Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ten Little Jizos, a Bodhisattva and a Family

I received a remarkable and deeply meaningful gift from Mark for Christmas: one large Jizo statute and ten smaller statues, all of which now grace our back patio. Anyone who knows me will recognize the significance of the number ten - it's how many children we have. Each statue represents one of them. The large statue represents me.

One has to know a bit about Jizo in order to understand and appreciate this gift. He is one of the most beloved and revered Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. A Bodhisattva is an archetypal being dedicated to helping others, and embodying specific spiritual qualities. Jizo is known for making a vow, despite the fact that he achieved enlightenment, to be present with and benefit all suffering beings on their respective paths to enlightenment.

This was the first Jizo statue we saw, in Ueno Park in Tokyo. This depiction is more severe than the many others we saw, but he is recognizable as Jizo because of his staff holding six keys (whose jingling is said to warn animals of his approach, thus preventing mutual harm) and the jewel he holds in his left hand, "the bright jewel of Dharma truth," the light of which banishes all fear.

I first learned about Jizo when Mark and I made our trip to Japan a year ago this past fall. Temple after temple, we ran into him, or rather statues of him. He is a beloved figure in Japan, special to pregnant women and to those whose children have died, and thousands of Jizo statues in Japan are particularly dedicated to children who have been aborted.  

We saw hundreds of Jizo statues at Hase-Dera Temple outside of Kamakura, Japan, all in memory of a child who had been aborted, stillborn or died young.

Jizo statues are often wearing tiny children's clothing or bibs, and grieving parents place toys and other offerings beside the Jizo statue to invoke his protection of their dead child. We ran across the very beautiful and poignant statute depicted below at another temple. Note a small child rests atop the Dharma jewel. The second picture shows items left at the feet of Jizo in memory of a lost child.

In North America, the personage of Jizo takes on a more archetypal and less literal meaning. His qualities include unflagging optimism, courage, and gentleness, and a nurturing love for all beings. He plunges fearlessly into any place or situation to help those in need and is especially concerned with taking care of those who are vulnerable. In this regard, Jizo is said to be the patron saint of lost causes because he never gives up. As the protector of travelers, he seeks to benefit travelers at important life crossroads.

I love Mark's gift. To me, the large Jizo statue that represents me is a constant reminder to strive always to develop the qualities represented by him: optimism, courage, gentleness and compassion. It is also a challenge to remind me of my role as father of my children: to be a guide for them, to be with them and help them in time of need, to never "give up" on them and to love them unconditionally.

The smaller Jizos represent each of our ten children, and together with the large Jizo, are deeply symbolic of life's journey, of my love for each one of them and of the roles they in turn will fill as they go through life - as parents, as friends, as human beings who seek to walk through this life with love and compassion.

Lastly, the Jizos will also be a constant reminder of the role that Mark has played as a Jizo-figure to my children. He has truly been an example to them of love and compassion and nurturance, and their lives have been blessed as a result.

This fact was beautifully expressed in another gift Mark and I received this past Christmas from our daughter Rachel - a video she made in which many of the children express their love for Mark (and for me) and what he has meant to them. As our daughter Hannah so beautifully expresses in the video, Mark filled a need - a gap - that they didn't even know was there. I cannot think of a better definition of a true Boddhisattva.

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