Mourning the Unborn Dead

A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America

by

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195371932
  • 9780199707362
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.
  • Oxford University Press; January 2009
  • ISBN 9780199707362
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: Mourning the Unborn Dead
  • Author: Jeff Wilson
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press
Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195371932
  • 9780199707362

In The Press

"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

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195371932
  • 9780199707362