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Thread: Jizo and the death of a child

  1. #1

    Jizo and the death of a child

    A question was put to me about Jizo by a dear member of this forum: Recently a dear friend of mine lost her unborn child. My wife and I havingbeen through the same a year ago in 2 weeks (found out on my birthday last year) I wanted to offer her some sort of comfort besides my shoulder. I have read a bit on Jizo but would appreciate any input you could share. .
    I would like to remind everybody that I have very little knowledge, let alone authority to speak on this subject. To be honest with you, I am often surprised to read posts of people of little experience that are so assertive and full of strong views. In my experience, views dissolve with practice and the young an mighty lions will turn into gentle cats. Not a cat yet but getting gently there. So...I would like to share a few thoughts arising from my experience. For a start you may find reliable information on this link about Jizo and its various forms and roles:

    Now, the loss of a child is a pain beyond words. And religions, Buddhism is no exception, often provide comfort and hope to parents, family and friends. As the child is supposed to be in a difficult place, underworld, limbo...a spiritual being is in charge of rescuing the child. If you come to Japan you will bump into countless statues of Jizos, often in the form of a small children looking like monks erected to help the dead beloved ones.
    Not my cup of tea and not my understanding of what Jizo represents. As I understand it, our tradition doesn't necessarily sooth the pain but, instead, it invites us to embrace fully sorrows and tears...So the great thing is to cry, just cry. No pain killer needed, only the full acceptance of our feelings. Yet, at the same time we are invited to clearly see the emptiness of all this, the transient nature of all things and see that there is nothing as death and nobody to die. Both at the same time. Jizo is a beautiful expression of this in my eyes, the frail and small figure of a child and yet he is dressed in a kesa and is a Budddha, present and absent, Jizo represent the real nature of the world as it is, both just the world with its bumps and holes and Buddha nature at the same time.
    Of course, I don't believe that dead children are going to a special place, I don't know really and it doesn't matter to know. What matters is how to handle this crisis and understand fully its profound teaching. I don't think using Jizo for your friend would have any significance and be really appropriate as I imagine he or she is not a Buddhist, what is the best way your friend? And if the best help would be not to steal the pain from her or him, let them be there just being by their side in the simplicity of your being and understanding in silence what they are going through because you have been there. In other words, to be a witness, to cultivate compassionate attention, warm presence beyond religious froms and symbolism. Going for a walk, sharing a cup of tea, giving a simple smile, whatever arises form your true heart is what is required. You may also just cry with them. The monk Ryokan used to do that quite a lot. And you may just sit, I remeber the dear words of a GP who happened to be a Zen monk as well teling me that when he had to cope with the death of cancer patients and could not sleep at night, he was jut sitting. Best thing to do was this little nothing. Just sit.
    We often think that we have to help and save people and the world, we often want to relieve the countless beings and ourselves. The path of the Boddhisatva is to act, but not like a hero of a legend or an american cartoon or comic book, the Boddhisatva path is to listen, watch, perceive and display in the ten thoudsand simple forms, the oneness of it all. It is not glorious at all. It is a bit like becoming the bell hit, and hit gain by everything, the sound that comes out and permeates everything is due to the utter simplicity, the hollow nature, devoided of any intention of the bell's body. Sorry to be so wordy. Be Jizo. Be you. Be.

    love to all


  2. #2

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    I don't think using Jizo for your friend would have any significance and be really appropriate as I imagine he or she is not a Buddhist,
    Very right, I was actually was thinking something i would do with out her knowledge, just a way for me so i wouldn't have to cry I guess- to late

    As I understand it, our tradition doesn't necessarily sooth the pain but, instead, it invites us to embrace fully sorrows and tears...So the great thing is to cry, just cry. No pain killer needed, only the full acceptance of our feelings
    Thank you sir!


  3. #3

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    Hi all,

    As someone who thought about two weeks ago that my wife and I had lost a child, this is very timely and profound. In this instance and so many others I have faced since becoming a buddhist, the simple things are really the most important and I usually find that I know the best thing to do and it's already in my heart. It can be difficult to face the situation head on, but to do otherwise causes us great suffering and pain. To many this is anything but an optimistic view, but for me it is openess to what comes. Sometimes that's "good" and sometimes it's "bad"...everything and nothing all at once.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Taigu.


  4. #4

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    hi family,

    I feel your pain. I to lost a child. the pain is indescribable. you never completely recover. i can't say........anymore.

    it took a lot for me to open this thread.

    jenna :cry:

  5. #5

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    No death of a child experience for me, but I have lost more friends than I can or care to count from disability. I have also "experimented" with various means of coping with those deaths, none of them productive in the sense that these methods did not help me or the friends/loved ones of the person that died. But what can help? Nothing, and there's the problem. It's not about helping in the sense of fixing things or helping a person get over their sad feelings, because it's not in our power or domain to do so. Support a person (or you) in their (your) time of grief yes, fixing their (or your) grief no.

    So, from these hard and deathly lessons, I think now that the only thing I can do is to bear witness, as Taigu mentions and as we discussed during Jukai precepts study. I have recently discovered a great method of bearing witness: To Cry. To cry fully and completely, to cry honestly without a hint of self-consciousness, to cry alone and to cry with others. If something is sad, then be sad, and by doing so I find ways of moving from the dark into the light.

  6. #6

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child


    A rich man asked a Zen master to write something down that might encourage the prosperity of his family for years to come. It could be something the family would cherish for generations.

    On a large piece of paper, the master wrote, "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies."

    The rich man was angry when he saw the master's work. "I asked you to write something down that could bring happiness and prosperity to my family. Why do you give me something depressing like this?"

    "If your son should die before you," the master answered, "this would bring unbearable grief to your family. If your grandson should die before your son, this also would bring great sorrow. If your family, generation after generation, disappears in the order I have described, it will be the natural course of life. That is true happiness and prosperity."

  7. #7

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    The a scene in the recent Master Dogen film borrowed the old story of Gotami and the Mustard Seed, and is one of my favorite scenes in the movie because ... after imparting this wisdom, Dogen still cries at the death of the child.

    The "moral" of the story varies a little, depending on who is telling it ... but it runs like this ...

    Kisagotami is the name of a young girl, whose marriage with the only son of a wealthy man was brought about in true fairy-tale fashion. She had one child, but when the beautiful boy could run alone, it died. The young girl, in her love for it, carried the dead child clasped to her bosom, and went from house to house of her pitying friends asking them to give her medicine for it.
    But a Buddhist mendicant, thinking "She does not understand," said to her, "My good girl, I myself have no such medicine as you ask for, but I think I know of one who has."
    "O tell me who that is," said Kisagotami.
    "The Buddha can give you medicine. Go to him," was the answer.
    She went to Gautama, and doing homage to him said, "Lord and master, do you know any medicine that will be good for my child?"
    "Yes, I know of some," said the teacher.
    Now it was the custom for patients or their friends to provide the herbs which the doctors required, so she asked what herbs he would want.
    "I want some mustard seed," he said; and when the poor girl eagerly promised to bring some of so common a drug, he added, "You must get it from some house where no son, or husband, or parent, or slave has died."
    "Very good," she said, and went to ask for it, still carrying her dead child with her.
    The people said, "Here is mustard seed, take it."
    But when she asked, "In my friend's house has any son died, or husband, or a parent or slave?" they answered, "Lady, what is this that you say? The living are few, but the dead are many."
    Then she went to other houses, but one said, "I have lost a son"; another, "We have lost our parents"; another, "I have lost my slave."
    At last, not being able to find a single house where no one had died, her mind began to clear, and summoning up resolution, she left the dead body of her child in a forest, and returning to the Buddha paid him homage.
    He said to her, "Have you the mustard seed?"
    "My lord," she replied, "I have not. The people tell me that the living are few, but the dead are many."
    Then he talked to her on that essential part of his system -- the impermanence of all things, till her doubts were cleared away, and, accepting her lot, she became a disciple and entered the first path.
    Source: T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhism: Being a Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1907), pp. 133-134.

    "No, my lord. There is no house in all the village where someone has not at sometime died." "Sit down beside me" said Buddha. "Let us talk together a while." Kisa Gotami was glad to listen and be quiet.

    "Our lives in this world are all short whether we live for one year or for a hundred years. Everyone who is born must sometime die--yes, everyone. There are no exceptions. We all have our times of happiness and also our times of pain and sorrow. Do not try to free yourself from [that]. Try rather to free yourself from hate and selfishness.

    "Do not struggle, good woman," said Buddha. "Be at peace. Accept your life as a gift. Take the days as they come one by one. Fill them as full of kindness as you can."

    Kisa Gotami went often to Buddha. The thoughts that he gave her to think about were the best kind of medicine for her loneliness. Now that she knew how much it hurt to be lonely, she began to learn how to comfort others who also were sad.

    Kisa Gotami, now a rich man's wife, went often to the homes of the poor. She brought them food. She played with their children. In these ways she slowly learned how to comfort herself.

  8. #8

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    Thank you for posting this topic, as it is something that has touched me personally. My wife and I experienced three miscarriages before our beautiful daughter was born. We were beginning to think we couldn't have children, and the sorrow was so overwhelming...but after a while, it passed. Just experiencing and accepting the pain of loss, then letting it go was the only thing we could do. The tears ease and dry in time, just as every life that ends is a life beginning.

    We learned to be careful about having expectations when expecting, and are now blessed with two little Buddhas.

    Sympathy and peace be with you.

  9. #9

    Re: Jizo and the death of a child

    personally, i find the statue of jizo quite comforting. i put him as my desktop picture on my computer. he seems to have an easy face that i am trying to equate with zen. i guess he kind of embodies compassionate presence which is ultimately what our practice is for ourselves and others who suffer.

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