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2.3 Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan (2005)


In Taiwan there are a number of cultic objects, called “whole-body relics” 全身舍利 or “flesh-body bodhisattvas” 肉身菩薩, which are purportedly the mummified remains of holy people. In this article we describe six and examine the historical backgrounds and cults of two.

Reference: Gildow, Douglas and Marcus Bingenheimer. 2002. “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan: Two Case Studies.” Asia Major. Third Series, Volume 15, Part 2. [This journal was actually published in spring 2005. Because it appears in what is technically “part 2” of a 2002 journal, its listed year of publication is three years prior to its actual year of publication.]

Related Links:

  1. Download the full article.
  2. My webpage 2.2, with a related article.
  3. More photographs of these and other mummies from the website of “philosophy dude.”
  4. Links to two related publications (articles 2006b and 2006c) on Buddhist mummies on the website of Marcus Bingenheimer.
  5. My webpage 3.4, a partial translation of a Japanese article on Chinese Buddhist mummies.
  6. My webpage 5.1, a photo album of Asian mummies.

Asia Major


2.3.1 Errata
2.3.2 Suggestions and Comments


2.3.1 Errata


Mistaken Text

Corrected Text

91 Note 17: Ultimately Ultimately



2.3.2 Suggestions and Comments


Original Text

Suggested Change or Comment

Para. 2, last sentence: “Gilded whole-body relics have predominated in…ungilded mummies in…”

This proposition is an impression, not a strong quantitative claim. We could make a quantitative claim if we had the following: (1) an intensional definition for “Buddhist mummy,” (what constitutes “mummy,” what constitutes “Buddhist,” how to deal with unverified/unverifiable accounts and claims), (2) more thorough data from a greater range of potential sources (including, for instance, large numbers of Chinese gazetteers), and (3) quantitative data on the ratio of gilded to ungilded mummies.


P 1, L 8: “from or had connections with areas west of China”

My sense is that there are/were a lot of mummies in Sichuan and Fujian. Might there be a connection between the number of mummies in a region and its burial customs?

          Perhaps as remnants of what were originally distinct “cultures,” corpse disposal customs differ throughout China. In Sichuan, some Han people regularly practice corpse disposal in hillside cliffs. See 石鐘建. 1982. 「四川懸棺葬」. 民族學研究 4, 110-118. Sources also indicate that populations in Fujian prior to its sinification practiced cliffside “burials.”


P 2, L 6: “The same method of preservation was used”
This and many similar statements are, of course, based on textual representations. We have no hard evidence that this mummy ever existed, much less that lacquer was used to preserve it.


P 2, L 2-3: “the more common (crystallized) bone relics”

Actually I don’t know if shelizi 舍利子 are actually “crystallized” in any technical sense of the word.

 A better word: “crystalline,” meaning “of or like crystal; clear; transparent.”

P 3, L 9: “(1513–1623)”

Again, many of the dates one finds in Buddhist sources are open to question.


N. 16: The url

The exact url for the roushen pusa webpages changes. Go to the website and find the appropriate link; the photographs may help you find the link if you don’t read Chinese.


P 3, L 12: “His enshrinement as the first Buddhist whole-body relic”

More precisely, he was claimed to be the first roushen pusa; whether he actually should bear this title depends on one’s analysis of data such as that in my article on webpage 2.2.


P 1, L 2: “Kanjurwa Khutughtu”;
P 2, L 5: “Jangiya Khutughtu”

I don’t understand Mongolian romanization and have seen these names romanized in other ways.


P 2: On Puzhao

I visited the temple enshrining Puzhao’s mummy and talked with the temple caretaker, who as a child knew Puzhao. The caretaker claims Puzhao was a martial monk 武僧 from China.


P 1, L 6: “Studies on the other four…”

The study on Cihang 慈航, by Stefania Travagnin, is now available.


P 1, L 1: “moved to a hill slope off Wuxing Street”

The monk Shi Daoan, who helped prepare the mummies of both Cihang and Qingyan, was based in a monastery (Songshan si 松山寺) located on a hillside off Wuxing Street. 


Subtitle: “Qingyan’s Remains and the Haizang Monastery Today”

Change to “Qingyan’s Remains and Haizang Monastery Today”


Last P, L 5: “Mother Lin Yan”

I wonder why she is called “Mother Lin,” and why her spirit tablet is with her natal family at all. Did she divorce and not have a place for her spirit tablet? Break surname exogamy customs and marry a Lin? Have an uxorilocal marriage with her husband?


P 1, L 4: “for about one year’s time”

In Taiwanese, the term 對年 refers to the deceased’s one-year death-day anniversary. This day marks a ritual transition in the status of the deceased, and his displayed portrait may be moved, his paper soul-tablet incinerated, etc. In the ten kings of purgatory system, the deceased is said to pass through the court of the ninth king one year after death.


P 1, L 9: “bones that crystalize”

Change to “bones that crystallize” (the first spelling listed in Webster’s). And again, I don’t really know if “crystallize” is the proper technical term.

 See note to p. 90, above.

P 1, L 8: “first three years after their death”

Three years is the period of mourning prescribed in Confucianism. In the ten kings of purgatory system, the deceased passes through the court of the tenth king (to be reincarnated) after three years.


P 1, L 11: “did not have a consecration”

This is according to what Daoxiang thought.


N. 65

Change the first prepositional phrase of the first sentence to “According to Patricia Hunt-Perry and Lyn Fine, “All Buddhism is Engaged: Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing,” in Engaged Buddhism in the West, eds. Christopher S. Queen (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000) , p. 36, it was...” For this information, Hunt-Perry and Fine cite Stephen Batchelor, The Awakening of the West (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1994), p. 355.

P 3, L 1: “Why the decline in interest in whole-body relics?”

Change to “Why the decline in interest in these sources in whole-body relics?” There may have actually been an increase in interest in other sources.


N. 74: On cases of failed mummification.

By now (2008) I have heard from at least two reliable, unconnected informants that Shi Daoan, the monk who directed the mummification of Cihang and Qingyan, was a case of a failed mummification, and that after this failure his body was cremated and the remains placed in a stupa located behind his former monastery, Songshan si.


P 1, L 1: Yinshun (1906–)

Change to “Yinshun (1906–2005)


P 1, L 5: “a new orthodoxy”

“Orthodoxy” might be a bit strong. A lot of Buddhist seminaries instruct students using Yinshun’s writings. But other seminaries do not promote Yinshun’s interpretations, and there is no centralized Buddhist administration that enforces orthodoxy.


N. 87, L 5: “depending on the area of Taiwan”

“depending on the area of Taiwan and the age of the deceased at death


P 1, L 4: “the third flesh-body bodhisattva”

Notice that the author of this document either did not recognize as a roushen pusa, or was not aware of, the Kanjurwa Khutughtu (see page 93 in the article).


P 2: “At age seven” “At age 11 or 12”

Change to “At seven sui 歲” and “At 11 or 12 sui.”

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