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Is This Mummy Dead…Or Meditating?

Some Buddhists claim this well-preserved monk is in a deep meditative state

A Buddhist monk prays in a temple. Scientists recently discovered the mummified body of a Buddhist monk some say is in a long-term trance. (Tino Soriano/National Geographic Creative/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

It’s weird enough to discover a mummy that’s been perfectly preserved in full lotus posture. But the story of a mummified monk found in Mongolia only gets stranger. Not only was the body discovered when a man tried to sell it on the black market, but some Buddhists claim that the mummified monk isn’t really dead at all.

The BBC reports that the mummy, which is being analyzed by forensics experts at the National Center of Forensic Expertise in Mongolia, was found wrapped in cattle skins and is remarkably well-preserved. That could be due to the freezing temperatures in far-flung Mongolia…or could something else be at play?

Barry Kerzin is a Buddhist monk himself and the physician to the Dalai Lama. He tells the Siberian Times that he thinks the mummy is in a state of “tukdam,” a deep meditative state that’s one step away from enlightenment:

I had the privilege to take care of some meditators who were in a tukdam 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. 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.

So how long might this trance have lasted? Some speculate that the monk was the teacher of Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, a monk who was found mummified in 2002. Itigilov reportedly told his students he was going to die and ordered them to exhume his remains at a later date. He began meditating, died, and was found in pristine condition 88 years later.

The jury may be out on whether the Mongolian mummy is just dead or about to reach enlightenment, but one thing is clear: it’s not that weird to find bizarre human remains. From screaming mummies to bodies that still contain organs and blood thousands of years after they were buried, archaeologists find frightening remains all the time. Who knows what other mysteries lie buried beneath the earth?

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