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Asian countries like China, Thailand, and Vietnam are teeming with ancient statues of Buddha. Some are famous for their size, others because they are carved from solid gold and precious stones. However, very few can lay claim to being the final resting place of a 1,200-year-old mummified monk.
Researchers first discovered this 1000-year-old Buddha statue's secret in 1997, when its private owner was trying to restore its gold-painted exterior. When the preservationist detached the statue's wooden platform, he saw two pillows. Intrigued, he removed them and encountered an unexpected sight - the bottom of a human, perched in a lotus position on a carpet inscribed with Chinese characters. Tests revealed that the mummy tucked away inside the statue was about 200 years older than the rug. This led researchers to speculate that it had not spent its entire life encased in the Buddha. Since the preserved remains were too fragile to extract from the statue, the investigation was halted there.
It was not until 2014 when the Buddha was loaned to the Drents Museum in the Netherlands for their special exhibit: "Mummies – Life Beyond Death," that additional secrets were revealed. After the exhibition closed in August 2014, the museum researchers wanted to find out more about the ancient statue's resident. Since its owner is considering making a life-sized reconstruction of the mummy, the two agreed that a CAT scan would be a good idea. So the Buddha was transported to the state-of-the-art Meander Medical Center in the city of Amersfoort and placed under a scanner.
Sure enough, it showed a perfectly preserved human sitting in a lotus position. However, when the researchers inserted a specially designed endoscope into the mummy's body to extract samples from its chest and abdominal cavities, they were stunned to discover that the organs were missing! What the scientists had thought to be remains of the lungs turned out to be scraps of paper. The Chinese text on the tiny pieces did give some clues about the statue's resident. Researchers believe that the skeleton belongs to Buddhist master Liuquan, a teacher at the Chinese Meditation School.
The fact that he was not entombed inside this golden home for 200 years leads experts to suspect that the holy man went through the process of "self-mummification" to transform himself into a "living Buddha." The ancient ritual involved a monk gradually starving himself on a diet of nuts, berries, tree bark and pine needles until he was on the brink of death.
The monk would then retire to an underground chamber that was completely sealed except for a bamboo tube for breathing and settle down in a lotus position. He would spend his remaining days praying. The only communication with the outside world was through a bell that was rung once a day. When that stopped, the devotees knew the holy man had died. They would then remove the air tube and reseal the chamber for three years. After that, the mummified body would be carefully extracted and transported to a nearby temple so that all could worship the "Living Buddha".
Researchers are not sure why Liuquan's body was encased inside the gold-colored Buddha statue after 200 years. They speculate that it could be because devotees noticed his skeleton starting to crumble and devised this unique way of preserving it forever. The one thing they have no answer for is how and when the monk's organs were removed. Unfortunately, that is the one secret the gold Buddha that is currently being exhibited at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest, cannot reveal.