Mummified in Meditation


As reported in a number of places the mummified remains of a 200 year old Buddhist monk has been discovered in Mongolia. The remains of the monk is seated in meditation.

Initial speculation is that the mummy could be a teacher of Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, born in 1852, was a Buryat Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, best known for the lifelike state of his body.

Such ascetic practices would be highly revered in some Buddhist traditions. To die in this position, while in meditation, is an act of extreme discipline and would accrue much merit. There is a Japanese Buddhist practice of sokushinbutsu in which one observes austerities to the point of death while in meditation:
For three years, the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and–most importantly–it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, wherein he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day, he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.
It would not be uncommon for other Buddhist traditions to venerate a someone who dies in meditation. In many cases these would be venerated as ‘relics’ (Śarīra).

4 thoughts on “Mummified in Meditation

  1. I find it interesting that a Monk would violate the precepts against harming any living being in order to be mummified. I guess I don’t understand gaining merit at the expense of killing a human being which in most traditions mean expulsion from the Sangha.

  2. You make an interesting point. I would not disagree with it at all but suggest that ethical activity in a certain Buddhist context goes beyond what is ethical in a normal sense. Some of the Jataka stories about the Buddha, prior to his Buddhahood giving his life in various ways highlights this. At a certain stage of the Buddhist path it seems that one is beyond moral guidelines and can act in a way that those on other stages of the path cannot.

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