The Dharma of Creative Expression, By Jomon Martin

The Dharma of Creative Expression, by Jomon Martin

You can express the Dharma through creativity.  Has your inner critic perked up its ears already?  Told you this is not for you?  Went through the list of “reasons” why you cannot or should not pick up a pen, paintbrush, marker, or crayon?  Congratulations!  You have an inner critic.  Does it have a particular voice?  Does it have an appearance?  Now imagine your inner critic in a big jar (with air holes, of course), so their voice is tinny and distant.  Set that jar on a shelf, or in a cabinet, or under the bed for a moment and consider how natural creativity is.  

Look around wherever you are.  Are you not surrounded by creations?  

If you’re hearing a judging voice: These creations are “good”, those creations are “bad”, please wave at your critic-in-a-jar and say thank you for your service.  Does nature judge a pinecone against a blue whale?  Is there something you see that is not born from the Earth? Appreciating the infinite creativity of the universe, as well as the truth of impermanence is one way to explore creative expression.  Whatever is created will also dissolve, eventually.  Naturally.   

Jizo is known as Earth Store Bodhisattva: Protector of all that is born from the Earth.  Let the kind, fearless, optimistic and determined qualities of Jizo infuse your practice and just begin!  


I was inspired to paint rocks by the generosity of someone I don’t know.  Several years ago, someone painted a rock robin’s egg blue, and then painted the words, “KINDNESS ROCKS” in black, and left it in our front yard.  It’s very simple, and it’s still there, true as ever.  

A few years later, during the turmoil of Portland in 2020: Covid, nightly protests, and wildfire smoke, I began to paint the qualities of Jizo on rocks, just like the simple rock I had received.

Rock-painting is quite popular, and many people enjoy painting rocks and leaving them for others to find. There’s an intention and practice of generosity inherent in this creative act.  They are made to be let go.  And you never know how an action born of generosity will ripen.  


While most rock-painters might choose subjects like animals or cartoon characters, inspirational sayings or whimsical designs, painting and offering a Jizo rock to the world can be an act of devotion.  

Taking inspiration from ZCO’s Jizos for Peace project in 2004, I saw the ways Jizo can be depicted in the most simple of shapes: Even a circle on top of a triangle or square can be enough to suggest a human form.  It does not matter how simple or complex your depiction is.  

What matters is the intention, the process, the offering.  

“There is happiness in planning the generous act, happiness in the actual giving, and happiness in reflecting later on your generosity.”

—Joseph Goldstein


According to the Earth Store Bodhisattva Sutra, just before he died, the Buddha ascended to heaven to offer teachings to his own mother, who died just after his birth.  He wanted to give her a chance to hear the Dharma.  

“…Hundreds of thousands of division bodies (manifestations) of Earth Store Bodhisattva then arrived from innumerable worlds wherever suffering existed. Each bodhisattva in this enlightened crowd brought flowers and incense for the Buddha. Suddenly the multitude of bodies assembled into a single body to listen to the Buddha teach.

These bodies are not limited to any particular form.  They may be any gender, they may be human bodies, they may be dragon bodies, animal bodies, river bodies, or mountain bodies.  These are all the division bodies of Jizo, and can serve beings in any realm, wherever they may experience suffering. 

What are the division bodies of Earth Store Bodhisattva? How are they given birth? The phrase division bodies, also called transformation bodies, refers to the thousands of millions of ways in which Earth Store Bodhisattva transforms in order to fulfill his/her vow, which is to “cross over” all beings trapped in hellish realms. These division bodies do not exist independently. They arise in response to need. When someone is suffering and cries out even silently for help, a transformation body is born because of that request. How many transformation bodies are there? As many beings as there are beings right now who are in distress and asking for help, that is, right now, the number of transformation bodies.”

Chozen Bays, Roshi Jizo Bodhisattva. Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition


These Jizo Rocks went to wildland firefighters. 

Jizo is the protector of beings in hell realms, and thus a natural protector of firefighters.  These are small enough (about an inch) to be carried in their 40 pounds of gear without adding too much additional weight. 


This Jizo was placed by a municipal firefighter at a memorial in Kansas City.   

These rocks serve on the hillside shrine at Heart of Wisdom to acknowledge and honor Black people whose deaths were the result of disproportionate and racially motivated violence. 

There may be a division body or bodies that are needed in this world that only you would know about.  That only you could bring forward. 


The designs and tools evolved.  Everyone has their own style.  I find that paint-markers are a simple and forgiving medium that offers a lot more ease for detail work and lettering than paintbrushes.  And the rocks are ubiquitous. I like finding them on beaches, or purchasing them from landscaping stores.  Little pieces of the Earth.  There’s no worry about messing up on a rare or special paper.  You can always paint over and start again.  

You can experience the infinite generosity of creation.  It is what you are. The infinite freshness of each moment.  This moment.