Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Great Aspiration, is one of the most well-known Bodhisattva in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism. He is also known as Di Zhang Wang Pusa in Chinese and commonly translated as Earth Treasury,” “Earth Store,” “Earth Matrix,” or “Earth Womb.
The longer form of its name translates as Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha. The sutra tells of how Kṣitigarbha became a bodhisattva by making great vows to rescue other sentient beings and a description of how he displayed filial piety in his past lifetimes. The sutra also expounds at length the retributions of unwholesome karma, descriptions of Buddhist hells and the benefits of good merit both great and small.
Previous live of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
There is a legend about how Ksitigarbha manifested himself in China and chose his bodhimaṇḍa to be Mount Jiuhua, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of China.
During the reign of Emperor Ming of Han, Buddhism started to flourish, reaching its peak in the Tang and eventually spreading to Korea. At the time, monks and scholars arrived from those countries to seek the dharma in China. One of these pilgrims was a former prince from Silla named Kim Gyo-gak, who became a monk under the Chinese name Dizang “Ksitigarbha,” pronounced Jijang in Korean. He went to Mount Jiuhua in present-day Anhui. After ascending, he decided to build a hut in a deep mountain area so that he could cultivate the dharma.
Jijang was bitten by a poisonous snake but he did not move, thus letting the snake go. A woman happened to pass by and gave the monk medicines to cure him of the venom, as well as a spring on her son’s behalf. For a few years, Jijang continued to meditate in his hut, until one day, a scholar named Chu-Ke led a group of friends and family to visit the mountain. Noticing the monk meditating in the hut, they went and took a look at his condition. They had noticed that his bowl did not contain any food, and that his hair had grown back.
Taking pity on the monk, Chu-Ke decided to build a temple as an offering to him. The whole group descended the mountain immediately to discuss plans to build the temple. Mount Jiuhua was also property of a wealthy person called Elder Wen-Ke, who obliged to build a temple on his mountain. Therefore, Wen-Ke and the group ascended the mountain once more and asked Jijang how much land he needed.
Jijang replied that he needed a piece of land that could be covered fully by his kasaya. Initially believing that a piece of sash could not provide enough land to build a temple, they were surprised when Jijang threw the kasaya in the air, and the robe expanded in size, covering the entire mountain. Elder Wen-Ke had then decided to renounce the entire mountain to Jijang, and became his protector. Sometime later, Wen-Ke’s son also left secular life to become a monk.
Jijang lived in Mount Jiuhua for 75 years before passing away at the age of 99. Three years after his nirvana, his tomb was opened, only to reveal that the body had not decayed. Because Jijang led his wayplace with much difficulty, most people had the intuition to believe that he was indeed an incarnation of Ksitigarbha.
Jijang’s well-preserved, dehydrated body may still be viewed today at the monastery he built on Mount Jiuhua.
Symbols Associated With Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is easily recognised in a Buddhist monastery as he is the only Bodhisattva dressed in a monk’s robe and either bald or wearing a monk’s cap with the Five Dhyani Buddhas.
The Bodhisattva holds a walking staff also commonly used by monks. It has rings on different tiers and is used to alert insects and animals of his coming to avoid accidentally hurting them. In his other hand, he holds a pearl, a lotus flower or ritual objects.
In a Chinese Monastery, sculpture of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva can be seen near the bell tower or in the hall where ancestral tablets are placed.