhisattva. An example of this can be found in Konjikidō, the ‘Hall of Gold,’ in the Chūson-ji temple.

In Buddhist traditions

In China

Mount Jiuhua in Anhui is regarded as Ksitigarbha's bodhimaṇḍa. It is one of the Four Sacred Buddhism Mountains in China, and at one time housed more than 300 temples. Today, 95 of these are open to the public. The mountain is a popular destination for pilgrims offering dedications to Ksitigarbha.

In some areas, the admixture of traditional religions has led to Ksitigarbha being also regarded as a Taoist deity, albeit his duties differ to what Ksitigarbha does. For example, in Hong Kong and among overseas Chinese communities, his images are usually found in the memorial halls of Buddhist and Taoist temples.

In Japan

In Japan, Ksitigarbha, 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, and in particular, children who died before their parents. He has been worshipped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted foetuses, in the ritual of mizuko kuyō (水子供養, lit. offering to water children). 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 sometimes 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 commonly made more baby-like to resemble the children he protects.

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

In Southeast Asia

In Theravada Buddhism, the story of a Buddhist monk called Phra Malai, who has the similar qualities of Ksitigarbha, is well known throughout Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand and Laos. Legend has it that he was an arhat from Sri Lanka, who achieved great supernatural powers through his own merit and meditation. He is also honoured as a successor to Maudgalyayana, the Buddha's disciple foremost for his supernatural attainments. In the story, this pious and compassionate monk descends to Hell to give teachings & comfort the suffering hell-beings there. He also learns how the hell-beings are punished according to their sins in the different hells.


In Shingon and other schools of East Asian Esoteric Buddhism, the mantra of Ksitigarbha comes from the "Treasury of Mantras" section of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra. The effect of this mantra is producing the "Samadhi Realm of Adamantine Indestructible Conduct." This mantra is the following:[8]

namaḥ samantabuddhānāṃ, ha ha ha, sutanu svāhā[8]
In Chinese:
wēng, hā hā hā, wēnsān módì suōhā (嗡,哈哈哈,温三摩地梭哈 / 嗡,哈哈哈,溫三摩地梭哈)

Other mantras

  • Mantra of Eliminating Fixed Karma:
ॐ प्रमर्दने स्वाहा - oṃ pra-mardane svāhā
In Chinese, this mantra is called miè dìngyè zhēnyán (灭定业真言 / 滅定業真言). It reads:
wēng bōluó mòlín tuóníng suōpóhē (嗡钵啰末邻陀宁娑婆诃 / 嗡鉢啰末鄰陀寧娑婆訶)
  • In Chinese Buddhism, the following mantra is associated with Kṣitigarbha:
námó dìzàng wáng púsà (南无地藏王菩萨 / 南無地藏王菩萨)
  • In Korean Buddhism, the following mantra is associated with Kṣitigarbha:
namo jijang bosal
  • In Tibet, the following mantra is associated with Kṣitigarbha:
oṃ kṣitigarbha bodhisattva yaḥ
  • In Shingon, a mantra used in public religious services is:[9]
on kaka kabi sanmaei sowaka オン カカカ ビサンマエイ ソワカ
  • In Sanskrit :
OM HA HA HA VISMAYE SVAHA ॐ हाहाहा विस्मय सोहा

the sanskrit word "vismaye" means "wondrous" : thus it reads in english : Om! Ha ha ha! O wondrous one! svāhā!

Haiku & Senryū

falling freely
tears and rain
on the garden Jizo (anonym)


kuchi-o suwareta

The stone image of Jizo
kissed on the mouth
by a slug
(part of a Senryū)


Suzume no ko
Jizoo no sode ni

The young sparrows
return into Jizo's sleeve
for sanctuary
(haiku by Issa 1814)


Nadeshiko ya
jizô bosatsu no
ato saki ni

Blooming pinks
behind and in front
of Saint Jizo
(haiku by Issa)

Aki-no kure
tsuji-no Jizo-ni
abura sasu

In autumn dusk
at the wayside shrine for the Jizo image
I pour more votive oil
(haiku by Buson)

In works of Lafcadio Hearn

The Legend of the Humming of the Sai-no-Kawara, by Lafcadio Hearn:

But lo! the teacher Jizô appears,
All gently he comes, and says to the weeping infants:
"Be not afraid, dears! be never fearful!
Poor little souls, your lives were brief indeed!
Too soon you were forced to make the weary journey to the Meido,
The long journey to the region of the dead!
Trust to me! I am your father and mother in the Meido,
Father of all children in the region of the dead."
And he folds the skirt of his shining robe about them;
So graciously takes he pity on the infants.
To those who cannot walk he stretches forth his strong shakujô,
And he pets the little ones, caresses them, takes them to his loving bosom.
So graciously he takes pity on the infants.
Namo Jizo Bosatsu!

See also

  • Mizuko kuyō
  • Butsu Zone, a manga in which Jizo is a main character
  • Mount Jiuhua is one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism dedicated to Ksitigarbha
  • Akasagarbha, the Sky Store Bodhisattva



External links

  • Jizo Bodhisattva - Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhism
  • Jizo Bodhisattva: modern healing and traditional Buddhist practice (ISBN 0-8048-3189-0)
  • Dizang text from Dunhuang
  • The Earth Store (Treasury) Sutra is a text on Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
  • The Earth Store Sutra with commentary