The Buddhist Dead

The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations

Bryan J. Cuevas
Jacqueline I. Stone
Copyright Date: 2007
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    The Buddhist Dead
    Book Description:

    In its teachings, practices, and institutions, Buddhism in its varied Asian forms has been-and continues to be-centrally concerned with death and the dead. Yet surprisingly "death in Buddhism" has received little sustained scholarly attention. The Buddhist Dead offers the first comparative investigation of this topic across the major Buddhist cultures of India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Tibet, and Burma. Its individual essays, representing a range of methods, shed light on a rich array of traditional Buddhist practices for the dead and dying; the sophisticated but often paradoxical discourses about death and the dead in Buddhist texts; and the varied representations of the dead and the afterlife found in Buddhist funerary art and popular literature.

    This important collection moves beyond the largely text-and doctrine-centered approaches characterizing an earlier generation of Buddhist scholarship and expands its treatment of death to include ritual, devotional, and material culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6016-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-31)
    Bryan J. Cuevas and Jacqueline I. Stone

    From its beginnings in India to its varied cultural and regional forms throughout Asia, Buddhism has been and continues to be a religion concerned with death and with the dead. Buddhist doctrines, practices, and institutions all bear some relation to this theme. Doctrinal teachings speak of death as occurring at each moment, as one causally dependent set of conditions passes away and another arises. In this sense, death is simply change, the way things are. Unawakened persons, failing to apprehend this, read into the flux of momentary events illusory objects such as “self” or “others” and cling to them, although...

  6. 1 The Buddha’s Funeral
    (pp. 32-59)
    John S. Strong

    Ever since the work of Arnold van Gennep, historians of religion have known that funerals do not just mark the end of a life. They are, rather, rites of passage, transitions into another state or status.¹ This, of course, is perfectly obvious in the case of deceased persons who are moving on to heaven (or to hell) or who will be reincarnated again on earth or in some other realm. In the case of the Buddha or other enlightened beings who have transcended saṃsāra, however, the nature of the afterlife is slightly different; it is characterized not by rebirth in...

  7. 2 Cross-Dressing with the Dead: Asceticism, Ambivalence, and Institutional Values in an Indian Monastic Code
    (pp. 60-104)
    Gregory Schopen

    There can be very little doubt that the most visible development in the archaeology and epigraphy of Indian Buddhism in the period between the Mauryan and Gupta empires is the fact that Buddhist communities came to be fully monasticized, permanently housed, landed, propertied, and—to judge by almost any standard—very wealthy. There also can be very little doubt that these developments occurred unevenly in both time and geography and did not everywhere follow the same pattern nor reach the same degree of elaboration. What we see now are widely scattered and not easily explainable pockets: the astonishing proliferation of...

  8. 3 The Moment of Death in Daoxuan’s Vinaya Commentary
    (pp. 105-133)
    Koichi Shinohara

    The “moment of death” (Ch.linzhong; J.rinjū) is a familiar topic in Pure Land Buddhist literature. According to this tradition, correct practice in one’s final moments can enable one to escape the cycle of samsaric rebirth and be born in the pure realm of a buddha or bodhisattva. Deathbed practices associated with Pure Land aspirations have become familiar to scholarship chiefly through the famous treatiseŌjō yōshū(Collection on the essentials of birth in the Pure Land) by the Japanese monk Genshin (942–1017). Genshin, however, was extensively indebted to Chinese sources, which have not yet been thoroughly investigated....

  9. 4 The Secret Art of Dying: Esoteric Deathbed Practices in Heian Japan
    (pp. 134-174)
    Jacqueline I. Stone

    During the latter part of the Heian period (794–1185), death came to be conceived in Japan’s Buddhist circles as a critical juncture when devout practitioners might escape saṃsāra altogether by achieving birth in the pure land (J.ōjō) of a buddha or bodhisattva. Once born in a pure land, one’s own eventual attainment of buddhahood was said to be assured. “Pure Land” teachings did not yet have the exclusivistic connotations that they would later assume in the sectarian movements of Hōnen (1133–1212) and Shinran (1173–1262); aspirations forōjōwere embraced by Buddhists of all schools, and a...

  10. 5 The Deathbed Image of Master Hongyi
    (pp. 175-207)
    Raoul Birnbaum

    We begin at the end with a haunting image, very still, a photograph of a Buddhist monk just after death (figure 5.1). He lies on a simple bed, no more than a wooden sleeping platform eased by what looks like a thin, straw-filled mattress. His body lies on its right side, with his right hand cradling his head, just so, his shoes neatly placed together below the bed. A faint smile remains upon his face.

    The photo was taken in 1942 in the coastal city of Quanzhou, in China’s Fujian Province. It circulated in the Buddhist world and then, in...

  11. 6 Dying Like Milarépa: Death Accounts in a Tibetan Hagiographic Tradition
    (pp. 208-233)
    Kurtis R. Schaeffer

    The hagiographic tradition of Milarépa (Mi la ras pa, ca. 1052–1135) reached its height with the redaction of his life story by Tsangnyön Heruka (Gtsang smyon He ru ka, 1452–1507), the “mad-man of central Tibet.” If we may judge from the immense popularity of Tsangnyön’sLife of Milarépa,this late fifteenth-century religious leader was arguably the most influential hagiographer of the Kagyu (Bka’ brgyud) schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Tsangnyön and his disciples actively promoted their school by compiling numerous hagiographies of early Kagyu masters from the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, including...

  12. 7 Fire and the Sword: Some Connections between Self-Immolation and Religious Persecution in the History of Chinese Buddhism
    (pp. 234-265)
    James A. Benn

    This chapter addresses a very special form of death—the voluntary termination of life by Chinese Buddhists. Although “martyrdom” is not a category that has much been applied to Buddhist materials, as we reflect on the deaths of certain exemplary individuals in the following pages, it may be useful to keep in mind the possible parallels with types of holy death known in Christianity and Islam. In particular, the concept of martyrdom may help us to understand better how some Chinese Buddhists defined themselves individually and institutionally against a political order that did not always share their interests. According to...

  13. 8 Passage to Fudaraku: Suicide and Salvation in Premodern Japanese Buddhism
    (pp. 266-296)
    D. Max Moerman

    Religious suicide, as many Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism are quick to point out, is strictly prohibited in the Vinaya. And yet, disciplinary regulations notwithstanding, the hagiographic literature of Buddhist East Asia often reserves the highest praise for those monks, nuns, and laypersons who performed the most extreme acts of self-immolation. Chinese Buddhists were celebrated for throwing themselves out of trees to speed their passage to the Pure Land or for burning themselves alive in emulation of the bodhisattva Medicine King.¹ The earliest Japanese Buddhist sources are similarly full of praise for ascetics who flung themselves off of cliffs, set...

  14. 9 The Death and Return of Lady Wangzin: Visions of the Afterlife in Tibetan Buddhist Popular Literature
    (pp. 297-325)
    Bryan J. Cuevas

    Sometime around the fifteenth century, Tibetans began recounting individual descriptions of the afterlife. The concern in these personal narratives was more about sins and virtues acquired in this life to be tested in the next than it was about the achievement of Buddhist enlightenment, professed in the monastic textbooks as the only true goal of religious endeavor. The central protagonist in this literature is called in Tibetan adélok(’das log,“passed away and returned”). Thedélokis usually an ordinary person who dies, enters thebardo( do;Skt.antarābhava)—the intermediate state between death and rebirth—tours...

  15. 10 Gone but Not Departed: The Dead among the Living in Contemporary Buddhist Sri Lanka
    (pp. 326-344)
    John Clifford Holt

    How the living regard the significance of death is an issue of such existential import that it might be regarded as an index to the nature of religious meaning per se. How the living regard the dead in Buddhist Sri Lanka is, therefore, an issue of great salience to that religious culture specifically, as well as to the comparative study of Buddhist cultures in general. Wherever Buddhism has wandered and assimilated in the variegated cultures of Asia, it has mixed and mated with a variety of indigenous ideologies and practices. That is, it has transformed and has been transformed in...

  16. 11 Mulian in the Land of Snows and King Gesar in Hell: A Chinese Tale of Parental Death in Its Tibetan Transformations
    (pp. 345-377)
    Matthew T. Kapstein

    Pity the parents. In our contemporary cultural imagination, they are inevitably the companions of irredeemable debt, guilt, and error. Though we tend to associate the precise modalities of our anguished relations to our forebears with the historical specificities of our own version of modernity, our poets, in their chants of familial discomfort and pain, have touched a sore nerve that is as close to a cultural universal as ever you’ll find. It is in virtue of this ineluctable vein of common experience that the Chinese tales with which I shall be concerned in this chapter struck a chord in Tibet,...

  17. 12 Chinese Buddhist Death Ritual and the Transformation of Japanese Kinship
    (pp. 378-404)
    Hank Glassman

    While the history of the transformation of Japanese marriage and kinship practices over the course of the Heian (794–1185) and Kamakura (1185–1333) periods is well known, the role of Buddhist funerary and memorial ritual in the creation of this new model of the family has been largely overlooked. The great changes in burial practices that took place in Japan from the tenth through the fourteenth centuries reveal the sinification of Japanese kinship and gender beliefs.¹ In this article, I examine the role played by Chinese Buddhist notions about the postmortem life of families in fostering the patrilineal model...

  18. 13 Grave Changes: Scattering Ashes in Contemporary Japan
    (pp. 405-437)
    Mark Rowe

    In an editorial to theAsahinewspaper on September 24, 1990, Yasuda Mutsuhiko, formerAsahieditor and soon-to-be founder of the Grave-Free Promotion Society, wrote an essay titled “Is Scattering Ashes in the Ocean or in the Mountains Really Illegal? We Are Losing the Freedom of Mortuary Practices, Not Because of Regulations, but Through Preconceptions.” Yasuda argued that despite popular belief, the scattering of ashes was in fact not covered under any of the laws then in effect and was therefore not illegal. He then went on to urge people to consider “scattering” as both an environmentally friendly and much...

  19. 14 Care for Buddhism: Text, Ceremony, and Religious Emotion in a Monk’s Final Journey
    (pp. 438-456)
    Jason A. Carbine

    As can be seen in several of the preceding chapters in this volume, Buddhist death practices typically involve one or two very important dynamics, both of which relate to the care that Buddhists show for the dead and living alike.¹ One dynamic occurs largely in the context of funerals for revered exemplars. Buddhist funerals for such exemplars often produce relics that become the focus of continued veneration by the Buddhist community. Indeed, as John Strong has shown, the funeral rites for the Buddha himself were structured around the production of his relics. A second dynamic occurs within the context of...

  20. Chinese and Korean Character Glossary
    (pp. 457-460)
  21. Japanese Character Glossary
    (pp. 461-466)
  22. Contributors
    (pp. 467-470)
  23. Index
    (pp. 471-491)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 492-494)