Jizo Bodhisattva is an important character and influence here at Great Vow Zen Monastery. A Bodhisattva is an archetypal being dedicated to helping others, and embodying specific spiritual qualities. Jizo is known for making a vow to be present with, and benefit to, all suffering beings in all realms, and to continuously benefit others until “the hells are empty”. It is this vow that inspired our name.
Jizo is also the protector of women, children and travelers, and specifically helps children that have died navigate the transition between life and death. There is a tradition in Zen monasteries in Japan of offering Jizo ceremonies to help ease the grief of women who have lost children.
In the introduction to her book “Jizo Bodhisattva” our teacher, Chozen Bays Roshi describes her work in child abuse and the accumulated suffering she was carrying after working in that field for 10 years. In order to help ease the burden of sorrow she was carrying she attended a Jizo Ceremony in San Francisco with her Dharma friend Yvonne Rand. She writes “After the ceremony, as I was heading back to Portland, I realized that my heart was palpably lighter. I hadn’t realized how heavy the burden of sorrow was, accumulated over ten years of child-abuse work. Also relieved was the hidden sorrow of my own miscarriage twelve years before. I did not talk or think much about the miscarriage because people could not understand long-lasting grief over an eight-week-old fetus.
"Until then I had discounted the power of an “invented” ceremony. When I realized how important this ceremony was, and how deep and long-lasting its effects could be, I conferred with Yvonne, and began to offer the ceremony in Portland.”
At Great Vow we offer two Jizo ceremonies per-year, and in August we have a Jizo celebration called "Jizo Bon". Many Jizo images stand and sit on the monastery grounds, and we have a Jizo garden in the forest behind our zendo.