Part 1: The mummies of three Buddhist monks
“What is drier than and dry blade of straw? A desolate heart.
What is the strangest thing in this world?
Everyone sees living beings goes to the hell but the living seeks to live forever.
That’s the strangest thing…” (quoted from India’s great epic Mahabharata).
Like others, Vietnamese people want to live forever. Recently-discovered secrets about embalmment techniques are evidence for that aspiration.
The discovery of the mummies of Buddhist monks named Vu Khac Minh, Vu Khac Truong and Nhu Tri at Dau and Phat Tich pagodas in the 80s shook the scientific world. Old statues turned out to be mummies of Buddhist monks, who passed away while practicing meditation with the goal of making their bodies eternal.
Dr. Nguyen Lan Cuong is Vietnam’s leading anthropologist and the only one who was trained in restoring human faces based from their skulls in Germany. He is also the scientist who discovered and restored the mummies of Buddhist monks. From this task, a unique method of embalmment of monks has been revealed.
From dilapidated bell-tower
Buddhist monk Vu Khac Minh.
Dau is an old pagoda, which is around 25km from Hanoi’s center, was recognized as a national historical relic in 1960.
Dau pagoda’s secret was uncovered incidentally. Prof., Dr. To Ngoc Thanh once visited the pagoda and found out that the bell-tower roof was broken. He noted two strange statues at the pagoda. Prof. Thanh told his discovery to Dr. Nguyen Lan Cuong.
After that, Dr. Cuong went to Dau pagoda to see by his own eyes the two strange statues. The statues were placed in a two temples on the left and the right of the Dau temple’s gate.
The temple on the right is the home to the statue of Buddhist monk Vu Khac Minh. The monk stood inside the temple, behind a bamboo blind. The monk looked very meditative, like he was in the Buddhahood.
The monk’s head bent down a little. His back was curved. He placed two hands before his stomach. His legs crossed. The left foot turned upward and placed on the right thigh. This is the popular position of Buddha statues.
According to Prof. Nguyen Khac Vien (1919-1997), a well-known political-social activist, cultural, psychological, medical and education researcher; this is the best meditation position to focus one’s mind. During this meditation process, the meditation practitioner can take initiative of physiology even before they practice meditation. In the status that the mummy reached, the meditation practitioner would feel nothing.
Dr. Cuong carefully examined the statue. He found two cracks at the knee that were fixed with Vietnamese paint. There were some small slits on the forehead, orbits and ala and a big one running from the sinciput to the forehead.
After several days of inspecting the statue, Dr. Cuong guessed that the statue contained human bones. It means that the statue was a true human being, not a wood or bronze made statues as people thought.
To prove that his thinking was true, Dr. Cuong could not “operate” on the statute. The scientists proposed to take the statue to a hospital to make an X-ray scan. This was unprecedented and unacceptable proposal because this statue had been placed at Dau pagoda for a very long time and it was very hallowed. However, Dr. Cuong successfully convened the monk who mastered the pagoda.
On May 25, 1983, Dr. Cuong brought the statue to the Hanoi-based Bach Mai hospital. He recalled: “We had to do it very quickly. We tried to not leak the information about the trip to avoid being hindered. We took the statue to the X-ray ward. Thanks to Ass. Prof. Dang Van An’s enthusiastic assistance, who was the X-ray ward’s chair, the statue was examined very carefully. Our doubt was confirmed: that statue is a dead body.”
Films showed the entire bones in this statue. Ribs and vertebra fell and lied inside the abdominal cavity. The skull was undamaged. The vomer and parietal were not broken like those of Egyptian King Ramses V, in order to take out the brain and put in balsam. The monk’s teeth were also intact, like arm, leg, foot and scapula bones. The angle of the public symphysis is acute, meaning that the remains belonged to a man, not a woman.
Fundamentally, the body was a complete and perfect body. The question is how the remains was preserved intact for centuries while even ancient Egyptian mummies could not be such perfect.
The secret of a special Zen burial method
The most famous mummy in China is the corpse of a woman of 2,000 years ago. Her blood was sucked of and it was replaced by a mercury-origin liquid. The body was rolled into 13 layers of cloth and put into a coffin contained antiseptic. This coffin was placed inside another coffin, which was buried in a 15m deep hole. The hole was filled up by charcoal, ash and clay powder to prevent water absorption. The body, therefore, was not decomposed and still pliant. Scientists said that the woman died by cardiovascular disease.
The mummy of the Buddhist monk at the Dau pagoda was embalmed in a different way from all methods that Dr. Cuong had known and the scientist called it “Zen burial method.”
But what kind of energy that Buddhist monk Vu Khac Minh used to die in the status of Zen meditation but his body could challenge the time?
Let’s review the story about a mummy at Churenzy temple in Yamagata, Japan.
This temple was built 400 years ago and it is very famous because it has the mummy of a monk named Tetsumonkai.
Tetsumonkai was a handsome and strong farmer. One day, while he was working on the field, two drunken Samurai picked a quarrel with him. He defended himself with his shears and killed the two Samurai.
After that, he fled to a nearby mountainous area and went to Churenzy temple. Buddhist monks at this temple belonged to a Buddhism branch called Shingon. Followers of this branch believed that there was a shortcut to enlightenment. They believed that if their bodies stood the extremely hard things, they could become Buddha – a kind of living Buddha in their current lives.
Japanese monk Tetsumonkai.
Tetsumonkai escaped from the revenge of Samurai but he tormented himself for committing murder. He decided to seek spiritual rescue through physical punishment. He began practicing Shingon rituals. Every day, he climbed up and down a high mountain several times. He had bath in cold water during the winter.
According to the temple’s rules, women were not allowed to enter the temple. One day, a prostitute who had known Tetsumonkai before, had gone to the temple to see him. Immediately, Tetsumonkai nabbed the girl’s wrist and took her to the back of the temple. The girl was numbed seeing the monk take a knife and cut off his penis and give it to her. He stressed every word: “Let’s go and never come back here!”
Twenty years passed and Tetsumonkai improved the way to reject himself to reach the spiritual pureness. At the age of 84, he decided to embalm himself.
The monk got into a small trench, which was enough for only one person. The trench was close, with only one pipe for air. He did not get out of the trend, did not eat or drink anything. Every day, he rang a bell to tell outsiders that he was still alive. The bell rang for 13 days.
After 1,000 days, the trench was opened. People were astonished to see Tentsumonkai in the Zen position like he was living. His eyes closed but his body did not show any sign of decomposition. He became a mummy.
Nobody knew how Tetsumonkai embalmed himself. Until recently, scientists found out that the monk embalmed himself thousands of days before he really died.
In the first phase of around three years, the monk went on a severe diet. He did not eat four kinds of cereals: rice, wheat, soybean and sesame but some kinds of nuts from the forest.
In the second phase, which happened for over three years, he ate a little husks and roots of pine trees.
In the last phase, he drank a special tea which was processed from resin of urushi, which is likely Vietnamese varnish tree. He also drank spring water with high content of arsenic. Urushi resin and arsenic water killed micro-organisms inside the monk’s body. They were the last catalysts before the monk entered the trench to practice meditation. These substances not only killed micro-organism that can cause decomposition of the body, but also preserve tissues.
The mummy of Tetsumonkai is the proof for long-term austere practice and human’s special energy that will be mentioned in the next story.
How about the self-embalmment of Vietnamese monk vu Khac Minh? It will be also revealed in the next story.