Kshitigarbha is called Dizang in Chinese, and Jizo in Japanese. In modern Japan Jizo is still highly venerated as a protector of children and travelers and as a guide to the afterlife. Jizo is especially prominent as the protector of the spirits of aborted fetuses and deceased children.
In English Jizo means "Earth Storehouse" or "Earth Womb". In many ways Jizo relates to the ground and to our earth. Although usually depicted as a male monk in Japanese tradition, we might conceive of Jizo symbolically as the earth mother bodhisattva. In accord with his name "Earth Womb", Jizo embodies many aspects of mothering, as well as of male nurturing and protective functions.
Iconographically, Jizo appears as a shaved-head monk, with a staff in one hand and a wish-fulfilling gem in the other. The traditional monk's staff dates back to Shakyamuni Buddha's order in India. It jangles as the monk walks, announcing his presence, warding off predators, and scaring away small animals that might inadvertently be crushed underfoot.
Jizo (Dizang) remained prevalent in Chinese temples into the twentieth century, with special halls housing his image, although statues are not set out along the roadside as they are in Japan. In contemporary Japan small stone Jizo statues appear frequently alone or in clusters at temples, and also individually, often in small shrines, along many city streets as well as country roadsides to protect travelers. Stone Jizos are often placed at crossroads, riverbanks, on the seashore, and at other transitional spaces.
Traditionally Jizo benefits those in the hell realms. As friend to those in hell, Jizo loyally stands by and comforts the tortured, the wretched, and the afflicted.
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