You might have heard about how ancient Egyptians mummify their dead rulers and kin, but do you know that there were Buddhist monks who practice self-mummification? Instead of waiting for their death and having others mummify them, these monks work to mummify themselves while they were still alive.

The process of self-mummification

The practice of self-mummification was a prevalent practice in Japan but other places in Asia like China, practice it as well. Buddhist monks who abide by this practice spent over 10 years to prepare their physical body to be mummified.

Monks follow an extremely strict special diet which aims to increase their chances of preservation and to gradually starve their bodies through the years. This special diet forbade eating of any food made from wheat, rice, barley, and soybeans.  They only consume nuts, berries, tree bark, and pine needles to diminish their body fat and moisture, which are the primary factors that cause dead bodies to decay. To inhibit bacteria growth, they are herbs, cycad nuts, and sesame seeds. To protect their future dead body from being infested by insects, they drank a poisonous tree sap that also served as an embalming fluid.

After following this strict diet plan for many years and the monk was already nearing starvation, he would then be buried alive in an underground chamber with only a bamboo tube to help him breathe. The monk sat in a lotus position and chanted sutra while buried. He rang a bell every day to inform the other monks that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the bamboo tube would then be removed, and the tomb would be sealed. After three years, the tomb would be opened to check if the body mummified. If it did, then the body would be taken to the temple to be venerated but if it did not, then exorcism would be performed, and the monk would once again be buried.