by Yi Eun Woo
Each monk, including myself folded hundreds of lotus petals to build one funeral pyre. The practice of folding individual petals gave us the time to remember the elder and meditate on his death. Together with these thoughts, the petals burn with the body, transfering the dead and the mourning together to the other side. The body continued to burn for days. BURNING NOISE Only after day three, the seeds began to die until there was nothing left except for ashes and scraps of ivory looking bones. We scraped and collected the remaining ashes in a small box to scatter it in the forest outside of the village. LID CLOSES
Dying Like the Divine
BUDDHA SOTO ZEN MEMORIAL SERVICE RITUAL
Buddha also had a funeral. Surviving fragments of Mahaparinivana Sutra, also known as the Nirvana Sutra, described the Buddha’s body shrouded in cotton-like fabric in his funeral. Buddhist monks and Buddhists followed Buddha’s teachings and the way of life through translations of texts like the Nirvana Sutra including dressing the dead with fabric and paper. Even though Buddha’s students dressed him in cotton, Buddhist believers adhered to his funeral as the method of their funeral rite and began to adorn the dead with all kinds of fabric, specifically in Tokugawa Japan. PAPER RUSTLING The processes of production between paper and cloth may be different but both materials creates an architectural structure that Japanese people found commonalities in the usage of both material. The modification of fabric in Edo Japan seemed common enough at first but it illustrated that dressing used for the dead defied the defined social hierarchy.
White cloth covering household shrines and the dead body protected the dangers of black pollution. Edo Japanese families borrowed white silk from their neighbors to shroud the body from its home to the cremation center, providing a separation from the dead to the living. Families in Tokugawa period did not believe that the coffin was enough to keep the black spirits away. This is why they carried silk white screens and placed white cloth on his body so that evil beings would not disrupt the dead. In some family rituals, members of the family would cover the body with white paper to burn together with the body for a safer passage to nirvana. Requirement for dresses to protect and respect the dead brought communities of support in lending silk to paper and between the rich to the commoners. Tokugawa families dressed the dead with fabric as a mundane routine part of a lavish funeral ritual. Hence not many people wrote down such practice that everybody would know. The everyday practices of using white fabric distinguishes a particular attachment to the body and the separation from the living to the dead and the relatives of the departed. Cloth both encloses the body but also isolates it. This isolation through clothing separates the living from the dead.
Even though the body had a physical box separating him from reality, families also believed that pure white cloth and paper would act as a barrier and a separation to the blackness. RUBBING SILK NOISE But then, the white paper or the cloth covering the dead’s body is burnt and once again transforms into black ash that people tried to keep away it from. In the end, the physicality of the paper also helps the body transfer to a different world. Clothings offer and help people to materialize the unknown-ness of death and provide hope that the passage to death is safe through a humane symbolization of purity in the color white. For us, death is marked by an end of a heart-beat diagnosed by the doctors. Yet, this was not the case for the Edo Japanese families. Science of death and body existed together with religion and cloth provided an understanding for death and what was after it.
Likewise, the monk used another method finalize the process of death rather than the one that contemporary people are used to in hospital.
Bernstein, Andrew. Modern Passings: Death Rites, Politics, and Social Change in Imperial Japan. University of Hawaii Press, 2006.
Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. (California: University of California Press, 1997
Eyferth, Jacob. “Craft Knowledge at the Interface of Written and oral Cultures.” East Asian Science, Technology and Society, an International Journal, 2010
Gerhart, Karen M. Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan. University of Hawaii Press, 2009.
Moerman, Max. “Dying like the Buddha: intervisuality and the Cultic Image.” Japanese Art Society of America, 2007-2008
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Stone, Jacqueline Ilyse., and Mariko Namba. Walter. Death and the Afterlife in Japanese Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
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Yang, Eugene. “Why Pictures in Tombs? Mawangdui Once More.” China Institute Gallery, 2009
 Mark Rowe. Bonds of the Dead: Temples, Burial, and the Transformation of Contemporary Japanese Buddhism. (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 2011), 203. Other texts such described more than a single type of cotton used for Buddha’s wrapping. Written in the first century CE, Mahaparinivana Sutra is a book on teachings on Buddhism. A book published in 2004 in Japan by Sōtō priests in Shizuoka prefecture on funerary rites also noted that Buddha’s body was covered in oil and five hundred layers of cotton.
 “SILK ROADS Dialogue, Diversity & Development.” UNESCO. https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/countries-alongside-silk-road-routes/japan. The silk road introduced Buddhism texts in Japan during 500 CE and began to flourish
 Francesca Bray. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. (California: University of California Press, 1997), 187. Jacob Eyferth. “Craft Knowledge at the Interface of Written and oral Cultures.” East Asian Science, Technology and Society, an International Journal (2010), 189. Both Bray and Eyferth write about the production of fabric and paper and the kind of communal labor that goes into the production showing that there is more to the material than the physicality itself. Both fail to mention the usage of each material even after the production.
 Karen Gerhart. Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan. (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2009), 84
 Gerhart, Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan, 86
 Gerhart, Material Culture of Death in Medieval Japan, 117
 Max Moerman. “Dying like the Buddha: intervisuality and the Cultic Image.” Japanese Art Society of America (2007-2008), 38
 Eugene Y. Yang. “Why Pictures in Tombs? Mawangdui Once More.” China Institute Gallery (2009), 31