Sokushinbutsu is the name, a practice no longer observed or condoned by any Buddhist sect, self-mummification requires patience, dedication and a steely determination. Preparing for and living through your own death is an unpleasant process, truly a suicide slow.
It begins with 1000 days of withering. For just under three years only nuts and seeds are eaten, stripping any person of their body fat. Combined with this was a punishing exercise regime. After the initial thousand days the next stage was employed.
The next thousand days saw a shift, the only permitted solid consumption was a mixture of bark and roots. Then came a new tincture, the sap of the Urushi tree. A substance used to lacquer bowls. When ingested it is poisonous, causing rapid evacuation of their bellies and bowels. This was not the main purpose though, whilst it did test fortitude there was a practical use. Three years of imbibing that deathly sap would spread poison through the whole body, tainting all reaches. The aim was to make the body so poisonous that no maggot or other animal would consume it after death. In turn, preventing any rot or deterioration after death.
Then the final living days. Now withered and poisoned the monk would enter a chamber barely larger than themselves. The lotus position would be assumed and they locked themselves in, physically unable to move from that position. The lone connection with the outside world was a tube delivering them air and a lone bell. There was no sustenance.
If a monk was alive one day, they would ring the bell to inform the outside world. The next day, the same process. The day of their death they would not ring the bell. Those outside would wait another day. Presuming the deceased monk was still dead the next day the air tube would be removed.
Then came the next 1000 days. The monk would remain entombed for the duration, death would take its toll and hopefully the body would become mummified. One the last 1000 days reached a conclusion the tomb would be opened by a monk who would determine whether or not the mummification was successful. If it was the body was announced as a Buddha and the body moved to an area in the temple from which it could be viewed and inspire the aspiring Buddhists. Were the body to simply decompose then it was not a Buddha but regardless it was revered and admired for the resolve and spirit shown by the monk.
Sokushinbutsu was long thought to be folklore until mummified buddhists found in July 2010 shone reality on the situation. The long and torturous nine-year journey from life to death was rarely a successful one; of the hundreds of Buddhists which engaged in the practice, 24 successfully mummified corpses have been so far discovered. All have been dated to the height of this practice, the early 19th Century.
All of this may seem foreign but it was all taken in pursuit of enlightenment. A pursuit of understanding and comfort, two qualities many struggle to find in their daily lives. For them the process was an honour and a privilege. They would have taken pride in this practice, the dedication they showed was admirable. To stare at the prospect at death and head towards it. It must have taken great courage to pass through that suicide slow.