X-Message-Number: 16631
From: "Jan Coetzee" <>
Subject: Mummified monk's eternal meditation
Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001 11:59:34 -0400

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Mummified monk's eternal meditation


Dau, Vietnam - Vietnamese scientists have been given the go-head to save from 
destruction the unique mummy of a 17th century Buddhist monk whose perfectly 
preserved remains have mystified experts for years. 

The mummy of Vuc Khac Minh, who was head of the temple of Duc until his death in
1639, is in danger of deteriorating unless action is taken immediately, 
according to Professor Nguyen Lan Cuong, director of anthropology at Hanoi's 
Institute of Archaeology. 

And unless funds can be found to carry out the necessary preservation work, a 
unique example of a long-forgotten art of preservation will be lost forever, he 
told AFP. 

"Unlike the mummies of Egypt, Latin America or other regions of the world, the 
mummy of Vuc Kac Minh contains all his internal organs - brain, heart, liver, 
this is a unique example," said Cuong. 

The mummy is coated with red lacquer, the only example of its kind found in 
Vietnam, but has suffered from the ravages of time, climate and insects. 

"It is imperative to save it soon before it disappears," said Cuong. 

The mummy was found, preserved in the meditative "lotus" position, under a glass
shrine in the temple, situated in rice plantations some 30 kilometres from the 
Vietnamese capital. 

Aside from cracks in the cranium and legs, the mummy is reported to be 
surprisingly intact, a fact which continues to baffle scientists. 

"According to local traditions, Minh had decided to reach Nirvana through 
meditation and asked his disciples to leave him for 100 days of contemplation," 
said Cuong. 

After this time passed, "the monks of the pagoda opened the gate of a vault and 
found his lifeless, but preserved body". 

Without using any specific method of embalming, the body was then covered with a
silver foil and layers of lacquer before being placed in the temple's main 

"Radiological examinations of the mummy show that all of its bones and organs 
are still in the same place as at the moment of death, which makes its 
preservation for three centuries all the more mysterious," added Cuong. 

"The mummy, which weighs only seven kilogrammes, seems to have undergone a 
natural process of desiccation. We do not have other explanations because no 
embalming products seem to have been used," he said. 

Cuong, who has studied the mummy for more than 10 years, has finally been given 
the go-ahead by Vietnam's ministry of culture and Buddhist religious authorities
to begin restoration work. 

"We aim to restore the mummy on the spot, within the temple. We will insert into
the mummy a treatment intended to destroy live micro-organisms, then we will 
close the cracks using the original lacquer, which we have reconstituted. 

"But we need 360 million dong ($24 000) to finish the procedure," he said, 
adding that the funds were yet to be found. 

Cuong said the mummy is a "Vietnamese national treasure" and that it was out of 
the question to call on foreign capital to complete the preservation, despite 
several offers from overseas. 

But while the scientists continue to scratch their heads over the mummy's 
unscathed appearance, one man insists he has pinpointed the spiritual solution 
to the mystery. 

The temple's current head monk, Thich Thanh Nhung, says the preservation of his 
distant ancestor "is natural for Buddhists and illustrates the ability of the 
body to acquire a new level of grace through Buddhist teachings". - Sapa-AFP 


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