The Mummified Monk Who’s Been ‘Meditating’ For 200 Years

By Heather Ramsey on Sunday, February 15, 2015
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“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” —Christopher Reeves, “Still Me”

In A Nutshell

Buddhist academics claim that the recent discovery in Mongolia of an approximately 200-year-old mummified monk, frozen in the lotus or vajra position, isn’t dead. Instead, they believe the monk is in a deep meditative trance called “tukdam,” one step away from becoming a Buddha. The monk’s body was recovered after it was stolen by a man who had hoped to sell it on the black market.

The Whole Bushel

In the past 50 years in India, there are believed to be about 40 cases of Tibetan monks who achieved a rare spiritual state of extremely deep meditation called “tukdam,” one step away from becoming a Buddha. In January, another such case was accidentally discovered by Mongolian police.

A 45-year-old man, identified as “Enhtor,” had removed a mummified monk from a cave in the Kobdsk region of Mongolia, then stashed it in his house in Ulaanbaatar. Allegedly, Enhtor planned to sell the mummy on the black market for big money. But his plans to take the mummy across the Mongolian border were thwarted when he was arrested.

Although forensic evaluation has yet to be completed, the mummified monk appears to be about 200 years old. He is exceptionally well-preserved, perhaps due to Mongolia’s often frigid weather. The monk is believed to be a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as a “Lama.” Wrapped in animal skins, the monk was found frozen in the lotus position with his left hand open and his right hand symbolizing the preaching of Sutra. According to Buddhist academics, this shows that the Lama has not died, but instead is in a deep meditative state.

“If the person is able to remain in this state for more than three weeks—which rarely happens—his body gradually shrinks, and in the end all that remains from the person is his hair, nails, and clothes,” said Dr. Barry Kerzin, a Buddhist monk and doctor to the Dalai Lama. “Usually in this case, people who live next to the monk see a rainbow that glows in the sky for several days. This means that he has found a ‘rainbow body.’ This is the highest state close to the state of Buddha.”

If the monk is able to remain in this state of meditation, he may actually become a Buddha. At that level, the meditator helps others, and everyone around him will experience deep joy.

The mummy will be examined at the Ulaanbataar National Center of Forensic Expertise. His identity is also a mystery. Some people believe that he’s the teacher of the Buryat Buddhist Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, another monk who was found mummified.

After instructing his students to visit his body in 30 years, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov assumed the lotus position and died while meditating in 1927. When the body was exhumed, it was in the lotus position with little or no sign of decay. He was reburied and exhumed again in 2002. The body was still well-preserved. It’s unknown whether the soil, salt in his coffin, an unidentified embalming process, the cold climate, or some genetic component contributed to the physical state of his body. After the exhumation in 2002, the lama was transported to a Buddhist temple, where he will be worshipped for all time.

As to this latest mummified monk, his future is unclear, both spiritually and physically for now. But the alleged thief, Enhtor, may face a fine of up to 3 million rubles (approximately $43,000) or possibly a prison term of 5 to 12 years in Mongolia for smuggling items of cultural heritage.

Show Me The Proof

BBC News: Mummified monk in Mongolia ‘not dead’, say Buddhists
The Times of India: Mummified 200-year-old monk found in Mongolia in ‘very deep meditation’: Buddhist academic