Sokushinbutsu: Unbelieveable Self Mummification of Japanese Buddhist Monks
Unraveling the Morbid Art of Sokushinbutsu
In my last hub, I brought to light the ancient Japanese legend of Ubasute, where men would carry their mothers to the top of a mountain or to a desolate area for them to eventually perish. Thankfully, I never found any documentation of this within history. This time, I'm going a bit further into Japanese history. This time, what I am writing for you is not just a legend; it is the ritual of mummification of the Sokushinbutsu. I will warn that this hub is probably not for the faint of heart, but for those who are interested in the many taboo and unbelieveable acts in history. Proceed at your own risk, and I hope for those of you that continue, that it inspires you to share your thoughts and follow. This hub follows a very disturbing ritual!
If You Like This Hub, Check Out My Shocking Tibetan Sky Burial Hub!
- Jhator, the Tibetan Sky Burial: Understanding An Odd Buddhist Death Ritual
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Who Are the Sokushinbutsu?
Deep within the northern reaches of Japan within the Yamagata Prefecture, the Sokushinbutsu prepared themselves for one of the most elaborate forms of suicide throughout the stretches of time. They were Japanese monks, and even priests, who were deeply rooted within the Buddhist religion. This small group of Buddhist monks and priests would prepare their bodies over the course of 2,000 days for self-induced mummification. That's right- they prepared for this ritualistic mummification over the course of nearly six years! The Sokushinbutsu were very few and far between, with many fewer monks and priests being successful. It is believed that hundreds have tried, and only a few dozen were successful. Currently, the modern world has discovered and been made aware of 24 of these Buddhist mummies.
- Ubasute: A Dark Page in Japanese History
Ubasute, an alleged common custom in ancient Japan, involved transporting elderly family members to mountains and then abandoning them. The idea was for the elderly to die on these mountain tops.
How Monks and Priests Prepared for Self Mummification
In the very beginning of this Sokushinbutsu ritual, the priests and monks would eat a variety of nuts and seeds to sustain them throughout the long process. While they were on this diet, they would also commit to excessive physical activity. They did this to remove body fat, in order to increase the success of becoming a preserved mummy. This part of the mummification process lasted for just under three years. Once the 1,000 days were over, they would switch to a diet that only consisted of tree bark and some roots. (I don't know about you, but this diet seems to be very bland and uneventful; I commend anyone who could last on this second diet for 1,000 days!). When the second set of one thousand days was close to being done, the monks began to drink a very poisonous and dangerous tea. It was made from the Urushi Tree. The sap from this tree was very dangerous but it provided a great way for the monks to expel extra fluids and repel creatures that would cause the body to rot rather than petrify. It would induce violent vomiting, leaving the body extremely dehydrated. The poison would remain in the body and keep flies and maggots from invading the body after death.
Were You Aware of Buddhist Monk Mummies Before Today?
Sealing of the Monks within a Tomb
When the preparation was complete, the monks were ready to seal themselves away for the process of death and mummification. They would lock themselves into a tomb, and were provided with an air tube and a bell. The monk would sit in the lotus position within the tomb, and would be preserved this way. The air tube provided air for the monk during the process, while the bell would allow him to signal to those outside of the tomb that he was still alive.Eventually, the monk would pass away, and the bell would no longer ring. Once this occurred, the air tube would be removed and the tomb would be completely sealed.
Rebirth, As Discussed in Buddhism
Removing Japanese Monk Mummies from the Tombs
After a long three year wait, it was common practice for other monks to finally open the tomb of the deceased priest. Each time, the monks were hoping to find that the priest had been well preserved; however, it was much more common for the body to have decomposed rather than mummify. For those who were mummified, the body would be brought out of the tomb. This successfully mummified priest would be regarded as a Buddha and would be transported to the temple so that others may view him. For those who were decomposed and did not successfully mummify, they were usually praised for their efforts and the tomb resealed.
Have You Ever Seen a Mummy On Display, Whether It Was a Buddhist Mummy, Egyptian, or Any Other?
Why Did Sokushinbutsu Priests Mummify Themselves?
According to these priests and monks, the mummification process would yield an uncorrupted body, allowing them to ultimately achieve a status as Buddha. They preferred this status rather than being born again, and they would later be revered and cared for by their followers long after their passing in temples. This form of death and preservation was a high honor if successful. Buddhist monks and priests were not afraid of death; they were much more interested in demonstrating to their followers that it was possible to become one with Buddha.
Buddhist Monk Mummified in Tibet
Tetsuryou-kai: A Fine Example of a Lasting Buddhist Mummy
Tetsuryou-kai is currently one of the best examples of the buddhist mummies of the Yamagata Prefecture. He passed away during 1877, just two short years before Japan banned religious suicide and the exhuming of bodies. I cannot find very much information regarding the life of this man, but he is currently on display at the Nangakuji Temple in Japan. If you have solid information on him, I'd be pleased to edit this hub for all future readers!
I am not a religious individual to be honest, but the history of different religions genuinely interest me; with Buddhism being one. I do not really support the mummification of an individual, however I find their thoughts and beliefs fascinating. I hope you have learned just as much as I have about these special Buddhist monks; this article was very interesting to put together. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for my upcoming unbelievable posts from across history!