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Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased

From Corpse to Concept


William W. McCorkle Jr.

Ritualizing the Disposal of the Deceased traces mortuary behavior from the early fossil record to modern religious contexts in diverse cultural settings. By using archival and ethnographic evidence from Buddhist traditions, the author highlights the disparity between doctrines that contradict actual practices performed by Buddhists themselves. By appealing to the evolved cognitive architecture of human minds, this book argues that ritualized disposal behavior is the by-product of mental systems designed to handle living people. Due to complex social intelligence, humans are compelled to handle dead people in ritualized behaviors and to represent them in counterintuitive ways. The author also examines the professional religious guilds that have taken advantage of these ritualized compulsions over the last several thousand years, by giving and controlling the meanings behind these actions. Furthermore, experimental evidence is given to support this hypothesis, providing the first mature cognitive and evolutionary theory for mortuary behavior by humans.


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Part Two: Buddhalogical Incorrectness


Part Two BUDDHALOGICAL INCORRECTNESS Chapter Three Lies, Damn Lies, and Buddhist Texts f course, we can’t ignore the texts. They are an important resource when investigating what the experts say about corpses. The pre- eminent work on the doctrines of ancient Buddhism comes from T.W. Rhys Davids and Etienne Lamotte. Rhys Davids, writing over a century ago, states that the ancient texts of Buddhism (here he is referring to the ex- tant Pāli tradition) say nothing about the disposal of dead bodies in ancient Buddhism (see also Rhys Davids 1900; see Schopen 1997, p. 8).1 In fact, as previously stated, there is nary a hint of any regulations concerning dead bod- ies in the Pāli Vinaya itself. If one only took the texts into consideration, one might very well conclude that behaviors neglecting dead bodies were as a mat- ter of fact the ideological norm and Buddhists just let them die where they lay. This, of course, would seem almost impossible to believe since most normal individuals and communities do not allow this kind of behavior. In his historical survey of ancient Indian Buddhism, Monsignor Lamotte (1988) claimed that while ancient Buddhist doctrines were silent about dis- posal of corpses, especially in the early Vinayas (Skt: monastic codes), the rituals actually performed seem to be the result of a compromise between the monastic commu- nity and the laity (see also, Decaroli 2004). In other words, such actions are categorized by some scholars as “folk” religion, not proper...

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