30th day of 7th lunar month
Where are you going
My beautiful friend
Is this the road that
You take to the end
And if we break down
All we left behind
Is this the highway
Of all mankind?
Axis spins so round and round we go
Where we’re going no one really knows
Here we here we here we here go
Feel the fire
Way down below…
That’s from Big Audio Dynamite’s spiritual hymn, “The Globe“, but it could very well be the theme for today’s holiday, celebrating the birthday of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism–or as he’s sometimes known: the Buddha of Hell…
What does Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva mean? Well, in the immortal words of Big Audio Dynamite, let’s
“Break it on down (bless you)” :
Bodhi means enlightened, wakefulness, absolute consciousness, perhaps even superconsciousness, and refers specifically to the state achieved by Gautama Buddha and his disciples. It’s similar to Nirvana, and indeed, Nirvana and Bodhi used to be used synonymously. But in Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhi is a notch up from Nirvana (No offense to Kurt).
Anyone can attain nirvana (okay, maybe not anybody) while only Buddha can attain Bodhi. In fact, “Buddha” means one who has attained Bodhi.
Now Sattva can mean many things: purity, harmony, truth, goodness, but it basically means “the essence of being”.
The Bodhisattva are those rare beings who can attain complete and pure wakefulness, the most enlightened state.
Ksitigarbha was a special Bodhisattva. Ksiti means “womb” or “matrix”. Garbha means “earth”. His name literally translates to “Womb of the Earth,” “Treasury of the Earth” or, “Earth Store”.
Though capable of achieving Bodhi, Ksitigarbha refused to do, as he considered it his duty to help others. Ksitigarbha vowed not to achieve Bodhi until “all the hells are empty.”
Put it all together and you have the Buddha of Hell. That’s his nickname, since he aimed to vacate the Hells on earth. He’s also called Dizang in China, Jizo in Japan.
This year Ksitigarbha’s birthday falls one day after the remembrance of the beheading of St. John the Baptist in the Christian religion. John the Baptist was believed to have gone to hell after the beheading, where he preached to the inhabitants there that the Messiah had arrived on earth.