Speaking of mummies, people immediately think of pyramids and the techniques of preserving the bodies of the Egyptians. Some other cultures around the world also have methods that help corpses last for centuries. Notably, Japan, with its mysterious technique of mummification while alive.
Although the Japanese climate is not entirely favorable for mummification, somehow some Shingon monks discovered how to mummify themselves through ascetic practice. Between 1081 and 1903, about 20 monks in Japan mummified themselves while they were still alive. This process is called Sokushinbutsu, which means “becoming a Buddha in a monk’s body”.
Many cultures also practiced mummification, not just Egypt and Japan. The question is why do people want to keep the body after death?
The answer is found in the beliefs of many of the world’s religions. Accordingly, an immortal corpse is considered a symbol of divine power.
The royal embalming in Egypt represented the power of the rulers. Many people believe that mummification is an important ritual to help the soul of the deceased pass through the afterlife. The discovery of jars containing essentials such as food, clothing and even jewelry in tombs in Egypt along with mummies is evidence.
However, this is very different from the practice of mummification in Japan. Because, the monks here mummified themselves while they were still alive, with boundless will and courage.
Chinese monk for more than 4000 days mummified himself to become a Buddha statue
Long and arduous process
The practice of Sokushinbutsu was initiated by Kukai, a monk who lived in the 9th century and who founded the esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism in 806 AD.
According to an 11th-century document on Kukai, he was not dead at the time of his death (835 AD), but entered his own tomb, meditating deeply, and chanting. Legend has it that Kukai will reappear in 5.67 million years and lead some souls towards salvation.
Monks who practice mummification see it as an act of sacrifice for humanity. According to them, mummification will lead people to the path of becoming a Buddha in the body they received in this life.
Many believe that this ritual also allows the monks to come to Tusita Paradise, live for 1.6 million years and have the power to protect humanity on our planet. However, only a few of them succeed in practicing this ritual, after going through an extremely arduous process, which usually lasts more than 3 years.
Actively accepting death, including preparing three years in advance for the body to not be destroyed requires perseverance and courage on the part of the performer. Monks who practice Sokushinbutsu will have to go through a strict, grain-free diet that eliminates wheat, rice, millet, and soybeans.
Instead, they would eat things like nuts, berries, pine needles, bark, and tree sap (which is why the Sokushinbutsu diet is called mokujikyo, or “eating trees”).
In the spiritual realm, this diet aims to increase mental strength, while helping the practitioner move further and further away from the human world. The monks’ diet and meditation rituals will eliminate moisture, fat, and muscle. These changes in the body will resist decomposition even after death.
Many monks complete the thousand-day cycle with a mokujikigyo diet. However, there are also some who want to do two or even three cycles to feel that the preparation is complete.
During the final stage of the Sokushinbutsu process, the monks stay in a locked tomb. Their only connection to the outside world is a small bamboo air duct and a bell. They ring the bell every day to let those outside know they’re still alive.
If there is no bell, it means that the monk died in a meditative state while reciting the Buddha mantra or nenbutsu. At that time, the air duct will be removed and the tomb sealed. After a thousand days, the grave is exhumed to see if the body has decomposed. If the body is still intact, the deceased has reached
Technology of embalming and gold-plated the body of the late Venerable Phuc Hau in China
Sokushinbutsu, will be dressed in robes and taken to a shrine to worship. If the corpse shows signs of decomposition, the disciples will perform an exorcism ritual, then seal the tomb again and the monk will rest here forever.
Many Sokushinbutsu mummies have been found in Northern Japan that are centuries old and are revered by many devotees.
This self-mummification was practiced in Japan from the 11th to the 19th century. In 1877, Emperor Meiji decided to end this practice of “suicide”. A new law has been enacted prohibiting opening the grave of someone who has practiced Sokushinbutsu. However, this ritual continued, albeit sparingly, into the 20th century.
The last monk to practice sokushinbutsu illegally in 1903 was Bukkai. In 1961, researchers at Tohoku University excavated his tomb, the body mostly intact. Currently, the mummy is resting at Kanzeonji, a Buddhist temple built in the 7th century in southwestern Japan.
The most famous of Sokushinbutsu is Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai-Shonin, a monk who mummified himself at the age of 96 in 1783. His mummy is now at Ryusui-ji Dainichibou Temple, in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. For the most part, the monks underwent self-mummification near this sacred temple.