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Jizo & the Jizo Garden

Jizo Bodhisattva is an important influence 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, until every single one awakens. It is this vow that inspired the monastery's 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.

Jizo Remembrance Ceremony

In the introduction to her book Jizo Bodhisattva, Chozen Bays Roshi describes her work with child abuse, and the accumulated suffering she was carrying after working in the field for ten 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.

More about Jizo Bodhisattva

Jizo is known by many names, in Sanskrit “Kshitigarbha”, in Chinese “Dizang” or “Ti-tsang”, in Korean “Jijang”, in Tibetan “Sa-E Nyingpo”, and in Japanese “Jizo”. Jizo’s name can be translated as “Earth Womb” or “Earth Storehouse”, and this well reflects Jizo’s qualities of caring for those who are vulnerable and supporting anyone in any realm.

The earliest writings about Jizo are the Sutra of the Past Vows of Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva, the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra, and the Sutra of the Ten Kings. These contain many wonderful stories and descriptions of Jizo, and give us an idea of the qualities Jizo possesses. The Sutra of the Past Vows describes Jizo's vow to work to liberate all beings, in all realms, even if the good they posses is “as little as a mote of dust, a drop of water, a bit of down.” In Buddhism there are six realms (Heaven, Hell, Hungry Ghost, Fighting Gods, Animal, and Human) and for this reason Jizo statues are often found in sets of six.

Jizo's qualities include unflagging optimism, courage, and gentleness, and a nurturing love for all beings. Jizo plunges fearlessly into any place or situation to help those in need. Jizo is especially concerned with taking care of those who are vulnerable, and many stories tell of Jizo helping children who have died overcome the trials that face them in the transition between life and death. In Japan, and now the USA, Jizo has a special relationship with women who have lost children. Jizo is also a benefit for travelers at important life crossroads who may be facing great challenges.

In Japan Jizo is usually portrayed as a child-monk, often carrying a pilgrim's staff with six rings that jingle to warn animals of his approach and prevent mutual harm. Jizo also carries the bright jewel of Dharma truth whose light banishes all fear. Jizo is the only Bodhisattva to appear as a monk (most appear wearing jewels and royal clothing), and one of the two Bodhisattvas who is said to frequently travel in hell and help those suffering there.


There is a dharani (short chant) associated with Jizo, chanted at Great Vow every day. Chanting this dharani invokes the energy of Jizo, and may help dispel distressing, repetitive thoughts.

Om - Ka - Ka - Kabi - San - Ma - E - Sowa - Ka


Special Jizo Events

There are several Jizo-related events throughout the year, including:

Jizo Ceremony for Children who have Died (March)
Jizo Ceremony for Loved Ones (May)
Jizo Bon (August)

Please check the Calendar for details of coming events.