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 inn Buddhism has received little sustained scholarly attention. The Buddhism 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 ragas 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 dad in Buddhist texts; and the varied representations of the dead and afterlife found in Buddhist funerary art and popular literature.
The paradigmatic figure of the historical Buddha his death the symbolism of his funeral and his relationship to the impurity of the dead are treated in the Gregory schopen. The death of later remarkable adepts, following the Buddhist communities are investigated by Koichi Shinohara, Jacqueline I. Stone Raoul Birnbaum, and Kurtis R. Schaeffer. A dramatic often controversial category of exemplary death the of giving up the body of Buddhist suicide is examined by James Benn and D. Max Moerman. Moving from celebrated masters to ordinary practitioners and devotees Bryan J. Cuevas, John Clitfford Holt, and Matthew T. Kapstein take up the subject of the ordinary dead and the intimate relation that often persist between them and those still living while hank classman mark rowe and Jason a. carbine shed light on Buddhist funerary practices and address the physical and social location of the Buddhist dead.
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. Its foundational in sights are both culturally and historically grounded and at the same time offer a basis for further comparative conversations on death between scholars of Buddhism and other religious tradition.
Bryan J. Cuevas
Bryan J. Cuevas is associate professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies in the department of religion florida state university.
Jacqueline I. Stone
Jacqueline I. Stone is a professor of Japanese religions in the department of religion Princeton University.
From its beginnings in Indian to its varied cultural and religion 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 moments as one casually 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 cannot last and are not under our control. As one may read in any introductory textbook on Buddhism attachment to possessions relationship and especially notions f a perdurring self are deemed unwholesome inevitably producing frustration and misery and binding ne to samsara the cycle of deluded rebirth. From this perspective as indicated by its presence among the four sufferings birth old age sickness and death – death become emblematic of the whole samsaric process. Death is suffering both as an end, separating one from all that one cherishes and as a revolving door spinning one back into yet another round of unsatisfactory rebirth up or down in accordance with one deed until ignorance and craving are finally eradicated. In this sense death is not merely the way things are but it also exemplifies the very problem that the Buddhist soteriological project is to overcome. The Buddha has attained to the deathless his conquest of Mara just before his awakening was not merely the conquest of desire but of death itself in the words of frank E. Reynolds Buddhism has held forth the promise of insight into a larger reality within which the power of death could be domesticated and defeated no small part of its attraction as a religious system.
Death also figures as a recurring theme theme in specific Buddhist practices. Because death represents both the transient unstable nature of thing and the suffering born of ignorance and craving which is to be overcome the sight or thought of death can to the reflective mind act as a spure to religious endeavor. We see this in the story of prince Siddhartha the Buddha to be who is prompted by the sight of a corpse being borne along in a funeral procession to leave his father palace and become a wandering ascetic. Death reminds the practitioner both that work remains to be done and that the time to accomplish it is fleeting. Thus buddhaghosa in the fifth century recommended death together wtihe universal good will as one of two meditation topics suitable to person of all temperaments. Buddhist death contemplation have assumed many forms from simple reflection on death inevitability to yogic techniques for rehearsing the stage of dissolution at death to the to the graphic charnel ground meditation (sometimes performed) using painting or more recently photographs in lieu of corpses) designed to cultivate aversion to the body (asubhadhavana). Specific deathbed practices aim at using the luminal potential of life last moments to effect a soteriologically advantageous rebirth or even to achieve liberation. And since actions in this life are said to affect one condition in the next in a broad sense all form of Buddhist practice might be said to include an element of death preparation.
Death also play a vital role in Buddhism social and institutional dimensions. Rites for the deceased have been deemed most efficacious when performed by those purified by ascetic discipline the Buddhist clergy or other local adepts and thaumaturgies. The performance of funerary and memorial ritual represent a chief social role of Buddhist clerics and strengthens ties between sangha and laity. Funerary rites reaffirm both the message of impermanence and the need for religious endeavor as well as the promise that if one follows the buddhsit path death can in some sense be overcome. They reinforce the authority of Buddhist clerics by highlighting their ritual power to benefit the deceased and also constitute a major source of revenue for Buddhist temples. Death in short generated the underlying urgency that sustains the Buddhist tradition and also provides the paradigmatic occasion for reasserting its normative ideals often with particularly dramatic force.
The essays in this volume shed light on a rich array of traditional Buddhist practices for the dead dying the sophisticated but often paradoxical discourses about death and the deal in Buddhist texts; and the varied representations found in Buddhist funerary at and popular literature about the deal and the places they are believed to inhabit. Before introducing the individual chapters however we shall touch briefly on the place of death in the study of Buddhism and the perspectives that inform this volume.
Death as a topic in Buddhist studies
Despite its centrality to Buddhist tradition until recently death has received surprisingly little attention in the field of Buddhist studies as a theme in its own right. While a full investigation of the reason for this neglect would require a separate essay we suspect that it may stem at least in part from a legacy of modernist assumptions about what Buddhism is supposed to be. Since the late nineteenth century proponents of Buddhist modernism in Asia and the west have sought to reconfigure Buddhism as rational preeminently suited to the modern age. The message of the Buddha I dharmapala (1864-1933) is free from theology priest craft, rituals, ceremonies, dogmas, heavens, heels and other theoretical shibboleths. Traditional depiction of the afterlife with its radiant pure land heavens, and terrifying realms of rebirth among demons hell dwellers or hungry ghosts simply did not fit this picture and so had to be explained away either as accommodations to the uneducated masses or as popular accretion unrelated to Buddhism putative original form. Buddhist clerical involvement in funeral and the economic reliance of Buddhism was archaic superstitious, and socially non productive. Such criticisms posed a serious obstacle to Asian Buddhist leaders intent on demonstrating the relevance of their tradition to modernizing projects. Central to Buddhist modernism is a rhetoric lamenting clerical preoccupation with funerals and promoting Buddhism as a religion first and foremost for the present world. Tanaka chigaku (1861-1939), an advocate of lay Buddhism in modern clergy had become little more than undertakers forced to absent themselves from auspicious occasions such as weddings and new year celebrations because their presence was associated with funerals. They [the clergy] abandon the most important period of human existence life and purposefully labor at explaining the silence after death. Truly this is an extremely major force in misleading the secular nation. Holmes Welch records the explanation of Buddhist rites for the dead given by one of his monk informant a disciple of the Chinese Buddhist reformer taixu (1890-1947): the Chinese sangha has never opposed them but we who expound the sutras and spread the dharma often criticize them. They were not a feature of Buddhism in ancient time yet because people think they were they look down on Buddhism as superstition. When you write about this you must make it clear that these things are old Chinese customs but do not belong to Buddhist thought.
Discomfort with traditional Buddhist notions of the afterlife also influenced modern presentation of Buddhism to a non-Asian genral readership. We see this for example in the repeated assertion contrary to historical and ethnographic evidence that the Tibetan book of the dead was really intended for the living. First put forth in Lama anagarika govinda (Ernst Lothar Hoffman, 1895-1985) introductory foreword to the 1957 edition of the Evans-Wentz translation this odd claim recur in their introduction to the 1987 Freemantle and Trungpa version: Although this book is ostensibly written for the dead it is in fact about life. The Buddha himself would not discuss what happens after death because such question are not useful in the search for reality here and now. But the doctrine of reincarnation the six kinds of existence and the intermediate bardo state between them very much refer to this life whether or not they also apply after death. Since around the 1990s in the context of the death awareness Buddhist (typically Tibetan) perspective on death and dying an awkwardness regarding traditional notion of the afterlife; cosmological descriptions of postmortem realms are attenuated and psychologies and the ontological status of rebirth occasions debate apologetics and extensive reinterpretation.
Scholars of Buddhism have not failed to note that the marginalizing of Buddhist death rites and afterlife concerns in the rhetoric of Buddhist modernism is profoundly at odds with the actual practice of most traditional Buddhists historically and in the present yet we too have not proved altogether immune to modernist emphases of Buddhism for the here and now while not necessarily in the business of promulgating normative definitions of what Buddhism should be we are committed especially where the broader field of religious studies remains dominated by the study of Christianity and other western traditions to the often uphill struggle of promotion Buddhism as a worthy area of inquiry. This concern may have helped to shape a broad scholarly preference for areas in which Buddhism could be shown to be relevant its ethical discourse its cogent philosophical insights and its social and political formation while its approaches to so commonplace a matter as death have failed for a long time to garner sustained interest.
Another factor contributing to a long neglect of death in Buddhist studies may lie in a perceived incompatibility of many Buddhist death related practices with the doctrine of not-self (Skt. Anatman; Pali anatta) the denial of any permanent essence such as a soul. While the philosophical and stereological importance of this unique doctrine is beyond dispute in the modern period it has often been lifted out of any specific context and virtually enshrined as the sole standard for judging what is authentically Buddhist. With this doctrine of egolessness or anatta stand or falls the entire Buddhist structure as nyanatiloka has it. This move was neither simply an artifact of the now much malinged textual Buddhism whose study long dominated the field nor solely a protestant presupposition privileging doctrine over practice. Rather it represents a singling out from more diverse canonical material of a particular strand against which all aspect of the tradition were to be measured. Just as the anatta doctrine in a classical context once represented an intransigent symbolic opposition to the belief system of the Brahmin priesthood so in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s we suspect it expressed an intransigent symbolic opposition to Christian hegemony deployed by both asian and western spokespersons for the Buddhist cause. As a rhetorical strategy this was little short of genius: the god of western religion along with the embarrassing ghosts and sprits of Buddhism own superstitious past cold be dismissed at a single stroke. However modernist deployment of the anatta doctrine did not stop with its traditional use as an identity marker for the Buddhist tradition or as a support for specific forms of meditation and scholastic analysis but elevated it to an all encompassing normative messure of everything claiming to be Buddhist an inflated and distorting burden that historically it had seldom been made to carry. The reduction of all that is properly Buddhist to discourses of not-self and non-attachment tends to erase death in particular as an issue of any significance. In the words of walpola Rahula, the difference between death and birth is only a though moment the last though moment in the so called next life which in fact is the continuity of the same series…. So from the Buddhist point of view the question of life after death is not a great mystery and a Buddhist is never worried about this problem.
Not only that but ubiquitous ghosts funeral prayers and rites of merit transference for the deceased along with cults of the holy dead centered on the worship of relics and icons seems to be more concerned with achieving permanence and stability than with underscoring egolessness or themes of evanescence and decay. From a non-self centered perspective the pervasive presence of these seemingly heterogonous elements could be explained only as a concession to the ignorant or by appeal to decline rhetoric in which early Buddhism pure and lofty quest for nirvana was said to have gradually become obscured by rites and folk element imported from the broader religious culture of vedic India and other regions where Buddhism had spread.
From around the 1960s scholars conducting anthropological research chiefly in Theravada countries began to address seriously the on the ground belief and practices of actual Buddhist communities including their death rites and devised models to illuminate how these beliefs and practices coexisted with doctrinal teaching of impermanence and not self. Yet though heuristically useful their model still tended to take not-self. Yet though heuristically useful their models still tended to take not self doctrine as a normative standard and to relegate death related rites and discourses to an opposing category. Thus in melford spiro famous tripartite typology of nibbanic kammaic and apotropaic Buddhism Buddhist death rites transferring merit to the deceased and placating their potentially hostile spirits are assigned to the latter two systems in contrast to the nibbanic position in normative Buddhism there is no sould; hence nothing survives the death of the body. Rebirth is caused by the deceased craving for existence the nature of his rebirth is determined by his personally created karma. This being so the bereaved has no power to do good of ill for the deceased. Keeping these normative assumptions in mind it will be noted that they are all inverted by the assumption underlying the Burmese death and burial ceremonies. In Richard Gombrich schema a clash between cognitive and affective religious systems has its roots in Sinhalese Buddhist attitudes toward death; these emphasize survival of the personality rather than anatta based views of the individual as constituted solely by a series of karmiclaly linked momentary psychophysical formation: I think that this affective belief in personal survival clashing with the cognitive belief in merely karmic survival is the basis for a whole system of affective religion which diverges from official doctrine. Such models are heuristically useful and at the time they were proposed they represented a significant advance in that they took the practices of living Buddhist seriously nonetheless by their very structure they inevitably implied an unequally weighted polarity in which Buddhism orthodox stereological project stood on one side while death rites and on the ground beliefs about the dead represented other stuff. From that perspective to study death was still by implication to study a second tier phenomenon.
Over roughly the last two decades in Religious student generally the other stuff has achieved respectability. What we may call popular religion (though the term itself is contested) is no longer understood as a leftover or marginal category posited in contradistinction to official religion other older scheme of folk versus elite or great and little traditions have been critiqued and largely abandoned. Buddhist funerary and mortuary culture. Indeed few topic pose so devastating a challenge to two tried official/popular or elite/folk distinctions. We now know for example the Buddhist death rites in India far from being concessions to an uneducated laity were instituted by monasitcs. Monks initiate Buddhist funerals within the monastery placated unhappy ghosts and practiced burial ad sanctos in the vicinity of their holy dead; the cult of stupas and donations for merit transference to the deceased similarly appear to have been first practiced not by monks and nuns some of them learned doctrinal specialists.
We are in sympathy with those who see religious culture not as a static or unified field but as inevitably entailing differences disputes and oppositions. The antinomy between teachings of impermanence (of which the anatta doctrine represent an especially rigorous formulation) and discourses and practices stressing the continuity of the deceased represent a real and near ubiquitous feature of Buddhist funerary contexts. Once we break free of the assumption that one pole of this antinomy should be understood as normative (thus casting the other in a problematic light), we can begin to recognize the very tension between them as itself constitutive of Buddhist approaches to death. Death as anthropologists have long recognized brings together a number of contradictory logics and Buddhist approaches to death. Death as anthropologists have long recognized brings together a number of contra dictionary logics and Buddhism is no exception in this regard juxtaposing a number of strikingly disparate elements in death related setting one might note for example the tension between strict readings of karmic causality according to which the individual own acts are solely determinative of his or her postmortem fate and belief in the power of ritual action performed by other on the deceased behalf to eradicate that person misdeed and guide him or her to a superior rebirth. (This particular tension has a counterpart in Hindu tradition where the teaching that the soul transmigrates in accordance with inexorable karmic law coexists with notions that the postmortem will-being of the deceased depends on rites performed by their descendants) another recurring tension can be found between Buddhist ideals of world renunciation and the lingering pull of family obligation. Still others could be named. Indeed, death, represents an ideal lens through which to examine how diverse even contradictory elements have been drawn together in the dynamic ongoing processes by which specific Buddhist cultures are formed challenged and redefined a major premise that informs our collection.
”Death in Buddhism”: A Cross-Cultural Category?
Since the late 1980s and 1990s the subject of death in Buddhism has at last begun to draw scholarly attention especially in the areas of funerary and mortuary practice. However the majority of these studies have tended to focus on a particular geographic or cultural area mirroring broader filed wide trends. One dominated chiefly by textual philogical and doctrinal concerns Buddhist studies has expanded in recent decades to include the methods of history anthropology and sociology as well as literary criticism cultural studies gender studies and other disciplines. Buddhologists are no longer required to have reading knowledge several Buddhist languages or to be versed in multiple canons; instead they are increasingly expected to be familiar with the historical and social specifics or particular Buddhist cultures. Recognition of local diversity has led to an emphasis on Buddhism’s rather than a unitary Buddhism and some of the most intense areas of inquiry and debate in recent years have centered around efforts to understand more precisely how Buddhism as a pan Asian tradition has transformed and been transformed by local religious cultures. (One thinks for example of recurring tropes of foreign impact versus signification in the study of Buddhism in medieval China or of the discovery of combinatory paradigms by which local Kami were identified with Buddha’s and bodhisattvas in premodern Japan) Scholars in Religious Studies have occasionally even suggested that Buddhism is too diverse to be of use as an analytic category and should be abandoned in favor of Indian religion Japanese religion and the like. While few would endorse so extreme a position the vast range of regional and historical variation embraced by the rubric Buddhism has for some time represented scholarly common sense. And nowhere does such local diversity appear more strikingly than in connection with beliefs and practices surrounding death. As mark Blum reminds us In every society in Asia that may be considered traditionally Buddhist indigenous belief structure regarding the dead that were operative before the assimilation of Buddhism persist and forms and integral part of that assimilation. Do the varied Buddhist discourses practices and representation associated with death in fact show sufficient consistency across cultures to warrant grouping them as death and Buddhism? Or do they differ so radically according to cultural context as to render such a rubric misleading?
This became a pressing problem for us the volume editors in the course of our personal research. We have both been engaged for some time in the study of death related practices in specific Buddhist cultures one of us focusing on medieval Tibet (Cuevas) and the other on premodern Japan (Stone) and we felt a growing need to learn whether, and if so to what extent our research finding were specific to these particular cultural settings or reflected broader trasregional patterns. We consequently organized a conference called death and dying in Buddhist Culture held at Princeton University in May 2002. Our aim was to provide a venue for methodological reflection on how we as scholars of Buddhism working in diverse culture setting could most effectively address the study of Buddhist approaches to death and the afterlife. In light of the thematic continuity that emerged the conference Participant concluded that while still sustaining a rigorous historical or social focus on the specifics or particular areas it was now appropriate to move discussion of Buddhism and death in to a wider conversational arena and to launch a more comparative investigation into the issue of death across the major Buddhist cultures. This conclusion provides the impetus that carried the project beyond the initial conference and led to the compilation of this volume.
The Buddhist Dead
We have already noted the pervasive tension between Buddhist doctrinal teachings of transience and non-attachment and the emotional adherence to stability and permanence found in multiple aspects of Buddhist funerary practices and attitudes toward the deceased. Buddhist societies have shared widespread assumptions about the prolonged liveliness of the Buddhist dead and their persistent ties to the living. This raises some fascinating problems especially for those interested in the social and historical dimension of Buddhist attitudes toward death and the dead over truly dead in Buddhism? Just who are the Buddhist dead? Where are they and what form do they take? And in what way do those who are still alive relate to them?
The Buddhist dead who appeared in the essays collection here may be divided broadly into two groups the special dead and the ordinary dead. While the distinction is by no means confined to Buddhism these two categories assume particular meaning sin Buddhist contexts. All beings both deluded and enlightened eventually vanish from this world but their departure is understood in radically different terms. For the special dead those who have achieved awakening or accumulated significant merit death is a liberation. Special vocabulary is often ordinary samsaric death. Indeed, such persons are not said to have died at all but rather to have entered final nirvana as in the case of the Buddha or to have gone to a pure land alternatively Buddha sans bodhisattvas are sometimes said to manifest death as a form of religious instructional skillful means to awaken other to the truth of impermanence. Pali sources use the technical term dying by extirpation of samsara” (Samuccheda-marana) to indicate the particular death of Buddhas and arhats that will not lead to another rebirth while Mahayana exegetes distinguished between ordinary deluded rebirth driven by the forces of karma (in Japanese bundon shoji) and the voluntary rebirth of bodhisattvas chosen out of compassion in order to benefit beings (hennyaku shoji). However their liberation may be understood the special dead are said to have escaped the samsaric cycle once and for all putting an end to suffering. As though to demonstrattheir spiritual status such individuals are often represented as having died exemplary death in a state of calm meditative focus and accompanied by wondrous signs. The extraordinary nature of their attainments is also mapped onto their physical remains. Buddhist hagiography abounds with fantastic tales of the bodies of dead sages and adepts behaving quite differently from those of ordinary people. The paradigmatic example is of course the Buddha whose body is said to have produced jewel-like relics (Skt, sarira) in the crematory fire. Too have the bodies of many subsequent Buddhist saint. Such relics were believed two retain he charisma of the original living person and to be able to multiply respond to prayers and even move under their own volition. The remains of the Buddhist special dead in short behave in a manner quite opposite to the inertness and decay that one expects form an ordinary corpse. The extraordinary status of the special or enlightened dead is further represented in Buddhist societies by the production of painting and photographic images of ideal death; by the stories recorded and repeated about exemplary lives and spectacular exits; and even by the special clothing worn in life and left behind in death. Several essays in this volume deal with the social, political, any symbolic power of the Buddhist remarkable dead.
But these are elite among the dead. In contrast the far more numerous unenlightened dead are said to be still bound to the rebirth process by craving and attachment; they will be born in yet another realm of samsaric existence in accordance with their prior deeds. Many are represented as living painful and desperate lives as hungry ghosts animal and denizens of hell. Those with a slightly greater stock of merit may be living as gods or demi-gods or better yet may be reborn as humasn the most advantageous state, from a Buddhist perspective for cultivating religious practice. These ordinary not yet enlightened dead and especially those suffering in inferior realms serve routinely as cautionary examples in Buddhist did active literature and artistic representation. They are also the objects of the extensive and varied funerary and mortuary cultures and provided a major economic base for Buddhist institutions.
Having noted the distinction between the remarkable and the ordinary Buddhist dead however we must also stress that the line between then is often blurred or even deliberately collapsed. Funerary and mortuary rites performed by the living have sometimes been though to elevate the status of the ordinary dead eradicating their sins and enabling their status of the ordinary dead eradicating their sins and enabling their relocation to a Buddha land or other superior realm. Death itself has also been understood in Buddhist cultures as a unique and potent juncture when even those who have done evil can potentially escape samsaric rebirth by right contemplation in their just last moments. And finally whether we speaks of the special dead or the ordinary dead they are by no means lost to the living. The enlightened dead can in some cases respond to prayers and their spiritual power remains in their relics and images and narratives about them while the ordinary dead are able to communicate their condition to surviving relatives receive their memorial offerings, and sometimes watch over and protect them.
The essays contained in this collection each with its own thematic focus historical period and geographical setting deal with both the remarkable and the ordinary dead. To underscore our cross cultural concerns we have deliberately avoided grouping them by geographical region or by strict chronological order of their subject matter. While readers will undoubtedly discover multiple connection among the individual chapter for themselves we may note here some of the larger thematic consideration that inform the volume content and organization.
The Buddha as Paradigm and New Readings of Mortuary Sites
The two opening chapters of this volume dead with the figure of the historical Buddha who in death as in other matters has been paradigmatic for the entire tradition. They also offer insight into the social practices of Buddhist communities by suggesting new reading of the mortuary sites that figure prominently in Buddhist literature; the cremation pyre and the charnel ground. John strong’s opening essay on the Buddha death and funeral underscores the importance of the Buddha as the model for all extraordinary Buddhist deaths. Strong argues that the Buddha death should be understood not merely as his entry into final nirvana the end of the visible life of a blessed figure but rather as a rite of passage in which the Buddha and his body undergo a significant change of status highlighting the tension between the impermanence illustrated by the Buddha departure from this would and his continued material presence in the form of relics and the stupas enshrining them. Once dismissed as a concession to popular piety relics were seen as functionally equivalent to the living Buddha imbued with his virtues; deposited in stupas at monasteries they possessed legal personhood and were able to and were able to hold property. Readily portable they facilitated the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia aided in the formation of pilgrimage routes and lent stature to the temples and monasteries that housed them. Relics also extend the narrative of the Buddha biography in the world continuing to speared the dharma inland he never visited; at the kalpa end it is said they will reassemble beneath the bodhi tree ad undergo a par nirvana of their own demonstrating just as the living Buddha did that all conditioned thing must eventually perish. Anthropological perspective suggest that the enshrining of relics can be seen as a form of secondary burial marking the successful transit of the decades thorough a polluted luminal state to a purified and stable condition and thus linked to themes of regeneration. While the crematory fire that consumed the Buddha may have vividly demonstrated the truth that all things are impermanent strong argues that it consumed the Buddha may have vividly demonstrated the truth that all things are impermanent strong argues that it also generated for the Buddha a new body in the form of relics indeed he suggests that the primary purpose of the Buddha funeral especially the burning of his body was to ensure the production of these relics. Other essays in this collection similarly suggest that cremation productive of relics has been an essential function of funerals for the Buddhist special dead. Strong also analyzed specific elements in the symbolism of account of the funerary treatment of the Buddha corpse of the Buddha corpse treatment modeled on the funeral rites reserved for great Indian monarchs. The multiple layers of shrouds prescribed for royal funerals in which the Buddha body was cremated were reduced by the flames to just tow robes as in monastic garb thus the cremation strong argues in effect signal a transformation of the Buddha from the status of monarch to that of monk. Throughout the Buddhist world death and funerals have often been thematically assimilated to monastic ordination another soteriolgoically meaningful way of leaving the world. Strong essay suggests that this symbolic association may have its beginning in the Buddha funeral.
The second chapter by Gregory schopen also begins with a story of the Buddha a controversial narrative from the Lalitavistara here too we see the symbolism of a transformation in the Buddha status marked by dress in this cases his changing of clothes just prior to his awakening. However as might be expected the clothes into which he changes are no ordinary garments. On the contrary much to the surprise of his witnesses the Buddha dons the discarded and thoroughly polluted shroud of a recently deceased village girl wearing only robes made of the shrouds of corpses is celebrated in some text as one of the dhutagunas or extra ascetic practices that a monk might undertake. Schopen shows us that the symbolic import of the Buddha act while in one sense exemplifying an ascetic ideal also reveals on close reading of Indian Buddhist Vinaya texts just how anxious Buddhist monks were to preserve an impeccable public profile. Acceptable public impressions Schopen argues were important for gaining and keeping lay sponsors whose support was crucial to the maintenance of monastic institution. At the same time schopen draws attention to the dead in Indian society. The pervasive sense of the impurity and contagion of death is what gave the tale of the Buddha change of dress so much power and left many of the more conservative Buddhist monk (I.e., those image brokers and rule makers in monastic administrative position) uncomfortably ambivalent about how best to explain and justify the Buddha daring to pollute himself in such a dangerous manner. What Schopen exposes here is an undercurrent of opposition between those seeking to live the Buddhist monk-ascetic ideal and those responsible for maintaining the monasteries. For the latter those Buddhist ascetics who lived with the dead in cemeteries or wore the contaminated shrouds of corpses threatened to tarnish the image of Buddhism in a society of potential patrons who could in no way tolerate exposure to death or contact with the dead.
Exemplary Deaths and Their Legitimizing Power
Chapter 3 through 8 deal with the possibility of acquiring meditative and ritual control over one’s own death process; the remarkable death s of Buddhist adepts said to have achieved such control; and the value that narrative accounts and visual representations of such extraordinary death have held for disciple and devotees both as source of inspiration and for the religious authority that they conferred on the community to which the deceased had belonged. Across Buddhist cultures committed practitioners have sought to die with a calm and focused mind not only to follow the Buddha example or to demonstrate their own attainments but also because it was believed that the quality of a dying person last thoughts exerted a determinative influence on that individual next rebirth. Dying well means approaching the final moment with a pure and virtuous mind. To ensure right manuals have recommended attending the sick whether they are monastics or lay people and exhorting them to cultivate wholesome thoughts in their critical last moment. The ideal of a mindful death was by no means confined to Buddhism but was part of the broader Indian religious culture and persists to the preset day. Here we find another set of contradictory logics recurring the Buddhist approaches to death: in the juxtaposition of the ideas that an individual postmortem fate would be determined by the sum of his of her acts throughout life and that proper ritual action at the last moment on the dissolve that person accumulated sins and enable his or her birth in a superior realm.
Koichi Shinohara chapter analyzes instructions for deathbed practice to be conducted in the monastic setting as set forth by the Chinese Vinaya authority Daoxuan (596-667) in his commentary on the Dharmaguptaka vinaya. Drawing extensively on both Indic and Chinese sources Daoxuan recommendation include removing a dying monk to a separate hall placing him in a prescribed posture and having him hold a five-colored cord or pennant attached to the hand of a Buddha image so as to help to form the thought of following the Buddha to his Buddha land. Attendants should also offer the dying monk sermons and encouragement to assist his mental focus at the end. Daoxuan instruction for deathbed practice would exert a far-reaching influence on rites for the time of death throughout east Asian Buddhism especially in Pure land circle. In analyzing Daoxuan source and other related Chinese Buddhist text Shinohara notes the recurrence of two contrasting themes; one emphasizing the impermanence of all things and the need to relinquish attachment at the time of death and the other stress ting the importance of one final thoughts as a way of securing rebirth in a pure land or other superior realm. He suggests that while both views can be found in Indian Buddhist sources the growing momentum of Pure land or other superior realm. He suggests that while both views can be found in Indian Buddhist sources the growing momentum of pure Land beliefs and practices in Chinese Buddhist circles in Daozuan time heightened the tension of a specific time and place aspiration concerning one postmortem state and understanding of the significance of deathbed practice were not necessarily uniform but might be contested and redefined.
Tensions between differing soteiological goals are also addressed in Jacqueline stone essay which focuses on the use in medieval Japan of deathbed practices associated with esoteric Buddhism (mikkyo). From a purely doctrinal standpoint esoteric Buddhism was understood as the vehicle for realizing buddhahood in this very body while hopes for the next life were commonly framed in terms of birth while hopes for the next life were commonly framed in terms of birth in Amida Buddha pure land. While a modern Buddhists sectarian reading might see these two goals as mutually incompatible. Stone finds that the picture was far more complicated. For the most par medieval Japanese Buddhist freely combined esoteric practices with pure land aspiration in the deathbed context with no evident sense of contradiction. However some thinkers of the esoteric Shingon tradition sought to reinterpret both the concept of birth in the Pure Land and deathbed ritual practice in light of esoteric models of the direct realization of buddhahood. Practice as a form of esoteric ritual union with the Buddha; by rejecting aspiration to specific pure land as inconsistent with the esoteric teaching that all reality is the realm of the cosmic Buddha Mahavariocana; and by creative double logic that simultaneously acknowledges both birth in the Pure Land and the realization of buddhahood with this very body holding these two goals in a dynamic tension without resolving the opposition between them.
Chapters 5 and 6 focus representation of ideal death and the roles they have played in the live of Buddhist communities Raoul Birnbaum chapter details the death of the modern Chinese Buddhsit master Hongyi (1880-1942). Hongyis death was distinctive in a number of ways one of which was that his appearance in death was captured in a remarkable photographs. This picture of Master Hongyi Portrays the beautiful death of an extraordinary Buddhist figure inspired by representations of the Buddha own death and incidentally demonstrates that Buddhists ideal about the dying in an exemplary manner have by no means been confined to premodern times. Birnbaum remind us however that an image is meaningful only to the extent that it is seen by an audience. The symbolic power of Hongyi image takes form in the eyes of its viewers and provides for them both a model of and for the ideal Buddhist death. In this way Birnbaum argues that photograph of the dead master Hongyi also serves as a form of relic. As in John strong essay we see here the power of the materially present relic to help maintain the connection between a deceased Buddhist master and his devoted followers.
Kurtis Schaeffers chapter extends the category of sacred relic to include the published life story of an extraordinary Buddhist teacher. Schaeffer takes this notion as his central theme in his examination of the Tibetan hagiographical literature narrating the death of the twelfth-century yogi milarepa (ca. 1052-1135) one of Tibet most beloved Buddhist saints. In an insightful analytical twist schaeffer also examines the biography of the biographer comparing details of milarepa remarkable death with those of the death of his most renowned hagiographer Tsangnyon Heruka (142-1507). Tibetan account of the deaths of both milarepa and his biographer mirror in several essential ways the traditional accounts of the Buddha death again stressing as do other essays in this volume the paradigmatic importance of the Buddha example. But as Schaeffer points out the death of the biographer Tsangnyon Heruka is modeled more on Milarepa than on the Buddha though at the level ultimately realty the latter two are understood to be essential on and the same.
Schaeffer primary focus however is the hagiographical text themselves and the relationship between physical text and revered relics. Echoing strong argument that the main goal of the Buddha cremation was to ensure the production of relic Schaeffer suggests that one of the prime purpose of hagiographical writing was to produce a relic of sots for veneration again underscoring the importance of relics as reinstantiating the continued presence of the absent Buddhist master. Strong in another context has interpreted relics as an extension of the Buddha biography Schaeffer here considered biography as a form of relic. He also shows how in the aftermath of the master death the relic as well as the hagiographical text as relic could be used to serve political and economic agendas. He concludes that relics either in corporeal or textual form were particularly effective in gaining in corporeal or textual form were particularly effective in gaining patrons and sponsors and even in promoting the superiority of one Buddhist group over another.
Language & Literature (442)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (87)
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