My faboo hubby is a fan of the Boddhisattva Jizo. I was not fully aware of the story of Jizo until Steve introduced me. I was always drawn to the statuary of this figure, often portrayed as a kind, head-shaven monk, sometimes almost childlike. He can be depicted with a staff (shakujo) to warn small creatures and insects of his coming, so he does no harm unintentially. He is much revered and beloved, embodying spiritual optimism, compassion and universal salvation. In Japan, there are statues of him everywhere. No really, everywhere.
"…Jizo Boddhisattva is a beloved bodhisatttva, omnipresent and accessible. The other bodhisattvas sometimes have a fierce aspect and are housed in dark niches on altars at a distance from the people in the temples. Peering through a wire screen or wooden grate in the darkness of an old temple you catch a gleam of gold or glimpse of a graceful arm or torso. In contrast, Jiso resides in the open, among the people. His face serene and gentle with a hint of a smile. Even in city neighborhoods he can be found in small shrines every few blocks. The cities have grown up around him and the old altar houses that shelter him are sometimes notched into phone poles or squeezed into a niche between buildings."
from Jizo Bodhisattva, Jan Chozen Bays Roshi
Jizo is known in sanskrit as Ksitigarbha Boddhisattva. Jizo translates generally as "Womb of the Earth". It is believed that rather than becoming a Buddha, he chose to remain among us to do good works and instruct all those in the six realms of suffering, especially those who are departed. So basically to alleviate the suffering of both the living and the dead.
He is the protector of travelers. Many statues of Jizo can be seen on roads. He is also the protector/guardian of expectant mothers and of unborn children or those who have died at a young age. Traditionally, dressing Jizo is to accrue merit for the afterlife. The hat and scarf are usually red which represents safety and protection.
We do not dress Jizo to accrue merit but what in our eyes in a sign of respect and caring. He is outside for the winter and our offering is to keep him warm. A thank you for the beauty of his image that gives us great contentment and pleasure. It's hard not to smile back at his sly smile. We had to retire our first set of Jizo clothes, the squirrels had also just taken too much contentment in them. A friend who makes beautiful knits for babies, made us a new set. They are not red but green. I'm not sure what purple represents in Japan, but green represents nature; youth; energy of growth and eternity.
We think they will do justice to our Jizo.
If you want to learn more about him, this book is great.