Right Thoughts at the Last Moment: Buddhism and Deathbed Practices in Early Medieval Japan

Right Thoughts at the Last Moment: Buddhism and Deathbed Practices in Early Medieval Japan

By Jacqueline L. Stone

Buddhists across Asia have often aspired to die with a clear and focused mind, as the historical Buddha himself is said to have done. This book explores how the ideal of dying with right mindfulness was appropriated, disseminated, and transformed in premodern Japan, focusing on the late tenth through early fourteenth centuries. By concentrating one’s thoughts on the Buddha in one’s last moments, it was said even an ignorant and sinful person could escape the cycle of deluded rebirth and achieve birth in a buddha’s pure land, where liberation would be assured. Conversely, the slightest mental distraction at that final juncture could send even a devout practitioner tumbling down into the hells or other miserable rebirth realms. The ideal of mindful death thus generated both hope and anxiety and created a demand for ritual specialists who could act as religious guides at the deathbed. Buddhist death management in Japan has been studied chiefly from the standpoint of funerals and mortuary rites. Right Thoughts at the Last Momentinvestigates a largely untold side of that story: how early medieval Japanese prepared for death, and how desire for ritual assistance in one’s last hours contributed to Buddhist preeminence in death-related matters. It represents the first book-length study in a Western language to examine how the Buddhist ideal of mindful death was appropriated in a specific historical context.

 

Jacqueline Stone is a professor in the Department of Religion at Princeton University.  She received her PhD in Buddhist Studies from UCLA in 1990. 

 

ISBN: 0824856430

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Published: Thursday, August 10, 2017