Some years ago I was cycling through a SE Asian country with a small group and stopped at a rural monastery. A local guide we were riding with told us that the temple there was well-known for a Buddhist monk that many years before had died but whose body had not decomposed after death. In fact, he looked just as fresh as the day he died, and the flower petals that had been sprinkled upon his body at death had likewise remained fresh and fragrant to the present.
Intrigued, we asked if it were possible to see the body of the deceased monk.
“Of course,” the guide replied, and led us to a temple structure where we removed our shoes before entering.
Inside, the walls were adorned with beautiful carvings and paintings. At the back sat an elderly monk, meditating in lotus position. He was as still as death, and yet his eyes seemed to penetrate us when we crossed the beam of their gaze. In the center on the small temple was a glass case on a dais, and within rested the deceased monk.
Stealing up to the case with some awkward reverence and nervousness, the group looked in on the body silently. Fresh flower petals indeed garnished the orange-garbed monk’s corpse as he lay still on his back, hands folded over his belly.
After a time, each of us slipped back outside and replaced our shoes in silence. After a time, a few began to speak.
“Do you think it was real?”
“He did look good for so long dead…”
“Could those flowers really be..?”
Seeing the local guide nearby, I drew him aside and spoke.
“Hey… that monk is as dead as any other. Well-preserved, maybe, but dead just the same… he doesn’t look as fresh as the day he died.”
“Yes,” the guide said, motioning for me to speak quietly. “Of course. And the flowers are replaced daily.”
“Then, why..?” I asked.
“It is not easy to see through delusion,” he replied. “But a good joke is still the best way.”