he origin of Buddhism comes from India about 3,000 years ago, although many historians have different arguments. This religion started to spread around Asia in the last 2,000 years, with the religion being influenced by different Asian cultures. This religion may differ a bit from country to country, but the main belief is that all life forms are sacred, from the smallest insect to the biggest tree in the world, so they must be protected.
Some cultures such as Japan adopted some more unique traditions such as auto mummification. This specific tradition started in the 9th century and it is meant to make elder monks divine, or as their religion presents it, to make them immortal whilst putting them in a state of eternal meditation.
This practice was started by monk Kukai, the founder of the Buddhist school from Shingon, Japan, during the 9th century. The ideology he conceived is that once he completed his auto mummification, in time, he would reach divinity by meditating for millions of years. In other words, the idea was to become a god.
Buddhists didn’t consider this act as suicide, as they believe the soul of a person is eternal, therefore Sokushinbutsu would make them reach this sort of eternal stage much quicker.
This tradition, however, is very difficult due to the period of preparation. If you thought that the life of a Buddhist is rigorous and difficult, then the preparation process for Sokushinbutsu makes it three times worse. The member that wanted to prepare for this ritual had to go through a special diet for 100 days that would ensure the body would dehydrate and remove any sort of toxins or bacteria to stop the body from decomposing once buried.
After 100 days, another diet that is even more strict would be followed for another 100 days. The first diet consisted of fruits, nuts, seeds, and water. The idea was for the body to lose all the fat before being buried alive so it would not attract maggots that would eat the body in the process of auto-mummification.
The second diet consisted of roots and bark of pine trees in order to lose muscle mass and drinking tea made from a toxic plant named Toxicodendron vernicifluum. The toxicity of the tea helped kill any parasites within the body, ensuring that the body would not be affected by the dirt once buried.
After 200 days, the body would be buried alive for 100 days in the ground. The monk undergoing this process would be sitting in the lotus position and given a small tube through which they would breathe air from the underground. The monk would also have a string that was attached to a bell above the burial ground. The monk had to ring the bell at least once a day to let the rest know that he wasn’t dead yet.
If the bell stopped ringing, the air tube would be pulled out and the burial ground would be sealed for 100 days. If the body was found to be intact after 100 days of being buried, the ritual was declared successful and the body was placed in a temple to be venerated by other monks.
Although the Japanese government outlawed this practice in the 19th century as they considered it as an act of suicide, it is said that this ritual is still practiced throughout temples in Japan. If you ever end up in Japan, there are 16 monks who underwent this process whose corpses can be visited at various temples.