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Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva: A Symbol of Cultural Exchange Between India and China

article by Dr. Bikash Kali Das.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, also known as Dizang in China and Jizo in Japan, is one of the most important bodhisattvas in Buddhist East Asia, after Avalokitesvara. Ksitigarbha is well-known in Tibet, where he is known as Sahi snying po. His name is typically interpreted to mean “receptacle of the earth” and is seen as a Buddhist transformation of the Vedic earth goddess Prithvi.

Ksitigarbha’s significance in India-China cultural relations can be traced back to the Mahayana Mahasamnipata Sutra (Dasheng daji dizang shilun jing), which was translated into Chinese by Xuanzang in the year 651. This scripture is the only exoteric sutra concerning Ksitigarbha whose pre-Chinese origin is undoubted. The Dizang Pusa Benyuan Jing (Sutra of the original vow of the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha) is also significant, although there is evidence to suggest that this text was written in China as late as the 10th or 11th century.

According to the Dasheng daji, Ksitigarbha’s unique characteristic is that Śākyamuni Buddha entrusted him with the task of rescuing sentient beings during the period between Śakyamuni’s parinirvāṇa and the enlightenment of the next Buddha, Maitreya. Ksitigarbha’s role in saving beings from suffering is emphasized in the Dizang Pusa and other texts, where filial piety is also a prominent theme. Four stories in the Dizang Pusa relate the origin of Ksitigarbha’s vow to rescue all beings from suffering, with two of them telling of his previous births as women who are moved to take such a vow after learning that their own mothers are suffering in the Avici hells.

While Ksitigarbha’s knowledge was likely introduced to China around 400, there is no evidence that he became an object of widespread devotion until much later. In some “counterfeit” sutras showing obvious Daoist influence, Ksitigarbha was linked to the “ten kings” who were the judges of the Chinese “dark regions,” and prayed to specifically in order to lengthen life and ward off disaster. In these sutras, Ksitigarbha both judges and saves beings. Today, reliance on Ksitigarbha’s vow remains a part of Buddhist practice in Chinese cultural areas, and in the seventh lunar month, the Dizang Pusa is widely recited and special offerings are made in gratitude for his rescuing of ancestors reborn in the various hells.

Shizhong Temple 地藏王菩薩 (Yunnan (Dali To Shaxi) Jianchuan County, Shibao Mountain)Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva 3 (Right) &Amp; 4 (Left). Ksitigarbha, One Of The Four Budhisattavas In Chinese Buddhism And Three Hua-Yan Saints China.
Shizhong Temple 地藏王菩薩 (Yunnan (Dali to Shaxi) Jianchuan County, Shibao Mountain)Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva 3 (right) & 4 (left). Ksitigarbha, one of the four Budhisattavas in Chinese Buddhism and Three Hua-yan Saints China.
Painting Of Kṣitigarbha As The Lord Of The Six Ways From Mogao Grottoes In Dunhuang
Painting of Kṣitigarbha as the Lord of the Six Ways from Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang

Ksitigarbha’s influence is also felt in Tibet, where he is most frequently honored as one of the groupings of “eight great bodhisattvas” whose mandalas are important in the Esoteric (i.e., Vajrayana) tradition. In conclusion, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’s significance in India-China cultural relations lies in his role as a prominent figure in Buddhist East Asia, particularly in China, where his vow to rescue all beings from suffering and filial piety are key themes in his worsh

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