Buddhist Care for the Dying and Bereaved


Edited by Jonathan S. Watts and Yoshiharu Tomatsu

Jodo Shu Research Institute, Tokyo, Japan

 available from Wisdom Publications (Boston) paperback 312 pages, ISBN 9781614290520

Buddhist understandings of death and practices developed for dying and the moment of death have been hallmarks of the tradition since its beginning in India 2,500 years ago. Over the last forty years, they have been an important part of the global revival of Buddhism, especially in the West―from the popularization of the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Zen poetry about death to Theravadan meditation on the decaying body to belief in the welcome of Amida Buddha on one’s deathbed. Relatively little is known, however, about the number of Buddhist based initiatives for caring for the dying and bereaved through the development of trained professionals and the building of facilities that have mushroomed since the late 1980s.

 The Buddhist hospice movement marks a recovery of these aforementioned practices of Buddhism towards death and their application in new, modern conditions and societies. Indeed, the Vihara Movement in Japan has consciously named itself using the traditional and ancient Buddhist term for temple, vihara. Many Buddhists today are drawing upon this long and deep tradition to find their own models for developing forms of Buddhist engagement that not only confront but also transform the many problems facing people dying in the world today. In this volume, we have culled over five years of research some of the best and most inspired examples of Buddhist care for the dying and bereaved from all over the world, covering the entire Buddhist tradition with essays from the Theravada tradition in Thailand and Cambodia; the Tibetan tradition in the Rigpa Spiritual Care Program, which functions primarily in Europe and the United States; the East Asian Mahayana tradition in Taiwan; and the Lotus Sutra, Pure Land, and Zen traditions in both Japan and the United States.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Buddhist Care for the Dying and Bereaved – Jonathan S. Watts

  • JAPAN: Challenges of Caring for the Aging and Dying: Lessons from Japan – Carl B. Becker
  • JAPAN: Tear Down the Wall: Bridging the Pre-Mortem and Post-Mortem Worlds in Japanese Medical and Spiritual Care – Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu
  • JAPAN: “True View”: Shifting to the Patient’s Standpoint of Suffering in a Buddhist Hospital – Dr. Hayashi Moichiro
  •  JAPAN: The Vihara Movement: Buddhist Chaplaincy and Social Welfare in Japan – Rev. Yozo Taniyama
  •  USA/JAPAN: One Dies as One Lives: The Importance of Developing Pastoral Care Services and Religious Education – Rev. Mari Sengoku
  • TAIWAN: The Development of Indigenous Hospice Care and Clinical Buddhism in Taiwan – Jonathan S. Watts & Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu
  • THAILAND: The Seven Factors of a Peaceful Death: A Theravada Buddhist Approach to Dying in Thailand – Ven. Phaisan Visalo
  • CAMBODIA: Actualizing Understanding: Compassion, AIDS, Death and Dying among Cambodia’s Poor – Rev. Beth Kanji Goldring
  • UNITED KINGDOM: The Birth of New Culture of Active Dying: The Role of Buddhism in British Attitudes and Practices Towards Death – Rev. Caroline Prasada Brazier
  • GERMANY: Buddhist Influences on the Scientific, Medical, and Spiritual Cultures of Caring for the Dying in Germany – Jonathan S. Watts & Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu
  • U.S.A.: Being With Dying : Contemplative End of Life Training Program – Rev. Joan Halifax
  • U.S.A.: Zen Approaches to Terminal Care and Buddhist Chaplaincy Training in the San Francisco Bay Area – Jonathan S. Watts & Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu
  • U.S.A: “Listening to the Dharma”Integrating Buddhism into a Multi-Faith Healthcare Environment – Rev. Julie Hanada

Author Profiles

Carl B. Becker received his M.A. (1973) and Ph.D. (1981) from the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii. He has lived for the past thirty years in Japan, the latter half as a professor at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies and the Kyoto University Kokoro (Heart-Mind) Research Center. During this time, he has participated in projects for Japan’s Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Education, and cofounded the Japanese English Forensics Association, the International Association for Near-Death Studies, and Society for Mind-Body Science. He also counsels suicidal clients, terminal patients, and bereaved students, and conducts workshops on improving medical communication and preventing nurse burnout. He is author of Breaking the Circle: Death and the Afterlife in Buddhism (Southern Illinois University Press, 1993), Paranormal Experience and Survival of Death (SUNY Press, 1993), and Time for Healing: Integrating Traditional Therapies With Scientific Medical Practice (Paragon House, 2003).

Rev. Caroline Prasada Brazier received her B.A. from Manchester University in 1976 and her postgraduate Certificate of Education in 1978 from Manchester Metropolitan University. She also holds diplomas in counseling and group work from Eigenwelt Institute, Keele University, and College of York St. John. She is an ordained member of the Amida Order and leader of the Amida Psychotherapy Training Program. She has an interest in hospital chaplaincy and has been involved in its development in the United Kingdom for a number of years. She is author of six books on Buddhism and psychotherapy, most notably Buddhist Psychology (Constable Robinson, 2001), The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West (O Books, 2007), Other-Centred Therapy: Buddhist Psychology in Action (O Books, 2009).

Rev. Beth Kanji Goldring received her B.A. from Carnegie-Mellon University (1966), M.A. from the University of Chicago (1969); and did Ph.D. work in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago (ABD in 1973). She has taught Humanities at the University of Chicago, Prairie State University (Illinois), Southwest College (Chicago), Marist College (Poughkeepsie), and St. Scholastica’s College (Manila). In 1982, she became involved in human rights work, living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 1986 to 1993. She produced several books and many papers on human rights documentation. She also cofounded Sanabel Press Services, founded the Palestinian Women’s Human Rights Organization, and worked with the pre-Oslo Agreement Palestinian negotiating teams as a specialist in residence rights and keeping families together. She returned to the U.S. in 1993 as a Fellow at the Harvard/Radcliffe Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute. In 1995, after ordaining as a Zen priest, she moved to Thailand to work with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) and then moved to Cambodia in 1996. She conceived Brahmavihara/Cambodia AIDS Project in 1999 and founded it in 2000. Among awards Beth has received, in 2008 she was one of twenty women named Outstanding Women in Buddhism. In 2009 she received both the Insight Meditation Center Redwood City Karuna Award and was given an award by Her Royal Highness Dr. Princess Chulabhorn Walailak at the inauguration of Avalokitesvara’s Great Compassionate Stupa of 10,000 Buddhas under the direction of Most Venerable Master Shi Kuang Seng.

Rev. Joan Jiko Halifax is a Zen Buddhist teacher, anthropologist, author, and pioneer in end-of-life care. She is abbot and head teacher of Upaya Zen Center and Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico; founder of the Project on Being with Dying, the Upaya Prison Project, and the Ojai Foundation; co-founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order; and author of nine books, including Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death. She is an honorary Research Fellow at Harvard University and Kluge Fellow and Distinguished Invited Scholar at the Library of Congress.

Rev. Julie Chijo Hanada completed research level work in Buddhism at Chuo Bukkyo Gakuin in Kyoto in 1990 and received her Masters in Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley in 1986. She received ordination as a minister of the Nishi Honganji (Honpa Hongwanji) branch of the Jodo Shin Pure Land denomination in 1988 and served as a temple priest for 12 years including assignments at the Los Angeles Honpa Hongwanji and the Oregon Buddhist Temple.  In 2008 she received full certification as an ACPE (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education) Supervisor. She has been the Director of the Department of Spiritual Care at the Harborview Medical Center since 2007. 

Dr. Moichiro Hayashi M.D. graduated from Tokyo Medical University in 1972, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. He then spent three years in residency at Kosei General Hospital, affiliated with the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist denomination, in Tokyo. From 1975 to 1982, he worked at Tokai University Hospital and then rejoined Kosei Hospital where he has worked since. In 2004, he became the founding Director of the Department of Palliative Care and Vihara Ward, and in 2007 became Director of the entire Kosei Hospital.

Ven. Phaisan Visalo is the chief abbot of Sukato forest monastery in the Chaiyapume, Thailand. He ordained as a monk in 1983, after graduating from Thammasat University in Bangkok and founding the Coordinating Group for Religion and Society. He has worked extensively in the environmental and alternative development movement, in conflict resolution (as a member of the National Reconciliation Commission of Thailand), and in monastic reform within the Thai Sangha. More recently, he has led the Buddhika Network for Buddhism and Society in developing a network of religious and medical professionals working for more integrated spiritual and physical care for the dying. He is the author of numerous books in his native Thai language.

Rev. Mari Sengoku ordained as a minister of the Nishi Honganji (Honpa Hongwanji) branch of the Jodo Shin Pure Land denomination in 1989. She was dispatched to Hawaii in 1994 as the first Japanese female minister of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission serving in this manner for 13 years. She served as a chaplain at the Queen’s Medical Center and Hospice Hawaii in Honolulu from 2002 to 2004. She served as a chaplain at the Asoka Vihara Clinic in Kyoto from 2008 to 2009. She received an M.A. from University of Hawaii in Education (2000) and from the University of Phoenix in Counseling (2002). She obtained her Ph.D. in Medical Sciences at Tottori University in 2010. She now works as a faculty member of the International Center at Osaka Gakuin University teaching Naikan and Morita psychotherapies and Buddhism to international students.

Rev. Yozo Taniyama received his B.A. (1994) and his Ph.D. (2000) from Tohoku University. He was ordained as a minister of the Higashi Honganji (Otani) branch of the Jodo Shin Pure Land denomination in 1981. He worked as a chaplain in the Vihara palliative care ward of Nagaoka Nishi Hospital from 2000 to 2003. He helped established in 2005 and then acted as Secretary for The Professional Association for Spiritual Care and Health (PASCH). From 2009 to 2010, he acted as an instructor at the Grief Care Institute located in Sophia University. At present, he is a Research Fellow at the Jodo Shin affiliated Otani University in Kyoto.

Rev. Yoshiharu Tomatsu is a Senior Research Fellow at the Jodo Shu Research Institute and Director of the International Relations Section. He received his B.A. from Keio University in Tokyo (1976), a Masters in Divinity and full Ph.D. credits in Buddhist Studies at Taisho University in Tokyo (1984), and a Master’s in Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School (1991). Since 2005, Rev. Tomatsu has also been teaching bioethics to doctoral candidates at the Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo. He served as the Secretary General of the All Japan Buddhist Federation from 2010-2012. His publications include: senior editor of Honen’s Senchakushu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, Kuroda Institute, 1998), and co-editor with Jonathan Watts of Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Honen Shonin (Tokyo: Jodo Shu Press, 2005) and Never Die Alone: Birth as Death in Pure Land Buddhism (Tokyo: Jodo Shu Press, 2005).

Jonathan S. Watts graduated with a B.A. in religious studies from Princeton University in 1989 and a M.A. in Human Sciences from the Saybrook Institute in 2002. He has been a researcher at the Jodo Shu Research Institute in Tokyo since 1999 and the International Buddhist Exchange Center since 2005. He has also been an associate professor of Buddhist Studies at Keio University, Tokyo and has been on the Executive Board of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) since 2003. He has co-authored and edited Never Die Alone: Birth as Death in Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shu Press, 2008), and Rethinking Karma: The Dharma of Social Justice (University of Washington, 2009).

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