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The body of Shinnyokai Shonin, found in Oaminaka, Japan

Mummified Remains of Monk, Still in Lotus Position, Found in Mongolia - Some Claim He Was Alive!


In January 2015 it was announced that the remains of a Buddhist monk in a meditative position, estimated to be around 200 years old, were discovered in Mongolia. The monk was found to be in a seated lotus position in an astoundingly well-preserved state. But an even bigger shock hit the media just a few days later – claims arose that the monk wasn’t really dead!

According to local Mongolian publication, The Morning News, the monk was found in Songinokhairkhan province covered in animal skin and was taken to the Ulaanbataar National Centre of Forensic Expertise in the capital Ulaanbataar, for further testing. Apparently the monk was found while a man was trying to sell him on the black market.

The mummified remains of a monk found on 27th of January in Mongolia.

The mummified remains of a monk found on January 27, 2015 in Mongolia. ('Өглөөний сонин')

The Epoch Times reported that the deceased is speculated to be a Tibetan monk and possibly even Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, a famous Buryat Buddhist lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. 

“The story of Itigilov’s body is a fascinating one,” wrote The Epoch Times. “His body has already been ‘found’ a couple of times since his death, so if this is his body, it’s more a case of being ‘rediscovered’.”

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was born in 1852 and began his religious studies at the age of 16.  He was also educated in medicine and philosophy and wrote an encyclopedia of pharmacology. In 1911, he was appointed the 12th Pandido Khambo Lama, at which post he inaugurated the period of a Buddhist revival among Buryats, an indigenous group of peoples in Siberia.

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, 1852-1927

Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, 1852-1927, (Public Domain)

At the age of 75, Itigilov sensed he was near death and asked other lamas to begin funeral rites, which they were reluctant to do since he was still alive.  An article in the New York Times in 2002 reported that Itigilov sat in the lotus meditation position and began meditating and praying until he ceased to breathe.

When his students visited his body after 30 years, it had not decayed. His body was concealed from antireligious authorities of Communist Russia until 2002, when it was found by a young lama named Bimba Dorzhiyev.  According to The Buddhist Channel, his body was examined by scientists, who said that his condition was that of a person who had died 36 hours earlier. He was very well preserved, without any signs of decay to the muscles, tissue, soft joints, or skin.

The body was once again hidden away, with only lamas allowed access.

The speculation that the monk is Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, does not however, appear to be grounded in any sort of firm evidence, at least not that has been announced. Even the photograph of the remains does not match with a 2002 photo of the body of Itigilov. Apart from the seated lotus position, there appears to be little likeness between them.

A photograph of the mummified remains of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, after his body was rediscovered in 2002

A photograph of the mummified remains of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, after his body was rediscovered in 2002 (Fair Use)

Soon after the news of the mummified monk made international headlines, another unbelievable element was added to the story. Dr. Barry Kerzin, a famous Buddhist monk and a physician to the Dalai Lama, claimed that the monk was in the tukdam state (just steps away from becoming a buddha.) Kerzin said:

“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. If the meditator can continue to stay in this meditative state, he can become a Buddha. Reaching such a high spiritual level the meditator will also help others, and all the people around will feel a deep sense of joy.”

However, a 2016 analysis of the monk’s body by the National Centre of Forensic Expertise at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, asserted that the mummified monk had definitely departed the world of the living.

While the discovery of a mummified monk still in a meditative position is highly rare, it is not unique. A practice known as Sokushinbutsu, which was pioneered by a Japanese priest named Kukai over 1,000 years ago, was a ritual observed over numerous years that culminated in death and the complete preservation of the body. The process of ‘self-mummification’ was intended to demonstrate the ultimate act of religious discipline and dedication.

It is believed that many hundreds of monks attempted sokushinbutsu, but only 28 are known to have achieved mummification, many of whom can be visited in various temples in Japan.

A monk who achieved self-mummification

A monk who achieved self-mummification (Creepypasta Italia wikia)

The steps involved in mummifying one’s own body were extremely rigorous and painful. For the first 1,000 days, the monks ceased all food except nuts, seeds, fruits and berries and they engaged in extensive physical activity to strip themselves of all body fat. For the next 1,000 days, their diet was restricted to bark and roots. Near the end of this period, they would drink poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which caused vomiting and a rapid loss of body fluids. It also acted as a preservative and killed off maggots and bacteria that would cause the body to decay after death.

In the final stage, after more than six years of torturous preparation, the monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would go into a state of meditation. He was seated in the lotus position, a position he would not move from until he died. A small air tube provided oxygen to the tomb. Each day, the monk rang a bell to let the outside world know he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed for the final thousand day period of the ritual.

At the end of this period, the tomb would be opened to see if the monk was successful in mummifying himself.  If the body was found in a preserved state, the monk was raised to the status of Buddha, his body was removed from the tomb and he was placed in a temple where he was worshiped and revered. If the body had decomposed, the monk was resealed in his tomb and respected for his endurance, but not worshiped

The body of Shinnyokai Shonin, found in Oaminaka, Japan. He had practiced self-mummification. (self-mummified monks)

Top Image: The mummified remains of a monk found on 27th of January in Mongolia. Source: 'Өглөөний сонин'

By April Holloway



Very true. The claims made does not seem to provide any stablability in terms of the knowledge and practice to understand and experience the process of undergoing such a phase of rigor. It sounds evidently vague to claims that the mummified body is still alive because its in a lotus position. Well, it would be quite insightful should it be coming from th individual who has been able to share the experience intimately in/by person. Anything besides that to me sounds more like fanaticism.

Peter Harrap's picture

This body is still alive, according to the latest, now widely published reports, and in a state approaching Nirvana.

Local buddhistsare claiming this to be the case in Mongolia. It is an extremely disturbing claim to make about a dead mummified corpse. Their evidence? He's in the lotus position, and self-mummification- a long slow form of ritual suicide - with this pose in yoga maintained through what we would call death, proves their case by itself- as, of course, he is not saying anything.

Perhaps a lama can explain to us exactly what Nirvana is, because it would seem to me that to deliberately fast to death expecting to then be respected and worshipped as a result, is to applaud suicide itself.

Of course it is very possible that the claim of him being still conscious and approaching Buddhahood is being made to justify such violent self-harming actions, but in whatever his condition is, we cannot learn anything from him ourselves, and as he can neither demonstrate or reveal whatever knowlege this path has given him the process is futile and fruitless, and cannot, certainly claim to have been done for our mutual benefit.


aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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