Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism

Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism

Jacqueline I. Stone and Mariko Namba Walter

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824832049

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract

For more than a thousand years, Buddhism has dominated Japanese death rituals and concepts of the afterlife. This book, running chronologically from the tenth century to the present, brings to light both continuity and change in death practices over time. It also explores the interrelated issues of how Buddhist death rites have addressed individual concerns about the afterlife while also filling social and institutional needs and how Buddhist death-related practices have assimilated and refigured elements from other traditions, bringing together disparate, even conflicting, ideas about the dead, their postmortem fate, and what constitutes normative Buddhist practice. The idea that death, ritually managed, can mediate an escape from deluded rebirth is treated in the first two chapters. Even while stressing themes of impermanence and non-attachment, Buddhist death rites worked to encourage the maintenance of emotional bonds with the deceased and, in so doing, helped structure the social world of the living. This theme is explored in the next four chapters. The final three chapters deal with contemporary funerary and mortuary practices and the controversies surrounding them. The book constitutes a major step toward understanding how Buddhism in Japan has forged and retained its hold on death-related thought and practice, providing one of the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of the topic to date.