The case of the 200 year old Buddhist Mummy declared as living started my synapses firing. Especially since I hadn’t heard of Buddhist mummification before and instantly put into a context I understood – the Egyptian mummification process, with the brains pulled out of the nose, organs scooped out and bottled and body filled with embalming fluids – a process if it had happened to me I wouldn’t want to still be alive at any point in that procedure. This is the point I decided being buried alive was better than being mummified alive.
With my curiosity at an all time high, I started the process of researching the Buddhist mummification process. The process is called Sokushinbutsu, where the monk abstains from everything except meditation, to become a living Buddha. It’s called a mummy when body doesn’t decompose in an ordinary way, therefore, seen as an incorruptible vessel, a highly revered state by the community. Only 24 preserved living Buddha’s have been found, it’s estimated there were more however destroyed through the ages. This was a practice dating back to the 11th century ending in the 19th century, when Japan banned the practice, and any ritualised/religious suicide.
The idea of incorruptible vessel is not solely the domain of Buddhism, the Catholic church still has Incorruptible vessels on displays, like the Buddhist Mummies, their process of decay is different, they omit a fruity smell (from my high school chemistry classes, I’d say this is probably esters and there is a process of decay under way just a must slower rate than usual.) The skin also maintains integrity for a long time. St. Nicholas of Tolentino an incorruptible has bleed from the arms for 400 years, it’s really odd that the blood continues to flow with the absence of a heart beat and clogging agents that usually win out when the body dies. I’m not sure what prompted anyone to see if St. Nicholas of Tolentino blood still flowed.
With the Buddhist mummies, it’s believed that they reached peak enlightenment. This is why their considered to still live as their spirit is still on the higher plane. With all that enlightenment wouldn’t it be a little tempting to come back and enlighten the rest of us? It probably explains why they belief in treating spirits with compassion especially the ‘hungry ghost’ as it is a suffering soul who hasn’t reached the plane of illumination. With the Catholic Incorruptibles it is believed the Spirit has gone on especially as an incorruptible will be sainted if they’re not already, not all Saint’s require an incorruptible corpse.
Reflecting the idea of incorruptibility and being on display long after death also doesn’t still well with me, especially as to become mummified in the Buddhist culture would have meant dealing with a lot of flies crawling over the body when alive. At least in a coffin the bugs aren’t going to get you while you’re still alive. Through researching for the ghost tours I’ve learnt that in Victoria during the early 1900’s burial certificates were issued within a day of death. I guess this made storing bodies in a hygienic manner easier given the lack of large cold storage options available. However, it also could have increased the likelihood of being buried alive. I did a little digging on the buried alive subject I haven’t found evidence accidentally pronounced dead and buried alive. Although there were two cases of mine collapses that buried two men alive on separate occasions, and that would have been awful not only buried but injured by the debris that fell on them as well. The men worked tirelessly to release both of them the horror that it could have been them spurring them on for the 24-48 hours it took them reach each man.
The stories that haunt us