Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sokushinbutsu 即身仏

Sokushinbutsu is a practice which refers to the further enlightenment of Buddhist monks to the point of death and mummification. This was a self-mummification process which was mainly practiced in Yamagata, Northern Japan between the 11th and 19th century by the members of "Shingon", a Japanese Vajranaya school of Buddhism. This practice was not viewed as an act of suicide by the practitioners, but rather as an act of further enlightenment. Those who succeeded were revered, and those who failed were at least respected for the effort.

It is believed that there are at least a hundred monks who tried the ritual but there are only 24 successful Sokushinbutsu mummification discovered to date. Rumors also spread that the founder of Shingon, Kukai, brought the practice from Tang China as a part of secret tantric practice he learned, and that were later lost in China.

This ritual was satirized in the story "The Destiny that Spanned Two Lifetimes" by Ueda Akinari, in which such a monk was found centuries later and was resuscitated.


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