Living Buddhas

The Self-Mummified Monks of Yamagata, Japan

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About the Book

Northern Japan is home to an ancient, esoteric tradition of self-mummifying Buddhist monks, little known to the outside world. Long after death, these ascetics continue to be revered as Living Buddhas. This first English-language work on the subject recounts the process by which these monks starve themselves for a decade, bury themselves alive with only a small breathing tube, and meditate until death. After three years, the mummified body is exhumed and displayed. The biographies of various monks are presented within, as is an examination of the religious beliefs involved, an amalgamation of three distinct religious traditions. Also explored is the role of asceticism in religion, and beliefs about life and death shared by the Buddhist sects involved in self-mummification.

About the Author(s)

Ken Jeremiah has written extensively about spiritual and religious phenomena. He lives in Narragansett, Rhode Island, and runs tour groups to Japan, Italy, and other countries yearly.

Bibliographic Details

Ken Jeremiah

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 242
Bibliographic Info: 51 photos, glossary, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2010
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4880-7
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5602-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1
Introduction: Sacred Mountains and the Swamp of Immortals      9

PART ONE. MUMMIFICATION AND IMMORTALITY
1. Natural Mummification      19
2. Artificial Mummification      26
3. Incorruptibility      33
4. The Great Transformation      40

PART TWO. SELF-MUMMIFIED MONKS
5. Symbols of Contradiction      47
6. Honmyōkai Shōnin: The Samurai Who Mummified Himself      60
7. Shinnyōkai Shōnin: The Farmer Who Killed a Samurai      65
8. Tetsumonkai Shōnin: The Priest Who Loved a Prostitute      71
9. Myōkai Shōnin: The Boy Who Lost His Eyesight      78
10. Kōmyōkai Shōnin: The Unknown Self-Mummified Monk      84
11. Ch¨kai Shnin and Enmyōkai Shōnin: Two Monks Who Reside at the Same Temple      88
12. Tetsury¨kai Shōnin: The Monk Who Cut Out His Own Eye      93
13. Remnants of a Forgotten Age      98

PART THREE. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND SECRET TEACHINGS
14. Buddhist Origins      107
15. Apocryphal Texts and Holy Wizards      113
16. Chinese Immortality and the Death of Buddhism in India      119
17. Kōbō Daishi and Shingon Buddhism      127
18. Magicians in the Mountains: En no Gyōja and Shugendō Faith      139

PART FOUR. ASCETICISM AND THE PURSUIT OF DEATH
19. Asceticism in World Religions      151
20. Japanese Ascetic Practices      157
21. Periods of Seclusion and Cave Meditation      163
22. Meditation Under Waterfalls and Cold Water Ablutions      169
23. Abstention from Cereals      175
24. Self-Immolation      180
25. Self-Mummification      186

PART FIVE. DEATH AND IMMORTALITY
26. The Nature of Life and Death      199

Afterword      207
Appendix 1. Self-Mummified Monks in Japan      211
Appendix 2. Ch¨renji Lineage      212
Appendix 3. Temple Contacts      213
Appendix 4. Thirty-Two Bodily Marks of a Great Man      215
Appendix 5. Sino-Japanese Character Glossary      216
Notes      219
References      225
Index      233

Book Reviews & Awards

“the first English language book on the subject of the self-mummifying Buddhist monks of Yamagata Prefecture of North-Western Japan…informative…for anyone with an interest in the sokushinbutsu this very interesting book contains a wealth of information…fascinating…essential”—Diverse Japan.