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Russian Lama's body defies time

In 1927, in Siberia, a spiritual leader of Russia's Buddhists gathered his students and announced his plans to die. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, the 12th
Pandito Hambo Lama, then 75 and retired, instructed those gathered around him to "visit and look at my body" in 30 years. He crossed his legs into the lotus position, began to meditate and, chanting a prayer for the dead, died.

When about 30 years had passed, Itigilov's followers did what he had asked, exhuming his remains from a cemetery. What they reportedly found was Itigilov's body, still in the lotus position, perfectly intact, not decayed. The Buddhists reburied Itigilov in an unmarked grave. "Nobody could talk
about it then," said Damba Ayusheyev, the current (25th) Pandito Hambo Lama. "To bring him back to the temple - it was forbidden, impossible. So
he was put back."

The story might have ended with the reburial had not a young lama, Bimba Dorzhiyev, recently sought to resolve the mystery of Itigilov. He found an 88-year-old believer whose father-in-law had been there when the coffin had been opened and who himself had seen Itigilov. He led them to the grave. On 11 September 2002, 75 years after Itigilov's death, the body was once again lifted from the earth. This time there was a record of the event: a dozen witnesses, including two forensic experts and a photographer.

The lamas who opened the coffin wore surgical masks, but they were not necessary; Itigilov's body remained preserved. The current Hambo Lama ordered the body brought to Ivolginsk, where it was greeted with fanfare, ringing bells and chants. He ordered the body to be placed on the second floor of one of the monastery's four temples, where it remains today, secreted behind heavy curtains and locked doors.

The monastery's 150 students keep a vigil on the first floor, praying around the clock, though generally only the lamas are permitted see the body. "To me it is the greatest miracle in life," said Hambo Lama Ayusheyev, the spiritual leader since 1995. "It turns out there are things on which time
has no power."

A New York Times reporter whom Ayusheyev led into the temple, wrote that Itigilov's body "sits atop a simple table, surrounded by candles and
metal bowls holding oils. The lamas have dressed his body in a golden robe, with a blue sash laid across his lap. His eyes are closed, his features blurred, though the shape of his face and his nose certainly resemble the 1913 photograph [taken of Itigilov]. His hands remain flexible, his nails perfectly trimmed. His skin is leathery but soft. His head is still covered in shorttrimmed hair." "Many people don't see what's obvious," Hambo Lama
Ayusheyev said. "Many people won't understand even if they see him."
(Source: The New York Times, USA)

Editorial note

from: Share International November 2002

Reprinted by courtesy of © Share International

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