Parabat mori
October 6, 2016 10:05 PM   Subscribe

The Monks Who Spent Years Turning Themselves into Mummies—While Alive

The Japanese climate is not exactly conducive to mummification. There are no peat bogs, no arid deserts, and no alpine peaks perennially encased in ice. The summers are hot and humid. Yet somehow a group of Buddhist monks from the Shingon sect discovered a way to mummify themselves through rigorous ascetic training in the shadow of a particularly sacred peak in the mountainous northern prefecture of Yamagata. Between 1081 and 1903, at least 17 monks managed to mummify themselves.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (33 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is so punk rock.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:11 PM on October 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


Not sure whether I'm bummed or relieved that there are no photos.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:17 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Google image search will provide you with photos, which you will be glad not to see if you don't.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:24 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Catholics do it, too. At least these monks are honest about their methods.
posted by cosmologinaut at 11:35 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


See also.
posted by splitpeasoup at 11:45 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


This election is causing me to pickle myself alive.
posted by adept256 at 1:12 AM on October 7, 2016 [14 favorites]


Do they visually resemble Egyptian mummies? That's not so bad. Or are more disturbing somehow?
posted by polymodus at 1:40 AM on October 7, 2016


I like that Google's image search (warning: dead bodies) helpfully suggests sub-categories of "successful" and "unsuccessful".
posted by Nelson at 1:47 AM on October 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


I had successfully forgotten that I ever read this until just now. Thanks for the new nightmare fuel.
posted by crocomancer at 2:08 AM on October 7, 2016


Good post for an October when mysterious creepy clowns are roaming the nation. Happy Halloween month everybody.
posted by theorique at 2:14 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is quite a strange method of suicide, but I can't help thinking that if I make it to my late nineties and I know I don't have THAT much longer it might not be such a terrible way to go.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:43 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Reminded me a lot of Leng. I wonder if there was any inspiration taken from the real life monks.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:45 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


sub-categories of "successful" and "unsuccessful"

Indeed - reminds me of the mummies of Guanajuato which appear to me to range from "OK, sort of mummified" to "Actually, that is just a horribly decayed dead body".
posted by Segundus at 3:33 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


ah that catholic wiki article was helpful. i thought it was a sham. but i see they put wax or silicone masks over the face and hands. that explains it.

altho some of them don't have the masks which explains why they do that.
posted by sio42 at 3:48 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a TV special about this out there somewhere...possibly NOVA(?)
posted by sexyrobot at 4:31 AM on October 7, 2016


Little did they know, all it takes is alcohol and lots and lots of heroin. So teaches the path of Burroughs.
posted by constantinescharity at 4:55 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


There should be a word for an article that absolutely cries out for a specific image but fails to contain it.
posted by vorpal bunny at 5:47 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


>I like that Google's image search (warning: dead bodies) helpfully suggests sub-categories of "successful" and "unsuccessful".

For my part, I would very much prefer to be unsuccessful.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:51 AM on October 7, 2016


A sweeter variation on the theme: Mellified Man.
posted by acb at 6:04 AM on October 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


That google image search should have a warning for TOTALLY AWESOME SUNGLASSES.
posted by dr_dank at 6:28 AM on October 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


dr_dank, i saw that picture and all i could think of was "did someone "Weekend At Bernie's" that guy?"
posted by ShawnString at 6:49 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Curator! The monk's eyes are spinning in his head! It is most unsettling, even for here."
"Put these on his head. How fortunate for us the tourist Lost and Found box."
posted by infinitewindow at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Maybe he's the one who gouged his eye out.
posted by scalefree at 9:08 AM on October 7, 2016


Yeah, the thousand day mummification process is about a million times easier to wrap my head around than autoenucleation, which I hope to God is a word that has come up at least once in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been to Dainichibo temple, located up a mountain in a remote part of Yamagata, twice to see a mummified ascetic. It's a cool experience. The mummy, actually an ascetic named Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai Shonin, resides in a glass case at the rear of the temple. If you do go, be sure to rent a car, since there's not a lot of public transportation out to the foot of the mountain, although the temple will come and pick you up from the main road.

Debating on whether or not to take my kids there next summer. The whole Dewa Sanzan area is pretty interesting.
posted by My Dad at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, this...
The samurai-turned-priest Honmyōkai spent a mindboggling 20 years in ascetic training until May 8, 1681, when his disciples lowered him, delirious with hunger, into a pit behind the temple and buried him alive.
Delirious with hunger? This is something I'd never considered before when I have read of this practice. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, kidney failure can have severe effects on cognition, particularly among the elderly. At a certain point, there arises the question of whether this continues to be an act voluntarily consented to by a competent person. By the time these people are sealed up with their bamboo straw thing, I think it's highly likely they have limited capacity to understand what is going on or indicate their wishes.

Not necessarily disparaging the practice, just questions I guess.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:32 AM on October 7, 2016


I do question this ascetic practice.
posted by My Dad at 9:53 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Now the evil temple for an immortality cult in "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" makes more sense.
posted by of strange foe at 11:40 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


a s c e t i c
posted by lucidium at 1:48 PM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yes, I talked to a Taiwanese Budhist nun about this. She reckoned the Budhist meditations gave the adherent a good knowledge of when the time of death was approaching.
I've always questioned is Budhism a yoga or religion ? It certainly stands apart from other world views.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 1:31 AM on October 8, 2016


More from Atlas Obscura: The Wide, Strange World of Modern Mummification (includes information about Sunglasses Monk).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:06 AM on October 8, 2016


I've always questioned is Budhism a yoga or religion ?

Buddhism is pretty vast, and includes a variety of belief systems. For example, Russian Orthodox is completely different than Quakerism. So there are some branches of Buddhism that are a full-blown religion, while there are some branches, like Soto Zen, for example, that are more of a "practice" (but it's a practice that is not ancillary to daily life; it *is* daily life).
posted by My Dad at 12:18 PM on October 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Delirious with hunger? This is something I'd never considered before when I have read of this practice. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, kidney failure can have severe effects on cognition, particularly among the elderly. At a certain point, there arises the question of whether this continues to be an act voluntarily consented to by a competent person. By the time these people are sealed up with their bamboo straw thing, I think it's highly likely they have limited capacity to understand what is going on or indicate their wishes.

It's a good point. The most extreme "spiritual" practices (mortification of the flesh, self-crucifixion, OP, etc) depend a lot on your point of view. Viewed from the angle of religious devotion and belief are incredibly admirable, and viewed from a non-believer angle look like complete insanity.
posted by theorique at 2:56 AM on October 12, 2016


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