Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Are our bodies transparent vessels or are they dense and as impenetrable as iron?
Once courage was required to visit the St. Paul Science Museum.
Between 1937 and 1963, the Science Museum in St. Paul occupied the Merriam mansion, an imposing heap of a building at the intersection between Cedar and University Avenue. The mansion stood incongruously on a hill sloped and elongated like the skull of Mayan princess about a hundred years west of the capitol dome. There were no trees anywhere near the great outcropping of the mansion and it was alone on the hill; the other great houses that had once surrounded the structure had been demolished, swallowed by an impoverished neighborhood lapping up against the state buildings and their mall.
The mansion was a Romanesque castle, carved from tan sandstone quarried from the hills overlooking Duluth and, once, the hulking structure had been pink and glittering with embedded silica, but, after eighty years, the building had darkened and been stained by the grime from the city and, when I ventured into the place as a little boy, the walls and great round tower were black as pitch. The building’s entry was a yawning round mouth, deeply shadowed, and echoing another opening in the facade, a grotto on the third story that looked like a huge half-open eye. In that grotto opening, there was a curtain of glass on which a furry mastodon had been painted. I recall that the cave through which visitors entered the museum was very dark and there was a niche to one side, a cave within the cave, in which a hideous idol lurked, squatting in sempiternal darkness. The inside of the museum was also gloomy with cases full of oddities: forlorn stuffed birds, African masks, skeletons of various beasts and fossil animals, trays packed with giant iridescent beetles, strange weapons and religious artifacts. The exhibits were all scrambled together in the dark corridors and I recall that the place was maze in which all paths led inevitably to an illumined dais in a chapel decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphs. A mummy rested in a glass sarcophagus, surrounded by people poring over the corpse as if it were a precious gem or a page of holy writ.
My brother was terrified of the mummy and what it implied about human life. I forced myself to approach the glass casket and peer into the mummies’ flattened, leathery face. The dead man looked as if he were immeasurably heavy, as if he had been forged in fire from iron, his head like a meteorite fallen into the deserts of the Sahara, burned and pitted with shriveled black lips half-open to reveal yellow teeth like kernels of sweet corn. The mummy signified that the human body was the heaviest and densest thing on earth, a pool of black flesh poured like molten metal into a man-shaped form.
My brother refused to look at the mummy. No amount of cajoling would persuade him to approach that terrible, weighty presence in its glass box. Of course, my brother is now a successful physician and so, I suppose, he has made his peace with that preserved corpse in its crystal of glass and light.
The St. Paul Science Museum was nothing like other museums that I had visited. It was not like the art institute in Minneapolis with it high ceilings and beautiful pictures – everything in the science museum had come from the darkness and was hideous. It bore no resemblance to the Museum of Natural History that I had visited in New York City when I was four or five, a place where I had seen little stone globes shaped like petrified fruit, the eggs of dinosaur excavated from the Gobi desert. The Science Museum was a gloomy, claustrophobic cave full of horrors all culminating in the spectacle of the mummified corpse in his dim Egyptian chapel. The place seemed immemorial to me, ancient, an exposed geological feature above the skyline of St. Paul, then dominated by a stubby bank skyscraper and a weather ball that flashed different colors to forecast rain or snow or sunshine. But in 1964, the museum was emptied of its curiosities and treasures and demolished. A government administration building that is singularly without charm, an utterly unimpressive structure was erected on its site. The mummy was moved to another structure that is now a church of Scientology and, finally, transported to the new science museum on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River on Kellogg across from the Excel Center where rock and roll concerts and hockey tournaments are staged. The new science museum is nothing like the eroded boulder of the first museum on the hill next to the Capitol. It is all one open space with exhibits on broad balconies cantilevered around a large atrium. Most of the exhibits are interactive – visitors push levers or twist knobs and everything seems to be exposed to the eye. The dead man from Egypt has been exiled into a warren of small glass cases and is now displayed as an artifact in the history of Minnesota museums and not as a specimen significant in himself. Unless you know where to find him and make a special excursion among the old glass displays of bugs and birds, you might miss him entirely.
In cold February, after the Oscars, there is a dearth of news. The wars in the Middle East continue without respite but they are faraway and no longer concern us. The presidential campaigns are a year in the future. So what is there to write about? Unidentified drones were sighted hovering above the Eiffel Tower, Hotel des Invalides and other landmarks in Paris. In Toronto, a 33 foot long tunnel, neatly framed in concrete was discovered beneath a park adjacent to facilities where the PanAm games will be conducted this summer – in the tunnel, there was the Canadian equivalent of a Buddy poppy with a rosary displayed on the subterranean wall; otherwise, the mysterious shaft was completely empty. Mystery drones and a mystery tunnel. And, of course, the macabre sells newspapers – hence, the brief prominence of stories about a mummified Japanese sage sealed within a gilded statue of the Buddha.
The sarcophagus for the so-called Drenthe (or Drents) mummy is unassuming – a life-size statue of a Buddhist monk meditating, hands resting on his knees and legs drawn up under his body in lotus position. The monk’s head is shaved and his features are utterly prosaic and formulaic, not a portrait but a standardized religious artifact, competently, if unimaginatively modeled in paper-mache coated with gold-colored paint. (In fact, the Buddhist’s image is a portrait of the Kobo Daishi aka Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism whose adventures are revealed below). It is the kind of object owned by a thousand museums, the sort of artifact that one passes in a gallery without so much as a second glance: old, conventionally pious, uninspired. But, the statue’s remarkable characteristic is concealed within – a human corpse around which the paper-mache shell seems to have been molded.
Media accounts were misleading. In order for the dead man in the reliquary to acquire significance as "news," there had to be a discovery. And so, pictures were published showing the statue on the tray of a CAT scan imaging device, knees rigidly pointed upward as the gilded monk was pushed through the invisible storm of x-rays flooding the scan’s white tunnel. This procedure was undertaken at the conclusion of six month exhibition at the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands, a traveling show featuring no fewer that 38 well-preserved mummies of various kinds, 28 preserved human corpses and 10 embalmed animals. (The Drents Museum has a permanent collection that is already macabre and corpse-rich – there are a half-dozen prehistoric bog-bodies on display in the museum, including the sullen Yde girl, her skull a black tulip bulb too rotted to blossom, but with features forensically reconstructed to show a morose adolescent with a high forehead and luxuriant red hair.) The CAT scan of the oriental mummy, conducted as a public relations stunt, produced a compelling image of what was already known to exist inside the gilded sarcophagus – the skeleton of a man with his head bent forward and legs crossed, perfectly articulated, with spine and ribs rigidly upright in the torso of the statue. These images were circulated to the press under the hype that the mummy inside the relic was a "surprise," or a "shocking find" – a characterization that was totally false since, of course, the mummy-case was only on display in the exhibition because it was understood to contain a preserved corpse.
Probes were made through the mummy’s sarcophagus and it was found that the corpse was lacking its internal organs and, apparently, stuffed with scrolls on which words had been inscribed in ink, Buddhist sutras dated by their calligraphic style to the 14th century. The dead body was said to be that of an abbot named Linquan. Some of the publicity surrounding the corpse suggested that the dead man was "self-mummified," his body preserved by an obscure process of self-torture called Sokushinbutsu. (Whether this is true seems doubtful to me – the corpse’s internal organs had been removed and the Sokushinbusu process does not involve the extraction of internal organs.) For a few days, media reports about the "mysterious mummy" proliferated. By this time, the traveling display of dead bodies had decamped to the Hungarian Museum of Natural History in Budapest, the group of peripatetic corpses joined by some local relatives, mummified remains from the crypts in the Hungarian city of Vac. The name of the exhibition is "Mummy World" – that is, Mumia Vilage in Hungarian.
Pictures of the CAT scans published to promote the story were beautiful in an eerie way. The dead man’s bones were represented as a network of resplendent gold opacities. The x-rays piercing the scuffed and faded paper-mache sarcophagus painted the dead man’s skull and the lovely round cage of his ribs as emitting a brilliant yellow light. Inside its shell, the dead body seemed to have turned into a kind of light, a structure built from the most precious amber irradiated into a phosphorescent glow.
What is Sokushinbutsu or self-mummification?
Like many features of Japanese culture, Sokushinbutsu was imported from China, a species of Buddhist piety given a particularly fanatical spin by its practitioners in Japan. Around the 9th century in the common era, a Shinto priest named Kukai traveled to China. Kukai, posthumously revered as Kobo Daishi, was a mountain ascetic, a holy man familiar with practices of self-mortification employed by Shinto saints to achieve ecstatic states – some of these men starved themselves or spent hours standing in the cold blast of icy waterfalls to achieve rapture. Kukai learned Buddhist doctrine in China and, upon returning to central Japan and his hermitage among the three sacred mountains of Dewa, became an effective missionary for the new faith. The Japanese stand in the same relation to the older and more sophisticated cultures of China as the Romans stood to the Greeks – they enthusiastically adopted Chinese customs that mutated, however, when applied to existing Japanese religious practices. Kukai is something of a progenitor and culture-hero in Japan: he is said to have invented the syllabary used to transcribe the Japanese language, that is the kanji, and he imported tea and the practice of tea-drinking to his home islands. He built reservoirs and supervised imperial civil engineering projects and is said to have made many wonderful inventions.
Back in his home monastery at Mount Koya, Kukai constructed a temple complex in the form of the womb and the diamond mandalas. The kind of Buddhism prevalent in China around 800 A.D. was a complex Tantric version of the religion, the sort of Buddhism that now survives (to the extent permitted by Chinese authorities) in the Himalayan fastnesses of Tibet. Kukai commissioned the construction of a great image of the Vairocana Buddha, the embodiment of ultimate truth, in his temple complex. But he had begun his religious strivings as a Shinto monk and Kukai was not willing to deny or set aside the old dispensation. His faith was syncretic, Shugendo or Shingon Buddhism, a combination of Taoism, Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism), and Shinto practices. Kukai did not deny the power of the ancient Shinto kami, the nature spirits worshiped in shrines scattered around the holy mountains. Instead, he welcomed the manifold kami into his version of Buddhism. Thus, Kukai’s Shingon Buddhism involved not only meditation, but mountain-trekking, the worship of sacred trees and waterfalls, pilgrimages to remote mountain shrines, and all manner of physical austerities. Kukai preached a complicated system of mediation involving four stages of renunciation of physical desire, the four jhanas, followed meditation offering its adepts access to "the dimension of nothingness," then, "the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception,", then, at last, nirvana defined as the complete cessation of perception of the outer world and feeling.
Kukai felt death upon him. He ceased eating, pronouncing words to this effect: "Soon I will become a mass of corruption. Why should I add another few mouthfuls to that corruption?" Kukai sat in a lotus position awaiting his death. Light emerged from his body and surrounded him with a glowing halo and a sweet fragrance emanated from his corpse. A tomb was built around him. When it was opened a decade later, Kukai was found still meditating in lotus position, his skin supple and clear, only his hair and fingernails a bit longer than when he had last been seen alive. Whether he was dead or, merely, in a state of perfected meditation was not clear to his apostles.
Although Kukai apparently achieved self-mummification without any particularly arduous efforts, the monk’s death impressed his followers. They developed a protocol of self-mortification competent to produce a body that would self-mummify upon death. This technique required a decade of the most rigorous discipline, 3000 days of ascetic practice. For the first 1000 days, the monk took very little food and exercised continuously, exhausting himself by running and ceaseless walking – the purpose of this first millenium of days was to melt from his body all fat and reduce himself to bare muscle and bone. In the next 1000 days, the monk meditated in lotus position, moving very little and consuming only berries, a few grains of dried rice, and nuts. This period of rigorous dieting was followed by even more extreme fasting – in the final millenium of days, the meditating monk was fed only a few droplets of water a day as well as evergreen needles and certain withered roots. If the monk survived this second 1000 day fast, the worst was yet to come. Tea made with sap from the Chinese lacquer plant (toxicodendron verniciflurum) was funneled into his mouth in copious draughts. This poisonous tea caused violent vomiting and diarrhea, resulting in the monk’s complete dehydration. The sap of the lacquer plant is used to enamel woods and results in a shiny surface that is impervious to decay and that repels insects – the Japanese call this toxin urushi and this substance is the active, rash-producing agent in poison sumac and poison ivy. A pit was, then, dug in the vicinity of the temple and the dehydrated monk, a heap of bones and leathery skin, was set in a wooden casket just large enough to hold him upright in a meditating position. The casket was buried in the earth with a string attached to tiny bell mounted on a post above the entombed monk; the string connected to the bell ran through a small breathing tube that emerged on the surface of the earth. The monk rang the bell to signify whether he was still conscious. When the bell had not been heard for two days, the breathing tube was removed and the bell taken down so that the grave could be completely sealed.
Ten years later, the abbot and the monks of the temple would gather to disinter the holy man who attempted self-mummification. The earth would be removed from the casket and its lid lifted so that the corpse could be inspected. If the dead man was preserved incorruptible in his tomb, it was announced that he had achieved nirvana and that he was to be revered as a Buddha. If the corpse showed signs of decay, the abbot pronounced that the dead monk’s efforts, although greatly meritorious, had been in vain. The decomposed body would be buried again with the understanding that the monk’s soul was not yet liberated from earthy matter, but that, perhaps, another round of reincarnation might result in him becoming a Buddha. The mummified corpse of the monk, declared incorruptible and, therefore, a Buddha was dressed in scarlet ceremonial vestments, mounted on a throne, and exposed to the faithful as an object of worship. Although several hundred Buddhist monks embarked on the lonely and terrible project of Sokushinbutsu only 28 of those worthies achieved successful self-mummification. Some 17 self-mummified monks are displayed enthroned in various temples and shrines among the massive cryptomeria trees on the flanks of Mount Yugon. Images of those monks show formidable-looking blackened skeletons, their sooty skulls glistening with what appears to be some sort of black enamel or veneer. The dead men wear pointed crowns something like Cardinals of the Catholic church and their bony bodies are covered by lavish red silk robes.
Some accounts of the process of self-mummification omit the technical details – that is, the fairy-tale grotesquerie of the three millenia of a thousand days each. It certainly seems unlikely that anyone could possibly survive for ten years on the diet proscribed in manuals explaining the ceremony of Sokushinbutsu. Furthermore, the springs providing water to the monasteries on Mount Yugon, where the process was perfected, have been found to be copiously laden with arsenic. It is possible that the arsenic naturally embalmed the monks even before they died. In any event, Sokushinbutsu became emblematic of Buddhist renunciation of the world in its most dramatic form.
The authentic Shakyamuni Buddha, of course, would have frowned on the practice of Sokushinbutsu and disavowed its adepts. Siddhartha Gautama tortured his flesh savagely before achieving enlightenment but, then, renounced that practice in favor of the so-called "Middle Way" – that is, a path of moderation that eschewed both hedonism and the austerities of the Oriental saddhu or holy man. Japanese Buddhism, particularly of the species practiced by the ferocious Shingon sect, seems to have misunderstood the Buddhist message and misconstrued devotional images of the Sage emaciated by fasting before he achieved knowledge of the Middle Way and his enlightenment.
In the Lahore Museum in Pakistan, there is a famous Budhharupa, that is, devotional image of Siddhartha Gautama practicing austerities. The carved rock statue dates from the 3rd century and shows the fasting or emaciated Buddha. This art work is called the Gandhara sculpture and it has something of the status of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Asian world – there is a brisk mail order business in sales of small replicas and people, apparently, buy the icon for home devotional use. The image shows Buddha with a mane of beard, leonine and motionless, his torso a xylophone-like cage of ribs above the bony prominences of his knees. This image of the Skeleton Buddha seems to have been popular in Japan and, possibly, influenced the practice of self-mummification.
And Japanese art has always delighted in the grotesque. A particularly robust pictorial tradition in Japanese art is to portray the 16 Arhats or Buddhist saints who were with Siddhartha Gautama when he achieved his paranirvana or earthly death. The Japanese depict these Arhats as toothless ancients, shriveled sages with a few wiry pigtail-shaped hairs on their naked skulls, their bodies articulated skeletons held together by a few rags of loincloth. The Arhats are like resuscitated corpses, zombies, and they, perhaps, also provided a pictorial tradition that influenced those who attempted self-mummification.
In some ways, the practice of Sokushinbutsu is an aesthetic discipline. The idea seems to be to transform a living body into a kind of perfected work of art, a corpse glistening with the same enamel used to produce the resplendent lacquerware from which the emperor dined at his Imperial Court.
Imperial law prohibited the practice of Sokushinbutsu, probably around 1800. It would be nice to think that this was a gesture protective of human dignity, a law prohibiting a particularly repulsive form of religious fanaticism. But, in fact, self-mummification was banned as part of a campaign directed against the Shingon Buddhists in general. As Japan became increasingly militaristic, religious practices emphasized the deity of the Emperor. The Emperor’s status as a living god was important to Shinto adherents and the Shingon school of Buddhism was suspect because it was too Chinese, too syncretic, too influenced by Tantric Buddhism, Taoism, and, even, elements of Hindu practice. As Japan’s imperial pretensions expanded, Shinto was enshrined as the State religion, the patriotic worship of the ancient kami abounding in the Japanese islands and, for this reason, measures were taken to de-sanctify the Shingon temples and control the practices of the monks residing in their associated monasteries.
Why are mummies fascinating to us?
Probably, I think, because a mummy occupies an indefinite threshold ontological status. Normally, a thing is either alive or dead. Mummies seems to be dead things that are somehow partially alive – they have retained their skin, their human shape, their ears and soft tissue and their hair. For this reason, a mummy is a creature of the twilight threshold between life and death – it is a corpse that remains sufficiently lifelike that we fear (or desire) that it might come to life. This is the source of a small child’s terror of mummies displayed in museums – the corpse looks sufficiently like a living human being, albeit one much disfigured, that the child senses that the creature might suddenly open its withered, leathery eyes and gaze out at us.
I believe that all cultures pass through a phase in which they worship the dead and regard mummified human beings as oracles, as vessels that communicate directly with the kingdom of the underworld, as messengers, as it were, between the living and those who have departed this earthly realm. Before the Egyptians buried their mummies, my guess is that they revered them, put them on thrones and consulted with them, whispering to the corpses in dark temples and interpreting the responses that they imagined that the mummies vouchsafed to them as prophecies and oracles.
In the Andes, I have seen great outcroppings of volcanic granite carved into grottos replete with throne niches where the sacred mummies of the Incas were worshiped. Huge stones, larger than yachts, have been smoothed into sensuous forms, simulating waterfalls and the holy mountains, and libations poured into channels on those rocks would have made them throb and vibrate as if with the living pulse of blood and, in the wombs of those stones, in hidden shafts and channels, the ancient mummy bundles were set between flickering lamps so that they could be revered and their ancient knowledge transmitted to men.
The Mixtec Indians in Mexico smoked the corpses of their dead rulers over open fires, cooking the corpses until all the grease ran out of them and they were transformed, like over-roasted rotisserie chickens, into leathery mummy bundles, hard and imperishable. The mummy-bundles were very wise and great war lords consulted them for advice. Mixtec codices recount the stories of military campaigns and cities destroyed on the counsel of malicious mummies. The Nuttal codex depicts the death of Lord 12 Motion, apparently by suicide. However, later images show Lord Two Rain 20 Jaguars, who is six years old, in solemn consultation with Lord 12 Motion. The Mixtecs kept scrupulous chronological records, dating events with calender notations, and, at the time of this meeting, Lord 12 Motion must have been more 146 years old. Of course, Lord 12 Motion was a mummy-bundle at that time and, indeed, another codex page shows him bathing in what appears to be sand – apparently, his body was desiccated by embalming in hot sand. Mixtec mummies were kept in sacred grottos at Chalcatongo, a holy site in the uplands of central Mexico. Priests dressed like a famous, ancient prophetess, Lady 9 Grass, ministered to the mummies and spoke for them through masks carved to represent skulls.
In January 2015, Russian authorities in Siberia arrested a man who had stolen the corpse of a Buddhist monk from a Mongolian cave and offered the mummy to the highest bidder on E-Bay. Pictures show the body hunched in a lotus position, wispy strands of hair decorating the man’s scalp. The mummy is the color of moldering cheese, spotted with mildew and mold on its flanks, but, otherwise, remarkably well-preserved. Indeed, the monk’s state of preservation is so uncanny that local Buddhists deny that the man is dead. Rather, they say, that he has achieved Tukdam, that is, an extreme meditative state in which the man’s metabolism has slowed so much that there is no measurable pulse or breathing – in this state, the monk trembles on the very brink of becoming a Buddha and achieving the Rainbow Body. Protected by the State forensic institute, Buddhist monks protect their meditating brother and pray for his continued well-being and progress toward perfection. This is not mere idle superstition – the Dalai Lama’s personal physician, Dr. Barry Kerzin, after examining the body, has declared that the monk is not dead but, instead, meditating. In shrine near Ulan Bator, there is another monk who has achieved Tukdam and continues to meditate in lotus position, motionless and shrivelled. On You-Tube, there is a Tibetan video showing this saint – he has the blurred, indistinct features of most mummies, a flattened nose, eyes like crevasses and a mouthful of yellow teeth. Dressed in full regalia, he occupies a throne. Worshipers approach him and shake his hand. Some of them, rather impudently, I thought, rub his bald head for good luck. This fellow has been in Tukdam for 75 years.
On Mount Koya, in Japan, Kukai is similarly meditating at the center of an elaborate mausoleum. The tomb is located in the Okunoin cemetery, a mossy hillside dense with stone monuments, classical Japanese Tor or gates, terraces of sculpted stone shaded by 800 year old cryptomeria trees. Small, knee-high, sculptures of Kukai meditating are swathed in a red shawls against the cold and damp and there are more than 200,000 graves on the sacred mountain. A pesticide company has reared a large monument in honor of the insects destroyed by its poisons – good Buddhists revere all living beings. Kukai’s tomb is surrounded by walkways lit by hundreds of lanterns, some of them said to have been kept burning since the monk’s death. Teams of monks tend the lanterns and groom the graves and the oldest, and most sanctified of these holy men are responsible for daily feeding and clothing Kukai (Kobo Daishi). Although he is said to be mummified, Kobo Daishi is alleged by many to be incommunicative, silent, and withered only because he is in a deep meditative state. Indeed, his followers believe that he will rise from his trance when the Maitreya Buddha is reincarnated and comes to save the world.
Kobo Daishi’s attendants are also vigilant for signs that their teacher has entered the final stage of meditation – the achievement of the Rainbow Body. Just before a saint becomes a Buddha, his body becomes transparent and emits an aura of brilliantly colored light. The light flashes upward above the saint’s body and transfigures the flesh to the extent that the holy man can no longer be seen. After pulsing with light for a few days, the Rainbow Body subsides and, sometimes, no trace of the Buddha is found. In other cases, disciples have discovered a few broken fingernails and a wisp of hair where the Buddha was previously meditating, locked in his lotus position at the time that he achieved the Rainbow Body.
In recent times, several Buddhist saints are said to have reached the threshold of nirvana and, then, signaled from that place with rays of rainbow-colored light. Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen, a Tibetan monk and Bon master, achieved the Rainbow Body in 1933 (or, possibly, 1935). The Buddhist nun, Ayu Khandru, spent many years in complete darkness, the so-called "dark retreat" – when she died, the gloom around her was transfigured with brilliant apparitions of colored light. This happened in 1953.
So we are confronted with this paradox: a mummy seems to us be something that is rigid, impenetrable, hard as stone, the embodiment of death as a transformation of a living entity into a thing. And, yet, throughout history, in many cultures, mummies have been imagined as beings of uncertain ontological status – possibly alive although resting in a profound meditative state. The black, withered mass of a mummy, the hard stone that death deposits where there was once a living thing, may be imagined as living, transparent, a porous being through which a great, vibrant light pours into the world.
In the Scientific American published in March 2015, an interesting, if speculative, article considers institutional evolution. Daniel Dennett and Deb Roy are the authors of the article entitled "Our Transparent Future". The essay is illustrated by striking images of transparent humanoid forms shuffling about under a starry sky. Dennett and Roy contend that 543 million years ago, the chemistry of the Cambrian seas suddenly changed to become transparent to the sunlight. Before that chemical development, the seas were a dense, microbial broth teeming with blind life – "all perception was proximal – by contact or by sensed differences in chemical concentration or pressure waves..." When the seas suddenly cleared, and "daylight flooded in, eyesight became the best trick in the sea." Eyes rapidly evolved in the life forms swimming in these seas and a kind of arm’s race developed between predator and prey resulting in a "great diversification" in survival strategies for camouflage, locomotion, and perception.
Dennett and Roy’s thesis is that the "Cambrian explosion (of diversification of life) provides an excellent parallel for understanding...the spread of digital technology." The information sea has suddenly become translucent. The world wide web and the internet have resulted in "a media inundation: transparency. We can now see further, faster, and more cheaply and easily than ever before – and we can be seen." Neither government nor corporate institutions nor individual can reliably maintain secrets. Accordingly institutions must evolve to survive in an atmosphere in which there is no secrecy, no privacy, and no expectation that proprietary knowledge can be preserved. The army of bluish translucent blobs marching across the darkling plain represents the state of humankind in the 21st century – our bodies have become vessels transparent to perception; the interiors of our churches, our bedrooms, our armories are all visible to the outside world. The translucent Rainbow Body is among us, but as a pitiless transparency.
I mentioned the concept of self-mummification and Sokushinbutsu to my 20 year-old daughter. She surprised me: somehow, she knew all about the practice, including details as to the "poison ivy" tea and the three millenia of fasting. Twenty years ago, only people with access to the largest libraries, or those who had traveled in the mountainous districts of Japan (and spoke Japanese) would have known about this ritual. The protocol for self-mummification was hidden in old books, obscure scholarly articles, printed resources that you might not stumble upon in a lifetime of reading. My daughter could tell me all about Sokushinbutsu. How did she know about this subject? She had watched a You-Tube video on her computer featuring several British comedians participating in a quiz show. The quiz-master, who is also a famous British comedian, asked the panel about the practice, referred to a Buddhist devotional manuals, and made jokes about pictures of mummified Buddhist monks. That was her source of information, the enormous body of light in which we live and in which information propagates endlessly at the speed of light.