Monks, Monasteries and Mental Institutions On the Intriguing Connections Between Buddhism and the Care for the Insane in Pre-Modern and Modern Japan
[Recorded 20 March 2019] This talk explores the intersections between Buddhism/Buddhist institutions and madness/mental institutions. After a general discussion of the place of madness within the Buddhist tradition I will move to the intriguing history of the institutional connections between Buddhist monasteries and mental institutions in Japan. What, I will ask, is the historical relationship between the Buddhist monasteries and the new mental hospitals, which often grew up within the precincts or adjacent to Buddhist monasteries? In addressing this questions we encounter a history of the fundamental role played by Buddhist monasteries in the therapy of those beset with mental illnesses. Due to modern changes in the care for the insane—including a move toward mandatory hospitalization— the earlier history of the connections between the Buddhist monasteries and the insane became occluded. This talk will recover some of that history and show the role that was played by Buddhist temples in providing therapies, magical cures, and day to day care for the insane. I will conclude the talk by briefly shifting our attention to the West and the dramatic increase in the number of psychotherapists, counselors, mental health workers, and neuro-scientists who have become interested in meditation and various forms of what have come to be called “Buddhist Psychotherapy” and “Buddhist Mindfulness,” by drawing on Japanese traditions.