Author Topic: Adopting A Buddhist Ritual To Mourn Miscarriage, Abortion  (Read 1083 times)

Offline Dharmakara

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Adopting A Buddhist Ritual To Mourn Miscarriage, Abortion
« on: August 26, 2015, 12:16:55 pm »
When parents lose a child, there are rituals to mark their grief - holding funerals, sitting shiva, bringing casseroles. But when that loss happens before birth, it often isn't marked. Sometimes, it's barely even mentioned. It's different in Japan, which has a traditional Buddhist ceremony that some Americans are adopting as their own.

When photographer Ali Smith was trying for a second child, she had four miscarriages. With each pregnancy, she tried to keep her hopes in check. But, she explains, you can't always help yourself.

"There's always a part of you that goes into the future, and starts to build a little idea of what your life's going to be like. Once that stops, something very large has stopped for you," Smith says.

And it can be tough to move forward.

"The pain of miscarriage is very private," she says. "And you're not even really sure how much you're supposed to be grieving.

Even when that loss is a choice, it can still be a hard one. Katherine Rand is a chaplain who had an abortion in high school. She explains that she carried around her grief for a long time, but felt as though she couldn't talk about it.

"There's going to be a lot of shame. And there's going to be a lot of stuffing stuff down, because you don't want to be judged," she says.

Both Rand and Smith decided to come face-to-face with their grief in a ritual that more and more American Zen centers are offering: mizuko kuyo. Zen teacher Jan Chozen Bays participated in one of the earliest American mizuko kuyos, about 20 years ago.

Chozen, as she's known, was dealing with pain from her own miscarriage, as well as the pain from her work as a pediatrician specializing in child abuse. Since that first ceremony, Chozen has held several dozen over the years at the Zen center in Oregon.

Ceremonies begin with making some sort of token, like a bib or a necklace. There are chants to Jizo, who serves as a sort of patron saint for children.

"Jizo statues in Japan often look childlike. So that as you make an offering to the statue, you're also making an offering to the child that the statue is in a way conflated with. Because you don't have that child to hold or care for anymore," Chozen explains.

The garden at Chozen's Great Vow monastery is filled with hundreds of moss-covered Jizo statues, wearing these rain-soaked bibs and bonnets. Walking through, you're hit with the enormity of love and loss it all represents.

"You have to be able, when you're holding the ceremony, to hold the grief of an entire room. You have to have equanimity yourself with the fact of death. We're not working with an individual on their individual grief. The ceremony does that work by itself," she explains.

That work balancing love and loss deals with timeless questions. But mizuko kuyo, even in Japan, is surprisingly modern.

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