Here is a news headline so unusual it can't be true:

Buddhists claim mummified monk is 'not dead, just meditating'

Senior Buddhists say a mummified monk found preserved in Mongolia last week is actually in a deep meditative trance and not dead.

Some attribute this fact to cold weather but Dr Barry Kerzin, a physician to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, told the Siberian Times the monk was in a rare state of meditation called "tukdam".

The claim is that a mummified monk is not dead but in a state of deep meditation. All evidence points to the monk being dead and preserved, but claims of life are being taken seriously.

Is this monk alive?

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    I agree with @Falco - maybe this should read, has the individual experienced "the irreversible cessation of all of the following: (1) total cerebral function, usually assessed by EEG as flat-line (2) spontaneous function of the respiratory system, and (3) spontaneous function of the circulatory system... " Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 13:32
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    @Falco Please reference where you have seen the reporting of such witness accounts?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 13:55
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it appears to be about a particular person's meaning of a particular word in a particular religious/spiritual context (and particularly, not in a medical context).
    – Flimzy
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 18:46
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    I was not trying to claim here that he is "spiritually alive". I'm trying to answer that if the claim said "tukdam" that should not be taken as a claim that the body is still "medically alive". And therefore if you thought that "not dead" in the headline meant "medically alive" then, probably, either you're mistaken or the headline was mistaken. That there's little need for evidence that the body is dead because that's the obvious assumption for a mummified body. That the only reason why anyone said he might be alive is because of the quote, but that the quote was probably being misunderstood.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 9:35
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    He's only mostly dead.
    – IQAndreas
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


Dr Kerzin (who reportedly made the claim) might have been misunderstood by the reporter and/or the editor of the article.

It might be truer to say that he is dead and meditating (for some suitably vague definition of "him", given that the self is difficult to define and that Tibetan Buddhists believe in a continuing existence after death and rebirth).

The following are the first three definitions of "tukdam" which I found using Google.


Tukdam (Wyl. thugs dam) is an honorific term for meditative practice and experience that is frequently used to refer to the period following the death of a great master, during which time they are absorbed in luminosity.

Parinirvana -- Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche's Tukdam has ended

On 3 April, at 3:15 p.m., Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche chose to end the state of Tukdam, which is the deep meditative composure that some realized masters enter into after the demise of their physical bodies, after three and a half days.

Interview with Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche after the passing of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

Generally speaking, tukdam comes about when someone has rested evenly in luminous wakefulness during his life, usually called samadhi, and occurs to the same degree as his experience. When he then passes away, there is what we call 'the mingling of the mother and child luminosities,' which means that the ground luminosity and the luminosity of that person's practice mingle indivisibly.

At that moment, the experience of luminous wakefulness is very strong and one simply remains in its composure naturally, meaning that high lamas or someone with deep experience and realization will naturally dissolve into or expand into this state of samadhi. When the ground luminosity dawns by itself, they recognize it, and then remain in equanimity - that is what is called 'remaining in tukdam.'

No doubt an ordinary person also experiences the ground luminosity, but because of not having trained in it during their life, they don't recognize this ground luminosity, and failing to recognize, they are therefore unable to remain in tukdam. On the other hand, great masters naturally mingle the mother and child luminosities, - in the very moment the ground luminosity unfolds within their direct experience, they acknowledge this basic state and remain in samadhi ­ this is called 'remaining in tukdam.'

It is due to the strength of the samadhi that the body heat doesn't disappear completely, that the skin color doesn't fade, and that the body is able to remain in an upright sitting posture. Due to such visible signs, we are able to conclude that the person is in tukdam.

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    If you want to ask what the claimant meant I think that Buddhism.SE would be the better site for that. I was trying to answer the question, "Is this monk alive?" and to answer the claim “not dead, just meditating”: my answer was 'no, the paper might have written that but that's not what the original claimant said ... apparently the "tukdam" state happens "after the demise of their physical bodies"'.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 3:37
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    @Coomie: From what I understand it is considered a willful act but the will of a body that is no longer considered to be alive. The will/spirit is often considered a separate entity that exists independent of the state of the body.
    – slebetman
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 6:49
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    @Coomie Agreed. Souls do not exist from a skeptical standpoint (null hypothesis, but also, ill-defined concept). I don't see why an answer should bother about it.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 9:17
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    @JamesRyan: the problem of soul is of definition. If you're willing to accept that the electrical impulses in a body is soul, then you'd also have to acknowledge that robots have soul. Also, many conceptions of souls, especially from the religious, would suppose that the soul remain alive after the death of physical body and may separate from the body, but clearly electrical impulses doesn't stay alive after death nor can it exists without the electrical conductors. Arguing about the existence or non existence of such poorly defined notions as souls is "not even wrong".
    – Lie Ryan
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 11:40
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    @JamesRyan it's your definition of a soul, not really a religiously accepted one. As I was saying, the soul is an "ill-defined concept".
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 12:22

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