What mummified monks can tell about our values

What do we want in life? Can a dead body be more successful than a living man? Are our values strange or maybe perverted? It is tempting to move very fast in the wrong direction. This is the epitome of success without happiness or livelihood.

Who are the mummified monks?

One of the strangest things in Buddhist culture, especially in the Vajrayana, is the phenomenon of mummified monks.  For hundreds of years, some of the wisest and most advanced monks committed a strange suicide. After a long and complex cleansing, they went into a deep meditative state without eating or drinking. They sat motionlessly until their dead body became a beautiful mummy. This was considered an ascension and the mummified bodies were revered as great treasures. The self-mummification practice was banned in 20th century, yet some Buddhist monks still commit suicide for spiritual and political purposes.

The body of Loung Por Ruam in Thailand
This is the body of Loung Por Ruam in Thailand. He is not alone. There are similar treasures in Japan, Vietnam and other asian countries.

Anchor for dead man’s goals

You can use the image as an anchor for the dead man’s goals. In the psychological theory of ACT, the dead man’s goals are one of the common pitfalls. We often think “I want to stop worrying”, “make the pain stop”, “this is too much, let me rest”. While these are legitimate tactical goals, they cannot be a part of a good strategy.

A mummified corpse makes no mistakes, has no worries and feels no pain. It does not have to do anything and appears very peaceful, and in many eyes beautiful.

We, living and breathing people, experience pain and worry and doubts. Real people make mistakes. With some training, we can significantly reduce the suffering and the risks, but we cannot eliminate them completely. They are a part of being alive. And as long as we live, we should better have the living man’s goals.

SMART goals may be stupid

Productive people set smart or smarter goals. They are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Successful people also achieve those goals. Often only after achieving the goal, we understand the futility of our path.

When I was with Anna in Hiroshima, we decided to go to a near-by mountain. We arrived at a beautiful town with great ancient temples, and after a short walk through the town started the ascent. We had to wait twice in a very long queue for the cable car that went up. The top of the mountain was gorgeous, romantic, and breathtaking. Well worth the ascension. Only I realized that I preferred to spend the day in the town below, so after half an hour we went back. That was a long way. And a marker for a very simple thing: being successful in getting to a great place may take you away from the place where you really want to be.

Everybody wants to be rich and famous. Only rich and famous people commit suicide and suffer from depression. They tend to be highly successful and very unhappy. We rever them, envy them, and pity them. Their videos often serve as mummified evidence for their achievements.

Smart values

So what does modern science offer for our happiness? This is a recall exercise. Here are some ideas that I recalled in less than one minute. I recalled about 20 aspects but will mention only six. Clearly, typing takes much more time than recalling.

  • Choose workable goals. They do not have to be perfect, just good enough for us to live with them.
  • Diffuse from the results of our actions. We can choose the path we want to take. If it leads to a bad place, this is not necessarily an evidence against us. Possibly it was bad luck or timing.
  • Anchor positive things. If, however, the result was positive, consider using it as an anchor to motivate in future tasks.
  • Change the goals and values. We change and the world changes. Our goals and even our values need to adapt. Probably not on a daily basis, but once a month we may make small adjustments. Once a year we make bigger changes.
  • Enjoy the way. Our values should address the way we do things. The past cannot be changed, the future is unknown, and the present is changing all the time. We can choose the way we do things, and that way should reflect our values: wisdom, compassion, esthetics.
  • Leverage strengths. We have strengths that motivate us. Some need justice, others search for beauty, and yet others are driven by curiosity. We all have many strengths, just not equally developed. Use the strengths to motivate.

Buddhist discussion

Ancient Buddhists had a similar discussion. Approximately two thousand years ago. [I had a cool typo: two thousand tears ago. Quite a marker!] After the discussion, the Buddhist doctrine split into schools or three chariots. I will rephrase in my own words.

  • The small chariot takes you into your personal nirvana. It is painless and peaceful. A dead body can be as successful in it as a living man. For believers, the mummified monks are still alive.
  • The large chariot is big enough to save the entire universe. Through compassion, the practitioner tries to save others and saves himself as a byproduct.
  • The diamond chariot is strong and shiny. The practitioner collects assets (usually spiritual assets), hoping that these assets will make him strong enough (spiritually) for nirvana.

In a way, we can combine all three methods. However, as we are human, some methods will become dominant. And that’s OK if we enjoy the way and the destination.

Workable solutions

Our lives are imperfect and full of contradictions. We cannot solve all issues, but we can accept the basic human condition. What we ask is not just how the current situation can be improved, but also IS IT WORKABLE? No matter which good things happen to us, we can always hope for more. If the life is workable and we can effectively function in it, this is actually quite good.

When our life is also meaningful, our situation is even better. Hoping for more than meaningful and workable life can be a trap. We can control risk and luck as probabilities of certain events. Whether or not these events will happen is beyond our control.


The perfect state of existance is beyond meaningful and workable. It is “truth, consciousness, bliss”,  the subjective experience of the ultimate unchanging reality. However this perfect happiness of being one with the Absolute is not our regular life. This is something between life and death. Another plane of existance.

Entering this plane state of existance takes us away from regular life. Some of the pain disappears, and some peacefulness replaces it. The feeling is very addictive. We want more of it. Eventually the life itself disappears, not in an ugly spark of pain and dispair, but slowly and peacefully.

This is actually a good way to go. Maybe too good. From time to time whole nations became dangerously reclusive and somewhat suicidal.

Elfs and chud

There were certain nations in Western Siberia and Finland that disappeared. They dwelled in houses made of soil, undergroud. As medieval Russian hunters, gatherers and prospectors settled in northern lands, the Chud people simply disappeared. The tale says they went underground, leaving after them ores, artifacts and strange magical nostalgia. In many ways, similar stories are told about elfs and dwarves… Apparently this fate happened to many cultures in unforgiving climate.

We are not the only humanoids to walk the earth. At least three different other humanoids contributed to our DNA and then disappeared. Europeans have in them some neaderthal DNA. This not bad, as neaderthals had large brains and strong bodies. Then they slowly disappeared. Nobody knows how.

The purpose of life

The basic evolutionary purpose of life is procreation. Make ever more children that can survive and make still more children. There is an internal paxadox here: a life that is too successful uses all available resources and dies. So life developed a safety switch: if there is no threat the will to procreate diminishes.

Consider Korea or Japan with less than two kids in a family. This sort of demography can be happy, peaceful and maybe even beautiful, but it is not sustainable over multiple generations.

There is about 5% of neaderthal DNA in European gene pool. Even less DNA of other humanoids in some other races. We are mostly children of survivers. Not the wisest, strongest, or most beautiful – but definitely resilient.

Bottom line

Search for beauty, wisdom and peace can turn into a trap. Let us stay resilient, look for workable and meaningful solutions. Have kids. And accept some level of pain, fatigue, disappointment. Because otherwise we risk to become mumified.


Get 4 Free Sample Chapters of the Key To Study Book

Get access to advanced training, and a selection of free apps to train your reading speed and visual memory

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.