Sokushinbutsu: The Art of Self-Mummification

Many cultures on Earth mummify the dead. There are even cultures that made mummies inadvertently by burying them under the right conditions. Therefore, mummies are relatively common. However, it is nearly unheard of for people to mummify themselves, but it has happened. In Japan there are more than two-dozen mummies, known as the Sokushinbutsu. These Sokushinbutsu were very dedicated monks who committed suicide for the sake of mummifying themselves and achieving holiness.

The monks who performed Sokushinbutsu were followers of an ancient form of Buddhism known as Shugendo. For Shugendo monks, performing self-mummification was not suicide.  It was the ultimate act of self-denial and a way to separate themselves from the material world. Of course, that didn’t change the fact that it was suicide to the rest of the world and so, the gruesome practice was made illegal in Japan in the late 1800's.

Sokushinbutsu began with the monk drastically changing his diet. Most sources say that the monk would go for three years on a diet of nuts and seeds. He would also begin exercising vigorously, in order to shed any excess body fat that might hinder the mummification process. After three years of this diet, the monk would then change his diet to one of bark and roots for another three years. After a time, the monk would also begin ingesting a poisonous tea made from sap or arsenic-laced water. The amount of poison in these drinks was presumably nonlethal. The drinks were meant to aid in the loss of fat in life and to deter insects after the monk’s death. The time frame of this diet and its progression differ from source to source, but the contents are certain.

At the end of the second three-year period, the monk would then place himself in a small coffin-like box (seemingly of brick, stone or wood), in which he could do nothing but sit in the lotus position. A breathing tube was introduced into the chamber and the monk given a bell before the box was closed. The monk would then ring the bell every day until he starved to death. When the bell no longer rang, his fellow monks knew he was dead. After a period of one thousand days, they would open the box and determine whether the monk had achieved Sokushinbutsu. If the body had begun to decay, the box was permanently sealed and buried. If the body had not, the monk had achieved Sokushinbutsu and he was reverently put on display and worshiped as Buddha.

Today, there are a little more than two-dozen Sokushinbutsu in Japan. Eight of these mummified monks are on display in the Dainichi and Churenji temples. They are still thought of as Buddha by their brethren. To the rest of us, they are either testaments to the amazing power the mind can have over the body, or they are proof of how horribly far a person’s beliefs can take them. Either way, it is hard not to be amazed at the ability of Sokushinbutsu to carry out their very own mummification.

World's Largest Geoglyph Still a Mystery: Southern Australia's Marree Man

The Marree Man from above
Geoglyphs are works of art that are made either by making mounds out of material like rocks or soil or by digging lines or shapes into the soil. Most geoglyphs are impossible to see as art at ground level. However, if you view them from a plane, their shapes become clear. Some examples of geoglyphs are the Nazca lines in Peru and the Serpent Mound in Ohio, U.S.A. These are examples of rather large and well-known geoglyphs that have been around since long before our time. We also have a relatively good idea of who made them. Oddly, the largest geoglyph in the world is only a few decades old and nobody seems to know who made it. This geoglyph is called the Marree Man and it is located in the outback in southern Australia.

A pilot that was flying over the plateau on which the geoglyph is located discovered the Marree Man in July of 1998. The tremendous work of art was largely ignored, however until a local hotel owner received an anonymous fax regarding the Marree Man. The hotel owner told the local newspaper about it and the story ran on July 15, 1998. It was then the public realized there is a giant, mysterious geoglyph less than three miles outside of Marree.

The Marree Man depicts a standing aboriginal hunter with a spear or possibly a boomerang in his hand. The nude man is roughly two and a half miles tall. Some experts believe that it is remarkably accurate in its depiction of an aboriginal hunter. However, others say that it is incorrect. Either way, it is a very astonishing work of art. Experts believe that it was completed shortly before it was discovered; yet nobody noticed that it was being made. In fact, no one has ever come forward and admitted to making it. This is very surprising because whoever did it did not commit a crime.

Despite the fact that no one has come forward to explain the Marree Man to the world, experts have a good idea of how it was made. The outline of the geoglyph was made by removing the vegetation from the soil where the lines were. There was also a layer of soil removed to reveal the lighter soil beneath, thus making the Marree Man stand out against its surroundings. It is thought that the work was accomplished by using tractors or plows to move the materials, judging by tread marks left at the scene. It is also thought that the artist or artists used GPS to map out their design and make it as accurate as it is.

Today, the Marree Man is slowly fading, but it is still clearly visible from a plane. However, it will eventually erode away. For now, there is no way of knowing why it was even put there to begin with. Indeed, it may never be known who made the Marree Man or why they did it.

Update: As of fall 2016, the Marree Man is much clearer due to restorations conducted in collaboration with the aboriginals in the area. There is hope that the new grooves will fill with water and turn the dusty old Marree Man green!


Marree Man, retrieved 9/23/09