This quarter I have had the opportunity to take a lab class that is directly related to Humanities 102. The concept for the course is “Eye and Mind” and it is focused on the interaction and division between science and the arts, and whether or not there actually is such a thing. I’m actually functioning as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the course, working with an interdisciplinary professor from the Comparative History of Ideas and a researcher from the School of Medicine. As part of this lab work, we have been growing human bone cells in vitro. As the quarter has progressed, my research project has moved away from bone cells and towards genetic sequencing, leaving me with the dilemma of what to do with the cells I’ve been growing. For now, other students have had a need for them, which is wonderful, but what ultimately happens at “the end”?
This train of thought led me to the Japanese Mizuko Kuyo ritual, performed for stillborn, miscarried, and aborted fetuses. Some information from one of many, many websites:
In Japan, the mizuko jizo Buddha takes care of and represents stillborn, miscarried and aborted foetuses. Unique to Japan, the ceremonies surrounding the jizo were created and developed by women. Over the centuries, the image of the mizuko jizo has changed, from a dignified, adult figure, to a serene looking monk-child with a Buddha smile. The jizo has a double purpose. The image both represents the soul of the deceased infant/foetus, and is also the deity who takes care of children on their otherworld journey. The ritual of honouring the foetus or stillborn is called mizuko kuyo. The word mizuko means “water child,” or “deceased infant/foetus,” and kuyo means “memorial service.”
In Japan, water is both an acknowledgement of death and an expression of faith in some kind of rebirth. When the foetus or newborn dies, it goes from the warm waters of the womb to its former liquid state, in which it prepares itself for an eventual rebirth.
For my final project, I would like to answer the question of the ethical implications of a broader, Mahayana Buddhist, mizuko kuyo-influenced ceremony or ritual for those working in laboratory settings. What would the ritual look like? Is it ethical to perform religious rituals over tissue and genetic material of someone belonging to a different faith? Is there an ethical way to incorporate more respectfully religious action in a research clinic environment, and is it necessary in the first place?
I envision this as a combined project, both artistic and a written paper. The written paper will address the questions above, while the artistic component will be an example of the type of ritual one might expect from a Mahayana Buddhist, from the appropriate bodhisattva image to the offerings left to the statue.
I will be starting with B. Alan Wallace’s book on Buddhism and Science, as well as McGrath’s Science and Religion. Branching out, I expect I will utilize resources from the Mind Life Institute and the local Buddhist community for more information on the religious aspect of my project. Dr. Elizabeth Rutledge will assist me in finding a starting point for the science and scientific research that will need to be done.