Saturday 22 December 2012

Monks who mummify themselves alive

Sallekhana is an age old Jain ritual where a person fasts to death. There are similar rituals associated with other religions too. But perhaps the most macabre and punishing of them all is a ritual in Japan called Sokushinbutsu.
Under Sokushinbutsu, a monk embraces death over a period of time. He also allows himself to be entombed alive, much like the Brindavana Pradesha of Madhwa saints.
What is different in Brindavana pravesha, Sallekhana  and Sukoshinbutsu is that in the Japanese method, the monk himself gets ready for the mummification process.
This ritual is generally performed by Buddhist monks. The process commences with the monk going on a strict diet.
Monks who want to go in for Sukoshinbutsu lead a rigid and disciplined life. They eat only nuts and fruits.
The monks undertake a lot of physical activity.  The body loses almost all its fat content. This is the first step of Sukoshinbutsu.
The next step is the most painful. The monk induced vomiting so that there is large scale loss of body fluid. They also poisoned themselves so that maggots would not attack their bodied once they are mummified.
To achieve the level of poison that would deter maggots attacks, the monk drinks poisoned tea for a thousand days  made from the bark of Urushi tree which is generally used for making lacquer. Apart from tea, the monks would eat several barks of trees and roots.
Once this process is completed, the monk enters a stone tomb and sits in Padmasana. This stone chamber is only a little bigger in size than the monk. It has a small air tube and a hole through which a rope for the bell is tied.
around the writs of the monk and whenever he sounds it, it means he is alive. This process is called waiting for death.
When he stops ringing the bell, others would know that he is no more. The air tube would be removed and the hole sealed. However, they would wait for a 1,000 more days before opening the stone tomb.
By then the mummification of the monk would have been naturally completed. This practice was widely prevalent in Yamagata prefecture (province ) in northern Japan.
 Japanese believed that though hundreds of monks have tried to go in for such mummification, only 24 have succeeded.
Japan has banned this practice but yet a few isolated incidents have been reported from time to time.
Today, the practice is not advocated or practiced by any Buddhist sect, and is in fact banned in Japan.
Historians believe that this practice originated from Tang China. It was Kukai, the founder of Shingon school, who first introduced this gory system.
Such monks are followers of the Shugendo stream of Buddhism.
Monks who attained Sokushinbutsu were elevated to the level of Buddha and revered.
The last Sokushinbutsu was discovered in July 2010 right in the middle of Tokyo.

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