Tuesday, July 21, 2015

mummified spiritual miracles

Sangha Tenzin
Rather than drag anyone through my muddy byways, I'll try to spit it out up front: Why, for heaven's sake, does spiritual endeavor insist on playing the "miraculous" card? Isn't it really self-centered and to some extent cruel? "Cut the crap!" some voice within snaps.

A BBC article I skim-read a couple of days created a launch pad for mental masturbation. It's a little like bubble-gum on the sole of a shoe on a hot summer day ... dragging, sticky, and vaguely irritating.

The BBC account was yet another one about a long-dead-yet-wonderfully-preserved mummy of a Buddhist monk. Naturally, the tale is set in the high and mysterious Himalayas, far from prying eyes. The monk seemed to be about 500 years old and yet -- as in all these documentations -- wonderfully preserved. He is dubbed "Sangha Tenzin." What seemed to catch my eye was the detail about self-mummification.

The article segues from Buddhist practices into Japanese Yamagata monks and the process by which they self-mummified as a means of reaching "the highest form of enlightenment."
The Yamagata monks would eat a solely tree-based diet, ingesting only roots, nuts and herbs in order to completely deplete their fat reserves. This process could take anywhere from several months to 10 years, during which time the monks were also believed to be ingesting poisonous cycad nuts and lacquer tree sap, which facilitated vomiting, removed moisture from the body and acted as a deterrent to flesh-eating insects after death. By the time the monk died, the body was so devoid of fat and the organs were so shrunken in size that the desiccated body wouldn’t start decomposing – thus preserving the physical form and beginning the baffling process of natural mummification.
OK, we're into wowsers territory. Onlookers are left gob-slapped. Imagine that! Jesus walked on water or turned water into wine or rolled back the rock on his tomb. Other gurus from times gone by encourage followers to dismiss miraculous happenings as deluded ... but that doesn't put the wowsers genie back in the bottle. And when you get down to it, who doesn't like being wowed?

But taking a slightly different tack, I don't wonder or even much fault the human desire to be wowed. What I do wonder about is by what process those capable of wowing others feel compelled to exercise the capacity. Why would Sangha Tenzin leave this reminder? It is hard to dismiss the notion that "the highest form of enlightenment" is nothing of the sort. It smells a bit like ego-tripping ... and not very kind at that.

I take the direction of spiritual endeavor fairly seriously. It is important to ease the suffering that can claw and tear. Onlookers deserve ... deserve ... deserve the best, whatever that might be. Is leaving a mummy for posterity the best? Is crucifixion the best? Is healing the best? Is there, in fact, a "best" that can be offered? I doubt it.

Spiritual life weaves a tapestry. Often it is beautiful and inviting. Sometimes it specializes in scaring the pee down your leg. Whose tradition doesn't make much difference ... the tapestry beckons to onlookers ... onlookers who are sometimes wowed. But the trick is this....

No matter how beautiful, no matter how wowsers, no matter how compassionate or clear or colorful the tapestry may be, still it is up to the onlooker to reweave it. Personally, intimately ... and if a mummy or a resurrection inspires that reweaving, well OK: The only error that might occur is when the onlooker refuses to reweave and sticks with the wowsers.

I guess I wonder at the mind of any man who might think that self-mummification could advance or ameliorate the circumstances of others... or even, come to that, themselves.

Tell me the truth and I still have to find out the truth.

Tell me a lie and I still have to find out the truth.

Is there much difference between and ornate truth and an ornate lie?

Sure spiritual life is a pain in the ass, but do mummies ease the course? Maybe so, but it feels somehow smug and self-centered and off-the-mark to me.

Which is not to say I don't owe a debt to a guy like Sangha Tenzin.

"The highest form of enlightenment?"

Get a life.


  1. It must be exhausting to live with such a philosophical man. I devour your musings daily and can't help wondering what it's like to be in your physical space. Interesting, no doubt, but perhaps not easy. I shall remain your avid fanatic -- at a distance, of course. Cheers.

  2. Miracles and magic, they'd save us a lot of work. And who likes work?

  3. "can't help wondering what it's like to be in your physical space."

    Good, thoughtful question, anonymous.

    Older, slower and both tiring and tiresome is the encroaching answer, I think. It's the rarm at hand, though I sometimes wish I could grow black-eyed susans or something.