Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | July 23, 2010

Efficiency Men


This work by artist Thomas Schutte’s “Efficiency Men 2005” exhibited in the show the Punta della Dogana in Venice biennale is really an imitation of the mummies of the Buddhist yogis found in several places from Japan to Tibet. One such mummy is also found in India.  Artist’s title ‘Efficiency Man’ too suggests that it is nothing but a sheer imitation of Buddhist Mummies.

The practice of self-mummification — which is a form of suicide has been in practice for a long time but in 20th it was banned .  Self-mummification is long process that takes almost ten years. The actual practice was first pioneered by a priest named Kuukai over 1000 years ago at the temple complex of Mount Koya, in Wakayama prefecture.  Kuukai was founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which is the sect that came up with the idea of enlightenment through physical punishment. There were three steps in the process of self-mummification that Kuukai proposed, and the full process took upwards of ten years to lead to a successful mummification.
The first step is a change of diet. The priest was only allowed to eat nuts and seeds that could be found in the forests surrounding his temple; this diet had to be stuck to for a 1000 day period, a little under three years. During this time, the priest was to continue to subject himself to all sorts of physical hardship in his daily training. The results were that the body fat of the priest was reduced to nearly nothing, thus removing a section of the body that easily decomposes after death.
In the second stage, the diet became more restrictive. The priest was now only allowed to eat a small amount of bark and roots from pine trees. This had to be endured for another 1000 day period, by the end of which the priest looked like a living skeleton. This also decreased the overall moisture contained in the body; and the less fluid left in the body, the easier to preserve it.

Tetsumon Kai, Buddhist Mummy

Towards the end of this 1000 day period, the priest also had to start to drink a special tea made from the sap of the urushi tree. This sap is used to make laquer for bowls and furniture; but it is also very poisonous for most people. Drinking this tea induced vomenting, sweating, and urination, further reducing the fluid content of the priest’s body. But even more importantly, the build up of the poison in the priest’s body would kill any maggots or insects that tried to eat the priest’s remains after death, thus protecting it from yet another source of decay.
The last step of the process was to be entombed alive in a stone room just big enough for a man to sit lotus style in for a final 1000 day period. As long as the priest could ring a bell each day a tube remained in place to supply air; but when the bell finally stopped, the tube was removed and the tomb was sealed. When the tomb was finally opened, the results would be known. Some few would be fully mummified, and immediately be raised to the rank of Buddha; but most just rotted and, while respected for their incredible endurance, were not considered to be Buddhas.

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Responses

  1. totally stupid way throwing his life away.


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