Dutch scientists studying a Chinese statue of the Buddha have discovered that it contains the mummified body of a monk.

Last year scientists in Mexico discovered a statue of Christ that contained real human teeth, but this Buddha statue takes things one step further. The statue was exhibited at the Drents Museum in The Netherlands last year, before being taken to the Meander Medical Center for tests, including a full CT scan.

Mummy Found Inside Buddha Statue

The quest to become a living Buddha

Scientists working with Buddhist art expert Erik Brujin were surprised to discover that the statue contained the entire body of a monk, believed to be a Buddhist master called Liuquan, who was part of the Chinese Meditation School until his death around 1100 AD. The mummy inside the statue is the only example of such a practice that has been found.

As well as the CT scan, scientists carried out an endoscopy which revealed that the spaces previously occupied by organs had been filled with scraps of paper covered in ancient Chinese script. An as yet unidentified substance was also found in the thoracic and abdominal cavities.

It is thought that Liuquan may have mummified himself in an attempt to become a “living Buddha,” which can only be achieved after a life of incredible austerity. Some Buddhist thinkers believed that mummification was a highly advanced spiritual state, or a state of higher enlightenment, rather than death.

A grueling process

Japanese monks attempting the process would stick to a strict 1,000-day diet of water, seeds and nuts, and consequently a 1,000-day diet of roots, pine bark and tea. This special tea was made from the toxic sap of the Chinese lacquer tree, more commonly used to lacquer tableware, and the monks believed it would prevent them from being infected with maggots and bacteria.

The monks would then be sealed in a stone tomb to die, and fellow monks would wait another 1,000 days before entering the tomb. The process did not result in mummification every time, with unsuccessful monks left entombed while the bodies of those that had succeeded were taken to temples to be venerated.

The team are not sure whether successfully mummified monks would have had their organs removed, to be replaced with paper, but they believe that it is unlikely. The Buddha statue will be on display until May 2015 at the Hungarian National History Museum.