Understanding
Kishimo-jin
and Other
Child-Giving Deities

Kishimojin and her children guarding the Gohonzon

Kishimojin's Vow in The Lotus Sutra

Thereupon there were female rakshasas, the first named Lamba, the second named Vilamba, the third named Crooked Teeth, the fourth named Flowery Teeth, the fifth named Black Teeth, the sixth named Many Tresses, the seventh named Insatiable, the eighth named Necklace Holder, the ninth named Kunti, the tenth named Spirit Snatcher. These ten female rakshasas, together with the Mother of Demon Sons [Kishimojin] and her children and followers, all went to the Buddha and with one voice said to the Buddha: "World Honored One! We, too, would protect those who read and recite, receive and keep the Law-Flower Sutra, and rid them of corroding care. If any spy for the shortcomings of these teachers of the Law, we will prevent their obtaining any chance." Whereupon in the presence of the Buddha they delivered the following spell:

"Iti me, iti me, iti me, iti me, iti me; ni me, ni me, ni me, ni me, ni me; ruhe, ruhe, ruhe, ruhe, [ruhe]; stuhe, stuhe, stuhe, stuhe, stuhe [svaha].

"Let troubles come on our heads, rather than on the teachers of the Law; neither yakshas, nor hungry ghosts...; nor fevers, whether for a single day, or quotidian, or tertian, or quartan, or weekly, or unremitting fevers; whether in male form, or female form, or form of youth, or form of a maiden, even in dreams shall ever cause distress. Whereupon before the Buddha they spoke thus in verse:

Modern wood carving of Karitaimo (Kisimo) by a buddhist monk

"Whoever resists our spell
And troubles a preacher,
May his head be split in seven
Like an arjaka sprout;
May his doom be that of a parricide,
His retribution that of an oil-expresser
Or a deceiver with [false] measures and weights,
Or of Devadatta who brought schism into the Samgha;
He who offends these teachers of the Law,
Such shall be his retribution."

After these female rakshasas had uttered this stanza, they addressed the Buddha, saying: "World-honoured One! We ourselves will also protect those who receive and keep, read and recite, and practice this sutra, and give them ease of mind, freedom from corroding care and from all poisons."

The Buddha addressed the rakshasa women: "Good, good! Even if you are only able to protect those who receive and keep the name of the Law-Flower, your happiness will be beyond calculation; how much more if you protect those who perfectly receive, keep, and pay homage to the sutra! You and your followers should protect such teachers of the Law as these."
~The Lotus Sutra, Dharanis Chapter

Historical Evolution of Kishimojin

A feminine form of Avalokitesvara, who facilitates childbirth and protects children, also exists. In Japan, this is a popular aspect of Juntei Kannon Bosatsu. She is Hariti, but a gentle 'Buddhicized' form of this 'mother of 'demons', She is often represented seated on a chair, clothed in the Chinese manner and holding child in her arms. Some popular images show her nursing a baby. Owing to this aspect, she was venerated as a representation of the Christian Virgin Mary during the persecutions against Japanese converts to Christianity which took place in the Edo period, chiefly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In fact, Japanese Christians may have created this form of Avalokitesvara offering the breast, since it is not of buddhist origin. It is beleived that this form was developed late by popular Buddhism to supplant the Shinto deity (kami) of easy childbirth, Koyasu-sama or Koyasu-gami, just as in China the effigies of Guanyin shown with a child on the knees are probably merely popular Buddhist transpositions of Taoist 'child-giving' deities like Tianxin Songzi or Zhangxian. In China, Tonkin and Japan, she is venerated in a group of 20 deities, among whom she hold a secondary place. In Japan, the Shinto sanctuaries dedicated to Koyasu-sama are actually dedicated to the mythical princess of Konohana Sakkuya Hime, goddess of Mount Fuji and of cherry trees in bloom, since legend claims that she gave birth to a son while her house was devoured by flames. This may be an allusion to the creation of the lakes during an eruption of Mount Fuji. Koyasu-sama was mainly venerated in the provinces of Kanto (environs of Tokyo) and Chiba, where the women had the habit of asking her for healthy milk after childbirth in exchange for rice offerings.

This Koyasu-sama was subsequently confused either with Avalokitesvara, or with Ksitigarbha. Koyasu-Kannon (or Avalokitesvara 'giver of children') is sometimes herself confused with a 'complementary' form, identical in form and aspect, called Kishimojin, who is the representation (originally terrible but substanstially modified through the centuries) of an ogress, Hariti, converted to Buddhism, who later became a protector of children. Her image was popularized in the Kamakura period by Nichiren. In the Shingon sect, she is named Karitei-mo. She is represented seated on a chair, holding a pomegranate (Japanese zakuro) in the right hand (in Asia as well as Europe, the pomegranate is the symbol of progeniture, perhaps due to its many seeds) and surrounded with naked or semi-naked children (usually three, five, seven or nine). When represented standing, she holds a lotus, an attribute of Avalokitesvara, in the right hand. In painting, she is sometimes seated under an octagonal dais capped with a jewel. She holds a fly-wisk and has two little girls as acolytes. The most famous temples where she is worshipped are those of Meguro and Zoshigaya in Tokyo. Her followers believe that she also possesses the power of curing sick children. Her feast day is celebrated in November.

Kishimojin Service at the LA Nichiren Shu Temple

Tradition relates that a statue of Koyasu Kannon was made in the eighth century in the image of the Empress Komyo (or Komei, 701-760), widow of the Emporer Shomu and mother of the Empress Koken, who became a nun in 1749. Undoubtedly, this feminine aspect of Avalokitesvara, the symbol of abnegation and love, contributed greatly to the spread of her cult in Japan. However, it was only from the fourteenth century, perhaps under the influence of the Nichiren sect, that people worshipped her statue as 'giver of children'. Some statues of Ksitigarbha are worshipped in the same way in Japan: they differ in no way from the normal images representing this Bodhisattva, except that she is named Koyasu Jizo Bosatsu, due to the powers attributed to her.

In Tibet, where her worship appears to date from early times, she is represented holding a child to her breast and a mongoose (nakula). She is also a 'dispenser of riches'. Her image appears to have been created in Gandhara, where she is shown as a Bodhisattva, but with visible fangs. She was also represented in Ajanta, in cave number 2, seated in Rajalilasana, above a frieze composed of many naked children. Some representations of her are also found in Java (e.g. at Chandi Mendut) and in central Asia. Her effigy is often accompanied by that of a Yaksa, Pancika, reputed to be the father of her children and a general in the army of Vaisravana.

SOURCES:
The Threefold Lotus Sutra by Buno Kato, tr. Tamora Yashiro. Kosei Publ. Co: Tokyo. 1989. pp. 330-332.
Buddhism: Flammarion Iconographic Guides by Louis Frederic. Paris, 1995. pp. 178-180.
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