04 April 2011
In 2008 I was writing a short story called "The Man from Heaven" about a Buddhist monk who tried to prevent the First World War in 1889, warning the world leaders of the impending disaster, but had an accident and entered suspended animation. He wakes up in the present day and becomes a minor media sensation for a while, then, realizing not only he failed to prevent the war but that the world did not come to an end, must struggle to adapt to a world radically different from his own. After writing 19 pages and realizing that I was less than a quarter done with the story, it became apparent that this would not be a "short" story by any stretch of the imagination. An 80 page story occupies a sort of limbo. It is too short to be published on its own, but too long for the few remaining literary magazines to accept it. I supposed it could be adapted to a film script, but seeing as how the only audience the studios care about is 15 to 30 year old men who only like tits and explosions, no one would green-light a script about a 19th century Buddhist monk trying to adapt to 21st century life (not to say tits and explosions are bad, just that they are different from confused monks wandering around searching for answers to troubling questions). For that reason the project was scrapped.
Anyway, the idea for the story came from this real life example, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, a high level Siberian Lama whose body has been preserved for over 80 years (other wiki warning!). In 1927 Lama Itigilov told his monks to perform funeral rituals on him. He warned of the coming of communism and for all the monks to flee Russia (Stalin would try to exterminate them). One source I read says he told the monks that in 100 years (or 75 years, according to other sources) he would awaken from his hibernation to save the world, just like the fictional monk from "The Man from Heaven." Whether or not he's coming back, 84 years without any sign of decay with no form of preservation is amazing.
Stories of miraculous preservation are well known from the lives of saints. The bodies of some saints remain in very good condition without any preservation for centuries, despite being subjected to conditions that should rapidly decay a body (exposure to mositure, air, or chemicals). What makes Lama Itigilov interesting is that his skin remains soft, his joints flexible, and liquid blood remains in his veins. A medical examination revealed his body to be similar to that of a person who died between 12 and 36 hours ago (judging from the few available pictures, his moustache seems to be missing though, and his nose has deflated). His body's proteins have not denatured in any way.
The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, died in a hospital in Zion, Illinois in 1981. The doctors allowed his followers to perform the traditional three day Tibetan death rituals in the hotel room. During that time, while the Karmapa's body was in lotus posture, his heart remained warm, just like in a living person. The chief of staff at the hospital, Radulfo Sanchez, admits that there is no medical explanation for the Karmapa's heart remaining at body temperature for three days after death. When his body was cremated the Karmapa's two perfectly healthy dogs died and a rainbow appeared over the monestary where the cremation was being performed. Tibetan tradition speaks of the rainbow body, a body made of pure light which only those who reach highest enlightnment assume following the death of their physical body. The ranibow body is completely indestructable, and some say it can even be constituted into a new physical body at will (perhaps as Jesus did during the resurrection?). Yogananda's guru Sri Yukteswar said the same thing in Autobiography of a Yogi (Chapter 43: The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar), that perfected beings possess bodies of light that can materialize and dematerialize at will.
Is Lama Itigilov really in a state of suspended animation? Will he awaken in 2027 to save the world, or did he realize the rainbow body, leaving his earthly form intact merely as a relic, a symbol to demonstrate to the world the veracity of the path of spirit? We'll have to wait 16 years to find out. In the mean time we can watch this clip from Al Jazeera of all sources. Runs 3 minutes 19 seconds.