Mummified Monk A Medical Miracle?

On Jan. 27, 2015, a baffling encounter was made in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar. Covered in cattle skin, still wearing his traditional Buddhist robes, the discovery is believed to be the mummified body of lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. Itigilov was found by a man named Enhtor who was attempting to sell the holy mummy on the black market. He failed, and attracted attention from officials, and was subsequently arrested. Enhtor was said to have found the monk in the Kobdsk region of Mongolia before hiding it his home in Ulaanbaatar and trying sell it.

Picture from 1927 of monk Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.
Picture from 1927 of monk Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Itigilov was born in 1852 and died in 1927, making the body almost 75 years old. Itigilov was a Tibetan Buddhist monk from Buryatia, located in Russia. Buryats are Russians with specific ties to Mongols in their heritage and ancestry. Even in death, Itigilov remains a very important Russian Buddhist figure. At age 59, Itigilov was named the 12th Pandido Khambo Lama, which is the head of Russian Buddhism. Not only that, Iitgilov founded Datsan Gunzechoinei in St. Petersburg, Russia, which was the first Buddhist temple in Europe.  

It was said that near the end of his life, Itigilov called upon his fellow lamas to begin the meditational ceremony for funerals. He requested to be buried in the lotus position, a traditional position assumed during meditation, and was found in the position at the time of his discovery. The lotus position is where one sits cross-legged, with each foot on the opposing thigh, typically with the hands folded together in the center of the cross or relaxed on the knees. The founder and professor of the Mongolian Institute of Buddhist Art at Ulaanbaatar Buddhist University, Ganhugiyn Purevbata, explained that because he remained in the lotus position, “[Itigilov] is not dead, but is in a very deep meditation, according to the ancient tradition of Buddhist lamas.”

According to modern science, Itigilov is long dead, but many Buddhist monks claim he is simply in deep meditation in order to achieve Enlightenment. When achieved, “the meditator...can become a Buddha,” said Doctor Barry Kerzin, who is a monk himself and the physician of the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans. Kerzin further explained that “reaching such a high spiritual level, the meditator will also help others. And all the people around will feel a deep sense of joy.”

The most baffling part of this whole discovery is the physical state of the mummy itself. Typically, a body begins its slowly decomposition about a day or two after death. After the amount of time Itigilov’s body has experienced after death, a normal body would be close to nothing but bones, making his body’s condition so astoundingly incredible. Scientists are shocked at how well preserved the body is. The body is currently being guarded by the Ulaanbaatar National Centre of Forensic Expertise. The monks continue to support their claim that Itigilov is alive.

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