August 22, 2011 by Yugen
Today was Jizo Day. Every year we hold a special service, honoring Jizo Bodhisattva, the one who protects and nurtures. In Buddhism, we have a number of different Bodhisattvas who embody various aspects of the Buddha's teachings, or more simply put, of human nature. A Bodhisattva, in our tradition, is one for whom helping others is their raison d'etre, and they make a solemn vow to that effect. So in this sense, any one of us, when involved in helping others, is functioning as a bodhisattva. The Bodhisattvas of the capital 'B' variety are kind of like patron saints in the Christian tradition, although the big difference is that they are seen as aspects of ourselves rather than historical figures to whom we have to try and measure up. Jizo is not a historical figure, any more than Manjusri Bodhisattva, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva or Avaloketisvara Bodhisattva (AKA Quan Yin, Kanzeon, Kannon). But, like patron saints, Jizo is charged with protecting children, women, animals and travelers and embodies the part of us that actually does these things. I always feel a little wary of this list with the inclusion of women, among children and animals, as if they are somehow more in need of protection than men. I guess it is the cosmic role of 'Mother: womb-bearing-bringer-of-life' that is flagged up here rather than anything sexist. I just looked around on the internet, as one so conveniently can when walking on doubtful ground, to check the exact facts on Jizo. As often an internet search can, the findings have left me in a state of further confusion with even more versions of Jizo Bodhisattva now swimming around in my head. It seems agreed upon that one main role of Jizo is to protect children, especially those who died before their parents, and her great vow as a bodhisattva is to help those suffering in the hell realms and will continue endlessly until all are liberated. This is a bit more universal. The hell realms are where those who are caught up in anger, jealousy, greed, depression, anxiety and hatred dwell. Which is all of us, from time to time. Seems like a pretty worth while vow to me.
The service went well. Unfortunately I don't have any photos as we didn't have enough people to fill the service positions, so I took part in the service rather than shooting it. We had a few families come up from Idyllwild and a few from further afield, so it was great to have lots of young kids taking part. Melissa Baiun Severa did a fantastic job organizing some activities for the kids after the ceremony, including a 1-minute zazen period! Tenshin Roshi mentioned afterwards that we might simplify the ceremony next year (this was already a simplified version in some ways) so that the people who weren't familiar with the services we do up here would feel more comfortable and to enable more of a natural and informal flow to the proceedings. The kids weren't that involved in the actual ceremony so Roshi thought it would be good to include a part where they can offer flowers at the altar, rather than just the incense at the end with everyone else. I managed to grab a few photos after lunch as many of the kids were still hanging about by the service site, amid fluttering flags and the bright flowers that Wayu bought for the altar.