Ti Tsang P’usa is an extremely popular Bodhisattva among the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists. ‘Ti Tsang’, meaning ‘Earth-Store’ is a direct translation of the Bodhisattva’s name KSITIGARBHA in Sanskrit. Among the countless Bodhisattvas in the universe, he and three others have firmly captured the hearts of the Mahayanists. These four main P’usas or Bodhisattvas are depicted in the Chinese Buddhist Pantheon and they represent four basic great qualities:
KUAN SHIH YIN as Great Compassion;
WEN SHU as Great Wisdom;
PU HSIEN as Great Love and Perfect Activity;
TI TSANG as Great Vow to help and to deliver all beings.
His greatest compassionate Vow being: “If I do not go to the hell to help the suffering beings there, who else will go? … if the hells are not empty I will not become a Buddha. Only when all living beings have been saved, will I attain Bodhi.”
The Sutra of the PAST VOWS OF THE EARTH STORE BODHISATTYA, one of the most popular Chinese Buddhist Sutras, tells of the great filial piety, which the Bodhisattva practised that led to his illimitable vows to save all living beings. This Sutra was spoken by the Buddha towards the end of his life to the beings of the Trayastrimsa Heaven as a mark of gratitude and remembrance for his beloved mother.
In this Sutra the Buddha revealed that in the distant past aeons, Ti Tsang P’usa, then a Brahman maiden by the name of ‘Sacred Girl’, was deeply troubled when her mother died, as she had often been slanderous towards the Three Jewels: the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
To save her from the great tortures of hell, the young girl sold whatever she had and used the money to buy offerings which she offered daily to the Buddha of her time, known as The Buddha of Flower of Meditation and Enlightenment. She made fervent prayers that her mother be spared of the pains of hell and requested the Buddha for help.
One day at the temple, while she was thus pleading for help, she heard the voice of the Buddha advising her to go home immediately and there to sit down and practise meditation on His name if she wanted to know where her mother was. She did as she was told and while doing so, her consciousness was transported to the Hell Realm where she met a hell-guardian who informed her that through her fervent prayers and pious offerings, her mother had accumulated much merits and therefore shel had already been released from hell and ascended to heaven. She was greatly relieved and should have been extremely happy, but the sights of the great sufferings in Hell that she had witnessed so touched her tender heart that she made an immediate vow: “I shall do my very best to relieve beings of their sufferings forever in my future lives of kalpas to come”.
The young maiden has since then become an accomplished Bodhisattva through her great acts of merits and is now known as Ti Tsang P’usa.
Ti Tsang P’usa has often been mistaken by uninformed Buddhists to be Mogallana who was a disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha, because he too had a similar experience of descending to the Hell Realm to seek and save his mother. The stories may sound similar but they happened at different times and adopted quite different methods to save their mothers.
Many others also tend to mistake Ti Tsang as Hsuan Tsang, the famous Tripitaka master of the Tang Dynasty who made the harzadous journey to the West to seek the Buddhist scriptures. This is mainly due to the Sangha robe and the five-leave crown which both are seen to wear.
Ti Tsang P’usa is again taken by many to be “Yen-Lo-Wang” or Yama, the “Over-Lord of Hell.” It must be mentioned that Ti Tsang is a Bodhisattva and not a mere King of the Fifth Hell. He does not judge the dead but seeks to save them from their suffering.
Description of Ti Tsang P’usa
Ti Tsang may be represented in sitting or standing posture. He always has a kind and benevolent look and 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.
In the much treasured picture of Ti Tsang P’usa, which is found in many Buddhist homes and temples, he is seen seated upon a lotus throne. His hands holds the precious flaming pearl which has vast magical powers beyond description. He wears 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.
Whenever you have the urge to pray to this Bodhisattva for any help, look at this picture intently for a few seconds as you silently recite, “NAMO TI TSANG WANG PUSA, NAMO TI TSANG WANG PUSA” before closing your eyes to visualise him. Ti Tsang P’usa is very responsive to sincere prayers of faith and he may yet grant you your wish, if it is not too unselfish or unreasonable. All may pray to him with this simple invocation and, who knows, your past karmic links with him may yet make you into another ardent Ti Tsang devotee again in this lifetime.
The standing posture of Ti Tsang is particularly popular in Japan where he is known as Jizo Bosatsu. It represents the readiness of Jizo to respond immediately to the calls of help made by those who have faith in his saving powers. Standing upon a lotus, he holds his precious flaming jewel with his left hand while the ringed staff is held with the right, ever ready to force open the gates of Hell with the staff and to dispel the darkness of the infernal realm with his luminous gem.
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 favourable 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.
Another popular depiction of him is in this standing or ‘activity-form’ which has his left hand holding an alms bowl against his navel, while his right hand forms the mudra (hand-sign) of “giving consolation and peace to all living beings”.
Ti Tsang P’usa 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.
Ti Tsang’s compassion is not practised exclusively for the benefit of the beings of the hell realm, he also gives blessings to those of the world who seek his help and he is a comforter of the poor, oppressed, sick, hungry, and those who are troubled by spirits and nightmares. Those who have firm faith in him can easily receive his protection. With faith one needs to recite any of these simple prayers:
“NAMO TI TSANG WANG P’USA’ or
“NAMO KSITIGARBHA BODHISATTVA YA”.
Images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are recognised by the symbols that they are associated with. Each of these symbols has a particular meaning which most people are unaware of. For example, the KHAKKHARA, or Ringed Staff, which Ti Tsang holds, is not only meant to warn small and crawling creatures of his approach so as to avoid stepping on them but also to inform people of his presence through the jingling caused by the rings. Often a travelling monk on a pilgrimage has to stop at homes to seek alms and since he does not wish to speak unnecessarily, he usually announces his arrival by shaking his sounding staff.
The Khakkhara is often a wooden staff capped with metal loops or crotchets and rings, which are four, six or twelve in number. The Four-ringed staff is carried by a monk who has perceived the Four Noble Truths of Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering, and the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering. The Six-ringed staff belongs to a Bodhisattva who is constantly practising the Six Paramitas, while the Twelve-ringed staff is held by a Pratyeka Buddha who has realised the Twelve-fold Links of Causation.
As a result of Ti Tsang P’usa having made this promise to Sakyamuni Buddha: “I will fulfil your instructions to continue to relieve beings from their states of suffering and lead them to Salvation. I shall strive to work hard until the next Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, comes to the world “. He is also adored as the “Master of the Six Worlds of Desire,” thus there are depictions of him being surrounded by a Bodhisattva, an Asura, a Man, an Animal (horse or ox), a Preta, and a Demon holding a pitchfork, which symbolises the six different forms he assumes in the six realms to save the beings there.
In the closing chapter of the Ti Tsang Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha gave this advice for the benefit of all human beings:
“Listen to me carefully and I shall tell you in detail. If virtuous ones of the future see the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva’s image, hear the Ksitigarbha Sutra, chant this Sutra, make offerings to Ksitigrabha, pay homage to him, they will receive these benefits:
1. They will be protected by devas and dragons.
2. Their ability to do good will be increased.
3. Opportunities for doing good will increase.
4. They will strive to attain Buddhahood.
5. They will enjoy sufficiency of food and clothing.
6. They will be free from diseases.
7. Floods and fire will not affect them.
8. Robbers will not trouble them.
9. They will be respected and admired by people.
10. Spirits and devas will protect and assist them.
11. Females shall be reborn as males.
12. The females will become daughters of noble and exalted families.
13. They will be reborn with good complexion.
14. They will be reborn in the heavens for many lives.
15. They will be reborn as kings or rulers of countries.
16. They will have wisdom to recollect their past lives.
17. They will be successful in all their aspirations.
18. They will enjoy happy family relationships.
19. Disasters will not affect them.
20. Their bad karma will be removed.
21. Wherever they go, they are safe.
22. They shall always have peaceful dreams.
23. Their deceased relatives shall be free from sufferings.
24. They will be reborn with happiness.
25. They will be praised by divine beings.
26. They will be intelligent and skilful.
27. They will have compassion for others.
28. They will finally attain Buddhahood.
The birthday of Ti Tsang P’usa falls on the 30th day of the 7th moon of the Chinese lunar calendar. All over the world Buddhist temples offer prayers to Ti Tsang P’usa during the 7th lunar month for the benefit of the dead.
Ti Tsang’s popularity among the Chinese and Japanese Buddhists is second only to Kuan Shih Yin P’usa as he takes upon himself the fearful and difficult task of bringing relief and consolation to the suffering beings of hell.