"Jizo Bosatsu has confirmed you as a friend on Facebook," said the email. I clicked on "view profile," which took me to Jizo's Facebook page. Not much information was revealed, except that his religious views are Buddhist, and he has 409 friends. His profile picture is a stone Jizo statue sitting peacefully with eyes closed, a hand-knitted cap atop his head, and a string of juzu beads around his neck. Jizo Bosatsu (or Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in Sanskrit) is known as the earth bearer, and he holds a shakujo staff in his right hand and a mani jewel in his left. The shakujo staff is the kind with six rings that jingles. His mani jewel grants all wishes.

This is the Jizo we know and love, the Jizo full of awesomeness, compassion and fortitude. Jizo does not get angry, nor does he ever give up, even when trampled and stepped upon like the earth. He guides us on our travels, gives power to those who are weak (such as children) and to those in dangerous places. His mantra is Om ka ka kabi sanmaei sowaka.

Among Jizo's Facebook friends is Hank Glassman, associate professor of East Asian Studies at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and author of "The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism" (University of Hawaii Press). I sent a friend request to Professor Glassman, and within a couple of hours I was on the phone with my new insta-friend, discussing his book and our mutual friend, Jizo. He also sent me a copy of his book.