Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Love That Never Fails


Ksitigarbha is one of the most popular bodhisattvas in Mahayana. He might be thought of as the embodiment of the love of strangers, outsiders, the abandoned, and the lost. He is always shown as a monk with a shaved head carrying a long walking staff. This staff underlines Ksitigarbha’s role in helping those in transition: those going from one place to another, travellers and pilgrims; those moving towards maturity, children; and those going from this life to the next. In this last case Ksitigarbha is often also associated with purgatorial beings. According to most theistic faiths, at death or on the Judgement Day one is scrutinised and, if found wanting, condemned to hell. Once in hell there is no way out; damnation is forever.


Buddhism has no supreme being to judge the dead; each person creates their destiny by the kamma they have made, by their intentional thoughts, speech and actions. Great cruelty or viciousness may well create a purgatorial destiny. However, when one’s negative kamma in purgatory is exhausted, one will pass away and be reborn in another realm, perhaps as a human again. Hell is forever; purgatory is an unpleasant self-created interlude. Nonetheless, as purgatory offers limited opportunities to expunge negative and cultivate positive kamma one might have to endure the distress of that state for a very long time. Such is Ksitigarbha’s metta and karuna that he chooses to descend into purgatory, experiencing all its torments and suffering, in order to teach the Dhamma to the beings there so that they might practise it and shorten their stay there. The Buddhist understanding is that the highest love and compassion never abandons even the most wicked. Metta and karuna does not allow for eternal damnation. It is the love that never turns away from those who have failed to love or those who have never believed in love.

When I was in Japan several years ago a friend took me to an interesting shrine in Kyoto (or was it Nara?) to Ksitigarbha, known in Japan as Migawari Jizo. The shrine commemorates an incident that happened some 800 years ago when a monk was actually transported to purgatory where he saw Ksitigarbha helping the suffering beings. On the monk’s return he painted a picture of what he had witnessed and small wooden plaques reproducing this painting can be purchased in the shrine. I bought one and keep it in my room preaching to remind me of the unconditional aspects of metta and karuna
In popular Thai Buddhism there is a story very similar to that about Ksitigarbha and very possibly influenced by it. A Sri Lankan monk named Venerable Maliyadeva (Thai, Phra Malai) developed his meditation to the degree that he manifested the psychic power which allowed him to go to heaven and purgatory. Moved by compassion he descended into the infernal realm to relieve the suffering of the beings there by teaching them the Dhamma. Maliyadeva could not be considered a symbol of love and the legends about him have no scriptural basis.  Nevertheless, his story is important because it speaks of the Buddhist conception of what the highest love is like, one markedly different from that which will countenance eternal punishment.    



   

8 comments:

Branko said...

Done, Bhante! :)

http://srednjiput.rs/tumacenja/sravasti-dhammika-kamma/dhammika-razmisljanja-o-dhammi/ljubav-koja-nikada-ne-odustaje/

Patr said...

"If I dont enter hell to save the beings there, then who will..?"

Famous Ksitigarbha saying.

brahmavihara said...

When I hear this story of Ksitigarbha, I think of the "Buddha Bar" that was opened in Dubai some years ago. After all the tut, tutting and pseudo (not really) outrage from the Buddhist community, at least from the one that I know, it almost perfectly matched, symbolically at least, the legend of Ksitigarbha. Imagine if you will, in the heart of an Islamic country that reviles Idolaters such as Buddhists and tapping a Cop on the shoulder could see you encarcerated in a cockroach infested hell hole until you Paya- da-money or await your fate held in the hands of the Islamic scholars that always look as if they have limp, damaged hair and terminal acne, you haplessly stumble upon the Dubai chapter of The Buddha Bar, licensed Restaurant. This establishment is well patronized by the usual German backpackers, Americans, loud Aussies and respectful Japanese and all happy to enjoy the "alkywhole" that is served with the meal. Unusual in an Islamic country. This scene is silently presidided over by a serene, monumental Buddha statue. Few, if any of the visitors take any real notice of it, but I sometimes speculate that if even one person looks upon that Buddha Rupa from their somewhat pleasant, intoxicated state and is caused to wonder about it's serene message and at some later time is caused to seek the answer to this question, isn't this a little bit like the Ksitigarbha story?

Gui Do said...

The story is illogic. If the purgatorical state depends on one's own doing, it should be impossible to descend there by decision. It is either a personal (subjective) state where no one else can be found, or a realm, but then it must be local. This locality is nowhere to be found. Ksitigharba could therefore only enter his own, self-made hell or a certain place in the world.

Walter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter said...

Regarding the point made by Gui Do, I think many of the teachings in Mahayana are not based on logic but are "illustrations" or "personifications" of experiential truths. Ksitigharba I would think is the "personification" of the Bodhisatta compassion or love.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Gui Do, you either contradict or disagree with everything I post on my blog, and yet you have been reading it for several years now. I’m sure we’d get on well if we ever met.

Gary Chew said...

Good day Bhante, I was touched by Ksitigharba story when I was in search for the few answer when I was a Catholic. And I turn to buddhism immediately, so I guess Ksitigharba is the one who initiate me into Buddha's teaching.

Ksitigharba's compassion and love is one of the reminder and guidelines I hold on until now. I also wish to say that this buddhistta's chinese name is Di Zang Wang Pu Sa. Di Zang can be translated to Earth Store or Earth Treasure. In one of the Mahayana Sutta, Buddha says we must be still and calm as the Earth, no matter how ppl treat the Earth, the Earth also accept them with open arms, and then the store or richness which refers to our gems of wisdoma and potential of becoming a Buddha that is in each of us.