In northern Japan there are over two dozen mummified Japanese monks known to have practiced Sokushinbutsu. It`s a ritual that became part of an ancient form of Buddhism called Shingon, and where monks died in ultimates acts of self-denial and austerity.
Monk Kuka (774 835 AD)
Originally Sokushinbutsu was pioneered by the Japanese priest, Kuka. He intended the "death" practice to demonstrate discipline and dedication, which combined elements from Buddhism, Old Shinto, Taoism, and other religions.
Kuka`s Death & After Death
Towards the end of his life, the belief is Kukai went into a state of deep meditation and denied all food and water, eventually leading to his voluntary death. Later his tomb was opened and it`s said he was found "as if sleeping, with his complexion unchanged and his hair healthy and strong".
Other monks within the sect performed the ritual that took numerous years to complete and culminated in death and preservation of the body. Not all priest were successful though, instead their dead remains were found rotted and deteriorated.Successful Sokushinbutsu
It`s said roughly 28 of these Sokushinbutsu monks remain, and 16 of them can be visited today in Japan. The most famous is Shinnyokai Shonin of the Dainichi-Boo Temple on the holy Mount Yudono.
The Sokushinbutsu Ritual
The death ritual called for a starvation diet and exercise to lose all body fat, then a slow self-poisoning with an arsenic rich diet followed by an entombment and final starvation. Evidently high levels of arsenic was naturally prevalent in the area.
The Starvation Step
The monks would begin the process of only eating nuts and seeds. Then they ate only bark and roots and drank a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which caused vomiting and a rapid loss of body fluids.
The ingesting of the tree sap also acted as a preservative and killed off maggots and bacteria that would cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body. He would sit in a lotus position and not move. The Final Days
Each day, he`d ring a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb was sealed until years later when it would be finally opened and the monk checked.Status Of Buddha
It`s believed that hundreds of monks tried Sokushinbutsu. If found in a preserved mummified state they were raised to the status of Buddha. The body would then be removed from the tomb and placed in a temple where he would be worshiped. Today, the death practice is condemned and banned in Japan since the 19th century.