Mourning the Unborn Dead: A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America

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Overview

Many Western visitors to Japan have been struck by the numerous cemeteries for aborted fetuses, which are characterized by throngs of images of the Bodhisattva Jizo, usually dressed in red baby aprons or other baby garments, and each dedicated to an individual fetus. Abortion is common in Japan and as a consequence one of the frequently performed rituals in Japanese Buddhism is mizuko-kuyo, a ceremony for aborted and miscarried fetuses. Over the past forty years, mizuko-kuyo has gradually come to America, where it has been appropriated by non-Buddhists as well as Buddhist practitioners.

In this book, Jeff Wilson examines how and why Americans of different backgrounds have brought knowledge and performance of this Japanese ceremony to the United States. Drawing on his own extensive fieldwork in Japan and the U.S., as well as the literature in both Japanese and English, Wilson shows that the meaning and purpose of the ritual have changed greatly in the American context. In Japan, mizuko-kuyo is performed to placate the potentially dangerous spirit of the angry fetus. In America, however, it has come to be seen as a way for the mother to mourn and receive solace for her loss. Many American women who learn about mizuko-kuyo are struck by the lack of such a ceremony and see it as filling a very important need. Ceremonies are now performed even for losses that took place many years ago. Wilson's well-written study not only contributes to the growing literature on American Buddhism, but sheds light on a range of significant issues in Buddhist studies, interreligious contact, women's studies, and even bioethics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A fascinating portrait of contemporary American Zen viewed through an unlikely lens: the Americanization of the mizuko kuyo ritual, which is a funeral of sorts for aborted and miscarried fetuses." —Buddhadharma

"Elegantly written... This is a compassionate, instructive book for which I find myself grateful. It will appeal to psychotherapists, students of religion, feminists—to anyone interested in people and ideas."—The Canadian Charger

"[Wilson] offers a far-reaching and sympathetic look at a growing movement, reassuring us in graceful language that 'the softly smiling Jizo...may yet hide deeper surprises for those who come to [hm] for aid." —Tricycle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195371932
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/21/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: "Different Meanings, Different Ends," 3

1 "Carried with Jizo Bosatsu": Mizuko Kuyo in Japanese-American Communities 19

2 "A Shadow in the Heart": Mizuko Kuyo in Convert American Zen 55

3 "We Need to Free Ourselves": Adaptations of Convert Mizuko Kuyo 79

4 "Branching Streams Flow On in the Dark": Rethinking American Buddhism in Light of Mizuko Kuyo 107

5 "Without Biblical Revelation": Rhetorical Appropriations of Mizuko Kuyo by Christians and Other Non-Buddhist Americans 129

6 "Thank You Getupgrrl for Giving Me My Mizuko": Therapeutic Appropriations of Mizuko Kuyo by Non-Buddhist Americans 163

Postscript: "Where Is Buddhism?" 193

Appendix Convert Zen Centers Performing Mizuko Kuyo 199

Notes 201

References 237

Index 255

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