Sokushinbutsu is an extreme practice performed by Buddhist monks through an extreme and difficult process leading to mummification while still alive !. Sokushinbutsu was mainly practiced in Northern Japan (Yamagata territory) between the 11th and 19th century mainly by members of the Japanese Buddhist school (Vajrayana ) among a group called Shingon (The True Word). They didn't consider this act as suicide rather than a step for reaching the enlightenment. Hundreds of monks have tried this technique though but only few managed to reach this phase of self mummification (only 24 of these mummies were discovered till the present day). It is believed that Shingon school founder Kukai was the one to introduce this practice to Japanese monks as he brought it from China as part of secret tantric practices he learned,however these practices were later lost in China. The process of self-mummification requires the monk to pass through 3 phases, each one lasts for 1000 days
The process of self mummification is a long and extreme process. There are mainly three phases of this process and each phase lasts for 1000 days, which eventually will lead to a mummified body. During these nine years of practice, the monk is still alive. After the monk decides to go through self-mummification, he starts the first stage. There are a complete dietary changes the be done, he starts eating only seeds,nuts, fruits, and berries. The restricted diet is then accompanied by extreme physical practices. The two combined will lead to a lot of weight loss and less fat content. Fat is rich in water and mummification requires dry conditions so the monk must lose fat and live in dry cold atmosphere during this phase.
Things get even harder in the second phase as the monk will now shift his diet to only eating roots and bark with diminished amounts gradually. The monk will now lose more amounts of body fat and also a lot of his muscle bulk. The main reason for these foods exactly is to fight bacterial activity inside the body which will lead to body decomposition after death, though mummification will not occur. The normal human body contains a lot of bacteria in intestine for food digestion which was recently discovered by modern science. How did the monks know these facts in old days?, we don't really have a clue but they followed modern science guidelines to be able to preserve the body from bacteria and insects laying and hatching their eggs on soft tissues of the body which are not soft anymore in case of this process undergone by monks.
During his final steps to becoming a sokushinbutsu, the monk drinks special type of tea which is made from the sap of the urushi tree. This sap is highly toxic and leads to extreme urination, sweating, and vomiting. This leads to further dehydration of the monk's body which makes the mummification easier now. No fat, no muscles, and no water. Also the toxic effect of this tea will eradicate any insects or bacteria from growth over the dead body which helps the mummification process.
After the 2,000 days of self torturing, meditation, and fasting the monk is now ready to reach the final step. The monk now have to climb into his stone tomb. A narrow place barely sufficient for him to sit in the famous lotus position, his colleagues help him to sit in the tomb which they finally seal with stone cover with only a narrow opening with a bamboo stick through this opening is introduced to the monk so he can barely breath till his final day. Each day the monk will ring a bill to let his colleagues know he is still alive, when he doesn't ring the bill anymore they now know he is dead, they seal the tomb completely and leave him into his grave, now he is a Sokushinbutsu and has finally reached the enlightenment.
After the last 1,000 days has passed , the tomb will be opened again and the mummified monk is removed from his grave. His mummified body will be brought back to the temple and he will be worshiped now as a sokushinbutsu (a living Buddha). The monk will be admired by his colleagues who will also take care of his body. His clothes will be changed every year. However this monk seems really dead, Buddhist monks don't really consider him dead, only a living Buddha who has reached a higher phase of enlightenment.
Although the sokushinbutsu was prohibited in Japan by the orders of Emperor Meiji who decided to put an end to this suicidal acts by stating a new act against opening graves on the dead, the sokushinbutsu was still practiced secretly and also inspired monks from other areas than Japan. In the picture you can find a newly discovered sokushinbutsu act that was found in January 2015. The newly discovered mummified monk was a Mongolian monk who seemed to be affected by japanese monk acts. The monk was discovered by police as he was transported to the black market to be sold. His remains were recovered by the police and addressed to the National Center of Forensic Expertise in Ulaanbaatar. The Mongolian monk was found sitting in the lotus position like his Japanese colleagues and the forensic analysis stated that his body is 200 years old. The drier climate of Mongolia helped further the state of mummification and led to better preservation of the body unlike Japanese bodies which had undergone partial decomposition.