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The Buddhist Dead

Bryan J. Cuevas & Jacqueline I. Stone (eds.)

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

We wish to express our deepest appreciation to the fine scholars whose excellent contributions appear in this volume and for their patience in awaiting its publication. The essays that appear in this collection were prepared initially for a conference on ‘‘Death and Dying in Buddhist Cultures’’ held at Princeton University in May...

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pp. 1-31

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...

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1. The Buddha’s Funeral

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pp. 32-59

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.

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2. Cross-Dressing with the Dead: Asceticism, Ambivalence, and Institutional Values in an Indian Monastic Code

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pp. 60-104

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...

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3. The Moment of Death in Daoxuan’s Vinaya Commentary

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pp. 105-133

The ‘‘moment of death’’ (Ch. linzhong; J. rinju) 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...

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4. The Secret Art of Dying: Esoteric Deathbed Practices in Heian Japan

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pp. 134-174

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 samsāra 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...

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5. The Deathbed Image of Master Hongyi

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pp. 175-207

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...

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6. Dying Like Milar

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pp. 208-233

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 ‘‘madman of central Tibet.’’ If we may judge from the immense popularity of Tsangnyön’s...

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7. Fire and the Sword: Some Connections between Self-Immolation and Religious Persecution in the History of Chinese Buddhism

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pp. 234-265

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...

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8. Passage to Fudaraku: Suicide and Salvation in Premodern Japanese Buddhism

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pp. 266-296

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...

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9. The Death and Return of Lady Wangzin: Visions of the Afterlife in Tibetan Buddhist Popular Literature

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pp. 297-325

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...

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10. Gone but Not Departed: The Dead among the Living in Contemporary Buddhist Sri Lanka

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pp. 326-344

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...

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11. Mulian in the Land of Snows and King Gesar in Hell: A Chinese Tale of Parental Death in Its Tibetan Transformations

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pp. 345-377

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...

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12. Chinese Buddhist Death Ritual and the Transformation of Japanese Kinship

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pp. 378-404

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...

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13. Grave Changes: Scattering Ashes in Contemporary Japan

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pp. 405-437

In an editorial to the Asahi newspaper on September 24, 1990, Yasuda Mutsuhiko, former Asahi editor 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...

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14. Care for Buddhism: Text, Ceremony, and Religious Emotion in a Monk’s Final Journey

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pp. 438-456

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.

Chinese and Korean Character Glossary

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pp. 457-460

Japanese Character Glossary

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pp. 461-466


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pp. 467-470


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pp. 471-491

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860165
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830311

Publication Year: 2007


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Subject Headings

  • Death -- Religious aspects -- Buddhism.
  • Buddhism -- Customs and practices.
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