Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is often referred to as the Bodhisattva of the Hell beings because of his vow to not achieve Buddhahood until "all the Hells are empty". However, his vow actually encompasses all sentient beings, being similar to that of Living Buddha Lien-Shen, who vows to reveal all the secrets of even the hidden teachings, in order to save sentient beings, even if he has to suffer retribution, and the pulverization of his bones and flesh. His popularity among the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists is second only to Kuan Shih Yin P'usa as he takes upon himself the fearful and difficult task of bringing relief and consolation to the suffering beings of hell.
The birthday of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva falls on the 30th day of the 7th moon of the Chinese lunar calendar. All over the world Buddhist temples offer prayers to Ti Tsang P'usa during the 7th lunar month for the benefit of the dead.
Ti Tsang is at times depicted accompanied by a dog, which also has a significant meaning. On the death of his mother, the Bodhisattva, not as "Sacred Girl', hastened into the underworld with the view of comforting her and to seek favorable treatment for her. However, he could not find her but later discovered that she had already taken rebirth as a female dog. Upon his return to earth Ti Tsang soon traced and adopted the animal, which then became his companion on his pilgrimages.
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is found in many Buddhist homes and temples and he is seen seated upon a lotus throne. Wearing the robe of a Northern Buddhist monk and on his head is the "five-leave crown, where the representation of a Dhyani-Buddha can be seen on each of the leaves. He always has a benevolent and kind look carries either, or both, his symbols of the Cintamani or "Wish-fulfilling Jewel' and the "Ringed-Staff", which is also called the Khakkhara. This ringed staff is often carried by Buddhist monks in their travels so that the sounds caused by the jingling rings can warn small animals and insects of their approach lest they be trod upon and killed. It is also sometimes called the alarm-staff.
The Kshitigarbha bodhisattva has a deep relationship with beings of the earth ? humans, and especially with the hungry ghosts and hell beings. This is mainly because these ghosts and hell beings are the most difficult to raise into a more fortunate condition due to their previous unwholesome actions. Thus Kshitigarbha has been known as the Teacher of the Dark Regions because of his past vow to save them all. The famous declaration "if I do not go to hell to help them, who else will go?" is popularly attributed to Kshitigarbha. He is willing to have a connection with any being, no matter what the crime or the karma and his aim is to help free them from suffering. He has many emanations and he has manifested in countless forms to save beings at different times and places. In the Chinese Buddhist Pantheon his is the only figure in the form of a monk. This is to indicate that Mahayana Buddhism is suitable for both the monks and the laity.
The Sutra is fundamentally a teaching concerning karma, graphically describing the consequences one creates by committing undesirable actions. This is especially for the benefit of future beings in the Dharma-Ending Age in order to help these beings avoid making the mistakes that will cause them to be reborn in a low condition. With this motivation, the sutra is a discourse given by the Buddha in praise of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha and his heroic Vow, and of the benefits one can receive from worshipping Kshitigarbha and by reading the sutra.
The bodhisattva appears in different transformations, depending on which realm he is in. Nevertheless, the most popular depiction of this bodhisattva in Chinese temples is as a monk with or without a five-sided crown. This appearance is quite extraordinary because other bodhisattvas tend to be portrayed as lay people with jewels and ornaments around their bodies and heads. The difference is that Ksitigarbha wants all people to respect the Three Treasures - the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha - and to believe in the law of cause and effect.
Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was different from other bodhisattvas in that he was never an enlightened buddha in any of his previous incarnations. The Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra describes previous existences of the bodhisattva and explains what caused his previous incarnations to vow to carry out the Path of the Bodhisattvas.
In the first incarnation, the young bodhisattva saw a buddha one day, and he was awed by the Buddha's majestic appearance. His appearance stemmed from his abundant blessings, which in turn originated from his compassion. He asked the buddha how he could obtain such an exalted appearance and temperament, and the buddha replied, "You must help all suffering beings for generations to come." The young man then vowed to do so.
Presented in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and Kshitigarbha, the teaching takes place in a certain heaven called Trayastrimsa, where the Buddha went so that he might repay the kindness of his mother who dwelt there by speaking the Dharma on her behalf. Hence, the sutra also deals with filial responsibility - not only that between oneself and one's parents, but also in an ultimate sense of a universal code of duty or responsibility for all living beings, all of whom a Bodhisattva regards with the same kindness, consideration and respect that one should accord to one's own parents.
Sakyamuni Buddha entrusted Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva the responsibility of continuing to save people after the Buddha himself passed away. During this period humans and other living beings have no buddha to guide them on the path to enlightenment until the next buddha, Maitreya, who will appear on earth several thousand years from now. Thus Sakyamuni Buddha entrust Ksitigarbha to shoulder the responsibility of relieving people from their worries and guiding them to enlightenment.
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