Jizo, the stone child
The stone, what is the stone telling us? Our western gardens are like our western minds. I say western minds – of course, it doesn’t include anyone here! We tend to see things in terms of triumph or defeat or disaster and our gardens are like this. They are a riot of splendour and colour in the spring and summer, then they become depressing in autumn when everything falls, and in the winter they’re just sad. If you read an account of a garden like Sissinghurst, you will see that. It says in the winter, Sissinghurst, alas, is sad. But the purpose of the Japanese garden is quite different. It’s not to create exaltation with a mass of flowers and brilliant colours and splendid design patterns, Italian garden, symmetrical lake.
A Japanese garden is not symmetrical. A Japanese once said to me, ‘Your Italian gardens are completely symmetrical, aren’t they? If you had one quarter of it and two mirrors, you’ve got the whole garden!’ Every part of the garden has its own importance and in the rock gardens there is just sand, raked sand, and rocks. But if you sit and watch it, then, without knowing why, you begin to feel at peace and that peace is conveyed by the garden even in winter when the snow covers the stone. Still the form of the stone is seen under the snow. And still the same peace comes.
This is the message of stone. Jizo, the stone child, is represented as a stone, but he is active sometimes, and he goes into the hells with his long sleeves. The guardian demons, can’t, of course, stop the bodhisattva going into the hells. And there is a hell in which many human beings are, where the souls are small children. They’re building up little pagodas of stones. They are on a sort of riverbank with a lot of stones and they are building up pagodas. They are not sure why they are building them up, but there is a general impression among the children that if they can get it high enough, somehow they’ll get out of this hell, and when the pagodas are getting quite high a demon rushes out with an iron rod knocks them down, then they start up again. And this is a parable of our life. We feel if we pile things up, enough, somehow it will get us out of hell. Just a little bit more… Some people have got a very big pagoda – they’ve got name, they’ve got reputation, they’ve got a lot of money and influence, but still they feel there’s something more to be added to their pagoda – they’re not out of hell. And just as they are about to achieve, as they think, their objective, something comes and knocks it all down.
Jizo enters that hell, and he sees the babies building their little pagodas, the guards, their teeth grating together, but they pass him through – they must. He goes in and, as he passes among the children, he stuffs some of the children into his long sleeve. Then he comes out with his face as good as gold, like when we are children and we have got a sweet in our mouth and we just stand before our parents. ‘Have you been eating chocolate?’ The guards can’t challenge him.They look at those bulging sleeves – seems a bit funny – but they can’t search him, and he goes out. Jizo can take the souls from this hell of meaningless effort and can rescue them.
Another lesson from the Jizo is – he stands in front of the temple by the wayside with his staff, his rosary, his childish face, and the people come, and the people go – it’s a figure of blessing, but he never interchanges any remarks, or greetings with them. They pass by.
Well, there is a practice in Buddhism of watching the passing thoughts. One method of practising this is to take himself to be the Jizo, the stone Jizo, unmoving, blessing and the thoughts, coming and going. There is no interchange of greetings, of no arguments, no recognition as they pass; he blesses them all equally without moving.
Well, this is the first little section on the stone sermon and it’s an illustration. They are taken from various sources, of how this one thing, if it’s meditated on, then the stone will begin to speak to us; this image will begin to speak to us.
In the fourteenth century in Japan one of the great generals wanted to get, to take, one of the Jizo images with his army. It was a famous image. It had, in some way, become famous and he had the idea that, if this was taken with his army, his strategies would be successful. So he applied to the temple and he interviewed the abbot and he asked for permission to take the Jizo.
So the abbot said in a polite way, ‘This will be meaningless and useless for you’. The general said, ‘But this Jizo has a great reputation and I believe in him and I would like to take him with me’.
And the abbot said, ‘If you take the stone image with you, you would take nothing. This is not the way to take Jizo with you’.
So the general said, ‘Well then, how do I do it?’
And the abbot said, ‘Find the Jizo standing in your own heart, a child, six years old, a staff and the rosary, then you take him with you’.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Stone Sermon
Part 2: Jizo, the stone child
Part 3: We sweep up the leaves
Part 4: Brahma Viharas
Part 5: Ananda asked the Buddha