Crossing the World River and Underworld Cavern of Earth Mother with Jizo

In Japan, Ksitigarbha, known as Jizō, or Ojizō-sama as he is respectfully known, is one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities. His statues are a common sight, especially by roadsides and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, he has been worshiped as the guardian of the souls of mizuko, the souls of stillborn, miscarried  aborted foetuses in the ritual of mizuko kuyō (水子供養, lit. offering to water children). In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.

Jizō statues are sometimes accompanied by a little pile of stones and pebbles, put there by people in the hope that it would shorten the time children have to suffer in the underworld. (The act is derived from the tradition of building stupas as an act of merit-making.) The statues can sometimes be seen wearing tiny children’s clothing or bibs, or with toys, put there by grieving parents to help their lost ones and hoping that Jizō would specially protect them. Sometimes the offerings are put there by parents to thank Jizō for saving their children from a serious illness. Jizō’s features are commonly made more babylike to resemble the children he protects.

As he is seen as the saviour of souls who have to suffer in the underworld, his statues are common in cemeteries. He is also believed to be the protective deity of travelers, and roadside statues of Jizō are a common sight in Japan. Firefighters are also believed to be under the protection of Jizō.


Why Jizo /  Ti Tsang is sometimes accompanied by a dog

Ti Tsang is at times depicted accompanied by a dog, which also has a significant meaning. On the death of his mother, the Bodhisattva, not as “Sacred Girl’, hastened into the underworld with the view of comforting her and to seek favorable treatment for her. However, he could not find her but later discovered that she had already taken rebirth as a female dog. Upon his return to earth Ti Tsang soon traced and adopted the animal, which then became his companion on his pilgrimages.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva is found in many Buddhist homes and temples and he is seen seated upon a lotus throne. Wearing the robe of a Northern Buddhist monk and on his head is the “five-leave crown, where the representation of a Dhyani-Buddha can be seen on each of the leaves. He always has a benevolent and kind look carries either, or both, his symbols of the Cintamani or “Wish-fulfilling Jewel’ and the “Ringed-Staff”, which is also called the Khakkhara. This ringed staff is often carried by Buddhist monks in their travels so that the sounds caused by the jingling rings can warn small animals and insects of their approach lest they be trod upon and killed. It is also sometimes called the alarm-staff.

The Kshitigarbha bodhisattva has a deep relationship with beings of the earth – humans, and especially with the hungry ghosts and hell beings. This is mainly because these ghosts and hell beings are the most difficult to raise into a more fortunate condition due to their previous unwholesome actions. Thus Kshitigarbha has been known as the Teacher of the Dark Regions because of his past vow to save them all. The famous declaration “if I do not go to hell to help them, who else will go?” is popularly attributed to Kshitigarbha. He is willing to have a connection with any being, no matter what the crime or the karma and his aim is to help free them from suffering. He has many emanations and he has manifested in countless forms to save beings at different times and places. In the Chinese Buddhist Pantheon his is the only figure in the form of a monk. This is to indicate that Mahayana Buddhism is suitable for both the monks and the laity.

The Sutra is fundamentally a teaching concerning karma, graphically describing the consequences one creates by committing undesirable actions. This is especially for the benefit of future beings in the Dharma-Ending Age in order to help these beings avoid making the mistakes that will cause them to be reborn in a low condition. With this motivation, the sutra is a discourse given by the Buddha in praise of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha and his heroic Vow, and of the benefits one can receive from worshipping Kshitigarbha and by reading the sutra..

The bodhisattva appears in different transformations, depending on which realm he is in. Nevertheless, the most popular depiction of this bodhisattva in Chinese temples is as a monk with or without a five-sided crown. This appearance is quite extraordinary because other bodhisattvas tend to be portrayed as lay people with jewels and ornaments around their bodies and heads. The difference is that Ksitigarbha wants all people to respect the Three Treasures – the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha – and to believe in the law of cause and effect.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva was different from other bodhisattvas in that he was never an enlightened buddha in any of his previous incarnations. The Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra describes previous existences of the bodhisattva and explains what caused his previous incarnations to vow to carry out the Path of the Bodhisattvas.

In the first incarnation, the young bodhisattva saw a buddha one day, and he was awed by the Buddha’s majestic appearance. His appearance stemmed from his abundant blessings, which in turn originated from his compassion. He asked the buddha how he could obtain such an exalted appearance and temperament, and the buddha replied, “You must help all suffering beings for generations to come.” The young man then vowed to do so.

Presented in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and Kshitigarbha, the teaching takes place in a certain heaven called Trayastrimsa, where the Buddha went so that he might repay the kindness of his mother who dwelt there by speaking the Dharma on her behalf. Hence, the sutra also deals with filial responsibility – not only that between oneself and one’s parents, but also in an ultimate sense of a universal code of duty or responsibility for all living beings, all of whom a Bodhisattva regards with the same kindness, consideration and respect that one should accord to one’s own parents.

Sakyamuni Buddha entrusted Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva the responsibility of continuing to save people after the Buddha himself passed away. During this period humans and other living beings have no buddha to guide them on the path to enlightenment until the next buddha, Maitreya, who will appear on earth several thousand years from now. Thus Sakyamuni Buddha entrust Ksitigarbha to shoulder the responsibility of relieving people from their worries and guiding them to enlightenment


At the pre-Tang Dynasty grottos in Dunhuang and Longmen, he is depicted in classical bodhisattva shape. After the Tang Dynasty, he became increasingly depicted as a monk, carrying rosaries and a staff.

His full name in Chinese script is (simplified Chinese: 大願地藏菩萨; traditional Chinese: 大願地藏菩薩; pinyinDàyuàn Dìzàng Púsà), or the Bodhisattva King Dizang of the Great Vow, pronounced as Dayuan Dizang Pusa in Mandarin Chinese, Daigan Jizō Bosatsu in Japanese, and Jijang Bosal in Korean.

There is a legend about how Ksitigarbha manifested himself in China, and chose his bodhimanda to be Mount Jiuhua, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of China in Buddhism.

In the Eastern Han dynasty, during the reign of Emperor Ming, Buddhism started to flourish, reaching its peak in the era of the Tang Dynasty, eventually spreading to Korea. At the time, monks and scholars arrived from those countries to seek the Dharma in China. One of these pilgrims was a former prince from Silla whose Korean romanization was Kim Kiaokak (Ch: Jin Qiaojue(金喬覺)) and became a monastic under the name of Earth Store (Also called Jijang, the Korean pronunciation of Dizang).[5] He came to the region of Anhui to Mount Jiuhua. After ascending, he decided to build a hut in a deep mountain area so that he may be able to cultivate.

According to records, the monk was bitten by a poisonous snake, but did not move, thus letting the snake go. A woman happened to pass by and gave the monk medicines to cure him of the venom, as well as a spring on her son’s behalf. For a few years, the monk continued to meditate in his hut, until one day, a scholar named Chu-Ke led a group of friends and family to visit the mountain. Noticing the monk meditating in the hut, they went and took a look at his condition. They had noticed that the monk’s bowl did not contain any food, and that his hair had grown back.

Feeling pity on the monk, Scholar Chu decided to build a temple as an offering to the monk. The whole group descended the mountain immediately to discuss plans to build the temple. Mount Jiuhua was also property of a wealthy person named the elder Wen-Ke, who obliged to build a temple on his mountain. Therefore, Wen-Ke and the group ascended the mountain once more and asked the monk how much land he needed.

The monk replied that he needed a piece of land that could be covered fully by his kasaya. Bewildered that a piece of sash could not be enough land to build a temple, the monk surprised them as he threw the kasaya in the air, and the robe expanded in size, covering the entire mountain! Elder Wen-Ke had then decided to renounce the entire mountain to the monk, and became the monk’s protector. Sometime later, Wen-Ke’s son also left the home life to start his life as a monk.

The monk lived in Mount Jiuhua for seventy five years before passing away at the age of ninety-nine. Three years after his nirvana, his tomb was opened, only to reveal that the body had not decayed. Because the monk led his wayplace with much difficulty, most people had the intuition to believe that he was indeed the transformation body of Ksitigarbha.

Monk Jijang’s well-preserved, dehydrated body may still be viewed today at the monastery he built on Mount Jiuhua


Ksitigarbha (Sanskrit: क्षितिगर्भ Kṣitigarbha) is a bodhisattva primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism, usually depicted as a Buddhist monk in the Orient. The name may be translated as “Earth Treasury”, “Earth Store”, “Earth Matrix”, or “Earth Womb”. Ksitigarbha is known for his vow to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha and the rise of Maitreya Buddha, as well as his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied. He is therefore often regarded as the bodhisattva of hell beings, as well as the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture. Usually depicted as a monk with a nimbus around his shaved head, he carries a staff to force open the gates of hell and a wish-fulfilling jewel to light up the darkness.

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (Sanskrit)
Jizō Bosatsu (Japanese)
Jizō’s Origins
Although of India origin, Kshitigarbha (Jizō) is revered more widely in Japan, Korea, and China than in either India or Tibet. Most scholars generally consider Jizō-related texts to be products of China rather than India, followed later by Japanese renditions and additions. Jizō’s earliest association is with Prthvi (Prithvi), a Hindu goddess who personifies the earth and is associated with fertility. In the VEDAS, she is celebrated as the mother of all creatures and the consort of the sky. This association with the sky is very important, for many centuries later, in China, Jizō Bodhisattva (lit. Earth Repository) was paired with Kokūzō Bodhisattva(lit. Space Repository), with the two representing the blessings of earth and space respectively. This pairing is now almost entirely forgotten in both China and Japan. But the pairing lends strong support to Jizō’s early association with the Hindu goddess Prthvi. The strongest support for the Prithvi/Jizō link, however, is the Jizō Bosatsu Sūtra (Jp. = 地蔵菩薩本願経), a 7th-century Chinese translation from Sanskrit, in which Prthivi vowsto use all her miraculous powers to protect Jizō devotees.

When and how Jizō was introduced to China is unknown, but from the earliest extant texts (7th century), Jizō is already closely associated with the earth and with the Lord of Death (Skt. = Yama, Chn. = Yanmo Wang 閻魔王, Jp. = Emma-ō). Only later, in China’s late Sung dynasty (960–1279), does Jizō become associated with the Taoist Ten Kings of Helland appear in Chinese artwork surrounded by the ten. In Japan, Jizō first appears in records of the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD), and then spreads throughout Japan via the Tendai and Shingon sects. According to an old legend, the first Jizō statue was brought to Japan from China and installed at Tachibanadera 橘寺 during the reign of Emperor Shōmu 聖武 (reigned 724-49), but was later moved to Hōryūji 法隆寺 Temple in Nara. <see Dykstra, Monumenta Nipponica, Summer 1978 edition>

In Japan, Jizō appears first in the Ten Cakras Sutra in the Nara period (now a treasure held by the Nara National Museum), but the height of Jizō’s early popularity was during the late Heian era (794 to 1192 AD) when the rise of the Jōdo Sect 浄土 (Pure Land Sect devoted to Amida Nyorai) intensified fears about hell in the afterlife (see Age of Mappo). Due to Jizō’s association with the realm of death and suffering souls, Jizō is also closely associated with Amida Nyorai and with Amida’s heavenly western paradise, where true believers may seek enlightenment and avoid the torments of hell. In traditional artwork, Jizō is the only Bodhisattva commonly portrayed as a monk. Although the origins of this iconography are unclear, some scholars believe Jizō’s depiction as a priest stems from a 7th-century Korean monk named Gin Chau Jue who resided for 75 years at Chiu-hua-shan in China (present day Anhui Province) and who was considered an incarnation of Jizō. When the monk died in 728 (at the age of 99), legend contents that his body did not decay, and was subsequently gilded over and venerated as an emanation of Jizō. < Source. Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms by Soothill & Hodous, ISBN 8121511453. >

The Jizō cult in Japan incorporates many of the traditional characteristics of Jizō veneration in China, but the Japanese developed their own distinct variants from the Kamakura period onward, including (1) Jizō’s close association with the Lotus Sutra; (2) Jizō serving the same functions and roles as Kannon Bodhisattva; (3) Jizō’s very close association with Amida Nyorai and the Pure Land sect; (4) Jizō and theSix Realms and the Ten Kings; (5) Jizō as having the same body as Emma-ō, the King of Hell; (6) Jizō’s association with warriors; (7) Jizō appearing as a young child or boy and; (8) many other forms of Jizōunique to Japan. Since the Kamakura period, Jizō worship has attained a tremendous following in Japan, and today Jizō remains one of Japan’s most revered deities.
Origin = India / China. Savior from Hell’s Torments.
Master of Six Realms of Desire & Karmic Rebirth (Reincarnation).
Patron of Children, Expectant Mothers, Firemen, Travelers, Pilgrims, Aborted / Miscarried Babies. Also guardian of children in limbo.
Affectionately known in Japan as O-Jizō-Sama お地蔵様 or Jizō-san.

One of the most beloved of all Japanese divinities, Jizō works to ease the suffering and shorten the sentence of those serving time in hell, to deliver the faithful into Amida’s western paradise (where inhabitants are no longer trapped in the six states of desire and karmic rebirth), and to answer the prayers of the living for health, success, children, and all manner of petitions. In modern Japan, Jizō is a savior par excellence, a friend to all, never frightening even to children, and his/her many manifestations — often cute and cartoon-like in contemporary times — incorporate Taoist, Buddhist, and Shintō elements.

Jizō is a Bodhisattva (Jp. Bosatsu), one who achieves enlightenment but postpones Buddhahood until all can be saved. Jizō is often translated as Womb of the Earth, for JI 地 means earth, while ZŌ 蔵 means womb. But ZŌ can also be translated with equal correctness as “store house” or “repository of treasure” — thus Jizō is often translated as Earth Store or Earth Treasury. Jizō embodies supreme spiritual optimism, compassion, and universal salvation, all hallmarks of Mahayana Buddhism.


The Underworld Hag waiting by the River of Three Crossings

Datsue-ba (奪衣婆?, lit. “old woman who strips clothes”) is an old woman who sits at the edge of the Sanzu River in the Buddhist underworld. At the river, she has two primary duties.

According to Japanese Buddhist folklore (mostly from Japan’s Pure Land sects), when a child dies its soul has to cross the Sanzu River. Traditionally, when a person dies, it is believed that they can cross the river at three different spots depending on how they lived their lives. Since children have not accumulated enough experiences, however, they are unable to cross. At the river’s edge, the souls of deceased children are met by Datsue-ba. There, she strips the children of their clothes and advise them to build a pile of pebbles on which they can climb to reach paradise. But before the pile reaches any significant height, the hag and underworld demons maliciously knock it down. The Buddhist bodhisattva Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river by hiding them in his robe.

When a soul is that of an adult, Datsue-ba forces the sinners to take off their clothes, and the old-man Keneō hangs these clothes on a riverside branch that bends to reflect the gravity of the sins. If the sinner arrives with no clothes, Datsu-ba strips them of their skin. Various levels of punishment are performed even at this early stage. For those who steal, for example, Datsueba breaks their fingers, and together with her old-man consort, she ties the head of the sinner to the sinner’s feet.

The Sanzu River (三途の川 Sanzu-no-kawa), or River of Three Crossings, is a Japanese Buddhist tradition and religious belief similar to the River Styx. It is believed that on the way to the afterlife, the dead must cross the river, which is why a Japanese funeral includes placing six coins in the deceased’s casket.

The Sanzu River is popularly believed to be located in Mount Osore, a suitably desolate and remote region of northern Japan.

According to the Soka Gakkai, traditionally, people are said to cross on the seventh day after their death. It has three crossing points: a bridge, a ford, and a spot where there is only deep serpent-infested water. Where one crosses depends on the weight of one’s offenses while alive. Those who performed acts of good while alive cross over a bridge adorned with seven precious substances. Those whose karmic balance of good and evil is relatively even cross at a ford. Those who committed great evil must wade through deep water infested with hideous serpents. On the bank, a male demon and a female demon dwell under a large tree. The female, named Datsue-ba, strips the dead of their clothes, and the male, named Keneō, hangs the clothes on a branch of the tree to determine the weight of their offenses. There is also a popular saying: “If you take that much money, you’re going to drown in the Sanzu River”.In ancient times some believed that placing a coin in the mouth of the deceased, would help pay the toll for the ferry to help cross the Styx river which would lead one to the entrance of the underworld. If some could not pay the fee it was said that they would never be able to cross the river. This ritual was performed by the relatives. The Styx (Greek: Στύξ, Stux, also meaning “hate” and “detestation”) (adjectival formStygianplay /ˈstɪi.ən/) was a river in Greek mythology that formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (often called Hades which is also the name of this domain’s ruler). It circles the Underworld nine times.[citation needed] The rivers Styx, PhlegethonAcheron, and Cocytus all converge at the center of the underworld on a great marsh, which is also sometimes called the Styx – the Siberian River of Death and Circle of Life.

The World River or Underworld River Styx is a North Asian or circum-polar Siberian tradition. The more-or-less uniform concept embodied in surviving Buryat cosmology is succinctly explained below:

“Waterways are passages for travel for the suns souls, especially the World River which enters the middle world by the World Tree in the south then flows into the lower world in the north. Of course this belief would seem natural because the great waterways of North Asia all feed into the Arctic Ocean Like the constantly renewing flow of water in these great rivers, suns souls return to the earth again and again. A model has been developed out of the various myths explaining this process which exist throughout Siberia. According to this model, souls enter the world through the source of the World River by the World Tree, where Umai stands watch over the ami souls. At the time of birth, the reincarnating souls come down the river and enter the infant at the time of birth. At death, the suns travels down the river to the Arctic Ocean and the entrance to the lower world while the ami takes the form of a bird and flies back to the World Tree. In order to return to this world the suns will either travel underground to the World River’s source or travel along the Milky Way to the lands in the south where the upper and middle worlds touch.

This cycle of life presents an interesting parallel to the water cycle, which generations of native peoples could not have failed to understand to some degree. Water falls on the earth as rain and flows from the ground at springs (springs are considered a gateway to the lower world).

It flows ultimately into the ocean, where evaporation raises water once more to the heavens so it can fall on earth again as rain. In the same way, human souls follow the World River to the sea, only once more to emerge at its source in order to incarnate once more…”

Source: Buryat Mongol Shamanism

See also: The Shaman Guides the Soul to the Underworld

“The Goldi have two funerary ceremonies: the nimgan, which takes place seven days or even longer (two months) after the death, and the kazatauri, the great ceremony celebrated some time after the former and at the end of which the soul is conducted to the underworld. During the nimgan the shaman enters the dead person’s house with his drum, searches for the soul, captures it, and makes it enter a sort of cushion (fanya). The banquet follows, participated in by all the relatives and friends of the dead person present in the fanya; the shaman offers the latter brandy. The kazatauri begins in the same way. The shaman dons his costume, takes his drum, and goes to search for the soul in the vicinity of the yurt. During all this time he dances and recounts the difficulties of the road to the underworld. Finally he captures the soul and brings it into the house, where he makes it enter the fanya. The banquet continues late into the night, and the food that is left over is thrown into the fire by the shaman. The women bring a bed into the yurt, the shaman puts the fanya in it, covers it with a blanket, and tells the dead person to sleep. He then lies down in the yurt and goes to sleep himself.

The following day he again dons his costume and wakes the deceased by drumming. Another banquet follows and at night (for the ceremony May continue for several days) he puts the fanya to bed again and covers it up. Finally one morning the shaman begins his song and, addressing the deceased, advises him to eat well but to drink sparingly, for the journey to the underworld is extremely difficult for the drunken person. At sunset preparations for the departure are made. The shaman sings, dances, and daubs his face with soot. He invokes his helping spirits and begs them to guide him and the dead man in the beyond. lie leaves the yurt for a few minutes and climbs a notched tree that has been set up in readiness; from here he sees the road to the underworld. (He has, in fact, climbed the World Tree and is at the summit of the world.) At the same time he sees many other things: plentiful snow, successful hunting and fishing, and so on.

Returning to the yurt, he summons two powerful tutelary spirits to help him; butchu, a kind of one- legged monster with a human face and feathers, and hoori, a long-necked bird. Without the help of these two spirits, the shaman could not come back from the underworld; he makes the most difficult part of the return journey sitting on the hoori’s back.

After shamanizing until he is exhausted, lie sits down, facing the west, on a board that represents a Siberian sled. The fanya, containing the dead person’s soul, and a basket of food are set beside him. The shaman asks the spirits to harness the dogs to the sled and for a ‘servant’ to keep him company during the journey. A few moments later he ‘sets off’ for the land of the dead.

The songs he intones and the words he exchanges with the ”servant’ make it possible to follow his route. At first the road is easy, but the difficulties increase as the land of the dead is approached. A great river bars the way, and only a good shaman can get his team and sled across to the other bank.”

Early notions of the Underworld in Siberia

M. Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. Willard Trask (New York: Bollingen Series LXXVI), Pp. 210-12, being a summary of Uno Harva, Die religiosen Vorstellungen derattaischen Vo1ke (Helsinki, 1938), PP. 334-45

In Siberian mythology, the spirit of evil, who was sometimes thought of as the primeval man fallen from grace. In Lapp mythology he was always ‘lord of the underworld‘, a monstrous guardian of departed souls.

In general, this tradition was linked to the belief in life on earth and in life on the other side. Souls were seen as being only brief appearances in bodies living on earth that, later on, returned to their homeland. This concept of the ontological distinction of Earth into a world of spirits and the world of Earth (bone-like existence) was common among Siberian as well as Iranian and Indian peoples; they also performed a cult in which, after death, the body became food for vultures by abandonment of the corpses. This cult is still celebrated today among the Parsi people in India.

This cult of the dead and the cure of the ill constituted an important feature of shamanistic belief. Their thinking was characterised by the assumption of life on the other side in contrast to the physical world with the soul being able to free itself from the body (soul with rebirth). In the case of illness, the shaman had to make out the person’s soul which had either run away or had been caught by spirits by force and bring it back home: If the patient is possessed by evil spirits, the shaman had to expel them from the body, frequently by calling helping spirits in order to be given support in exorcist ceremonies. Rituals and also hunting spells were intended to reconcile the hurt souls of animals.

The skilled mastership of instruments was the basis for the ceremonies performed in public and the prerequisite of the acrobatics performed by the actors in trance with their audience. If one did not succeed in mastering something extremely extraordinary, he was not respected among the people living in his village. The purpose of these actions was to expose oneself to hurt and death by not surpassing the line of death by a hair’s breadth – was this the secret purpose of these techniques of ecstasy? The state of ecstasy in which the shaman leaves his body in order to find souls wandering around or to search for the soul of fatally ill people in the lower world definitely requires a complete diastasis from one’s own body; this is nearly publicly shown as the shamans want to make plausible the inner ability of soul searching and trans-somatic travelling?

During ecstasy the soul is able to leave the body, and shamans send this soul to the world of spirits and gods, into the other worlds: this is the type of soul that practices the so-called shamanic soul-flight or soul-ride.

The Shaman’s transformation – zoomorphic – into the animal is connected with his helping spirit or his guard spirit. In most cases, the imitating of animals is classified as a dance, such as a bear, an elk, a seal, a wolf, a hare, a deer, etc. In case of the imitating ritual dance, there is the transformation into zoomorphic spirits into which the shaman changes himself on his journey. The ritual dance is intended to help the shaman reach ecstasy. The shamans themselves create all the melodies performed during the spell. For some peoples the sound imitations act as the call signs – the uttering sounds of different animals or of birds can be imitated by means of different whistling techniques. Text forms of speech acts do not really exist and lose their meaning outside the ritual context. They are validated not only by the text, which, apart from certain phrases, is mostly improvised, but also by being spoken, by the act itself. After the ceremonial act the shaman has to gather together with all the spirits.


Next, we examine the cosmology of the  Turco-Mongols:

Erlik, or Erlig, is the god of death and underworld in Turkic and Mongolian mythology.

According to Siberian mythology, Erlik was the first creation of Tengri or Ulgan, the creator god, but Erlik’s pride led to friction between the two, and he was banished to the underworld.

In the myths of the Altaic peoples, Erlik was involved in the creation of humanity. He slew the messenger-god, Maidere, and is a teacher of sin. He is sometimes represented by a totemic bear.

In Turkic mythology, Erlik was the deity of evil, darkness, lord of the lower world, and judge of the dead. He is known as the first of mankind, created by Ulgen. He wants to be equal to Ulgen, but is in a position inferior to him. Then he wanted to make his own land and was sent to the prison at the 9th layer of the earth and became opposed to the upper world, the realm of light.

The evil spirits created by Erlik cause misfortune, sickness, and death to mankind. These spirits are imagined as Erlik’s assistants. Besides these, his 9 sons and daughters help their father in the way of evil. Erlik’s daughters especially try to change a shaman’s mind while he is attempting to reach Ulgen with their beauties. Erlik gives all kinds of sickness and wants sacrifices from the people. If they do not sacrifice to him, he catches the dead bodies of the people that he killed and takes them away to this lower world and then makes them his slaves. So, especially in the Altays, when sickness appears, people become scared of Erlik and sacrifice him a lot of animals.

In the prayers of shamans, Erlik is described as a monster, having the face and teeth of a pig combined with a human body. Besides his face, he is an old man with a well-built body, black eyes, eyebrows, and mustache.

Todote is the Samoyed god of evil and death, identified with the Turkic god Erlik.

Erlik: the Siberian God of the Underworld, was the first man but he was not given a soul. (Pdf source)

 Myth of Creation the Earth.
When there was nothing but earth and sky. The world consisted of water only. The God Ulgen flew throughout this endless world and said: “I want a world which I would create. How should this world be and with what clan should I create it”? The White Mother said to God Ulgen: “If you want to create, Ulgen, you have to learn the holy word as a creator. Always say ‘I did and it became’; do not say anything else”. The White Mother said this and disappeared. God Ulgen looked down to the earth saying: “Let the earth be created”! Looking at the sky saying: “Let the sky be created”! When these orders were given, the earth and the sky were created. After God Ulgen created the world, he sat on the top of the great Golden Mountain, whose top reached the moon and the sun and whose skirts did not touch the earth. In addition to the moon and the sun, he had created nine worlds, one hell for each and an earth. One day, God Ulgen saw a piece of clay on a piece of soil floating on the sea. He said: “let this be the man and let there be a father for man”, and the clay on the soil suddenly became a man. God Ulgen called this man ‘Erlik’ and took him as his brother. After God Ulgen created seven men whose bones were of reeds and whose flesh were of soil. Having created a hero called Mandishire to protect man as he thought Erlik would harm the world, he blew soul through the ears of the seven men and he blew minds through their noses. God Ulgen created Maidere to manage people and made him the Khan of the people.In the beginning, only water, the sun and the moon existed. There was a Lord who felt lonely and created another Lord. Together they made the earth and the mountains. They had a quarrel later. The first Lord’s name was Tchayan (Ulgen), the God of Heaven and the other Lord’s name was Irlik-Khan (Erlik), the master of the underworld. Tchayan created eight men, one with the name Maidere, the Khan of the people. He created the first women. She brought knowledge, love and mistake.There are many versions of this Altaic creation story in which is the evil, Erlik and the God Ulgen. He has created the earth. In this story, the eighth man, named Maidere, he must bring the breath of life from God to the first woman. Every tribe has his own.

Erlik – Satanic divinity and slayer of the messenger-god Maidere. Ulgen banned Erlik to the underworld on account of his atrocious deeds.
The Siberian spirit of evil, Erlik was also the Lord of the underworld. The Altai people speak of his birth the following: once Ulgen saw a piece of mud with human features floating on the ocean. The high God gave a spirit to it, it was the first man and he named the creature Erlik. Ulgen and Erlik were friends in the beginning. But the friendship of Ulgen and Erlik did not last long, for the pride of the later obliged his banishment to the depths, where he became the Lord of the dead. Erlik was then the evil, the leader of dead spirits. He is the devil. Sometimes Erlik comes forth, and Ulgen must command him down again. Lord Ulgen is the creator. Ulgen had to keep sending Erlik back to the depths. Ulgen and Erlik possess plenty of spirit-assistants, the first possesses kind and good spirits (aru nemeler or eeler) and the last – evil (kara nemeler or kormostor). Ulgen is so kind and mild hearted that he is unable to make any harm to a man. Erlik, in contrary, is so evil that he is unable not to harm and he only postpones for a while his bad thoughts and actions toward human beings.


It is possible to draw a parallel between Erlik as an archetype of the Lord Yama of the Japanese Underworld, and Ulgen as the archetype of the kind Jizo.


Many Japanese, even today, believe Jizō will save them at any time, in any situation, without any conditions or stipulations beyond simple faith. Even those who have already fallen into the pit of hell are promised assistance. Jizō is thus very popular and depicted in countless forms throughout Japan. Many originated in recent centuries and are unique to this island nation (not found elsewhere in Asia). It is no exaggeration to say that nearly all villages and localities have their own beloved Jizō statues, which are frequently given unique names defining their specific salvific functions. Some of Japan’s innumerable Jizō emanations (both traditional and modern) include:

  1. Cute Jizo Bosatsu
    Jizō often appears
    cute in modern Japan.
    Zenkōji Temple (Nagano).
    Photo courtesy this J-siteCute Jizo Bosatsu
    Zenkōji Temple (Nagano).
    Photo courtesy this J-siteCute Jizo Bosatsu serving as store mascot
    Cartoon-like Jizō
    outside store selling
    Jizō talismans (Kyoto)


  2. Aburakake Jizō 油懸地蔵. Greasy Jizō.
  3. Ajimi Jizō 嘗試地蔵 (also read Kokoromi). Food Tasting Jizō.
  4. Amagoi Jizō 雨乞い地蔵. Jizō Begging the Sky for Rain. Also known as Ama Koi Jizō 雨恋地蔵 (Jizō Who Loves Rain). The latter often appear as large boulders inscribed with kanji for Jizō; used in rain rituals. See Farmers Jizō for more forms related to agriculture.
  5. Anzan Jizō. 安産地蔵. Safe child-birth, easy delivery.
  6. Asekaki Jizō. 汗かき地蔵. Sweating Jizō. Excretes white sweat if good things are about to happen, and black sweat when bad things are foreseen. A modern manifestation of Jizō in Japan.
  7. Battlefield Jizō. See Shōgun Jizō below.
  8. Botamochi Jizō ぼた餅地蔵. Rice-Ball Jizō.
  9. Daigan Jizō 大願地藏菩萨. Great Vow Jizō (C = Dàyuàn Dìzàng).
  10. Danda Jizō 檀陀地蔵. One of Six Jizō, assists those in Hell Realm.
  11. Doroashi Jizō 泥足地蔵 Muddy-Feet Jizō.
  12. Enmei Jizō. 延命地蔵. Longevity Jizō.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in the Hell Realm.
  13. Farmers & Peasants Jizō. Various forms of Jizō
    to reduce the toils of the poor peasants.
  14. Hadaka Jizō. 裸地蔵. Naked Jizō.
  15. Hanakake Jizō 鼻欠け地蔵. Noseless Jizō.
  16. Harahoge Jizō はらほげ地蔵. Blow Hole Jizō.
  17. Hara-Obi Jizō 腹帯地蔵. Belly Girdle or Bellly Band Jizō.
    Said to grant easy birth to pregnant women.
  18. Hawaii Jizō. Guardian of Fishermen and Swimmers.
  19. Hibō Jizō 被帽地蔵. Hatted Jizō, with head covered.
  20. Higiri Jizō. 日限地蔵. Time-Limiting Jizō.
  21. Hitaki Jizō. 火焚地蔵. Fire Kindling Jizō, Patron of Firemen. Also called Kuro Jizō 黒地蔵 (Black Jizō) or Hifuse Jizō 火伏地蔵.
  22. Hōju Jizō 宝珠地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
  23. Hōin Jizō 宝印地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Realm of Animals.
  24. Hōkō-ō Jizō 放光王地蔵. Esoteric. One of Six Jizō. Deva Realm.
  25. Hōroku Jizō ほうろく地蔵. Earthenware Jizō. Cures head ailments.
  26. Hōsho Jizō 宝処地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Asura Realm.
  27. Hōshō Jizō 宝掌地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
  28. Hōyake Jizō 頬焼地蔵. Jizō With Burnt Cheeks.
  29. Hyakudo Mairi (See Wheel Jizō)
  30. Jiji Jizō 持地地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Human Realm or Asura Realm.
  31. Jizō Bon (Jizō Festival). Annual confession ceremony held Aug. 24.
  32. Jizō Ennichi 縁日. The 24th day of each month is sacred to Jizō.
  33. Jogaishō Jizō 除蓋障地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Human Realm.
  34. Karate Jizō 空手地蔵. Empty-Handed Jizō.
  35. Kasa Jizō 笠地蔵 (Hatted Jizō). Extremely popular folk tale.
  36. Kenko-i Jizō 堅固意地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Deva Realm.
  37. Kongōgan Jizō 金剛願地蔵 (aka Danda Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Hell Realms.
  38. Kongōhi Jizō 金剛悲地蔵 (aka Hōin Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Animal Realm.
  39. Kongōhō Jizō 金剛宝地蔵 (aka Hōju Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Hungry Ghost Realm.
  40. Kongōtō Jizō 金剛幢地蔵 (aka Jiji Jizō). Esoteric form.
    One of Six Jizō, assists those in Asura Realm.
  41. Kosodate Jizō 子育て地蔵, Child-Raising Jizō.
  42. Koyasu Jizō 子安地蔵, Easy Childbirth, Child-Giving Jizō.
  43. Kubifuri Jizō 首振地蔵. Turn-My-Head Jizō.
  44. Kubikire Jizō 首切れ地蔵. Jizō with Head Cut Off.
  45. Kuro Jizō 黒地蔵. Lit. = Black Jizō. Fire-Kindling Jizō, Patron of Firemen. Also called Hitaki Jizō 火焚地蔵, Hifuse Jizō 火伏地蔵.
  46. Male or Female.
  47. Michibiki Jizō. 導き地蔵. Guiding Jizō.
  48. Migawari Jizō 身代わり地蔵. “Substitute” for one who suffers.
  49. Miso Jizō みそ地蔵. Bean-Paste Jizō.
  50. Misoname Jizō みそなめ地蔵. Miso-Licking Jizō
  51. Mizuko Jizō 水子地蔵. Water-Child Jizō, guardian of aborted children and kids who die prematurely, whose souls go to a hell-realm known as Sai-no-Kawara.
  52. Nikkō Jizō 日光地蔵. One of Six Jizō. Deva Realm.
  53. Omokaru Jizō おもかる地蔵尊, Heavy / Light Jizō.
  54. Onegai Jizō お願い地蔵. Wish-Granting Jizō. Ask-a-Favor Jizō.
  55. Origins. Overview of Jizo’s spread from India and China.
  56. Red Bibs and Hat. Explains why Jizō is often decked in red.
  57. Roku Jizō 六地蔵. Six Realms Jizō. One for each of the six realms of rebirth. The six vary significantly among temples and sects. TheRoku Jizō section lists approx. 24 forms of Jizō.
  58. Rubbing Jizō. Alleviates ailments and illness.
  59. Sakasa Jizō さかさ地蔵. Upside-down Jizō.
  60. Sentai Jizō 千躰地蔵. 1,000 Bodies of Jizō
  61. Sekidome Jizō 咳止地蔵. Cough-Stopping Jizō.
  62. Shibarare Jizō 縛られ地蔵. String-Bound Jizō.
  63. Shinpei Jizō 心平地蔵. Spirit-Pacifying Jizō, one who pacifies the souls of people who were executed.
  64. Shōgun Jizō 勝軍地蔵. Victorious Jizō, Battle-Field Protector.
  65. Six Jizō. 六地蔵. Six Realms Jizō. One for each of the six realms of desire and rebirth. The six vary significantly among temples and sects. The Six Jizō section list approx. 24 forms of Jizō.
  66. Tawashi Jizō 束子地蔵. Kitchen-Brush Jizō.
  67. Togenuki Jizō 刺抜地蔵. Splinter Removing Jizō.
  68. Tsunbo Jizō 聾地蔵 (lit. = Deaf Jizō)
  69. Uba Jizō 姥地蔵. Old Woman Jizō.
  70. Wheel Jizō 地蔵車. Wheel Jizō. Present life and afterlife. Turn the wheel down and a wish for the afterlife will be granted; turn it upward and a wish for your present life will be granted.
  71. Women and Pregnancy. There are many forms of Jizō dedicated to the concerns of women.
  72. Yata Jizō 矢田地蔵. Located at Kongōsenji Temple 金剛山寺 (aka Yatadera 矢田寺) in Nara prefecture. This form of Jizō holds a gem in left hand and displays the semui-in mudra 施無畏印 mudra (fear not mudra) with right hand.
  73. Yahiroi Jizō 矢拾い地蔵. Arrow-Gathering Jizō, Battle-Field Protector.
  74. Yotenga Jizō 預天賀地蔵 (aka Jogaishō Jizō). Esoteric. One of Six Jizō. Human Realm.
  75. For more Jizō forms, see De Visser or visit this outside J-site.

2 thoughts on “Crossing the World River and Underworld Cavern of Earth Mother with Jizo

  1. We Slavs also have the ancient teachings of the “World River” that flows down from the Sacred Mountain. This is also associated with the stones from the steppes, called the Golden Babas (golden grandmothers), i have an article if your interested. I love when symbolism at its core or root is in almost all cultures. : )

    • Yes, it’s fascinating how eastern ends of the globe have so many myths that parallel those in the west. If only we could track and find the trail of transmission, and original sources. I would be happy to read your article, please send it to world myths are fascinating and a puzzle to be solved!

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