Ākāśagarbha bodhisattva’s name can be translated into English as “Essence (garbha) of Space (ākāśa). He is one of an important group of eight bodhisattvas, the “eight close sons of the Buddha.” Each of these bodhisattvas is equal in terms of their countless inconceivable qualities to benefit sentient beings. But each also embodies one particular quality. Ākāśagarbha’s special ability is to help sentient beings purify their transgressions and impurities.
A Mahayana sutra called the Ākāśagarbhasūtra, is recommended by Śāntideva in his work the Bodhicaryāvatāra. In the fifth chapter on “Alertness” (sheshyin), Śāntideva advised his listeners to learn the proper training by studying the sūtras. He specifically recommends beginning with the Ākāśagarbhasūtra. The discourse is important as a main source for the transgressions or downfalls that can lead a practitioner astray. For this reason, Tibetan masters encourage the study of this text and emphasize Ākāśagarbha’s role in aiding in confession and purification.
The bodhisattva mahāsattva Ākāśagarbha possesses great compassion, he benefits beings, and liberates them from great suffering. Thus, for all beings who have committed a root transgression, who are bound for the lower realms, who have exhausted all roots of virtue—for all these frightened beings, this son of noble family is medicine. For those drowning in the pitch-black darkness of ignorance and those tormented by their negative views, he is like the sun. He brings them to disclose their root transgressions; he lifts the doubts from their hearts. For those whose hearts have become like a broken vessel, who have fallen, who have committed a fundamental transgression, who have destroyed all their virtuous qualities, who are bound for the lower realms, who are protectorless, devoid of support, abandoned by all the wise ones—for all of them, this son of noble family is like a crutch. He shows the way, and reveals and cleanses all negative actions and all stains. He turns beings away from the paths leading to the lower realms. He is like a chariot. He establishes beings in the higher realms and in the state of liberation. For all beings who have minds entangled in intense desire or intense hatred, who are malevolent, who conceal their faults, whose minds are disturbed by miserliness, who grope in darkness because of extreme dullness, who proclaim the nonexistence of causality, who hold the view that one should be fearless concerning the next life, who lack contentment in their accumulation of wealth, and whose minds are constantly involved in all the ten unwholesome actions, this son of noble family performs every role, from closing the door to the lower realms up to serving as a chariot. He establishes those sentient beings in the higher realms and in the state of liberation.
For these reasons, with the exception of the tathāgata, arhat, completely perfect buddhas, the whole world including the gods should worship this son of noble family.Āryākāśagarbhanāmamahāyānasūtra, The Noble Mahāyāna Ākāśagarbha Sūtra, 1. 145
In another influential Mahayana Sutra, the Atyayajñānasūtra, or The Noble Wisdom of the Time of Death Sutra, Ākāśagarbha, referred to as “ the bodhisattva mahāsattva” serves as the figure who requests the Buddha’s profound teaching on preparing the mind for the moment of dying. This text was known as one of the royal sutras that were recommended for daily practice by Padmasambhava to emperor Trisong Detsen. Moreover, it is traditionally considered to be a statement of definitive meaning, with an emphasis on the nature of mind. For this reason, it is frequently studied in the context of the Mahāmudrā training. Ākāśagarbha is particularly popular in the Shingon tradition of China and Japan. The great Japanese master Kūkai (774–835CE), the founder of Shingon esoteric Buddhism in Japan, related that as a young monk, he was instructed to chant the mantra of Ākāśagarbha as a memory enhancement tool. Shingon Buddhists continue to chant this mantra to improve memory (especially the ability to retain Buddhist texts) and creativity.