Accepted paper:

How can you mend a broken heart? Buddhist psycho-spiritual care for the victims of the 2011 East Japan triple disaster

Author:

Maja Veselič (University of Ljubljana)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses Buddhist priests' ongoing adaptation and critique of dominant concepts of trauma and illness as well as counseling practices through their efforts to provide psycho-spiritual care to the survivors of the 2011 triple disaster in Northeastern Japan.

Paper long abstract:

The devastating tsunami and nuclear meltdown following the March 2011 earthquake resulted in an enormous loss of human life, the destruction of homes and livelihoods and, through death and displacement, the disruption of family and communal bonds. Based on the experiences from the Kobe earthquake in 1995 the provision of material aid was soon accompanied by organized efforts to help survivors deal with grief and trauma. In the face of the increased rates of suicides, depression, domestic violence and other social afflictions, it has now become a largely accepted fact that recovery will be a long and arduous process.

This paper addresses the wide range of discourses and practices of what in Japanese is commonly called "kokoro no kea" - "the care of the heart", and is carried out by medical, social welfare and religious professionals as well volunteers. Based on interviews with Buddhist priests working in the affected areas of Northeastern Japan and the ethnographic observations of their ongoing care-giving, I examine how Buddhist notions like preciousness of life or commonness of suffering are contrasted with medical and social discourses of trauma, illness and recovery as Japanese Buddhist priests venture beyond their traditional role as carers of the dead. I then show how such negotiations have led to a variety of collaborative efforts across these three domains as well as to a level of standardization in vocabularies and practices, despite the underlying difference in the understandings of the very existence of the illness and the possibility of cure.

panel P072
Anthropology of cure and recovery: collaboration and chronicity