A CHINESE statue of the Buddha has been discovered to contain the entire mummified body of a monk, folded into the same position.
The Buddha, exhibited at the Drents Museum in The Netherlands last year, was taken to the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, where it was subjected to a full CT scan and had samples taken with an endoscope.
The mummy inside the statue — the only one of its kind ever found — is believed to be a Buddhist master named Liuquan of the Chinese Meditation School, who died around 1100 AD.
The CT scan and endoscopy revealed more than just the mummified remains of Liuquan. Samples of a material that has yet to be identified were taken from the thoracic and abdominal cavities, and something else extraordinary was discovered: in the spaces once occupied by organs, the team found scraps of paper scribed with ancient Chinese characters.
The team believes the mummy may be an example of self-mummification in order to become a “living Buddha”, a gruelling process that involved a life of extreme austerity.
Practiced mainly in Japan, self-mummification was a grueling process that required a monk to follow a strict 1000-day diet of nuts and seeds in order to strip the body of fat. A diet of bark and roots would follow for another 1,000 days.
At the end of this period, the monk began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Japanese varnish tree, normally used to lacquer bowls and plates. The tea caused profuse vomiting as well as a rapid loss of bodily fluids, possibly making the body too poisonous to be eaten by bacteria and insects.
A living skeleton, the monk was then placed in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, which was equipped with an air tube and a bell.
Never moving from the lotus position, the monk would ring the bell each day to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the monk was presumed dead, the air tube removed and the tomb sealed.
After another 1000 days the tomb would be opened to check whether the monk had been successfully mummified. Of the hundreds of monks that tried this horrifying process, only a few dozen actually became self-mummified and venerated in temples as a Buddha