Since I arrived in Japan I started to encounter little Jizos everywhere I went. I knew nothing about him, but I was very attracted by the small Jizo statues. As I began to know more, and being myself a traveler, my sympathy for him increased.
According to Buddhist belief, all being exist and are reborn in one of six worlds according to the law of karma: the realm of hell, hungry spirits, asuras, animals, humans and heavenly beings. These are the six paths to liberation.
Jizo Bosatsu was an enlightened monk that postponed Buddhahood to help beings in the six realms of existence.
Jizo is widely venerated in Japan. His statues are by the side of roads, in temples and cementeries. He is a protector of travelers and children. It is believed that when children die they remain trapped between worlds. Jizo helps children to move forward in their path.
It is customary to dress Jizo statues with red bibs and baby hats. In this way parents implore Jizo’s protection for their dead children. Other times, it is a way of giving thanks for the recovery of a child that was ill.
In many statues, Jizo holds a ringed staff in one hand and a jewel in the other. The staff might carry several meanings. The sound of the rings alerts small creatures to move away of Jizo’s path. It is a sound to snap us out of the illusion of this world. Other say that Jizo carries the staff to open the doors of hell and liberate those there trapped. The jewel in the other hand is a symbol of benevolence, a reminder of the gift of salvation.
But Jizo is represented as a simple monk. Frequently the statues are modest and small. I think this simplicity explains in part his popularity. He is an approachable light, without words of wisdom to impart, he is a merciful spirit, a refuge in times of intimate concern.
For one of the greatest sufferings that a parent might face, the Japanese have developed the cult of Jizo. This devotional practice helps grieving parents to go through their ordeal.
For more information on Jizo Bosatsu visit this website.