Essay / Becoming Artifact: An Ontological Study of Buddhist Whole-Body Relics

by Lily-Cannelle Mathieu

edited by Anthony Kuan


Although not prevalent in Buddhism, the exhibition of Buddhist monks’ non-decomposing corpses is an ancient and geographically widespread practice. Often lacquered and gilded, the ‘whole-body relics’ of monks alleged to have attained enlightenment can be found in certain Ch’an/Zen and Shugendō Shingon Buddhist precincts across East and Southeast Asia, most notably in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan.[i] According to Buddhist textual records, the earliest instances of such Buddhist corpse enshrinement date at least as far back as the Western Qin Dynasty (266-316 CE) in China.[ii] Interestingly, Kieschnick notes that this Buddhist mortuary practice was a Chinese innovation which developed fully only in the later 7th and 8th centuries, during the Tang Dynasty, when writings started referring to disciples intentionally preserving the corpses of their masters.[iii] While the pre- or post-mortem ‘mummification’ processes undertaken by the monks themselves or by their disciples has varied greatly across time and space, a feature common to most enshrined Buddhist ‘whole-body relics’ is their crossed-legged position, the ‘lotus’ meditation position Shakyamuni is believed to have been in at the moment of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. This common feature has led lay people and scholars to use terms such as ‘living Buddhas’ or ‘dharmic bodies’ to refer to the exhibited corpses. [iv],[v],[vi] However, in this essay I prefer to use the more precise expression ‘whole-body relics’ suggested by Douglas Gildow.[vii]  


In this essay, I argue that, in becoming ‘whole-body relics’, the preserved Buddhist monks transcend subjecthood and attain a state of objecthood that endows them with spiritual power. This is a result of the transgression of the dichotomous ordering opposing subjects to objects that is constitutive of their being (human) objects. In the process of bodily desiccation and preservation, these monks effectively become artifacts and in turn transcend  the subject-object dichotomy.

My arguments are developed as follows: (I) I explain how this particular form of bodily preservation involves a process of objectification, of becoming artifact; second, (II) I balance the argument advanced in (I) by exploring the idea that such human remains have been and remain human and, as such, might be bound to subjecthood; and third, (III) I argue that these whole-body relics are indeed objects, but that their objecthood is of a type that transcends subjecthood rather than opposing it, and that it is from this transgression of the dichotomous subject-object boundary that emerges their power.

In terms of methodology, the ‘historical-archaeological’ approach to the study of past and present material cultures is particularly appropriate for the study of whole-body relics. In fact, as the preservation and idolization of bodies are not supported in Buddhist canonical discourse[viii] and as discussion over the ‘production’ and worship of whole-body relics is practically absent from Buddhist literature,[ix] there is a clear need to research data beyond scriptures and treatises. Further, while no typical “archaeological” data is linked to these whole-body relics, as they are not excavated, the inquiry remains an archaeological one in nature as it is about human material remains rather than about written words. Although written words are admittedly used as a prevalent source of evidence in this paper, I have attempted to weight them with processual and post-processual insights about the very materiality of the whole-body relics in order to avoid too strong a textual bias.


I start by explaining why the forms of bodily preservation under inquiry involve a process of objectification and why I consider them to be transformations of human subjects into artifacts. In this section, I first (a) point out differences and similarities in the different processes of making the whole-body relics and then (b) argue that the latter undergo an ontological transformation from subjecthood to objecthood in both their preservation and exhibition.

(a) Differences and similarities of Buddhist whole-body relic-making processes

I should start by specifying that, probably because there is no textual nor canonical prescription on how to become a Buddhist whole-body relic, processes that are and have been employed by practitioners to transform monks’ bodies into the corpse-statue hybrids are quite diverse.

It is important to note that the lacquered bodies of Ch’an/Zen monks have been and are being processed in different ways over different regions of the world and throughout different historical periods. As a case in point, Japanese Shugendō (“Mountain Asceticism”) Buddhist monks are, to my knowledge, the only Buddhist ‘mummies’ whose bodies are not lacquered following desiccation.[x] Numerous layers of lacquer are applied to most other whole-body relics, with the result that their external shape is more malleable and thus more ‘sculptable’ than bodies that are simply varnished.[xi] Some Japanese monks are even thought to have voluntarily consumed lacquer shortly before their death in order to slow their body’s putrefaction. Considering the high toxicity of the hydrocarbons found in lacquer,[xii] such process must have been extraordinarily unpleasant, a high price to pay for a promise of corporeal preservation. An additional difference is that some whole-body relics are gilded, while others retain the dark brown color of the body or of the lacquer applied on it.[xiii] In addition, it is interesting to remark that at least one instance in which a ‘mummified’ corpse has been placed in an independently constructed Buddha statue also exists, and that this corpse’s organs were replaced with, according to journalist Christopher Klein,[xiv] “scraps of paper printed with ancient Chinese characters and other rotted material that still has not yet been identified.”

While the monks’ physical idiosyncrasies are not evenly preserved in the different processes of corpse preservation, we cannot state that their identity is lost or that they are transformed into anonymous ancestors, as McClelland and Cerezo-Roman claim transformation of the dead often entails,[xv] because the great majority of such ‘mummified’ monks were eminent clergymen in their lifetime[xvi] and thus, as relics, retain their name long after their death.

Although whole-body relics are not all ‘produced’ with the same technique and are not all adorned in the same way, they share processual similarities in their making. Except from the very first (mythical-historical) instances of bodily preservation of Buddhist monks’ bodies in China, which are recounted in local religious records as being miraculous and unintentional,[xvii] all East Asian Buddhists who became whole-body relics have made the conscious choice of undergoing pre- or post-mortem transformations and have asked their disciples to craft their corpse into what would effectively become statues, artifacts, and objects.[xviii] The common practice enacted by these disciples was to clean and desiccate the corpse of their dead master by exposing it to charcoal or incense smoke[xix] or by sealing it in an urn filled with charcoal and lime to absorb fluids and prevent bacteria growth, [xx]practices that remain prevalent in whole-body relic-making today.[xxi],[xxii] This desiccation was performed before concealing the body for some three to eight years, after which the corpse, if its preservation (its complete drying-out) had been successful and it had not decayed,[xxiii] was wrapped in multiple layers of fabric soaked in lacquer, unto which features or vestments were sometimes carved.[xxiv] As expressed by Matteini, this “practice of adding layers of lustrous lacquer to desiccated corpses participated in a broader process of the iconization of death, a new conceptualization of the value of the sacred in its tangible and material dimensions, and a new definition of the dead body as an object of veneration rather than of defilement and loathing.”[xxv]

Figure 1. The gilding of Fu Hou’s whole-body relic.
Associated Press Photo, Fu Hou’s Golden Statue, 2016.
Digital photograph [retrieved: Revered-Chinese-monk-mummified-covered-gold-leaf.html].

As the lacquering coat only formally approximates and, most importantly, conceals the dehydrated body that once was a human subject, it effectively transforms it into a manufactured artifact. Further, some whole-body relics go through the additional craft process of gilding (figure 1) and, as iconographical signs that the monks had attained Buddhahood in their lifetime, the relics’ earlobes were sometimes lengthened and a dot (urna) was placed between their eyebrows.[xxvi] These supplementary layers of post-mortem bodily alteration reveal the “made” or “artifact” character of the whole-body relics even more prominently.  

(b) Preservation and exhibition as ontological transformation into objecthood

Furthering Robb’s claim that “[a]fter death, the body can only be a thing, an object of social relations,”[xxvii] a processual analysis of the material modifications performed over these Buddhist monks’ bodies denote that their transformation is not only material, but ontological: the whole-body relics are humans who have become artifacts. Indeed, the desiccating, lacquering, and gilding operations these bodies undergo allow them to overcome their liveliness and their status as biological entities: with such operations, they are transformed into carefully crafted artifacts,[xxviii] manufactured objects of devotion.[xxix] As Kesner argues, our habit of perceiving faces and bodies as indexes of personal identity and subjecthood makes it somewhat difficult to accept the notion that human bodies can be artifact, “something artificially made with a view to subsequent use.”[xxx] This subsequent use, in the whole-body relics’ case, is their exhibition in religious precincts. The whole-body relics, through desiccation, lacquer coating, and the sculpting of the lacquer, are bodies that are made. Like all glossy, smooth, and refined East Asian lacquerware, these bodies are crafted, and as such, are irrevocably artifacts.

Figure 2. Yingmiao’s whole-body relic, inside a protective glass.
WM, Taiwan’s Anguo Monastery’s Buddhist Body Relic, 2013.
Digital photograph [retrieved:

As they are ‘produced’ in order to be exhibited as ‘portraits’ in the ancestral or Patriarchs halls of religious complexes[xxxi],[xxxii] or as singular or trinity ‘icons’ for worship in Buddha halls,[xxxiii],[xxxiv],[xxxv] whole-body relics are further objectified as visual testimonies of the act and social process of dying.[xxxvi] By thwarting time and rendering it visible in the preserved body’s immobility, the monk’s corpse is indeed objectified as it loses its consciousness in the process. It therefore becomes an “it” (albeit a very lifelike “it”) to “you/I” subjects.[xxxvii] In fact, one of the multiple religious and didactic purposes of exhibiting whole-body relics, which will be further discussed in (III), is the use of these bodies as mnemonic devices: musealized memento mori  objectified inside their protective glass (figure 2).[xxxviii]A final argument to claim that their exhibition objectifies them is the lucrative quality of their showcase. Through their exotic allure combining death and the sacred (figure 3), such relics, as curiosities and religious “trophies,”[xxxix] have been a convenient magnet for attracting pilgrims, prominent patrons,[xl] and curious tourists[xli],[xlii] to their host temples.

Figure 3. An impressed crowd before Fu Hou’s preserved corpse.
Reuters, Impressive: Monks gather around Fu Hou’s mummified body
during an unveiling ceremony in Puzhou Temple, 2016.
Digital photograph [retrieved:

In brief, it appears clearly from the preservation processes and exhibition practices surrounding the whole-body relics that the latter are artifacts, objects rather than subjects. On this note, it is interesting to cite Yinshun, who is deemed by Gildow and Bingenheimer as the foremost scholar-monk in the contemporary Chinese Buddhist Sangha[xliii]: the Buddhist scholar emphasizes the naturalness of the whole process of preservation, its scientific rather than spiritual or magical character. As such, and in subscribing to a modern Western dichotomization between science and religion, Yinshun confirms that these dead bodies have the status of objects, that they are empty vessels whose connection with the soul has been severed.[xliv] The corpses’ potentially repulsive quality is harnessed through an artful objectification,[xlv] giving rise to a process of artifact-ization.


Having formerly been human, are these bodies not bound to subjecthood? This question is important, as there is often great stigma surrounding the objectification of people. As will be explained shortly, objectification is indeed almost always problematic on moral grounds. In this section, I (a) describe why it is important to raise such questions and expose the implications of seeing human remains as objects, and (b) explore theoretically the potential subjecthood of the whole-body relics.

(a) Problems with and implications of the objectification of human remains

Human remains have frequently been looted and objectified by colonial antiquarians, collectors, scholars, universities, and museums in past centuries. However, such practices have come under increased scrutiny since the late 20th century, giving rise to various laws, regulations, and codes of ethics. One such code, the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM), states that “[a]lthough it is occasionally necessary to use human remains and other sensitive material in interpretive exhibits, this must be done with tact and with respect for the feelings of human dignity held by all peoples.”[xlvi] But is the exhibition-objectification of human remains ever really necessary? Swain asks if there is any true public value to these displays or if they simply represent the heritage of antiquarian practices.[xlvii] Although this is a generally pressing problem, I am aware of only one case of a Buddhist whole-body relic being exhibited in a museum: the Zhanggong Patriarch. The relic was later repatriated by Oscar van Overeem, the Dutch collector who had lent it to European museums, so it could be “incorporated in truly Buddhist surroundings” and worshipped “by those who love and appreciate him.”[xlviii]

While the museum exhibition debate could be discussed at length, other problems tied to the objectification of human remains must not be forgotten. The illicit sale of cultural property, for example, which includes the sale of human remains, is allegedly the third most profitable black market industry following recreational drug and weapon trafficking.[xlix] Moreover, the black market of ‘mummies’ (mostly Egyptian) and other human remains can be traced back to the medieval period and continues today on online platforms such as eBay.[l] The categories “#rare” and “#spooky,” which are descriptors used for human remains in the e-market,[li] attract some buyers and thus contribute to the ongoing objectification of human remains. This widespread theft-and-resale issue is also observable with Buddhist whole-body relics, as some, according to news reports, are occasionally stolen—even in the present day.[lii]

Another ethical issue concerning the objectification of human remains that shall be addressed is the questionable practice of ancient mummy and bone research. Indeed, Kaufmann and Ruhli point out that such research, which is necessarily performed without the informed consent of the objectified subjects of study, is often invasive and thus violates both the body’s and the past person’s integrity.[liii] Furthermore, Bahn remarks that it is assumed that archaeologists have the right to do just about anything in the name of scholarship,[liv] although more attention is now being paid to the ethics of working with human remains in current archeological research. Even though Kaufmann and Ruhli conclude their essay by saying that “a culturally well-informed scientist may have more ethical insights into the cultural beliefs of an ancient mummy than descendants who do not share a common cultural belief,”[lv] their key argument is that it is short-sighted to assume how best to act based on current knowledge.[lvi] As such, projects like subjecting a 1,000-year-old Buddhist whole-body relic to a CT scan[lvii] might not be the most ethical scholarly endeavor.

 (b) …but are whole-body relics really subjects?

The conceptual objectification of human remains does have real and serious consequences in the empirical world, but we should not embrace a theorization of whole-body relics as subjects simply to shirk responsibility from the consequences of their being objects. Therefore, I maintain my position: whole-body relics are artifacts and objects, and humans and their remains are not theoretically bound to subjecthood just because this would seem more morally acceptable.

However, there are some interesting theoretical arguments opposing my qualification of the Buddhist whole-body relics as objects. One notable claim is that the souls of the monks persist inside their body, and that this is why both disciples and laypeople worship them.[lviii] While this claim blatantly contradicts Buddhist canonical views of death and reincarnation, we should not refute a material reality simply because it stands in conflict with written canonical precepts. Indeed, religions are often hybridized and often do not follow canonical forms in their entirety. Rather, I disagree with this idea of subjecthood because we cannot confirm and will never know whether such souls really persist in the preserved bodies, whereas we can prove that the whole-body relic is an artifact. Further, these worshippers could very well have reverenced these whole-body relics for other motives than a persisting subjecthood, such as the one I will advance in (III), namely the power emerging from the relics’ transgressive force.

Another strong counter-argument to my theory is that some folk histories, which are probably grounded in the common East Asian trope of piety towards elders and ancestors, relate human performances to some whole-body relics, such as their moving, sweating, or telling their disciples in dreams that they have not been properly lacquered.[lix] Is a folk credence in these human statues’ animation enough to conceive them as subjects? While I would really like to give a say to these believers, we need to point out, following Kieschnick, that these attributions do not speak to the ontological status of the relics, but rather to their physical manifestations and to their qualification as sacred objects.[lx] Indeed, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “[t]he object, existing external to and independent of subjects, may appear to any subject that is so qualified and so related as to apprehend it.”[lxi] Living humans apprehend the whole-body relics, but the opposite, to the best of my knowledge, is not possible.

Anyhow, whether or not my theoretical position is valid, whether whole-body relics are subjects or objects, I agree with O’Sullivan[lxii] that the wishes of the preserved monks and of their communities should be considered as primary ethical concerns because, regardless of their current ontological status, these relics are associated with historic persons, religious communities, and cultures.


In this third and final section, I argue that the objecthood of whole-body relics is of a type that does not oppose subjecthood, but rather transcends it, and that it is because they transgress the dichotomous ordering opposing subjects to objects that the whole-body relics are endowed with spiritual power. To elaborate, I first (a) theorize transgression and the dichotomy between subjects and objects, and second (b) expound why Buddhist whole-body relics effectively transgress such dichotomy while retaining their status as ‘objects’.

(a) Theorizing transgression

In her article on techno-phenomenology in which she explains Heidegger’s and Latour’s perspectives on subjecthood, Conty describes Latour’s call for a move beyond the modern essentialization of objects and subjects and his idea that rather than taking consciousness as a dividing line between objects and subjects, we should ask how objects constitute us as subjects.[lxiii] As we are inquiring about the spiritual powers of the objects that are the whole-body relics, his question is very useful for us to think with. Indeed, what is important is not that the relics are objects, but rather that, as objects, as artifacts, they have the power to act on and to constitute subjects; that, as objects, they can transcend subjects and, thus, that there should not be a firm dichotomy and a hierarchy between objects and subjects.

Such meddling of dichotomous categories is also famously theorized by Kristeva, who sees the “abject” in such meddling. For Kristeva, what one perceives to be abject is, in reality, one’s revolt against an external force that menaces that person from the inside,[lxiv] what is “neither subject nor object”[lxv] and that therefore has the quality of being opposed—yet not completely—to the “I’ by being uncanny. Here, it can be useful to combine Kristeva’s definition of the uncanny, the transgressive, as “abject” and Douglas’ notions of dirt and purification, which place dirt as an offence to order and theorize dirt elimination as an effort to organize the environment.[lxvi] I, thus, propose considering the transcendental objects that are whole-body relics as uncanny, transgressive, abject, and “dirty” because they offend the dichotomous order presented by Latour’s modernity. This allows us to see such offense to order as a deeply creative and powerful play: as per Douglas, in fact, “the danger which is risked by boundary transgression is power.”[lxvii]

(b) Power and the uncanny objecthood of Buddhist whole-body relics

According to textual records, the monks whose bodies have been preserved were all associated with holiness and spiritual attainment in their lifetime, and it is supposed that they successfully went through the process of desiccation and became ‘incorruptible’ because of their high spirituality.[lxviii] Interestingly, the story about many of these monks’ last moments tells that they died in meditation—some of them having already initiated bodily desiccation procedures with toxic diets—while entering samadhi, the intense meditative absorption aimed for by Buddhist laypeople and clergy alike.[lxix] Such folk and written stories exhibit a wonderful conflation of a daily practice of monks during their lifetime—meditation—and the highest spiritual attainment a Buddhist can aim for—ultimate ‘death’ or the attainment of nirvana, the permanent annihilation of mental processes.[lxx] Therefore, it seems logical that the very bodies in which these deceased monks attained nirvana and, consequently, achieved Buddhahood, should bear some indexical traces of high spirituality, or at least, should be revered to with religious respect. As such, the whole-body relics, which are always placed in the lotus meditation position,[lxxi],[lxxii] are artifacts endowed with great spiritual force. This power does not derive from these specimens’ subjecthood, but rather from the monks’ bodies’ attainment of objecthood, of incorruptibility; from their transcendence of subjecthood and their transgression of the divide between these two forms of being.

Ethnographic, historical, and material evidence abound in this sense. Notably, the power of the incorruptible, objectified bodies can be noted in Gildow’s observation that his Taiwanese interviewees believe that a corpse’s resistance to decay is reflective of its special power.[lxxiii] This power can also be read in Hung’s historical finding that in early Chinese Buddhism, cremated ashes and relics were sacred and elevated the body “to a higher ontological level” by conferring magical powers to it after the ‘death’ of its subjectivity.[lxxiv] The sacred status of the whole-body relics is also discernible materially, in their strategic and prominent positioning in temples. Further, their transcendence of subjecthood as ‘magical’ objects can be observed in material details such as the avoidance by craftsmen to paint eyes on the whole-body relics and in their avoidance to enact the traditional ‘eye-opening’ or ‘ritual animation’ ceremony[lxxv] for these human “statues”. Eyes painted on sculpted Buddha/Bodhisattva statues and ‘eye-opening’ ceremonies mark a simulated subjecthood and are thought to endow such sculptures with spiritual properties.[lxxvi] My interpretation, thus, is that eyes cannot be painted on a whole-body relic because the latter’s transcendence of subjecthood is at the very basis of its ontological being.

In brief, the behavioral gap that exists between the canonical Buddhist repulsion towardscorpses and the adoration of Buddhist whole-body relics in East Asia is overcome by these specimens’ great spiritual power. This great power, as explained previously, is gained by the corpses’ crossing of the boundary between subjecthood and objecthood and by their transcendence of humans’ seeming circumscription to subjecthood. Whole-body relics have such power because they are transgressive, “abject”, uncanny, and resolutely disorderly.


In this essay, I have argued that Buddhist whole-body relics transcend subjecthood and attain a state of objecthood that endows them with spiritual power. In the first part of the essay (I), I explained why whole-body relics should be conceptualized as objects. In the second part (II), I explored the ethical implications of considering human remains as objects and defeated the counter-arguments that would describe whole-body relics as subjects. Finally, in the third part of the essay (III), I theorized the whole-body relics as transcendental objects bearing spiritual power.

 By way of conclusion, I would now like to return to the ethical concerns over the exhibition, theft-and-sale, and scientific manipulation of human remains highlighted in section (II). Indeed, holding the whole-body relics as special objects transcending subjecthood and endowed with magico-spiritual power allows us to clarify something. Because the relics testify to the power unleashed from the creative and transgressive play between subjecthood and objecthood, because they are conceptually ‘dangerous’ and threaten us from the inside, these specimens can and should be exhibited. However, their showcase should remain in Buddhist precincts, where their spirituality can be contextualized. Their migration to museum rooms would, in secularizing them, neutralize the very power they have as transcendental objects. Sayer argues that museum displays have the ability and important task to affect modern social attitudes and that they should therefore be used to confront taboos and normative beliefs.[lxxvii] I agree, but I think that the decontextualization and desacralization of remains such as Buddhist whole-body relics would be too high a cost to justify their use as didactic implements in museums. With regards to the problematic thefts and ensuing sales of human remains, it is clear that such practices are unacceptable regardless of the stolen items’ ontological status. I thus maintain that it is regrettable that the corpses’ objectification facilitates such illicit and amoral behavior, but that this does not make the objectification problematic on theoretical grounds. Finally, I remain perplexed at the morality of scientifically manipulating human remains and whole-body relics. Can we ethically subject a transcendental object to a CT scan? Is it morally acceptable to perform a micro-sample analysis of a whole-body relic’s robe by tearing a tiny piece of it for our laboratory? Does being an object inevitably permit manipulation without constraints?

Lily-Cannelle Mathieu is a fourth year Joint Honours Anthropology and Art History student pursuing a minor in East Asian Studies. She is particularly interested in contemporary heritage management and in Asian art and architecture. 


[i] Douglas Matthew Gildow and Marcus Bingenheimer, “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan: Two Case Studies,” Asia Major third series 15 no. 2 (2002): 88.

[ii] Robert H. Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment: on the Mummification of Ch’an masters in Medieval China,” History of Religions 32 no. 1 (1992): 1.

[iii] John Kieschnick, The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 35.

[iv] Mike Parker Pearson, The Archaeology of Death and Burial (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2001), 56.

[v] Ken Jeremiah, Living Buddhas: The Self-Mummified Monks of Yamagata, Japan (Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers, 2010).

[vi] Ichiro Hori, “Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan. An Aspect of the Shugen-Do (“Mountain Asceticism”) Sect,” History of Religions 1 no. 2 (Winter 1962).

[vii] Douglas Matthew Gildow, “Flesh Bodies, Stiff Corpses, and Gathered Gold: Mummy Worship, Corpse Processing, and Mortuary Ritual in Contemporary Taiwan,” Journal of Chinese Religions 33 (2005): 3.

[viii] Even more specifically so in Ch’an/Zen (Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment,” 5), which is, curiously, the main sect in which whole-body relics are found. See Jeremiah, Living Buddhas, 53.

[ix] According to Gildow and Bingenheimer, in “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan,” 88. I am unsure if this claim ignores untranslated literature, which could possibly be more extensive than what Gildow and Bingenheimer affirm.

[x] Hori, “Self-Mummufied Buddhas in Japan.”

[xi] Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment,” 15.

[xii] A.D.A.M. Multimedia Encyclopedia, “Lacquer poisoning,” Penn State Hershey: Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, 16 October 2017,

[xiii] Gildow, “Flesh Bodies, Stiff Corpses, and Gathered Gold,” 1.

[xiv] Christopher Klein, “CT Scan Reveals Mummified Monk Inside Ancient Buddha Statue,” History, 24 February 2015,

[xv] John McClelland and Jessica I. Cerezo-Roman, “Personhood and Re-Embodiment in Osteological Practice,”in Archaeologists and the Dead: Mortuary Archaeology in Contemporary Society, ed. Howard Williams and Melanie Giles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 41.

[xvi] Donna Strahan, “Creating Sacred Images of the Buddha: A Technical Perspective,” in Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ed. Denise Patry Leidy and Donna Strahan (New York and New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2010), 35.

[xvii] Michele Matteini, “On the “True Body” of Huineng: The Matter of the Miracle,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics no. 55/56 (Spring-Autumn 2009): 43.

[xviii] Jeremiah, Living Buddhas, 42.

[xix] Hori, “Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan,” 224.

[xx] Gildow and Bingenheimer, “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan,” 92.

[xxi] Chloe Lyme, “Mummified Remains of 94-year-old Monk Fu Hou are Unveiled Sealed in a Lotus Position at Chinese Temple,” Daily Mail, 12 January 2016,

[xxii] Kate Pickles and Edward Chow, “Is this the World’s Most Macabre Tourist Attraction? People Flock to See Body of Monk who Died 17 Years Ago After Disciples Perfectly Preserved his Body Beneath a Special Crystal Case,” Daily Mail, 10 April 2015,

[xxiii] Gildow and Bingenheimer, “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan,” 99-101.

[xxiv] Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment,” 14.

[xxv] Matteini, “On the “True Body” of Huineng,” 43.

[xxvi] Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment,” 14.

[xxvii] John Robb, “Creating Death: An Archaeology of Dying,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, ed Liv Nilsson Stutz and Sarah Tarlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 444.

[xxviii] Parker Pearson, The Archaeology of Death and Burial, 71.

[xxix] Matteini, “On the “True Body” of Huineng,” 45.

[xxx] Ladislav Kesner, “Face as Artifact in Early Chinese Art,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 5 (Spring 2007): 33.

[xxxi] Matteini, “On the “True Body” of Huineng,” 43.

[xxxii] Victoria Woolaston, “The Ultimate Sign of Respect: Revered Buddhist Monk is Mummified and Covered in Gold Leaf to Become a Shrine in China,” Daily Mail, 28 April 2016,

[xxxiii] Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenement,” 6.

[xxxiv] Hori, “Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan,” 223-224.

[xxxv] Gildow and Bingenheimer, “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan,” 103.

[xxxvi] Robb, “Creating Death: An Archaeology of Dying.”

[xxxvii] Bradley Rettler and Andrew M. Bailey, “Object,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, 1997-), article published October 26, 2017,

[xxxviii] Estella Weiss-Krejci, “The Unburied Dead,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, ed Liv Nilsson Stutz and Sarah Tarlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 293.

[xxxix] Robb, “Creating Death: An Archeology of Dying,” 452.

[xl] Kieschnick, The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture, 37.

[xli] Hedley Swain, “Museum Practice and the Display of Human Remains,”in Archaeologists and the Dead: Mortuary Archaeology in Contemporary Society, ed Howard Williams and Melanie Giles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 181.

[xlii] Pickles and Chow, “Is this the World’s Most Macabre Tourist Attraction?”

[xliii] Gildow and Bingenheimer, “Buddhist Mummification in Taiwan,” 120.

[xliv] Tarlow, cited in Robb, “Creating Death: An Archeology of Dying,” 443.

[xlv] Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas, Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past (London and New York: Taylor & Francis, 2001), 10.

[xlvi] ICOM 1986, cited in Parker Pearson, The Archaeology of Death and Burial, 185.

[xlvii] Swain, “Museum Practice and the Display of Human Remains,” 174.

[xlviii] Quoted in Amy Qin, “Mummy Displayed in Hungary Sets Chinese Villagers in Pursuit of Lost Icon,” Yangchun Journal via The New York Times, 3 May 2015,

[xlix] Damien Huffer and Duncan Chappell, “The mainly nameless and faceless dead: an exploratory study of the illicit traffic in archaeological and ethnographic human remains,” Crime Law Soc Change 62 (2014), 132.

[l] Ibid, 132-133.

[li] Ibid, 140.

[lii] Woolaston, “The Ultimate Sign of Respect.”

[liii] I. M. Kaufmann and F. J. Ruhli, “Without ‘Informed Consent’? Ethics and Ancient Mummy Research,” Journal of Medical Ethics 36 no. 10 (October 2010), 608.

[liv] Quoted in Jerry O’Sullivan, “Ethics and the Archaeology of Human Remains,” The Journal of Irish Archaeology 10 (2001), 123.

[lv] Kaufmann and Ruhli, “Without ‘Informed Consent’?,” 611.

[lvi] Ibid, 612.

[lvii] Naomi Ng, “Scan Reveals 1,000-year-old Mummified Monk Hidden in Statue,” CNN, 3 March 2015,

[lviii] Gildow, “Flesh Bodies, Stiff Corpses, and Gathered Gold,” 3.

[lix] Kieschnick, The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture, 36.

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Bradley Rettler and Andrew M. Bailey, “Object,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, 1997-), article published October 26, 2017,

[lxii] O’Sullivan, “Ethics and the Archaeology of Human Remains,” 135.

[lxiii]Arianne Conty, “Techno-phenomenology: Martin Heidegger and Bruno Latour on how Phenomena Come  to Presence,” South African Journal of Philosophy 32 no. 4 (2013), 313.

[lxiv] Julia Kristeva (1997), cited in Buchli and Lucas, Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, 11.

[lxv] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 1.

[lxvi] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London and New York: Taylor & Francis, 2013 [1966]), 2.

[lxvii] Ibid, 162.

[lxviii] Jeremiah, Living Buddhas, 39.

[lxix] Ibid, 47.

[lxx] Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment,” 2.

[lxxi] Hori, “Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan,” 224.

[lxxii] Sharf, “The Idolization of Enlightenment,” 9-10.

[lxxiii] Gildow, “Flesh Bodies, Stiff Corpses, and Gathered Gold,” 26.

[lxxiv] Wu Hung, Art of the Yellow Springs: Understanding Chinese Tombs (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), 142.

[lxxv] Helmut Brinker, Secret of the Sacred: Empowering Buddhist Images in Clear, in Code, and in Cache (Lawrence and Seattle: Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, in association with University of Washington Press, 2011), 42.

[lxxvi] Soka Gakkai, “Eye-Opening Ceremony,” Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism Library, (undated),

[lxxvii] Duncan Sayer, “Who’s afraid of the dead? Archaeology, modernity and the death taboo,” World Archaeology 42 no. 3 (September 2010).

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