Self Mummification, Fasting and Lying Monks? Monk Luang Phor Pian
In January of 2018 incredible images were sent all over the world showing Revered monk Luang Phor Pian. A ‘smiling’ mummy exhumed by his dedicated followers, two months after he died at the age of 92. His followers, monks themselves, claimed they removed Luang Phor Pians body in order to fit him with new, clean robes and were shocked to discover the corpse had barely decayed.
But we’re they really shocked? I say no!
I don’t believe they were shocked at all. I say this because the practice of sokushinbutsu or self mummification was once a common practice among Monks in the mountains of Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture. Is it really a stretch to think Monk Luang Phor Pian may have undertaken this same process of Self Mummification?
Japans Mummified Monks
The monks of Japans Yamagata Prefecture believed deeply in self-sacrifice in service to others. This manifested in a lot of the usual community service: feeding the poor, caring for the elderly, treating the sick. But they also believed that their sacrifices could serve the community through spiritual means.
For example, in the late 18th century the Shingon monk Tetsumonkai travelled through what is now Tokyo during the outbreak of an eye disease that caused blindness. When his herbal remedies had no effect on the epidemic, Tetsumonkai cut out his left eye and threw it in the Sumida River while praying for the end of the epidemic, believing that his sacrifice commanded a higher level of respect and attention from the gods.
The monks who mummified themselves (including Tetsumonkai, which we’ll get to in a moment) considered their death an act of redemption and salvation for humankind. Their suffering prior to death allowed them to go to the Tusita Heaven, one of several Buddhist heavens whose residents enjoy extremely long life spans before they reenter the cycle of reincarnation.
The monks believed their sacrifice would allow them to live in the Tusita Heaven for 1.6 million years, with the power to grant requests and protect the humans on Earth. They also believed that this spiritual power only lasted as long as their physical bodies remained, to tie them to the Earth, so it was vital that their bodies be preserved through mummification.
So what is the process of Self Mummification?
A monk who chose to perform self-mummification, or sokushinbutsu, began by abstaining from grains and cereals, eating only fruits and nuts for one thousand days. He spent this nearly three years meditating and continuing to perform service to the temple and community. Then for the next thousand days the monk ate only pine needles and bark.
By the end of the two thousand days of fasting, the monk’s body had wasted away through starvation and dehydration. While this satisfied the requirement for suffering, it also started the process of mummification by removing excess fat and water, which would otherwise attract bacteria and insects after death.
Some of the monks drank tea made from the bark of the urushi tree during their fast. Also known as the Japanese Varnish Tree, its sap is normally used to make a lacquer varnish, and it contains the same abrasive chemical that makes poison ivy so unpleasant. Urushi is so toxic that even its vapor can cause a rash, and it remains in the body after death. Drinking urushi tea served to hasten the monk towards death as well as make his body even less hospitable to insects.
Finally, the monk would enter a cramped, specially built tomb and sit in meditation as his acolytes sealed him in, leaving a small tube to allow air to enter.
He spent his last days sitting in meditation, ringing a bell occasionally to signal to those outside that he was still alive. When the bell stopped, the acolytes removed the breathing tube and sealed the tomb completely.
After a thousand days, his followers opened the tomb and examined the body. If there was no sign of decay, the monk had achieved sokushinbutsu and was placed in a temple and worshipped as a Living Buddha. If not, he was reburied with great honor for the attempt.
The First Known Attempt at Self Mummification
The first known attempt of sokushinbutsu was in 1081 by a monk named Shōjin, but it was unsuccessful and his body decayed. Over one hundred monks may have made the attempt since then, but only around two dozen in Yamagata and surrounding prefectures have succeeded. The procedure for self-mummification evolved through trial-and-error, and even monks who followed the same tortuous steps as successful sokushinbutsu monks could fail for no discernible reason, losing their chance at immortality Tusita Heaven after years of painful asceticism.
The practice of self mummification was outlawed in Japan in 1877 by Emperor Meiji. This law prohibited anyone from opening the tomb of a monk who had attempted sokushinbutsu, unless the monk had entered the tomb before the law was enacted.
Due to the large number of known attempts at self-mummification in Japan’s history, and the secluded manner in which the process was practiced, it is possible that other successfully mummified monks are still buried in their tombs in the mountains of Yamagata, their locations lost to time and their sacrifice forgotten.
Now that you know about Self Mummification, What do you think about Monk Luang Phor Pian?
Now that you know about Self Mummification how likely is it Revered monk Luang Phor Pians body was mummified by chance? Isn’t it far more likely he secretly undertook self mummification in order to live in Heaven for 1.6 million years, with the power to grant requests and protect the humans on Earth. The thing that bothers me is the living Monks lying about why they opened his tomb. They weren’t changing his robes, instead they opened his tomb to check for Mummification.
Would they lie? Yes, they would and have in the past. The Shingon monk Tetsumonkai died in 1878, a year after sokushinbutsu was officially outlawed. However, he’d already been in preparation to be mummified for years. After Tetsumonkai died his followers snuck out to his tomb in the middle of the night and disinterred him in secret.
They were overjoyed to discover that he had achieved sokushinbutsu, but then they realized they faced a great dilemma. They couldn’t put his body on display in the temple without admitting that they had broken the law by opening his tomb.
Ultimately, they decided to alter the temple records to list Tetsuryūkai’s date of death as 1862—prior to the ban—and enshrined him at Nangaku Temple, where he remains to this day.
So, is it hard to believe Revered monk Luang Phor Pians followers did the same?
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Why not check out 45 Skin Crawling Facts