Jizou Bosatsu: a mystery solved

Out late last night, slept in a bit and was doing some research on the net about the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas depicted in the statues I saw yesterday. And ended up solving a long-standing personal mystery.

For about 15 years, I've had a Buddhist wall hanging, that I bought in the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show. I was told that the characters in an upper corner read "Earth Buddha", which I though was pretty cool. When I gained a little bit of knowledge about kanji, I tried looking them up.

Four characters: the first is indeed "earth", the last two were "bodhisattva" (or "bosatsu" in their Japanese reading). The second I couldn't quite figure out, but seemed like it might be one that could read either "Buddhist" or "Tibetan", but that seemed either redundant or inconsistent with the style (being labeled in Chinese characters and all). Still, "earth (mumble) bodhisattva" was cool.

First time I came to Japan, Eric pointed out some figures of Jizo Bosatsu, a bodhisattva associated as a protector of children. That's about all I knew about him.

Yesterday I learned that he is seen as a savior of all those suffering on the paths of rebirth, especially those reborn in hell realms.

(On the way back yesterday, I found a little Jizo shrine right outside a Shinto(?) temple, where people do a "bathing the bodhisattva" ritual. I took some photos, dropped a few yen in the box, splashed some water on the statue out of respect.)

My reading today expanded on this; that he is portrayed carrying a staff that he uses to pry open the gates of hell, and a gem that lights the way.

Hey, I think, the guy in my hanging has a staff and a gem.

Then I take a look at the kanji for his name, which means "Earth-Store" or "Earth-Womb" (seems a gender change may have occurred over the years, as happened with Quan Yin/Kwan Seum Bosal in China and Korea) Bodhisattva. Yep, I've had Jizo hanging on my wall all these years and not known it.

Seated depictions like the one I have are rare in Japanese art, where he's almost always shown standing (often in a walking, stepping forward pose), so I don't feel too bad for not recognizing him.

But that's really cool, I think. Besides a rescuer of those in hell, and savior of children, Jizo is a patron "saint" for firefighters, which has personal resonance for me. (My father's father's career as a firefighter is a source of family pride.)

Another version is the "Excuse Jizo", who acts as a defense council during the judgment of the dead. Yes friends, like Bob, Jizo Bodhisatva comes not to forgive our sins, but to justify them! I must capture this in an artwork somehow.

Namu Jizou Bosatsu!


Now, at the Blarney Stone, Umeda, where Eric is playing w/ reggae band The Native Tongues (very good). Last night I ended up at a reggae/dub night at Life, where I met a guy from Jamaica and a Nigerian dude; add that to Aussies, Brits, a Spanish guy I met at Mojo Bar (who I might buy a guitar from), Filipinos, Canadians, a woman from Austria I exchanged a few words with...getting all up in that international thang. Osaka's like that, a crossroads, a Babylon 5 sort of city to use an SF metaphor.

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