Upon his death in 835, Kūkai crawled into his tomb in Japan and entered nyūjō, a state of meditation so profound it induces suspended animation.
His plan was to crawl out again in around 5.67 million years to shepherd some souls into nirvana.
Kūkai, known after his death as Kōbō Daishi, had managed to mummify himself — no mean feat in a country like Japan which has no peat bogs, no arid deserts, and no ice-encrusted alpine peaks. Summers are hot and humid… but he managed it.
And so, over the centuries following his death, did a group of Buddhist monks from the Shingon sect. The process turns you into a sokushinbutsu, or “a Buddha in this very body”.
The first to try this, after Kūkai, was a man named Shōjin in 1081. Somewhat horrifyingly, he buried himself alive. And even more disappointingly, from his point of view, when his disciples went to retrieve his body, rot had taken hold. He’d failed.
It took a couple more hundred years before the ultimate trial and error led someone to work out how to mummify himself and — they believed — cheat death in eternal meditation.
Would you like to know how they managed to mummify themselves? Of course you would, right? Who doesn’t like a real-life horror story…
It takes a minimum of three years’ preparation before death. Which presumably means they’re either alarmingly prescient, or completely committed to this process and willing to die early. The whole preparation process revolves around mokujikigyō — “tree-eating training”.
For 1,000 days, the mummies-to-be must eat only what they can forage from the mountains: nuts, buds, and tree roots. And possibly also berries, tree bark, and pine needles. Other than foraging, their time was spent meditating.
This diet rid the body of fat, muscle, and moisture — and starved the body’s natural collection of bacteria and parasites; all of which meant decomposition was much delayed after death.
Most monks did this 1,000 day cycle two or three times, and after the last time, the truly devout would cut out all food and drink a small amount of salinised water for 100 days, and meditate on the salvation of mankind.
As death approached, the monk’s disciples lowered him into a pine box at the bottom of a 3m-deep pit in a particular place. They packed charcoal around the box, inserted a bamboo straw for air, then buried him alive. He’d meditate and ring a bell regularly to signal he was still clinging to life… and when the ringing stopped, his disciples would dig him up and and inspect his body. If he was decaying, they’d exorcise his body and rebury him quietly. If he was a mummy, that meant he’d become a true sokushinbutsu and was enshrined.
I cannot even imagine the level of commitment, belief, and discipline required to put yourself through a process like that. It’s completely beyond my comprehension. I suspect it’s completely beyond most people’s comprehension. But at the same time as seeming utterly insane, it’s hard not to be impressed by their achievements. Try putting me on a diet of nuts, roots, and tree bark for 1,000 days and I’d be a raving maniac…
The thing is, though, I see this level of commitment and belief more often than you might think, in the business owners I work with, mentor, and talk to. Everyone’s different, and commitment and action vary, but the really successful ones? The ones who are not necessarily super-rich, but who are living the lives they want, they all share the same qualities: motivation, discipline, commitment, belief, and the ability to go from small failure to setback with no loss of enthusiasm.
The good news is, you don’t have eat nuts and tree roots for 1,000 days to be successful. Unless mummifying yourself is your aim, in which case you’re in the wrong place.
All you have to do is be willing to keep on plugging. To keep building relationships, trying stuff, seeing what works, then taking consistent actions over and over again.
And you have to be willing to turn away from what the majority are doing, and do something different.
Off you go, then 🙂
Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.
PS Not sure where to start? Borrow My Brain, and I’ll give you a leg-up.