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September 24, 2017

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Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva III

There is still another story about the birth of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (地藏王菩薩). In one of his six incarnations, he was born Kim Kyo Gak (金喬覺) in Korea. But he wasn't an ordinary man. He was the crown prince of the kingdom of Silla, which was a vassal state of Tang China. Kim became the king. He and the ruler of his neighbor kingdom were good friends. Some of their citizens, however, were sinful. So the two kings met one day to exchange opinions on how to save their sinful subjects. Kim's friend vowed to attain buddhahood as soon as possible so that he could save his wretched people. Kim disagreed. He said he would save his sinful subjects first and then try to attain buddhahood after they all could achieve it.

There is a long way before a monk can turn himself into a bodhisattva. He has to earn merit. According to one Buddhist sutra, the Buddha praised Ksitigarbha for his compassionate deeds and proclaimed that the latter had his unlimited blessing. As a matter of fact, the Buddha gave Ksitigarbha the responsibility of continuing to save the people after he himself passed away. The next Buddha, Maitreya, has yet to be born. In the interim, it is the duty of Ksitigarbha to save the sinful people of the world. The Buddha entrusted Ksitigarbha with the mission to relieve people from their worries and guide them to enlightenment.

While at Mount Jiuhua, the future Ksitigarbha gave his disciples and lay followers lectures on Buddhism during the daytime. At night, he is believed to teach ghosts and souls in Hell. His followers were convinced that he must be Ksitigarbha Boddhisattva and built a large temple to commemorate him after he had passed away.

The Chinese call Ksitigarbha Dizhang (地藏), which is pronounced Jizo in Japanese. So far as the Japanese are concerned, Ksitigarbha is Jizo, who at the insistence of grieving relatives and friends, descends into hell, delivers its sufferers, and transports them to heaven or his Pure Land. In his previous incarnations he was twice a woman, which explains his untiring kindness and tender mercy, and his interest in helping women in the pangs of childbirth. As if to credit him with the ability to be in many places at once and thus to multiply his power to aid, the Chinese declared there were six of him, one for each of the six life-levels of the universe. In Japan, in the character of a single being, Jizo was identified with the Shinto war-god, Hachiman (八幡), represented as riding on horseback, wearing a war-helmet. He became a favorite of Japanese soldiery. But he was also the beloved friend of little children, in which relation he appeared to them in the guise of a simple, honest monk. Besides, there are Kosodate Jizo (育子地藏) or Ksitigarbha for Childcare and Mizuko Jizo (水子地藏) or Ksitigarbha for Unborn or Still-born Babies, the latter being very popular during the Tokugawa shogunate when abortion was popular among peasant women who couldn't afford many children and wanted to pray for those who were not given birth.

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