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Consistory court refuses application for Buddhist stupa memorial

16 September 2016


Memorial plan denied: Maughold churchyard

Memorial plan denied: Maughold churchyard

IT WAS inappropriate for a living person to erect, before his death, a memorial to himself, the Consistory Court of the diocese of Sodor & Man ruled when refusing to grant Captain James Stuart McKenzie an application for a faculty.

Captain McKenzie sought permission to erect forthwith a memorial in the shape of a Buddhist stupa on consecrated ground in Maughold churchyard in the parish of Maughold and South Ramsey, in the Isle of Man. It was proposed that it should be inscribed with his name on the upper plinth, with “1939-” and the year of his death to be inserted. The lower plinth was to be inscribed: “He wanted green dandelions.”

The stupa complied with the sizes and dimensions set out in the Churchyard Regulations. Captain McKenzie said that he had been brought up in the Church of England, but had followed the Buddhist faith for more than 50 years.

He wished to apply, because he recognised that to seek a faculty for a memorial that recognised a faith or belief other than Anglicanism might be controversial, and he could not expect his wife, who was his next of kin and “a staunch Anglican”, a member of the choir, a former churchwarden, a member of the PCC, and a synod representative, to fight for a faculty after his death.

She wished to have a Christian burial in the same plot, which had been bought to accommodate them both. She desired a coffin burial underneath an urn containing her husband’s cremated remains.

Captain McKenzie explained that the significance of the reference to green dandelions in the inscription was to reflect his Buddhist faith, and that, by a “koan”, in Zen Buddhism, it was intended to be “a succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline” to “exhaust the analytical intellect readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level”. He said that such an inscription was not unchristian, was not calculated to cause offence to Christians, and, if it caused amusement, that was not a bad thing.

He subsequently conceded that the stupa should not be erected until his cremated remains were interred. The Vicar General, Geoffrey Tattersall QC, said that the question was whether in the exercise of his discretion, on the particular facts of Captain McKenzie’s application, a faculty should be granted now for the erection of a stupa when Captain McKenzie or his wife died. It was noted that they had different faiths.

In the Vicar General’s view, it was inappropriate for two different memorials to be authorised on the same plot; so the question arose what would happen if Captain McKenzie’s wife were to predecease him. Although his wife supported his endeavours to have a stupa erected on the plot, it was not known what her expressed wishes would be for her burial, and whether any current views she might have might change in the future.

Given her commitment to serving the Church, the Vicar General said that he doubted that she would wish the stupa to be erected on her grave instead of a traditional Christian memorial.

The Vicar General said that, in his judgment, to grant a faculty would serve no useful purpose. Opinions about the desirability of erecting a stupa on this burial plot might change over time. Much would depend on whether Captain McKenzie’s wife would predecease him, and whether it might then be considered that a more traditional memorial, as opposed to the stupa, should be placed on her grave.

The fact that she was “a staunch Anglican” could not be ignored. It was “premature and unnecessary” to grant the faculty in advance of Captain Mckenzie’s death, and any application should be made after his death by his personal representatives.

It was unnecessary to consider whether it was appropriate for a stupa to be erected in this churchyard, or to contain the inscription about green dandelions. But the Vicar General said that the inscription would not readily be understood to be a koan in Zen Buddhism, did not conform with the three principles of honouring the dead, comforting the living, and informing posterity, and would be likely merely to cause amusement, which was not the purpose of such an inscription.

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