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Buddhist Mummies of Yamagata

I'm back from my summer vacation.  In Yamagata prefecture, I visited three holy mountains--Haguro-san, Yudono-san, and Gas-san.  These mountains are the object of a daunting pilgrimage by the Yamabushi, who follow the shamanistic Buddho-Shintoist sect called Shugendo.

I also saw three self-mummified Buddhist monks.  The self-mummification process is a long, grueling discipline stretching over 30 years or more.  It is undertaken to accumulate power so that after death, people may receive blessings by praying to the relic.  The discipline involves an increasingly strict fast which cuts out grains and replaces them with food from trees, including fruit, nuts, leaves, bark, and needles.  By the end of the fast, you are subsisting entirely on pine needles.  If all goes well, you will die on the last day of your fast.  You will be buried in a chamber in meditation posture.  After a number of days, you'll be dug up and found to have become a mummy.  At that point, you are considered not dead but in suspended animation, and are also considered a full Buddha.  You have won the right to take the place of the Buddha image on the altar.  People can pray to you and (hopefully) their prayers will be efficacious.

Pics follow...



Shinnyokai Shonin, at Dainichibo Temple, Haguro-san, Yamagata Prefecture
NOTE: Even his right eye is partially preserved (just barely visible here).



Tetsumonkai Shonin, at Churen-ji Temple, Haguro-san, Yamagata Prefecture

Many, many people died prematurely attempting this feat.  Tetsuryukai got sick and died shortly before his fast was up.  Although he did not succeed, repeated dreams convinced his friends to dig him up anyway.  They found him only partially mummified and stuffed his body with lime to preserve it.  This is the only instance of artificial preservation in the history of this cult.  There are a total of 28 mummies in Japan today.


Tetsuryukai, at Nangoku-ji Temple, Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture

The cult of self-mummification reached the height of its popularity in the 17th-19th centuries.  Self-mummification is now thoroughly illegal.

Note: Photography was forbidden, so these images are plundered from the net.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
chronarchy
Aug. 15th, 2007 12:19 pm (UTC)
If all goes well, you will die on the last day of your fast.

Well, I wouldn't want to die on the first day, and it would really suck to spend all that time looking forward to death and then have to go eat a steak or something if you were a day late. . .
brandondedicant
Aug. 15th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
LOL!
erl_queen
Aug. 15th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
Wow. That kind of dedication humbles me deeply.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )