Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kshitigarbha Online

Boddhisatva in cyber landscape

The name of Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha / Ksitigarbha, aka Dizang (Chinese), Jizo (Japanese), Dia Tang (Vietnamese), Jijang (Korean), literally means 'Earth Store' or 'Earth Treasury.1 This illustration combines influences from Shirow Masamune's Ghost in the Shell and traditional East Asian religious iconography, notably medieval Dunhuang Buddhist paintings that also show concentric rings within double halos.

According to the Ksitigarbha Sutra given by Sakyamuni Buddha, the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha was, in a past life, a Brahmin woman who sought to save her mother from hell.2 The countless incarnated forms of the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha gathered in Trayastrimsa Heaven and coalesced into one form, vowing to Buddha to save all beings.3)

Ksitigarbha was a minor deity in India, where he was depicted as part of a group of 8 bodhisattvas but not venerated independently.4 The worship of Ksitigarbha began in Central Asia, and reached unprecedented popularity in China, after the Central Asian monk Siksananda translated the Ksitigarbha Sutra from Sanskrit into Chinese in the 7th century.5

Ksitigarbha's iconography is unique in his depiction as a monk, unlike other bodhisattvas who are adorned in the manner of Indian royalty.6 Since his worship was more prevalent in East Asia, representations of Ksitigarbha typically have an East Asian appearance. For this image, I chose to depict the deity with South Asian facial features wrt the deity's Indian roots, but used East Asian monk attire (combining aspects of both modern robes and clothing depicted in medieval or antique art) as references for the costume.

On a side note, the image of a South Asian monk wearing East Asian robes is not a historical impossibility. Many of Indian Buddhist teachers went to China, some of them living the remainder of their lives there. A couple of well-known South Asian monks in China are two 5th century Indian monks, both called Buddhabhadra. The first Buddhabhadra (Chinese: Batuo), became the first abbot of China's Shaolin Monastery.7 The second Buddhabhadra came to China to work as a translator of Buddhist texts.8 He died in China in 429 CE, leaving behind texts that had a profound influence on Chinese Buddhism.8, 9

  1. Ksitigarbha on Wikipedia
  2. Ksitigarbha Sutra
  3. Ksitigarbha Incarnated In The Assembly in Ksitigarbha Great Vows Sutra
  4. The Art of Buddhism: An Introduction to Its History and Meaning, Denise Patry Leidy, p207
  5. Sutra of The Great Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva on Wikipedia
    On the Nalanda Trail: Buddhism in India, China and Southeast Asia, p35
  6. Ksitigarbha on Wikipedia
    Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva on KsitigarbhaBodhisattva.com
  7. Batuo on Wikipedia
  8. Buddhabhadra on Wikipedia
  9. India and China: Beyond and Within


  1. Masamune Shirow geekdom! I'm loving the sci-fi mandala to death.

    1. Thank you.I'm happy that you like it ^_^ It's always fun to meet another Shirow fan.