This presentation is jointly sponsored by Religion Department, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, and Rutgers Center for Chinese Studies.
Buddhists across Asia have often aspired to die with a clear and focused mind, as the historical Buddha himself is said to have done. 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.
This talk, based on Professor Stone's recent book, Right Thoughts at the Last Moment: Buddhism and Deathbed Practices in Early Medieval Japan, explores how the ideal of dying with right mindfulness was appropriated, disseminated, and transformed in premodern Japan based on Chinese precedents, focusing on the late tenth through early fourteenth centuries. Enlivened by cogent examples, this study draws on a wealth of sources including ritual instructions, hagiographies, doctrinal writings, didactic tales, courtier diaries, historical records, letters, and relevant art historical material to explore the interplay of doctrinal ideals and on-the-ground practice.
Jacqueline Stone has been a professor of religion at Princeton University since 1990. Her chief research field is Japanese Buddhism of the medieval and modern periods. Her current research areas include death and dying in Buddhist cultures, Buddhism and nationalism, and traditions of the Lotus Sutra, particularly Tendai and Nichiren. She is the author of Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism , which received a 2001 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion. She has co-edited The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations (with Bryan J. Cuevas, 2007), Readings of the Lotus Sutra (with Stephen F. Teiser, 2009), and other volumes of collected essays. Her latest book, Right Thoughts at the Last Moment: Buddhism and Deathbed Practices in Early Medieval Japan, was published by University of Hawai`i Press in 2016. She has been president of the Society for the Study of Japanese Religions and co-chair of the Buddhism section of the American Academy of Religion. Currently she is vice president of the editorial board of the Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism and serves on the advisory board of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.