- Sokushinbutsu is the ritual practice 
of Buddhist monks observing asceticism
to the point of death and entering
mummification while alive.

Over a thousand years ago, the monks
Liuquan and Kukai prepared for life
after death by eating only nuts, seeds,
and berries and drinking a poisonous tea
to make the body repulsive to maggots.

Then they folded themselves into the pose
of deep meditation. The bellows of the lungs
slowed, the flesh gradually lost moisture
and elasticity, and they were sealed
in a stone tomb for a thousand days.

If the body shriveled but kept intact,
that meant divinity had come to mold
the mortal form into a specimen of itself;
and it could sleep inside the statue of
the Buddha, there to be venerated as

a kind of ghost inside eternity's fragile
shell. If this is so, then what ghosts
reside in all the statuary we've created
from the beginning of time? When moon-
light passes through them will we see

their scroll of bones, their tree-like
veins? The general on his horse, the child
drinking from a fountain; the girl
in a simple dress, tilting her head
and holding a bird feeder in each hand.

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