During my recent perambulations through various sacred texts searching out how major spiritual traditions claim to handle violence I ran onto a short report on a Japanese Buddhist ritual called mizuko kuyō. This is something of a memorial service for aborted children. There are about a million abortions each year in Japan. For purposes of comparison, I think there are about 1.5 million abortions each year in the U.S., while our population is about double that of Japan.
Since most Buddhist sources hold that life begins at conception, abortion means that a child has been lost. More traditional Buddhist societies, such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, allow abortion only under limited conditions. Elsewhere, I believe that the law varies.
The basic elements of mizuko kuyō are quite simple. An image of the bodhisattva Jizō is dressed in a child’s bib and toys are placed nearby. The image itself might be in the home, or it might be in a roadside shine. In some places, there are even small temples that offer services of various degrees of complexityParticipants in the ceremony include the parents and perhaps other members of the family. A candle is lit and the participants pay their respects to the spirit by bowing. The ceremony may be repeated on anniversaries as the family comes to grips with its loss.
On a personal level I find pictures such as the one to the left disturbing. The
scholar Bible dork in me wonders about the public nature of this sort of thing, though. What effect did this have on the community as it began in the 1970s or so? I have also heard that there are folks who are doing this sort of thing in the U.S. now, so I wonder how that will play out.